Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2015: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Water Services Act 2013 to make provision for requiring individual consent to all information provided to the subsidiary.I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Private Members' Bill. The purpose of the legislation is to amend section 26 of the Water Services Act 2013. People will be aware of controversy in recent days when local authorities informed their tenants and the public that they had submitted their tenants' details directly to Irish Water. Their action was provided for in section 26 of the Water Services Act 2013, and my argument is not with the local authorities, who were complying with their legal responsibilities under the Act. I have no quibble with the Data Protection Commissioner, who does not have much of a role in this issue. While the Data Protection Commissioner must be consulted, the commissioner must accept what is in the legislation. However, the legislation is unfair and bad and the only way to deal with it is to amend it. That is why I have brought forward the Bill to amend the Water Services Act 2013.
The Bill is couched in technical terms and refers to a "subsidiary", which means Irish Water, which is a subsidiary of Bord Gáis in the legislation. We are asking that, in future, transfers of information about tenants to Irish Water under section 26 happen only with the written consent of the person involved and any information given to date without such consent be destroyed, subject to the verification of the Data Protection Commissioner. We had such a situation last year when Irish Water sought PPS numbers. Fortunately, light prevailed and people felt it was not right to give PPS numbers to what was allegedly an independent, commercial semi-State organisation. Subsequently, a programme was put in place to delete the information Irish Water had received on individuals, subject to oversight by the Data Protection Commissioner. This process has not been completed, but should be, and the same should happen with the information local authorities have already handed over.
Given that there is no reason to believe, or evidence to suggest, that the level of registration by local authority tenants is any higher or lower than the rest of the community, it was unfair to single out this group. Irish Water has confirmed that it had most of the information regarding people whose details it received from local authorities. As the Taoiseach keeps saying, 1.2 million people have registered with Irish Water. I registered for the conservation grant. Does this mean I consent to pay my bill? Nobody should confuse the two issues. Given that most of those people had registered for the conservation grant and submitted their details, there was no reason for the local authorities to hand over the details to Irish Water.
Section 26 of the Water Services Act 2013 also gives Irish Water authority to seek information from the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, the Property Services Regulatory Authority, PSRA, the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, the Revenue Commissioners, the Minister for Social Protection and any other person the Minister prescribes as a designated person. We all know this will include the voluntary and social housing agencies, and it could include many more. There is power in the legislation to allow Irish Water to obtain information from the Department of Social Protection such as people's payments, the number of children in the house, their dates of birth and PPS numbers. Irish Water will be able to obtain information from the Revenue Commissioners such as whether a person is tax compliant, and maybe a person will have to have a tax clearance certificate before receiving his or her water conservation grant. Although we have not heard it yet, I know how the system operates and the Government will put in this little twist. Revenue will probably have to approve the issue of the conservation grants.
Irish Water should not receive preferential treatment as a semi-State company. Bus Éireann, the ESB and CIE would not be entitled to this information. They are bona fide commercial semi-State bodies and if Irish Water is one of them, it should not receive this information. The fact we have provided for this proves that Irish Water is not a commercial, stand-alone semi-State organisation that can stand on its own without all the legal infrastructure that would not be available to back up a normal semi-State company. It is further proof of the unsustainability and fiasco that is Irish Water. I ask that the Bill be given a reading today in order that it can proceed through the Oireachtas in due course.