The Cabinet has given its approval for Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to contact the Attorney General about holding a referendum regarding the State affording constitutional protection to the supply of water services.

It is believed the aim of any text would be to retain public ownership over any body charged with responsibility for the supply of water services.

The initial step would be for the Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe, to draft amendments to a number of private members bills, including one published by Independents4Change TD Joan Collins two years ago.

It is not yet clear when a referendum could be held as that depends, in the first instance, on when the Attorney General returns with any proposals. 

Ms Collins has cautiously welcomed the decision, saying that at least Mr Murphy was finally "doing something".

She said she believed it was possible for a referendum on water services to take place next May, along with the Local and European elections. 

However, she said that would require the issue returning to committee quickly and "the wording being right". 

Ms Collins said there were two senior counsel ready to assess whatever proposals are put forward by the minister.

Meanwhile, unions representing local authority workers are to meet early next month amid concerns that staff could be forced to transfer to the Irish Water utility.