Irish Republic draws up laws to secure public ownership of water

The Irish Republic has begun detailed consideration of legislation designed to provide constitutional protection for the public ownership of the country’s public water system.

Simon Coveney, the minster responsible for water policy, has spelled out the government’s stance on this move and voiced concern that the Bill will need to take account the fragmented nature of some existing water infrastructure provision.

He highlighted that all parliamentarians and political parties shared a common view that the State should own “this vital public service”. Coveney pointed out that there were already significant barriers to privatisation; it would require consent of both Houses of the Oireachtas, could only happen after a successful national plebiscite and would need fresh primary legislation.

Coveney stressed that Ireland’s topography and population meant the country had an extensive number of small, mainly surface water sources, rather than single large aquifers as in many other countries.

“The evolution of water services in rural areas has largely been dependent on private or group water investment. Thus, the public water utility, Irish Water, is not the exclusive provider of water services, but does provide drinking water to 83 per cent of the population and waste water services to 64 per cent of the population.”

The minister explained that the Bill would have to accommodate the challenges posed by a range of categories of infrastructural ownership. These included: private bore holes; private group water schemes; private group schemes that are sourcing water from the public network; and water infrastructure located on privately-owned land.

“There are also issues to be considered around the potential for unintended consequences that could impinge on individuals’ rights to private property” he warned.