Some weeks ago the Economic Management Council agreed on a regime for water tax. The details of that scheme and regime were released by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the following day, a day after the Taoiseach was questioned in the House on the same issue but about which he could give very little information. However, the following day the print and broadcast media were full of significant details about the water tax regime, with the Minister, Deputy Hogan confirming that there would be a standing charge of €50 which people would pay irrespective of ability to pay. There was no ability to pay clause included in the regime nor any provision for low income earners. Those whose houses would not have been metered by the time of the introduction of the charge would be given estimated bills. In the aftermath of the revelations in the media, the Labour Party articulated some degree of shock, mainly at the angry reaction to the Minister's revelations to the media, and it called a halt. Since then there has been a lot of spinning and counter-spinning between Fine Gael and the Labour Party as to who is to blame for the debacle and the fiasco.
Before the Easter recess the Tánaiste told the House that a number of issues remain to be addressed. He said that he wished those issues had been addressed some months ago but they remain to be addressed. It is clear he was being critical of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. The Tánaiste said that three out of every four households would not be metered by the time the charge is introduced. The Tánaiste said he wanted a rebate system for those who have not been metered if their usage was lower than estimated. He wanted an ability to pay clause implemented, the Labour Party being a relative newcomer and recently converted to the idea of ability to pay. He was particularly concerned about old people, pensioners and people on low incomes. The Labour Party has said now that it is opposed to the idea of a standing charge because it goes against the principle of conservation.
The Cabinet met today. Has the Government dealt conclusively with the issues outlined by the Tánaiste? Has a final decision been made about the water tax regime to be introduced under the aegis of Irish Water? Will the Taoiseach confirm if there will be a standing charge? What kind of ability to pay mechanism will be introduced? Will a rebate system be available for those who have not been metered or will not be metered prior to the introduction of the charge? Will there be a waiver system for pensioners or a means test? In the words of the Tánaiste, will these decisions be made quickly and will certainty and answers be provided to the people?