The new utility company being set up to oversee household water supplies and charges will not be sold off to the private sector, Environment Minister Phil Hogan has insisted.
Irish Water, which will operate under Bord Gáis, will be tasked with installing and running a metered network by the end of 2014.
The minister insisted that the firm will remain in public hands even if the parent company is sold off in a disposal of state assets.
“Legislation will be put in place to ensure Irish Water remains in state ownership in relation to the sale of state assets,” Mr Hogan said.
It costs about €1.2bn to supply all Irish homes with clean water, yet about 40% of supplies are thought to be lost through leaks. Ireland is the last country in the European Union, and among the OECD states, to charge for water.
Hundreds of millions must be spent on plumbing the network and replacing leaky pipes.
Announcing the new company, Mr Hogan gave assurances that the public will not be forced to make upfront payments for meters – a must-have before charges come into effect by the end of 2014.
It is estimated that they must be installed in about one million homes. Critics have warned there is not enough time between now and the end of next year.
Mr Hogan said he was confident between 90% and 95% of houses will be metered by the deadline.
The Government will first finance the installation of water meters with a €450m loan from the National Pension Reserve Fund.
It emerged over the weekend that householders could have to pay for the meters themselves, which were priced at around €350.
There is speculation that householders could be forced to make annual payments of around €39 over 20 years – to cover the meter costs, but Mr Hogan said these were details that had yet to be ironed out.
“The decision will be made in 2014 when the full implementation of the water metering programme is complete,” Mr Hogan said.
“There will be a standing charge like there is in any other utility bill included at that stage. That will be a matter for Bord Gais and the regulator to work out.”
Mr Hogan insisted that no repayments will be required before the water metering programme is complete.
The metering plan is also forecast to create 2,000 construction jobs.