Government is to increase its spending on replacing burst and old water mains five-fold over the next three years.

Announcing the €300m programme, Minister for the Environment John Gormley said it was simply unacceptable that more than half of water supplies in some counties is lost before it gets to the tap.

This month's big freeze dramatically highlighted Ireland's considerable water infrastructure problems.

Many people in Clare and Dublin still do not have a normal supply.

A Government report last year highlighted that many counties cannot account for what happens to more than half of their water supply.

This morning Minister Gormley said the €300m investment programme aims to make up for ‘decades of under-investment’.

However, the funding programme is not new money but a re-prioritisation of the existing budget.

Minister Gormley also said he would shortly bring proposals to Cabinet on the installation of water meters across the country.

Mr Gormley said charging for water was absolutely essential in ensuring that Ireland has a water system that works, is fair and is sustainable in the long-term.