Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Water Sector Reforms: Statements
I am pleased to attend the Upper House to debate the important topic of the decisions taken by the Government on a restructured water charges system and related measures regarding critical water sector reforms. Over time these reforms will ensure security of supply of quality drinking water to local communities and businesses and the upgrading and delivery of sewerage systems to keep our rivers, lakes and seas free from pollution.
The Government has reflected on the handling of a demanding water sector reform programme which was implemented, as others have acknowledged, to a challenging timescale. We listened to people's concerns about an excessively complex charging structure that created uncertainty for households on what they would pay for water services in 2015 and beyond. We also took stock of Ervia's and Irish Water's customer engagements and acted to make improvements.
I propose to detail the key actions the Government has introduced and for which it will shortly legislate. Annual water charges will be capped at €160 for households with a single adult and €260 for all other households until the end of 2018. Specific legislative provision will be made to allow capped charges to continue to be set by the Government from 2019 onwards. All eligible households will receive a water conservation grant of €100 per year, which means that the net cost of water will be €60 for households with a single adult and not more than €160 for other households. Non-customers of Irish Water such as people with private wells and those in group water schemes will also be eligible to receive the €100 water conservation grant, provided they respond to Irish Water's customer application campaign. For metered bills, the charge for water in and out will be €3.70 per 1,000 litres, which is almost 25% lower than the previous subsidised rate. Bills will also be capped at the relevant household rate. Households with either a water supply only or sewage only service will pay 50% of the new rates.
The children's allowance remains at 21,000 litres per annum and will apply to all persons resident in a property aged under 18, irrespective of whether the child qualifies for child benefit, meaning children will continue to go free. This means that if a household with two adults and two children uses fewer than 85,200 litres of water in a year, their bill will be less than €160.
The new system for which all households should register before 2 February 2015 in order to receive the new benefits and an accurate first bill will be based on self-declaration and appropriate audit. PPS numbers will not be required for registration-----
-----and the start date for domestic water charging is being deferred until 1 January 2015, with the first bills to issue from April 2015. The restructured water charges system retains one of the reform programme's principal objectives, which is water conservation. As outlined earlier, in addition to the water conservation grant, metered households will be able to pay less than the capped charge if their metered usage is lower than the relevant capped charge level. Households that do not have a meter installed on 1 January 2015 will commence paying the relevant capped charge. If, after moving to a meter, their usage for the first year is less than the relevant capped charge level, the household will be due a one-off rebate on the amount it paid before moving to a meter. This will be automatically calculated by Irish Water and normally applied as a one-off credit to the customer's account.
The revised package of measures will provide households with certainty about charges until the end of 2018. The system is now a simple one, with only three important numbers that are relevant, the two capped charge rates and the conservation grant. What is more, the system is affordable for all. The absolute maximum net cost is just over €3 per week and for single households it will be approximately €1.15 per week. Water charges in Ireland are among the lowest in Europe.
The Government has made a number of important additional changes to earn greater public confidence in the water sector reform programme. To enhance its commitment to public ownership of Irish Water, which is already enshrined in the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, the Government will legislate to ensure that if any future Government sought to change this position it would be required to put the matter to a special referendum of the people. Having a strong governance structure for Irish Water is essential to building confidence in the new utility. The Government will shortly move to put in place a unitary board combining Irish Water with its parent company, Ervia. The new board will provide for stronger governance and improved setting of strategic objectives. Advertisements are already in place on the new public appointments website stateboards.ie. The Government will also establish a new public bill-payers' forum to advise Irish Water on service expectations and provide valuable feedback on investment priorities.
I welcome the decision of the board of Ervia not to proceed with its performance-related award mechanism for 2013 and 2014. I commend my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on establishing the review of the pay model as the number one priority for the new board when it is constituted.
According to the UK's energy regulator, the average notional cost of providing water and sewerage services to each domestic household in Northern Ireland is £412 in 2013 to 2014,which equates to approximately £1.13 per day. I state this to draw comparisons. Although the Northern Ireland Executive has delayed the introduction of water charges, it must be pointed out that the Executive's 2011 to 2015 budget states:
[I]n Northern Ireland [water] services are currently primarily funded from public expenditure. This creates pressures in other areas ... for example [funding for] health and education ... need to be diverted to cover the associated water service costs.That is an important point, as this Government has been criticised for establishing the Irish Water model, as proposed. The Government has been at pains to explain that if it is not done this way, it will give rise to more pressure on the health, education and social welfare budgets. What is happening in the North of Ireland is an admission that water services there are competing for the same funding as all other Departments in the North. This is leading to a distinct lack of funding for water services in Northern Ireland, something that the Government cannot allow to happen in the Republic. However, those who say that households in Northern Ireland do not pay for water are incorrect.
The independent water review panel estimated back in 2006 and 2007 that the average domestic property contributed approximately £160 from its annual rates bill towards the cost of providing water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland. That is more than any household in the Republic of Ireland will have to pay for its water. This analysis was accepted by the Northern Ireland Executive, of which Sinn Féin is now a member.
In conclusion, the public water system in this country is in need of radical change. This can only be achieved through a new sustainable funding structure which requires those who use the services to make a contribution. Despite all the debate and discussion we have had on Irish Water in recent weeks and months, we are not hearing one credible alternative being put forward by the Opposition. We have had calls from all Opposition parties to scrap Irish Water and water charges as well. The question needs to be asked, however: where would that lead us? It is quite obvious that it would lead us back to the old, broken system run by over 30 local authorities around the country, with almost 50% of treated water leaking into the ground before it reaches people's taps. This is totally unsustainable.
The Government has listened to the people and understands their concerns. The new reformed system has addressed people's concerns. I have no doubt that in years to come Irish Water will become a trusted and well-respected national utility, much like the ESB. We must remember that the ESB experienced similar opposition when it was being established back in the 1920s.
I will be happy to listen to statements from Senators on all sides. It is important to do so. The Government has shown that it is listening. I will respond to the debate at a later stage.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is a former colleague here and I wish him well in his portfolio. I do not doubt his personal commitment to this and other issues under his Department's aegis.
Irish Water has been an unmitigated disaster, however. I disagree fundamentally with the introduction of charges, as well as with the establishment of Irish Water. This is an idea that goes back to 2009 concerning the establishment of a super-quango, which was in the Fine Gael manifesto. The Labour Party had to swallow it, and here we are today. In any event, it is not a policy of mine and not one that I intend to support. My major problem - I have used this analogy a couple of times - is that we have established a McAlpine to build a tree house. We set up this €50-million-a-year wage structure to effectively do the same thing.
The Minister of State said the abolition of water charges would lead us back to that old, broken system, with 50% of the water leaking into the ground. For the record, let us use Sligo - where I come from - as an example. Two years ago, the people of Sligo were being provided with water by the local authority in Sligo. One lady, called Kathleen McTiernan, was the go-to person on all issues, and that was the case up to recently. Two years later, what is the difference? We have spent €600 million on meters that are sitting in the ground. They will not be used until 2019 at the earliest, and possibly after that, according to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. We have spent €170 million on consultants and other things, as well as €46 million on salaries, all to do the same job that Kathleen McTiernan and her colleagues were doing in Sligo County Council. Is the infrastructure any better in Sligo since the establishment of Irish Water and the expenditure of all this money? No, it is not. Is the water any less in need of boiling in Roscommon or other counties throughout the country? No, it is not. Therefore, why did we establish Irish Water in the first place? As is so often the case in Irish politics, we put the cart before the horse. We ought to have restored the network to a 21st century standard. The Minister of State spoke about water utilities in other countries, but maybe they were dealing with a blank canvas. Perhaps they put a state-of-the-art infrastructure in place before they charged people for the stuff. They did not, however, set up some gilt-edged company in an ivory tower down in Cork where people have to pay for €46 million in salaries and bonuses. I appreciate that the Minister of State said they had postponed the bonuses, but he can assume they will be paid, because that is what trade unionism is all about. That is the reality of industrial relations.
It has been an unmitigated disaster. The Minister of State is wrong in saying that it will lead us back to that old place, but where is he talking about? Eight hundred million euro ago, we were getting exactly the same services we are getting today. The costs were outlined by the Minister of State today and by his ministerial colleague last week.
There is not an additional cent going into capital infrastructure. None whatsoever. In fact, the income base has now gone to €300 million gross, €46 million of which goes into salaries, bonuses and God knows what else. To use Sligo as an example again, what about the upgrade to the Grange, Strandhill or Tubbercurry sewage treatment plants? They were originally approved in 2007 and subvention was to be provided by the Government of the day. Now one must get on a phone and one will hear "Press 1 if you are over 18, press 2 if you are male and Caucasian, press 5 if whatever" and will go around in circles, because there is no Kathleen McTiernan, like there was in Sligo, whom one could ring and find out exactly where one stood, for relatively modest expenditure. Instead, we went the old "establish McAlpine and build a treehouse" approach, where we are going to throw good money after bad. Previous Governments did too. Is this Fine Gael and the Labour Party's voting machines? I think it is. We have all these meters in the ground, which we will not use. There is nothing to do with conservation and nothing to tell the people of the three areas I mentioned - Grange, Tubbercurry and Strandhill in Sligo - that now that we have Irish Water those three sewage treatment plants will be up and running faster. There is not a hope of that.
The other fantasy that was talked about last week is that the onus is now on landlords to collect money from the deposits of tenants who do a runner. That is a joke. Nobody knows anything in the Department. The PRTB is a disgrace. It might look after some tenant issues, but I gave the example to the other Minister on the Order of Business the other week of a tenant that was in a place for three and a half years and paid no rent, just the deposit of one month's rent. I must declare my interest in the matter as an auctioneer. We went to the PRTB and that is how long it took to get them out of the house. The house was wrecked. No recompense was given to the landlord and the tenant walked straight into a council house. Landlords and anyone who is renting a house around the country knows about this. They have all experienced the tenant who says "Ah, yeah, I'm not paying my last month's rent - take it out of my deposit".
No doubt we will go after landlords in that way. It is a disgrace. The PRTB should be abolished or resourced to the extent that it provides equal protection to tenants and landlords. Now the Government wants to go off and use them as bill collectors. As I said at the beginning, I do not doubt the Minister's commitment to making a very bad situation a little better, but the only way out of this, as with the voting machines, is to throw in the towel and say, "We have made an unmitigated mess of this scenario and we are not going to charge people for water." The Minister of State asked for alternatives. Here is his alternative-----
We could go for a private bond issue. We could go to the European Investment Bank. We could go to the Strategic Investment Fund. We could look at other general taxation measures to bring our infrastructure throughout the country up to such a standard that it may be worth contributing something. Why set up the super-quango? There were Kathleen McTiernans in every local authority in this country, well capable of delivering a service and the infrastructure if they were given the investment. Instead, we set up the super-quango.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad to discuss this important topic and how we will ensure that we have a safe, clean and adequate supply of water to serve the people and businesses of this country, and our country. Uisce Éireann was established to bring together 34 local authorities into one national service provider. If they had been given money by Government to correct the leakage and everything else in the boom times when there was plenty of money sloshing around, the Kathleen McTiernans of this country would have done a much better job. The money was not given at that stage.
Mistakes were made in the setting up of Irish Water. I will be the first to admit that and it has been admitted. The Government has gone about addressing the problem. It has listened to the people. It has made massive changes, which the Minister of State has outlined. I will not go into it again, but the people are there for them to see. There is also a focus on the customer and the Government has committed to establishing a public forum on a statutory basis to ensure that everyone has an input into making sure that procedures are put in place to ensure people are served with good, clean water and an affordable system. Fear of the unknown led to many of the problems we had and the affordability issue. As the Minister of State has said, he has listened.
When the EU member states adopted the water framework directive in 2000, Ireland secured an exemption or carve-out upon which successive Governments have relied to avoid charging. In 2009, however, the EU directive was transposed into Irish law by statutory instrument, SI 772 of 2009, which regulations seek to ensure that water pricing policies and practices are in place. We are in the EU and, unlike Deputy Adams, we cannot tell the EU to bugger off. We have seen what happened with the water pollution fines. In December 2012, the European Court of Justice hit Ireland with a €2 million up-front fine, followed by daily fines, for failing to comply with a 2009 ruling. The Court also fined Ireland €1.5 million. Since the Government has come to power, the Water Services Acts of 2012 and 2013 have saved Ireland from continuing to incur EU fines of €12,000 per day for failure to comply with environmental impact regulations as a result of discharge of water.
Most people understand that we have a broken water system, and we must ensure that it becomes clean and sustainable. There is also a need to create jobs. The best way to achieve this is by setting up Uisce Éireann, a semi-state company independent from Government, which - as the last speaker failed to understand - can borrow on the open markets at a rate of €1 billion per year. This will save the Government some expenditure for 2015 and 2016. If we did not have that, it would add 0.3% to the Government deficit - €850 million in plain terms - in 2015. If we do not set up Uisce Éireann, we must either pay a lot more in our income tax or continue with a broken system that some people continue to insist was okay. Their attitude was "I'm all right, Jack."
As the Taoiseach has stated, suspending Irish Water would mean that the system would have to be funded from the public purse. That could be done if we added at least 4% to the top rate of tax or reversed all the tax cuts and social welfare improvements that we saw in the recent budget. Those who say "Can't pay, won't pay," at the same time call for more money for homelessness, and if everybody paid a little there would be a lot more money for homelessness, social welfare and education. This is not scaremongering; it is a fact. I ask those people who do not want to widen the funding base in this way to spell out where they would get the €850 million, because under EU statutes funds cannot be used directly for capital purposes unless a reasonable charge is introduced.
The Opposition does not like to hear this, but we are the only OECD country without domestic water charges. We have 20,000 people on boil-water notices and 42 urban areas with no treatment or preliminary treatment only, and we have raw sewage spewing into the sea in eight towns and villages. How can anybody stand over that and say it was all right to continue down the road we were on? It was not all right to continue down that road. We could not continue under-investing like that, and we had no choice but to correct it. Senator MacSharry, the previous speaker, has to acknowledge that we could not continue in that way. By establishing Irish Water as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann, savings of about €90 million were achieved. To put the €150 million into context, Irish Water will save €170 million on upgrading the Ringsend waste water treatment plant. In this project alone, it will save the taxpayer what it cost to establish Irish Water. I will repeat that. Irish Water will save €170 million on the upgrading of the Ringsend water treatment plant compared to what was proposed by the local authority. This single project will save the taxpayer what it cost to establish Irish Water. Fair is fair. I would be the first to condemn the failings in communication and the provision of incorrect information, and the Government along with it, but the Minister has already apologised for that. We have to acknowledge the good things they do as well, when they get it right, to ensure that people have confidence in the utility going forward. There are bad things, but there are also good things.
From a conservation standpoint, we need to have meters to ensure that people will look at them and conserve water. When we have them in all of the houses there will be conservation of up to 5% or 10%. It is important that we go down the road of conservation.
I have one question for the Minister on the new building proposals. A previous Minister outlined that installing a rainwater harvesting system could reduce consumption and help drive down utility bills. Would he make a comment on that? We look forward to legislation coming through the House to ensure such systems will be in all new buildings in the future, and indeed in old ones if possible.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House.
On 11 October, I marched peacefully alongside thousands in Tallaght. I listened to many people's warranted outcry over water charges and other matters. Since then I have spoken to many people in my community, including a grandmother in Jobstown who is willing to pay for water but knows that her adult children starting their own families simply cannot afford to do so because they are in negative equity. The Government says it has heeded public concerns. Has it listened fully to the concerns of its citizens? No, I do not think it has.
I support a single public water utility rather than 34 separate entities. One body allows for an efficient and equitable supply of water and for adequate investment in infrastructure. Everyone has a right to clean water and no one should face regular water cut-offs due to burst and outdated pipes. A unified public utility also has the potential to promote conservation. We need to create an infrastructure that we can leave for our children, but the establishment and management of Irish Water has been an unequivocal failure. Oireachtas Members and the public were not and still are not sufficiently involved in influencing the creation of Irish Water. These issues must be rectified immediately.
What do we do now? How do we move forward to design a system that provides value for money, encourages conservation and guarantees fairness? We need to establish who is in charge at Irish Water. The merger of the boards of Ervia and Irish Water will require legislative amendments to the 1976 Gas Act and the 2013 Water Services Act. The new board needs to be chosen in an independent manner based on expertise. The voice of the consumer - of the citizen - must be represented on the board. Also, it should have a mandate to cut costs, but these savings for the taxpayer must be achieved as quickly as possible and not over the prolonged period the Government is allowing.
Other concerns, such as the competencies of senior management, must be addressed immediately in order to restore public trust. There should be a complete review of the management and operations of Irish Water. Public ownership has not been guaranteed. I do not understand why the Government has not agreed to put the public ownership of Irish Water to the people through a referendum.
The regressive model of water charges proposed must be scrapped at once and replaced by a fair system based on ability to pay. The capped charges are a flat rate that do not account for ability to pay or encourage conservation. Many people in Ireland simply cannot afford to pay water bills in their proposed form. Government subsidies should ensure that no more than 0.5% of a household's disposable income is spent on water. Penalties would be applied to those wasting water to ensure conservation, but we should not charge people who cannot afford to pay.
The Nevin Economic Research Institute has also proposed innovative solutions for progressive water charges by providing household subsidies, not rebates, for water charges. The funding of water should not come from general taxation alone, as this places the burden of water service funding primarily on the working population. Establishing Irish Water as a separate entity is a good way to attract investment. The system needs between €12 billion and €15 billion in investment to fix infrastructural issues over the next decade. This money simply cannot come solely from the Exchequer. Therefore, investment in water needs to be obtained from a combination of general taxation and water charges in a fair and equitable manner. This is not double taxation but rather complementary taxation. A public water utility and water charges, when designed, governed and managed properly, can promote economic efficiency and conversation of a precious resource. Until this happens, we should halt the installation of meters.
Short-term fixes must not be determined by a small group of Government Members. Irish Water must serve the public interest. The taxpayer has paid for these failures. Decisions must be made not only in the public interest but in consultation with the public.
The proposal for a bill-payers' forum to liaise between ordinary people and Irish Water, as proposed by the Government, misunderstands public opinion. In a time of unprecedented protest and historic civic engagement, we should not be defensive but should invite activists and community leaders to engage directly with Oireachtas Members in an event similar to the Constitutional Convention.
Upbeat ministerial assessments of reform measures have not fooled people. Both the establishment of and the attempts to reform Irish Water demonstrate a broad lack of a reform culture in politics. Now it is clear that the Government's attempt to end the water crisis has failed. As a result, people will return to the streets in protest on 10 December, and I will be alongside them, peacefully working towards a solution.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his address to us today.
The Government's announcement last week has brought clarity on the amount to be paid for water. It has dismissed the concept of collecting PPS numbers. It has also outlined two clear two charges of €60 and €160, and thus has simplified the process. The proposal works out at a charge of €1.15 per week for a single household and €3 per week for a multi-person household, and these charges will be capped until 2018, which brings certainty and clarity for the next four years. The work done in the past number of months has been worthwhile and is a sign of the patience that people in Government parties were required to have in order to get to the bottom of this situation.
I wish to bring a number of issues to the attention of the House and the Minister of State. One is the removal of bonuses. I welcome the fact that bonuses for senior staff in Irish Water have been removed and are to be reviewed.
I also wish to make a case for staff who are members, in the main, of SIPTU and earn between €25,000 and €45,000 per year. Because the public has conflated the significant bonuses at the top with the pay-related bonuses of people earning a lower income, all of the bonuses have, unilaterally, been withdrawn. For former council or local authority staff, a bonus was part of their traditional pay model, which at that time included incremental scales and a multitude of grades. This matter must be reviewed and re-examined, because one size does not fit all in this situation. I wish to put on record that these public sector workers, who earn between €25,000 and €45,000 per annum, should not unilaterally have their increments or bonus-type scheme removed without negotiation. The matter needs to be revisited by both the Government and Irish Water.
I wish to reflect and support the comment made by my colleague, Senator Keane, on the necessity for investment. In fact, 42 towns across this country have raw sewage flowing into rivers adjacent to or running through them, which is unacceptable. The situation needs to be dealt with, and dealt with now.
I am not an economist, although we have a few in the House. I have heard all sorts of formulae for funding to deal with this matter. The fact of the matter is that we must come up with funding. I believe that the scheme in place is sustainable and will provide the funding needed to deal with the 42 towns that have a raw sewage problem.
The conservation grant that has been introduced is one that I support, but other conservation methods and systems need to be implemented. The collection of water in water butts, etc., has been mentioned here. In the area of waste management, we used to have what were famously known as dumps, but then we modernised and moved to landfill and waste separation. One of the key elements of a successful change was recycling and the separation of waste. People across the country bought into the concept and purchased or were provided with recycling bins, composting bins, etc. The Government has an opportunity, through Irish Water, to buy into a conservation system that will sustain Irish Water beyond the lifetime of the current programme. Obviously we must mend the damage that has been done to the network, but we must also conserve water. Does the Minister of State have any information for us on what the Government proposes to do, through Irish Water, in terms of water conservation?
I welcome the Minister of State but I have it to say that I rather doubt the first line of his speech. He said he was delighted to be here to discuss this issue. I imagine no member of either Fine Gael or the Labour Party is delighted to have anything to do with it.
I think they would like it to run away and disappear. I believe they wish it had never bloody happened and they are perfectly right. They guillotined it when it was going through the Dáil. Not one amendment was accepted in Seanad Éireann but now they are doing some of the things that we in this House recommended at the time. The Minister of State will excuse me if I take his delight with a pinch of salt.
Reference has been made to water conservation, the €100 grant and so on. Could the Minister of State tell me what element of this is conservation? I do not see it. It will be given to people who have little puddles in their back gardens and who are part of a water scheme. Why are they getting it? What does that have to do with conservation? It is simply a book-keeping exercise to keep our "friends" in the European Union and the troika happy. Perhaps the Minister of State could explain the conservation element.
I note a reference to self-declaration and an appropriate audit. The hairs at the back of my head go up when I hear the word "audit". I have just been told that not only do we have to account and vouch for every miserable penny that we get, unlike the people in the trade union whose representatives were clever enough to get all the bonuses and stuff that came in with Charlie McCreevy incorporated into their core income, but now we must have a public accountant. My accountant is not a public accountant and therefore I must go and hire one. I had better not get into that because it will get me too annoyed. Anyway, we can imagine what the audit amounts to.
We have done nothing, basically, since the Vartry Reservoir scheme. The Minister of State maintains we are now among the lowest in Europe. I wonder how that can be if we take into account the tax element that we are already paying and add to it what we will pay through Irish Water.
I note the clever little footwork about putting into legislation a provision that if the Government wishes to privatise Irish Water then it must go to the people. That is a move in the right direction but it is not enough. There should be a referendum. Why not hold a full referendum?
Questions remain concerning the Ervia board and the performance-related award mechanism, also known as a bonus. Like Senator Landy, I am not an economist but I know a little about language. I know that a performance-related award mechanism is a bonus. It is actually the classic definition of a bonus. Anyway, I am pleased they are gone for 2013-14 but they should be gone forever.
The additional part of the Minister of State's speech was simply a matter of playing party politics again. I am unsure why the text was not supplied to us but it was an attack on Sinn Féin. That is fair enough but this is not the time for attacks on Sinn Féin or anyone else. Everyone in the country acknowledges that while water is free and comes piling out of the sky, we pay for the treatment and delivery of water.
This is not about water, it is about the straw that breaks the camel's back. A straw may seem a small and insignificant thing but it is the accumulated pressure beforehand that leads to the collapse of the animal's spine. This is what has happened with Irish Water. People have had enough. They have no more money. They simply cannot pay. I find it galling in the extreme that we should have these measures along with the loss of special needs teachers and so on to pay off the gambling debts of the French and German banks. Fully €8 billion will go out of the country this year in interest charges alone. Why does the Government not do something about that? Why does the Government not stand up to our masters in Europe and tell them that we have had enough and that we are not taking any more? We should have eye-balled them in the first place and threatened to pull down the columns of the temple and let them see how they like that.
What about the takeover of personnel from the local authorities? This is exactly what happened with the HEA. It took over a whole wedge of people who were in the old locally-organised thing. There was nothing for them to do and the organisation had no work for them but it took them on board anyway.
It was the HSE. The HEA is another organisation. I thank my distinguished academic colleague, Senator Professor Dr. Sean Barrett, for correcting me on this occasion; I am a little addled.
Let us consider the protests. People did not protest, they lay down slavishly under it. Then, the Europeans got a survey done and it turned out that in Europe and the United Kingdom, people were astonished at our subservience. Even the Europeans maintain we were lying down, liking it and licking the boots that were stamping on us. That is a bloody funny thing for them to be saying. We did nothing. There were some marches and it was all terribly mealy-mouthed and so on. Everything has got a little rough. Certainly, it is not nice to be held in one's car and so on, but one would think the third world war had broken out and that Deputy Joan Burton had been hit with the end of a spike, impaled and her head cut off as in the case of ISIS. People have actually invoked ISIS. Come on, darlings: it is a balloon of water, it is not acid or TNT. These people should grow up and stop attacking Deputy Paul Murphy in the Dáil. It was extraordinary that the Taoiseach of the country should launch himself at someone who may grow into something but at the moment he is simply a pimple on the political backside. It is a ridiculous lack of proportion.
I call this the Irish Watergate, all one word. The Government is wasting its money on the bloody meters. It will be another situation like the voting machines and all the other rubbish produced. In four years' time they will be rusting and someone from the Government will be paying one of his party members down in County Wexford to give them house room and keep them out of the rain. The Government should give us a break. Nothing has changed, not a scrap of it, but people are looking for change in this country.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I commend the Government on having listened to the people. Perhaps it took the Government too long to come out with these measures. However, the annual water charges will be capped at €160 for a single adult household and €260 for all other households until the end of 2018. In the case of a single adult household the cost will be €60 per annum. I am unsure what the cost per week will be, but it will be approximately €1.15. For other households it will be no more than €1.60. The charge for water in and out will now be €3.70 per 1,000 litres, almost 25% lower than the previous subsidised rate, and it will be capped at the relevant household rate.
The Minister of State said that children will go free. It has already been noted that PPS numbers are no longer required. I had wondered from day 1 why they were required. The starting date for domestic water charging is being deferred until 1 January next year and bills will issue in April 2015. Metered households will be able to pay less than the capped charge if their metered usage is lower than the relevant capped charge. Will that come into existence immediately for people who have been metered at this stage, or will meters be functioning straight away where they have been installed? I commend the metering situation and I can see a major benefit given that 50% of our treated water is being wasted and lost forever underneath the ground. Metering will identify where these leaks are and will encourage investment to fix the leakages.
It is worth noting that the revised package of measures will provide households with certainty about charges until the end of 2018.
I saw a scale recently that indicated that water charges in Ireland are the lowest in Europe. The Minister has stated that we will legislate to ensure that if any future Government sought to change this position, the matter would have to be put to the people in a referendum.
The new board will provide stronger governance and improved setting of strategic objectives. I also welcome the direction of Ervia's board not to proceed with its performance-related award mechanism for 2013 and this year. The Minister mentioned in his opening statement that in Northern Ireland, and we should make the comparison, each household will pay £412, which is nearly €500. Health and educational costs must and will be reduced to cater for that.
Some 50% of our treated water was being lost through leaks so we had to take on that outstanding problem. From my experience the cost of metering must have increased astronomically. I have done the figures in terms of the cost of digging up a concrete footpath, tarmacadam or whatever, installing the meters, reinstating it and sealing it, and it is less than €250 per household. The actual costs are astronomical.
I understand that in the first phase 1.1 million meters were to be installed. Half of those have been installed ahead of target, which is good to hear, and €100 million under expended. That is good news but I fear what the final figure will be. There are 250,000 meters to be installed in the second phase. I hope the installation figures will continue to diminish and that we will be ahead of target on the estimated costs.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The recent Government announcement of the new water charges system marks yet another panicked U-turn and a massive climb down by the Government in its disastrous handling of Irish Water. This latest U-turn underlines the complete mess this coalition Government has made of our vital natural resource. Fianna Fáil believes it is now time to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges. It is clear that the establishment of the Irish Water super quango has been a debacle, and it has already lost the support and confidence of the Irish people.
Fianna Fáil has consistently opposed the creation of Irish Water. The consultancy costs controversy, bonuses, and overstaffing in this quango have borne out our fears. Irish Water must be abolished.
In terms of the Fianna Fáil model, we propose a new, mutually-owned holding company where the customers own the company. Delivery will be returned to local authorities, and the new national water infrastructure company will be drastically slimmed down to 100 staff. There will be Oireachtas control over consultancy costs and no bonus structure, similar to the scale and role of the National Roads Authority. There has been a marvellous partnership between the local authorities and the National Roads Authority, and all the fabulous roads infrastructure, including motorways, throughout the country is symbolic of that.
The botched implementation of a water charges regime by the Government has shaken the public trust in this coalition's capacity to govern. Fianna Fáil maintains its call for the immediate suspension of water charges until the infrastructure is fixed. Domestic charges should only be introduced when the national infrastructure is brought up to standard. That standard should be set according to the three tests of water quality: quality of the water, water supply and water leakage. Only when that has been achieved should a meter charge be used.
Water is a precious social and economic resource. Upgrading our infrastructure to make it fit for purpose must be a national priority to ensure we have a supply that is safe, reliable and adequate for homes and businesses. In an age of climate change an effective supply would be a major competitive advantage. Our target is to reduce the water mains leakage rate from 40% to the OECD average of 20% and meeting our EU water framework directive targets for water quality and sewage treatment by 2027.
Fianna Fáil proposes a major capital investment programme over 13 years from 2015 to meet these targets. This will be funded by the strategic investment fund, private bond issues and the European Investment Bank, and complemented by general taxation.
Irish Water has been foisted on Irish people who have endured austerity with remarkable resilience until now. I believe, as does the Fianna Fáil Party, that it is now time to call a halt to the quango of Irish Water.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We are where we are on this issue because of political decisions made in the past. When we had water charges they were abolished for political reasons. When they were reintroduced they were later abolished for political reasons to get Governments elected. In the course of all of that we never sorted the problem but it is true that the way Irish Water was set up was shambolic. There is no question about that. I said in this House that there was no need for PPS numbers at any stage. That has now been proven right.
The issue of the bonus culture infuriated the people because they are sick of it, but what I have been hearing on the doorsteps throughout this debate is that people would be much happier with a standing charge rather than what was initially proposed. Now they have that standing charge, which is very much affordable. If one has a septic tank one pays only half that rate. If one has one's own water supply it is only half that rate. If one is on a boil water notice it is only half that rate and if one has a combination of two of those, one is not subject to any charge.
This problem was landed on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and I welcome the way he has dealt with it.
In my county of Roscommon we have had major problems with water quality for years. I was a county councillor from 2004 and during that time there was no investment in the water infrastructure in County Roscommon. The problems continued to the degree that many areas of the county were under boil water notices, and have been for years. In Roscommon alone, 31% of the people have always paid for their water, and in most cases it is water they cannot drink.
Those in the Opposition say we should not have to pay these charges because we are already paying for them through our taxes. That is true, and the amount of money we are paying through our taxes is going to maintaining the system already in place but we need investment in repairing the leaking pipes throughout the country. Some 50% of the pipes are leaking, therefore, that investment must happen.
Recently I asked the local authority for updates on what is happening in my county.
Three or four new water treatment plants are being developed. That never happened in the last ten years of my involvement in local politics. In Castlerea, for example, during the recent by-election, I noticed that every house I canvassed had stacks of bottled water which the householders had bought in local supermarkets. I guarantee that the charge now being put in place will be substantially lower than what people are already spending on bottled water.
New water treatment plants are being developed in Killeglan, Boyle and Castlerea. For years in my area, when one made a cup of tea, one either tasted water that had come from a sewer or a swimming pool. Three weeks ago, however, Irish Water met officials from Roscommon County Council and there are now plans to find a new source of water for the Ballaghaderreen area. I am aware from my conversations that people do not mind paying for water as long as it is of good quality and that they can drink it from their taps.
I welcome the Minister of State, but that is where my welcome finishes. I do not welcome his speech or the announcement made in the Dáil last week on the half-baked measures put in place. It is essentially to buy the election, but it will not work.
Senator David Norris asked why Sinn Féin had specifically been singled out in the Minister's contribution. It is quite obvious - it is the opinion polls, stupid. The Minister and his party are worried about Sinn Féin and their seats. That is the reason he came to the Chamber and attacked Sinn Féin's policies. The reality is that he cannot stand over his own party's policies.
Senators on the Government side of the House are very meek and quiet this evening. They were not so quiet 12 months ago when we debated the Water Services Bill for 18 hours with the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd. We tabled hundreds of amendments, each of which was voted down by Government Senators. Senator Sean D. Barrett, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Senators tabled the amendments which were about the use of PPS numbers, bonuses, consultants and the composition of the board. I told both the former Minister and the former Minister of State that I would not buy a pig in a poke. We did not know what the water charges would be. We were told there would be a water charges plan and that there would be consultation, but the Minister farmed it out to the Commission for Energy Regulation. It brought forward its proposals, but the Government was forced to tear them up and ditch them because the people of the State rebelled against them. However, not one single amendment on this issue was accepted by the former Minister and Minister of State. One of them, "Big Phil", was rewarded with a top job in Europe and a salary of €300,000. He is now in charge of the biggest budget in the European Union. This is the guy who is responsible for the complete mess that was made of this issue.
I have listened to the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, say they are sorry. They are not sorry at all; they are only sorry that they were caught out. They are only sorry that the people have come out against the charges in their tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets on different occasions to say they have had enough. That is the reason the Minister and the Minister of State are sorry; they are not sorry about any of the policy decisions they have taken. They are also not listening to the people. If they were, they would abolish the charges altogether. People do not want to pay a second time for water.
Water is a precious resource which we all need. There is something fundamentally wrong with a Government that states it will provide for free general practitioner, GP, care for everybody because people have a right to free access to GP care, but that it will charge people for a precious resource such as water. None of its policies stacks up. Irish Water is toxic; it is dead in the water. Water charges are toxic and they are also dead in the water. The previous Minister and Minister of State came to this Chamber and faced down the Opposition when we challenged them on these policies.
The sole rationale for the introduction of Irish Water and water charges was water conservation. This was about water conservation. Now, the charges will be capped up to 2019. The meters being installed, which essentially were going to be cash registers outside people's doors, will now be rust buckets that will go the same way as the previous Government's e-voting machines. The Government has squandered the people's money. It should have used the money to invest in fixing the system in the first place. It has squandered the people's money on consultants and is throwing good money after bad, but it has still not listened.
In Waterford, the Minister's home city and county, people came out in big numbers onto the streets in Portlaw, Dungarvan, Waterford city and Tramore for unprecedented anti-austerity protests. They were sending the Minister and the Government a clear message, that they did not want to pay for water a second time. Most of them simply do not have the money to pay. There are families who do not have any spare income. Their pockets have been emptied. They see the unfairness of the Fine Gael and Labour Party policies and are saying enough is enough. They will take to the streets again on 10 December. There will be peaceful, family-friendly protests outside Leinster House. Again, with one voice, tens of thousands of people will send the Government the message that they do not like Irish Water which has become a monument to the absolute failure of the Government and that they do not like the water charges which should be scrapped, not capped. If the Government does not listen to the people, I predict the Minister will not be a Minister or a Deputy in 15 months time, rather he will have lost his seat because he will have lost the confidence of the people, as will most of the Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies and Senators. Listen to the people for once and for all. Listen to what they are saying and scrap the water charges-----
That is what the Government should do. I am glad that the Leader of the House has come into the Chamber. I hope he will respond. If he or the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, wishes to have a debate with me outside the House, we can have it. I look forward to the Leader's contribution, but it will be more anti-Sinn Féin nonsense. He is here to cover for the Minister.
I welcome the Minister of State for this important debate on the water charges.
County Sligo has been mentioned and what has happened there can be replicated across the country. Sligo County Council has made a huge investment in water services in recent years, as has Leitrim County Council. Between 1998 and 2010, Sligo County Council invested €110 million in the construction of new water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of this money was spent in Sligo town. Of the €110 million, €40 million came from the council's own resources, comprising a loan of €23 million and €17 million in development charges. Sligo town now has one of the best water and wastewater treatment systems in the country which has the capacity to cater for 80,000 people. This contrasts with the situation of some neighbouring councils, including those in Galway, County Roscommon and Letterkenny, where the council has been brought to court by the Environmental Protection Agency.
When the new treatment plants were commissioned during the period 2008 to 2010, Sligo County Council was committed to funding the running costs. At the same time, its block grant was reduced. Its block grant went from €19 million in 2008 to €15 million in 2013, while the cost of water went from €5.7 million to €10.2 million in the same period. As this has caused serious strain, I disagree with those who say the old system was good.
Our water engineers have estimated that in the next five years the cost of projects identified throughout the county will be €70 million. Irish Water will cover the entire cost and there will be no cost to the council. This will mean hundreds of jobs in the community for construction workers, engineers and so forth, real employment for young graduates from Sligo Institute of Technology. As Irish Water will be providing the vital utility for the county, it will add to its growth, while protecting the environment at the same time.
However, if we go back to the old funding method any progress made will stop, because no Government will have the funding in the next five years, and I do not think Sligo County Council or any other council should be exposed to such an insecure financial position again.
Irish Water provides clean water and wastewater removal. It will provide jobs in the building industry in every county and will help secure the financial position of each county council while protecting the environment. We have only to look at Scottish Water to see what a publicly owned water utility can deliver. We need to support progress to help build the best water utility in Europe. Let us look at what we have done with our factories. We have many good factories in County Sligo, all of which need a clean and reliable water system.
A point I have made several times is that rural people in group water schemes have paid for their own water for many years. I have been involved in group water schemes. To join the scheme one pays €1,000, plus €140 per year after that. When water was not provided, our ancestors had to carry it in buckets. Surely we do not want to go back to that situation. The only way forward is to support Irish Water and give it the opportunity to borrow in the same way as the ESB, which can borrow €70 billion to provide infrastructure right across the country. When travelling from east to west and through the entire country, we can see the great work being done by the ESB in building its infrastructure. We must encourage people to harvest water for farming and washing machines.
I have a question for Sinn Féin, although my colleague has left the Chamber. While it continues to criticise the metering programme, why does Northern Ireland have a metering programme? I understand that in Northern Ireland, when a new house is built, a new water meter is installed. Why did Sinn Féin in government not stop that practice in Northern Ireland? I assure Sinn Féin there will be no rust, as the water meters are made from plastic and fibreglass.
I welcome the Minister of State. At all times in the House and at committee meetings, he has distinguished himself in the service of Waterford. The lost water rate in Waterford is 31%. It is 55%, or 50%, in Tipperary, 44% in Cork, 36% in Clare, 48% in Limerick city and 48% in Kerry. There are no economies of scale. The idea of one big organisation is not supported by the data. Senator Michael Comiskey comes from the smallest county in the country, Leitrim, which has a wastage rate of 36.5%, whereas Galway, which has about eight times the population, has a rate of 50%. The first economic fallacy in this debate is that by making one big organisation one gets rid of many inefficient organisations. Details of the 34 local authorities contained in the appendix to the McLoughlin report show that the rate of water wasted is lower in many small counties. That is the first bit of economics that the proponents of this system should have learned. The one-big-organisation model is not one that applies in this case.
The Government stumbled, having done so much to deal with the problems. Today we get six good reasons to worry for the future of Irish Water, despite the new charges planned by Colette Browne. An editorial in The Sunday Timesstated that the Coalition would not survive the water debacle. Conor Brady of The Irish Times stated that protesters had poured cold water over the Government's credibility. A survey in Trinity Newsfound that 74% of students thought it was badly handled, while only 3% thought it was not. According to The Examiner of 25 October, there is €420,000 perk for water bosses. Irish Water has been freed from a €59 million bill for rates, according to The Sunday Times. Another headline is "More staff may be hired to administer Irish Water grant." Who will handle the €100 grant in the Department of Social Protection, given the waiting lists for invalidity and disability payments. This has been a disaster, and at this stage the issue should be restored to local democracy. The local authorities should be allowed to remain the providers of water services. The local authorities never attracted the public odium that Irish Water has got. It is a pity to stumble at the last fence in the economic reconstruction of this country.
When we tabled amendments providing that the National Consumer Agency would be brought in, one would have thought it was the most radical thing in the world, given the way the Minister of State's predecessor reacted. I think that is now happening, if I heard the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, correctly last week. The Competition Authority will be involved. This is a monopoly we have decided to make. To involve the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in guidelines for capital expenditure, we proposed that the charges should not apply to any consumption below the average consumption per household. Why? Because the person who is using less than the average is not the one wasting it; it is the person who is above the average consumption. All of those amendments were turned down in the 16- and 18-hour debates we had.
The off-balance-sheet issue is a piece of economic hocus pocus. The EU or EUROSTAT said that if we did it this way, it would be off the balance sheet. I would not buy anything from somebody who is trying to conceal the facts of the case off the balance sheet.
We have not dealt with the issue of productivity. Mr. John FitzGerald, one of the most respected people in Irish economics, said we are doing with 4,000 people what should be done with 2,400 people.
The McLoughlin report showed a 30% surplus of county managers, a 15% surplus of directors of services, a 10% surplus of corporate services staff and a 15% surplus of city managers. We took all of them and put them in Irish Water. The McLoughlin group reported in 2010, while the wastewater report was in 2008. A family of four on €100,000 earns six times the income of a person on €15,000. They pay 14 times more tax but they do not consume 14 times more water. That is why I saw people marching in Maynooth who cannot afford this money. The Minister has made it regressive by adopting this approach. Where it was financed through income tax, there was progressivity, as mentioned.
In the programme "This Week", it was stated that the cost of the metering programme had gone from €431 million to €539 million. Approximately 60% of water consumption in the UK is not metered. We appear to have made that a particular goal, and it is coming back to haunt us.
I am glad the Minister of State has tackled the allowance and bonus culture, and I said "Hear, hear" when he announced it. We have a managerialist organisation with low productivity and a PR strategy that seems to be loosely based on that of Vlad the Impaler, given the amount of damage it has done through public sector bodies. It needs a communications strategy and a reality strategy. It is unfortunate that we appear to have set aside all the rules for forming new bodies. A section in the guidelines for public expenditure issued by the Department of Finance in 2005 provides that all projects costing more than €20 million should be independently assessed. This organisation has grown out of control. I think the Government was hijacked by the managerialists who were promoting it within Irish local government. Certainly the Dáil was ignored and our amendments here were ignored. I can see that large crowds will be out protesting on 10 December 2014. The organisation has so many faults, which the Minister of State tried to address as best he could - I commend him on that - but the model chosen was so flawed that it has done serious damage to everybody in the Seanad and the Dáil, and that is why people took to the streets, some resorting to violence. All of that is a great pity. We all could and should have done this better in the past.
People say the Government did a U-turn on water charges. Yes, we did. We listened to what the people were saying and responded accordingly. The Government announcement last week brought clarity, certainty and predictability to the pricing regime that will apply to domestic water charges. With these objectives in mind, the Government has decided on measures such as the Minister has outlined, under which single-adult households will have a capped charge of €160.
This will amount to an effective charge of €60 for a person who registers with Irish Water and receives an annual water conservation grant of €100 from the Government. That is a cap of €1.25 per week. All other households will have a capped charge of €260, which will amount to an effective charge of €160 once the annual water conservation grant is taken into consideration. That is a cap of €3 per week. It is important to note this is a capped charge, not a flat rate charge. Water conservation remains central to the package of reforms, and there are real incentives for households to manage their water usage. On the Order of Business I noted the discovery that 22 households nationwide were losing up to 1 million gallons of water, or enough to supply the town of Gorey. This loss of water was discovered because the households concerned were metered. Conservation and metering is part of Government policy in this regard.
This Government will deliver safe and reliable water supplies for families and businesses alike for the coming decades. We were elected with a large mandate for reform by people who were tired of the way in which previous Governments ran the economy and, especially, our infrastructure into the ground. Instead of advocating for change, we allowed the politically easy status quoto reign, but look where it got us. For years, 20,000 people have been unable to drink the water from their own taps. An antiquated water network rots in the ground, while close to 50% of our national treated water supply is lost. There is virtually no spare capacity in Dublin, which threatens job creation. Some 16% of our water supplies are at risk, affecting more than 1 million people. One third of our secondary waste water treatment plants have inadequate effluent standards. In Dublin, more than 800 km of pipe is over 100 years old. Most major EU cities have spare capacity of 15% to 20%; Dublin has surplus capacity of between 1% and 4%. We can no longer ignore the fact that raw sewage flows into our streams, rivers and harbours from more than 42 towns nationwide. This simply cannot continue. We cannot stand over a situation in which water supplies for 945,000 people require urgent remedial action.
Irish Water did not create these problems, but I believe it will fix them, beginning with a capital investment plan worth €1.8 billion, to be funded separately from general government expenditure. We cannot build the water network Ireland needs from general taxation. It is not fair to the same working taxpayers who are asked to pay for everything. As a result, the amount of funding required to invest in clean and consistent water supplies cannot be adequately resourced from the already hard-pressed taxpayer. Nearly every other developed country in the world has water charges that can be invested in clean and safe water supplies for their citizens.
The establishment of Irish Water as a single utility company to replace the previous 34 separate water authorities will result in better water services for everyone. The ambitious metering programme is ahead of schedule and, when completed, will be a vital national asset in terms of helping water conservation and offering significant benefits to customers of Irish Water and Ireland's natural environment.
Senator Cullinane said he would be in the Chamber to listen to me, but he has gone. We all know what Sinn Féin is against, but it is about time it started to tell people what it is for. It is against everything that we know about. It is the most populist party in the country. What is its policy on water today? Under pressure from the hard left in the race to the bottom in finding the most populist, nonsensical policies that one could make up, and because the public does not believe in anything it says, it has had to revert to cheap publicity stunts in the Dáil, such as that staged by Deputy McDonald, to distract from its own lack of answers to the questions asked of it. Sinn Féin has inherited Fianna Fáil's mantle as the weather vane of Irish politics. It sees which way the wind is blowing and jumps accordingly. I will conclude on that point, although I could say much more. The Government has made an honest attempt to bring clarity, predictability and certainty to the objective of providing clean water to our citizens for many years to come. When people look back, they will recognise the necessity of this utility in providing infrastructure for water supply.
People are opposed to Irish Water because of the waste and the costs. From the outset, consultants advised against establishing Irish Water in the way that the Government has chosen. When the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, came to the House or attended meetings with his own party members, he showed contempt for questions. We now see the consequences of this contempt. He did not answer the questions because he did not have the answers or, if he knew the answers, he was hiding them. The people have seen that Mr. Hogan was rewarded for setting up Irish Water, even though it is the greatest debacle of the year. They also see the amount of money that has been wasted since it was established. Only in Irish Water is a bonus not called a bonus. Employees of Irish Water actually get paid a bonus for underperforming. Spokespersons for the company went on national television to convince people that black is white and that a bonus is not a bonus. That is why people are angry. The reason they are on the streets now is that they cannot afford the charges. The Government had a range of options and, as Senator Barrett pointed out, a person with a swimming pool pays the same amount as someone who is trying to balance the budget at the end of the month. We know from the Irish League of Credit Unions that hundreds of thousands of people have only €10 remaining for discretionary spending at the end of the month. Many people do not even have that amount of money. Since 1 October, we have seen the Government do ten U-turns. It suspended charges until 1 January, introduced a household benefit package and fuel allowances, as well as tax relief for water charge payments, did away with the idea of water conservation, sidelined the free allowance, extended the application deadline to 30 November, introduced a flat rate and abandoned metering, suspended the bonus system, which we were told did not exist, and sidelined the Commission for Energy Regulation. Meanwhile, not a cent has been spent on infrastructure. These are the twists and turns of the 12 months since the Government was advised not to set up Irish Water in this way. The former Minister, Phil Hogan, rammed legislation through the Dáil to ensure it was not scrutinised properly.
To be honest, he never answered the questions. In some cases, this was because he did not have the answers and, in others, because he did not want to give them. Ministers should be held to account - that is what the Dáil and the Seanad are for. The former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, knew he was to be rewarded for the lasting legacy of Irish Water with a fine job in Europe, but that legacy will cost Irish taxpayers billions of euro. However, water quality will be no better next year or in 2016 because all of the investment is going into metering, which, in essence, is not taking place. As I said, people are angry because this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. It is one charge too many and the Government did not have to introduce it.
That promise was made in the Labour Party's election manifesto, with promises on education fees and other issues that were not kept. It is one thing to break a promise, but it is another to do so and cost taxpayers billions in the process. People are angry because of the waste involved. Money has been paid to consultants who have not been monitored. There were significant costs involved in setting up Irish Water, with bonuses being promised, and now people will be paid to drink water. It is a disgrace and, as Senator Sean D. Barrett pointed out, social welfare resources that are already stretched will now be utilised to make these water payments. All of this shows the lack of foresight and thinking when the Government set up Irish Water and it is why people oppose the entity. Fianna Fáil is against Irish Water and the process must stop before more money is wasted.
I was not going to speak on this issue, but I feel bound to comment on some of the contributions of my colleagues. I am bemused to hear Senator Mark Daly say Fianna Fáil is against water charges as that party signed up to the measure. If its regime had won out, we would have had water charges of €400 per year for the past three years.
Professor McHale spoke about the political influence and decisions that had led us into our sorry state of economic catastrophe. He implied that populist decisions had been made and whoever shouted loudest during Fianna Fáil's 14 years in government had received the biggest handouts. The tax base had been reduced to such an extent that, when the crisis arrived, Ireland was affected disproportionately. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin want to do the same again. The Opposition parties will state they must follow their people and see where they are going. This is the leadership the Opposition is offering, which is constantly evident in the contributions of Fianna Fáil Members. The contributions of Sinn Féin Members are hardly worth mentioning because they are all over the place.
It is all about the polls and I thank the Senator for reminding me. Of course, there is anger and nobody will suggest Irish Water has been set up properly. There is much frustration within the Government on this issue and if we were to do it again, we would do it differently.
It is difficult to understand how a party of the left could consider it better to charge this taxation on labour rather than consumption. That is what Sinn Féin is stating.
Taxation should be reduced on labour, which is what the Labour Party is doing in government. My friend, Senator Sean D. Barrett, may have inadvertently referred to a protest born out of anger. The secretary of the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, was kicked and spat at during that protest and one of the leaders has been identified in the media as a common thug, rather than simply an angry person. The person concerned has a long record of engaging in anti-social behaviour and is connected to the party of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Violence must be condemned by all right-thinking people - we cannot prevaricate and try to justify it because people are angry. Violence is never justifiable and all democrats must agree - a person who does not say this is not a democrat.
That is all I will contribute on this issue. I would like to say much more, but if I start, I will not have time to develop my points. Perhaps we might have such a debate on another occasion.
I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, is before the House in place of the Minister who made the speech. Much has been said today about the Government listening, but I do not think it is. If it were, we would not be in this mess. It was disgusting to see the Minister walk out of the Chamber after delivering his speech and I hope the Minister of State will convey this point to him. I do not care about his media commitments; his commitment is to the House. He should have stayed and listened. It was also disgusting to hear him speak about his legacy - his legacy will be written by history and in time and I do not think it will do him great favours.
Some time ago Senator Denis Landy referred to the bonus structure at Irish Water. As a trade unionist, I can tell the House that if I had a contract with a bonus structure, I would not give it up for free. I want someone on the Government side to explain how the contracts of employment held by Irish Water workers are to be undone. How will bonuses be taken from employees, particularly those in the lower pay bracket, from €25,000 to €40,000, referred to by the Senator? I would like someone to explain this.
Today I took the time to go through the Irish Water work schedule and must say I support the notion of having a water utility to look after our water supply. However, there is no way on God's Earth that Irish Water will meet its work schedule as it consists of page after page of what must be done around the country. There are massive leaks all over the place and we are metering houses with meters that will not be required. We should spend the money on repairing leaks. There is lead in the water in Limerick, Cork and Dublin and I am sure the same can be said about Galway. In Tralee there are dangerously high levels. As boil notices are in place all over the place, why are we wasting money on meters that are not required? We should spend the money on repairing the system.
There was much talk last week about how the regulator would manage the charges of Irish Water. Where is the regulator now?
Has the regulator been made redundant? This is an interesting point, but nothing has been said about it.
The system is extremely unfair.
If I have my own well, my own septic tank, I am getting €100. If I am on the public water utility, I am paying €100. If I am part of group scheme, I am getting €100 and the group scheme is getting €140. I really do not understand how we put a pricing structure in place or where we are coming from. It strikes me that we just plucked the pricing out of the sky and said, "Sure, we will throw €100 to everybody and that will keep them all happy and get them off our backs".
I want to talk about the legislation to ensure that water is retained in public ownership. Has the Minister of State not got the message that people do not trust the Government? People have no faith in any of us in these Houses. There is only one thing they will trust and that is a referendum that guarantees Irish Water will be retained under the ownership of the Irish people.
I have been doing the maths and I must admit to the Minister of State that I am very confused. From what I can see, the borrowings of Irish Water will not be met by its revenues. I think a sort of a bull-headed approach has been taken. We brought in Irish Water and, by God, we are going to keep in there regardless of what anybody says, and we will just drop the price down to a level that will keep people happy for the moment. I would like the Minister of State to go back and advise the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that the plan is not going to work. As I have already stated, I do not at all subscribe to the thuggery that took place in Jobstown, but I fear we will see large numbers out on the streets again on 10 December and if we do, we are all in trouble. We have to sit down and look at where we are going.
When Fianna Fáil made a freedom of information request asking the Government to set out the business case for Irish Water we were presented with a 160-page document from Bord Gáis to the Department. I am showing this document for the cameras. Page 1 is blacked out. Page 2 is blacked out. The table of contents gives a flavour of what else is blacked out, because everything in it is blacked out, from page 4 to page 159. The whole thing was blacked out. I am showing it to the Visitors Gallery as well.
This is the reality. Seo í an chaoi atá sibh ag déileáil le hUisce Éireann. This is the way the Government has dealt with Irish Water from day 1. It is a disgrace and a shambles. Page 1 of the Government's manifesto was about freedom of information but its idea of freedom of information is to black the whole thing out. Do not let them know what is going on because they might rise up and start asking questions. We can talk about cronyism - the Minister of State himself brought the whole thing to a ridiculous low by appointing a director of Irish Water as his personal driver who, I am sure, is a decent man.
There were jaws dropping all over this country when that was revealed. It is relevant because it is part of a pattern with Irish Water. There was a full investigation by the Daily Mailinto finding out who exactly another of the directors was, because they did not even know that and Irish Water would not give details. They did know that his forefathers fought on the Free State side in the Civil War and of course that was the important information for the Fine Gael Government. The Daily Mailcould not even find out the individual's name.
Let us talk facts and show what was served up to the public and what the public has rebelled against. Most disgraceful of all is the €700 million and more that has now been wasted. We are dealing with e-voting to the power of ten. The Government has thrown the meters into the ground and now said they are not going to use them because there will be a so-called capped charge, which is really a flat-rate charge. The meters have no purpose whatsoever. The Minister can say what he likes but the public is not buying it.
We have said that Irish Water must be abolished as it is simply not fit for purpose. The cost structure is too high and there is going to be a row in the new year about that and the employment contracts. Senators Craughwell and Landy have recognised the reality that when people are given contracts of employment they expect them to be honoured. The meters will be easier to remove than those contracts of employment giving bonuses to staff. That is what is sickening people about this project. Why could we not have created a body along the lines of the National Roads Authority, that would put a strategy around the country but let the local authorities do the work without setting up this superstructure of administration and billing?
The people have said "No". The Government knows this is going to fail and I believe it will be quite happy if it does. Senator Gilroy has suggested that polling is all that matters. That must be why there was a two-week delay when we all had to wait to hear what would be announced. We know that Fine Gael and the Labour Party were conducting market research during that time, to see what would fit with the public. After that they felt everybody would be happy with what they announced. People are happier that the charges are lower, there are no two ways about it, but a large proportion of the Irish public is not prepared to pay any charge.
With the €100 that is being given back to every household, we can now say that the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government has left no millionaire behind. Each millionaire in this country will get €100. We are going to have to take staff out of vital services to administer this €100 going to the millionaires. It is not going to the people who need it and it will not help to reduce the charges. An artificial charging structure is being set up to pass a so-called market corporation test in the EU and we are not even sure if Irish Water will pass. I do not think the Government cares because its administration has gotten into such a shambolic state. It has gotten itself over the hump until after Christmas and will worry later if anything goes wrong, and things are very likely to go wrong. I predict we will be here in May, if the Government is still in office then, trying to figure out what to do next. Fianna Fáil is trying to work out what way it should go because no party really knows what options exist when it has to deal with the €700 million that the current Government has wasted. That sum is lying before any party that is serious about going into government. What do we do about that €700 million that Fine Gael and the Labour Party have buried in the ground?
I have three Senators indicating that they wish to speak and I need to call the Minister at 6.25 p.m. so I ask for Senators' co-operation. Senator Mullins has five minutes but I encourage him to speak more briefly than that.
It is very hard to sit and listen to Senator Byrne. As Vincent Browne reminded him the other night, his party has failed to invest in infrastructure during its 40 years of Government and it planned to bring in a €400 flat-rate water charge on every household.
On a point of information, the Senators keep making that accusation but could they actually produce the document? The Minister of State is laughing but the people are laughing at him and they were laughing at him a couple of months ago----
I have expressed my disappointment on many occasions during the Order of Business about the time it was taking to sort out the issues in Irish Water. Serious mistakes were made, but my belief is that there was an overly ambitious plan to get a metering system installed nationwide. I am now pleased that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, have put in place a scheme that is fair, clear and humane. It will mean that for the next four years, people will have absolute certainty on what it will cost. Many households will pay just €1.15 per week while households with two adults or more will pay €3 per week. There is a whole range of options to make that payment simple and small as people have the resources to meet it. The Minister of State has indicated that in situations where people are under severe hardship, the community welfare officer will be prepared to assist.
Some Senators have criticised the fact that the water conservation grant will be paid to people in group schemes and people who have invested in their own wells. I believe this is an acknowledgement from Government that people have invested in their own infrastructure and have paid for their water for the last 30, 40 or 50 years in some cases. It is only right and proper that they would be treated as equal to everybody else who is going to be metered from now on.
I would advise people to register with Irish Water. I do not want to see a situation similar to the one that obtained with the septic tanks when Senator Ó Clochartaigh and his party advised people not to register for €5 and it ended up costing them €50. I am not sure if Sinn Féin refunded these people the money lost but I would hate to see people incurring additional costs as a result of failing to register.
I hope the metering installation programme is accelerated. Metering saves money and helps to identify where the serious leaks are. We saw some figures which indicated the very serious and significant amounts of water being lost into the ground. There are plans for a major infrastructure programme. There are 22,000 homes on boil water notices. I am pleased to be able to indicate here today that over half of the people of Roscommon who have been subject to boil water notices for several years will by Christmas no longer be, and nor will the remainder come March or April.
After a slow start, we are on the right course. Hopefully, in the years to come we will see an investment which will ensure we have safe, clean water, attract inward investment to our communities and allow us to promote and market our tourism industry in a more effective way. Everyone who turns a tap in an Irish home will have good, safe clean water. I commend the Minister of State for the work that has been done in recent times although I am critical of how this project started out.
Ba mhaith liom nóiméad amháin a thabhairt don Seanadóir Healy Eames. Cuirim fáilte roimh muintir na Gaillimhe atá i nGailearaí na gCuairteoirí chomh maith céanna. Faraor go bhfuil an iomarca ard ag na pairtithe eile - iad san Rialtas - ar cé chomh maith is atá Sinn Féin ag déanamh seachas na ceisteanna atá ag déanamh tinnis don phobal.
I would like to focus on an element of the debate that probably has not been focused on. I concur with the sentiments of Senator Cullinane earlier. While this whole debacle continues, there are people who are without clean water. I tabled a question today in order to get a clear answer on the current water situation in Carraroe. The question was ruled not to fall within the remit of the Minister. The issue concerns the promise to the people of Carraroe of a regional water scheme. The first part of it has been completed; the pipes are down. The second part was to be completed by Galway County Council. There has been a handover to Irish Water with the resulting legacy and shambles. Irish Water tells us that it will continue pumping the water from the lake in Carraroe. The lake is polluted and, therefore, a lot of chlorine is used in treating the water and the trihalmethane, THM, levels are very high. Last week, the media discovered the water in Carraroe failed 95% of the tests on the level of THM in the water carried out since 2008.
It is not because of a lack of investment. The investment has been made in the first part of the scheme. However, Irish Water is planning to scrap the second part of the scheme. Who is in charge of telling the people their water is contaminated and carcinogenic? We are told with the level of THM in the water in Carraroe, that over a long period of time it is carcinogenic. Irish Water will not give us an answer. The county council tells us to go to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The EPA says it is a question for Irish Water. It is going round in circles. Who is in charge of public health and responsible for keeping people informed?
Galway County Council tells us it is not responsible. Will the Minister of State clarify who in the new regime is going to tell us about these things? We are not going to put up with this any more. We were told Irish Water was set up to invest in and improve the system. It is telling us it is not going to invest as Galway County Council had planned but will go back to an old botch-up, "Elastoplast", situation, and keep giving us filthy water. It is simply not good enough. It is not acceptable.
Gabhaim buíoch leis an Seanadóir as ucht an méid ama atá á thabhairt aige dom. Colleagues on this side of the House and I did not vote for the water charges bill last year for one reason. We could not get answers to basic questions about the costs that would be imposed on people. I have one question for the Minister of State. He was a colleague of mine on this side of the House and he knows how important it is to get answers to questions. It is reasonable for the Government to permit charges of €60 for a single person and €160 net for a family of more than one adult. However, there is a problem. People do not believe, come 2019, that those charges will be sustainable. My question for the Minister of State is whether the Government will lay a plan before the Irish people that will show the investment in the infrastructure can continue at those rates. If the Minister of State will do that, there will be an end to the riots on the streets. It is in the interest of personal safety. We do not want anarchy.
I welcome this debate and the many diverse views expressed on all sides of the House. It is welcome that we discuss Irish water, an essential and important natural and national resource. I will address the issues as far as I can in the limited time I have.
Some Senators spoke about rain harvesting, an important water conservation measure. The Government is prepared to consider proposals to include further water conservation measures in the building regulations. That is something we will look at further.
Senator Norris asked why we need to give water conservation grants in the sum of €100 to householders. This universal payment will be administered and paid by the Department of Social Protection. It will support households in taking conservation measures. Simple interventions such as the purchase of a basic water butt are possible. This would cost less than the sum provided in the grant and would assist in reducing water charges for many households. A water butt recycles rainwater for use in watering gardens, washing cars and patios and so forth. The grant can also be used for simple interventions such as the installation of efficient shower heads and flush devices in toilets. This would reduce water consumption and increase awareness of water usage in the home. The capped charges announced last week can be beaten by households reducing their water consumption by such simple interventions and measures. The grant can also be used against the charges.
More investment is needed in our water services and system. The differences expressed by many of the speakers and their parties concerns how the investment can be raised, provided and utilised to improve the water system so that it will meet the needs of future generations, citizens and businesses. There is a clear choice. We can either be innovative, as the Government is doing, by setting up a national utility, along the lines of the ESB, a semi-State body that already exists, or raise funds through general taxation and taking it from the budgets of health, education and social welfare. This needs to be acknowledged by Members offering alternatives. The question that needs to be asked is from where will the money come. There is no doubt that investment is needed. We must ask if we have invested enough in the past and, if not, how are we going to fund the infrastructure deficit that has arisen.
The answer to the first question is obvious. We have not invested anything near what is required to deliver a fit-for-purpose, modern, efficient and reliable water and sewerage system across this country. If we had, we would not have the number of boil water notices, water supply constraints - look at Dublin alone which almost ran out of water last year - the unacceptable levels of leakage in the system and nor would we have raw sewage entering rivers and seas in places throughout the country. It is not sustainable to leave things as they are. That is patently obvious. The fundamental issue here is additional funding for water services and how it will be raised.
I listened with interest to the contributions from the main Opposition parties - Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Senator Byrne repeatedly questioned where the figure of €400 per annum that Fianna Fáil proposed to introduce by 2012, over two years ago, is to be found. I will tell the Senator where the figure comes from. It comes from the national recovery plan his party published in 2010.
Fianna Fáil has flip-flopped on this. As stated by Senator Cummins earlier, the party is the new weather vane, or probably the old weather vane, of Irish politics. Sinn Féin appears to be the new weather vane. Whichever way the wind blows, Fianna Fáil will go.
The future generations will not thank this Government or any Government if we do not invest in such a vital infrastructure.
I have listened to Senator David Cullinane continuously express false anger, citing his populism and playing to the gallery for local media. Sinn Féin has flip-flopped on this issue also. Only a few months ago its leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, told the media and the country that he would pay water charges. He then decided he might not pay them and when we saw the results of the by-elections in Tallaght and Roscommon, Sinn Féin decided to oppose them. There is no consistency.
Senator David Cullinane raised concerns about our constituency, Waterford. I am happy to report the good news that Irish Water will continue to invest in the seven villages sewerage scheme for which we have been waiting for over 15 years. It will invest in new sewage collection and treatment systems across County Waterford, which the Senator will welcome.
Irish Water has been at the top of the agenda for the past few weeks. The Government has listened and acted. We must move forward. I, therefore, call on the House to support Irish Water which is a national utility built along the lines of the ESB. The model has worked successfully. In the 1990s and 2000s ESB Networks undertook a network renewal programme, for which it raised more than €7 billion on international markets to invest in critical infrastructure. We are doing the same with the water network. The revised water charges package, combined with enhanced governance of the new public national water utility, will set us on the path towards full public confidence in the system, confidence that is required to ensure the optimal impact on the ground of these reforms and a public water system of which we can all be proud and which will meet the needs of citizens and businesses. These debates are very important. Fianna Fáil opposed the establishment of the ESB in 1926 and 1927.