The Government has said it has received legal advice that confirms schools here must pay water charges based on usage levels and cannot be exempted.

In a statement issued by the Department of an Taoiseach this evening, it clarified transitional arrangements for the next two years. During this period schools will pay a flat rate per pupil enrolled.

This evening's statement brings some sort of clarity to schools that were wondering what to do with their water charge bills.

Before Christmas, in what the opposition called a u-turn, the Taoiseach announced that schools should hold on to them for the time being.

There would be a two-year hold put on payments and a transitional system worked out.

For the next two years, schools are to pay a flat rate per pupil. €3.50 per head this year and €4 per head next year. The statement said where arrears exist this should be discussed with the local authority.

The government said it is committed to full implementation of the EU water directive by 2010 and this means all non-domestic users, including schools, must pay charges.

The teacher's union the INTO has reacted strongly and negatively. They said it is a totally inadequate response and is a stealth tax on schools.