Households would be exempt from water rates if government accepted EU derogation

Lawyers: Now too late to reverse the Coalition introduced charges.

Sligo News File Online

Irish Water parent company Ervia is said to have been informed that Ireland is debarred by EU provisions from scrapping the domestic water charge.

WaterThe Irish Times reports it has seen legal advice where barristers have advised the national water utility that the State is obliged to maintain the existing water charge regime.

According to the account, the OPINION of counsel Garet Simons and Michael M. Collins is that “there is no option under European law to return to the practice of not charging for water.”

The ‘paper cites Simons and Collins as saying that the introduction of water charges by the government means the State can now no longer avail of what was a ‘very limited’ exemption from the charges in the EU Water Directive.

It states the legal opinion as also advising:

“The benefit of the derogation has been lost for all time, and cannot be revived by seeking to reverse the decision to introduce charges.”

“The exemption ‘was only intended’ to allow a member state to continue an established practice of not charging.

“The ‘full rigour’ of the directive applies once the member state decides to accept the principle of cost recovery by water charges, as Ireland did, and

“The Irish State has never sought to invoke the derogation.”

However, the Times does not state whether the legal opinion on the argued irreversible status of the existing water charge programme includes any mention of the State being precluded from slashing charges to a long-term minimal annual rate of say not more than €20 per household.

The position as reportedly presented to Ervia – Irish Water – is likely to stir still more controversy, particularly with people seeking to know why the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition and before them, Fianna Fail and the Green Party, failed to protect households from water charges by seemingly refusing to adopt the EU derogation – an exemption which was reputably there for the taking.

Former MEP and member of the European Parliament on Environment, Public Health and Food, Kathy Sinnott was one of those who time and time again called on the Irish authorities to accept the derogation.

Her many appeals were ignored.

This is what she said in one of the more recent efforts she made to free Irish families from what are now the almost universally hated water charges:

Kathy Sinnott - former MEP and member of European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health & Food
Kathy Sinnott – former MEP and member of European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health & Food

“I recently tried to alert people to the existence of the “Irish Exemption,” Ireland’s unique exemption from domestic water charging based on Article 9.4 of the EU Water Framework Directive.

“The exemption is based on the Irish Department of the Environment’s commitment, strategy and budget to rectify the inadequacies in our water management without metering.

“This commitment is recorded in the 2008 Irish River Basin Management Plan. Former Minister for Environment John Gormley was able to confirm in 2008 that Ireland had obtained and was availing of the exemption from household water charges.

“I was assured at the time by the European Commission that the EU couldn’t take the exemption from us but Ireland could cancel it.

“This week Minister for Environment Alan Kelly publicly denied we currently had an exemption from domestic water charging. He stated, “We do not have a derogation because we now have committed to the model that we have.”

“Fortunately, he is wrong.

“In trying to confirm the current situation, I contacted Brussels.

“The good news is that the Water Framework Directive Article 9.4 exemption is still in place. The challenging news is that it is under imminent threat of cancellation by the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly himself!

“In accordance with Article 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive, our exemption is embedded in the 2008 River Basin Management Plan. Any renewal or cancellation of the exemption is done in the next 7 year RBMP.  And it is the Minister for the Environment who assembles and submits this plan

“This 2015 River Basin Management Plan is due be handed into Brussels by New Years Day. Both the Irish government and the European Commission are expecting that Minister Kelly will not renew the exemption and will instead include domestic water charging as part of Ireland’s strategy.

“Why are they so sure that the plan as yet incomplete and unpublished will include water charging? Because in 2010 the Troika told us to privatize and charge for water and both the Irish government and the EU Commission assume that we will meekly obey, that is we will state in the River Basin report that the only way we can protect our rivers is by charging for domestic water use!

“But is this true?

“If the money spent on metering is spent on pipe work the leaks will be repaired. And if the money already collected in taxes for water infrastructure was spent on upgrading treatment plants we would see a significant improvement to the water infrastructure to domestic homes and meet our part of the next 7 year targets on river basin management.

“Because the EU water legislation is based on the “polluter pays principle”, the most obvious strategy for financing clean water is to identify the real polluters of water in Ireland and make them pay.

“In the 2008 plan, the sources of pollution are listed. They included agriculture and rural septic tanks. These sources have been tackled at great expense to rural dwellers and significant improvement has been made and progress is ongoing.Other sources like quarrying, mining including old tailings ponds, leaking landfills, forestry, industry are still major sources of pollution.

“If it is the polluter who is supposed to pay then it should be these for-profit industries which should be paying for the purification of the water they pollute and for preventative measures; not the ordinary householder who is already paying.

“To give an example. We are told we need domestic water charging to deal with cryptosporidium in our water supply. But again is this true?

“Uplands all over the country were planted in coniferous forests. Unlike deciduous forests natural to Ireland, these plantations of Sitka spruce trees acidify the soil and do not break down animal waste effectively. After a few decades, these forests are “clear felled” with heavy machinery that rips up the forests leaving the soils exposed. Heavy rains wash the animal waste and acid soil down hill to the river below. The resulting pollution provides ideal conditions for Cryptosporidium and other contaminants.

“Why would the people in these areas who are innocent of causing the problem and who are already bearing the expense of bottled and boiled water asked to foot the bill for cleaning up water pollution they did not cause. The Department of the Environment should instead go to the real polluters, and recover the cost of cleaning up polluted water, or better preventing the pollution in the first place.

“Privatization will not solve our water infrastructure problems because private companies are geared to profit. It will make sense to invest in 500 meters of new piping in a city because it will serve hundreds of paying houses. But it will cut into profits to replace 500 meters of leaking pipes which serves only 5 homes. A privatized water system will still be a leaky water system!

“Alan Kelly can save the Irish Exemption by making the commitment in the River Basin Management Plan that actual water polluters will pay, that funds collected for water infrastructure in existing taxes will be used to upgrade our systems and by creating incentives for improvements to domestic water use like rain water collection system.

“There is still time to save the Irish Exemption…and the Irish people are in the mood to defend it because once the exemption is gone it is gone for good.

“We have one month to save it.”

Surely the people have the right to know why Sinnott’s calls were ignored?

Water Tech