I propose to take Questions Nos. 445, 458, 470, 476 and 490 together.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce water charges based on usage above a free allowance. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has, therefore, decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. The Water Services Act (No. 2) 2013 provides for the transfer of water services functions from the local authorities to Irish Water. The Act also provides that the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) will be responsible for the independent economic regulation of Irish Water. The CER has been given statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers. The water charges levied by Irish Water will be subject to the approval of the CER.
An inter-departmental working group has been established to advise the Government on the appropriate method for addressing affordability issues which may arise with the introduction of domestic water charges. The group is examining the issues arising for those with specific medical conditions, which require high water usage, in the course of its work. The group comprises my Department and the Departments of the Taoiseach, Social Protection, Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance. A final report will be submitted for consideration by Government when the group has completed its examination of the issues involved, and the Government will decide on the proposed approaches to be taken in relation to affordability, medical needs and the free allowance. The CER will be carrying out a public consultation on the approach to the design of domestic water tariffs in the coming months. Domestic water charges will commence with effect from 1 October 2014 and Irish Water will issue the first bills to domestic customers from January 2015. It will be possible for a customer to access the meter to verify readings.
Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations, 2007, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas library, suppliers of drinking water are required to ensure that the water supplied is wholesome and clean. Water which is wholesome and clean is defined as water which is free from any micro-organisms and parasites and from any substances which in numbers or concentrations constitute a potential danger to human health, and which meets the quality standards specified in the Schedule to the Regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency is the supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring Irish Water’s compliance with these regulations.
The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 also requires that Irish Water will prepare codes of practice, on a range of matters, including standards in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions and billing by Irish Water of persons in respect of water services provided. Irish Water will also be required to prepare a code of practice on any matter considered necessary by the CER. I expect that the CER will consider compliance with statutory standards by Irish Water in fulfilling its functions.