‘Charging Directly For Water Is Not Established Practice’


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The European Commission’s response to Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan about Ireland and the water framework directive

The European Commission has never made any official statements asserting that Ireland abolishing direct water charges would be in breach of the water framework directive.

The water framework directive, which was adopted in 2000, states that all EU member states may derogate from the water pricing obligations contained within the directive.

In a recent response to a written question submitted by Lynn Boylan, the European Commission confirmed that this derogation still exists. Yes, the response also stated that if “established practice” was a direct water charge then the flexibility to use the derogation would not apply, but here we come to the crux of the matter – “established practice”.

The European Commission is already on record as stating that it considers “established practices” to be those practices which were “an established practice at the time of adoption of the directive”. This directive was adopted on October 23rd, 2000, and transposed into Irish law in 2003, when it is beyond doubt that Ireland used general taxation as its established practice.

Additionally, since direct water charges were introduced in Ireland only in the last year and – far more significantly – since those charges have been rejected by the people, charging directly for water is not the established practice in Ireland.

Furthermore, in a 2014 landmark case on EU water recovery rules, the European Court of Justice found in favour of Germany, after the European Commission tried unsuccessfully to take that state to court for, in its opinion, failing to fulfil its water framework directive obligations. The judgment conclusively stated that it cannot be inferred that the absence of pricing for water service activities will necessarily jeopardise the attainment of the water framework directive.

As recently as January 2016, more than one year after the establishment of Irish Water, in a response to a written question which asked if Ireland would be in breach of the water framework directive if water charges were dropped, the European Commission simply stated that the second river basin management plans would be assessed against the requirements of the directive. Anything else is simply conjecture.

The European Commission has also confirmed in emails to Lynn Boylan and Marian Harkin that if Ireland would like to avail of Article 9.4 (the derogation) then it should submit that request in its second river basin management plan with justification. This second river basin management plan is now not due to be submitted until 2017, with plenty of time for Ireland to establish that derogation.

It is beyond doubt then that if the Irish Government so wishes, it can still use the derogation and justify its use in its river basin management plans, as has been done and is still being done by so many other European regions and countries.

In light of all the above, it is clear that certain commentators and politicians have distorted the debate by misconstruing or embellishing what the European Commission has put on record regarding the derogation from water pricing in the water framework directive.

Worse, it is also clear that many of those same politicians are deliberately twisting this clear, unequivocal situation and using it as an excuse not to avail of the derogation, which gives the Irish Government the final say in deciding on water charges.

Lynn Boylan MEP
Martina Anderson MEP
Matt Carthy MEP
Liadh Ní Riada MEP
Luke Ming Flanagan MEP
Nesss Childers MEP
Marian Harkin MEP.


The European Commission, Ireland and water charges (The Irish Times letters page)

Previously: ‘I’m Saying That RTÉ’s Report Is Not Balanced’

46 thoughts on “‘Charging Directly For Water Is Not Established Practice’

    1. ethereal

      no they are not but if you had any clue you would know this protest is about far more than water charges

      1. DubLoony

        It depends on who you talk to and their motivations for not paying.
        Varioius pointson the not paying side include:
        – No privitisation of water. Would pay if public ownership were gurenteed.
        – Not paying until the pipes are fixed.
        – Lack of transparency in Irish water operations, including how Denis O’Brien & got the meter contract & acquisition of Sitserv
        – No payment of water ever, ignoring the poor state of our infrastrucutre, ignoring medium to long term planning, besides its politcally unpopular. FF/SF option
        – Can’t pay any more, a poverty issue. A real problem.
        – Don’t care about water, its an entryist issue to start the revolution. AAA/PBP

        And so on. Some are very real problems, some are fixable and others are just using water issue for various other agendas.

  1. manolo

    The ‘established practice’ matter on EU rules was never mentioned by the EU or FG until now, why? Because they wanted to trick us into it first? If you don’t pay the charge you are breaking the imposed law, if you pay it becomes self justifying.

    As a side question, did the irish MEPs know about this trap?

  2. medieval knievel

    “far more significantly – since those charges have been rejected by the people”
    that’s playing with language a bit there.

    1. Anne

      It’s not really.. the Irish people have rejected water charges and will continue to do so.. What part of that is playing with language?

      1. medieval knievel

        there’s quite a difference between ‘the irish people’ and ‘a significant minority of the irish people’.

        1. Anne

          When does ‘a significant minority’ become the majority?
          You tell us now… you seem to know what’s playing with language.

          1. medieval knievel

            as mentioned below – more than 50% of people have paid at least one bill. that means (i’m bringing maths in now as well as language) that less than 50% of people have rejected the notion of payment.

            just because the people who supported the idea of paying for water were not nearly as vocal as the people who opposed it, does not mean they did not exist.

      2. Owen C

        Did i miss a referendum? cos the only hard data we have shows over 50% of people signing up.

        Anyway, this whole thing is really missing the point. I’ve never been a big believer in the whole “the EU demands it” argument – (a) we’re big and old enough to decide on things for ourselves and (b) if the “established practice” thing is the new argument in favour, then its FG/Labour’s fault we have to deal with that. Ultimately this comes down to the a lot of people arguing that we should have nice things like other developed countries in the world and a lot of people not realising that you have to pay for them in order to get them. You can argue all you want about who should pay for them, but there will have to be some acceptance that “user pays at least some material portion of service” is not the most evil policy suggestion of recent times. This applies to water, roads, public transport, health, pensions, education etc. Its about time taxpayers, young and old, gained a bit of maturity on this subject. Pay peanuts, gets a third world public infrastructure and supply of services, innit.

          1. medieval knievel

            you are asking did all those people have the money removed illegally from their accounts, i’m guessing not.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            No he’s asking if people signed up because they enthusiastically supported the idea of water charges or because they feared consequences if they didn’t.

          3. Anne

            @ Moyest. Indeed.
            ‘your water will be turned off… turned down to a trickle’

            50% paying one bill at some point is not compliance IMO.

            Was just checking Paul Murphy’s FOIs on it to get the correct figures –

            “Read ’em and weep Irish Water and Fine Gael and Labour. Try as they might to hide it and refuse to answer the questions, the FOI response indicates that a majority didn’t pay water charges in the last quarter and that their ‘customer’ revenue has dropped by 21% in the last quarter. Abolish the charges and scrap the arrears and Irish Water now!”

          4. Clampers Outside!

            “In the last quarter” ….We’ll end up splitting hairs Anne :)

            There were plenty of people who were paying but got wind of the ‘no refunds’ and cut off payments for the last bill / quarter. That’s just making a “good” decision to save money on a bill that one is rumoured (at the time) to not have to pay or rumoured that you’ll be taken “to be a sucker” for paying it.

            It is not the same as non-compliance, as protest. Last quarter figures CANNOT be taken as such, because PBP./AAA don’t know the motivations which are clearly linked to the dragging that went on in getting ‘factual’ information on what was to happen next.

            People were being prudent, that is all.

          5. Clampers Outside!

            Some of those people were being prudent, that should be. As I say, no one knows everyones motivations, but the ‘sucker’ thing was a big driver in many of those that turned off in the last quarter, I believe, and have been told.

        1. Mark Dennehy

          Why does “we pay for this through general taxation because that’s a fairer way to do it” keep being read as “we want it for free”?
          And why does “we object to a blatantly set-up-to-be-privatised state body being created instead of raising taxes and using the existing system” get read as “we want it for free”?
          I mean, it’s not even the same number of words.

          1. manolo

            Fair point. Just to add another alternative, legalise and tax weed to pay for water. It will certainly raise more than the €100m that IW raised.

          2. classter

            ‘Why does “we pay for this through general taxation because that’s a fairer way to do it” keep being read as “we want it for free”?’

            Because we have been paying for it through general taxation for decades & it has been a shambles. Govt after govt has avoided investing in upgraded infrastructure because nobody put a price on water nor on problems with water supply.

            Also, as much as possible it is a good idea to decouple water supply & infrastructure from the typical vagaries of general taxation.

            Because when it is paid for by general taxation, there is no real incentive to conserve water. Why pay for water restrictors, fix leaky external taps, etc?

          3. Mark Dennehy

            …and you think that will improve in the hands of a private company that by law must be run for profit?

            I mean, not to keep pounding the same drum here, but didn’t they try that in the UK under Thatcher and hasn’t it been pretty much universally acknowledged as a disaster for the end users (if not for the bank balances of those who run the services)?

          4. Steve

            I’m all for a referendum on public ownership and I’m ideologically opposed to privatisation of state networks.

            but it’s generally accepted that privatisation of the England and Wales water services hasnt worsened water services in England and Wales. In fact the opposite. Since privatisation in 1989 leakage rates have reduced, river and coastal quality has improved dramatically, investment has increased massively in the network. I could post links but I don’t want to bore you.

            Contrary to popular belief over here It’s also illegal to disconnect people in England and Wales. And to the charge that they pay high rates to fund profits , the highest water charges in Europe are charged by the mutualised companies in Denmark.

            There is no direct correlation between high charges and privatisation in Europe water services.

            Just shows the importance of an effective regulator to ensure charges are fair and the companies are putting money back into the network. If not you get Paris and the need for re-mutualisation to protect consumers.

          5. Andy

            Because the people who claim this are typically those who contribute sweet F all to general taxation.

            Ah yeah, they pay their VAT. Good lads. Saviors they are………

        2. ollie

          Owen, the revenue collected from water bills doesn’t;t even cover the cost of those bills. How will this improve water infrastructure?

          1. Owen C

            Ollie, i’m not saying the fiasco known as Irish Water or how water charges has come about were good ideas. However, the basic concept of user-pays water charges makes an horrific amount of good sense for many reasons related to fairness and sustainable investment. If the argument is “abolish the current system but keep water charges in some format”, I’d be very much a supporter of that. I fear many people

            re people who signed up for billing: im not saying that means they are in favour. But its a far better way to support an argument vs “the people voted against it”. If we’re being honest about it, the breakdown of people is probably something like this 25% of people are dead set against water charges in any way shape or form, 60% of people are on the fence and just want to know it makes sense financially/fairness, and 15% are genuinely in favour of the idea on a pure user-pays basis. So the people arent “against” water charges, they just don’t like being railroaded into a questionable format that is currently proposed, and also worried the 25% won’t pay.

      3. Declan

        So are u are willing to pat extra direct and indirect taxes to make up the deficit of between 2 to 8 billion to fix our breaking water infrastructure, to stop raw sewage been pumped into the sea, to get people who are on boil water notice off.

  3. Anne

    “which gives the Irish Government the final say in deciding on water charges.”

    No way!.. Like the Irish government can self govern and don’t have to defer all decision making to the big boys in Brussels saying they told us we have to.

    “In light of all the above, it is clear that certain commentators and politicians have distorted the debate”
    RTE have no real credibility anymore…

    Someone should do a meme on RTE’s lack of credibility and hopefully it’d go viral. Too many probably still take the state’s propaganda machine seriously.

  4. Eoin

    I can’t believe there are STILL people who don’t get this. They probably never will. But look at what happened to Greece. A bunch of banks and billionaires ran up debts which got dumped on the nation. An odious debt. They have lost it all. Their infrastructure has been sold off. Even their islands are being sold. Yup. Even selling the nation in bits. This is how the EU runs. This is what Irish Water appears to be about too. If it walks like a duck…etc. It’s NOT for fixing the water system. We just have to keep the thieving EU bondholder scum away from our goodies for another year or two to allow the EU to come apart and we’ll be free of this bureaucratic, federalist nightmare.

    1. classter

      It isn’t that simple.

      There is a lot of truth in both of the main narrative around Greece:
      1) Yes they are the victim of elites, bankers, etc.
      2) Yes they have a terrible attitude to paying tax, civic values, etc. Yes, they insist on unfunded spending.

      I also don’t think you understand the strength of the drivers against you. There is no chance that the EU will come apart in the next two years.

    2. Owen C

      “A bunch of banks and billionaires ran up debts which got dumped on the nation.”

      I mean, Jaysus H Christ. The government ran up debts by allowing a broad based system where tax payments were a voluntary mechanism and soft cronyism/corruption was pretty much endemic. The political class were near 100% clientilist in nature. The banks were fairly decent to be honest, credit creation as % of GDP not particularly aggressive, their worst loans (as opposed to debts) were the ones they made to the government. Its genuinely like you haven’t a single clue about the actual situation in the country.

      1. Andy


        The greeks borrowed a tanker full of money and paid it to themselves through a bloated public sector while the “grey economy” boomed.

        Asking Greeks to pay their taxes is apparently, EU tyranny.

  5. 15 cents

    it amazes me how every water related post has commenters itching to pay. cryin out for another bill. they usually have a right-wing approach along the lines of “has to be done, just shut up and pay you scrounger” .. i doubt any of these ‘just pay it’ crowd are struggling for money, coz if they were they’d understand how us with no money who have been crippled by cuts over the years, would be destitute with another bill landed on top of it all. look someone in the face who can barely feed and cloth their kids, who literally never can take a holiday, and say “just pay”.. this crowd also completely ignores all the other aspects, such as we’ve been paying for it thru taxes (what was that used for if the pipes etc. are wrecked?), and that in every country water has been charged for, ends up in private hands and sky rockets in price. its not about paying for something.. This is about the selling of public resources to international investors. i really dont get the ‘just pay’ crowd supporting that. it confuses me, regular people too, not just politicians who have an agenda tied in with it, but regular joe soaps supporting this sale of water to line the pockets of the obscenely wealthy. so bizarre.

    1. classter

      I don’t have loads of money & I fall into your ‘just pay’ crowd. Some services are easily quantifiable and use can be reduced – electricity, water. Some services are not easily quantifiable & different people will ‘use’ different amounts for good reasons & we should pay out of general taxation – education, health.

      I do not believe that we have been paying for it through taxes as our system has been poorly funded & there has been big variances in the standard of maintenance & operation around the country.

      Privatising IW is a separate matter, whether you admit that or not. I do not believe in fighting everything a govt tries to do on the basis that it may one day amount to something different

    2. Anne


      I see them as establishment shills, who sort of despise the poor.. they feel like they elevate themselves above those types of people by criticizing those who don’t/can’t pay.

      They’re a cold type, with little empathy for people. Profit is the name of the game with these types.

  6. some old queen

    Water Charges are not established practice in Ireland and you can be certain that if the majority had actually paid, Irish Water management would be shouting it from the roof tops. Water charges are gone and will not be coming back.

    Irish Water will not survive because sooner or later, ownership will go to a referendum and that will be the end of it. They are a bunch of chancers and bluffers and they have been caught out.

    This was the biggest act of civil disobedience in the history of the state which sent shock waves right through the political establishment. The bruised egos in FG may think that if they keep repeating the same old cliches that everything will return to ‘normal’ but, despite being in government they are not in a position to dictate anymore.

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