Independent TD Mattie McGrath has described a response by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to a Parliamentary Question in relation to possible exemptions from water charges for the Burncourt/Skeheenarinky area as timid and unacceptable. Deputy McGrath made his comments after the Minister confirmed that he would not use his authority under the Water Services Act 2013 to issue a water charges policy direction to the Commission for Energy Regulation in relation to the matter of exemptions from water charges for those households in areas affected by the presence of hard water:
“I had hoped that Minister Kelly, who is well aware of the locality and the problems associated with the hard water supply in the Burncourt/Skeheenarinky area and indeed most of Clonmel north, would have offered a more sympathetic reply to the resident’s plight.
It seems however that he is yet again going to detach himself from responsibility and foist the matter back onto the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) who we know has been no help at all to the consumer in terms of protecting their interests.
The reply has also shown that both the Minister and the CER have chosen to interpret the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations, 2014 in very narrow terms, terms which do not allow for the damage to peoples livelihoods and income to be seen as reasons which justify exemptions. It could easily have been very different since the Water Charges Policy Direction issued to the CER in July 2014 referred to a number of matters relating to domestic water charges including where the quality of water services provided by Irish Water to customers is impaired or where services are reduced or restricted.
Even from a strictly technical and health point of view the water is not ‘safe’ for families with small children since the advice from the Minister’s own office acknowledges that even though hard water is safe to drink, chemically softened water is not suitable for everyone to drink – particularly for infants and others in high-risk categories such as persons on low-sodium diets.
From this is clear the water supply is being what might be called self-restricted.
If the Minister had chosen to see the matter in this way it would have allowed for the introduction of exemptions or at the very least would have expanded the possibility for reduced rates to be introduced where hard water exists.
Instead, Minister Kelly has washed his hands of the matter and is hiding behind the ‘independent’ advice offered by the CER. This is not acceptable and it will certainly not be the last of matter that the Minister hears from me,” concluded Deputy McGrath.