Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Water Charges Administration
3. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the contingencies his Department is taking for mass non-payment of water charges; the plans in place to increase funding from the State to Irish Water; if an assessment has been carried out on the impact this would have on the EUROSTAT market test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9119/15]
Could I ask the Minister what contingencies the Department is taking for the possibility of mass non-payment of water charges; what plans are in place to increase funding from the State to Irish Water in that circumstance; and if an assessment has been carried out on the impact of such an occurrence on the EUROSTAT market test?
As Deputy Murphy is well aware, in November 2014 I announced a package of measures to ensure that domestic water charges are certain, affordable and clear. In relation to the payment of charges, a range of easy pay options will be in place, including direct debits, electronic funds transfer, payment by cash at any retail outlet with a paypoint or payzone sign or, importantly, a post office where a bill can be paid in full or part payments of a minimum of €5, which is a small amount, can be made.
Section 4 of the Water Services Act 2014 provides that where a customer has not paid any water charges within a period of 12 months after the issuing of the first demand and has not entered into, or is not complying with, a payment plan with Irish Water, a late payment fee shall be charged by Irish Water, for each year the charges remain unpaid.
Further legislation will be brought forward by the Government which will contain a range of measures to ensure that Irish Water will be in a position to recover charges from customers who have not paid bills. In addition, a range of measures will be pursued by Irish Water in order to maximise payment of charges, including robust revenue collections processes. The Government remains confident that Irish Water will pass the market corporation test. Ultimately, as the Deputy is well aware, that will be a matter for EUROSTAT, which is an independent entity.
Was the answer "No", that the Minister has not considered the possibility that large numbers of people will refuse to pay and that will result in Irish Water failing the market corporation test and a major crisis for Irish Water and the strategy of off-balance sheet funding is falling apart? The Minister can provide all the options he wants for people to pay. He can make it as simple as he wants for people to pay but a large proportion of people will refuse to pay because they do not agree with the water charges and they see them for what they are, namely, another unjust attack on working class people, and they understand that mass non-payment is the central tactic that will sink Irish Water and defeat the water charges.
The rational decision for people to make is that there are no penalties for non-payment until July 2016 and then it will be €30 or €60. It makes sense for people to say they will join the boycott because they know that no penalties will apply until after the next general election. They can be safe in the knowledge that if 30%, 40% or 50% of people refuse to pay, in the context of a general election that would be the dominant issue and any Government that comes in would be under massive pressure to withdraw the penalties but also to withdraw the charges. Has the Minister not carried out an analysis? Will Irish Water fail the test if 30%, 40% or 50% of people do not pay?
We are very confident that the Irish people will work with us on the plan that has been announced. I was pretty disappointed that I did not see Deputy Paul Murphy in Killarney last weekend. Perhaps he was outside but we could not see him among the 400 to 500 people who were there. The reality is that people are signing up to Irish Water. We are very happy with the volume of people signing up and additional people are signing up all the time.
I am amazed at Deputy Paul Murphy's stance. He believes in the right to water but I challenge him on the right to water for future generations, for my children and everyone else's children, who are and will be in this country in the coming 100 years, in terms of how they will get water. The Deputy also has a very mixed view of who should pay for water. I will put a question to Deputy Murphy. Has he met with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes of Ireland which has been providing water for the past 60 to 70 years? Has the Deputy been to Lissycasey in Clare where 1,100 houses are provided with water? Has he been to Callow in Mayo where there are 1,200 houses in a group water scheme, or to the Erne Valley in Cavan or Claremorris in Kerry where 1,250 houses are in a group water scheme. They have been paying for water. Why is Deputy Murphy not protesting outside their homes and their schemes on the basis that they have been paying for water for many years or does he need me to give him directions past the Red Cow?
Thanks a lot. Perhaps I should remind the Minister that his party stood in the previous general election on a platform of opposition to water charges. Any criticisms he can make about the need to have water charges will rebound on him and his previous position. Our position is clear: we are for the right of everybody to have free and quality water - I repeat, everybody in the State. We do not go in for the urban-rural divide the Government would like us to.
Perhaps the Labour Party conference went to the Minister, Deputy Kelly's, head. I understand there was a motion from the Minister's branch celebrating his role as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Minister spoke about this being one of the best Governments ever. He is completely disconnected from the reality that exists with those couple of hundred people in a room in Killarney all slapping each other on the back. It is going to be awakened: the party will be wiped out, partly as a result of the water charges, and the Minister, Deputy Kelly's, future prospects of being a leader of the Labour Party will clearly be challenged by the fact that he is unlikely to get re-elected as part of the wipe-out of Labour.
The opinion polls indicate that four in ten intend to pay, three in ten intend not to pay and the others say they do not know and they will be convinced by a campaign that advocates the way to defeat the water charges is through non-payment. Has the Minister seriously not considered the possibility that significant numbers will refuse to pay and what kind of crisis that causes for Irish Water?
Deputy Murphy can try to lecture the people of Tipperary but to be honest, I am sure they will not listen to him. I like the fact that the Deputy is predicting the electoral demise of many different groups, including my own party, 14 months from an election. That shows a level of arrogance that I am sure the people will judge. We are quite satisfied with the plans that are in place. I repeat again that we are quite happy with the number of people that have signed up. There is well over 66% now. It is not a rural-urban divide. It is a simple fact. Why does Deputy Murphy not oppose people in this country paying for water in group schemes? I challenge Deputy Murphy to respond to the question.
On what date? When? What did they say to Deputy Murphy? Did he listen to them? He has not even met them. The facts are that these people know the value of water. The facts are that these people knew they had to come together to deliver water. Can Deputy Murphy not understand that water is a resource that must be paid for into the future? We need a different funding model or else we simply will not have water in the area Deputy Murphy represents.