As I’ve argued before, charging for water and waste water is right and proper; and doing so through a state-owned, tightly regulated monopoly is a reasonable solution (although you can argue for a mutual company instead).
The contents of the position paper published today were well-leaked and contain little news. The position papers confirms that Irish Water will also be responsible for waste water and waste water treatment. Council staff will be transferred to Irish Water, probably with a considerable improvement in working conditions.
The Commission of Energy Regulation will regulate Irish Water. There is no sign of the creation of a super-regulator. The new CEWR will be inter-departmental, though, an interesting experiment.
The department persists in two follies – mandatory roll-out of water meters, and free allowances – but a third folly – universal metering – has been dropped.
The time table has been slipping, which is no surprise as it was so ambitious. The public consultation was supposed to start in October, and Irish Water was supposed to start work in January. Originally, the plan was to install 1.4 mln meters in 2 years time; that is now 1.0 mln meters in 3 years time – less than half as fast. It is not clear to me that this would support 2,000 jobs: 500 meters per job, installing two meters in three days.
To make up for lost time, the Department of the Environment now intends to start the work of Irish Water. This is a mistake. Like any department, Environment is struggling with staffing as it is. Utilities are better at being utilities than departments are. Utilities are also better at resisting cronyism than departments – every TD will want a water metering contract to go to their favourite engineer cq plumber. Irish Water will wrestle with the legacies of the county councils, and it is now being saddled with a departmental legacy as well.
Maybe the public consultation will further improve the plans.