Belfast Telegraph

Burton 'can't predict test outcome'

The Tanaiste says she can not predict if Irish Water will pass a make-or-break European test that could decide the future of the controversial utility.

Under EU rules, the semi-state company will have to bring in more than half of its income from non-government funding.

Eurostat, headquartered in Luxembourg, will have to rubber stamp the new sums drawn up to allow for lower water charges.

It is expected to give its decision on the revised scheme by next April.

The EU statistical agency is independent and has in the past caused serious problems for countries like Greece when it has questioned budgets.

Joan Burton said predicting the outcome of the test would be like trying to predict your Leaving Cert result or whether your car will pass an NCT.

But the Labour leader insisted she was confident.

"I am satisfied that we will pass the test," she told the Dail.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fail environment spokesman, said the bottom line was that Irish Water - under the new charges regime - has not passed European standards for funding.

"Whether it will or won't remains to be seen," he said.

Questioned by Mr Cowen on whether the Government had any "plan B" in the event of Eurostat pulling the plug on Irish Water under the new model, Ms Burton said less than half the utility's funding would come from the State.

The Labour leader said Irish Water would be able to raise billions of euro by selling debts and bonds to pension funds, instead of dipping into the public purse.

"We've done it for decades and raised billions through the ESB, we've raised billions as well via Bord Gais.

"We are simply using the same model."

Water company experts have warned the lower charges announced yesterday have left a massive funding gap, running into hundreds of millions of euro, if the water system is to be brought up to standard after years of neglect.

The threat of a mass mobilisation against paying the latest charge heaped on homes after years of austerity also throws further uncertainty over the company's future.

Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein's deputy leader, said the revised water charges had been cobbled together as a desperate attempt by the the Fine Gael/Labour coalition to bribe people off protests.

She said people were marching for the abolition of the "odious and unfair" levy and not for concessions.

"There are many, many families who can not pay any charge whatsoever," she added.

"Easy payment plans and other methods of extracting this money simply don't cut it."

She told the Tanaiste: "You just don't seem to grasp that there are people now with current bills, never mind water charges, who don't have any euro or any cents at the end of any given week or month. They can't pay."

Ms McDonald criticised what she said were a small number of protesters who barricaded Ms Burton into her car during a heated protest in Jobstown, west Dublin, over the weekend.

But she also hit out at a small number of gardai who, she said, have been extremely heavy handed with citizens legitimately protesting against what they believe is an unfair tax.

Meanwhile, a Fine Gael TD has claimed Ireland is facing into an Islamic State situation unless authorities "nip in the bud" some anti-water charge protests.

Referring to the demonstration over the weekend targeting Ms Burton, Tipperary North TD Noel Coonan compared the dissent with extreme Islamic terrorists known for ethnic cleansing and executing western journalists.

"The disgraceful scenes that went on, what they did to people in power, what they did to our Garda Siochana, that turned the tide for people," he said.

"Nip that in the bud.

"If not, we are facing what is potentially an Isis (Islamic State) situation in the Middle East, if those people are allowed to get on with doing what we are doing.

"God help this country."

Mr Coonan added: "The protesters in Dublin act like parasites and live off country people."

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