There is a long way to go before we have a decision as to whether or not Irish Water will be classified as an independent, commercially viable semi-State company. The raison d'être for the establishment of Irish Water was that it would function as a commercial semi-State company along the lines of ESB and, in that way, be taken off the Government's balance sheet. EUROSTAT has not yet made a decision on this issue and the Central Statistics Office has not yet completed its consideration of the matter before forwarding that consideration to EUROSTAT.
It has emerged in recent weeks that €399 million from the motor taxation account is being given as a subvention to Irish Water this year. Moreover, the Department has confirmed this will continue year on year into the medium term. In addition, taxpayers are being asked to pick up the rates bill for Irish Water of €59 million, another direct subvention and possibly a state aid issue. On top of that, the cost of the public private partnership projects involving wastewater treatment plants that have not yet been transferred to Irish Water because of delays in the Department cost taxpayers €47 million last year and will cost them at least the same again this year. All of this amounts to an annual subvention of more than €600 million to Irish Water this and every year. These issues must all be classified.
The timescale to pass the EUROSTAT test was this month after which, on the assumption that Irish Water would pass the test of being an independent, stand-alone, commercial semi-State body, home owners were to begin receiving bills in April. In view of the confirmation I received from the Taoiseach in writing this week that it will be at least June before any such decision is made, will the Government agree to defer the issuing of water charges bills until there is clarity and certainty as to whether Irish Water is adjudged an arm of government or an independent, semi-State company? Assurances from the Tánaiste that she is confident the company will pass the test are of no use. EUROSTAT is the only body that can make that decision and the Government cannot presume to know more than EUROSTAT does before the latter has even examined the files. Until such time as EUROSTAT makes its decision, will the Government ensure people do not receive water bills from an entity whose right to exist is not yet determined?