Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Water Services Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)

 

Debate resumed on amendment No. 4:In page 4, line 9, after “Resolution” to insert “of not fewer than two thirds of the Members”. - (Deputy Catherine Murphy).

1:00 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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For clarity, I will repeat what I said in regard to the amendments. I will not accept Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment requiring a resolution of both Houses as we believe it would place more stringent conditions on future Governments. I do not think it is necessary anyway, although I appreciate the spirit of it.

In regard to amendment No. 7, when it comes to referendums or plebiscites, all citizens are entitled to vote and we should stick to that rather than deviate from it. That would be the legal advice as well. Amendment No. 8 proposes that a provision be inserted that the Government shall not expend public moneys for the purposes of promoting a particular outcome in the plebiscite. Section 2(7) requires the Minister to publish details of the proposal and the reasons for it to be submitted to the people in the plebiscite so this is unnecessary. How public moneys are spent is detailed in electoral legislation, so I do not think we need to make such changes in this legislation.

I will not accept Deputy Naughten's amendment No. 5 because providing for a resolution of each municipal district would create a precedent whereby one municipal district or a small number could thwart the will of the Irish people. Having said that, I appreciate the spirit in which he tabled the amendment.

I want to return to an amendment tabled by Deputy Naughten in regard to the word "shall". I was surprised it was not taken but there are obviously reasons for that. Prior to today's sitting, I reflected on this and I asked my officials and the Attorney General to look at it. The Deputy has to appreciate that whatever my views are in regard to all of these things, at all times I have to take cognisance of the legal advice given to me by the Attorney General. Let me be quite clear. I am very satisfied that the current drafting meets the requirements as set out that we would have to have a referendum if, in the very unlikely scenario, we ever get to the stage where a Government would look at this.

To be absolutely certain and to give everyone some form of extra confidence, even though I am absolutely sure the proposed wording is sufficient, I am prepared to look at changing the word "may" to "shall" and I am doing that in the spirit of co-operation. Considering what has been said, it would give those opposite more confidence. I have asked my officials to look at it and I will obviously take the advice of the Attorney General but I am pretty confident we will be able to bring forward an amendment to that effect and in doing so not just change the word "may" to "shall" in this section, but also strengthen the wording in general. I have asked my officials and the Attorney General to look at this and I will bring forward an amendment at some stage to reflect that.

I hope those opposite appreciate the spirit in which I am doing this because it can be done. If it gives greater confidence and comfort to people, we will do it, even though I do not necessarily think it is necessary, which is beside the point. I ask for forbearance as this will have to be drafted. If I could, I would bring it forward on Report Stage but I will bring it forward in the Seanad next week and then bring it back to the Dáil. I give a commitment that not only will I look at it, but I will bring forward an amendment to reflect it.

A number of comments were made, although not necessarily by those present, in regard to the bona fides of myself and the Government. Dare I say it, but my party was mentioned a number of times. There is no way that I would ever tolerate the privatisation of Irish Water, nor would my party or this Government. It is not something that anyone has on the agenda. In drafting the legislation, we had to bear in mind the legal advice at all times. In deciding whether to hold a referendum, the unintended consequences of doing something like that and deciding whether we want to go down that road, we must take on board the advice of the Attorney General at all times. I have had to do that in this regard and that is why I propose to go down the wording route I just outlined in order to give those opposite more confidence.

There has never been an agenda. Officialdom was referenced and there was some insinuation outside the House, not inside it, that there was an agenda. I have not heard of any agenda in regard to a supposed future privatisation of Irish Water. As far as I am concerned, it is an agenda being driven somewhere else. It is not on the agenda and, as far as I am concerned, it never will be. It is something I will never support.

I am going as far as I can with the advice I have been given in order to guarantee that this will not happen. I hope those opposite take that in the spirit it is intended. I will make that commitment on the record. I will not accept amendment No. 5 but I will do exactly what I just said.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I heard the Minister talk about a plebiscite. I got some legal advice on this as well. No Government can bind its successor. Nobody is accusing the Minister or this Government of privatising water tomorrow, next week or during its term but we must look to the future in five, ten or 15 years time. The only way we can guarantee this will not happen is through a referendum. A plebiscite will not stand up in respect of successive Governments. It is worrying that a former Minister of State, who was involved in this whole water debacle, has said that there are outside forces trying to privatise water. We must realise there is €15 billion worth of infrastructure, between water treatment plants, pipe work in the ground and so on. We have huge infrastructure paid for by the taxpayer. We have made mistakes in the past and things have been privatised which we now regret. Nobody is accusing the Minister or the Government of doing this now but for the security of the Irish people, the taxpayer and our country, the Minister should consider holding a referendum.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his contribution. I acknowledge that he has listened to what we have said and I appreciate that. I got a reason amendment No. 6 was withdrawn and I pointed it out on Tuesday night but a number of the contributors today may not have been here then. The Ceann Comhairle's office wrote back and said the reason amendment No. 6 was ruled out of order was that it would impose a potential charge on the Exchequer and it would force a referendum. It shows that we need to revise Standing Orders. I thank the Minister for listening to the arguments put forward and, hopefully, progressing this and providing additional clarity in the legislation.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 67.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Seamus Healy; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.

Níl

Amendment declared lost.

1:15 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:"(b) a Resolution of each municipal district, as defined in section 22A of the Local Government Acts 1925 to 2014, is passed approving the alienation,".
In light of the assurances that have been given by the Minister, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 6 is out of order.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, lines 25 and 26, to delete "at a referendum on a proposal for an amendment of the Constitution" and substitute "in a local authority election".

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 67.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Ruth Coppinger; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.

Níl

Amendment declared lost.

1:20 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:"(9) The Government shall not expend public monies for the purpose of promoting a particular outcome in the Plebiscite.".

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 44; Níl, 66.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Richard Boyd Barrett; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Níl

Amendment declared lost.

Section 2 agreed to.

SECTION 3

1:25 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy Barry Cowen is out of order.

Amendment No. 9 not moved.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 10, 13, 16, 20 to 22, inclusive, and 24 are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, line 39, to delete "section 22(1)" and substitute "section 21(1)".
Amendment No. 10 is a drafting provision to amend the reference in subsection (10) from "section 22(1)" to "section 21(1)".

The purpose of amendment No. 13 is to ensure there is certainty regarding specific charges levied by or on behalf of Irish Water during the period from 1 October 2014 to 31 December 2014.

Amendment No. 16 provides for the rewording of the existing subsection (3). The subsection provides that where a dwelling is in receipt of one service from Irish Water, the maximum charge Irish Water can levy is 50% of the capped charge as set out in subsection (2). Therefore, the capped charge that will apply to a house that is either in receipt of a water supply but discharges wastewater into a septic tank or receives its water supply from a private well or other sources and discharges wastewater to the public sewers will be either €80 or €130 per annum. The existing subsection made the same provision, but the amended wording is much clearer in its intent.

Amendment No. 20 is a technical drafting amendment to subsection (6). It provides for the inclusion of a reference to subsection (14), which sets out the capped annual charge to apply to dwellings which first receive water services from Irish Water on or after 1 January 2015. The subsection outlines the caps and the volumetric charges Irish Water may levy.

Amendment No. 21 is a minor drafting amendment to provide for the inclusion of the word "water" after the word "household". This is merely to clarify that the subsection is referring to the household water allowance. The subsection provides that the allowance will cease to apply.

Amendment No. 22 is a minor drafting amendment which provides for the inclusion of the word "water" after the word "child". Again, this is simply to clarify that the subsection is referring to the child water allowance. The subsection provides that the child water allowances provided under the approved water charges plan will apply to all persons who are not adults.

3 o’clock

An adult is a person aged 18 or over. Previously, the child allowance was available on the basis of the same conditions that apply in respect of child benefit payments from the Department of Social Protection.

Amendment No. 24 provides for the deletion of the word "initial" in section 3(15)(b). This will ensure that Irish Water will be allowed to charge for connecting or reconnecting a service to a dwelling. In addition to circumstances in which new customers want to connect to Irish Water's network, we have been informed that there are instances where householders have requested that their dwellings should be disconnected from water supplies. The latter is the case where people may believe that their dwellings will be unoccupied for long periods. The amendment provides for Irish Water to be allowed to charge for reconnections in circumstances where this is the case.

Amendment No. 25 is similar to amendment No. 16, which we discussed earlier. It provides for the rewording of the existing subsection (3), which provides that where a dwelling is in receipt of one service from Irish Water the maximum late payment charge the company may impose will be 50% of the relevant charge set out in subsection (1). As a result, the late payment charge that will apply in respect of a house which is either in receipt of a water supply but which discharges wastewater into a septic tank or which receives its water supply from a private well or other source and discharges wastewater to the public sewer will be €15 per annum. The existing wording makes provision in this regard but I am of the view that the new subsection I am proposing to include is clearer in its intent.

1:35 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I wish to make some specific comments on charges and on the issue I raised on Tuesday evening last. Some 12 months ago I was given a commitment by the then Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, on his behalf and that of his officials, to the effect that people who have boil water notices in place will not be charged for their public water supplies. However, in the amendments he has tabled, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is making provision for charges to be imposed on households whose members cannot drink water from their taps.

There is absolute and utter confusion among people in respect of this matter. The Minister previously gave assurances to the House that the lifting of boil water notices in County Roscommon was imminent. However, that is not the case. As I pointed out to him on Tuesday night last, members of the north-east Roscommon regional water supply scheme will be obliged to wait until March 2017 to have those notices lifted. The reason for this is that Irish Water has made a policy decision not to install temporary treatment plants pending the upgrade of the supply. Boil water notices relating to the north-east Roscommon regional water supply scheme could be lifted within three months if Irish Water committed to putting such a plant in place. To add to the confusion that already exists, I received briefing documents from both Irish Water and Roscommon County Council last month. The document from the council indicates that the boil water notice in Castlerea will be lifted in April 2014, while Irish Water's document indicates that this will happen in March. The council's document also indicates that the boil water notice relating to the Killeglan water supply will be lifted in May 2015, while Irish Water's document indicates that it will be March when the notice is lifted. Both documents state that the notice relating to Boyle, County Roscommon, will be lifted in March. There is utter confusion in respect of this matter.

It is wrong that from 1 January next until the early part of 2017, households in County Roscommon that are connected to public sewers will be obliged to pay water charges. The only way we can ensure that there is an incentive for Irish Water to prioritise the lifting of boil water notices is if the company sustains a financial hit in this regard. I put forward this argument last December, both in the House - when it was accepted by the Minister's predecessor - and to the regulator. However, the people to whom I refer are going to be sent bills by Irish Water from spring of next year.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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To which amendment is the Deputy speaking?

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I am speaking to amendment No. 16. If one is unfortunate to be a commercial user of water, one will receive only a 20% discount. The latter is despite the huge financial cost associated with not having access to clean water.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 15 is not included in the group of amendments under discussion.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I am speaking to amendment No. 16.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 15 relates to boil water notices.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I tabled amendment No. 15, which was ruled out of order. I am speaking to amendment No. 16, which was tabled by the Minister.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, and that refers to circumstances where "a dwelling is in receipt of one service in respect of water services provided by Irish Water".

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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It also refers to the maximum charge that Irish Water may charge for that service in respect of the dwelling is an amount that is 50% less than the amount that would be charged if that dwelling has only one supply. The argument I am making is that where the water supplied is unfit for human consumption, people should not be charged at all. As already stated, commercial users will only receive a 20% discount.

I am asking for three things. First, there should be absolute clarity with regard to when boil water notices are going to be lifted. Second, pending the lifting of those notices, anyone who is affected should not receive a bill of any sort from Irish Water. The latter is the only way to incentivise the company in the context of prioritising this issue. Third, where it is feasible to put in place a temporary treatment plant - as would be the case with regard to the north-east Roscommon regional scheme - then this should be done. Such a plant has been already put in place in respect of the Roscommon regional water supply and, therefore, a precedent has been set. However, Irish Water is afraid to go down this road in case demands might be placed on it in other parts of the country.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I concur with everything Deputy Naughten said. He and I attended a meeting on this matter in Roscommon and, to be frank, I would be far more likely to believe the figures and dates supplied to us by Roscommon County Council than I would to believe the information provided by Irish Water. Deputy Naughten is 100% correct in what he said regarding temporary treatment plants. A boil water notice is currently in place in Williamstown. We need to start thinking outside the box and dealing with problems much more quickly. Businesses must be treated properly. I ask the Minister to ensure that when boil water notices are put in place, people will not be sent bills one way or the other.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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On a point of information, will we have an opportunity to discuss the section.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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When we have disposed of the amendments.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I understand the arguments put forward by Deputies Naughten and Fitzmaurice. I say that in a spirit of co-operation. Historically, County Roscommon has been treated in a shambolic way. I have visited the county and I discussed this matter with a number of people I met in Castlerea. I do not just visit Roscommon when a by-election is taking place. The issues relating to the provision of water services in Roscommon are probably symbolic of the reason we need to change our attitude to water services. In certain areas, those issues are extremely serious in nature.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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The Minister should not forget Burncourt.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The investment made and commitments given by the Government in respect of solving the issues in Roscommon are the most significant to date. To be fair, everyone accepts that. The investment to which I refer must be continued, particularly in the context of the work Irish Water will carry out. As the Deputies are more than aware, some people have had boil water notices in place for ten, 12 or 15 years. That is outrageous. A generation has grown up with this as a way of life, which is absolutely insane.

The specifics relating to this matter are not quite as simple as they might first appear. I hereby give a commitment to examine the documentation supplied to Deputy Naughten by Roscommon County Council and Irish Water.

We must accept that the CER has given a policy direction to the effect that 100% of water coming in is to be free where there is a boil water notice in operation, but that wastewater, which is completely different, must be paid for. I have to abide by the policy decision made previously and the policy direction given by the CER.

With regard to the technologies and the use of temporary water treatment facilities, I am no expert and do not know whether anyone in this House is. When making decisions on this and on what is appropriate, I must be guided by the technical experts, particularly those on the books of Irish Water who have been brought in from various sources. Those concerned have made massive savings on foot of some of the decisions they have made to date on water and wastewater treatment facilities. The technical experts and I must all be guided by the EPA, as it must be satisfied everything is right. In this regard, public health is paramount. It is on the basis of these principles that we have gone down the road we have gone down.

I acknowledge the role of the CER and its direction. From an investment perspective, however, I understand the concerns and issues that arise in the county in question, which has had serious issues historically. The Deputies should please acknowledge that the current Government is the first to be committed to getting to the bottom of this. The approach might not be as quick as both Deputies requested and there may be some issues arising in regard to the months. The Deputy referenced May and March, but I believe they were in the same year. I would rather make the right decisions, based on the expert advice I have outlined and which the relevant agencies and I must take, than rush into things. That is the spirit in which this is being done.

1:45 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to amendment No. 16, I seek clarification from the Minister. Am I correct in saying there is no provision in legislation for a refund or allowance for those on a boil water notice? Am I correct in stating this remains a policy matter and that it is at the discretion of the CER, the regulator? Would it not be more prudent and correct to insert the provision in legislation to offer a guarantee in all cases rather than have dispute resolution by the regulator?

Could the Minister clarify the policy direction given to the CER on the commercial sector when it finds itself subject to a boil water notice? Contrary to what Deputy Naughten said, is it not the case that the sector gets a reduction of only 40%, not 100%? The commercial sector should be treated the same as the residential sector, especially considering that those in the sector, including those in the licensed trade or service industries, are forced to provide water for their customers. There is a cost associated with providing this water. That they do not benefit from the same discount as residents beside them is not fair, right or proper.

Is the Minister happy that he is not providing in legislation definitive detail on the discounts that exist for residential users subject to boil water notices? Can he confirm that the reduction is 40%, rather than 100%, for the commercial sector? Can he confirm that there is no provision in that regard in this legislation to copper-fasten the case of those in the commercial sector?

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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On the points made by the last two speakers on the boil water notices, the Skeheenarinky-Burcourt area of south Tipperary is another area that has been subject to a boil water notice for many years. I want clarification from the Minister on it. What instructions has he given to Irish Water on boil water notices? When is it expected that people in the area, who have been subject to a boil water notice for years, will have some relief? A significant number of water-using households in the area are not subject to boil water notices, yet their water is completely undrinkable. It is deep brown or deep black coming out of the taps. What is the position on these households? They are not formally given boil water notices but the water coming through their taps is completely undrinkable and unusable. These people, like their neighbours on boil water notices, have been buying water for years. What is being done for them?

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I have two points. On Report Stage or in the Seanad, I would like the Minister to consider my amendment, No. 15, which would enshrine in primary legislation the discounts. That is the way to go on this. Could the Minister clarify whether the discount for commercial users is 40% in respect of incoming water, which means the discount is 20% of their actual bill? This is a grossly inefficient way of dealing with the costs associated with a boil water notice.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I thank the Deputies. As outlined by Deputy Naughten, the allowance for the commercial sector is 40%, which is 20% of the total bill. With regard to domestic customers, the rate is 100% for water coming in. This is based on a direction of the CER and I do not see any reason to include it in primary legislation.

Irish Water has a customer charter and it is based on guidelines of the CER. There is flexibility with regard to issues that might need to be reviewed periodically. All the decisions of the CER were made after a consultation process, as people are well aware. On the commercial side, there was a consultation process to arrive at the rate of 40%.

Deputy Healy referred to the Skeheenarinky-Burcourt issue in our native county, with which both he and I are very familiar. I am glad to say it is on the programme of work for the period from 2014 to 2016. As the Deputy knows, major progress is being made in this area, which has had serious water issues for many years. I am delighted to see the ongoing programme of work. It will be a priority of Irish Water to deal with this because the issue has been so significant historically. I will keep the Deputy updated on the progress.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, after line 40, to insert the following:

“(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to non-domestic water supply and waste water charges made under the approved water charges plan in respect of the period from 1 October 2014 until 31 December 2014.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.

1:55 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, to delete lines 12 to 15 and substitute the following:"(3) Where a dwelling is in receipt of one service in respect of water services provided by Irish Water, that is to say—
(a) the supply of water to the dwelling, or

(b) the removal of waste water from it,

then the maximum charge that Irish Water may charge for that service in respect of the dwelling is an amount that is 50 per cent less than the amount that would be charged for water services to the dwelling in accordance with subsection (2)but for this subsection.".

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 66; Níl, 45.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Stephen S. Donnelly.

Níl

Amendment declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, not moved.

2:00 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 20:

In page 5, line 23, to delete “subsections (2) and (13)” and substitute “subsections (2), (13) and (14)”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 21:

In page 5, line 38, after “household” to insert “water”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 22:

In page 5, line 41, after “child” to insert “water”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 23 not moved.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 24:

In page 6, line 25, to delete “initial”.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed: "That section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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This section provides for the charging of water.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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If Members are leaving the Chamber, they should please do so quietly. The Deputy is on his feet.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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The proposals were announced by the Minister to the Dáil on 19 November. The position on charging for water is clear. Once we impose a charge for water then it will become a commodity and it will become marketable. Under EU law, full cost recovery will be required, perhaps not immediately but in the future. That is the direction in which we are going. If charges are introduced it will lead to significant costs on families. In effect, what we have is an introductory offer on charges. It is similar to a supermarket loss leader. We have the thin end of the wedge. It is like a sprat being thrown out to catch a salmon. The intention is to get the Government through the short to medium term and past the next general election. Once we start to charge for water then the costs to families will be significant.

We have been through the situation before. We know what will happen because of previous experience. The Government knows that as well. That is the reason it is introducing the charges at what would appear to be low levels. It knows that if it can introduce a policy of charging for water, no matter how low, that in future the charges will increase significantly.

It is worthwhile to recall what happened with refuse charges. I was a member of Clonmel Corporation when bin charges were introduced. The amount was £5 a year. I opposed the charge on the basis that it was the thin end of the wedge and that in the future families would be faced with bills for larger amounts. I was ridiculed by other members. One member went as far as to throw a box of matches across the table at me. He wanted to know what I was complaining about; that the charge was equivalent to the cost of a box of matches a week. What happened is that refuse charges in Clonmel and south Tipperary are now €300 a year, more than 30 times the introductory offer of £5 a year. The waiver scheme for bin charges that helped low and middle income families has been abolished and the service has been privatised. That is what will happen in future if the Bill is passed and if water charges are introduced. The 100,000 who were on the streets around the Dáil yesterday will not accept that. They will drive the Government back and get the charges abolished. If that does not happen, then ordinary families will be crucified by significant charges. We have no idea where it will end, but when one takes the analogy of refuse charges, it could be 30 times higher than what is being introduced. Thirty times 60 is €1,800, or one could multiply it by 160. The Minister can do the calculations himself.

From a practical point of view, even if the charges are introduced, thousands of families have water that is not fit for purpose. I previously referred to families in the Skeheenarinky and Burncourt areas who are not on boil water notices but whose water is undrinkable.

They do not meet the technical requirement for boil water notices but what comes out of the taps is completely undrinkable and unusable yet those people will be charged for water. There is no knowing how many thousands of families right around the country have hard water. I know the problem at first-hand because all the northern side of Clonmel, which means thousands upon thousands of families, has been supplied with hard water for the past number of years. The cost is already huge. Many householders have installed water softeners to remove lime out of the water and it could cost anything up to €2,000 to install those water softeners which must be flushed out with salt and serviced weekly and monthly. Electrical appliances such as electric kettles, dishwashers, washing machines, showers and shower heads in these houses are damaged by this hard water and must be replaced regularly. The water is completely unfit for purpose and we are proposing to charge them for that even though they are already paying to try to make the water in some way fit for purpose. This is unacceptable.

I refer to the question of the sewerage system. I am sure I am not the only Member to receive daily representations from householders whose sewers are blocked. Neither the local authority nor Irish Water will unblock those sewers. The householders are being forced to pay private contractors to unblock the sewers. In very many cases these sewers were laid by local authorities, in many cases, in local authority estates. The manholes are in the gardens of former or current local authority houses. Yet, Irish Water is refusing to unblock those sewers. These sewers may be servicing as many as nine or ten or 20 houses and up to 30 houses in one case. Recently in Clonmel the sewage flowed out on to the public road but Irish Water would not respond. In the past the local authority always serviced the sewers. The householders had to pay to have the blockages cleared. Better still, I currently have a case - one of many - where even though the blockage is not on the householder's property but is outside the gate on the public road, Irish Water will not clear that blockage. It insists that it is only responsible for the main sewer. Therefore, in the case I am currently dealing with, the blockage which originates under the public road but not in the main sewer has backed up into the householder's garden and he is supposed to clear that blockage himself at further cost. This is completely unacceptable and I would like the Minister to tell us what he proposes to do about it. This work was always carried out by the local authority and should continue to be done by the local authority or by Irish Water, but whoever does it, it should be done at no cost to the householder.

I oppose this section on the basis that this is the introduction of charges, the thin end of the wedge. People are already paying for water through general taxation. If this charge is brought in, there will be significant charges for families down the road.

2:05 pm

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I will give the list of speakers as provided to me. Deputies Cowen, Timmins, Paul Murphy, Boyd Barrett, Donnelly, Joan Collins, Fitzmaurice, Stanley and Halligan. Any Member who is not on this list and wishes to speak may inform me and I will take the name.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I seek to oppose this section which deals specifically with water charges on dwellings. My amendment is in response to the outcry of the public and the Opposition against the legislation governing the establishment of Irish Water and the charging mechanism to be put in place by the CER, Commission for Energy Regulation under direction from the legislation and the Government. The CER carried out a consultation process and on foot of the consultation and a submission by the Government, it proposed a charging mechanism which does not meet with the approval of the Opposition or the public. As a consequence there has been a sea-change and a Government climb-down across many areas but specifically with regard to the charging mechanism. The Government has overturned its initial commitment which leaves the role of the CER contrary to what was initially expected of it, in that it was to be the watch dog for the consumer. Its remit was to fix prices last summer and in two years' time and upon its instruction thereafter. The Government intervened based on the failure to inform adequately the CER of the type of support there may be for such a charging mechanism. Most important, since the legislation was introduced in the House and guillotined in December last year, throughout that period until the publication by the CER of an indication of the sort of pricing, the public was left fretting and uninformed. It was left to us and others to read the legislation and read between the lines of the legislation and eventually to give the people some indication of the astronomical figures that would ensue in the proposed charging mechanism.

This is an effort by the Government to save political face. It would like to believe it has succeeded but I do not believe that to be the case. It was obvious that the Government had to admit its absolute failure in this whole sorry process and rather than come out with one hand up it should have come out with two hands up. It should have admitted failure and succumbed to the request for an immediate review by the relevant committee and by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the process since its inception and into the massive loss of public funds with no commitment to the capital investment required.

Yesterday the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, admitted that since the troika left these shores he and his Government had become arrogant. He admitted to the fact that he and his Government were not listening. The final outlandish admission made by him at approximately 1.30 p.m. yesterday was that he could not understand how the people had become so exercised about this issue and why they were marching on the issue of water charges when they should be more interested in engaging with the Government and with their representatives on the subject of jobs, for example.

Of course they continue to engage with their representatives in a wide range of areas. They have become totally exasperated by the way in which the Government saw fit to introduce this model in the first instance, in its rush to have a charging mechanism and revenues in such a way that it could give the impression, by virtue of a 1% tax cut, that people were better off. Nothing could be further from the truth. That admission should have been accompanied by a willingness to step back and start the process over again. I and others have stated on a continual basis since it was first mooted that the concept and model of Irish Water were wrong. It was ill-thought out and a rushed process, and because of this we find ourselves where we are today.

During the past 12 months, the Ministers, Deputies Varadkar and Kelly, former Minister, Mr. Hogan, and the Taoiseach would have had us believe the reason for such immense quangos as Irish water and such outlandish and expensive charges was because we had to instil in the public a conservation ethos and commit to investment programmes in a broken network because of the failure on the part of the previous Government to invest in the system. I acknowledge that the system is not fit for purpose, but I also acknowledge there has been much expenditure by recent Governments. In the first ten years of this century €4.8 billion was spent.

We acknowledge and accept the system and network need to be updated and reinstated and the Dublin situation must be addressed. This being the case, one would think the Government would have said it could not charge for a system which it acknowledges is not fit for purpose and informed the public of the investment programme, and its costs, which needs to be put in place. It is ironic and amazing to think we have gone through two Bills such as one we have today but we still have not had published in the public domain a short, medium or long-term capital investment programme which would seek to prioritise the investment required and state where it is required, when it will be provided and how much it will cost. We have not heard Irish Water commit to the Garryhinch project to solve the situation in Dublin or the costs associated with it. Is something else being investigated which contradicts all of the expense, processes and preparations which went into making it available? During the course of a debate here some weeks ago, when the Minister introduced the motion to give effect to the charges, with this legislation further to it, the Taoiseach assured the House, when questioned by me through the Chair, that the programme would be available before the end of the debate. The debate has come and gone and we still do not have a detailed roadmap of the prioritisation of the capital investment required. The only commitment given was earlier this year, that approximately €1.6 billion would be spent in the next three years, including this one. That is not a penny more than what was committed in the previous programme, under which the local authorities carried out investment. It needs to be similar to the National Roads Authority in that priorities on primary schemes, secondary schemes and group schemes need to be put on the table.

Those on group schemes and rural schemes need to be reassured that the investment by the Department and Government will continue to assist them. Their biggest fear, which despite the protestations of the Government they continue to have, is that we are heading down the road of privatisation. In the event of this being the case, nobody would seek to purchase this end of the network because it would not be seen to be profitable. This commitment must be given and must be seen in writing and the funds associated with it need to be put in place. I am concerned about whether this is possible. It probably is not possible until such time as the EUROSTAT market test has been approved.

I am also concerned that the Government is committed to this model by virtue of the fact it will not spend up to 50% subvention in the system as a whole and has made alterations in this proposed legislation to assist Irish Water pass the EUROSTAT test. At present the Government subvention is 44%. At what level of non-compliance from the residential and commercial sectors will the 44% move closer to 50%? Is the Minister convinced and satisfied the estimation of commercial rates applicable to local authorities from Irish Water is right and correct at €60 million, and included in this legislation is a mechanism by which this bill will not fall on the table of Irish Water? As I stated to the Minister during previous questioning, I am not convinced that correct or sufficient estimation or valuation has been carried out on the networks throughout the country to state the savings in this regard are €60 million. The revenue or income expected from local authorities throughout the country in the coming years from this source has been pulled from under them, with the guarantee it will be included in the central allocation. There is no guarantee and there is nothing in the legislation to prove this is the case and I would like to see this.

I have asked the Minister for further clarification on the €60 million as I believe it is only an estimate. The Valuation Office has only carried out evaluations in Dublin and Waterford and no other part of the country can be sure of the value of assets which are now assets of Irish Water or what rate would have been applicable to them. During the course of the first Water Services Bill, it was widely acknowledged the value of what was being transferred to Irish Water could well have been up to €11 billion, and I did not hear anybody openly contradict this figure. If it is to be contradicted, I want it backed up with scientific evidence and proof it is the case.

It is quite obvious the Government will not take on board my requests, but it is only right and proper, in the event of a motion or amendment such as this succeeding, that one asks what is being offered as an alternative. In this area I state there should be an immediate review by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the entire process since it began with regard to a lack of value from consultants, despite the outlandish costs, the secrecy in the way it was set up and the use of the Economic Management Council.

The use of the Economic Management Council was at the expense of the other members of Cabinet who, when they were made aware that up to €80 million had been spent on consultants, showed surprise at the very fact. I remember stating publicly I felt they were feigning surprise, but we now know they were not at all feigning surprise because they had been kept in the dark by the Economic Management Council, which has gained so much power and momentum under the Government's tutelage then was ever there before. This is to such an extent that members of Cabinet cannot be fully accountable for decisions made in the name of the Cabinet, which is a grave situation in which to find ourselves and not one we support, considering the democratic nation in which we live and to which we aspire.

What ensued from this was €172 million in set-up costs, including the €85 million, and €500 million ploughed into the contracts for metering. Now we see the conservation element is minimal, given the water charges mechanism put before us. If and when the meters come into use, will they be obsolete? The water meters and standards associated with them which were installed over the past five years have been deemed to be obsolete by those carrying out the re-installation throughout the country now. Who is to say this will not be the case in five years time? We have also had household charge funding being ploughed into Irish Water.

4 o’clock

That was up to €500 million as well. There is the whole top-heavy nature of the quango which is oversubscribed in the provision of management within the company. Many people who assumed responsibility for well-paid jobs within it had already retired from the public sector with fine payments, pensions and so forth. In recent weeks we have had the revelation that, one month from the granting of the tender, the estimate for the provision of water meters was €100 million out.

We have yet to receive a commitment from the CER on the commercial sector. He has not assessed the costs associated with it with a view to arriving at a conclusive charge for the commercial sector, the farming sector and the industrial sector. Those sectors remain in the dark as to what their costs might be. They may feel, because of the reduction in income generated by this legislation, they might be in for a hike. As I said earlier, there is free provision of water - despite its quality - for those under boil water notice in the residential sector, but it is not free for the commercial sector. They are the ones in the small towns and villages, and in rural areas who are finding it very hard to sustain their businesses in recent times. The last thing they need on top of the commercial rates - which have not been overhauled in any shape or form despite the Government commitment to do so - is local authorities being forced to collect fees and charges at variance with the costs of providing that in addition to the residential element they have to pay for anyway.

I have spoken at length on this issue in its entirety over many months. I am glad in the first instance that the Government acknowledged that it has failed in this regard and that it has made many mistakes. However, despite all the mistakes it admits, the one mistake it will not accept was a mistake is the setting up of Irish Water. That was the biggest mistake and everything else that ensued thereafter was obvious considering the rush to put that in place without preparing adequately, and because of that, we find ourselves in the bind we are in.

Therefore I believe it is appropriate to have a full review and audit led by the Comptroller and Auditor General. We should not throw good money after bad in this regard, which I believe will happen. I have no doubt that in the future there will be a review and we will learn much more about this process that has been to our detriment. I am saying that it should be done now or soon in order for a proper system to be put in place and in order for a proper programme of investment to be recognised by the public as being in the pipeline, so to speak. Only when we have a system that is fit for purpose and a system that is renewed and caters for the future well into the years to come will it be fair, proper and right to ask people to make a contribution over and above the general taxation, as they do at present.

2:25 pm

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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Even the most partisan Government Member would acknowledge that this has turned into quite a fiasco. I acknowledge that the previous system did not work with 34 local authorities overseeing a system that did not get adequate investment over the years and could not be managed. It is impractical to expect a utility to have so many bodies overseeing it. However, what should have been a good news story has turned out to be an absolute disaster for Government because it just did not listen. It is almost a year to the day since I stated here in the Chamber that the water legislation would come back to haunt the Government, which has happened.

Several speakers referred to the time when the troika left. When the troika left the Government acted like the kids in the classroom when the teacher left for break. Its members felt they had free rein and they took off like wild horses. They are now reaping the rewards for it. This legislation historically will be seen to have been this Government's Waterloo. In time it will be a case study as to how governments should not do things. Everything was done in a very poor manner. While the Government won the confidence motion two days ago, the public no longer has confidence in it.

While I realise that polls can vary and the calling of a general election concentrates the mind, if a general election took place last Monday week based on the figures turnout for 2007, the Government parties would have obtained in the region of 17.5% of the vote. I do not believe there is any retrieval for the Government.

We now have a system set up that does not satisfy people who are totally opposed to water charges and others who would have seen the merits in one body, in the charge, in the conservation and in the repair of the infrastructure. They are not satisfied. In the fullness of time it will be shown that the model we have today should either be scrapped or we should go back to step 1 and develop it as it should have been.

I tabled an amendment in this section that was ruled out of order. It dealt with seven large urban areas that do not have secondary treatment plants. I suppose it is a populist amendment in many respects. However, if an individual dwelling has a septic tank and does not feed into a proper system, it incurs 50% of the charge. If we are to be consistent and equitable, the same should apply to a town dweller whose system just goes out into the local river or the sea.

In my area Arklow is such a town. We do not do infrastructure well in this country even though the previous Government introduced infrastructure legislation. We are all very conscious of our own doorstep, but it could apply anywhere. Will the Minister look at the situation in Arklow to prevent a replication of what has happened there? Planning permission was granted in 1997 and funding was allocated. However, to date the plant has not been built owing to a series of objections going up and down the ladder. This has resulted in the public not having confidence in the planning system. This arose due to the pressure from the public in the mid-1990s when interpretative centres were proposed for Luggala and Corofin in County Clare. There was an insistence by the public that State bodies had to apply for planning permission. One of the unintended consequences has been that one of our large coastal towns has water from a sewage treatment plant going out into the sea.

I do not have a solution to it. I do not know if legislation can be introduced to address it. The Minister may run into the same difficulty with those other large urban towns, four of which are in County Cork.

I am concerned about the assets and liabilities that were due to transfer to Irish Water. My understanding is that the assets are in the process of transferring and the liabilities will remain with the local authorities. However, the local authorities may not have budgeted for this. I do not know if the Minister is in a position to give us any breakdown of those liabilities. If not perhaps he might publish them on the Department's website.

The Vartry Reservoir was completed in 1863. The House of Commons at the time gave five weeks to debate the legislation. It was in the House of Lords for six days. It caused uproar at the time. There was an actual charge on the water at the time, strangely enough.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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I am opposed to section 3, which deals with the imposition of the water charges. In particular I am opposed to the reference to water meters contained in section 3(6). As we know, water meters are being imposed on householders who do not want them. Entire communities are facing Garda occupation and Garda violence in order to impose those water meters, in particular on the north side of Dublin, but also in Cobh and other areas throughout the country.

I draw attention to a serious escalation of the situation that has happened in the past day whereby private security is being used by water metering installers, in this case GMC Sierra, to harass, intimidate and try to prevent peaceful protests of those opposed to water metering. This morning, a protester, Mick Mooney, from Stoneybatter-----

2:35 pm

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I ask the Deputy not to mention people who are not in the House.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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A protester from Stoneybatter was accosted by private security, which I will not name but whose name I have, in a very serious incident. In his words, "I was walking up Prussia Street, heading towards the North Circular Road at approximately 8.10 a.m. on 11 December 2014, and noticed three men in front of me who kept looking behind at me suspiciously. As I proceeded about my business the three men in question stopped. One guy, in particular, wearing a black hat and a black scarf covering his face, turned back and started to walk towards me. As you can imagine, I felt quite frightened by this behaviour. He started to shout at me saying: 'You would want to watch yourself; you do not know who you are messing with.' Subsequently, one of the other men approached me, pinned me to the wall. He too was threatening me."

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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That is not relevant to the debate.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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It is relevant to subsection (6) that relates to water metering. "However, while I was pinned to the wall-----

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is not. It is about charges and I am not sure if-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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It relates to the water meters and that is the reason I am opposing the section.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I do not think that is relevant to the debate.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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"The last thing the security people said was: 'I will get you; you do not know who you are messing with.' Later on, someone else was told: 'We followed you home earlier; we know where you live. You do not know who you are dealing with.'" There were other incidents in Grangegorman, Phibsborough, and a spate of incidents in Dublin 7. Water meters are being imposed not just by the Garda but by private thugs hired by the companies imposing water meters. Is the Government okay with that? Does the Government think that people should have meters imposed on them with this kind of harassment?

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I ask the Deputy to be careful with his language in the House. He said private thugs were employed by people.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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That is evidenced by their behaviour.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I advise the Deputy to be careful with his use of language. He can make his argument without taking people's character and reputation into account.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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I did not name anyone. I could have named them but I did not.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy did. I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I do not think there is any prohibition on using that word in Standing Orders.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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There is actually about referring to people as "thugs".

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Does the Chair mean threats like that are not an issue?

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Unless one has proof that they are.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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If somebody made such a threat, they are a thug.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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We do not know if they did.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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If they killed innocent people in another country we would call them thugs.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Absolutely. The arguments have been rehearsed fairly extensively in the past year or two and there is probably not much point in dragging this torture out in terms of the Bill and what the Minister plans to do. The decision of the people on water charges has been made. They reject them but sadly the Government is not listening. If the Government is not brought down by this issue before the appointed time for a general election, it is signing its political death warrant by persisting with these issues. I am not saying that as a rhetorical point, it is just a fact. I do not really get it. Whatever the Government may have thought at the beginning, it is worth saying one thing. The Minister's party specifically told the people before the last election that it would not do this, but it did it. We have had the unprecedented popular mobilisation against water charges and the people have said they do not want them. I do not understand why the Government persists when the people have so decisively rejected them given that it is not so long since the parties themselves rejected it. Why does it persist with this when there is no rationale, no mandate and no justification for it?

The suggestion that these charges are reasonable or affordable and will stay that way is preposterous. There is simply no evidence that can be pointed to anywhere that charges go in any direction other than up rapidly once introduced for a service that once upon a time was provided to everybody, without user charges, and paid for through general taxation. Everywhere it has been done, the charges have rocketed. It is not credible to suggest the charge will be kept affordable and that the Bill and its provisions will keep it affordable when we know that charges will go up and up and that there will be pressure from the European Union for full-cost recovery.

It is worth stating once again that the EU treaties are clear on the pressure they will exert on any utility. I have more or less learned off the passage in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It states that any utility or service that has the character of a revenue producing monopoly will be subject to the rules of the treaties, in particular the rules of competition. Once user charges are introduced, Irish Water has the character of a revenue producing monopoly. If it does not have charges, it does not have that character. Once it has charges, it becomes a revenue producing monopoly and, therefore, it becomes subject to the rules of the treaties, particularly in the area of competition. That means charges in terms of the legal provisions of EU treaties become the prelude to privatisation, no matter what the Government says. Private companies will be able to use those treaty provisions to demand the right to tender for those services. Therefore, the process of privatisation will be inevitable once user charges are introduced. As I said earlier, the process has started already given that most of the work has been outsourced to private consultants and private contractors. In effect, off-balance sheet financing is privatisation because it means the bondholders will be able to put pressure and demands on Irish Water. Once charges are introduced, all of these things follow inexorably. That is why the Government should not do it. It does not have a mandate to do it and we all know where it is leading.

I wish to make a point I have made once or twice here. There has not been a real response from the Government and it has not got out into the general debate and discussion. My fears and concerns about it were underlined by the experiences recounted by the people who came from Detroit this week. They said that what they called the financialisation of Detroit Water was a key prelude to the charges rocketing through the roof. In other words, the use of off-balance sheet financing, bonds and so on essentially became the main pressure to jack up the charges.

Another thing they said, which was really interesting and, frankly, quite scary, was that the bill for water in was a tiny fraction of the bill for water out. The same as the Government is doing here, its charges are divided into water in and water out. The charge for water in was - I will not say reasonable - in this stratosphere in that it was a couple of hundred dollars but the charge for water out was three times that amount and brought it up to close to $3,000, making it unaffordable and the reason tens of thousands of people in Detroit have had their water cut off, an absolutely despicable move. There is something else I did not know which may shock the House a little more. If one's water supply is cut off for more than two days, one's children are taken away. That is the sort of barbarism that is happening in the US.

I am not saying this will happen next week but the Minister is now starting the process, and that is how it has happened everywhere else. The issue has not moved in any other direction. The assurances given to us are not credible, given the experience of every other place in the world. The charges go up, the water companies are privatised and there are demands for money and so on at every turn for fixing leaks, etc. This means affordability is left behind for the majority of people, leading to threats of being cut off, regardless of what is in preliminary legislation.

The elements relating to water egressing from premises have confirmed a fear that arose from reading the General Conditions for a Water and Wastewater Connection Agreement document from Irish Water. I do not know if the Minister has read it but it details the conditions that every customer of Irish Water commits to, although most probably will not have read it. The document is on the website and it outlines the conditions of being a so-called Irish Water customer. In the section dealing with obligations of the customer, section 1.9.7 indicates "The Customer shall not allow the discharge of rainwater run-off from roofs, paved areas or other surfaces into any Sewer, except as may otherwise be agreed in advance with Irish Water in writing". What is that about? Why would Irish Water require a written agreement - as every Irish Water customer will be giving a commitment to do this - demanding that if the customer has water running off the roof, windows or paving stones going into the wastewater system, there should be written consent from Irish Water? I would like the Minister to explain that.

I will tell him what I think it is about, as it is what happened in Bolivia and Detroit. As the charges are for water out as well as water in, people may try to save money on bills by harvesting water to minimise the water coming in. That water will go into a wastewater system so they will not be rewarded for water conservation and using less treated water coming in; they will be charged for it instead. In Detroit, the charges for wastewater are more expensive than that for water coming in. People are not rewarded for water conservation but they are charged for it instead. The more water conserved, the bigger the charge. In Bolivia, Bechtel was thrown out by a massive two year-long popular revolt against the introduction of charges and the privatisation of water. When it was privatised, Bechtel sent inspectors to people's homes to check if they had equipment to harvest rainwater. If people harvested rainwater and the Bechtel employees saw the evidence, there would be a charge.

That is what this clause is about. It will not happen today or tomorrow but there is a legal basis in the agreement that gives Irish Water authority to do what I described. The charging system is set up in such a way as to allow for it as it deals with water coming in and going out. There must be a written agreement from Irish Water for any water out that has been harvested from the sky. It is not just about treated water and people will end up being charged for water from the sky. It is shameful. As if the entire issue is not enough of a debacle, fiasco and injustice on a massive scale, we have this to add to it.

Please do not give us any fake assurances, as that happened everywhere else. I have studied the agreements and they are probably cut and pasted from other international models. I have examined the wording of agreements for all the other private water companies in America and other parts of the world and it is always the same. There is a model for privatisation and charging that is being pursued by multinational corporations all over the world. That is the Irish Water model too, regardless of any assurances and promises from a Government whose credibility when it comes to promises is threadbare. This is yet another shocking aspect of the issue and another reason people are so right to resist it. The one happy consideration in all this is regardless of how much the Government refuses to listen to the will of the people and contempt it shows for it - as it has done over recent weeks - the people will triumph on this and charges will be defeated. The resistance will continue and defeat this obnoxious plan to steal people's resources and human rights from them in the interest of private companies. It will be resisted as successfully as it was in Bolivia. The Government which introduced these charges will fade in the dustbin of Irish political history.

2:45 pm

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Section 3 is the key section for the legislation. There are three points I wish to raise and three questions I would like the Minister to address. I tabled amendment No. 17, which the Ceann Comhairle ruled out of order along with others. This regarded the seeking of a reduction in charges in charges for residents in towns where there is no wastewater treatment facilities. I provided the Minister with a briefing and the Environmental Protection Agency has identified 42 such towns. I will not read all their names but they include Cobh, Passage West, Ringaskiddy, Youghal, Killybegs, Arklow, Ballyvaughan, Clarecastle, Kilkee, Kilrush, Liscannor, Ballycotton, Castletownbere, Bundoran, Kilcar, Moville and Rush. The list goes on.

There is a clear precedent in place whereby Irish Water is providing two services, charging half the amount for each of them. If a house has a well, it does not pay for water coming in and if a house has a septic tank, it does not pay for water going out. There is another provision, which is if the water coming in is substandard, households do not pay for it. The proposal I put to the Minister was that when the service taking water out is substandard - just as the service bringing water in can be substandard - the relevant household would have the same derogation in charges and they would not pay for that water. Arklow is an example in my constituency and it is not simply the case that Irish Water can argue that wastewater is being taken from the house. It is taking the wastewater and dumping it into the Avoca river, which runs through Arklow town. It is not going anywhere and it is directly affecting those residents.

I tabled an amendment and in his introductory speech on the legislation, the Minister referenced these 42 towns, so I thought I was going to see a derogation put in place. That has not happened, although it is what amendment No. 17 would have done. The Minister tabled amendment No. 16, on which we just voted, which clarified that these 42 towns would pay for the wastewater removed. Even the legislation tabled by the Minister left some hope for these residents, as section 3(3) states, "Where a dwelling referred to in subsection (2), is in receipt of one service from Irish Water, that is to say either the provision of water services or waste water services, then the maximum charge that Irish Water may charge in respect of the dwelling is an amount that is 50 per cent less than the relevant amount mentioned in that subsection." That could be interpreted in a certain way by the people in Arklow and others. As they do not have the provision of full wastewater services, they would want that clause applied to them.

Rather than doing the right thing and providing that derogation, the Minister tabled amendment No. 16 which clarified and changed his own legislation to state:

Where a dwelling is in receipt of one service in respect of water services provided by Irish Water, that is to say-

(a) the supply of water from the dwelling, or

(b) the removal of wastewater from it,
That clearly clarifies the fact that from Irish Water's and the Government's perspectives simply removing wastewater from the dwelling is sufficient and it is reasonable to charge the full amount even if all Irish Water does is take that wastewater and throw it into the river behind one's house, polluting one's town.

What does the Minister say to the people of Arklow and all these other towns who say they do not have wastewater treatment facilities and they are not getting the service? There is a clear precedence in place where substandard water coming in is not charged for, so why is there not a similar derogation for a substandard wastewater treatment? What does the Minister say to the people of Arklow and people around the country who will be charged for that?

The second issue is around the charging regime laid out in section 3(2) and (6). The net amount raised from Irish households, when we bring in this section and the so-called conservation grant, will be €90 million or thereabouts per year. The meters will cost €539 million. That is usually spread over a 15-year period in a utility company, so the cost of the meters per year will be €36 million as against a net amount raised of €90 million. We now must add in the cost of reading the meters, the cost of billing and the cost of customer service.

I have checked with people who work with ulitity companies internationally. What they tell me is that at the low end, a really efficient operation, which I suggest Irish Water probably is not, costs about €60 per household to meter and bill. We are talking about 2 million households, so the cost of metering and billing to the State through Irish Water will be about €120 million per year, and that is a conservative estimate. The net amount raised will be €90 million. We will raise €90 million, put that entire €90 into the cost of raising it and then pay a further €30 million to raise the original €90 million. These are indicative figures I have from practices abroad.

Does the Minister have an estimate of the annual cost of billing, metering and customer service from Irish Water? Can he provide the House with the actual net gain of domestic charging, because we know the total amount raised will be €90 million? I believe it will cost €120 million to raise that €90 million, leaving us worse off by €30 million, but maybe the Minister has different figures. Maybe he has figures that say we will raise €90 million but it will only cost us €50 million or €20 million. What is the projected cost per year to Irish Water of raising this €90 million?

I refer to the investment model. When the figures going around the House were that about €15 billion or maybe €20 billion needed to be invested, I could see an economic case to continue to pay for the current water system out of current taxation but if we need an extra €15 billion, then maybe there would be a case, with all sorts of caveats in place, where an additional charge could be brought in to pay for the new investment only. Some people would not agree with that but I would have been okay with it. Then we got new figures which said the capital investment would only be €600 million per year for approximately the next decade. The latest figures we have are for 2010 when the total capital investment was €400 million, so this entire fiasco and all of this talk about the system falling over, reservoirs, lead pipes and all these bits and pieces is basically about moving capital expenditure from €400 million per year to €600 million per year. The total additional investment in the system, based on Irish Water's own figures, is €200 million per year.

Scottish Water reduced its cost base by 40% in the first five years so here is what is going to happen. In 2010, €1.2 billion was spent on water, with €400 million being spent on capital expenditure. In 2015, the total amount spent on Irish Water will go from €1.2 billion to €1.5 billion but the total investment will only go up by €200 million. That €200 million could easily have been found by reducing the cost base and by renegotiating these ridiculous 12-year service level agreements the Government put in place in January. It should have said we spend €1.2 billion on water right now and that we will create a common organisation called Irish Water in public ownership, take at least €200 million out of the cost base, which they have done in other countries, and reinvest that money in capital expenditure. Meters and charging would not be necessary. Why are we proceeding with a charging regime if the additional investment is only moving from €400 million to €600 million and that investment could easily have been found by reducing the cost base?

2:55 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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It is disingenuous to charge for wastewater removal in many parts of Ireland. I refer to a so-called SAC, about which environmentalists are great at talking and on which the EPA has done two reports. It is near Glenamaddy in County Galway and 200 tonnes of raw sewage is being pumped into it. People are being asked to pay for something, even though there is no treatment facility. The same applies in other places around Ireland. In many small towns, people will be expected to pay for a Wavin pipe taking wastewater from their septic tank to be piped through the town or into rivers or streams.

Throughout Ireland, engineers from the councils are telling people that their septic tanks are not up to standard. There may only be one person living in the house. Even if they have registered, it is costing €10,000 to rectify the problem. The Government needs to look at small and even large towns where sewerage treatment plants have not been working probably. We are charging people for taking wastewater from A to B along a Wavin pipe. I totally object to this.

Before one charges people for something, the infrastructure should be put in place to supply the service properly. There seems to be one rule for the State and councils and another rule for the ordinary Joe soap who is being trampled on. Will the Minister address this rapidly?

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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This section deals with the price people will have to pay for their water. I was surprised to hear the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, being very dismissive of the 80,000 people who walked the streets yesterday, mid-week and mid-winter, and saying there are other more important and serious issues. There are other important and serious issues but this is important and serious to thousands of families throughout this country.

It is not just about this €1 or €3 per week, which the Minister for Health mentioned, but this is at the end of years of austerity. Some €30 billion has been taken out of people's pockets. People have faced increases in bills over the past six years. Electricity has gone up by nearly 28% while gas has gone up by 30%. We have had the universal social charge, the pension levy, prescription charges and cuts to the respite care grant. All these small cuts have had a cumulative impact on people. People have said they cannot take anymore of this austerity and that this is a step too far.

This is where people have drawn the line and said the Government is not going to come after them again. They know this is a Trojan horse, that this is the start, even though it has been capped to 2018, and that full cost recovery will most likely kick in after that.

The Minister’s party may or may not be in government and he may or may not be Minister. That raises a big question in people’s minds about where this is going. This legislation, as we said before about privatisation, is not robust enough to put people’s minds at rest that this is not going to happen.

Experience has shown that this does happen, for example, the bin tax, which was based on the polluter pays principle. I support the polluter pays principle, that everything is put in place for people to recycle and reuse and those who do not use the services to recycle their bottles or plastic pay for pollution. The water directive came in under the polluter pays principle too. Who is the polluter? Ordinary people are not polluters. They want to conserve their water. They know it has to be paid for. People do not run their taps all day, despite what the Minister for Finance said that if they did not pay for electricity, they would leave lights on all day. How dismissive he is of the people of this proud country. People are not stupid. I oppose this section and will oppose the whole Bill.

In 2008, John Gormley, a former Green Party Minister, brought in again a 2003 exemption for domestic wastewater under the river basin plan. The current Minister will bring that plan to Brussels for renewal on 1 January 2015. Will that exemption go and, if so, how will that impact on this Bill because, as I understand it, the Minister will say it is covered by the new system? The European Commission cannot force us to change that exemption unless the Minister wants that to happen. People are very exercised by the idea that the Minister can put a line through the exemption because he is bringing in this Bill. I strongly urge the Government to listen to the people and abolish Irish Water and the water tax and bring that in through progressive taxation. Someone earning €70,000 a year who has got a nice tax cut of maybe €17 a week has to pay only €3 a week whereas someone earning €13,500 a year who got a tax cut of €2 a week also has to pay €3 a week. It does not make sense. It is absolutely unequal. People have said this does not happen with the ESB and the other utilities, such as gas, etc. Maybe it should happen because people need those utilities. Gas and electricity are different from water, which is a human need. People can live without electricity and gas, maybe very badly, but they cannot live without water. We need clean water in our system. I urge the Minister, taking on board all the points that have been made today, to continue using VAT and motor tax to provide the €1.2 billion for infrastructure and increase it if necessary and bring in a progressive tax to fund the local authorities in this area.

3:05 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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My amendment No. 11 was ruled out of order which is very frustrating. The people think we have the right to amend legislation in the House on their behalf but amendment after amendment is ruled out of order, which is very frustrating for us.

Section 3, which deals with charges, is the centrepiece of this Bill. The Government has back-pedalled several times on this. The justification for this is capital investment. Through the “noughties” approximately €400 million was spent per year on capital investment from central government but there was also substantial investment by local authority development levies. Some county councils did good work which has not been mentioned here at all. It is as if the local authorities never existed. Some used those development levies very well to upgrade and to part contribute to the upgrade of sewage treatment plants, water mains and other infrastructure. The Department told many local authorities to get involved in public private partnerships, PPPs. They were told if they wanted a sewage treatment plant or water source it had to be done by design build and operate, DBO. Local authorities were strapped into these DBOs and predicted they would have to be paid for through charges somewhere down the line. There is a legacy issue that was forced on local authorities against their wills in every county. I met with union representatives on this issue this morning.

On the charges, the Government has back-pedalled so quickly that it is in danger of toppling over or falling to one side. It has climbed down several times but the latest is the biggest climbdown because while it is willing to charge €160 for a single person household and €260 for a two-adult household, it will give them back €100 out of the tax taken from them. This is done to count it as income to satisfy EUROSTAT criteria. It is a hare-brained idea. If a large or even a sizeable section of households do not pay, the Government will not meet the 50% requirement to satisfy the EUROSTAT criteria. It is impractical and it could fall apart.

The Government is supposedly giving the money back to people for conservation. Many forms have been submitted in recent weeks from people who will not be paying customers because they have private wells. They do not depend on Uisce Éireann or the local authority for water but the Government will give them the water conservation grant although they do not have to conserve water. They can go up the town and drink the money. They can buy four bottles of vodka or anything else with it.

I am totally in favour of conservation. The party I represent wants to conserve water and protect the environment but this has nothing to do with that. The €100 could be used to damage the environment. It could be used for anything. It is a hare-brained scheme just to perform some bookkeeping gymnastics to satisfy the Government’s European masters.

Borrowing off balance sheet is given as a justification for the charges. This week, I invited the Detroit water campaigners into Leinster House where they met Members and their staff. They outlined very clearly what happened in their city with borrowing off balance sheet. Their water services are technically in public ownership but the city sold debt bonds, as this Government is going to do, but the people who control the debt bonds now control the service. They set out how it is supposed to operate and a whole range of measures the water services must follow, including charge huge prices for water in and massive prices for water out.

This has led to a situation where almost 16,000 households in Detroit are disconnected from water services today. It is absolutely crazy that so many people in that city are without water or sanitary services. That is where all of this is going. That is where it will get to.

The Minister is one of the two Labour Party Deputies who are present. I know the Fine Gael Deputy who is here has concerns about this matter too. I assure them that the water charges project is not sustainable. It is wrong. It cannot work in its current form. It is hare-brained, and no conservation measures have been provided for. There is no conservation. The figures have been moved around to try to meet a false set of criteria. It is morally wrong because many people do not have the money to pay. There is no recognition of people's ability to pay. It is wrong that a single millionaire living in a mansion will pay the same as a family living in a cabin. It is also tactically wrong. The Government should stop it and go back to the drawing board. I will be opposing section 3 of the Bill.

3:15 pm

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I would like to begin by agreeing with Deputy Paul Murphy, who referred to people who threatened him or some people he knows as "thugs". I would call those people "thugs". Regardless of what people think of Deputy Murphy, I remind the House that some choice words have been used against him without those words being ruled out of order. I do not suggest that the current Chairman was in the Chair at the time.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I am trying to be impartial, Deputy.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am reminded of what happened when an attempt was made to introduce water rates some years ago. I would describe those who were involved at the time in forcibly cutting off water supplies, threatening and abusing people and passing sexual remarks against women as thugs. I would not withdraw that remark.

We are in the dying hours of this debate. The section of the Bill we are discussing will impose water charges on the people of this country. It is worth reminding people of exactly what we are doing and who we are doing it to. I will do so by referring to the three issues that have concerned and aggravated people here. I remind Fine Gael and the Labour Party - I do not have to remind the Opposition - that people believe they have already paid for water from PRSI, VAT and all sorts of indirect taxation. People do not believe in the stability of the supposedly reasonable or affordable charges that are being proposed by the Government. The charges will not stick. People know in their hearts and souls that this is the beginning of increased and sustained charges. All of the indicators are there. Water charges in Scotland and England increased by 68% over a period of eight years. If people check it out, they will see that words like "reasonable" and "affordable" were part of the terminology used in the British Parliament when water charges were first introduced there. Nobody believes the unfair charges being introduced in this country will be reasonable or affordable two, three or four years from now.

Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned the word "mandate". We all have a mandate from the people who voted for us. The Government has a mandate. The Opposition has a mandate. Every individual Deputy has a mandate from those who voted for us and tell us what they think. There is absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of people are opposed to water charges. The Minister should not get hung up on the fact that people are paying or registering, because that does not necessarily mean they agree with these charges. The Minister is completely out of touch if he thinks the 4 million people in this country who were not among the 45,000, 70,000 or 150,000 people marching yesterday or a few weeks ago agree with these charges. That is not the case. It is interesting to note that many of the people I meet on these demonstrations are not followers of Deputy Boyd Barrett, Deputy Halligan or Deputy Catherine Murphy. Very many of them vote for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. They just do not agree with the water charges. Why does the Minister not get this? He seems to think there is a divide involving people on the left wing who are opposed to water charges and are gathering together to manipulate people in Waterford, Cork and Dublin, etc. If he goes into Facebook, or if he talks to his own people, he will understand that is not the case at all. I met a family in Waterford that has consistently voted for Fine Gael and will probably vote for it again. Three members of that family were out demonstrating against what they consider to be an unfair and unjust charge.

It comes back to the word "mandate". Where is the Government's mandate? It does not have one from the vast majority of people who believe they are paying too much. Furthermore, it should bear in mind that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has suggested that a vast number of people in this country - 700,000 adults and 200,000 children - are on the poverty line. Hundreds of thousands of more people are on very low incomes and cannot afford a penny more. As I said when I was interviewed by RTE radio yesterday, the Government needs to stop telling people that this costs just €3, €5 or €6 a week. It started at this with the universal social charge and the household tax, and now it is at it with the water charge. It is not acceptable to say to someone on the minimum wage, jobseeker's benefit or a JobBridge scheme who is barely putting food on the table each Thursday and barely keeping a roof over his or her head that it is only €5. The Government does not have a mandate to say that to people.

At this late stage, I would say the Minister is not going to change his mind. Regardless of whether he believes there were 30,000, 40,000 or 70,000 people at yesterday's protest, which took place on a Wednesday - a working day - he must acknowledge that a substantial number of people, representative of almost every city and country in Ireland, came to Dublin to make it clear that they will not pay these water charges. I will give an example of why those who were at yesterday's event represent many more people. We met many people yesterday whose wives, husbands and children were unable to come to the protest. If all of them had been present, there would have been 300,000 people marching in Dublin. If the many people who could not get off work, who were ill or who could not make their way to Dublin because they could not meet the expense had been in attendance, we would not be debating figures like 35,000, 45,000 or 70,000.

The problem is that the Government does not have a mandate to do this. Before they came to power, the members of the Government said on every radio and television programme that they would listen to the people and to what they want. Is the Minister seriously telling me through all of this that the people agree with this charge? Does he believe that? Is he using as his reasoning for that belief the fact that people are paying? People had to pay for outrageous mortgages on their houses because costs were shot up by banks and developers. They had to pay to keep the house. They had to pay the rent. Did they agree with that? No, they did not. People have had the universal social charge forcibly taken out of their wages. Did they agree with that? No, but they had to do it. I ask the Minister to think about that equation. People have to pay excessive costs to rent or buy houses. Do they agree with that? No, they do not. If the Minister really believes he has even one third of the population behind him, he is out of touch because he does not.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I would like to return to the substantive issue of section 3 of the Bill. I suppose it is the nuts and bolts of this legislation. We are trying to cobble a system together to cover up a totally mismanaged and ill thought-out strategy. As someone asked here one day, where was Irish Water conceived? Where was the baby delivered? What kind of an infant was it? What kind of beast has it grown into?

5 o’clock

All of this happened under the watchful eye of the former Minister, whom I affectionately call Big Phil Hogan, and the able, civilised and more reasonable face at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government at the time-----

3:25 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Thank you very much.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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-----the Deputy from Louth, whom I believe has enough information now. I have stated privately that he has the grenade in his hand. I had a water meter with me in the Dáil one evening during the debate. It was about the same size as a hand grenade, if a bit larger and more technical. The Deputy has the grenade if he wants to pull the pin and sink this beast. Not the Government, but the beast, because it is a failure. One could not bring it to a mart or anywhere to sell it because no one would buy it, take it or want it. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, does not want it either. He does not want his legacy to be the depraved beast of Irish Water. That would be some legacy. I told him so this morning and will not dwell on it. No one wants Irish Water. It is a monstrosity contrived by officials and some private people who thought it was a great idea because a lot of them, despite only being in their 50s, were due to retire with their pensions and redundancy payments and they might have wanted get a job somewhere else. Irish Water was created as a rest home for senior officials and to take in a great deal of money and bleed the people.

I am on record as saying that water should be paid for. I drew water on a horse and cart from a well with a hand pump and a barrel. I am only 56 years of age. Most people remember those days. I salute the pioneers who developed the group schemes.

I thank and compliment the county council officials and workers on the ground, including plumbers, caretakers and inspectors, who ran a good service for years while starved of funding. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste claimed that Irish Water got a desert - there was no network, intake plant or treatment plant. One would think Irish Water was out in the Sahara somewhere, but there was a working scheme. We were not all coming up to Dublin black with dirt. We were washed and clean and had sanitation, thanks be to God. Going by the comments of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, one would think that we were going around with buckets, barrels and jennets all of the time to bring water from wells or going into bog-holes for water. We had services. We had treatment plants. We had good staff. We had good people who worked all hours of the day, including Christmas Day, to provide water, fix leaks and talk to people.

Officials have been dismissed as if they have never worked. I know and am friendly with many of them and respect their work. They devised a system of charging. Farmers, publicans, hairdressers and constituency offices - every business - have been paying for water for decades. Meters were fitted, water was supplied and people had accounts. They had one-off leakage allowances if they had large leaks about which they did not know. The system was good and working but it was not a quango that could give jobs to the boys who wanted second incomes on top of their pensions and huge payouts. I want to put paid to that idea and salute the people and departmental officials who worked hard in my county to get the Burncourt and Fethard schemes, which have been awaited for 50 years. I do not know whether the former Minister of State, Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, announced them, but the contract was signed last January. I have not seen sight of the contract. When I inquired, I was told that it had been "executed". I thought I was back in the days of the 1916 Rising. "Executed", Uise Éireann's new terminology. The Minister might tell me what is meant by a contract being "executed". No sod has been turned. The Minister would be welcome to visit any day.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, who is a good friend of mine, to the Chamber. He does not want Irish Water. He is not happy with this Bill because he is a practical man who understands that-----

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I fully support Irish Water.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Good man. All right. Tell that to the people in Portlaw, Ballmacarbry and other places.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I did.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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They will talk with little pencils. Have I a pencil? No. They will go to their ballot boxes in privacy. The Minister of State knows where they will put their strokes.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy will be chasing them around with a hound.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Not beside the name of anyone who supported Irish Water. Systems were devised and developed and we have a water supply.

When some clever officials got into trouble with the Minister over treatment plants - Bray was the first, but there were others - they decided to portray the ordinary people of Ireland who had septic tanks - many dug them by hand and installed them at huge cost and got treatment plants in recent years - as being dirty and the ones causing the trouble. No one who has drawn water from a well would pollute someone else's water. They had it right.

I could name 34 towns and villages in south Tipperary that have no treatment plants. In my village, a big tank has a four-inch pipe that belts out raw sewage. Deputy Fitzmaurice mentioned something similar. But, no, the former Minister, Phil Hogan, was going to terrorise the dirty people of Ireland, make them have manners, clean themselves up, and get their septic tanks right and tell the EPA that they were causing the trouble. However, now the tune has changed altogether. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, mentioned yesterday that 4,200 plants were below standard. That was hardly true, but maybe it is. Now the real beast has been formed and the Government has always known where the trouble is. In 2006, the EPA found that more than 50% of plants in Kilkenny in the former Minister's constituency were below standard. We were going to prosecute, arrest and jail the dirty people in their households who were polluting the ground. We were going to bring them off in the paddy wagons. They were not fit to live where they were. They should have gone back to caves or elsewhere, or emigrated to get jobs in Canada.

What happened? I said it was like Joe Duffy's "Fiver Friday" had come to Clonmel. The former Minister dropped the amount to €5. I passed a basket around here for the fivers, as Deputies might remember. The entire thing dropped off the agenda. Several people in the business made applications - I did not - to become legitimate contractors, but they ran up against a large obstacle. One page of the form - I got one, but it had a lot of pages in it - stated that I had to get a letter from a local authority - it need not have been my own - confirming that I could take sludge by emptying Johnny, Mary or Tommy's tank. The problem was that local authorities - the Minister of State's, the Minister's, mine in south Tipperary, Offaly and so on - could not give out those letters because they had no capacity to do so. It became a national issue. Were people expected to eat the stuff? What were they going to do with it? They had nowhere to take it. It would have cost them several hundred thousand euro. Then they were going to be given grants. Then it turned out that only 29 tanks were going to be tested in Tipperary, my and the Minister's county. Some 19 below and ten above or the other way around; I am not sure. The entire thing died a death. The little people were left alone. Nineteen of them.

Everyone who registered thought he or she could get a grant. First, people could not get grants unless they were inspected. Second, the grants would be put into their wages. The grant would only cover a look into the tank and a bit of reseeding of the ground. It would not cover the substantial works. The Government knew that. It was a con job of the highest order.

Which brings us on to this, the real con and the mother of all quangos. We were told that the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, was going to fix prices, but the Minister told the House two weeks ago that the Government would fix them. Is the CER redundant? The Government is using the Social Welfare Bill. I turned the dial for the 11 o'clock news on RTE last Saturday week while travelling and heard that the Department of Social Protection was going to employ more staff to administer the €100 payments. This is a great. Deputy Donnelly cited a list of figures, including the €536 million to fit the meters, the cost of running everything and so on. Off balance sheet? The cost will be inside it like a corrosive rust. It will wreck the balance sheet, and all for the sake of a child conceived by Labour and breast fed, bottle fed and delivered on behalf of the fat cats. It stinks to high heaven. It is just a quango.

The former Minister of State across the way has enough information. He was being intimidated by whoever wanted to get this job. The contract for the meters was awarded before the company had a registration number, something that I did not think could happen. As I have said umpteen times, the legislation was signed into law on Lá Nollaig, 25 December. Whatever the reason for the indecent haste was, I do not know.

Irish Water is there, but the Government does not have the common sense to scrap it. Have the wake and the funeral and bury it. It will bury the Government. That is happening. It will do huge damage to democracy. People are marching. I thank and salute them for their behaviour yesterday. They were in good spirits despite all of the economic hardships they were facing, the cost of travelling to Dublin and the cold.

I salute them for how they conducted themselves. There were a few people involved who would not be wanted on any march. They are looking for something different out of it all. However, most people behaved very well and should be saluted.

I am hugely worried about the talk of this being done off balance sheet. We all know it will actually be on the balance sheet and will cost us a fortune. All of the fat cats have bonus contracts and will receive a bonus even if they do not earn it. It is ludicrous. These contracts were drafted by the very people who created the monster that is Irish Water. That is what has been wrong with this country for the past 20 years. We have had quangos and more quangos created by people with their hands on the handlebars of power. One would need a jackhammer to get them off. Of course, Ministers come and go. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, will be gone from here eventually. I might be gone as well. However, whoever is here will not be able to change any of these arrangements.

Senior officials have this country plundered. It is time they came in here and dealt with everybody. I am not referring to the officials who are accompanying the Minister in the Chamber today but to the senior officials in Departments. What happened to Kevin Cardiff after all the advice he gave the late Brian Lenihan? He got promoted to Brussels. He could not be sacked or otherwise punished. There is no retributions for those people. At least all of us in this House must face the electorate, which is as it should be. The same does not apply to the members of the permanent government. They devised this scheme to suit themselves and it is nothing more than a pension scheme for some of their own people. I know of three former county managers who have been appointed to the new body, along with several other former senior officials.

In the meantime, no pipes have been fixed and no sod has been turned on a number of promised sewerage plants. After all the talk about the Ringsend plant and the €180 million that was laid out, there is very little to show for it. We are now looking at a different animal; it is a completely different plant. Anybody who knows anything about it knows it is not the same plant.

I asked the Minister earlier about the exemption we got on the river basins, but he did not refer to it. We have very few exemptions and derogations from Europe. This one was hard fought for, but now it looks like we are just going to dispose of it. Are we stark, raving mad? After all the EU did with the financial crisis, after it robbed us in the so-called bailout - I call it the clean-out - are we now going to give away the one hard-won derogation we have? There is no explanation as to why this is being done. We are supposed to be putting a new plan forward on 1 January and it seems we will get rid of the derogation. I can only conclude this is being done to preserve the beast, stimulate it and put it on steroids. It is being beefed up for the wealthy people and con artists who are laughing at us.

I met with some of the people from Irish Water two weeks ago and asked them seven or eight questions. I have had no answer yet, even though I e-mailed the questions to them the following day. Instead, they told me barefaced porkies. They said they had heard nothing about a problem in Clonmel with sewers being blocked on private properties. I am tired of writing to them about these issues and tired of asking parliamentary questions about them. The CEO of the council also has written to them. How can they expect us to believe they are not aware of the problem? These are the people who were isolated from any responsibility at senior level in Departments and other local authorities where they were answerable to nobody. They were looked after by the former Minister, Phil Hogan, the big fella who also looked after himself when he got sent off to Brussels.

The huge worry I have - I suspect it is shared by the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, and maybe the Minister, Deputy Kelly, too - concerns the people who have been paying rates for years - the farmers, shopkeepers, hairdressers, funeral parlour owners and so on. There has already been a problem in recent years with meters and the ongoing increases in standing charges. Somebody will have to pick up the can for the climbdown the Minister has done. I will not use the word "legacy" again; the Minister knows all about that. Will the shortfall in revenue be pushed on to these people? I have no doubt that it will.

GMC Sierra is installing 600 meters in the Clogheen, Mullinahone and Killenaule areas of south Tipperary as I speak. These are to replace the meters and boxes it fitted 15 months ago under contract with South Tipperary County Council. The council insisted at the time that the workers put metal manhole covers on the footpaths, especially in Mullinahone where the streets are narrow, the footpaths are low and trucks sometimes go up on them. The company agreed to do so. Now, however, its workers have taken away all the steel covers and replaced them with plastic ones. I am told all the steel covers are in a scrap yard in Clonmel. The workers will not be gone off the job before the new covers are broken. Then we will have leaks and the devices will have to be replaced. It is about creating more business for themselves. Who will call a halt to this in consideration of the cost to consumers? Business people are already paying charges and there is a 98% collection rate in south Tipperary. I salute both the rate collectors and the business people of south Tipperary for paying. People do not mind paying for a service once they actually get that service.

The problem, however, is that the price will be jacked up through the roof and people will be put out of business. Two weeks ago in this House we debated the Bill put forward by Deputy John McGuinness to reform the rates system. Somebody will have to pay if the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is going to use the Social Welfare Bill to give €100 back to households. Some people who have a septic tank and a well have told me it is like Christmas coming early. Although 8 December has come and gone, their €100 will go further in the sales on 6 January. That is assuming they get the payment. The Department of Social Protection will have to take on more staff to administer the scheme. The whole thing is stark, raving mad.

I do not know why the Minister does not stop and admit that this beast is a bad creation, is not fit for purpose and is climbing on the people. It is about looking after the fat cats and it is not good for democracy. It will wipe the Labour Party off the map and will severely damage the Minister of State's party. And all for what? To fulfil promises and side shoves to cronies. These people have been shoved into Irish Water for no other reason. It was the same thing with EirGrid. The powers that be in that case were determined to do what they wanted throughout the country. This week we heard there will be a new consultation. They are going to play nice and come down to the country and listen to people. I asked the chairman of that company two years ago to put on his wellies and walk through the fields of Tipperary to see where the pylons were being installed. He did not want to hear about it. He and his colleagues have learned, however, and now they have a different attitude. Bhí siad ag éisteacht and the Minister and Minister of State are supposed to be listening in the same way. However, they are only listening like the farmer who is in bed half-asleep, with one ear on the pillow and the other one covered with his scarf or cap. It goes in one ear and out the other with the Minister and Minister of State. They are not listening and will not listen, and that is the rock on which they will perish.

I have huge concerns, as I said, regarding business people and big industry. Large firms have to use power water and are already paying for it. As other speakers noted, there is no element of conservation in any of this. The meters are going in at the huge cost of €536 million - the Government was €100 million out in its estimation - and will not be used at all. They are nothing but ornaments. Perhaps people will put a geranium plant inside the box and water it. The spanking new meters that were installed in Mullinahone last year, which I went out to look at, have been taken out again. All that was needed was the little device on top; the clips were already there. The new piece could easily have been fitted to allow them to be read electronically rather than manually. It is very hard for anyone to read the meter because the new fitting they put on top of them obscures some of the red digits. Previously, if one wanted to check if one had a water leak, one had to turn the water off at midnight and get up and 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. in the morning to read it again. However, that is not the case with this system because 1,000 litres must be involved before one can tell whether there is a leak.

It is nothing but a set-up. The whole thing was designed and created as a cash cow and perpetrated on the people to make fat cats fatter. It is like rubbing butter into a fat sow's you-know-what. It is nothing more than an insult to people's intelligence. It was designed and created that way and the Government parties intend to vote it through tonight or tomorrow in spite of knowing in their heart and soul it is wrong. Government Members are denigrating the good councils on which many of them served over the years. We did not have a barren desert before. Local authorities had water treatment plants and good services and supplies and they were contactable.

When people ring Irish Water now to fix a leak, staff do not know where towns in Tipperary are. They say they never heard of them. They tell people to ring the council because they cannot do anything. I experienced that one Sunday evening about two months ago. When people came home from a match, the road was blown up and the water main was leaking. They rang and rang the emergency number in the council and eventually they rang the Garda in Cahir because the road was a danger, not to mind the water being wasted. The Garda gave them Mattie McGrath’s number. Thank God I was able to get someone in the council; I had the number of the caretaker. This is the farce that has been created. When the council caretaker comes out now to check a leak, as he always did, he can no longer touch it and must advise the person to contact Irish Water first. Did you ever hear the beat of it? Irish Water then must come back, when it decides to come back, and instruct the caretaker to deal with it.

That is just nonsense of the highest order and the Ministers know it, as does the man sitting quietly on the uppermost benches opposite. That man previously held a grenade in his hand. Had he pulled the pin, both the Government and Irish Water would be gone. Funny things have happened in this matter. Deals were done in hotels in Dublin and I have information which indicates that this was the case. Of course, I do not have as much information as the former Minister of State. The information in my possession has not been verified so I will not put it on the record of the House but side deals worth hundreds of millions were done not just in respect of water, but also wind energy. It was all a big crazy scheme.

3:45 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Conspiracy theories.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I suppose it was not really all that crazy and it developed into a Ponzi scheme for certain individuals. These deals were done in this city, in a hotel not far from this House. I know what happened but I have not confirmed the details. Those details will come out very soon.

The Government has time to back off and reconsider the matter, particularly if its members respect their constituents. We are here to serve the people. We are Teachtaí Dála - messengers of the people. I appeal to some of those opposite to go missing for the vote later tonight in order that the debate on the Bill might collapse. They should take action in order to save some shred of honour and dignity and display a modicum of pride and responsibility. Those in government received the finest mandate ever from the electorate. However, they flushed that mandate down the drain long ago.

I ask the former Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to come clean. He has the information I referred to but by the time he puts it on the record, it will be too late. He knows that queer, wrong and immoral things happened. Information relating to this will all come out in the wash, if we have enough water for washing.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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I wish to make a final appeal to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, to withdraw the Bill, to abolish Irish Water and to get rid of water charges and taxes. The Minister comes from a real Labour movement background. After yesterday's protest and in view of the huge turnouts at the previous protests, he cannot be unaware of the intense anger and deep concern among people. In large part, the protest which took place outside Leinster House yesterday was organised by fantastic trade unions such as Mandate and UNITE. Of course, SIPTU - finally and belatedly - came on board. As I stated many months ago, the introduction of water charges is the straw that broke the camel's back. People are sick and tired of the austerity policies put in place by this Government, which I could never support, and that which preceded since 2010. They want this matter over and done with.

I support Deputy Cowen in his efforts to have section 3 deleted from the Bill. The Bill with which we have been presented is basically a political public relations, PR, exercise. It is an attempt to remove this crucial issue from the agenda in 2015 during the run-in to the next general election. The Minister should be aware that his Fine Gael ministerial colleagues, who are adept in this regard, are going to pull the plug on the Government and send out hapless Labour Party backbenchers to meet a terrible fate at the hands of their constituents. This PR-style Bill is also an attempt to smooth the rough edges in the hope that the Government will somehow "get away with it" on this issue. Unfortunately, the reality is that the damage has already been done. As I informed the Minister a few weeks ago, Irish Water is a toxic brand. There is no future for it. Following the next general election and regardless of the combination of parties, etc., involved, we hope that a progressive government will rise to lead the State either in late 2015 or early 2016. Whatever happens, Irish Water will not survive and neither will water charges.

I have received a steady stream of e-mails regarding the Minister's potential role in respect of the European water directive. I understand the Minister has the authority to ensure that Ireland's famous Article 9 exemption will be maintained. We received legal documentation from individuals who follow European affairs very closely which indicates that Ireland does have such an exemption. Many countries have exemptions. A number of people stated that only Azerbaijan and Ireland do not have water charges. Why should Ireland have water taxes? Do we want to be like Azerbaijan? It is an interesting and, I hope, progressive state but it does not have water charges. Countries across the board have exemptions in different areas. We have an exemption in respect of water because the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, had previously been a member of Dublin City Council and had witnessed the ferocious and relentless opposition of the people of the city to water taxes. We fought against those taxes and we defeated those who proposed them. We will also defeat the Minister and his Government if they continue with this crazy policy. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, decided not to proceed with water taxes and he obtained an exemption. It seems, from the legal advice we received, that the Minister has a particular role to play before the end of the year in terms of ensuring that the exemption will remain in place. The UK has major exemptions in respect of the contributions it makes to Europe and in many other areas. Why should Ireland not have its own exemption?

Earlier today, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, referred to Ireland's reputation in Europe, etc. In recent days, The Guardianpublished two articles by Martin Wolf, a professor of economics from Harvard University, in which he highlighted the fact that when people say Greece they also say Ireland, when the say Portugal they also say Ireland and when they say Spain they also say Ireland. In other words, they are referring to the periphery. What Martin Wolf is saying is that Ireland has been hammered - the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, forgot to mention this - with a national debt of €230 billion. It must be remembered that this Government is leaving that appalling debt to this country. Professor Wolf is of the view that something major must be done for Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. He is also of the view that Germany and Chancellor Merkel, who was re-elected as leader of the conservative forces in Europe in recent days, must face up to their responsibilities.

I have known and worked with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, for many years since he became a leading figure in Labour Youth. I appeal to him to abolish the quango that is Irish Water and water taxes. I very much support what the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan, and various other Members are trying to do in respect of the rural economy. However, colleagues who represent rural constituencies underestimate the impact of property taxes on Irish cities, particularly Dublin. Some of the people who protested outside Leinster House yesterday live in very modest semi-detached and terraced houses and they are paying between €500 and €800 in property tax. On 21 March next, they will be obliged to come up with this money again. They are of the view that this is enough and that the amount they pay in property tax should cover all local government services, including water. If people pay property tax of €700 or €800 per year, why should they be obliged to pay a further €160 or €260 in water tax? I have heard people put this argument forward time and again, and it is a very valid one.

Irish Water is unsustainable because of issues relating to the drainage function. I was about to refer to Deputy Mattie McGrath as a Minister. I hope he will be a Minister one day. In any event, the Deputy referred to the problem with drainage in many counties. The drainage system in Dublin city, including that part of it which is located in my constituency, is extremely complex and intricate. Local knowledge is required to operate and maintain it. I would prefer the engineers of Fingal County Council to look after the drainage system in its area of remit and those of Dublin City Council to look after that authority's system. That will be the way it will be done in the future. If we were reorganising water services, we would proceed on a regional basis. People in Dublin are used to a regional system. I served as chairman of the general purposes committee of Dublin City Council which operated the water system and which was responsible for developing a major facilities in Leixlip and at Poulaphouca, which the Minister may have visited. The committee in question ran the system despite not being given any money by either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. We had major difficulties in the context of trying to obtain resources from the two conservative parties. However, we operated a system which served the four local authority areas in Dublin and large parts of Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Louth.

We had a major regional system and we believe the next Government will proceed in a similar way. As I stated, what is being done is wrong, even in engineering terms. It would certainly be wrong on the basis of a cost–benefit analysis.

The Minister faces tonight a major and desperate housing crisis in the city. The last telephone call I took before coming in here for the debate was about a constituent who is on the streets right now. I welcome the measures the Minister and Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, tried to introduce in recent days but I believe that, if one were to make a case for a national body to do work now being done by county and city councils, one would do it in respect of housing. We could have thought very seriously about setting up a single housing executive for the nation because housing is an area that was not delivered on. Many city and county councils just did not deliver the required amount of social housing, nor did they agitate enough to plan for or organise it. While a case could be made for a national housing executive, areas such as my county and region did very well, with no support from the conservative parties, regarding the provision of water.

Many speakers said that, by establishing the quango of Irish Water and passing section 3, the Government is putting us on the road to privatisation. The Minister says it is not but voted us down the other night on the points made by Deputies Clare Daly and Catherine Murphy on the use of “may” and “shall”.

3:55 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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That was accepted.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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We made some progress on that.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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It was accepted but the Minister is still not proceeding in such as way as to have an immediate referendum to prevent privatisation once and for all. In light of what we saw in regard to waste management, it is inevitable that the Government will leave the door open to privatisation.

It must be stated much of the work of Irish Water is already privatised. Since Irish Water was established, Siteserv, Sierra and such companies have had huge water metering contracts. It is a private system. It is not a case of using the county or city engineers as Irish Water has already gone down the road privatisation.

The United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic and other countries that embarked on the process the Minister is now embarking on ended up following the privatisation road. By studying those countries, we know there is a desperate feeling therein to try to get back to the public sector and re-nationalise water supplies. Paris is a case in point. The Minister has set us on an inevitable path. If there is a conservative majority in the next Dáil or next couple of Dála, we will end up with an increasingly more expensive privatised water system.

Many issues have been brought to the Minister's attention in his rush down the Irish Water road. There are difficulties with lead pipes in so many houses, for example. Some have said one's PPS number will still be used in the process of this Bill because the conservation grant has to come through the Department of Social Protection. Therefore, there is a set of circumstances that are similar to the morass the Minister inherited.

I appeal to the Minister to take on board the fact that this Bill represents the road to nowhere. It is certainly the road to nowhere for the Labour Party, unfortunately. It is the straw that broke the camel's back. The Minister should listen to this House, withdraw the Bill and consider a structure whereby water services could be provided by city and county councils on a regional basis, as was done well for many decades.

There is no question about what will happen in the upcoming general election. When some of the controversy over Irish Water started, I asked the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, whether there would be a referendum on this issue. The upcoming general election will serve as a referendum on this matter. There is no question but that the PR Bill the Minister is presenting us with today, the original Bill and all the pomp and works of Irish Water will be swept away. Unfortunately, some of the Minister's colleagues will be swept away with them.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I support those who oppose section 3 because it is the key section of the legislation. It provides for the charging for water. I oppose this section because I am of the view that the game is up for water charges. The bottom line is that the public simply does not accept water charges. If the Minister has ever doubted that, he need only recall the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets, not only yesterday but on each of the other occasions. People mobilised and came out onto the streets to say to the Government that enough is enough. Regrettably, the Minister has continued to ignore the views being expressed to him. He is doing so at his peril because enormous damage has been caused to both parties in government by their insisting on going ahead with the charges.

There is no public support for the charges, for several reasons. Many oppose water charges in principle but there is a very large number who simply cannot afford to pay them. That might be difficult for Ministers to understand but the fact is that there are some 1 million people in this country who have incomes of €25,000 or less. Yesterday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, seemed to have difficulty understanding how some people might not have €3 left at the end of the week. How much does he believe he would have left over at the end of the week if he were trying to live on €25,000 or less per year? There is a need for a reality check in terms of where people are at. A large number of people are in very difficult circumstances and their basic income is very low. This does not take into consideration those who have incomes in excess of €25,000 but who have major debt problems. That is the lot of so many people in the country; they cannot take any more.

Others oppose the charges because they are sick and tired of the cronyism that has existed and which the Government promised it would end. It has not done that. We have seen a continuation of that culture of cronyism in the setting up of Irish Water.

Another group of people opposes the charges because they are so angry about the incompetence the Government has displayed from start to finish in respect of the entire Irish Water shambles. It is an utter shambles in terms of public administration and the ability to go about setting up a new public body that actually functions. It is a complete shambles and many people are sick and tired of the incompetence that has been demonstrated by the Government in this regard.

Most people are sick to the teeth of additional charges at a time when their income is being cut. Over recent years, the cost of running the country, including the cost of repaying bondholders, has been shifted disproportionately onto the shoulders of those who can least afford it. It started after the election in that the Government did a complete volte-faceand decided to pay back the bondholders in full. We are paying an enormous price for that, and future generations will continue to pay that price. However, in the actions the Government has taken since paying back the bondholders, all the changes it has made in terms of additional charges and cuts to secondary benefits and pay have affected disproportionately those people who could least afford it.

We have moved from a situation where many services had been paid for out of the general taxation system, which up until recently has been reasonably progressive, to one where those charges have been shifted onto the shoulders of people without any regard for a person's ability to pay. We have a raft of new regressive charges that the people are expected to pay irrespective of their circumstances. That principle, which the Government has been following in recent years, in terms of everybody having to pay the same irrespective of their circumstances, is continuing with the revised charges that the Minister announced in recent weeks. There was a pensioner on to me in recent days who was aggrieved that, whatever about the previous charging system that the Minister spoke about, this latest charging system is most unfair to those in the circumstances, for example, of a pensioner couple on a low fixed income. Such a pensioner couple will be charged exactly the same as, for example, a company director with an income of €500,000 a year with four grown-up children living in the family home where considerable quantities of water are being used, and there is no recognition of that whatsoever. The original argument in favour of water charges was principally one of conservation. That has now gone out the window. There is no element of conservation in this at all. Shortly, we will talk about the so-called conservation grant and all of the problems associated with that, but this charge continues the trend of the Government in terms of imposing equal charges on people irrespective of their ability to pay or otherwise, and it is a regressive charge. The Government is responsible for introducing a raft of regressive charges and, indeed, making the taxation system less progressive than it was previously. That is not what I would have expected from the Labour Party.

The Minister cannot continue to ignore the will of the people. It seems as though Deputy Kelly is determined to do that, but he will pay a significant price if he insists on going ahead with it. It is time the Government realised that there is no public support whatsoever for these charges. Of course, the public realises that, irrespective of the level of these charges, no doubt they are only the thin end of the wedge. Whatever the charges introduced, they are the thin end of the wedge and they can only go in one direction.

In respect of the Minister's announcement, the back-pedalling, as other Members have referred to it, in which he engaged two weeks ago and the new charging regime that he has announced does not add up and does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. The Government talks about the need to keep the borrowing off the balance sheet. There are a whole lot of elements contained in these proposals which will result in a situation where we will not have Irish Water operating off the balance sheet. The Minister talks about the ability to issue bonds and to raise loans. It is being talked about in terms of this being a way of raising funding in order that the public does not have to pay for it but, of course, all of those loans must be repaid. The only one who will repay those loans is the public. The public must, sooner or later, repay those loans. People are not stupid. They understand that now more than ever, given what has happened over recent years. In terms of the model the Minister is talking about where significant investment will be made in Irish Water, the point has already been made that we will end up in a situation where the bondholders of Irish Water will dictate terms. That is inevitable and the next step is privatisation, irrespective of any commitments in terms of the future ownership of Irish Water.

One would also have to ask how any investor can have confidence in this model when the funding model for Irish Water keeps changing. Nobody has seen the detailed figures in light of the revised charging regime. I seriously suspect that it does not add up. As we have not had those figures in the public domain and given the significant question marks that hand over that entity, how can the Minister expect investors to have any confidence and to put money into Irish Water? Why would any investor invest in that company when there is such uncertainty about user fees and whether they will be collected? The Minister has gone out of his way in recent weeks to suggest that they will not be collected next year anyway and it will be late in 2016 before any action is likely to be taken. What are the implications of that message from the Minister for potential investors in the company when we could be in a situation where the projected revenue from fees will be drastically reduced? What are the implications of that for the Minister's off-balance sheet model? One would also have to ask why any investor would consider investing in this company when there has been such an extraordinary level of incompetence shown by both the Government and senior management in Irish Water to date. There is a significant problem with lack of leadership in that company and a serious lack of competence.

The penalties the Minister announced in the past couple of weeks will not kick-in for a year and three months after the charges are meant to be paid. That brings us to at least April 2016. I heard on the radio Deputy Kelly stretching that out further stating it would be after April 2015 that the 15 month period would kick in, and he suggested that would bring us to August 2016. Given that, the back-pedalling that has gone on, and the strong messages going out that nobody will be taken to court and no action will be taken, one must ask in terms of the viability of this entity why anybody would pay water charges next year. There are no penalties that come into play next year. The Minister himself has said no penalties will apply until the last quarter of 2016. If that is the case, what are the implications for the revenue of Irish Water?

I would further put it to the Minister in terms of questioning the entire financial viability of what he proposes that if it is the case, as he suggested when he made the announcement of the backing down or back-pedalling, that 50% of people will be able to get a rebate, this in turn will have significant implications for the revenue of Irish Water, and it also raises questions about the user data that are being used. In addition, it is proposed to collect data to assess the new charging regime in 2018. Given the paucity of any solid data that would support the contention that this will be a viable company, we are told that we must wait and see whether it passes the market corporation test. All of the indications from the utterances of Government, particularly the Minister, are that it will not pass the market test, but we have no indication of what plan B will be. What happens if we reach a situation where we realise that the data are not reliable, the charging regime does not operate in any kind of effective way and people have no incentive to pay their charges next year?

What happens when the market corporation test fails? What is plan B?

For the past six months the Minister, and the Taoiseach in particular, in an effort to keep all of this at arm’s length have been saying repeatedly that the charging regime has nothing to do with the Government; that it is set by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. Now the CER is no longer relevant to the pricing regulation. It does not have a role in it because politics has kicked in and the political system is now setting the price. The situation is an utter shambles. This is nothing other than a strategy to get the Government through to the other side of the next election. Everybody sees through the ploy. We know that the chickens will come home to roost for the Government parties in the next general election, but more importantly, we know that in terms of the cost of funding Irish Water, the chickens will come home in a very serious way for the public who will be stuck with a hefty bill.

One must ask whether the Government is trying to make the situation unworkable. This is all supposedly being done for the sake of €90 million a year. The politics of that are ridiculous. The Government gave away €1 billion in the recent budget, much of it in tax breaks for the better off. That was not very clever politically if all the Government is getting out of the entire Irish Water debacle is €90 million and all of the grief involved. Of course, that is not the case. We are talking about a maximum of €90 million this side of a general election and then having kicked the can down the road, all of that will mount up for the public after the next election.

The Government has utterly failed in this regard. The public do not accept what it is doing. There is no element of fairness involved. Neither is there any element of the reform the Government once talked about. We continue to have a bonus culture in the new quango and the board has been stuffed. There was a political pay-off to Phil Hogan. More and more people are asking how the person responsible for creating the mess has been rewarded by the Taoiseach and has gone off into the sunset with a plum job at European level. Apart from the question of the lack of fairness and lack of reform the situation gives rise to a significant question about the incompetence of the Government.

The legislation is largely undoing the previous legislation that was brought before the Houses, passed and was signed into law by the President. That again underlines the incompetence of what is happening. The Government introduced a regulatory system based on previous legislation and now it must be undone. People have lost trust in the Government. There is every reason for that – broken promises, the Government saying one thing and doing another, and being really disappointing and letting people down. That is why nobody believes what the Government is saying. Everybody knows this is merely a strategy to get the Government through a difficult political period and past the next election. The Government is kicking the can down the road. Everyone knows that is a serious mistake.

If the Minister had any sense or courage he would have recognised the serious mistakes that have been made and he would have scrapped this hare-brained shambles of a plan. Unfortunately, the Minister has not done that and there will be a big price to pay for it. Could the Minister clarify exactly what the situation is in regard to the exemption to Article 9.4 of the EU directive? Some of us tabled parliamentary questions asking the Minister to clarify the existence of an exemption for this country, and that there is no European requirement to introduce water charges. The Minister denied the existence of an exemption. We do not want to find ourselves in the situation in the new year where the Government is again throwing its hands up in the air and saying we have to do this or that because Europe is insisting. We heard further reports from people who seem to know the situation that if the Minister wants the exemption to continue, he must apply for it to be extended. Could the Minister clarify once and for all what is the situation? Could he confirm whether there is an exemption for Ireland? Will he also confirm whether a deadline is looming at the end of this month and what his intention is in that regard?

4:15 pm

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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I got elected to Dáil Éireann in 2002. This is one of the biggest issues that has come before me in my constituency of Galway West. It is even bigger than the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. People refer to the cost of setting up Irish Water, the number of managers and the bonuses being paid. A total of 90 managers earn more than €100,000 a year. They also get a car bonus worth €10,000 a year. The big talking point among people is the cost of setting up and running Irish Water. They believe it will eventually cost more than the HSE to run because of the number of managers and workers involved.

Every day of the week jobs are advertised in local authorities for people to work in Irish Water. A lot of the people who work in Irish Water are good people who have given a great service to the local authorities. We do not blame the people who work in Irish Water who are trying to do a job. The Government has set up the company. People are concerned about the costs associated with setting up Irish Water. A total of €80 million was spent on consultants alone. How could anyone justify that? How could one explain to people that consultants got €80 million to set up a utility company?

The Minister stated the charges for the average family for water will be low. They might be low today, tomorrow and in a year’s time but what will they be in ten years’ time? I am in the House for 12 years and the time was not long going by. The costs in ten years’ time will be a lot higher than €60, and they will be a lot higher than €160. I will put any money on it that people will pay an average of €1,000 per year for water.

In addition, there is the property tax. Many people accepted the property tax. They registered their property and paid the tax. They asked why another €100 was not added to the property tax to cover water services rather than setting up a new utility company. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, said this morning that 935,000 people had registered with Irish Water. Irish people are law-abiding citizens. They do not want to break the law. They are worried. They do not want letters telling them that if they do not pay they will be brought before the courts. The vast majority of people have never seen the inside of a court house. They do not want to go inside a court. They registered because they are afraid of what will happen. They know that by registering they will be caught within the payment system. I will not advise anyone to break the law. I have never advised any constituent who came into my office to break the law. That is a big worry because property prices will increase, as will the property tax.

6 o’clock

Give it another five to ten years and the average household will be paying in the region of €1,000 for water and €3,000 or €4,000, if not €5,000 or €6,000, property tax. They will get nothing out of it. Many Government Deputies are saying that the system was not working correctly and there were numerous leaks and much damage. I agree but there were also many excellent schemes in place. We must hand it to the local authorities because they have done brilliant work in upgrading schemes and taking schemes in charge. If local authorities were properly financed to service the schemes it would cost a fraction. Rather than giving that €80 million to consultants if it was given to local authorities many schemes would be upgraded.

About four or five weeks ago there was a major pipe burst on a regional road in Galway. It blew a section of the road. The neighbours contacted my local councillor, Councillor Jim Cuddy, who in turn rang Irish Water at 8.30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The receptionist thanked him for his call and said the incident would be brought to the attention of Irish Water on Monday morning. This was 8.30 a.m. on a Saturday. Many thousands of litres of water was leaking by the hour. A house was nearly flooded only for the quick action of a few neighbours who put up a barrier against the water.

Councillor Cuddy rang me. I know that I am not supposed to name people but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who is a Galway man knows Martin Lavelle who is the senior engineer in Galway County Council. He was at home in Mayo and I rang him on his mobile. He took the call and he explained that technically he would be required to wait for clearance from Irish Water before the local authority could deal with a leak and all the paperwork completed. I explained to him that hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were leaking and fair play to him, he got it fixed. He arranged for a contractor to fix the leak. I asked him what was the procedure for paying the local authority for the work because technically the local authority was not supposed to carry out any work without prior approval from Irish Water.

Talking about leaks, recently it came to my attention that a large school received a bill in the post for €11,500 to cover a two-month period. Contractors eventually discovered the underground leak which could not be seen. The school contacted the local authority engineers who assured the principal that the bill could be paid off over four or five years but that the school was liable for that bill. I brought this matter to the attention of the city manager and in all fairness to him he is looking after it and it is hoped something can be done. I advise everybody that they should examine their water meter when it is installed to see if it registers a leak because the only time it will be brought to one's attention is when the bill comes in the door. A householder might be allowed one write-off of the cost but the chances are that we will not get any write-off of the bill. I advised the principal of the school to examine the water meter every morning to see if it has registered any change. I advise all schools to do so because an underground leak will not be noticed until the bill comes in the door. This issue must be addressed.

Some time ago I put down a parliamentary question to the Minister about the cost of installing meters and the reply was that it was nothing to do with the Minister but that it was the responsibility of the local authority. My colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, raised this issue previously in the House. The Minister replied that it was a matter for Galway County Council. My colleague, Councillor Jim Cuddy, tried to raise the matter at a council meeting but he has been unable to get the information about the costs. Now the meters have to be removed and replaced with new meters and this is more money wasted when people are sitting on trolleys in hospitals and waiting to have operations and €500,000 was spent in Galway just to change the name of a hospital. Talk about wasting money.

I wish to raise the issue of new connection charges for new builds, in particular, the once-off house for a young couple who will be told to contact Irish Water. I know that Irish Water as well as the Government will try to get the money from somewhere. I foresee a situation where if building a house in the countryside it will cost €8,000 to pay an engineer to keep an eye on the house to make sure it is properly built and this is welcome. However, the cost of €8,000 is astronomical and too much for young couples. The connection fee to water schemes under the control of Irish Water will go through the roof and will amount to another €3,000 or €4,000. Another issue will be how Irish Water is to raise money. I refer to businesses which pay commercial rates. The annual rates bill for one business known to me was €27,000 but was increased on review to €56,000. This is what will happen with water usage.

A GAA club brought to my attention that young children who train and play matches usually have their showers at home but now the parents are telling them to take their showers in the club house because it will cost more for the water at home if they shower at home. They want the clubs and the schools to pay for the water instead. This is more cost for the schools. The capitation grant was cut and water charges will drive up the costs of running a school.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and most people on this side of the House are looking forward to going home to celebrate Christmas. I know there are many people on the opposite side who are not looking forward to going home for Christmas. The only time they smile is when they are leaving the constituency to come here in order to get away from the people who are so worked up over the cost of water charges and the new bills they will have to pay. Their faces drop when they leave here on Thursday or Friday morning to go back to the constituencies.

I walked with the people in the march in Galway. I registered my own house and I will pay whatever is brought in by law. I will not advise anybody to break the law. The people on that march were good, decent people. The Government tried to say that they were left-wingers and troublemakers, people who just wanted to go out and cause havoc and trouble. There were good decent people on the march in Galway-----

4:25 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Left wing people are decent too.

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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-----such as teachers, county council workers, city council workers and off duty members of the Garda Síochána. I spoke to two doctors who were on the march including the large number of people who work in factories and in various jobs all over the city. They were there because they are worried. The universal social charge will become a big issue with €3.5 billion collected from what was supposed to be an emergency tax. The Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, fairly dampened a lot of people's Christmas when he said that this tax will not be withdrawn and that it is there to stay. He might reduce it a bit to pretend that he is giving a Santy present in the next budget in the run-up to the next general election. The universal social charge, the household charge and the property tax are now joined by the water charge. That is why the good, decent Irish people, the working class people, the middle class people, were out marching. I saw people in Galway whom I have never seen on any march and there has been a lot of marches in Galway over various issues. That was the first time I saw many of those decent people on a march. The Minister should not try to put the word out that these are troublemakers and people who want to cause hassle and riots. I agree there are a few troublemakers who will always try to hijack a march but the vast majority of the people who marched were decent people who marched because they are worried. I ask the Minister to do the decent thing and to withdraw this charge.

Wind down Irish Water and let the people back to the local authorities. Fund the local authorities, where the expertise is and where they know the location of the schemes, ball-cocks, stop-cocks and connections. It would be a good thing and the people would regain some faith in the Government. As it stands at present I would not like to be a Government Deputy knocking on a door during a general election, whether now or in six or 12 months time. The Irish people will not forget what the Government has introduced and how it has affected them.

4:35 pm

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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It is a week short of a year from when the primary legislation was forced through the House, effectively without any debate. Instead we have had this debate yesterday and today and perhaps we will have it tomorrow. This is a good debate but it should have happened a year ago. Various analyses and considerations are being discussed, as is the genesis of Irish Water and whether there should be a central utility for water charges. The saddest moment I witnessed this afternoon was when the Minister shook his head and then nodded when Deputy Shortall brought to his attention the issue of whether there was a derogation from European law whereby we did not have to establish this massive Titanic. By that head-nodding the Minister indicated this has been forced on our people and this is wrong.

There are four elements to life, namely, fire, air, water and earth. Our country's shoreline is owned by the State as a matter of constitutional reality. Water and its distribution to the citizens of the country should be in the ownership of the State, the people of Ireland, and it should be well managed as such. It might be managed on a locality basis, as it has been to date, and funded through central funding as well as some local funding. To do what is being forced upon us at present is entirely wrong and it arises because there has not been a proper understanding of what has happened in this country since the year 2000 and the turnover into the new millennium. Even the make-up of our population has changed. We have in our population now Irish citizens who came from other countries such as Poland, China and Lithuania. In the year 2000, I worked in Lithuania and there were hardly any Lithuanians in Ireland that year. Since then approximately 70,000 have come. We also have Latvians, Estonians and an increasing number of Africans and Indians. This shows how our country has changed.

We had a financial collapse as a result of complete dereliction from any responsibility by banks after creating a credit pyramid bubble which left the country with a national debt of €230 billion and private household debt which is suffocating many families. Approximately 100,000 mortgages are in deep distress and families comprising approximately 350,000 souls are imprisoned in their homes, which are being financed by loans they received in the past which were too big. What the Government terms the two pillar banks are drawing blood from these people. They are supposed to be utilities for the financial bloodstream of domestic family life, business life and small and medium enterprises. These institutions are no more behaving like proper healthy utilities then the man on the moon. We see this in the correspondence we receive in our offices.

This debate on sections and amendments to a Bill which is trying to half unwind a crazy idea is meaningless. We are being invited to speak about the arrangement of the deckchairs and internal fit-out of some of the rooms on the Titanic. We should not even be on the Titanic. The State, to provide the medical, security, police, army, educational, teacher, university and lecturer services needed in a society, needs to be funded from revenues which it fairly earns and are not just dreamt up at the point of crisis by unelected bureaucrats on the mainland of Europe. Most of our parents and their friends died for Europe's liberation in the Second World War, as did our grandparents in the First World War. We have not even had a break from the imposition of the losses in our economy which derived from the crazy funding of a crazy and fraudulent pyramid scheme by financiers who have disappeared into the sunset.

The property tax, as Deputy Shortall pointed out, is regressive for a huge swathe of those who must pay it. Many pensioners must pay huge amounts when their incomes and pensions may have fallen. As initially designed, the water charge is the same. It is completely regressive with regard to the incomes of the people who must pay it. Two massive bureaucracies are being created to try to administer something which is badly designed and should not even be in place.

People who are employed or who work as a sole traders or unincorporated businesses, and small and medium incorporated businesses which produce goods and services and export them, produce the incomes out of which the State can rightly and justifiably ask those individuals and companies to contribute to pay for the services it provides. This is where the thinking should begin and not with this lurched approach of knee-jerk reflex to widen the tax base. The Government is not widening it at all. The bills, invoices and notices of assessment must be paid out of income. Deputy Shortall explained that the gross earnings of 1 billion people are less than €25,000 a year. The Government is placing property tax and prospective water charges on them when their incomes have fallen and their other expenditures have increased. The foreign direct investment multinational corporations, which tell us what they earn in their reported profits, have shown no decreases in net incomes in the period under review.

On the correction to the difference between revenues and expenses of the State since 2009, Deputy Cowen is correct that €20 billion of the €30 billion, two thirds, was achieved before the present Dáil. Again the thinking has been reactionary or knee-jerk responses to bureaucrats on the mainland Continent of Europe, which was liberated by our parents and their friends, who in many cases were wounded and in some cases lost their lives in the liberation of the land where those bureaucrats were educated and are telling us what to do for our national recovery. There is something not good about that.

There is something not good about the fact that with a massive majority on 9 March 2011, the Government could not have put together a team with double the numbers of those who represented our people and gone to Frankfurt and Brussels to make the case. There was woolly thinking then. There was timidity. There was gutlessness and there remains gutlessness about those losses from our crazy pyramid-based banking funding from 2001 through to 2008. None of the directors of those banks, whether they were Irish-owned or foreign-owned, has been asked to explain how they arrived at the policies to expand their funding base in crazy financial engineering to create that asset price bubble.

4:45 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is moving slightly away from the Bill. Contributions should be relevant to section 3.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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On 28 November 2010 we had the arrival of the troika, indicating where it wanted us to make those fiscal adjustments. One of the items that came up was the proposal to introduce a comprehensive overarching water utility, incorporating water charges. We should have told it to get lost and that we were going to deal with priorities first and add up correctly the bill for what had taken place in the economy. It was not just €64 billion; it was about €135 billion or €140 billion of losses. Those losses in the banks, whether they were Irish-owned or non-Irish-owned, in the domestic economy arose in the households and SMEs of this country. What ends up on the banks' balance sheets as losses is also mirrored in the losses of those households. It may not be fully realised and may be realised over the next 20 years in impossible repayments.

I was doing a message today on Dawson Street when Professor Morgan Kelly crossed the road and reminded me of the genesis of all the stuff we are trying to deal with today. Do Members remember Professor Morgan Kelly, who said we would be relying on the kindness of strangers when at that stage even the scale of losses had not been fully admitted?

I will not look and point to one side of the House or the other side of the House; we are where we are. The challenge now is maybe to come down on 28 December to Ballyhea to the 200th protest at the complete wrongfulness of the imposition of what still remains on Professor Patrick Honohan's desk, €25 billion of Government bonds which are bonds that the people of Ireland will have to repay. They should be cancelled unilaterally because they are not for our account. I invite Government party Members to join that protest.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy could raise that-----

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Deputy is not speaking on the Bill at all. It is a joke.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I know that. I just ask the Deputy to keep his contribution relevant to section 3.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Section 3 is the undoing of what was done a year ago, bar one week, with no debate and with the Whip used. It is very timely and coincidental that the Government Chief Whip is in the Chamber. If this debate had taken place back then, there might have been the realisation that we were on the wrong path. The Government is trying to impose on the people this toxicity while sugar sweetening it, which is wrong. This is a terrible playing of politics; it is cynical. We should be rebuilding a nation, an economy, a just society and not the unequal one that has emerged from the crazy imposition of so-called widening of tax bases on people. It is not doing that at all. Deputy Shortall showed it logically step by step. The financial modelling of this is all wrong.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy campaigned on it.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I encourage the Chief Whip to read the transcript of what she said. The logic is perfect. The evidence and the facts supporting it are absolutely spot on. The Government is trying to fit something that does not fit the situation and it is wrong. The Government is launching a Titanic and they are all on board politically. They will be gone. It is tragic. They should stop it. There is no loss of face in stopping what is going to be a terrible accident.

We have, as I said, to do what is fair to get proper equality-based distributive economics working in this country. Deputy Grealish outlined how it will play out on the ground, how the stupidities and contradictions will appear all over the place and how there is no conservation for the next few years.

It is funny. In the countries on the globe where there is total drought they do not even charge for water and one would think they would because it is scarce. They do not. There is fundamental logic. We need to repair the systems of retaining water in the right quantities for distribution after treatment through pipes that do not leak. We agree it will cost €10 billion or thereabouts. However, that €10 billion can be got from the €25 billion that should be cancelled and torn up on the desk of the Central Bank Governor, Professor Honohan. If that story is told properly to the Europeans and the ECB, they will get it, but nobody has even told it. They get lost in lever arch files and in sections and subsections of law, and miss what is staring them in the face.

I appeal to the Minister to think with a fresh mind. He should look with fresh eyes and see the big picture. He should see what has happened and how it happened. He should look at the current situation in big picture terms, with €230 billion of debt.

Today we had stupidity in the anomaly of approving - Sinn Féin approved it - the Supplementary Estimate for pensions because of a miscalculation of how many people would retire from the public service. I have nothing against that, but yesterday we debated the 15,000 pensioners, deferred pensioners and current employees of the Irish aviation superannuation scheme - Aer Lingus and DAA.

The Government decided, with what sort of schizophrenic logic I do not know, that it can do nothing for them and yet whistle this one through today.

4:55 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is moving away from section 3, which is about water charges.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I am trying to show, like a doctor would show to a patient, that it is behaving in a way that is not going to help it get well again. The Government is behaving schizophrenically. It is not getting its facts, its situation properly measured, its accountability properly aligned and working logically from there. It could do it. However, it has got to stop what it is doing if it is about to go over a cliff or about to hit the iceberg to stay on the Titanicissue. The Government must stop the engines, review, reconsider, nothing is lost. Just because €80 million was spent on consultancy fees and €600 million on the installation of meters, amounting to about €750 million, those costs are gone, it is a mistake, but do not compound the mistake by alienating the people of this country, the 1 million people who earn gross pay of less than €25,000 per year, the families of the 100,000 deeply distressed mortgages, the homeless people, the 90,000 on waiting lists for homes, and the 500,000 to 600,000 who have emigrated, including two of my sons, and the various instances of under-funded care institutions about which we heard yesterday from Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and others, where care is not provided because of the stress of lack of resources in many of these places. The stress leads to dysfunctional behaviour where people take their own lives, families break up, divorces happen and children get sick and psychologically damaged. That is what happens when society becomes unfair. We must get fairness back into the way we do things and the way we talk about things. It starts in places like this.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Could the Deputy apply that to the water charges, please?

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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The Government proposed revenues of €90 million for the first year. That is 0.1 of 1% of the profits of the multinational corporations. Why does it not ask them rather than saying it has got to get €90 million in the year. That is the thin end of what is going to be an ever-expanding wedge, as other Deputies have explained. The only Government Deputies present are those who are next to speak.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy will not stick it much longer.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Please Deputies, I do not want any exchanges across the floor. I will respond to Deputy Mathews. Deputy Liam Twomey is to speak and also Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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The Deputy is going to give us all kinds of forensic, minutiae stuff that is irrelevant.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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We will-----

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Twomey and Deputy Mathews, I am not having an exchange across the floor from either Deputy. Will Deputy Mathews please continue.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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The discussion that has taken place from the Opposition side, during the debate on the amendments and so on, has been of a quality that any six year school boy or girl listening in would say that the Government should disappear on the basis of the facts, the arguments and the logic it has produced. What the Government has put forward as a proposal is stupid, in capital letters, so stupid it is unbelievable. It should be ashamed of itself when it leaves €230 million on the backs of the people and €25 billion in identifiably bad, stinking, debt. That is so wrong. Some €10 billion would fix the water issue, €15 billion would fix the other capital projects and support the social services and social protection that is needed in places such as Aras Attracta and other places that are crying out for it.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The Leas-Cheann Comhairle may restrict me to around two minutes. If anybody thinks that €25 billion is lying around on the desk of the Governor of the Central Bank-----

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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The Government created it.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----and that we are whistling past it every day, somebody needs to get their head examined in this House. Of course, this is a contentious issue. Northern Ireland Water is quietly installing meters on all new homes in Northern Ireland for conservation reasons and Northern Ireland is getting stick from the same people who are supporting them here in this Chamber.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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There are no water charges in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Does the Deputy accept the fact that meters are being installed in Northern Ireland? If the Deputy wants to get into a debate we will discuss it.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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We have no water charges.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad we are discussing water.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Does Deputy Twomey accept that we have no water charges?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Please, Deputies.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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There are charges in Northern Ireland for households.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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We have rates.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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So Northern Ireland has charges.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has clarified that issue.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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So it has charges. It is the same system. I hope we will mange and that is exactly what we need to do.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I ask Deputy O'Brien and Deputy Twomey, to please stop these exchanges. Deputy Twomey has the floor. Through the Chair, Deputy Twomey, please.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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My apologies a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I should finish because this section has been debated for more than four hours already. The majority of the people are losing confidence in the present water supply and water treatment system. Some 33 different systems do not work in the same way that we could not have 33 different ESB networks across the country. That would not work for supply electricity to people's homes. We would have the same problem if we tried to keep the present system going. Everybody in the House knows the present system is not working and that there is an issue around lack of funding. There has been much debate here about these issues but very little alternatives put forward on how we are supposed to fund it.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Some €10 billion.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Everybody in the Chamber knows there are problems in Dublin where there are approximately 4,000 km of water pipes across the city and yet less than 1% of them has been replaced in recent years. They are an issue and this is what we need to have sorted. I will hand over to the Minister as I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will lose his patience with me.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Catherine wishes to make a brief contribution.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I do not have a need to put a whole lot more on the record. While I agree with much of what has been said I have a number of questions about the borrowings because the numbers will be the make or break of Irish Water. We are continuously told there will be a need to borrow and that borrowing can happen off the balance sheet. I ask the Minister to tell the House who will pay back the borrowings and if estimates have been carried out on the amount of money that has been talked about? That will tell us a great deal. People have a resistance to becoming customers rather than citizens. If the customers are going to pay, may we have the numbers, please? The Minister said he will distinguish between the people who cannot pay and those who will not pay. Leaving aside the views on either side of the debate, if there is a significant number of people who cannot pay, it does not matter how many easy plans are put in place, if they have not got the money they will not be able to pay it. What percentage of those who cannot pay have been put into the equation in terms of compliance with EU spending rules? In the event of not passing that test, the Minister will not be able to borrow.

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Independent)
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I wish to raise a few points, specifically on section 3 which deals with the charges proposed. I agree with much of what Deputy Liam Twomey has said. I agree that there needs to be investment in water. I also agree that there needs to be an efficient utility in place to deliver the economies of scale that were promised before the last general election. However, there were two principles behind the original Bill which was introduced here and rammed through in less than a couple of hours on 18 December 2013.

A specific figure had to be raised as a result of the hole in our public finances and the requirements of the International Monetary Fund and other troika members. That figure was in the region of approximately €500 million. The second piece of logic that has been repeatedly put forward - it was again referenced by Deputy Twomey - relates to conservation. The sum of money that will now be delivered on an annual basis via this flat charge is in the region of €90 million, as noted by Deputy Mathews, so it is less than a fifth of what-----

5:05 pm

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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That assumes a 100% collection rate.

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Independent)
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We shall see about that. It is less than a fifth of what the Government claimed it needed to raise, which puts paid to the original argument that €500 million had to be raised on an annual basis for investment in and the running of Irish Water. The second argument in respect of conservation has also been put paid to because we will not have metered water until 2019 and we can only have a leap of faith as to whether it will happen; I am not convinced of that at all, and there is nothing to say this or another Government will not capitulate or extend the flat-charge period for another three, five or ten years if convenient or politically expedient. The Government has basically lost the argument for the establishment of Irish Water and the introduction of charges. This Bill is living proof of that as, in effect, it represents the capitulation of the Government in its original arguments.

I am unsure why we are proceeding with Irish Water, which is not going to raise the revenues claimed necessary or introduce any form of conservation. We already know how much taxpayers' money has been invested in the establishment of Irish Water, and I put that on the record in my Second Stage contribution last Friday. I will do so again. Irish Water borrowed €250 million from the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2013 and collected €240 million from the proceeds of property tax in 2014, which we were promised by the Government would be ring-fenced for direct investment in local communities. Although 80% of that fund was to be ring-fenced, it was plundered instead for €240 million to invest in Irish Water rather than in local communities and services that are so desperately needed. Irish Water also gained €490 million from the local government fund in 2014. That is in excess of €1 billion already, and we know Irish Water will take €190 million from businesses, major corporations and small and medium enterprises, including family businesses, every year. It will take in the region of €90 million per year from householders. Taxpayers have been required to invest a massive amount of money in this utility, which will not conserve water, and I am very sceptical about what it will achieve in delivering a proper water infrastructure.

I will make one or two connected points. It is important to reiterate the very clear commitment made in the Fine Gael manifesto in 2011 with regard to Irish Water. It indicated that the party would not ask home owners "to pay for a broken and unreliable system". That was a clear commitment contained in the party manifesto of the largest Government party before the last election. I believed it and stood on that platform. I believed the broken and unreliable water system would be fixed before charges would be introduced. That is what I advocated and understood to be the intention of the main Government party. Now there are flat charges in place - they are not metered or based on consumption and do not promote conservation - and the only purpose is to raise revenue. They come without a reliable or clean water system being delivered across the country, which is reprehensible.

I hope the Minister can help with the next point, which I have raised repeatedly. It is the issue of the so-called Irish Water consultative group, which arose in a secretive arrangement made by the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Phil Hogan, when he set up a cosy cartel between the trade unions, his Department and local authorities. This ensured so-called service-level agreements were put in place to ensure the kinds of economies of scale, savings or efficiencies that were supposed to be introduced by Irish Water could not happen by law. These 12-year agreements have been entered into with unions and ensure the cost of maintaining Irish Water over the next 12 years will be in the region of €1.5 billion to €2 billion more than was necessary. That figure has been put forward by the Economic and Social Research Institute and independent economist, Professor John FitzGerald, on the basis that Irish Water is employing almost double the number of staff required to deliver an efficient water service across the country.

I have submitted parliamentary questions to the Minister in the past number of weeks on this. On 2 December, in replying to Question No. 93, the Minister assured me the local government management agency, which hosts the meetings of this secretive group, provides secretariat services to it and is responsible for holding all the records of the group, will forward to me the minutes, including attendee lists, directly. Those secret meetings led to a secret deal which will cost Irish taxpayers a minimum of €1.5 billion more than they should be paying for water over the next 12 years. I would like the Minister to provide those minutes as it is his responsibility. The matter should not be kicked to touch and I hope there is detail in those minutes as to how these agreements were arrived at. They are reprehensible, unfair and unrepresentative as nobody advocated the interests of taxpayers who are being asked to foot this bill for 12 years. These taxpayers were essentially sold a pup in the general election when they were told that Irish Water would deliver economies of scale, efficiencies, savings for taxpayers and a better, cleaner and reliable water system. It is in the NewERA document published by Fine Gael in 2010, its manifesto and the programme for Government.

Irish citizens were not to be charged until the safe and reliable water service was in place but instead they will see a standing charge levied on an annual basis without the delivery of a clean, reliable and safe water system. On top of that, they must foot a bill of €1.5 billion that arose when the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Hogan, basically bought peace with the unions. That is reprehensible and an insult to the Irish public. I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to address the issue and, if necessary, undo it. I believe that is necessary.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Members have a right to discuss a section but may not repeat what has already been stated with regard to various amendments. In other words, if amendments to a section have been dealt with, we cannot go back over them. I say this to clarify what people are entitled to say when speaking to the section.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It feels like it was yesterday that I last saw the Ceann Comhairle. I thank everyone for their contributions over the past four hours or so. This section relates to water charges for dwellings, although much of the discussion was outside that issue.

Section 3 provides for amendments to the approved water charges planned and they relate to water charges applying to domestic customers of Irish Water, commencing on 1 January 2015. The capped charges will apply from that date until 31 December 2018. The section provides that a Minister may, after consulting with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, by order set maximum charges to apply for periods after 31 December 2018. That is a critical component of the legislation.

The main aspects of the amendments are as follows: a capped maximum charge of €160 for a dwelling occupied by not more than one adult; a capped maximum charge of €260 for an unoccupied dwelling or a dwelling occupied by two or more adults; provision that only 50% of the maximum charge may be applied where a dwelling receives one service from Irish Water, that is, water supply or sewage service; the application of a charge of €260 for a dwelling that has not registered with Irish Water by a date to be prescribed and subject to the capped charges outlined; the setting of maximum volumetric charges of €1.85 per 1,000 litres of water or €3.70 per each 1,000 litres of water and sewage services provided; clarification that the child allowance provided under the improved charges plan shall apply to all persons under the age of 18 and not just persons in receipt of child benefit; and a limitation on the types of additional services for which Irish Water may charge.

In the context of various issues raised, it is important to point out that customers can make complaints about the service. There is a charter in place between Irish Water and the customer, which is overseen by the Commission for Energy Regulation. Section 8 puts the customer dispute resolution service on a statutory basis.

Deputy Cowen asked about timelines in regard to the capital investment programme. The five-year plan will be released shortly and there will be a 25-year plan after that. Deputy Boyd Barrett asked how excess water from storms, etc., would be dealt with. I think he missed the point. The section he quoted was in regard to new connections. It is actually good practice from a planning and water resource point of view and it does not apply to current customers.

A number of Deputies asked if Ireland had a derogation, as outlined in Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive. Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive 2000 requires member states to take account of the principles of recovery of costs of water services in accordance with the principle of the polluter pays, which everyone knows. Article 9.4 of the directive, which has been quoted to me many times in the past week or so, states that the member states are not in breach of the directive if they decide in accordance with established practice not to apply the provisions of the recovery of costs for a given water use activity where this does not compromise the purposes and the achievement of the objectives of the directive. However, Ireland is not specifically named in this directive. There is no exemption and there is nothing to be signed on 1 January. The Government's policy on water charges is fully consistent with the objectives of the Water Framework Directive and reflects the commitment entered into as part of the programme of financial support for Ireland agreed between the previous Government and the EU-IMF. Commitments were also made by the previous Government in 2010 in regard to the river basin plan that charges would also be brought in.

I will try to go through the queries raised by Deputies. I think Deputy Donnelly said €271 million would be raised from domestic charges in 2015. Many of these figures are available on my Department's website. Some €899 million is the overall allowed revenue from the CER which includes meter reading, operational costs and financing. Deputy Donnelly asked about charging for sewage services. I understand the question about why people should have to pay for that but the simple fact of the matter is that the wastewater is being taken out. The answer to the people in Arklow is that by taking such revenue, we will be able to provide the infrastructure they badly need and which they should have had many years ago, if there had been a plan in place to do so.

Deputy Donnelly's second question related to how much it will cost to read meters and so on. It will be under €50 million, so the Deputy can do his own figures based on that.

5:15 pm

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Is that per year?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Yes. In regard to the capital side of things, the figure of €200 million or €300 million extra for capital has been quoted. I do not know which way one wants to analyse it over the coming years as we reach €600 million. That analysis does not show where we will get those millions of euro and it does not take into consideration the economies of savings that have been made by Irish Water, which I have often quoted. Some €170 million savings were made in Ringsend and there are other examples across the country. I hope that has brought some clarity to that.

In regard to Deputy Creighton's specific query about that documentation, I understood it was sent to her and I have not been made aware that did not happen. If she does not get it in the next couples of days, she should get back to me. There does not seem to be an issue. It would concern me more if she did not get it.

Service level agreements were part of the PwC independent assessment and the time periods were agreed between Irish Water, the unions and the local authorities. The framework agreed is on the Department's website. The transformation plan agreed with the local authorities will achieve economies of scale, will avail of expertise and efficiencies will be created also. A number of those questions did not relate to this section but I felt it appropriate to address them.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will put the question.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Can we come back in?

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Once we do not repeat what has already been said.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is in direct response to the Minister. I thank him for addressing the three questions I raised. I would like to go back to the three of them. The first one was about Arklow and, if I understood the Minister correctly, the rationale was that while there is no wastewater treatment facility in Arklow, or in 41 towns around the country, by charging for wastewater, it will raise funds to allow a wastewater treatment plant to be built. Funding for the wastewater treatment plant in Arklow has been in place for many years through central taxation. The only reason it has not been built is due to a legal issue. The issue of people in Arklow having to pay for a wastewater treatment service they do not have in order to fund the wastewater treatment plant does not exist.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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There are many more Arklows.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Maybe, but I am speaking specifically about Arklow. For the people of Arklow, the businesses and the residents who I represent, there is no argument that states we need to charge them for wastewater in order to fund the wastewater treatment plant because the funding for that is in place through the taxes they already pay. If that is the rationale, why is it not being applied to boil water notices? Were one to apply that rationale, which I accept is not an unreasonable one to apply, although in the case of Arklow, it does not apply, surely one should be consistent and apply it to boil water notices because exactly the same argument applies. It would say to the residents of Roscommon that the water coming in is substandard so we are going to charge them for it in order to fund better quality water. That is clearly not happening in the case of water. The argument and the precedence that has clearly been set is that they have a substandard service and we are not going to charge them for it until it becomes a high quality service.

The funding is already in place in Arklow, so why should the businesses and the residents there be charged to fund the treatment plant?

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot deal with local issues in a Bill of this type. If it was the case, every Deputy could raise-----

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Fine. Let me broaden it.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please understand that this is Committee Stage of a Bill.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Let me broaden it. For any of the 42 towns around the country, where funding has already been identified, the argument the Minister put forward clearly does not apply. Can he give another rationale because the one he gave does not apply to any of those 42 towns?

The figure the Minister provided is that the cost of billing per year will be €150 million.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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No. The cost of financing, reading meters, etc. is under €50 million.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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What is the annual cost of metering, billing and customer service? There is a package of activities specifically related to charging people for water.

5:25 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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7 o’clock

I have to again ask for the Deputy's co-operation. On a Committee Stage debate on a section of a Bill, having gone through all the amendments, we cannot engage in questioning about costs or anything else. It is not in accordance with Standing Orders.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is directly relevant to the section which concerns the raising of the money. What is the cost associated-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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If the Deputy wants to write to me on all of these questions I will give him everything back in writing. Most of it is available-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not relevant to the legislation. It will not change the legislation.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It could, if I may beg the Ceann Comhairle’s indulgence.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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There is no amendment. We are dealing with the section. The amendments to that section have already been dealt with. We are talking about the principle of the section.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I am not addressing an amendment. I am addressing the section, which concerns the raising of domestic water charges and the specific question, which is directly relevant to that and needs to inform the debate, is how much it costs to raise that money. If the total amount to be raised is €90 million it is relevant to the legislation and to the Oireachtas how much it will cost to raise that €90 million because I believe it will cost more than €90 million to raise that €90 million. That is the question and I believe it is directly relevant to the section.

In response to the Minister’s third point - I am answering a specific question that the Minister has asked me – with regard to the €200 million in additional capital expenditure, the Minister suggested that I have not provided an analysis of where that €200 million could come from.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I have to again interrupt. This is not Question Time, it is a Committee Stage discussion on a Bill. We have dealt with all the amendments to the section. We are now dealing with the section. The Deputy cannot go on asking questions about costs and so on. That is not suitable when we are debating the section. I ask the Deputy to please read the salient rulings and Standing Orders.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I am answering a question the Minister asked, which is relevant.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not up to the Deputy to be answering questions from Ministers or anybody else. This is not a debate on the section.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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This is a debate on the section. This is the Committee Stage debate on the section. That is exactly what it is.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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In a Committee Stage debate when discussing the section Deputies do not discuss matters that have already been raised during the course of the debate on that section by way of amendments. Those are the Standing Orders.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I am not discussing the amendments.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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We are giving an opinion on the matters that have been raised.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Standing Order is that while Members have a right to discuss a section he or she may not repeat what has already been said on various amendments to it.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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This has not been said.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot deal with matters that have been dealt with by way of amendments.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I appreciate that and luckily in this case the matter has not been dealt with by way of amendment. It is specific to the section.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy does not co-operate with the Chair and try to get through some of this we will be here forever. The Deputy cannot go back on a Second Stage debate.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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This is not a Second Stage debate.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is a Second Stage debate.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I am happy to take a list of the questions and respond straightaway to the Deputy in writing.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not Question Time. It is when we debate the section of a Bill.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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If there is a difference of opinion on a matter that has been raised are we not entitled to make an observation or ask for clarification?

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Halligan should not interrupt. This is between the Deputy on his feet, me and the Minister.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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If there is a difference of opinion on a matter that was raised we are entitled to debate that. Are we not entitled to ask for clarification on it?

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I suggest in debating the section that the additional €200 million does not need to come through the mechanism in the section, which is water charges. It could come through a reduction in the cost base which requires a re-negotiation of-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not debating the section. The Deputy is providing an alternative to something that is already in the section and has been debated. He cannot come up with other ideas about how to raise money when debating a section.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is a specific replacement for the proposed-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy cannot do that when debating a section. He should have put down an amendment. We have already been through all the amendments. I have read out the rulings twice. The Deputy should please accept them. I am not making them up.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I appreciate that and I am trying to comply with the Standing Orders. I am speaking specifically to the section in a way that has not been covered in the conversation on the amendments so far. I am suggesting to the Minister that the mechanism contained in the section for raising the money in answer to his question is unnecessary because he can get it from a reduced cost base.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Following that last interaction between the Ceann Comhairle and the Deputy, and in response to the Minister’s response, I am forming the impression that this whole debate is meaningless because Government Deputies will come in here under the Whip and vote the Bill through without knowing what they are doing.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is a different matter.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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That is fundamental.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It may be fundamental but it is not in order.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The Minister has no one to support him in the Dáil. There is no one in the Government benches.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The costs are all in the €899 million allowed. I have to disagree respectfully with the Deputy, it is not just for next year or the year after but to have the capacity to generate the revenue and from a capital point of view to invest at levels we have never seen before.

In respect of Arklow, there is a plan in place for the next few years. There is no funding mechanism in place for all 42 towns. That is set out as regards priorities and decision making. We have to gather revenue to be able to fund the capital investment needed for all of those areas. I accept and have often said to the Deputy Arklow is one of the worst and should be a priority. It is crazy that raw sewage is running straight into the river there. That is being funded as part of the programme I outlined earlier.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Will the Minister provide to the House, before Report Stage, the estimated costs associated with raising the money that is outlined in section 3?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is all available on the CER website.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is not. The total costings are available. I have gone through the CER’s opinion paper and nowhere has it estimated the cost of collecting the money.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I am happy to provide the figures if the Deputy wants to write to me with his specific requests.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is a separate issue. It is nothing to do with the section in the Bill.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have made that offer three times.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, the costs associated with-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That was a Second Stage contribution. We are now debating detail of the section and amendments thereto.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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With respect, it is not a Second Stage contribution.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy cannot introduce questions. It is not Question Time.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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We are entitled to try to understand the costs associated with implementing section 3. That is a perfectly reasonable thing for us as legislators to try to understand. How can we get from the Minister’s office the costs associated with implementing this section?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have said on three or four occasions all the costs are available on the CER website. If the Deputy has a specific question on their break-down he should please put it to me and I will provide him with an answer.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I just have.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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If the Deputy puts them in writing I will provide him with the answer.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Will the Minister clarify the exemption from the EU Water Framework Directive, Article 9.4? I heard what he said in an earlier response and received a reply to a parliamentary question from him this evening but I am still not entirely clear about this. It is suggested that the facility for an exemption allows a situation where a member state does not have full recovery of costs when it comes to water services. I take the Minister’s point that it is not specific to Ireland. If that general exemption is going to expire at the end of the year and if it is not extended does that not imply that in the new year, if this Government were to decide not to proceed with water charges, we would be in breach of that directive?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I will repeat what I said previously and then provide some more information. We do not have an exemption. There is no specific exemption for Ireland in that respect.

5:35 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I know that. I have made that clear.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Previous Governments have signed up under the river basins programme. We also have the agreement with the troika, as the Deputy is well aware.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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A directive is a directive. It does not expire. It is there.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The exemption expires.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It does not expire. Our requirements under the directive are what they are. We have to meet those requirements.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I did not suggest that the directive expires. It is the exemption that expires.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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We are not going to meet the requirements of that directive if we do not make the necessary capital investment.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is important for the Minister to clarify this point. There is a facility for an exemption-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Sorry, the section we are debating relates to water charges.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Yes, exactly.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It has nothing to do with EU regulations.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It has, actually.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, it is not in the section. If the Deputy reads the section-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Show me where it is in the section.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The Minister spoke about this earlier.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I do not mind what the Minister said, with respect. I am dealing with the Bill here. Section 3 deals with water charges and dwellings. It sets out what the charges will be. It does not deal with an EU directive.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The Minister has made two statements today, at least.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I do not care what the Minister said. A Minister can be wrong as well as a Deputy can be wrong. We should not be straying into areas.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I do not want the Minister to mislead the House inadvertently.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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If he misleads the House, he will have to come back in and correct the record.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is important for him to put on the record what the situation is. If there is no extension to the existing exemption, will this Government or a future Government have the option of not proceeding with water charges in the new year? That is the question.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not in the section we are debating.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is relevant.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is relevant to the section.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not relevant. I am dealing with the practicalities of the section.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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So is the Deputy.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The whole section hinges on this issue.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are not discussing a principle.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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The imposition of the charge is relevant.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I think the Minister wants to clarify the situation.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is becoming quite absurd.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Deputy Shortall's confusion is based around the river basin plans and the directive. We always have to comply with the directive, no matter what. The previous Government signed up to the river basin plans. As part of that process, it committed in 2010 to the introduction of a water charge regime.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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That does not answer the question.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It does answer the question.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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That is dodging the question.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is not dodging the question.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The Minister is dodging the direct question he has been asked.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister has replied. As far as I am concerned, it is now time to put the question.

Question put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 40.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Barry Cowen and Brian Stanley.

Question declared carried.

SECTION 4

5:45 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 25:

In page 7, to delete lines 10 to 13 and substitute the following:"(3) Where a dwelling is in receipt of one service in respect of water services provided by Irish Water, that is to say--

(a) the supply of water to the dwelling, or

(b) the removal of waste water from it,

then the maximum charge that Irish Water may charge for that service in respect of the dwelling is an amount that is 50 per cent less than the amount that would be charged for water services to the dwelling in accordance with subsection (1) but for this subsection.".
The reason for this amendment relating to the late payment fees that Irish Water can charge is essentially the same as the reason behind amendment No. 16. This amendment rewords the existing subsection (3) and provides that, where a dwelling is in receipt of one service from Irish Water, the maximum late payment charge that Irish Water can charge is 50% of the relevant late payment charge set out in subsection (1). Therefore, the late payment charge that will apply to a house that is either in receipt of a water supply and discharges wastewater into a septic tank or in receipt of water from a private well or other source and discharges wastewater into public sewers will be €15 per annum. The previous wording also provided for this, but the amended subsection makes it much clearer.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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For the same reasons I opposed amendment No. 16, I oppose this amendment. It is inconsistent and unfair on the 42 towns and their residents and businesses to charge them full cost for a wastewater treatment that they do not have. It should not be done.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Question proposed: "That section 4, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Everything has been said. This issue will be decided in the communities of Ireland and by the people of Ireland in April and succeeding months, not in this Chamber, which is increasingly irrelevant as far as water charges are concerned, and by the tens of thousands who went out onto the streets yesterday representing their fellow citizens all over the country.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Five thousand.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I am opposed to this section. It should be opposed by all.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We also oppose the section.

Question put and declared carried.

SECTION 5

5:50 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 26 in the name of Deputy Stephen Donnelly is out of order.

Amendment No. 26 not moved.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 27:

In page 7, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:"(5) The Minister shall ensure that all information transmitted in accordance with subsection (4) is done so in a manner consistent with the Data Protection Acts 1988 to 2003.".
I welcome the change whereby householders are no longer required to provide a PPS number to Irish Water. This was an issue I raised at the committee back in January and on several occasions in this House, as did others. Irish Water issued three or four different statements between January and July, one of which referred to selling people's information as an asset. That particular message was toned down and the language changed, but the import remained the same because the relevant section of the original Bill did provide for Irish Water to use PPS numbers. That provision is gone, but the question now arises as to what will happen to the information contained in the information packs already submitted. There has been a lot of propaganda in recent days regarding the number of householders who have returned packs. One has to wonder about the validity of some of the information given by Irish Water. The form householders received required applicants to place a check beside a declaration which includes the following:
By completing and returning this form, I declare that to the best of my knowledge all of the information provided is true and accurate. If I have confirmed that I am connected to the public water main and/or the public sewer then I declare that I am a customer of Irish Water...
A person who returns a blank form should not receive a letter back from Irish Water saying he or she is now a customer, but that is what seems to be happening.

The propaganda being put about is that 900,000 people have completed the form. However, the Minister could not tell me, Deputy Coppinger or Deputy Paul Murphy, when we each put down a parliamentary question on 13 November, how many of those forms had been returned incomplete. He stated in his reply:
Irish Water has informed my Department that as of 12 November 2014, it had received in excess of 849,000 responses. My Department does not have a breakdown on a local authority basis, nor does it have any information on the number of application packs that have been returned incomplete.
For all we know, 800,000 of those forms might have been incomplete. The information that is being put out is inaccurate and the intention behind it is one of propaganda.

The scheme that is being introduced is completely different from what was originally proposed. Under the new legislation, Irish Water is no longer entitled to have householders' PPS numbers. We must have an assurance that the information it does have will be disposed of rather than retained. Given the changes to the scheme, surely all householders should be given a fresh application form, regardless of whether they filled out the original form to completion. If an applicant has not ticked the box declaring himself or herself a customer of Irish Water, one would have to question how these things are being handled. There is a lot of nonsense being spoken in the media in regard to that figure of 900,000. The Minister must give a clarification regarding the numbers and an assurance regarding PPS numbers.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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On PPS numbers, people generally did not have a difficulty in the past giving that information to Government agencies. In fact, in 2012, the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht recommended that PPS numbers be used as a method of collating information for a body that would be set up in the future to deal with water services. What caused the difficulty in actuality was that the measure was brought in as an amendment to the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2014.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are discussing Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment, No. 27. The amendment provides that the Minister shall ensure that all information transmitted in accordance with the relevant subsection is done in a manner consistent with the Data Protection Acts. We are not dealing with PPS numbers under this proposal.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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Deputy Catherine Murphy spoke about PPS numbers in her contribution.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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She strayed a little bit, but I did not wish to interrupt her while she was moving the amendment. It is time, however, to get back to business. We are not talking about PPS numbers; we are talking about amendment No. 27, which makes provision as I have outlined.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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The same issue arose in regard to the non-principal private residence tax and gave rise to a great deal of difficulty. It should be a policy of government, irrespective of which parties are in office, that if something is included in a Bill which goes beyond the original remit of that Bill, the Title will be amended to reflect the change. In the case of Irish Water, the manner in which the provision regarding PPS numbers was introduced has caused a great deal of unnecessary angst. That is as much the problem as the fact that it was introduced in the first place.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I cannot accept amendment No. 27. Any data transfer between Irish Water and the Minister for Social Protection must be carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, and Irish Water is required to manage all personal data in accordance with that legislation. This means ensuring that data are used only for the purpose for which they were collected and that any data collected are stored securely. Irish Water is in regular contact with and works closely with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure that the process for the capture, storage and usage of customer data is in compliance with the legislation.

More than 98% of the forms that have been returned to Irish Water were filled in as necessary. There are issues with only 2% of the forms submitted. That is the latest information from Irish Water.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 28:

In page 8, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:"(6) The scheme shall be subjected to annual review by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.".
The amendment proposes that the relevant all-party Oireachtas committee with jurisdiction in this area be allowed to carry out an annual review of the scheme to ensure its operation is properly and adequately scrutinised and its success determined thereafter.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I do not propose to accept the amendment. With any grant scheme, it is open to the relevant Oireachtas committee to keep it under review. I expect the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, under the chairmanship of Deputy Michael McCarthy and the participation of Deputy Cowen as a member, to do exactly that in respect of this particular scheme.

I do not see the necessity for the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

6:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I understand Deputy Stanley is opposing the section.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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That is correct.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Amendment No. 26 in my name, which deals with people's ability to pay, was ruled out of order because it was deemed to be not relevant to the provisions of the Bill. Why an amendment-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot debate an amendment that has been ruled out of order. The Deputy must understand that.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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-----that deals with charging is not relevant to a Bill that also deals with charging is beyond me. However, the usual gymnastics seem to have been performed in respect of Standing Orders.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The officials make such decisions impartially and strictly in accordance with the rules of the House. I can vouch for that.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I would love to know how an ability to pay clause-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sure that if the Deputy discusses the matter with them, they will be only too pleased to enlighten him.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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-----is not relevant to the Bill. I would talk to them, but they would inform me that I should talk to the Ceann Comhairle and he would simply back them up, regardless of what they decide.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Excuse me. I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark. He is completely out of order.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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That has been my experience so far.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Of course I back the officials up when they give me proper advice. Why would I not do so?

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Why not, indeed?

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, indeed. Perhaps the Deputy might take advice on certain occasions when it is given to him.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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My question relates to the water conservation grant. I am seeking to discover what will be the cost of the grant and the impact of the grant on the net revenue raised. The Minister stated that the revenue raised under section 3 will be approximately €271 million. Obviously, there will be a cost associated with section 5 and this will reduce the net benefit from €271 million. The figure circulating in respect of the net amount is €90 million. What is the Minister's estimate of the total revenue that will be raised under section 3, minus the cost associated with the grant and that relating to collection of the money?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I have a serious difficulty with this section, which relates to what is termed the conservation grant. That term is a complete misnomer. The grant has nothing whatsoever to do with conservation. It is, in fact, a sop to try to soften the blow and obtain some kind of political acceptance in respect of these charges. Not only is the grant misnamed, it is also a very regressive measure because it will benefit rich and poor equally and takes no account of people's ability to pay. The other aspect is that people will be obliged to pay up-front charges from April of next year. However, the so-called conservation grant will not come into play until the final quarter of 2015. As the Minister stated, people will only be able to begin to apply for the conservation grant from 1 September of next year. This means it will probably be the end of 2015 before any grants are paid. People will be obliged to pay an up-front cost of either €160 or €260 and it will be the best part of a year before they receive rebates.

When the work relating to the payment process commences at the end of next year, there will be an extraordinary spectacle whereby staff and financial resources within the Department of Social Protection will be directed towards sending out a grant amounting to €100 to every household in the country. This will be done irrespective of the circumstances of the members of those households. So those who are perceived to be millionaires, exceptionally well off, the generally rich or very well-to-do will all receive grants from the Department of Social Protection - of all Departments - for no reason other than to save the Government's political skin. That is the appalling vista with which we will be faced at the end of 2015. Many Government representatives have stated that the reason for dealing with Irish Water off the books is to ensure that the company will not be obliged to compete with other services for funding. Of course it is going to be obliged to compete with them, because at the end of next year the Government is going to have to find between €130 million and €140 million to pay these grants to every household in the country. This is lunacy on a grand scale.

The Minister was asked about the cost of administering the grant. We know that a waiting period of over three months currently obtains in respect of the processing of claims relating to the carer's respite grant. Will all of the waiting times relating to social welfare payments be extended when staff resources are transferred out of various sections in the Department of Social Protection to facilitate the payment of the €100 conservation grant to every household? It is just incredible that the Government is legislating to do this. What is being done makes no sense whatsoever. The Department of Social Protection will be obliged to compete with all other Departments because it - the Government may be forced to do this in its budgetary negotiations - is going to have to find €130 million to pay the grants to which I refer. From where else is that money going to come other than out of the budgets relating to education services, health services and all the other services that are already starved of funding? What the Minister is attempting to do is absolute madness.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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Instead of Alice in Wonderland it is Alan in Wonderland.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Broughan should not be making personal comments.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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In the context of this calamitous matter, is the Minister going to outline where the staff who will be obliged to process claims will come from? The payout in respect of this grant is going to be bigger than that of any other social welfare scheme. I am not aware of any such scheme under which payments are made to every household in the country. This is going to be a huge bureaucratic undertaking. Where will these staff come from? Is the Government going to recruit additional staff and, if so, what will be the cost of this? If existing staff are going to be diverted, what will be the implications for people who are waiting for basic payments in order to survive? Will the Minister confirm that the total amount to be paid out is €130 million? Will he explain from where this money will come?

In the context of his earlier comments on the EU water directive, it is important that the Minister make a very clear statement at this juncture. I am concerned that he misled the Dáil in his earlier remarks and I want to give him the opportunity to clarify the position. He appears to be conflating a number of different issues, including the troika agreement and, for example, the water directive. These two matters are entirely separate. Will the Minister confirm that if he proceeds to introduce water charges on 1 January next, this will, de facto, end Ireland's exemption under Article 9.4 of the EU water directive? There is a facility under that article for any member state - if it can satisfy various conditions - not to seek to recover full costs in respect of water services. Ireland has managed to do this up to now.

Will the Minister confirm that if he proceeds from 1 January to introduce water charges, we will, de facto, have ended that facility?

6:10 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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If this were not so serious, it would be comical. I do not know whether the Minister is a fan of Charlie Chaplin — I am a big fan. This is like something out of a Charlie Chaplin movie in that there are to be 400 people employed in the super-quango that is Irish Water who will all be busy sending out bills at significant expense to the taxpayer. They will be sending out 1 million bills-----

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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Two million.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Two million bills costing us an absolute fortune. Somewhere else, in another State agency, again paid for by the taxpayer, there will be hundreds of people sending out cheques in order for people to pay those bills. It is absolutely laughable but extremely serious.

The only comment one can make is that anybody who ever says protests do not get people something should realise they certainly got something here; protests get one a €100 cheque. Maybe this is the lesson people should take: go out on another protest and get another €100 cheque. The problem is that there are many people who did not and who do not need to protest who are getting the €100 cheque when they should be having a little extra tax levied on them. Charlie Chaplin would be very proud of this measure.

I would like an answer on something that should be in a water conservation section or which should be addressed or clarified, that is, the point I raised earlier with the Minister on the general conditions for the customer agreement and the provision therein that states one must enter into a written agreement with Irish Water if there is any water coming off one's roof. Why must there be a written agreement with Irish Water? Could the Minister explain what that is about?

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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This section of the Bill is the most puzzling and amusing of the whole charade we are dealing with here. We have heard the terms "fairytale economics" and "fantasy economics".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I will not take an economics lecture from the Deputy.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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How the Minister can stand over this with a straight face and hold this up as anything but a con is beyond me. The Government introduced a good measure in the budget last year, the tax rebate for home improvements. It achieved two objectives in that it provided employment and allowed people to improve their homes. I give the Government credit for that but it is now introducing a measure that is supposed to be for conservation although there is absolutely no requirement to conserve. It is lunacy. A millionaire living in a mansion up a long driveway who does not have to conserve any water because he is not even connected to the public supply will get the cheque from the Department of Social Protection. I refer to all those big Fine Gael voters up the long driveways. I know they are not all up long driveways but many of them are. Deputy Creed knows that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy knows a few of them also. They will get the cheque of €100 but Deputy Kelly, the senior Minister in the Department, will stand over it. The staff in the Department of Social Protection will be tied up. The whole system is gridlocked. I am sure the Minister's offices are dealing with the Department of Social Protection every day of the week. We are now to ask that Department to deal with the applications. If everyone applies, there will be 1.8 million applications. What we should have if we are to have grants is to have proper conservation. We should upgrade the building regulations and promote water harvesting. What is happening is insanity. It is fantasy and fairytale economics. How Fine Gael and the Labour Party can come in here with straight faces and stand over this is beyond me.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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Several serious points have been raised and I would like to pick on the one made by Deputy Shortall. We all know there are certain Departments whose work results in a lot of activity in our constituency offices. The Department of Social Protection will be such a Department for all of us. It is outrageous that people who are struggling for a long time to get a decision on an invalidity pension or carer's allowance could have their decision delayed further by virtue of a measure like this. Will the embargo be lifted to recruit extra staff for the Department of Social Protection? Has the cost of the extra staff been worked out and will it be included in the amount counted in terms of EU spending rules? If not, why not?

With regard to the conservation element, Deputy Barry Cowen has already made my point. He questioned the notion of calling the grant a conservation grant when there is no relationship between it and conservation whatsoever. Many of us believe we need to conserve water and we are well aware of how difficult it is. Dublin and north Kildare, for example, are in a similar position in that they both receive their water from Poulaphouca, in the main, and the treatment plant in Leixlip. The Minister has lost the argument on saving water through conservation. If we could save some water in this regard, it would prevent us from having to spend extra money. However, the money will be handed back to people like me if I make an application. That is totally wrong.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We really are into Orwellian-speak territory. Giving something a name — in this case, "conservation grant" — and declaring it to be such although one knows it is something else altogether is exactly what we are talking about here.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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A bribe.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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In April, Irish Water, at the behest of the Minister, will be sending 1.5 million bills out to people looking for €40 or €65. In July and October, there will be similar exercises. In October, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, there will be a small army of civil servants sending €100 in the opposite direction. When the books are prepared at the end of the year, it will be found that a considerable number of the cohort to whom €100 was sent will actually be boycotting the water charges. Then the Department will have to send out another letter demanding the €100 back. We are in Alice in Wonderland territory here. We are in Fine Gael and Labour in Blunderland territory. The more this goes on, the more incredible the saga becomes. I hope that, in April and May, when a huge cohort will exercise their right not to pay any water tax because they pay already, the Government will finally realise the game is up. Otherwise, it will be further into fantasyland.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Under section 5, eligible householders are to be provided with an annual water conservation grant, as we all know. It is to assist with water conservation, despite the Deputies' commentary.

8 o’clock

The Government has decided the annual grant should be €100 per household. The estimated cost of this grant is €130 million.

The section provides that to be eligible for the grant in 2015, a household shall have provided the information on the water supply to their dwelling to Irish Water and any necessary information required by the Minister for Social Protection. The section also provides for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to prescribe a date by which households should register with Irish Water, details of the water supply and wastewater treatment. The section also provides that a person resident in a nursing home or other residential care facility would be eligible to claim the grant in respect of his or her own house provided the house is not rented to another person.

The response to this grant, particularly in rural areas where people have paid for water for decades - many Members in this House represent those people - is quite good.

6:20 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is money for old rope.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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People who have paid for water for decades-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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For no reason.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister without interruption.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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-----have spent thousands.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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We all are paying for it.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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They have to service their wells, treatment systems and group schemes as well. Some Members might not be familiar with those but I certainly am.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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They are not paying our property tax.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister without interruption.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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They have spent thousands. Great credit is due to all of those who were involved in group schemes and have worked so diligently down through the years, and it should be recorded.

There were a number of questions related to the Department of Social Protection, DSP. This will be actioned by the DSP. The Department of Social Protection is quite happy to handle these queries.

It is worth pointing out that the Department of Social Protection has made significant savings by the actions that it has taken as regards the volume of those unemployed who are going back to work. We have the lowest unemployment rate in many years. As a result of those savings-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Give them something to do.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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-----the Department of Social Protection is in a position to respond and deliver this. They are quite happy to deliver this on behalf of the Department.

The real answer to Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, which I answered previously but the Deputy was out of the House, is that, because it goes into the drain and is not treated as sewerage, it is merely good practice. There is not a big issue in that regard.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The question I asked is straightforward and is very important for the House. Let me repeat it. What is the net financial position of the money raised in section 3 through domestic charges less the cost of raising that money less the cost of the grant in section 5? Does the Minister know the answer? If so, can he please tell us?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Could I ask one more question?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Yes, briefly.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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There is another question I would like the Minister to answer in that regard. He stated that 50% of people can beat the cap that has been set. If 50% of people beat the cap, what are the implications of that for the funding of Irish Water?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That was not an answer to the question.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett will be aware-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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On water conservation, I am merely making the point that I am baffled by the Minister's answer on the condition in the agreement. Is he stating it is because it is good practice to demand a written-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is only for new connections.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is not what the agreement states. It states that if one has water running off one's roof, one must get written agreement from Irish Water for that water to go back into the system. The Minister has not given me any explanation as to why they do it which leads me to believe it is what I fear. It is providing the legal basis for them to charge for someone harvesting rainwater off one's roof. That is what it is there for.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is quite clear that what they are talking about here is drainage policy rather than waste policy. It is to create sustainable drainage policies rather than have it all treated directly as wastewater. However, I will have a look at the section - I do not have it to hand.

I have answered on numerous occasions this question on the figures to which Deputy Donnelly refers. The figures have been outlined in detail on CER's website. Specifically, if Deputy Donnelly wants me to break down those figures here in writing, I ask him to provide me with the questions and I will do so.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I will submit the parliamentary questions. However, we are at Committee State of legislation that the Minister is tabling and it is reasonable for me to ask whether he currently knows. My assumption is the Minister does not know. I appreciate he will go and find the answer.

My concern is that the Minister is proposing legislation, which will tax people and which will send €100 cheques all over the country, and he does not know, at Committee Stage of the Bill, the net financial impact of that. If he cannot give us figures, can he confirm to the House that he does not know the net financial effect of charging people, the cost of charging them, including the caveat from Deputy Shortall, and the cost of sending them all €100 cheques? It is relevant for us to know whether the Government has even worked out the net financial effect of charging people and sending €100 cheques around the country. I would like to know whether or not the Minister knows and if he even can answer the question on Committee Stage of the Bill.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Based on the calculations we have here now, it is approximately €529 million.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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What is?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The cost. Deputy Donnelly asked specifically what is the cost to Government.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I did not.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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What is the question?

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The question is as follows. Section 3 will raise money from domestic charges and there is a cost associated with raising that money. There is a cost associated with section 5, which sends €100 cheques around the country.

The context is this. I am checking whether the cost of raising the revenue is more than the revenue that will come in. I believe it will cost the State to charge people for water. What is the net income to the State of raising revenue through domestic charges less the cost of raising that revenue which is the annual cost of the metering, billing and customer service, less the annual cost-----

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Donnelly is asking a very specific question.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Yes, I am.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The Minister has already told Deputy Donnelly he will revert to him-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I remind Deputy Walsh we will have one speaker.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The Minister asked me to repeat the question.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The Minister already told Deputy Donnelly-----

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Deputy Walsh's colleague, the Minister-----

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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-----that he will revert to him-----

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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No. The Minister has not told me; he asked me to repeat the question.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I remind Deputy Walsh we will have one speaker.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The Minister asked me to repeat the question.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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For God's sake. I ask Deputy Donnelly to be reasonable.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I remind Deputy Walsh we will have one speaker.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I am.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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They could not get it right last night.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Walsh can speak, if he wishes, to the section. Deputy Donnelly without interruption. I ask him to pose the question because he has contributed already a number of times.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The Minister asked me to repeat the calculation I am looking for. It is the net position to the State-----

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The Minister has answered the question.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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-----which is the value of the money raised minus the cost of raising that money minus the cost of the grant.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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In fairness, I have not got all those calculations; I will get them for Deputy Donnelly. I can give the Deputy this assurance, that, in relation to the costs he outlined versus the revenue which has been outlined on numerous occasions, for instance, €271 million in domestic charges, the revenue is more. Over time that will obviously be the case, considering that the costs will decrease and the revenue will be what it is.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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If the Minister expects people to support this important legislation, the least we are entitled to know is whether this model stacks up or not. The question is reasonable. Will it cost the State to charge people for water? It is a basic question and we have a right to know the answer before a decision is taken on this legislation.

The Minister has already talked about the revenue being €271 million and he also gave a figure of €130 million for the cost of the grant. That leaves €141 million. As I asked earlier, what is the estimated cost of bringing in those charges from the public, writing to every household and processing the charges four times a year, and what is the cost of writing the cheques for €100?

Will the Minister indicate the administrative costs for both Irish Water and the Department of Social Protection?

6:30 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The revised allowed revenue approved by the Commission for Energy Regulation on 30 September 2014 was €958 million. The adjustment to reflect the change in commercial rates is €59 million, which gives a final revised revenue of €899 million. This is made up of an operation subvention of €399 million, domestic billed income of €271 million, non-domestic billed income of €299 million and customer billing of approximately €500,000. The total figure covers both Irish Water and the Department.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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What is the cost? That is what we are asking.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I ask Members not to interrupt. Deputy Donnelly has indicated and I ask him to be brief and avoid repetition.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is clear at this stage that the Government does not know the net financial impact for the Exchequer of charging people for water and sending €100 cheques throughout the country. I am not trying to score political points here. This is a very important element of what the Government is proposing. On the basis that the Minister cannot tell the House the net financial impact of what he is proposing, I suggest that we adjourn Committee Stage to allow him time to work it out before returning to the House at a later date. We need those figures if we are to vote responsibly on his proposals.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have outlined how Irish Water is funded. If one deducts €130 million, one can derive the net figure. It is a question of subtracting €130 million from €899 million.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Before calling Deputy Shortall, I ask Members to try to avoid duplication and repetition.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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There is no duplication. We have posed very specific questions to which the Minister has given us partial answers. While we appreciate the information he has provided, some of our questions remain to be addressed. What is the administrative cost to Irish Water-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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To be fair to the Minister, he has outlined the information to the House.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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No, he has not. The Acting Chairman should be fair to us.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am being fair. The Minister outlined the information in his reply.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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If the Acting Chairman listened to the reply, he would know the Minister has not given us all the information we sought. First, what is the estimated cost to Irish Water of administering the charges, that is, sending out bills four times a year, chasing payments and so on? Second, what is the estimated cost of sending out cheques to every household in the country under the so-called conservation grant scheme? Third, what is the cost of the maintenance of meters? We will have a fuller picture if the Minister answers those three questions.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I appreciate that the Minister is trying to answer the questions and we are making progress here. The estimated amount that will be raised is €271 million. I presume that includes the 50% who beat the meter. The cost of payments under the €100 grant arrangement is some €130 million, which leaves a net position of €141 million.

Deputy Shortall and I are asking the same question. I have asked people who work with utility companies abroad what the annual cost is per household of metering, billing and customer service. The answer I was given - I cannot stand over it personally, but it is what people who work in utilities have estimated - is that the low end of the cost per household is approximately €60. If that is accurate then, based on a figure of 2 million households, the cost of administration of billing, not including the cost of administration of the grant, would be approximately €120 million. This would leave a net position for the State of €20 million. That is the figure I am asking the Minister to clarify. We know the estimate for the total amount to be raised. We now know the estimated cost - I thank the Minister for that information - of section 5 in terms of the cheques that will be issued. We are down then to €140 million. However, there is potentially some €120 million still to be taken off. Does the Minister have any figures on the cost per household?

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister indicated that the estimated cost of the grant scheme will be €130 million. However, if there is to be a payment of €100 per household, is the Minister basing his calculation on the assumption that 1.3 million households will claim it? People in rural areas can apply. Persons who do not have a connection to the public water supply can avail of this grant. My understanding is that there are closer to 1.9 million households in the State. If there are 1.9 million households in the State, the Minister is talking about €190 million. I ask the Minister to address that point. The number of households in the State is not 1.3 million; it is closer to 1.9 million which brings this figure of €100 per household to €190 million. Is the Minister saying that 600,000 are deviant and only 1.3 million will be deserving of the grant? Is the Minister assessing that there are only 1.3 million households in total which can avail of it?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The answer is quite simple: the figure of 1.3 million is based on the primary households which is €130 million.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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That is wrong. On a point of information, the Minister is wrong. The CSO figures show more than 1.3 million primary households.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Stanley, I will allow you later.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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How is it wrong? The figure is €130 million-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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There are more than 1.3 million primary principal residences.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps that is a net figure.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Does that mean the tenants will not get it back?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is in possession.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is based on principal primary residences. I have outlined the figures and I have read them into the record of the House on how they add up. The allowed revenue approved by the CER was €958 million, less the €59 million for commercial rates The revised revenue is €899 million, which is made up of the €399 million from the revised Government operational subvention. Domestic bill income was €271 million and the non-domestic bill income was €229 million, making €500 million in total. I have also outlined that €130 million is allowed for the conservation grant.

As I understand, the Deputy is looking for the costs for billing and the costs for managing the meters. While I do not have them to hand, I will certainly endeavour to get them for the Deputy directly.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Stanley is not next. I call Deputy O'Brien.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I ask the Minister to clarify those figures. How is it 1.3 million as opposed to 1.9 million? Where do the figures come from?

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I appreciate the Minister's responses and this will be my final contribution. The figure of €271 million has a cost of €130 million, although that has been questioned. Maybe it is €130 million or maybe it is €190 million. The Minister does not have a figure for the cost of billing. The figure I have that is used abroad is that the low end in Ireland would come in at about €120 million. Can I suggest that on the basis that we do not actually know whether charging people for domestic water is going to end up costing us money, we should suspend Committee Stage and ask for clarification so that when the House is asked to vote on charging people for domestic water, we know whether that is a net benefit or a net cost to the Exchequer?

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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I do not think that people are trying to entrap the Minister and I am certainly not doing so. I appreciate it has been a long day for him.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Read the legislation, Deputy Timmins.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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I ask for clarification because it is an important issue. The Minister mentioned the figure of 1.3 million primary residences. Does that mean that if someone has a rental property and it is let to tenants, the tenants will be paying water charges but they will not be able to receive the grant? Is that what we are talking about?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I see the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has come to assist so all will probably be well now.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I came to hear you, Joe. Ten years on the administrative council of the Labour Party.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Ten years on the administrative council of the Labour Party made me greyer than the Minister, believe me.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It would be a help if the Deputy would speak to section 5.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Irish Water sent out 2.8 million packs.

That is 2.8 million homes. If each one was entitled to €100, in round figures that would be €200 million.

6:40 pm

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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Only if they are registered.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, Deputy Walsh.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputy is telling people not-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Walsh, Deputy Higgins is in possession.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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-----to quantify-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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One speaker at a time, please.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Is Deputy Walsh expecting a mass boycott?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Walsh, with respect, Deputy Higgins is in possession.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I thought it was customary for new appointments to the Cabinet to be announced in the Dáil before they appear here from the backbenches.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is not relevant to the section. On section 5 only, please.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Let us clarify these figures. That would be €200 million.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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No.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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How many second homes - non-principal private residences - are excluded from this? The number of second homes does not come to 700,000, which is what the Minister would need to bring the figure down to 1.3 million. I ask the Minister to clarify. Will tenants - local authority tenants and tenants of private landlords - get the €100 conservation grant as well?

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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I think the House is completely confused. In over 20 years in the House I cannot remember a time when the ministerial team was not able to present basic figures on Committee Stage that actually added up. I note the sweeper of the team has come to the House to do a bit of sweeping in defence-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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On section 5, please.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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-----but with these incredible figures, it still looks to me, as I said earlier, like Alan in Wonderland.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Please, Deputy Broughan, you are a long-standing Member of the House.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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It is Alice in Wonderland.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Broughan is the dame.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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The figures do not add up. Deputy Donnelly and Deputy Shortall have made a consistent case tonight. It looks as though it will cost the State money to collect the water charge. I ask the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to tell me the difference between the cost of delivering 1,000 cubic litres of water through the 31 local authorities and the equivalent cost to Irish Water. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, did not provide us with that kind of information when dealing with the other water Bill. The central point is that there is a lacuna. There is a fundamental information deficit which I have never seen before in a piece of legislation. I agree with Deputies who said we should suspend this session until the Minister comes back to us with figures that stack up.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have a quick question to add to the many others. Is it the case that someone with ten houses does not get €1,000? Is that correct?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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One payment.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is it the case that a tenant renting a property is not entitled to a conservation grant, or will that be dealt with in the new extra legislation in the new year because of the discrepancies that exist?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Mathews on section 5.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I know that. I said earlier that the Minister should stop where he is and reassess, remeasure. That is what everybody does. Carpenters and plumbers do it and so do accountants. The Minister does not know what he is doing. It is a black hole. It is irresponsible to continue if he does not know where he is going.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Did the Minister say that tenants will or will not get the grant?

A Deputy:

Fergus, come back, all is forgiven.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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There are 1.3 million principal primary residences. People living in their homes will get this grant should they sign up. If they own other properties they will not get it for other properties.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Please allow the Minister to speak, and Deputies might get the answer they are seeking without interruption.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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A tenant who is renting what is his or her primary residence will get the grant too. However, a person who has multiple properties will only get the grant based on the primary residence. Tenants will get the grant. The figure is 1.3 million.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Where did the figure of 700,000 houses go to?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Higgins, suigh síos, le do thoil. Tá an tAire ag caint.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Seacht gceád míle tig.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Tá fhios agam. The Minister is in possession. I will allow you to speak again if you wish.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is our estimation that the figure is 1.3 million principal or primary residences, and they will be eligible for this €100. If a person owns the house in which he or she lives, he or she will get the grant. If the person has another nine or ten or 20 or 40 premises, however, they will not get it for those. However, a tenant in a property will get a conservation grant once he or she registers the property as a primary residence.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is the tenant legally responsible?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I have a list of speakers, Deputy Higgins.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We are nearly there.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Tóg go bog é. Fan nóimeád, le do thoil. Deputy Shortall is next. I have a list of speakers and you are on the list. I will not forget you, I promise. I could not forget you.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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This is pretty fundamental stuff. We have a right to know whether all of this adds up or not.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It does.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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We need the Ann and Barry guide now, if the Minister can produce it.

Let us round the figure down and say there are 2 million homes - housing units - in the country. The Minister is saying there are 1.3 million primary residences. That suggests, then, that at least 700,000 homes are not accounted for. The Minister has already contradicted himself when he said the tenants in those housing units would be getting the grant. Leaving aside primary residences, how many households will be getting the so-called conservation grant by virtue of the fact that those involved are living as tenants in a housing unit? There is a gap of 0.7 million here and the Minister needs to account for it.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I do not wish to confuse the House by asking the same question.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The number of households calculated by the Minister means there is a gap of 0.7 million, and many of those houses are rented. The tenants of those houses are the primary residents as defined by the Minister in the Bill.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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No matter how it is dressed up, there are 1.3 million primary residences, but on top of that, from the figures, there are something like 530,000 or 540,000 more which are rented. They are entitled to the grant as well. I think there are something like 1.85 million to 1.9 million homes under discussion, and there are something like 40,000 or 50,000 houses around the country which are second homes or holiday homes. It will still cost €1.85 million to €1.9 million.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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It is very simple to clarify it. At the moment we are searching for 700,000 houses.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is only in your mind.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We have accounted for 1.3 million-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Please avoid repetition if you can, Deputy. We have been around the houses already.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I will address the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. At a briefing, Irish Water, in the form of the chief executive, told us they had sent out 2.8 million packs, presumably to 2.8 million homes.

They were not sending them to tents pitched on the Blasket Islands.

6:50 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Are you sure?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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There were sending them, presumably, to fixed structures.

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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Maybe mobile homes.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Or churches and schools.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, we are on section 5. We are not in The Abbey.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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He is camping on the Blasket Islands now.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are not in The Abbey, Deputy Higgins.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We are told 1.3 million are principal private residences. At €100 each, that makes up-----

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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You are confusing the 1.3 million with Deputy Murphy's European Parliament salary.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, Deputy Walsh.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The unofficial member of the Cabinet is coming in again. He is confusing things. Please let us-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Could we speak through the Chair? I ask Deputy Walsh to refrain from interjecting, if he would not mind.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Let us be serious.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Higgins on section 5.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We have accounted for 1.3 million principal residences, which is the €130 million the Minister has stated tonight.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Bingo.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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That is clear. Will the Minister give us a breakdown of the missing 700,000 homes? Some of them are holiday homes that are not rented out so they are not entitled to €100, but there must be hundreds of thousands of houses in the 700,000 which are rented, which means the tenants are entitled to €100. Therefore, for every 100,000 houses it is an extra €10 million. How many of the 100,000 tenants will receive the €100 grant and what will it amount to on top of the €130 million about which the Minister has told us? Is that clear?

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Yes, thank you professor.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, Deputy Mathews.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I would like to shed a bit of light on this for the Minister, which may be helpful.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Thank you.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Did you find any houses?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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According to the census, 475,000 people are renting.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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Houses or people?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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If the Minister is saying the cost of the grant to those living in their own home is €130 million and there are 475,000-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We did not say that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Is that not what you are saying?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Yes, you did say that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The story is changing now. We were told it was-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Yes, €130 million and 1.3 million-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----€130 million based on 1.3 million-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Shortall spoke already.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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She is giving him a tutorial.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----in principal private residences. That is what the Minister said and those two figures tally; €100 for those 1.3 million principal private residences. In addition, there are 475,000 people renting.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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No, they have a principal private residence where they are renting.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Where they are renting is their principal private residence.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister can come back in.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am afraid the Minister referred to people living in their own homes.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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They are their own homes; they are renting them.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Has Deputy Boyd Barrett finished?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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There is a major gap in the Minister's figures.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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No, I think you have just misunderstood.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Account for the 700,000.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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No, there is a major gap. How do you explain the gap of 700,000?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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There is no gap. I am afraid the argument has just fallen.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It would make sense that approximately 475,000 people are renting and others are multiple properties or second homes which are not empty, and this would bring the figures up to approximately 2 million.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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There are not 2 million.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Otherwise it looks as if we are staring at an extra liability of €47 million.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I ask people to respect the fact that we are in the Chamber. There are side-bars and conversations taking place, which are unfair to the speaker. It would be in the interests of all of us if we had a small bit of decorum.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is here.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are on section 5 and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has nothing to do with section 5.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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He might assist in establishing whether the houses are missing. Can we find out how much is being provided by the Government towards the payment of a conservation grant?

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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A simple question.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It is published in the Estimates.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Has it provided €1.9 million, €1.3 million or €2.8 million? What is it? Perhaps if we divide the houses and we will have some indication as to where we are going.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It is published in the Estimates. Read them.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister can tell us again. There are 700,000 houses missing.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is your invention.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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It is now clear that we do not know, and Minister is not able to tell us, whether there will be a net income as a result of these water charges or whether there will be a deficit to the State as a result. The Minister cannot tell us how many houses are in the country-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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That is not true.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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We have told you ten times.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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-----or how many households will receive the €100 grant. At this stage it is clear there could be anything up to an additional €70 million of costs associated with this grant. These are two fundamental issues with regard to this legislation. I propose we suspend Committee Stage until the Minister returns with the figures.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The figure people are looking for is 1.66 million. This is the number of households, and includes people living in homes they own and people renting. The figure for 2011 from the CSO is 1.66 million, so the cost at €100 per household will be €166 million.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That would be if everybody were entitled to it. They will not all be entitled to it.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Here is where the figures now stand. The total amount the Minister told the House would be raised is €271 million. This minus €166 million for the grant leaves €105 million.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It is not €166 million for the grant. You are just making it up.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Stop interrupting.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I am not making it up.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett please. I will chair proceedings.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I just wanted to help you.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that. Thank you.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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My numbers may be wrong but I am certainly not making it up. The figures we have from the Minister are that every household will receive €100 and that there are 1.66 million households which leads to €166 million.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I have a flat in Dublin and a house in Wexford and I am not entitled to two.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is your tenant?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I do not have a tenant.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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To be clear, there are 1.66 million unique households.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Yes, and I have two of them.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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No, households, families living in households.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Not buildings.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Occupiers, according to the CSO.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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The total amount of money raised is €271 million and this minus €100 per household, be they renting or owner occupiers, is €166 million. This leaves a net amount of €105 million. The estimate I was given is that the cost of collecting the €271 million, between metering and billing, is €120 million, so before we factor in the costs of administering the conservation grant we are at a net cost to the State of charging people for water of €15 million a year. I may be wrong; I am just going on the best figures I can get and I accept I may be wrong. On the basis that clearly there are an awful lot of very important questions to be answered, in particular the net position of the State for charging people for water, should we suspend the session and come back next week and have an informed debate and the Minister can send around the numbers?

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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This is a very simple issue and there should be a simple answer to it. If every eligible household in the country registered for Irish Water, how many households would register? If I am a tenant in a pre-1963 house on the North Circular Road in which there are nine units with nine different tenants on which property tax has been paid, would I be entitled to the conservation grant and would the other eight people in the block be entitled to the conservation grant? Are they part of the 1.3 million or the 1.66 million? Perhaps we are at cross purposes but it should be easily clarified.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Higgins has spoken already so I will bring him in after the Minister replies.

7:00 pm

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I can clarify the issue now and he can deal with it. I am confident he can. According to the 2011 census, in this-----

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should scroll down the page.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy should scroll down the page.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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The Deputy should not scroll down; he might lose it.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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In 2011 there were 1,649,408 permanent private households. It has not altered that much since then. At €100 per household, that would be €164 million. I ask the Minister to clarify, please.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The 1.3 million is based the principal primary residence. If there were eight people in eight different apartments in the one block who had all signed up as customers of Irish Water, they would get the €100. If somebody has their own house, they will get it for that, but if they have another holiday home in Kerry, they will not get it for that. So it is not for holiday homes.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Right, we know that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Cowen spoke already.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is not for businesses that have got the packs sent out or anything like that. It is for people who either have their own home - it is not for their holiday homes - or it is for people who are renting and are signed up to Irish Water as a customer.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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That is 1.64 million.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The estimate based on that is 1.3 million, which at €100 comes to €130 million.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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What happens-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Deputy. You were in already on a number of occasions. Let the Minister speak. I will bring you in again at the end.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We are going round in circles.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is helping himself as well, in fairness.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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There are 700,000 houses.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is in possession.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Is the Minister saying there are 700,000 holiday houses in the country?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Higgins-----

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Is he saying that?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I ask Deputy Higgins to resume his seat and let the Minister conclude. I will then bring him back in if he so desires.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I keep asking the same question.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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No, I am not saying there are 2 million. I am saying there are 1.3 million as outlined there. I cannot be any clearer than that.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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It is wrong.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is not wrong

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The census-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is not wrong.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It is our best estimate.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is the best estimate based on the analysis done by the Government.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Is the Minister better than the census of the population?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Higgins knows the rules of the House better than most and should not be interrupting.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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This is absolutely ridiculous.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The Deputy is not taking into account a whole range of factors regarding holiday homes, other types of buildings, vacant houses and all of that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We will have one speaker and it is the Minister.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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That is nonsense. He is in a fog.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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This is very clear. The 1.3 million is very clear.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is very clear the Minister has got it wrong.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you. The Minister is in possession.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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At 1.3 million-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Minister. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Irish Water has been set up to deliver better water services and new investment. I have outlined the figures already. This needs a new funding model and as I have outlined the revenue will drive this investment. The cost of collecting this revenue is less than the revenue collected.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I ask the Minister to repeat that.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The cost of collecting this revenue is less than the revenue collected. The figures the Deputy has outlined-----

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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What is that?

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have told the Deputy on numerous occasions I will get him those data. I have outlined all the costs.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Let us adjourn now and-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Deputy Shortall-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have outlined all the costs regarding this on numerous occasions, making up to €899 million that will be spent. I have also outlined the €130 million in the conservation grant on numerous occasions. The CER looked at the costs. Customer operation costs are on its site. As I have said previously, I will get the Deputy those data.

The water conservation grant is a universal grant. I think I have outlined that 1.3 million is the estimate based on the data we have. It could never be anywhere near 2 million, given all the vacant houses and holiday homes, and given the fact that it was sent out to various other types of buildings and operations.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy Shortall.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Thank you.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, I call Deputy O'Brien.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister has said the best estimate is 1.3 million. We are working from the CSO figures, which were updated on 4 April 2013. Its website states there are 1.65 million residences. It even gives the number of people who live in those houses. So we need clarity on this figure.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is clear that the Minister has put considerable effort into doing the political maths on this, but he has utterly failed to do his economic homework. This is very basic information. We want the figures to know whether this stacks up. A number of us have contended today that it simply does not stack up. The onus is on the Minister to prove otherwise.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The only-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Minister-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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Three key figures have been put out. Irish Water has sent notices to 2 million households. The CSO figures indicate there are 1.65 million households and the Minister is telling us 1.3 million households will be entitled to the grant. Given the Minister's figures and the CSO figures, it suggests there are 350,000 holiday homes or second homes like that of the Minister, Deputy Howlin. Can the Minister give us the figure for the holiday homes he has calculated?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy could have one herself in my constituency.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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No. I do not, actually.

Can the Minister give us those figures? We are entitled to them. We are getting to the point of high farce in the House. Has any regulatory impact assessment been carried out in light of the Minister's political intervention a few weeks ago when he completely changed the map involved in this? Has a regulatory impact assessment been carried out? If it has, the Minister would surely have the figures. If it has not, we should abandon this shambles at this point. I strongly support other speakers who have said that we cannot possibly consider this legislation adequately in the absence of those key figures. A proposal has been made that we adjourn for 30 minutes so that the Minister can go off and get a full briefing from his officials. That would be the sensible thing to do. People looking in at tonight's debate must be horrified at the level of incompetence being displayed by the Government. It is bringing the entire House into disrepute.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his answer. The answer he gave was that while he does not have the cost of billing, metering and customer service, he is confident that whatever that cost is, it is less than the revenue raised. However, I think the figure he is talking about when he talks about the revenue raised is the €271 million. I would agree that based on the estimates I have seen, irrespective of the cost of metering, billing and customer service, it is highly likely to be less than €271 million.

However, what we need to compare in asking the House to vote this legislation through is not the €271 million versus the cost of collecting the 1 million, but the €271 million minus the cost of the grant. If €100 is going out to every unique stand-alone household - not house but household - that figure is €166 million. It is entirely likely at this point that the cost of charging people for water will be more than the money that they pay. I do not imagine that any Member of this House, including any Minister, would vote for or stand over legislation with the potential to cost the State money to charge households for water.

Given that no Deputy in the House is clear as to whether domestic charging will end up costing the State money, should we take, maybe half an hour, but actually maybe a few days to let the Minister and his officials pull the numbers together and send them to us to look at? We can then come back here. I do not imagine that any Minister would ask any Labour or Fine Gael Deputy to vote for legislation whereby charging people for water could end up costing the State money.

7:10 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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While I have not been a Member for a long time, for the people who may be looking at us, the one thing I would say is that there is no shame in not knowing something. Every Deputy needs clarification. I ask the House to agree to postpone the debate for the time being until we get the facts and figures for the benefit of everyone here and for the benefit of the country. Let us not be over and back towards each other but let us get the clarification that is required. Let us not try to defend the indefensible as has happened down through the years to the detriment of this country. Let us do it a new way and just listen to the people for once.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I think the Minister should do so because if he thinks the fiasco and the outrage surrounding the issue of Irish Water has been bad to date, if he has got this wrong, he is in deep trouble. We are asking a very simple question. How is it that the census states there are 1.6 million principal private households and the Minister says there are only 1.3 million. How can that be? How is it that the Minister can say there are 300,000 fewer principal private households than the census shows and that somehow, mystically and magically, 300,000 households have disappeared since the census? It does not add up and neither do the references to holiday homes because they are accounted for by the gap between the 1.6 million and the 2.1 million. They are the multiple properties, the holiday homes, of which there are 400,000, but what the census says - God almighty, if we are not supposed to believe the census to be reasonably accurate - is that there are 1.6 million principal private residencies, not second homes and not holiday homes. The Minister will have to explain that. Otherwise he has got a €30 million hole in his mathematics.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I did not raise this issue to put the cat among the pigeons but it has put the cat among the pigeons. I heard the Minister mention a figure of 1.3 million and it did not sit right with me and has led to a long debate. I am concerned about that because between the 1.65 million and the approximately 2 million are the holiday homes, the vacant houses and second homes. People who work in one part of the country, such as some people in the House, may have an apartment in Dublin. There is nothing wrong with that, as they need to live close to their work. Section 5(2) provides that a grant under this section payable in respect of the year 2015 shall only be paid where the occupier of a dwelling has registered with Irish Water and has provided to the Minister for Social Protection information as specified in regulations. In order that we are absolutely clear, it is an occupier of a household - an occupied household - who is entitled to the grant. There are more than 1.3 million occupied households in the State. I remember clearly all the discussions we had around the local property tax, LPT. I remember clearly the earlier discussions with the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, who has departed for greener pastures, and the figure was always higher than 1.3 million occupied households. My memory of the 2011 statistics which my colleague, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, has updated to 2013, is that the number is more than 1.3 million.

As the person who first raised the question and given that we are talking about a large amount of money, potentially €35 million-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy is right.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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-----although it could be €200 million or €250 million or €25 million or €30 million, but in the interests of accuracy we need to adjourn. The €130 million which the Minister says will be covered if everybody who is entitled to it applies is not correct. I believe it is more likely to be €150 million to €160 million. We cannot vote on a measure if we are €25 million or €35 million wide of the mark.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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The suggestion that we adjourn is excellent. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, who is new to the House, put it very graciously when he said there is nothing wrong about not knowing something and having to revisit it and recalculate. That is the right thing to do. In that gracious sense, it is an opportunity to reconsider the whole issue and get the figures right. Simply put, 2 million is the number of registration forms that Irish Water posted out to households. The 2011 census showed there were 1.64 million residential households. That means the difference of 340,000 are the holiday homes and the unoccupied residences in the country. It is worth clarifying this and just stand back and pause. Earlier I asked that we stop the whole exercise.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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I support Deputy Peter Mathews and the other Deputies in the request to adjourn.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Will Deputies please take their seats?

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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I think we should adjourn because a very important proposal has been brought to our attention. I think Deputy Donnelly's original questions have not been addressed. We are talking about charges on the Exchequer and charges on the taxpayer. Thanks to modern technology, everybody in the Chamber has checked the CSO website, as has Deputy Brian Stanley who first raised the number of households. It is clear the number was 1.65 million in 2011 and a little more in 2013. It is clear that the conservation grant will cost in the region of €165 million upwards and we are being presented with a figure that does not stack up. We need to look at that again. Deputy Donnelly has correctly asked the cost of administering the actual charges and Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the cost of administering the conservation grant. There are at least three major sets of figures with which the Minister, who is senior Minister for a relatively short time, has not been able to satisfy the House. The majority of Deputies present, including possibly Deputies on the Government side, are not clear. The best alternative, and there is no big deal about it, is to adjourn and come back next week with chapter and verse in terms of the figures. Otherwise we are doing a disservice to the people. We are not giving them the figures. I would say to the Deputy Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, that we may end up with a situation where this new tax is costing the taxpayer and the Exchequer money. It is a ludicrous situation. On the basis that the Minister and his colleagues do not appear to have the figures to hand, we should adjourn at 9 o'clock and come back with a full set of figures in order that we can have a proper debate.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I join others in seeking that adjournment. Will the Minister confirm that the Government has provided €130 million towards the conservation grant based on a compliance rate of 70% or 80% by those who register? In the event of a 100% registration, will the Government provide the extra €36 million mentioned and will he give a commitment to the House to do so?

7:20 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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9 o’clock

Over the past month, the Minister and the Government spoke about how this issue would be clarified and people would be satisfied with that clarity. Tonight, we have anything but clarity; instead, we have a bank of fog. We have no clarity in the figures for houses or the cost of administering the grant. It is quite clear that the House does not know if the introduction of these charges will cost the taxpayer and the State money.

I hoped the Minister would at this stage have offered the House an adjournment, and I still hope he might do so. If he is not prepared to do that, I propose an adjournment. My understanding of Standing Orders is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can make a decision in that regard. In the event of the Minister offering to adjourn, there would be no need for that, and I hope that will happen. If that does not transpire, I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to adjourn the House until next Tuesday at 2 p.m. to allow the Minister and the Government to give some clarity on the various figures at issue tonight.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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To be honest, this is bizarre.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Allow the Minister to reply.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have the figures.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Not only is Deputy Alan Kelly the Minister responsible for water charges, but he is also the Minister responsible for housing. One would think he would know how many houses are within the State and being occupied by home owners or tenants.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Are they all in NAMA?

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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If the Minister has the figures, let us hear them.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Let us put a little bit of context into where we are tonight. It is only days ago since the Government had to revisit the water charges scheme. Following the announcements, the EU officials from the troika who were here reviewing issues tried to start pushing us around again. I appreciate that the three gentlemen occupying the ministerial benches are not in an easy position. It is an awkward one. I would be inclined to make the excuse that the difficulty in getting the numbers right could have been caused or exacerbated by people pushing the Ministers around. Tell them to go to hell.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The papal nuncio has spoken.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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They are on their own now.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I took the intervening time to get Deputy Donnelly's figures and I apologise for not having them before. The €130 million is based on the best "guesstimates" of volume of households, as I outlined earlier. The Deputies opposite can accept that or reject it but those are the estimates given to me.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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By who?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Who was that?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Deputies should listen.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Deputy Donnelly argued that costs could potentially be in excess of charges and some points should be borne in mind. One cannot include the €130 million, which is an allowance given to everybody. It is not relevant in comparing costs and charges of Irish Water. The cost of billing and metering is estimated at €22 million. If that is deducted from €271 million, it comes to €249 million. This does not include the financing of the metering programme, which has a long-term financing cost. As I repeated earlier, that is €41 million. One may choose to deduct that and although I would disagree with such action, one may also choose to deduct the €130 million cost of the grant. Even if that is done, revenue exceeds costs as outlined.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Some of the €130 million would go to people who are not Irish Water users.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Who provided the number of houses?

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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I appreciate the Minister's comments. If we do not dispute his costs in refuting the argument from Deputy Donnelly, he is taking in more revenue than it costs to finance the operation. Let us say we agree in principle with that.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have just outlined it.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is a mathematical issue and this is not a matter of opinion. We are dealing with mathematical facts with respect to the 1.3 million households. There seems to be a mental block on the Government's side in this respect, which is a weakness. It is a mathematical fact there are at least 1.65 million households in the country. The Minister has argued that if a grant went out to every eligible household, the number in question is 1.3 million. Is the Minister telling us there are 365,000 houses that are either holiday homes or empty? There are clearly not that many.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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They are all in NAMA.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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It is a certain percentage. Even if there are 50,000 or 100,000-----

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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He is saying the people will not sign up.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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If all those households sign up, the cost must be greater than €130 million. That is where the argument does not stack up. Deputy Donnelly may disagree but if I give the Government the benefit of the doubt on the cost of financing the issue, the figure of 1.3 million households does not stack up. Where have the 365,000 houses disappeared to?

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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They are households.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is obvious the Government has provided €130 million towards conservation grant aid and this is done on the basis of 70% or 80% compliance. If there is 100% compliance, will the Government commit to the extra €35 million? In the absence of that, I am at a loss in understanding the scientific basis for the figure being €130 million. We should remember that €80 million was spent on consultants. Irish Water have had this matter for the past 18 months. It was in the hands of the Government, this particular Department, Bord Gáis and now Irish Water, with all their staff, expertise and management levels. The best estimate is €130 million but there is an acknowledgement that there are 1.65 million houses. If there was full compliance, the figure would have to be €160 million and not €130 million. Will the Minister indicate where he got the scientific basis for the "guesstimate" of €130 million and does the Government accept that in the event of full compliance, the figure will have to be larger? Will it adjust its estimates to allow that be paid?

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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It is very clear that the Opposition is protesting because it is not getting the answers it wants to hear and which suit its agenda.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Sit down.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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It is equally clear the Opposition is confused by these figures.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Deputy can explain them.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. The Deputy can do it.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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The Government Members do not have a hope of being elected if they cannot find the houses to canvass.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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When I came to the Chamber an hour ago, there was mention of a figure of 2 million households.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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No, that refers to houses.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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Members opposite have adjusted that downwards to 1.6 million households.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is houses.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We are talking about occupied houses.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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They are confused and in the space of an hour they have lost almost 400,000 households.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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No.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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There is something in the water.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The figure is 1.3 million.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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It is not.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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The difference between the 1.6 million figure and the 1.3 million figure is clearly the number of households that are unoccupied in the State.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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No.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Go away and-----

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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Members of Sinn Féin regularly stand up in the Chamber and complain about the numbers-----

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy is making an idiot of himself.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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He is making things worse.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Order, please.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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-----of boarded-up local authority houses, for example. There are a number of holiday homes that would be excluded from the 1.6 million figure.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Are people living in them as well?

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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As a result of the irresponsible attitude presented by Sinn Féin and some of the other Members opposite, there are a number of households that will unfortunately not register, so they will not be entitled to the €100 grant.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I have a point of order.

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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That makes up the difference between the number of households in the census and the number of households in receipt of the €100 grant.

The Minister spent the last hour and a half answering these questions. Obviously, the Opposition will continue to pose the questions because it is not getting the answers which suit its agenda. I appeal to it to move on to the next section. These questions have been answered.

The Minister was asked very reasonable questions by Deputy Donnelly and he undertook to write to him and the Deputies present, if necessary, to give the specific details but it is unreasonable to ask him to give specific details in regard to some of the very specific questions asked. We should move on from here.

7:30 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Walsh for that clarification. I must say it was very enlightening. If he had been in the House earlier for the debate, he might have understood the difficulties for people because we have had no clarity at all from the Minister. The figure of 2,008,000 is the figure used by Irish Water. Irish Water sent out registration forms to 2,008,000 homes. That is an official figure, so somewhere out there are 2,008,000 houses which got forms. The CSO tells us that there are 1.65 million households-----

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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Residential households.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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-----and yet the Minister is only accounting for 1.3 million households, which will be entitled to the grant.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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There is a gulag somewhere.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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There is a very substantial gap there. We are talking about a gap of between 0.35 million and 0.7 million in terms of households. We are entitled to clarification on that, which the Minister has not given us.

In addition, two hours ago, a number of us asked the Minister two key questions. What is the estimated cost for Irish Water to administer the charges, that is, send out invoices, process the charges, send reminders and so on? What is the estimated cost of administering the so-called conservation grant, which the Department of Social Protection will be sending out to every household in the country? What are those two key costs? Can the Minister provide clarification on the number of households?

There are only so many ways one can phrase the question. It has been asked-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have answered the question.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The Minister has not. Nobody accepts that he has answered the question. These are key questions. Does the Minister need them posed again?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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God no.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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The Minister should provide clarity on the number of households. Tell us how much it will cost Irish Water and tell us how much it will cost the Department of Social Protection to administer the grant. They are very clear straightforward questions. If the Minister is not in a position to answer them, which seems to be the case, then we have no option but to adjourn this. It is becoming shambolic. We cannot continue like this in the absence of key information which is required. If the Minister cannot provide the information now, let us adjourn, do the sensible thing and come back at a time when he is properly briefed.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister said he was working off guesstimates.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies should not be irrelevant in their statements. I do not want too much repetition because we are having a lot of that.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The reason I raised this more than an hour ago was to try to get some clarity because of the discrepancy in the figures. Deputy Walsh who come in about an hour and a half ago to play full-back is wrong in what he said about Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin did not tell people not to register or to register. The difference between us is that we do not tell people what to do. We allow people to make up their own minds. The Government is not doing that; it is threatening them.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I see Deputy Walsh has been joined from the bar on the back line.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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On section 5.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Irish Water sent out 2 million packs but the figures from the census states that there are 1.65 million occupied households. This is the key point. The legislation state that it shall only be paid to households where the occupier of a dwelling has registered and has provided the information to the Minister for Social Protection. We are clearly talking about occupied households and the Minister clarified that where it is rented housing, social housing, local authority housing, voluntary housing or, as described by Deputy Timmins, private rented flats or apartments. We are all on the one page on that.

The problem is the figures do not add up because there is a discrepancy between the households, as defined in the Bill, and the ones set out in the census figures, which we always take as accurate. The Minister is going on a guesstimate and he has not clarified where the 1.3 million is.

As the person who raised this, I propose we adjourn and that the Minister and his officials come back with figures next Tuesday morning so that we can continue this debate, based on proper information available to us and that we are not here literally shooting in the dark, which is what is happening.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Sinn Féin is very good at that.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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We were here the other night until 1.30 a.m. The Government hoped this would be done out of the glare of the media, that the press gallery would be empty and that everybody would have gone home. Here it is tonight trying to get this through without the proper figures. I propose, if there is a seconder, that we adjourn the House.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I will deal with that in a moment. I call Deputy Mathews on a point of order.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that is a formal proposal.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I know that.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I have a seconder.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I will deal with that in a moment.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I second or at least echo that. Deputy Healy referred to the official way to adjourn. He might like to remind the Chair of what he said.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Healy is not chairing this and neither are you. Deputy Mattie McGrath has a question to ask.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I have because this has descended into a total farce. I remember when the Minister, Deputy Kelly, took over, he went on television with an ashen-faced John Tierney. I said the morning after that if he brought John Tierney to every house in the country, he would not change people's minds but now he would not find them. Some 365,000 houses are missing. That is 1,000 for every day of the year. That would solve the homeless crisis in Europe, not to mention in Ireland. This is farcical. This will be some legacy for the Minister, Deputy Kelly - 365,000 houses for which he cannot account. Please adjourn before I walk out in disgust.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Off you go.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I said before the Minister was making a show of Tipperary and, by God, he is.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I call Deputy Donnelly.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for the figures. Here is where I think we are. The Minister's figure is that €271 million would be raised in revenue. I appreciate that the figure he has been given for the number of eligible households for the grant is 1.3 million. It would appear from what he said, that every household gets it, the figure he has been given is wrong. According to the CSO, it would appear that it would cost €166 million. That would appear to be the case but we need clarification, which we cannot get this evening.

The Minister stated that the annual cost of the meters would be about €41 million. I accept that cost----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Financing.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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That is probably a reasonable cost for the meters. The final figure the Minister gave - I appreciate him getting it - is that the additional cost of billing would be €22 million per year. The figure I have is that it would be a lot higher but I accept that is the figure the Minister has been given. Here is where we are, based on the figures we have tonight.

Some €271 million would be raised, €166 million would be given back in grants, €41 million would be the cost of metering and €22 million would be the cost of billing. I believe some of those figures would be higher but they are the figures we are working on. Given those figures, the net benefit to the State of charging people for water - the net benefit of people paying out €271 million - would be €42 million.

There will be an administrative cost to the grants. We do not know what it is but let us assume it is 3%. A 3% administrative cost on the grants would add a further €5 million or so in costs, bringing the net benefit to the State, from households paying out €271 million, of €37 million.

That is if the figures the Minister has been given on billing are correct and based on what I have seen they are very low. As of now, the people of Ireland will pay €271 million for their water and the benefit to the State at best will be €37 million and may be negative. This case, irrespective of whether there is a net benefit or cost to the State of charging people for water, is fundamental to this legislation. Can we please, in the interests of good parliamentary and legislative work on all sides, adjourn and come up with the figures? We have an independent expert-----

7:40 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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We have the figures.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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They are wrong.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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We have an independent expert which can study the figures, the CER. It already has an opinion paper on this. Let us come back next week with figures everyone can agree on, please.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I want to add one piece to Deputy Donnelly’s maths. If we take in all the figures the Minister is talking about and add a possible €36 million gap between the Minister’s estimate of the number of households that will get the grant and the number the Central Statistics Office, CSO, says exist, it comes to €42 million but the Minister has not given us a figure for the maintenance costs for metering. He gave us the capital cost broken down on an annual basis but what about the maintenance costs for metering? Those have to be added in as well, which is likely to bring it down further. We do not know the cost of the administration of the grant. Deputy Donnelly gives a figure of 3% working on €5 million but if it costs Irish Water €22 million to send out the bills, we could be looking at a pretty significant figure, meaning that the net benefit to the State of levying these charges would be absolutely derisory, possibly as low as €20 million. If I were the Minister I would want an adjournment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The figures are out there.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister has not given us the figure.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have given the figure.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister has not given us the figure for the cost of administering the grant.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is administered like every other grant.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Exactly, the Minister does not have it.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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It is administered like any other grant. How would one disaggregate that cost?

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is the same as the Department of Social Protection. It is the same as the Christmas bonus.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Of course the Minister disaggregates the cost of administrating.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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How would the Department explain how it does the Christmas bonus and everything else? That is impossible.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is a very serious admission for the Minister to make that he does not disaggregate the cost of the Department’s-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I do not.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The Department of Social Protection does.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister’s maths will be very seriously out.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The Department of Social Protection does it.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Department of Social Protection is already overrun-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I do not have those figures.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----where people wait months and months to get responses to appeals and the Minister is going to load all this extra work on them and he has not figured out how he is going to pay for it. He does not know the extra cost of the staff, the administration and has not added it into this. That is ridiculous.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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What about the millions of euro we are saving by getting more people employed?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister is digging a big hole for himself. He would be better off-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Why does the Deputy not look up more to the Visitors Gallery?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The journalists will be looking and there will be an independent scrutiny of this debate and of the figures the Minister has put out. The questions we are asking will be writ large over the next few days and if it is discovered that the Minister’s maths were way out and he rammed the Bill through, despite the fact that those legitimate questions about the maths were being raised, he should just imagine how bad it will be for him.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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The Minister will get a bad report card from the Taoiseach. He will get a red card.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister said earlier that 1.3 million homes was the best guesstimate he had. I do not know who gave him that guesstimate. Maybe he can clarify that now? Where did he get the figures? We are quoting figures from the CSO. Can the Minister tell us who gave him his guesstimate?

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Independent)
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I am as perplexed as everybody else seems to be. Could the Minister tell the House whether the 1.3 million households equates to everyone who is entitled to register or is it an estimate? They are two different things. Is it an estimate or is it the figure that the Minister believes is the total number of those entitled to register? If his figure is that much lower than the CSO figure of 1.65 million households is that potentially a concession from the outset that the Government does not expect 365,000 households will register? Is it an admission of defeat at the beginning?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Those are not Irish Water customers.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have already asked the same question as Deputy Creighton. On what scientific basis did the Minister approve €130 million? Where did the information emanate from? What expert, what adviser or what level of competence within Irish Water gave the information to the effect that the compliance rate will be such that the Government will have to pay out only €130 million in these conservation grants? If that is misinformation let us find out where it emanated from so somebody will have to be accountable.

Tonight’s proceedings prove the grave mistake made this time last year when the legislation governing the initial charging mechanism instructing the CER to do it was as flawed as the Bill we have here tonight and we might have got a lot of answers that it has taken a year to get in the meantime because of that legislation.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The Opposition is quite cleverly trying to be obstructive by-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should answer our questions.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is being very obstructive by trying to stitch the allocation of a conservation grant that will allow people across the country, in rural and urban areas, a €100 payment to assist them in conserving water in their households. That is not an Irish Water expenditure, it is an allocation-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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It is an Irish joke.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is an estimated allocation from the Government to assist people in conserving water. It has nothing to do with Irish Water expenditure.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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In that case it does not matter if people pay or not.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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They have to pay the Irish Water bill to get it.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is a conservation grant allocated to households to assist them in conserving water.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thought "hello" money was illegal.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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It is not an Irish Water expenditure. The Opposition is cleverly trying to obstruct the debate. That is its form of protest on the floor of the Dáil-----

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The protest was yesterday.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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We did not see the Minister of State at it.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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-----by trying to stitch it into Irish Water expenditure. That is what it is doing. There is nothing to stop the Government evaluating the number of registrations for this grant and if there are more registrations the grant will be paid to those people.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That could be €36 million.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The allocation that has been made in the Estimate is €130 million. If that needs to be upped it will be upped. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Come on in, Deputy O’Dowd, all is forgiven. Tell us all.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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If the Minister had come up front immediately and said that in fact his departmental advisers or number crunchers had figured out that there are 1,650,000 households in the State which are entitled to the €100 grant, if he had said that is €1,300,000 and then told us his Department estimates that 350,000 households will refuse to pay and therefore will not be entitled to the €100, according to his rules, that would have explained the gap. Why did he not do that two hours ago so we could move on?

7:50 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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The shambles we have witnessed for the last few hours from the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, is reminiscent of what happened four or five years ago when two senior Ministers, Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, did not have a clue that the blanket bank guarantee had bankrupted our country. It is a very similar situation.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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We got the figures.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will recall particularly well, the then Ministers knew nothing about a key element of the figures they were supposed to be supervising in government. Regardless of how we consider the conservation grant numbers in this section of the Bill, it seems that the €271 million is evaporating before our eyes like the 40% of water that is being wasted from the current delivery systems, as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has indicated. We do not have a clue about what the real figures are with regard to the income or revenue from the domestic sector. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, can bet his life that this will be raised when we knock on the doors of the 1.65 million households in this country during the next general election campaign. In my own case, I think the number of households in the new Dublin Bay North constituency is 49,000. I know Deputy Stagg, who is sitting behind the Minister, will be assiduous in going to every one of the 50,000 or more houses in his constituency in County Kildare.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Independent)
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People will be waiting in the long grass.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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They will be waiting for the Government in the long grass behind the garden wall. People will raise the night we found out the Government did not know what the figures were or what the income was.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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We do know.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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They are written on the back of an envelope.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I have just outlined them.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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This goes back to a broader question about Irish Water. When the Minister came in here to make his famous "legacy" speech about what would happen, he did not give us the numbers. We had to go back to our offices and go on Twitter to get some figures. We got some basic figures about the whole parameters of Irish Water an hour or two hours later. We still do not know how it is going to work. We have spent €500 million or €600 million on these useless meters. Some of our female constituents have phoned us to tell us they have to put on boiler suits and lie on the ground to try to lift the lids off these meters and look at them. They find them totally impossible to read. The whole thing, from start to finish, is kind of Alan in Wonderland stuff. It is farcical.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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They are in every country in Europe.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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Except for ourselves and Azerbaijan. We had a good reason for them.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is where the Deputy would like to be.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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The Minister, Deputy Howlin, will remember that he opposed water charges with me.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I abolished them.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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