New charges for excess domestic water usage in the Irish Republic could lead to the return of a broader water charge, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has hinted.
In July, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities approved proposals from Irish Water to introduce a charge of €3.70 per 1,000 litres used over the annual free allowance for households.
An analysis by the regulator and Irish Water indicates that 7-10% of households – around 80,000 homes – which have water meters use more than the planned free allowance of 213,000 litres a year. Irish Water is set to begin monitoring households with a view to identifying so-called "water wasters". They will be liable for bills of up to €500 a year if they don't act to reduce their usage.
The current definition of "excessive usage" means the vast majority of households won’t face water charges. However, Varadkar has now raised the possibility that the threshold could be lowered over time to increase the number of households facing charges. "Let's see how that goes. You could see over time that threshold being reduced and maybe that's the way we should have done water charges in the first place," he says in an interview for a new book, In Deep Water, by journalist Michael Brennan.
While the Taoiseach said he doesn't expect this to happen in the short term, his comments will raise Irish eyebrows as any mention of water charges is considered politically toxic.