Europe

Irish Water: Domestic water charges scheme to begin

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Media captionFor some, the charges will be hard to swallow, as Dermot Fleming reports

Water charges are to be introduced for households across the Republic of Ireland within the next 24 hours.

The state-wide charging scheme means millions of residents have to pay for domestic supply for the first time.

The bills will have the most impact in urban areas, as rural dwellers who are not on mains supply have already been paying for water for decades.

The introduction of the controversial charges were a key part of Ireland's international financial bailout deal.

Protests

The domestic charging scheme is due to begin on 1 October, and the first bills will arrive at the beginning of January 2015.

Many Irish householders have objected to paying for their water supply, and have staged protests against the government scheme.

A number of protesters have been arrested for trying to stop the installation of water meters outside homes.

This week, seven protesters face going to prison for contempt of court, for refusing to accept a court order restraining them from "assaulting, intimidating or interfering" with contactors working to install the meters.

Rescue plan

The Irish economy was brought to the brink of collapses as a result of the international financial crisis and was forced to accept a multi-billion euro bailout in November 2010.

The rescue plan was funded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) - jointly known as the Troika.

As part of the bailout deal, the Irish government made commitments to restructure its economy, and the introduction of universal domestic water charges was just one of the unpopular changes it agreed to introduce.

The government set up a new semi-state company, Irish Water, last year, which is gradually taking over all water provision services from the Republic of Ireland's 34 local authorities.

Group water schemes

However, paying for water is nothing new to hundreds of thousands of Irish people living in rural areas, many of whom had to install their own water system themselves.

Piped water supplies were virtually unheard of outside towns and cities until the 1950s, and rural residents had to draw water from rivers and wells.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish government provided grants for groups of rural dwellers to work together to install water supplies in their own areas - known as group water schemes (GWS).

By 2002, about 45,000 households received their drinking water supply from a privately-sourced GWS, according the census carried out that year.