Allan Kelly, Minister
“The Irish Exemption”
Update on Current Situation
by Kathy Sinnott
I recently tried to alert people to the existence of the “Irish Exemption”, Ireland’s unique exemption from domestic water charging based on Article 9.4 of the EU Water Framework Directive. The exemption is based on the Irish Department of the Environment’s commitment, strategy and budget to rectify the inadequacies in our water management without metering. This commitment is recorded in the 2008 Irish River Basin Management Plan. Former Minister for Environment John Gormley was able to confirm in 2008 that Ireland had obtained and was availing of the exemption from household water charges.I was assured at the time by the European Commission that the EU couldn’t not take the exemption from us but Ireland could cancel it.
This week Minister for Environment Alan Kelly publicly denied we currently had an exemption from domestic water charging. He stated “We not have a derogation because we now have committed to the model that we have.” Fortunately he is wrong.
In trying to confirm the current situation, I contact Brussels.
The good news is that the Water Framework Directive Article 9.4 exemption is still in place. The challenging news is that it is under imminent threat of cancellation by the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly himself!
In accordance with Article 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive our exemption is embedded in the 2008 River Basin Management Plan. Any renewal or cancellation of the exemption is done in the next 7 year RBMP. And it is the Minister for the Environment who assembles and submits this plan
This 2015 River Basin Management Plan is due on be handed into Brussels by New Years Day. Both the Irish government and the European Commission are expecting that Minister Kelly will not renew the exemption and will instead include domestic water charging as part of Irelands strategy.
Why are they so sure that the plan as yet incomplete and unpublished will include water charging? Because in 2010 the Troika told us to privatize and charge for water and both the Irish government and the EU Commission assume that we will meekly obey, that is we will state in the River Basin report that the only way we can protect our rivers is by charging for domestic water use!
But is this true?
If the money spent on metering is spent on pipe work the leaks will be repaired. And if the money already collected in taxes for water infrastructure was spent on upgrading treatment plants we would see a significant improvement to the water infrastructure to domestic homes and meet our part of the next 7 year targets on river basin management.
Because the EU water legislation is based on the “polluter pays principle”, the most obvious strategy for financing clean water is to identify the real polluters of water in Ireland and make them pay.
In the 2008 plan, the sources of pollution are listed. They included agriculture and rural septic tanks. These sources have been tackled at great expense to rural dwellers and significant improvement has been made and progress is ongoing. Other sources like quarrying, mining including old tailings ponds, leaking landfills, forestry, industry are still major sources of pollution. If it is the polluter who is supposed to pay then it should be these for profit industries which should be paying for the purification of the water they polluter and for preventative measures not the ordinary householder who is already paying.
To give an example. We are told we need domestic water charging to deal with cryptosporidium in our water supply. But again is this true? Uplands all over the country were planted in coniferous forests.. Unlike deciduous forests natural to Ireland, these plantations of Sitka spruce trees acidify the soil and do not break down animal waste effectively. After a few decades these forests are “clear felled” with heavy machinery that rips up the forests leaving the soils exposed. Heavy rains wash the animal waste and acid soil down hill to the river below. The resulting pollution provides ideal condition for cryptosporidium and other contaminants. Why would the people in these areas who are innocent of causing the problem and who are already bearing the expense of bottled and boiled water asked to foot the bill for cleaning up water pollution they did not cause. The Department of the Environment should instead go to the real polluters,and recover the cost of cleaning up polluted water, or better preventing the pollution in the first place.
Privatization will not solve our water infrastructure problems because private companies are geared to profit. It will make sense to invest in 500 meters of new piping in a city because it will serve hundreds of paying houses. But it will cut into profits to replace 500 meters of leaking pipes in which serves only 5 homes. A privatized water system will still be a leaky water system!
Alan Kelly can save the Irish Exemption by making the commitment in the River Basin Management Plan that actual water polluters will pay, that funds collected for water infrastructure in existing taxes will be used to upgrade our systems and by creating incentives for improvements to domestic water use like rain water collection system.
There is still time to save the Irish Exemption…and the Irish people are in the mood to defend it because once the exemption is gone it is gone for good. We have one month to save it.
Former Member of the European Parliament
Former Member of the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
Sent in by Ade