Belfast Telegraph

Government to revise water charges

The Government is to revise controversial water charges in the wake of mass nationwide protests.

With about 100 separate marches against the new utility on Saturday amid threats that income tax would be hiked by 4% if the utility is shelved, it is understood plans are under way to revise the billing regime.

Alan Kelly, Environment Minister, who met Irish Water chiefs in Dublin, admitted mistakes have been made and indicated a new charging system would be set out within the next two weeks.

"They're going to be changed," he said.

"I think they are going to reflect the concerns of people. I think the charges are going to be modest. There also is a requirement for certainty over a long period of time."

The U-turn came after at least 150,000 people took part in scores of demonstrations on Saturday and warnings from Taoiseach Enda Kenny that abandoning the new utility would spark the crippling increase in the top rate of income tax.

The Right2Water campaign, which organised the mass rally in Dublin city centre last month and the nationwide demonstrations on Saturday, rejected the Government's attempt to quell opposition.

Spokesman Dave Gibney said: "We don't want to pay again for water.

"The Government have just said today that they are going to provide more clarity - maybe we are not being clear, we want rid of Irish Water."

Right2Water want public supplies paid for by general taxation and claimed the Government is running scared of its campaign with local action and lobbying expected to take place in the weeks ahead of a third day of action on December 10.

Mr Gibney added: "I think they know what's happening on the ground. But I don't think whatever plan they come up with, however modest the payments will be, that it will work. It's about raising revenue from the unemployed, low paid workers and pensioners while at the same time offering tax breaks for high earners."

Mr Kenny attempted to quell the deepening unrest with a vow to set out a clear and accurate picture of what is being charged for and how much it will cost.

"Despite all of the comments that you will have heard about this recently, Government will make its decision on this very shortly and will be clear and accurate about it so that people have confidence in knowing what it is that the contribution they have to make, what it's for and what they get in return for that," Mr Kenny said.

"Politics is about people at the end of the day and it's a remit and responsibility that is given to people by the people and when you've got that responsibility you've got to do the best you can, you are not going to get it right all the time."

There were also calls for a referendum on whether the constitution should be amended to guarantee water supplies could not be privatised. Mr Kelly said he was not opposed to the idea.

John Tierney, Irish Water managing director, apologised to "customers" over how plans for the utility and the billing regime had been implemented.

Elsewhere, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he would not pay any water bills while trade union Unite said the Taoiseach's threat over income tax was unsubstantiated.

Unite Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said the Taoiseach and ministers engaged in an unprecedented scaremongering in the wake of the weekend's mass protests.

"Given that, contrary to Government spin, there is no urgent need to introduce the charges, the Government should now bow to popular feeling, abolish the charges, place a full report on the budgetary impact of financing water services before the Dail, and engage in an open public debate about how we finance water services going forward," he said.

Unite research officer Michael Taft said that in the event water charges were abolished, the lack of revenue for government has to be balanced with increased disposable income in families.

"This will keep the Government's deficit target intact without resort to tax increases or spending cuts," he said.

Unite said that based on figures released by the Government when Irish Water was being planned the budget deficit target of 3% of GDP would still be met if the planned utility bills were shelved.

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