Water, water everywhere and not a bill in sight

Patricia Feehily

Reporter:

Patricia Feehily

Water, water everywhere and not a bill in sight

What a nightmare! Refunding €162.5 million to those who paid their water charges is going to be some headache

THANK Goodness the water controversy has been resolved before May Eve next week. Otherwise I might have had to stay up all night on April 30 guarding the well.

When I was young I knew a man who did just that – stood guard over his spring well every May eve to ward off the pisheogs and various kinds of water abusers. Actually, he just wanted to insure that he himself, and not some covetous neighbour, got the first skim of the well at dawn on May Day. At that advanced stage of our civilisation in the 1960’s, he was the only one in the locality, as far as I can recall, who still believed in pishoguery - which, by the way, was nothing more than a sophisticated type of begrudgery. But I could be wrong there. Maybe we weren’t as advanced as I thought.

I think, however, that if the same man were alive now he’d be far more wary of Irish Water and the right to water campaigners – who hate the sight of rain and who have no respect whatsoever for the elemental forces of nature - than he ever was of the pisheog players.

Having said that, it is a great relief to know that the water charge issue has been settled and now we can all build a swimming pool or a lily pond in the back yard without either lowering the water table or bankrupting ourselves. And, as I said, I can sleep easily in my bed on May eve.

For the past couple of years we’ve had water on the brain, unable to think clearly and utterly unable to indulge our delusions of grandeur as much as we would have liked. The settlement is particularly welcome to paranoids like myself who have been living in constant fear of our wells being commandeered in the national interest to insure that everyone got a shower every day and to slake the thirst of the masses.

Now I see that the law abiding people who realised that there was no such thing as free water and who paid the charge, are to get their money back. Fair enough, and if there was any justice in the world, they’d get a bit extra as well as a bonus for good behaviour. Otherwise they might go astray in the future, finally convinced that the law really is an ass and it pays to be populist.

The thing is that refunding €162.5 million to those who dutifully paid up is going to cause a major headache for Irish Water – as if it hasn’t enough headaches already. Apparently only 20 per cent of those who paid used direct debit, so the company is going to have to write a lot of cheques. How bloody inconvenient!

What most annoys me, however, is the suggestion that those who availed of the €100 grant for registering with Irish Water should now hand it back. That idea defies all logic. Why would anyone have received the grant in the first place if they weren’t already supplying their own water or contributing to it? But by all accounts, 190,000 people got the grant and never paid a bill. I presume that most of these are people with private wells or people who sunk their own wells at considerable cost to nobody but themselves.

But if a water supply is a human right, and if the harnessing of the resource should not be the subject of a water charge, then why should any of us have to pay anything to a group scheme and why wouldn’t the state pay for the upkeep of our private wells, pumps and pipes? Surely, there can’t be one law for urban Ireland and another for rural Ireland – or am I wrong again?

Simon Coveney is cognizant of the ‘fairness’ element recommended in the Water Committee’s report and realises that the Government may have to increase funding to group water schemes. But he’d want to realise too that fairness is a subjective notion in this climate and I know one man who already thinks that he is going to be refunded all his payments to the local group water scheme. He joined it over 50 years ago, in 1964. But do I have to repeat myself? What about people like me who take our water from a private well? Why aren’t we being subsidised?

In this brave new world of free water for all, I can’t ring Irish Water for help if a neighbour skims the well on May Day, or if the well - and wells can be very temperamental – takes off in a huff and disappears overnight into another farm? Such a phenomenon has been known to occur, for no apparent reason.

And if it happens to me I can’t just say, hey, my well disappeared. Can you come and entice it back, or can you dig up the pipes and connect me to another supply?

The €100 grant was actually a joke. Some eight year olds would nearly expect that in a First Communion card next month. It wouldn’t even cover the price of a new top for the well, or an effective de-contaminant. There are hen harriers and all kinds of protected wild life living near our well, and for obvious environmental reasons, we can’t decimate them all. We can only have it tested regularly and take expensive precautions to ensure health and safety for ourselves. In this scenario, the €100 was only a drop in the ocean, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But it was a gesture and we were grateful. We also expected, and still expect, to receive the cheque in the post every year.

We’re certainly not going to return it. And neither are we going to allow the cost of the public water supplies around the country to be levied on us via property tax increases or any other back door.

Up to now, we, the owners of private wells, didn’t expect anyone else to contribute to the installation or maintenance of our supplies. But that’s all changed now. Access to water is now a human right, and it shouldn’t cost anyone a penny to avail of it.

The wanton waste and abuse of this valuable resource is a different issue altogether. It shouldn’t concern us, though, because I don’t know anyone with a private who would even think of disrespecting it.