Thursday, 18 December 2014
Water Services Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)
I will not really need it. While I am not quite sure where I left off, I may have been talking about the referendum and the question of privatisation. People have squashed that and have suggested there is no possibility of it. I believe the Minister or somebody else asked who has mentioned or called for privatisation. Although nobody has quite called for privatisation, the Minister's colleague, the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, has stated this was very much on the menu. Somebody who was directly involved in the negotiations and in the utility's establishment ought to have a pretty good idea of what was on the mat and as the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, has been saying this, that is the evidence I would put before the House in this regard.
I also have received briefings from the Green Party and I am glad to see it making some sort of a comeback. The Green Party makes the point with regard to the Irish Water utility - it wishes to keep it as a utility - that it is in the interests of the common good that this resource is permanently owned by the people and used to their benefit. The final point made by the Green Party is a very good one with which I am sure the Minister will sympathise, having spoken about his time here in Seanad Éireann, namely, that the role of the Upper House is to rise above the day-to-day political theatre and that is what I hope it will do. I have received several thousand e-mails on this issue and it was simply impossible to deal with that volume but I have singled out just one. It was from a reasonable woman who is a low-paid worker earning less than €28,000 and this is a bill she cannot afford, as it is just too much. She is a single mum, her son is about to go to university and she believes she may not be able to send him to college because of this. Moreover, if he goes to college, he then will be charged the water rate separately.
Again, this appears to be very unfair. She states that she is already paying property tax, which is taken at source, PAYE, PRSI, USC and a multitude of other taxes and VAT every day. She is of the view that it is unfair and unjust to impose water charges on people. Finally, she indicates that she has zero confidence that privatisation has been ruled out.
I wish to make a general point. A previous Government, following a great deal of difficult negotiation, obtained a derogation from Europe in respect of the imposition of water tax. This is now being thrown away. It is incomprehensible that we would go to the trouble of obtaining a derogation from European protocols only to then just leave them to one side. What has happened to this derogation? Will the Minister indicate why the Government did not submit an application for EU funding in respect of its plan for water charges? On the radio in recent days it was announced that some incomprehensible amount of money - it might have been €67 billion or it could have been €360 billion - is available for infrastructural plans throughout the EU. Why did we not submit an application to obtain funding for the provision of water infrastructure? Surely such an application would have been regarded sympathetically in light of our current situation.
The Minister made a very good point when he stated that Ireland is distinct from most other countries because it has abundant supplies of freshwater. He also highlighted the fact that this natural resource - which we take for granted - is not so plentiful in other countries and that these are placed at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting business, industry, pharma and chemical companies, agrifood interests, etc. I absolutely agree with the Minister that something must be done with regard to water supplies. However, people being obliged to pay for it twice is not the way to go. I do not believe for one second that the money collected will be directly invested in the infrastructure system. I am sure the Minister will be able to confirm that the money in question is not ring-fenced. There is nothing which states that it must be given directly to Irish Water. I am of the view that, like motor tax, etc., it will just disappear into general Exchequer funds.
When, on a previous occasion in this House, a Minister referred to raw sewage, I speculated as to whether she would prefer it cooked. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, referred to the contents of the Bill and stated "The Government package announced last month also referred to a suite of measures that would apply if households did not pay." The Government is being very coy about this matter. That suite of measures is not outlined in the Bill - probably in the interests of not frightening off the ditherers who are trying to find any excuse to justify their pusillanimous support for the Government - and I would like to be provided with some information in respect of it. These measures constitute the punishment for people who do not cough up. What a euphemistic turn of phrase the Minister employs when he refers to "a suite of measures". It almost sounds as if we should be queuing up to be entertained by this suite of measures.
I welcome the Minister. I hope the debate on the Bill will be constructive. I do not propose to speak too much about the Bill itself. The measures it contains where introduced in response to very serious concerns expressed by many Irish people who participated in demonstrations, contacted us - as public representatives - and took to the Internet and national airwaves to voice those concerns in respect of the previously proposed structure for charges. The Government has listened to what the people said. I am at a loss to understand those Members of the Oireachtas who are completely opposed to the Bill when the clear intention behind it is to rectify the matters about which they previously complained. The Bill brings clarity, certainty and predictability to the pricing regime that will apply to domestic water services. The starting date for water charges has been put back from 1 January 2015. The first Bills will now issue in April. The existing legislation permitting the exchange of PPS numbers with the Department of Social Protection will be repealed. Households with either a water supply only or s wastewater only service will pay 50% of the rate. Those who own dwellings which are not permanently occupied will pay a minimum of €125 per year.
This Government will deliver safe and reliable water supplies for families and businesses alike over the coming decades. We were elected with a large mandate for reform by a people who were tired of the way previous Governments ran both the economy and our infrastructure into the ground.
At present, 20,000 people cannot drink the water from their own taps. For some, this has been the case for many years. We have an antiquated water network which is rotting in the ground and close to 50% of our national treated water supply is being lost. Some 16% of our water supplies are at risk and this could affect over 1 million people. One third of secondary wastewater treatment plants have inadequate effluent standards. In Dublin, more than 800 km of pipe is over 100 years old. Most major EU cities have a spare capacity of 15% to 20%, whereas Dublin has a surplus capacity of between 1% and 4%. There is virtually no spare supply capacity in Dublin, which threatens job creation prospects in the capital. We can no longer ignore the fact that raw sewage continues to flow into streams, rivers and harbours near 42 towns. We cannot stand over a situation where water supplies for 945,000 people require urgent remedial action.
Irish Water did not create these problems but it will fix them. In that context, it will start with its €1.8 billion capital investment plan which will be funded separately from general Government expenditure. The water network Ireland needs cannot be built from general taxation. It is not fair that the same working taxpayers should be asked to pay for everything. Almost every other developed country in the world has water charges, which makes it possible for them to invest in clean and safe water supplies for their citizens. The establishment of Irish Water as a single utility company to replace the current 34 separate disparate water authorities will result in better water services for everyone. When completed, the company's metering programme, which is extremely ambitious and currently ahead of target, will be a vital national asset in the context of facilitating water conservation, with significant benefits to customers of Irish Water and to the country's natural environment.
Fianna Fáil does not have a coherent policy on water charges. Fianna Fáil left us with the rotting water network to which I refer-----
With the investment and national co-ordinated approach to water services introduced by the creation of a certain single utility, Ireland will be well prepared in the event of a future water emergency.
Sinn Féin's water policy is similarly ambiguous-----
That party has spent recent weeks engaging in cheap publicity stunts in the Dáil in order to distract from its own lack of answers to many of the questions that have been posed.
Sinn Féin has failed utterly to explain how it would pay the price of €800 million plus for abandoning progressive water reform. Its policy of keeping Irish Water but abandoning water charges would add more than €800 million to the deficit next year. We still do not know where it can bridge that gap. The reality is that it is imposing huge tax increases on workers to pay for everybody's water. Everyone earning over €32,800 is deemed to be wealthy by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin based on their voting record when considering the Finance Bill.
Let me quote:
Deputy Eamon Gilmore stated this in the Irish Examineron 28 June 2010.
I’m against water charging. Water is a necessity, I’ve always believed essential services like water should be delivered as a public service. A flat household charge would be unfair and does not discriminate between houses with five bathrooms or none, and metering is unworkable.
Just in case the Minister did not hear me, he should note the former leader of the Labour Party said he was against Irish Water. He also said:
He said that in 2010. Where was the road to Damascus-----
Water is a necessity, I’ve always believed essential services like water should be delivered as a public service. A flat household charge would be unfair and does not discriminate between houses with five bathrooms or none, and metering is unworkable.
I welcome engagement with the Minister at any time on this issue. I am only putting on the record of this House statements by the Labour Party in 2010 and the real facts behind what it said when Deputy Rabbitte, in a moment of clarity and truth, said: "Isn't that what you ... do during an election?" One promises but does not ever believe one is going to deliver.
Another Minister made what was possibly the most out-of-touch and outrageous comment by any Minister in the past year. The Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was wondering what people were worried about in that the cost is only €3. This Government is supposed to represent all the people but, according to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, it represents only those people who agree with it. He said, "We govern for reasonable people." Unless a person agrees with the Government, they are not reasonable and, therefore, it will not govern for them. The Minister for Health said it does not really bother him that people are protesting about €3 per week and that the Government has a much bigger problem. Of course, the Minister is correct because there are people who are fearful and there is homelessness and hunger. The Irish League of Credit Unions would tell us that 500,000 people have nothing at the end of the month. They do not have the €3 each week or €12 at the end of each month that is required to pay water bills. That is why I said the Government is out of touch. When the Ministers who believe it is no problem to pay €3 per week say they do not govern for the people-----
-----and buying food to on their tables for their children. The facts are from the Irish League of Credit Unions, which says 500,000 citizens of this State, not customers, as Irish Water would call them, are being abandoned by the Minister for Finance.
The Minister says he does not govern for people who do not agree with him. The Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, says that if there are people who have a problem paying €3 per week, he does not govern for them either. Senators have the power to bring the Government's madness on this to a halt and answer the fundamental question as to how 500,000 citizens in the State who do not have any money at the end of every month will find the money to pay their bill to Irish Water.
I compliment the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It is well acknowledged that he is doing a good job and that he is a fair Minister. He has listened to the concerns of the people and has turned the situation around. We all acknowledge that the way in which Irish Water was set up was wrong and the Minister has dealt with that appropriately.
The main point of the Opposition and opponents of water charging is that the people already pay for water through their taxes. That, to a degree, is true.
However, all we have ever paid for through our taxes is the maintenance of a broken system. Since the establishment of Irish Water, I have never seen as much activity in my county, Roscommon, where 20,000 people are on boil water notices. In Boyle and Ardcarn, where 6,000 people are affected, the system has been fixed and the plant is now in operation, all in the space of a number of months. In Castlerea, a new treatment plant is expected to be completed this month. In Killeglan, where more than 15,000 people are affected by boil water notices, the works are expected to be completed in January 2015. Those in the north-east Roscommon water supply scheme are also subject to a boil water notice. This is expected to be rectified by August of next year. In Cam and Kilteevan, the works are expected to be completed in May 2015. The boil water notices affecting the Arigna scheme are expected to be lifted in May 2015. This is all happening as we speak in Roscommon. It never happened before. In my seven years on Roscommon County Council, I have never seen anything like what is happening now. This is purely because of the establishment of Irish Water, nothing else.
I was flabbergasted listening to Senator Walsh. He is against paying for water but made sure he told the Minster that once water charging is brought in, he or any future Minister should desist from abolishing them for political purposes. He does not want water charges but does not want them ever removed when introduced.
I am also somewhat flabbergasted by Senator Walsh's statement that there should be competition in the delivery of Irish Water. That is grand but we know what competition can bring. It can bring cartelism and price fixing, in which case people would have no control over the price of water.
I am encouraged by some of the Minister's statements in regard to something that has never happened in my county. We always had to source our water supply from Roscommon and there was never an adequate water supply in the county. Now we can cross borders to source our supply and in my town of Ballaghaderreen where people have not been able to drink the water there for 20 years, the plan is to extract water from Lough Mask in County Mayo. That is a welcome development. Some 31% of the people of Roscommon have always paid for their water and that is a statistic that is probably accurate across rural Ireland. Nobody in my county would mind paying for water as long as they can drink the water coming of their taps. That is the issue for me and for the people that I represent.
I welcome the Minister. It has been only 24 hours since we last went toe to toe yesterday. The classic line that comes to mind with the Water Services Bill is that if we were to start from anywhere, we would not be starting from here. My thoughts on the Bill it that it is complex, contradictory and a conundrum. I believe we should pay for water in order to conserve what is a limited natural resource. I disagree with Senator Daly on that. That is my philosophy on this. Also it would be to widen the tax base of our citizens, scrap the universal social charge and means test the wealthy, in particular those like me who earn more than €100,000. In assessing any charge or tax of citizens, the issue of fairness and equality must be a key factor. It is clear, as we saw as recently as last week with the ESRI report, that the gap of inequality is getting wider. Inequality is becoming more institutionalised than ever before. I believe strongly that a progressive tax system needs to have been in place and it is within that context that both an equitable property tax and water charge would or could work.
The Government has made an absolute hames of this. I lay the blame at the ineptitude of the former Minister, Phil Hogan. His portfolio above all had the potential to radically change the Irish political and social landscape. His portfolio alone could have delivered on political reform, electoral reform, issues around climate change, local government reform, better delivery of taxation through local government reform, planning, social, housing, property tax and water charges. The list of failed actions and financial calamaries in his legacies are longer than Santa's present list.
The debacle of the setting up and the cost of Irish Water is a clear example of the waste of money and the inept management of public administration. It is no wonder that public trust in our systems and in us is so low or practically non-existent. There are many reasons citizens marched on the streets and even some of the organisers admitted that, but they achieved the volte-faceof public admissions of mistakes by Government, to which the Minister referred in his speech, of the exorbitant original charges for water use.
This is not a good Bill. Even the elemental requirement of conservation is back to front. We are meant to encourage conservation but bizarrely section 5 makes a provision for water conservation to citizens despite the fact that there is uncapped usage of water for a period up to 2018. This is not good law. It is ludicrous. Again, I am not against water charges. I have concerns over the ambiguity in Irish Water's terms and conditions over rain harvesting. If we harvest rain and if it is used to supplement water requirements, particularly with regard to wastewater, will there be consequences? I would like the Minister to give me an answer to that. Water conservation is an enormous challenge for us but it is one that we know that group water schemes have successfully managed to work. There is a working precedent and we know this. Senators must have honest in this House that group water schemes have shown the way forward with regard to conservation, particularly through water metering. I live in Dublin and I defy anybody to tell me otherwise. We need to have the facts and to have clarity in the House during this debate. Therefore, capping water charges in itself is not a good and efficient way to conserve water and this Bill is a political statement of apology, but do two wrongs make a right?
Another issue I have relates to section 11. If 95,000 have already registered with Irish Water, what will happen to the personal public service, PPS, numbers provided? This Bill does not cater for them retrospectively. How can the Minister assure the Seanad that all those PPS numbers will be destroyed? Can he reassure the House that there a transparent mechanism has been put in place to resolve this issue? I do not see that in the Bill. What might the role of the Data Commissioner be in this case?
I acknowledge that a major concern of mine, to which I alerted earlier this week, has been somewhat appeased in section 2 which provides for the holding of a the plebiscite on the ownership of Irish water. From reading section 2 and having listened to the Minister's speech, the Government must put before the people any proposals that may change public ownership of Irish water.
I am frustrated with the incompetencies of the Government which has botched and failed us in many of its promises but for some reason it cannot even manage the administration of policy in a rigorous efficient manner. The legacy of Phil Hogan is damaging to the people of Ireland, an effect which will be felt for years to come. It puts us, or me, in an invidious position with regard to whether we should accept this Bill because it caps necessary water charges yet there is no inducement to conserve water, and the rollout of Irish Water has caused anger, protest, and crucially a waste of money. The passing of this Bill will not resolve the inept mistakes of the Government but it could at least offer certainty and clarity.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and compliment him on the good job he has been doing since he assumed office. I believe that in years to come we will look back on this week and on the establishment of Irish Water as possibly the most significant utility establishment since the establishment of the ESB-----
I acknowledge and very much regret that some very significant mistakes were made by Government and by Irish water in the initial stages of the utility company. I felt all along that it was an overly ambitiously project and that the timeline for having the project up and running was too tight, but I am now satisfied that the major concerns of citizens have been addressed. The main concerns were around pricing and possible privatisation. Certainly, the commitment in section 2 to hold a plebiscite on the ownership of Irish water if any future government proposes to change in any the ownership structure of Irish water is a copperfastened and tight commitment and I am certainly happy to support that.
The net price of €60 per annum for a one-person household and a net charge of €160 where there are two or more adults in the house is not an unreasonable charge for good clean safe water for families. This family charge of €3.30 per week compares very favourably with the €15 per week that families on boil notices in County Roscommon are paying for bottled water, as I discovered during my recent canvass of Roscommon during the by-election campaign. Thankfully as Senator Kelly informed the House, my neighbours in County Roscommon will soon have that burden lifted from them with the huge investment that is being made by Irish water in bringing the water infrastructure up to a proper standard. A good clean reliable supply of water is as critical for citizens and for business as is electricity. It is scandalous that the last three Fianna Fail Governments failed dismally to invest in this vital infrastructure. This was during a period of unprecedented growth and healthy public finances.
Instead of investing in our infrastructure, those Governments chose to squander the nation's finances with giveaways that were designed to win two elections. The Fianna Fáil irresponsibility is still continuing to this day. It wants people to forget that it signed up to the troika for water charges and that it was planning a flat rate charge of €400 per household. Sinn Féin needs to be asked to explain-----
-----how it tells people in Northern Ireland that services have to paid for but here in the Republic everything can be for free. It also needs to explain why its Leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, did a U-turn. First, he said he would pay his water bill and then he changed his mind and party policy.
-----and trying to prevent investment that would help provide employment opportunities in areas that have been badly neglected in the past. I come from a rural constituency where many communities have been paying for water, through their group water schemes, for many decades, and they cannot understand how people living in cities with water, sewerage and much better services have been exempt from any charge up to now. It is difficult to justify that.
These group water schemes are the masters of water conservation. There are also areas in my constituency that do not yet have a proper water supply, such as the village of Kilreekil, where several businesses are trying to operate from private wells, and Liskelly and Kilnahown, near Aughrim. I hope their situation will be given priority by Irish Water, as well as the upgrading of the water services in my home town of Ballinasloe, on which I expect a major announcement in the near future.
The new utility is an investment in the future of our country and is in the national interest. It has to succeed and, in my view, it will succeed. Much progress has been made in recent weeks. I compliment the staff of Irish Water, who are responding more quickly on issues raised with it by public representatives of all persuasions. I am confident that we are putting in place a public utility that will deliver clean and safe water to all our citizens. It will address the massive level of leakage - up to 40% - in the system. It will plan for the growth of the capital city and the other major centres of population and, most important, it will provide certainty to business and potential investors. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
I welcome the Minister and wish him the best in trying to tidy up this mess. It is a mess that has brought Leinster House into disrepute. Nothing else brought 130,000 people on to the streets. We tried to table amendments with the Minister's predecessor and, as always, the Leader allowed full discussion, but it turned out that he was never formally allocated responsibility for the area, as claimed by the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, and he had no ability to accept amendments. I attended the banking inquiry this morning. I think water will do for this Government what banking did for the previous one. It has brought us all into disrepute, because we have ignored so many obvious faults and flaws, although the Minister has addressed some of them. Let us look at the newspaper headlines: "Irish Water allowances 'are flawed' "; "Water watchdog staff net almost €1m in bonuses"; "Coalition will not survive water debacle"; "Irish Water taps up extra staff"; "Irish Water will cost twice as much as in UK"; "Irish Water has been exempted from paying an annual rates bill of €59m"; "€420k car perk for water bosses".
This has been such a disaster that we should stop it now. Let us look at all the mistakes we have made. We put it on top of the local authority structure. The McLoughlin report found there was a 30% surplus of county managers, a 15% surplus of directors of services, a 10% surplus of corporate services staff, a 10% surplus of planning staff and a 15% surplus of city managers, and to this we added 900 staff, most of whom, according to the media, were not recruited by open competition. We have 4,000 people doing the work of 2,400. That is the burden that will be passed on for the future.
Irish Water is completely flawed in its concept. We have been told by Deputies and Senators that it is off-balance-sheet. Would you buy a used car from a guy who asks to keep it off-balance-sheet? I am not sure it is off-balance-sheet or whether the idea has any validity. Let us have public accounts that reflect the reality of what we are spending and stop seeking accountancy tricks which many people doubt will get past the EU.
Let us look also at some of the offers we rejected. The Sunday Independentof 24 April 2012 reported that Siemens Ireland boss Mr. Werner Kruckow offered meters to the Green Party. Apparently, the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, John Gormley, was willing to accept them, but his successor, Mr. Phil Hogan, did not pursue that offer. We have spent more than half a billion euro on meters. In the UK system, 60% of houses have no meters. Why is it that the money spent on meters was not spent on fixing the pipes?
In regard to the first set of untruths by the proposers - "We have to pay for water," and "We never paid for it" - we pay very large amounts of taxation for water. I will give the reasons why paying through general taxation is a good way to do it. We have now imposed a poll tax; the charge is the same for everybody, unlike income tax, whereby a family of four on €100,000 pays about 14 times more than one on €15,000. We have created a Mrs.-Thatcher-style poll tax-----
The idea that we were wasting water was spun by the water industry, which implied that lots of little old ladies up and down the country had taps running and so on, and mentioned wastage figures of 52% to 55%. Its own members, the county engineers, were the biggest wasters of all. We know from the Minister's contribution today that the waste within houses was only 6%. Therefore, the figure of 55% was to try to make people feel guilty in order that they would volunteer for this model. Engineers were paid substantial amounts of money and it was up to them to fix it. I think it was Ben Dunne who said that if one had a shop which had 55% of its stock stolen, one would interview the people around the shop rather than going to the street and blaming the customers. We have had enough of that blame game.
I object to being called a customer. I had a relationship with Kildare County Council. I am conscripted by Irish Water and I do not want to be conscripted. The issue of overmanning has not been addressed. This is a regressive tax which is undermining the political stability in this country. The way in which Irish Water conducts itself and treats its clients, the members of a democracy, is a disaster. One of the sad consequences is that many friends of mine on the Government benches will not here after the next election. I do not know why Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party made such sacrifices of themselves with the banking business and why this Government is so keen to sacrifice itself with the water business. Irish Water should be reformed. It is a case study in how not to create a quango. It is over-manned and inefficient. Once set up, as with all the bodies we tried to reform in these two Houses of Parliament, we will never be able to reform it. I say, let us stop now, restore the responsibility for water services to the local authorities, implement the productivity elements that are to be implemented under the McLoughlin report, reduce over-manning and bring it back to local authorities. There are no economies of scale in Irish Water. In regard to water wastage, there are some small counties such as Leitrim and Waterford, where there is very little waster wastage, while there are some large counties with large amounts of water wastage. The idea that one water company in the country would achieve some economies of scale is actually not borne out by the numbers in the McLoughlin report. Irish Water is ill-conceived, and its headquarters should be shut down and its PR department closed. It should stop installing meters and we should start again.
I have every respect and serious regard for the comments and contributions of Senator Barrett, who is an expert in this area, as he has raised genuine issues and concerns. However, I thought the purpose of today was to start again. When Governments do not listen to people and when Ministers ignore people they are accused of being arrogant and detached. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has come into House with his hands up and said, "We made a bags of this first time around so we are starting over and trying to put it right."
We accept that the original establishment of Irish Water was an unmitigated debacle and disaster. It was a carousel of cronyism and consultancy fees, but this has been stripped down and put right. The Minister's intervention will be a lasting one. We should not be here today trying to pass this legislation, as the establishment of Irish Water and legislation on metering should have happened 30 years ago. It was not politically popular to do so because instead of building reservoirs people wanted to build a Bertie bowl.
We had water charges previously but they were called rates. It is rich for people today to speak of the playing politics, because rates were abolished with one stroke of a pen to steal an election in 1977, the previous occasion on which Fianna Fáil bankrupted the country. As a result of that measure, county councils did not have a penny for water and sewerage systems, so lead pipes brought water to schools. Pipes are rusting and leaking, we have not built a reservoir in 50 years, and Dublin is on the verge of running out of water. We built 700,000 houses in ten years but we did not provide matching water and sewerage infrastructure. We are playing catch-up, and it is not true to say we are paying for water twice because, to be honest, we are not even paying for it once.
I have a long list of Senators who wish to speak, and everyone will be given the opportunity. Senators can ask their questions during their own speaking time. Some people have not spoken yet but have interrupted so often that they could be deemed to have had their opportunity.
I am putting facts on the record. The reality is that it would cost €2 billion per annum for 20 years just to maintain, restore and upgrade a system that is creaking and breaking at the seams. Do people want us to strip this money from housing, hospitals and schools? The funding must be found somewhere and, whether we like it or not, the only mechanism is to set up an entity similar to the ESB to function as a water utility company that can borrow money and invest capital. Of course, one cannot win votes by investing in new pipes, as it is not a grand scheme, but it must be done.
Guinness, the iconic flagship industry of Dublin, is part of Diageo, which employs thousands of people and uses 8 million litres of water a day in the city. Intel and Glanbia use even more water. The reality is that if we do not secure a safe and sustainable supply of water the system will remain in the Stone Age. We call Ireland a smart economy, but our existing water and sewerage system, with 490,000 septic tanks, is in the Stone Age. This is not acceptable and it cannot be allowed to continue. If we are to be honest with people, we must impose a fair and affordable charge. People are tired of austerity and nobody in Ireland wants another bill through the letter box but, at €160 for a family, Ireland is offering the cheapest water in Europe by a country mile.
It is not politically beneficial for the Government to introduce this measure, as it is unpopular and will not win votes, but it is the right thing to do. Ultimately, this measure will be seen as the right thing to do.
I thought the Laurel and Hardy double act on the Water Services Bill, marks one and two, had ended when Laurel got his P45 and Hardy was sent to Brussels. However, the contributions from the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, and Senator Mullins prove that the comedy act is alive and well. The statements by those Senators today were outrageous. Senator Cummins said the Government had listened to the serious concerns of public representatives and protesters, but this time last year we spent 17 hours debating the Water Services Bill mark one. I tabled dozens of amendments, Fianna Fáil tabled amendments and Senators Norris and Barrett tabled amendments, but not one of these was accepted by the Minister of the time and all such amendments were voted down by Senators on the other side of the House. The Minister says he has raised his hands and admitted that mistakes were made, but he voted for the Water Services Bill, mark one. It was guillotined in the Dáil and the current Minister stood over all of the mistakes that he would now have us believe were merely the errors of two former Ministers who happen to have moved on. The reality is that he and everyone on the Government benches messed up on Irish Water.
Senator Cummins said he struggles to understand why people are still opposed to the Bill before us, but I made the point last year that I would not buy a pig in a poke and, by God, I made the right decision. The Government and the Senators on the other side of the House now admit that this was correct, because they now say the whole thing was a disaster. The Minister returned in January with the Water Services Bill mark two, and again, I said I would not buy a pig in a poke. The Minister now raises his hands and says that was a disaster too. I do not buy the nonsense and concessions the Government is trying to sell to the people of this State like a second-hand goods salesman. Again, I will not buy a pig in a poke, because all of this is a charade.
The Leader spoke of clarity, certainty and predictability on charges, but none of this is evident. We are being asked to vote on this Bill, and the Minister tells us there will be a plebiscite on the ownership of Irish Water should a future Government want to privatise the entity. That promise is not worth the paper on which it is written because it amounts to 28 lines in a Bill, and an amending Bill is all that is required to remove the section. Senators voted for a constitutional amendment, but the Government will not allow this because it is afraid to give the people that power. The Government is including a promise in a Bill, but it is not worth the paper it is written on because it resembles previous promises on ceasing to fund banks, not increasing college fees and not lowering child benefit. This is just another Government promise and it is not worth the paper it is written on.
Senator Mullins said today would go down in history in the same way as the day of establishment of the ESB.
I hope the Independent Senators stand up to the bully boys and girls on the other side of the House. Irish Water is a monumental failure and I hope they do not vote for it, because the Government should not celebrate today as a good day for the State.
This legislation is an absolute monstrosity. The Minister should abolish Irish Water and the water charges, but that will not be done because the Government will not listen to the people. However, this could still be a good week for the Seanad. The people voted to retain the Seanad because they wanted a second voice in the Oireachtas.
I advise colleagues on the other side of the House to settle down and listen for a change. They have come in here with their scripted speeches attacking Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil because they cannot stand over their own policies.
As I said, this could be a good day for the Seanad. I appeal to all Independent Senators to act independently and stand by the people who are being asked to pay twice for an essential service. The Government tells us that water charges have been capped until 2018. However, if Fine Gael is returned to government after the next election, it can simply bring forward amending legislation to increase the charges. People know that. They will not be fooled and conned again by the Labour Party and Fine Gael. Those days are gone and Members opposite should get used to it. The days of the Labour Party are numbered because it has betrayed the people who voted for it. The Minister can shake his head all he likes, but that is only further evidence of the arrogance of this Government.
If the Minister really was listening to the people, he would abolish water charges. I urge him to do the decent thing now instead of coming in here with half-baked measures. The majority of citizens want him to abolish water charges. He should do that instead of engaging in this charade of so-called conditions and concessions. They are not worth the paper they are written on and the people know it. They will not buy this charade from the Minister or any of his colleagues in Fine Gael.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I have spoken before about the lack of clarity and the incompetence surrounding the establishment of Irish Water. No observer could be anything but disappointed with how it was handled. I will not rehash all of those issues today; they are as obvious as they were avoidable. I am concerned, however, about the damage they have done to our national confidence and the body politic generally.
My intention is to address the cynicism of those now opposing the establishment of Irish Water. I refer in particular to the political opportunism of Fianna Fáil in opposing the establishment of a body of which it was initially in favour. I do so in the hope that Members of that party might leave politics aside for one moment and take the correct course. The Government rightly moved in recent weeks to address the concerns of people in regard to the establishment of Irish Water. Although the sums now involved are not to be sniffed at, they are reasonable and fixed. The issue of privatisation has been addressed, as has the requirement to provide PPS numbers and other issues that caused people concern.
I can perfectly understand that people might be angry at the Government about this issue. However, to use a rather hackneyed phrase, anger is not a policy and the bottom line is that we urgently need a water utility. There are still areas in this country with water unfit for use. There are sizeable towns with no water provision at all. That is unacceptable. If we are serious about attracting future investment by multinationals, developing key sectors such as tourism, which has grown by 9% this year, and promoting Ireland as a food island, we must tackle the environmental scandal of raw sewage seeping into lakes, rivers and seas and having a detrimental impact on provincial towns and cities.
Until such time as Irish Water is established, there will be no proper investment in our water infrastructure. Since the foundation of the State, local authorities have had responsibility for the provision of water services and that was paid for through direct taxation. It led to situations such as that in Galway, for instance, where 50% of the water supply is leaking away before it reaches the tap. The most desperate and utterly untrue pseudo-reason for opposing the establishment of this utility is that it involves double taxation. That is utterly untrue. The new utility will not only do as the local authorities did before, that is, treat and get water to householders' taps, it will also, for the first time, allow for serious multi-billion euro investment in our water infrastructure. The previous regime allowed for no investment worth talking about. Local authorities had very limited ability to borrow and, if they did, such borrowing went onto the national balance sheet.
Therefore, no investment was made.
The new system, on the other hand, will allow for a new service for the cost of householders' water charges and that service is investment. There is no double taxation. The water and sewerage system is an absolute disaster and we simply do not have the necessary billions of euro to invest it. The alternative to a public utility is for the State to borrow the required moneys and add those borrowings to the Exchequer deficit - the deficit we are only just getting under control. The Opposition should be truthful and present this reality to the electorate. If we were previously taxed for water services, then where is the modern water and sewerage infrastructure? Is the Opposition seriously proposing a deficit increase? If Members vote down this legislation, they are saying they want investment in water infrastructure but will adopt the Sinn Féin tactic of wanting every service possible while opposing any method to pay for it. That would be endorsing the same-as-usual, populist politics that dragged this State to its knees. We are in the process of dragging ourselves out of that morass and I urge Senators to play no part in reversing that.
The simple truth is that we never taxed people sufficiently to fund a modern water infrastructure structure. Direct State investment is currently unaffordable and would, in any event, increase the deficit. The establishment of a water utility is the only way forward, unpopular as it may be. It is entirely our fault that this type of populist rhetoric has taken hold; I will not blame anyone else for that. The incompetence displayed in the setting up of Irish Water has caused justifiable anger and mistrust. However, the alternative is financially much worse. I hope my colleagues, the Independent Senators, will forgo the opportunity to give the Government a kicking and instead do the right thing by supporting this legislation.
Colleagues opposite are not even talking about the Bill. It is a lot of nonsense. Some of the remarks have been absolutely incredible, including, in particular, those of Senator Mullins and the Leader. There was reference to people in urban areas not having ever paid for water. What a load of rubbish. One need only look at how the property tax was structured as an anti-urban charge to see what this Government is about.
People living in a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin are paying more than the owner of a five-bedroom house in Tipperary. It is a nonsense to say that is fair. I ask Members opposite not to go on with that type of stuff.
I recognise that the Minister has rowed back and tried to rectify some of the terrible decisions of his predecessor. Of course, those decisions were made with the agreement of Labour Party Ministers. Where is Cabinet collective responsibility in all of this? Members opposite traipsed in here this time last year and voted against every amendment we tabled. When we on this side of the House - not just my Fianna Fáil colleagues and me, but other Opposition Members - pointed out that the Government was going against independent advice in the manner in which Irish Water was being established, our warnings were ignored. The Government likewise ignored the advice from PricewaterhouseCoopers and went ahead with its plan. The Minister is now trying to fix that mess.
Unfortunately, the Bill he has brought forward is a bad Bill that will copperfasten a bad plan by a bad Government. It will deliver nothing. The Government will probably raise some €20 million from these measures. In fact, I expect it will not even get the plan through the European Commission given the level of subvention being put in place in an effort to get people to buy a pig in a poke. It is not about water conservation any more. I say this as a person who supports a metering programme. It is important to have meters so that we can identify the location of leaks and facilitate people to have control over their water usage. We have heard a lot of rubbish to the effect that there was no investment in water infrastructure under previous Governments.
In my area I can give 20 examples of new sewage treatment plants and water network upgrades. While it might not be enough, there has been investment in water services. Will the Minister follow through on a commitment given to me two years ago by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, that he would carry out a full review on the greater Dublin drainage programme? I heard the Minister recently say on the news that he needs to deliver a massive sewage treatment plant in Dublin when he does not. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has already spent €30 million on desktop audits for the greater Dublin drainage programme. It will apply to the Minister shortly for a foreshore licence to destroy the east coast with a sewage treatment plant that will be four times the size of Croke Park. Up to €1 billion has been scheduled to be spent on this project. Will the Minister re-examine it and follow through on the commitment by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that he would review it on a cost-benefit analysis basis?
I nearly got emotional listening to Senator John Whelan earlier. He was so charged about this, saying it was awful, that we need to work together and asking who could play politics with this issue.
Sorry, Senator Keane.
They have simply come in here and like nodding dogs have put forward the party line on everything. They have not even acknowledged that after 14 hours of debate in the other House no amendments were accepted.
The plebiscite proposal in section 2 was not what was requested by the Seanad. It is not belt and braces on the ownership of Irish Water. If anyone believes it is, it is not. I agree with Senator Cullinane and others that any future Government can amend that section.
Why not have a referendum then? There will be a series of important referendums in May. The Taoiseach has spoken about a referendum day. What is more important than water? It is a source of life. Senator Mullins talked about this as being the most important day since the establishment of the ESB. What a load of nonsense and complete and utter rubbish. He does not believe that himself. He should have read his script before he came in here to read it out.
I urge the Minister to examine the amendments that will be tabled tomorrow. This Bill will be rejected outright. One of the main issues is about the ownership of water. The provision in section 2 for a plebiscite will not cover it. There is no reason on this wide earth as to why we cannot have a referendum on the ownership of water. The Minister said it was complicated and had gone to the Attorney General to confirm that. Just because something is complicated does not mean it cannot be done.
I appreciate the contribution the Minister has made. The Bill and the Government’s plan for Irish Water are flawed. The Minister has tried to correct some of the mistakes of his predecessor but this is still a bad plan and bad legislation. Irish Water is a bad company with which the Government should not proceed. The only way to do that is to reject it through the Seanad. The people voted - my party campaigned for it too - to retain the Seanad to ensure proper checks and balances on legislation, so that brakes can be put on any Government. Unfortunately, this Government, with a majority of over 50 seats in the Lower House, has proceeded with many different bad Bills because of that majority, not listening to the Opposition. It should have listened to the Opposition a year ago on the Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013. If it had, it would not be in this mess now.
I welcome the Minister back to the House and thank him for his comments on the constructive debate the House normally has. I hope this debate will be equally constructive. Last night’s debate, in which I participated actively, about an electoral commission, on foot of a motion proposed by Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout, was excellent. I was glad the Minister accepted it and that the commission will come into being eventually next year.
I am not speaking from a script. These are the notes I have been taking while listening to the debate.
The Minister acknowledged it is not ideal that we are coming to the House so late in the term with this Bill. The lateness is due to the fact there were so many hours of debate, over 40, in the Dáil. The original timetable for the Bill in this House did allow for an earlier start. The Leader also made it clear we did not guillotine the Water Services (No. 2) Bill last time and, as Senator Landy said, we had 20 hours of debate on the earlier Irish Water Bill. We will not be guillotining this Bill this time either.
Like the Minister, I am passionate in my belief for the need for Irish Water to remain in public ownership. I am glad to hear the Minister considered carefully the Seanad vote on a referendum on this issue, bringing it to the Government and the Attorney General for their consideration.
A very tragic case currently before the courts regarding the eight amendment to the Constitution shows the unintended consequences that a constitutional referendum may have. We have to be very careful before we construct constitutional texts. Everyone will acknowledge it would take some time to construct a text for a constitutional provision on the public ownership of Irish Water that might not have unintended consequences that we have seen too often before from different referendums.
I am satisfied with section 2. Not only does it require a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, but that a plebiscite must be held and that a majority of the people must vote for the sale of any shares in Irish Water to a person other than the Government. The principle that the people must vote on is the one we want to see enshrined in law. No fair-minded person realistically anticipates any Government amending this section. It would be just outrageous.
I welcome the package agreed by the Government on 19 November and the water conservation grant. The new measures around payment allow for greater certainty and affordability. The original timescale for the creation of Irish Water was highly challenging and it was underestimated how much work would need to be done to ensure this utility would be up and running smoothly. We all acknowledge the mistakes made. As Senators Landy, Cummins and others have said on this side of this House, many of the issues and flaws pointed out by Opposition Members in previous debates have been resolved in this Bill. Again, fair-minded people will accept that this Bill addresses those issues. It is a response by the Government to the concerns expressed democratically by people through their elected representatives and public action on the streets. We saw the latter in great numbers last month.
Changes will be made to the governance of Irish Water. The public water forum is an important development. The Government established the Convention on the Constitution which shows the way in which people power through appropriate fora can really work and ensure democratic governance. The convention recommended that economic, social and cultural rights should be enshrined in the Constitution but that more scrutiny would be needed as to how that would be done. That is the sort of constitutional text we should be working toward in the future.
Everyone on both sides of the House has acknowledged the need to ensure the conservation of water.
There is no right to a wastewater service. In our current mechanism we have an enormous level of waste. The Minister has also spoken about the high levels of leakages and the fact that we need a complete overhaul of the public water system.
Senator John Whelan has commented that in Dublin we are on the verge of running out of water. Those of us living in Dublin are well aware that we did run out of water last Christmas for many periods, some lasting many days. It was a huge problem for all domestic households but also for those running businesses, particularly restaurants and hotels, over the busy Christmas season. That is the infrastructure that is creaking and flawed and that has suffered from decades of under-investment. That is the issue Irish Water is seeking to tackle.
Some important facts have been highlighted on this side of the House in terms of the savings already visible from the creation of one utility from 31 separate local authorities operating a flawed and creaky water infrastructure. The saving of €170 million arising from the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant upgrade and €12 million in procurement annually are very important and remind us of the need to ensure a better system of management and governance of the precious resource that is our water supply. The Minister mentioned the global context. We know that water is a precious resource internationally, too, and that this is going to become an increasingly difficult issue internationally. This is part of a package of changes. We need to give people incentives to conserve and no longer a right to waste.
I thank the Minister and welcome him to the House. I have read the Bill carefully and listened to the Minister's open and constructive speech. Since my appointment to the Seanad in May 2011, I have taken my role as a legislator very seriously and voted with my conscience on an issue by issue basis. As I prepared for this debate, the Irish proverb, "I wouldn't start from here", sprang to mind, as it did for my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail whom I showed that I had also written it down. The flaws in the establishment of Irish Water, the arrogance of the Government and the Irish Water leadership and their complete mismanagement are not in dispute. However, the reality is that Irish Water exists; it is not going to go away, and the Bill, while it is not a panacea, addresses and provides remedies for a number of significant issues of concern.
My primary concern is the issue of public ownership. I want to ensure the water supply will remain in public ownership. I trust the people of Ireland and believe - I stress on a first reading - that section 2 provides the necessary safeguards in this regard. However, I am very conscious that my colleagues will be tabling alternative proposals and I will be listening to these proposals and making up my mind accordingly.
It is also welcome that when the Minister took office, he clearly stated no one's water supply would be could off. The Bill prohibits the disconnection or reduction of water supply to a dwelling because of an unpaid bill.
My colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, raised the issue of data protection. I share his concerns and question whether the Bill needs to go further. We need to ensure the PPS numbers are disposed of in an appropriate manner and to be assured that this has been done.
I believe in water conservation. That is where I first came to the issue of Irish Water and would have been a supporter of it. I believe in metering because it allows each of us to take individual responsibility for knowing what our water usage is and ensure we monitor it. Much of that water has been lost and as such, we will need to look at the issue again. As the Minister said, 49% of water is lost through leakages. He noted that 5% to 6% was lost on the customer's side.
I also welcome the Minister's commitment today that Irish Water will distinguish between those who will not pay and those who genuinely cannot pay. In the past week we have debated the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill in the House. I wish as many Senators had participated in that debate as are participating today because we have a long way to go in that regard. In recent years I was lectured about the importance of investing in services and supports, yet, at the first opportunity, we go back to cash transfers. There is an issue for us to look at. UNICEF has shown the impact of the recession on children in Ireland compared to those in other similar countries in the OECD. We need to integrate the Revenue and welfare systems if we are to understand what the level of household income is and how we can lift children out of poverty. That is not the issue before us today, but it is one I want to stress because the Minister will be sitting at the Cabinet table and when we have to take these decisions, that is where our priorities must lie. I do not believe the Water Services Bill will be the one that makes the difference for families. What makes the difference is having a fairer taxation system and investment in the provision of supports for children and their families to ensure they are lifted out of poverty.
I will be looking at each amendment tabled by my colleagues on its merits, but important steps are being taken in the Bill which I can support overall.
I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. Like all of my colleagues on this side of the House, I also acknowledge the rollback the Minister initiated following his appointment as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. Some of us sat through and contributed to the 17 hours of debate on the original legislation setting up Irish Water, during which, as has been pointed out, the Government accepted no amendments whatsoever. There was no monopoly of wisdom on the Fianna Fáil side of the House; there was wisdom on all sides in all parties and individuals who put forward various amendments and the Minister is to be complimented on having listened to them. He has had, however, little choice but to listen because the main problem has been and remains that the people overwhelmingly do not trust the Government on the question of Irish Water.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout said Irish Water was in place and that there was not much we could do about it. With all due respect, she can do everything about it; she can vote against the Bill. That is what she can do. She can have Irish Water abandoned in favour of a much leaner, more efficient and more accountable entity. That could happen in tandem with the local authorities retaining the right to continue to make the entire water system fit for purpose. It is obvious that the public no longer trusts the Government on the issue of Irish Water. It does not trust Irish Water and I do not think the Minister will ever be able to change this, as that perception is deeply embedded.
Reference has been made to the lobbying that has taken place. I said a few days ago that I had never, in all my time in the House, experienced this number of representations by email on any one issue. I said the number was in excess of 2,500 and counting. This afternoon, at 5.10 p.m., it is in excess of 4,000 and counting. Some 4,000 people across the country have deemed-----
That is precisely the point. The big problem is that Senator John Gilroy believes that to be the case when it is not. It is the plain people of Ireland who are speaking. I have engaged with many people in my constituency. In my experience it is not the case that this is a concerted effort by one particular party, but other Members can speak for themselves. I am sorry to be political, but because Members on the other side of the House has been on this issue, I will be, too. They are peddling the myth that Fianna Fáil did not invest in water infrastructure. If ever an urban myth gained legs, it is this one. At the height of the Celtic tiger €4.8 billion was invested in infrastructure. As Senator Darragh O'Brien pointed out and as many of my colleagues across rural Ireland would testify - if Government Senators were truthful, they would do so, too - there is the evidence of this on the ground in the small local and regional water schemes introduced in the past ten years.
To be even more political, not so much in the context of the abolition of domestic water rates for which, like Senator Darragh O'Brien, I do not feel I was responsible and which I thought was terrible, during the period in office of the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition between 1981 and 1987, it actually abolished the rates support grant.
It then gave the authority to local authorities to raise revenue locally, which resulted in a number of local authorities introducing water rates. The rainbow coalition in the 1990s attempted to introduce water rates. On the eve of the election, rather than having measured and considered reflection on a policy issue, it said, in a panic, that it would not introduce water charges. In 2003, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Martin Cullen, introduced a Water Services Act which attempted to address the water infrastructure in the country.
It is a known and statistically accepted fact that we have approximately 99% water quality, which is unusually high for a country which has a low population density, and we are free of E. coli, notwithstanding the boil water notices, particularly in Roscommon. It is a result of the low population density that is unique to Ireland.
Some 25,000 km of piping has to be addressed. No Government, even with all of the money that was available during the Celtic tiger era, would have been able to complete that programme. Fianna Fáil cannot be accused of being lacking in developing the infrastructure of the country, because the legacy is there for everybody to see.
I was the first and only person to raise the question of PPS numbers. It escaped everybody else. Despite the fact that the Bill will amend legislation, there is a very real danger that it is also inherently flawed, and we could be here again to amend the legislation further. As Senator O'Brien pointed out, the storm clouds are already gathering around the amount of money that will be collected and generated as a result of the amending legislation, which may not meet EU subvention requirements. Overall, until such time as the entire water infrastructure is fit for purpose, local authorities should be able to continue to operate its development.
I support the concept of water metering. It has to be in place because of the high rates of leakage, irrespective of what anybody else might think. Otherwise, how will we be able to find out about leaks? I do not think the fair-minded general public would be in opposition to that. Overall, the problem now centres on the credibility factor of Irish Water and whether the Government can be trusted to ensure that there will not be privatisation. That is why we will call for a very specific constitutional amendment to ensure that happens.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I appreciate that he is bringing a level of realism to the debate that was not here this time last year. One year ago I did not vote for water charges for one reason - namely, that I had got no answers to the questions I asked. We are back here a year later for that very reason. The other side of the House assumed at the time that it had all the wisdom and that there was none on this side, but we can see how flawed that was.
The furore over water since 1 October has brought a level of realism and a requirement to re-examine the legislation. The Government side has begun to listen a bit more, but we are still doing the wrong thing, just a little bit righter. The concept of Irish Water has been poorly constructed.
As Senator Barrett said, we have some 4,000 people doing the work of 2,300 people. According to Professor John Fitzgerald of the ESRI, it is the work of 1,700 people. This is the burden and culture being propagated by Irish Water. Everybody wants water, but everybody does not want Irish Water, including the corporate image and the culture of bonuses. While the Minister has taken some of that off the table, including the PPS numbers, we have to get things completely right.
I see merit in examining the possibility of local authorities taking on the job and fixing the leaks. Deals were offered to the Government. Siemens offered to install meters at a cost of €810 million, none of which was to be paid up front, and recoup the cost over time, but that was taken off the table by, I presume, the former Minister, Phil Hogan. The deal was given to Denis O'Brien's Siteserv at a cost of, I understand, €539 million for obsolete meters that will need to be read by a person travelling around in a van. If we had decided on smart metering, people would have been able to monitor their usage from inside their homes. That would have been a step in the right direction towards water conservation.
In his speech the Minister said that, according to the OECD, "metering is the key to fairness." Some 533,000 meters have been installed in 16 months. Given that there are 1.6 million homes in the country, we are one-third of the way there. Water has a price. We need it, and producing it carries a cost. Charges should not commence until all homes have meters installed. After that, there should be at least two terms during which readings are given to every household in the country to show them their usage. The first reading would show households whether they are above the average usage for family size and if they have leaks. The second should be able to show whether that has been corrected. After that, it would be fair to begin a process of charging for water.
The Minister is offering a grant of €100, but it is not a water conservation grant. It is an inducement to sign up and nothing else. It is a sop to the Irish people at a fairly considerable cost, namely, €130 million from the Exchequer. The accident and emergency department in University College Hospital Galway could use that money right now, such is the overcrowding of people over 80 years of age on trolleys.
If the €100 water conservation grant is genuine, where are the metrics the Minister will use to verify that people are conserving water and are therefore entitled to the grant? There are none that I have heard of. Giving people €100 and calling it a water conservation grant when it cannot be proved that they are conserving water is the type of hypocrisy that really annoys people. Water is a precious resource and is fundamental to life. It must never be subject to manipulation.
If water services ever go into the hands of a private company or into private ownership, they would be subject to manipulation. Every day I hear that nobody in the House wants water to be privatised, but it is our job to put legislation on the books that will stand into the future for all Governments. Irish Water must, therefore, be kept in public ownership. The plebiscite in section 2 of the Bill to which the Minister referred will not ensure that water is kept in public ownership, because it is dependent on a resolution of the Houses. Does the term "resolution" mean a majority of both Houses? That is not secure; just look at how the other House voted yesterday. A resolution of both Houses does not mean that we will keep water in public ownership. There is only one way to do that, namely, to enshrine it in the Constitution in perpetuity. I was moved by the case made by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell a few weeks ago in the House.
I would see the €160 net charge as reasonable if I thought the Government could ensure that figure was sustainable after 2019. I have not yet decided how I will vote, but if the Minister can tell me the figures to show that the charge will be sustainable for Irish families after 2019 and we can invest in water infrastructure at the same time, he will have my vote.
I am disappointed that my good friend and colleague, Senator O'Brien, is making out that we are whipped when we come into the House, say what we have to say, do not believe it at all and vote in a particular way. I do not act like that. I make up my own mind. I conducted a wide consultation on social media about water charges last Sunday.
I was asked would I support the Bill and I said I would. I received 518 comments, some of which were not wholly positive from 126 irate people. That is a substantial number of people who feel annoyed enough about Irish Water to tweet about it.
Senator Mooney said he received 4,000 e-mails lobbying him but I only received 1,000. Obviously the Opposition is more popular than the Government and can do more with legislation. I conducted another experiment and I replied to 100 of them seeking further information but I received no replies. The e-mails received by Senator Mooney and I were computer generated, although I might be wrong.
During my consultation on Twitter and Facebook, nine distinct issues were raised about which people were concerned. They related to privatisation, flouridation and legal matters. Inability to pay was not a hug issues but I accept these concerns. The Minister's predecessor, Mr. Hogan, allowed these concerns to arise. Most of them are needless and should have been dealt with in a proper way. Mr. Hogan's eye was clearly off the ball when he introduced the original legislation.
-----said that we should have listened to the Sinn Féin amendments because they would have been brilliant. Why would they not be when Sinn Féin is installing 36,000 water meters in Northern Ireland and, therefore, the party knows what it is talking about?
Senator O'Brien also complained that we did not listen. He made a worrying observation in his contribution when he said that he had grave concerns about the waste treatment plant proposed for Dublin. Funnily enough, it is in his constituency. He could be unfairly accused of NIMBYism.
Senator Mooney addressed the Bill is his contribution. While I missed a number of contributions, I did not hear too many Second Stage speeches but I heard a great deal of propaganda from the Opposition.
I support the Bill because we need investment in water services and the only way to do that is to pay for it. Do we pay for this out of general taxation? It is contradictory on the part of those who purport to be on the Left to say everything should be paid for out of general taxation. If they are consistent in their ideology or if they are in any way intelligent, they have to say------
This is a basic tenet of the left wing. We do not load tax after tax on work. That is nonsense. The Anti-Austerity Alliance, Sinn Féin and the People Before Profit Alliance all say water services should be paid for out of general taxation.
If we remove as many costs from the Exchequer as we can, we will be in a position to do something about reducing and, ultimately, eliminating the unpopular universal social charge. If we continue to heap charge after charge on the Exchequer, there is no way we will be able to replace the €4 billion the people pay through the USC. If we reduce the USC, the benefits that would accrue to the people would vastly outweigh the modest cost they will pay for water. That is my reason for voting for the legislation. Nobody has told me to say that. I am a left wing politician and I arrived at this opinion myself.
It is all about votes. Sinn Féin has consistently geared everything towards the election. Under Sinn Féin, we will have no water charges, septic tank charges, property tax or USC and we will burn the bondholders. Water services cost €15 billion and the party has not accounted for that.
Irish Water exists and, sadly, it is not going anywhere. This good Minister is stuck holding this poisoned chalice that was handed to him. Have we not all learned a great deal about water over the past year?
I believe in paying for a world class water structure and I would still like to see a carefully planned spending strategy for the next ten to 15 years on such a structure to treat and transport our water. However, I also believe Article 10 of the Constitution needs to be debated and rewritten. There is great concern and unhappiness among the public about the potential privatisation of Irish Water. In providing for a plebiscite before the proposed privatisation of water services in the legislation, the Minister is clearly acknowledging this public concern. However, the legislation provides no meaningful guarantees. Why does the Government want to keep the option of privatisation open to future Governments? A plebiscite is a vote of every citizen who is registered to vote on an issue of national significance. I will not disagree that the ownership of our water supply is one such issue. Air and water are our most valuable natural resources. There are many natural resources but I can live without gas, for example. I understand that if the Government of the day is not obliged to follow the wishes of the people in any such vote, the Minister can choose to ignore the outcome of a plebiscite. As Senator Norris said, a plebiscite is not defining. This provision does not go far enough. A referendum is, therefore, required and I will support Senator Zappone's amendment in this regard on Committee and Report Stages.
I would like the Minister to address the following hypothetical but credible scenario in his reply: if a Government decides in ten years to amend this legislation, is it correct that a simple amendment could be tabled to delete any reference to holding a plebiscite? If the Government got the amended Bill through both Houses, it would be free to sell Irish Water if it saw fit.
They then would be free to sell Irish Water if they saw fit. I seek clarification from the Minister on this point.
The reason I and other Senators want to move beyond the plebiscite to constitutional protection is that legislation can be changed, and we certainly know from experience what could come from Europe. Everyone in the Chamber should cast their minds back to the famous letter of December 2010, which I read today, from Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet to the then Minister for Finance, the late Deputy Brian Lenihan and Mr. Patrick Honohan, the Governor of the Central Bank. Mr. Trichet demanded structural reforms, and a nightmare that none of us could ever have dreamed ensued when the European Central Bank acted totally beyond its mandate in demanding them. A few weeks later the first memorandum of understanding was signed, and it contained two structural reforms. One of them was that Irish people must be charged for water, and they laid out for us in black and white exactly what we should do. We do not have any crystal balls but, having read this memo of understanding this afternoon, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a future Irish Government might come under very serious, perhaps legal, pressure from Europe. What is to stop an EU competition law being thrust upon us and directing us to privatise our water?
My question again to the Minister is, if he is dedicated to the water supply never being privatised, and if the plebiscite does not provide the guarantee that is required, could he please explain what the downside is to a referendum? I am asking all the Senators today to reject the plebiscite proposal in this Bill and send it back to the Dáil.
We must send a crystal clear message that our water must remain in the ownership of our human beings and it should be enshrined in our constitution. I would also remind the Minister that fluoride corrodes our pipes, so he should do himself an extra favour at the next Cabinet meeting, and for goodness sake remove it once and for all from our water. Only 2% of Europe still has it and it corrodes the Minister's precious pipes.
The Minister is very welcome to the House and I congratulate him for his openness, clarity and compassion as he has dealt with this minefield he has inherited. I think people are sick and tired of hearing about water. I was just outside a little while ago and it was teeming down. Did the Minister ever drive his car home when the rain is coming down, the wipers going back and forth, and did he say to himself there was nothing but rain, rain, rain, and if we could only bottle it, we would make something out of it?
Then I began to think we could have a pipeline going up to Saudi Arabia, actually two pipelines: one with water going up there and one with oil coming back down here. We could do an exchange and do really well out of it.
In all seriousness, water is a very valuable resource and it belongs to the people of Ireland. It should always remain in the ownership of the people.
The amendment the Minister is bringing to the House today gives me belief and understanding that it will remain with the people in the future. It is a valuable resource and it is a necessity; we cannot live without water. We do not really respect our water and we have to do so. There would be no world without water. We need to protect our water, we need clean water and we need to manage it an awful lot better than we have in the past. We have to put serious investment - in the right way - into protecting our water, the people's water. We need to run it in a businesslike fashion.
The Minister inherited a mess and many hours of it have been debated here in the House. There have been hours of it on television, miles of it in the newspapers according to some documents I believe were shown today, and it was Senator Cullinane who said today could be a historic day in the Seanad if we turn this down. Today is a historic day in the Seanad as far as I am concerned because this is perhaps the first time in the history of the State that our water has received so much debate.
We have to think of the purification, delivery and disposal of our water. From the little bit of reading I have been doing, no Government in the past 80 years has done anything with the water system and that is what we are debating here today, not the stigma over Irish Water or the image it might have.
We are talking about the future. There are people out there who do not agree that we should be paying for our water and there are people who say we should pay for what we use. The past system was disgraceful, fragmented and disjointed with all the various county councils around the country. There was no unification whatsoever. People say they have already paid for water in their general taxation and ask why they should pay for it again. If the people have been paying for it in their taxes all these years, how come previous Governments have failed to deliver a proper water system? Our treatment plants, the hundreds and thousands of kilometres of pipes all around the country, with people still boiling water and still wasting water, are an absolute disgrace.
I lived in America for about 20 years and travelled the world a lot. When my friends in the US hear there are thousands of people protesting because they have to pay water charges, they are stunned we do not pay for water in Ireland and want to know how come. They just cannot understand it. I think there are only two countries in the OECD that do not pay for water. This is a serious cultural and behavioural change for the future in people's habits and the way we use our water. This is a new way, a new structure, and I support the Minister and his Bill. I do not believe there is anything to fear for the people of Ireland. Most of the fear is coming from the scaremongering that is going on. I believe Irish Water will be a success and we have to give it a chance. When water is under the bridge a decade from now and all this is clear, we will have clean, safe delivered water and people will forget about this debate. We need a proper water system and Irish water will deliver.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé ag éisteacht go cúramach le gach rud a bhfuil le rá aige. Ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé glan i gcoinne an Bhille seo. Ní chuirfidh sé sin aon iontas ar an Aire.
We have heard a lot of debate over and back but the basic principle around what is happing here and what people were marching against on 10 December has not changed. Although a stay has been put on the implementation of water charges, the fact of the matter is that water charging is going to come in. Once it is introduced, those costs can be increased. The water metering programme is going to continue and metered charges will come in. There is still no constitutional right to water, as has been alluded to by many colleagues here. This is really a ploy to get people to sign up to the principle. People on the streets know it and most of the hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom I spoke to in Galway and Dublin and other places, realise that is what is going on and are not falling for it, to be quite frank.
There has been a number of points made around the costs, etc., and I note that the Minister talked about waste water treatment in Cobh, Youghal and Bundoran.
Certainly, there has been a lack of investment in infrastructure in local authorities over the past number of years but the €80 million that has been spent on the consultants in Irish Water would have gone a long way to put in place those wastewater treatment plants, and Clifden, Spiddal and Carraroe in County Galway could have been added to that list.
I am flabbergasted to hear Senator Hildegarde Naughton state that people have never been taxed sufficiently to pay for water. I totally disagree with that - it is a ludicrous statement - because we are paying, through other taxation mechanisms, for water for a long time.
The installation of the meters was initially budgeted for at around €450 million mark.
The cost now, I believe, will be €539 million. The talk of Irish Water being good at managing costs is blown out the window there. The €100 million above the estimate in that scenario cancels out the Poolbeg saving to which the Minister alluded earlier as well.
I tend to agree with Senator van Turnhout on many issues but I disagree with one of the issues she raised today around the extra burden that the cost of paying for Irish Water will impose on families and I will give a practical example, that of a single mother to whom I spoke last week in Galway. The woman, who rang me specifically, has no connection with my party whatsoever. She stated that this is the last straw. She stated that, as she approaches Christmas, even the €3 a week is far too much for her with her two children. The Government parties are deluding themselves when they try to convince people that it is only €3 a week. It is €3 a week on top of all of the other costs that have been imposed on this family. That it is why so many came out on the streets. That is the point they were trying to make. That is the point the Minister is still not listening to.
I do not tend to agree often with the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. Certainly, when he came in here to discuss the previous setting up of Irish Water, I did not agree with him. When I heard him state on "Morning Ireland" that Irish Water was an unmitigated disaster, however, I certainly agreed with him wholeheartedly. The scapegoating of the former Minister, Commissioner Phil Hogan, is hilarious as well because every Senator on the Government side here voted and supported him wholeheartedly. None of the amendments that we put forward were accepted by the Government, that is, Labour and Fine Gael together.
Senator Coghlan is correct that it should be kept in the ownership of the Irish people, but I do not buy in to this agenda that Irish Water is only there for conservation measures and to save money and to put in place better infrastructure, and I can give a practical example, that of the cost of the regional water scheme in Connemara. Previous to this, Galway County Council, after a 40 year campaign, had put in the first part of that scheme - the pipes are in place. The second part of that scheme was to connect to a clean source of water so that we would have water to go through the pipes. That had been sanctioned by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and agreed to, from a planning perspective. Galway County Council was on board. The first decision Irish Water made when it came on board was to review the position and what we found out is that it is scrapping that essential investment. This is scrapping investment to a community that has been drinking water which has exceeded WHO levels of trihalomethanes, THMs, since 2008. That information had to be dragged out of the local authority and others. What is happening here is not an investment. It is a divestment from projects. It is becoming clear, from what Irish Water has told us about what is happening regionally, the company intends to set up regional schemes. In the case of Galway, Irish Water will pump water from Galway out through Connemara. There will be a necklace of regional schemes set up here. I take it the Minister is sincere in stating that it is not his intention to privatise Irish Water but I put it to him that he is lining up the ducks for whoever wants to privatise Irish Water.
That is exactly what is being lined up here so that those regional water schemes or their operation can be privatised in the future. My party and I will certainly oppose that.
Tá go leor eile le rá faoi na costaisí a bhainean le grúpscéimeanna uisce agus mar sin de. Beimid ag tarraingt anuas na ceisteanna seo ar fad ar Chéim an Choiste. I believe that the Independent Senators will be independent on this and vote with their conscience. I hope that this Bill is defeated on Second Stage. It should never be allowed to get to Committee Stage.
We are considering the future, not of Uisce Éireann but of the water of Ireland and its availability, its quality, conservation and the uncontested right of the Irish people to this life-giving resource. That right was challenged during the evolution of Uisce Éireann when at one stage people were threatened with having their water turned off, in other words, that one could not wash or cook for one's children. The people power on the streets got that modified to some extent. They were told Irish Water would not turn the water off completely, but would only give a little water. Therefore, a person could only wash himself or herself a little and only cook every so often. Out of the Proclamation of 1916 came the big question: how were we cherishing all the children of the nation equally if we told them we would turn off their water if they did not pay? Often these were people who could not pay. I acknowledge that the Minister has made a valiant effort to salvage at a point of no return. That point of no return was not at that particular stage but when we did not make this a red-line issue in Europe, which we should have done. We had taken on austerity measures and we crucified the people of Ireland with them. They suffered so much. However, when it came to water, a life-giving resource, we should have stated quite clearly, "Thus far and no further", and then we would have been doing what was right for the people.
It has been said here that the setting up of Uisce Éireann is akin to the setting up of the ESB, but that was not evident in Dáil Éireann when the legislation was first brought in and the guillotine used after two hours. If it was akin to the setting up of the ESB, surely we should have been talking of two days or three days. That is why we find ourselves in the position we are in today.
Sometimes it would pay to listen a little more closely to the man and woman on the street and the common sense which one will hear from them. We heard it, the Minister heard it. The question is - did we listen carefully? When 300,000 to 400,000 people take to the streets, that is because they have not been listened to in the initial stages. It is disingenuous to try in some way to diminish what those people were doing or, worse, as has been happening at times, to misrepresent the decent people of Ireland who knew full well that they could not pay any more - they had paid it all. We are comfortable here. We are well paid and we have expenses. Sometimes it is very difficult to get down off the hobby horse and realise what we mean by "people just cannot pay". There are still children going to school whose families cannot clothe them. There are still people going to bed early in the evening to stay warm. We do not experience this. It is a different world out there. There are people who cannot even get one meal a day and this is an independent republic which will celebrate 1916 in a year's time.
What will happen here today? I am not taking any political partisan position on this at all. If the Minister thinks that passing today's legislation solves the problem, he is wrong. It does quite the opposite. I will tell him what it will do.
What does the Government propose to do to about the unrest that has built up? Will the hundreds of thousands of people who protested on the streets and other people who do not pay the poll tax be taken to court or imprisoned?
They will not. Therefore, we are admitting that it will not be possible to collect this money. The legislation up to this point has been flawed. It was wrong from the beginning. Seanad Éireann has an opportunity today, not to defeat the Government - we need to get away from that - or the legislation, which should be defeated for the right reasons, but to correct what has been a debacle from day one and ensure a 90-day reflection period to allow the Government to go back to the drawing board-----
I welcome the Minister. It is particularly welcome that the legislation on this matter has been improved no end since last year. That is not to suggest this Bill is perfect. I accept the objectives of this Bill and what it seeks to achieve. I believe in water metering and conservation. Have we gone about this in the right way? I do not think so.
The Minister has not up to now accepted many amendments proposed in this House. If we pass the Second Stage reading of this legislation this evening will the Minister be willing to consider our amendments to it on Committee Stage. I would like to think he will not turn a blind eye to them or refuse to accept any of them. The legislation as currently drafted has changed considerably since first published. While it has been improved considerably there is still more to be done.
On the issue of PPS numbers, I did not understand the reason for the provision in that regard. There was a huge outcry against it, which the Government noted. I tabled a Bill on the issue but was able to withdraw it when the Government changed its mind, perhaps because of the thousands of people who objected to and did not understand it. That is only one of the changes made. I must be the only person in this House who believes that we should not close the door to the privatisation in the future of Irish Water. I am not suggesting it should be done now or in the near future. I grew up in an Ireland in which if one wanted to travel by aeroplane there was only one Irish owned State airline to choose from in that regard. The same applied in respect of travel by bus or boat.
This situation was greatly improved when competition was introduced and thought was given to putting the customer first and how to generate business on that basis.
In my opinion, address of the water conservation issue has not been well-thought out in this legislation. I have a large garden with a big lawn and I use a great deal of water in watering that lawn. I am not sure that I will have to pay more for water than my neighbours who do not have a big garden and do not water their lawn. In Germany, the Government has encouraged people and builders to install water tanks in the attics of new and old houses and pays them for conservation of rain water. Is any initiative of that type being considered here? I recall having read an article on such an initiative but I did not quite understand it.
Senator Barrett said earlier that 25,000 metres of our piping is more than 100 years old yet when we asked Irish Water what would happen if an issue with piping arose and it needed to be repaired the response was that people would not have to pay for the first repair. Despite that some of our pipes are more than 100 years old, if a problem arises Irish Water will only repair it free of charge once. In this regard, a particular hotel, which is probably a couple of hundred years old, comes to mind. How will that hotel exist if it has to bear the cost of repairs to its pipes which have been in place for a very long time? I am concerned about the lack of regard for money. I could not get over the figures referred to by Senator Barrett on the spend on Irish Water, including that it has spent approximately €70 million on consultancies. I cannot believe that. We have been also told that €1.5 billion is the cost of paying 2,500 staff who will not be needed in the future. We have also read about staff being paid bonuses. The term "bonus" usually means payment to a person in respect of a job done well. However, in this instance bonuses are being paid to people who have not yet done a good job. How is it proposed to monitor all of this to ensure we are achieving what we are setting out to do on this basis?
There are many questions to be answered and many question marks overhanging this legislation yet the Minister has not thus far said that he is willing to consider some of the Seanad amendments tabled. In regard to his statement that he accepted two amendments yesterday in the Dáil, were they ministerial amendments or amendments tabled by-----
The Minister has in that regard set the example. I hope he can accept some Seanad amendments. I believe this House has a valuable role to play in the passage of this legislation. I believe also that democracy will be enhanced if the Minister can say today that he is willing to consider some legislative changes by way of acceptance tomorrow of some of the Seanad Committee Stage amendments. I propose to vote in favour of this legislation if the Minister can say that.
I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on delivery of his proposition for Irish Water during his first speech on this issue a couple of weeks ago. I know he personally has made intelligent, valiant efforts to turn the situation around. However, Fianna Fáil believes it is time to abolish Irish Water and to suspend water charges pending a full review of the policy.
This latest U-turn by the Government underlines the complete mess it has made of our most importance natural resource. Reference was made by a Senator opposite to the ESB. When the ESB was established in 1927 it was the most tremendous entity ever delivered for Ireland. It was a well managed project from beginning to end. This Irish Water project has been disastrously managed. The people involved do not have a clue about project management and capitulated to the troika in terms of the speed with which it was believed this project could be managed. The whole thing is a farce.
Fianna Fáil has from day one been opposed to the establishment of Irish Water. The controversy referred to by numerous speakers this evening of consultancy costs, bonuses and over-staffing of this super-quango has borne out Fianna Fáil's fears and has unleashed in our society frightening forces never seen before. There are extreme politically active groups who want to bring down the Government because of its incompetence in the establishment of Irish Water. The concern is not about the establishment of Irish Water but the manner in which establishing it has been handled and the introduction of property taxes at the same time as people were to be charged for water. It does not make sense. The whole thing has been a disaster. The major infrastructural changes in Ireland during the establishment of the ESB was exemplary in terms of delivery, despite that Ireland was at that time only an infant country. The lack of expertise and knowledge in terms of the establishment of Irish Water is atrocious.
The lack of expertise and knowledge in setting it up is atrocious. We have to conserve our water. As a result of this discussion I am becoming more careful when I turn on the tap. Last year, my husband and I visited the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury. I had my hair done in Tewkesbury and I noticed the lady did not use very much water to wash my hair so I asked her if she was charged for water. She said "Of course we are". We have to be brought back to the reality that it is our greatest natural resource and it has to be protected.
There seems to be a unanimous view that our water should not be privatised. We should discuss that. Competition is the spice of life and, as the Minister said, in many ways we have become more efficient.
People should stand back from the populist view that water should never be privatised. Let us consider it and decide what is the right way to go. I am not throwing bouquets at the Minister but he is doing his very best. I always admire people who put their heart and soul into the job they have to do.
I criticised the Minister strongly for walking out of the Dáil when he introduced the Bill. I compliment him today on sitting through what must be a very tough time. I can see that he is anxious to get out of here. I also admire him for taking on the portfolio he took on for it was truly a poisoned chalice.
Irish Water was established in 2013 and from the outset everything about this company has been shady. Everything one could think about it has been wrong, including the award of the meters contract and the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that was brought before the Seanad with parts blacked out. I do not understand why the Minister accepted what he inherited instead of scrapping it and starting from scratch. That would have been a much better job and the Minister would have had a much easier life.
Senator Landy spoke this morning about having been in contact with councillors. The Members on the other side of the House will be depending on councillors to re-elect them. I have been in contact with councillors and they are concerned that Irish Water is the new Health Service Executive, HSE, unaccountable and a black hole for money. I have their texts, e-mails and voice messages on my phone for anybody who wants to hear them. They see the charges as another tax. These are not the people who were marching on the street. These are locally elected representatives. They regard it as a FUBAR, from the beginning. If the Minister does not know what that is I will be happy to tell him outside this House.
When the Minister talked about affordability this morning he said it is only €3.
I got a phone call this afternoon from a councillor in Tralee to tell me that the Vincent de Paul in Tralee handed out 1,000 food parcels. The Minister may pass that on to some of our colleagues
The Minister is encouraging me to divorce my wife of 38 years because my neighbour is getting his water for €60 because his is a one-person household. I am paying €160 and the guy up the road who has eight kids is also paying €160. I am seriously considering divorce this evening. It might be a cheaper way of living.
There is some suggestion that the county councils have not done their job over the years in respect of water services. Nobody in this room on either side of the House - I was not here - need stand up and take a bow because they starved the councils of money, therefore they could not have built the water services infrastructure we needed.
I do not understand the purpose of the meters other than to live up to the contracts the Department awarded because there is a fixed charge. We do not need meters. Why bother putting them in? The Minister talks about a usage based system. My neighbours in South County Dublin will be filling their swimming pools while I cannot afford to fill my bath.
The Minister says the bonus structure has gone away. I would like him to address this today because we both know that one cannot take away a term or condition of employment without compensating those who are entitled to it. I am not one bit concerned about the top guys who are going to walk away with megabucks in their pockets. I am talking about the guys who are on €35,000 or €40,000 a year with this as part of their income. To take it away now is wrong.
I am not sure what the public water forum is for. It involves between 12 and 60 people. We all know that when a committee designs a horse it ends up with a camel. Senator Healy Eames is correct in saying the conservation grant is a scam to get people to sign up.
I have worked in information technology for 25 years. There is no such thing as a computer-generated e-mail.
Somebody said something about scaremongering. I am delighted the Minister rejected the scaremongering by his Cabinet colleagues. I compliment him on that.
There is no fairness in the charge. There is no fairness in anything this Government has brought in. We have only to consider property charges. Try living in Dublin and see how much the property tax is, then start paying for water. My colleagues from rural Ireland have been paying for water for years.
Senator Quinn and several others have referred to amendments. I have tabled an amendment. We are not stupid in here. A plebiscite is nothing. It has no legal basis. The Government cannot be forced and a simple Act of Parliament can remove the need for a plebiscite. There is only one plebiscite, a referendum that places water in the ownership of the people.
I support Senator Ó Murchú’s call for a 90 day period of reflection. Let us sit back and think about where we are going. I would have been much happier had my motion this morning to delay this debate until January been agreed. I may be forced to vote against the Bill if I do not see some move on the referendum.
It is about time I had the protection of the Chair. Since my days on Clare County Council I have believed that water should be paid for. It is a resource which many people in the Third World would love to have in abundance but unfortunately do not. In this country we have water in abundance but unfortunately it is not purified. It costs a significant amount of money to purify water. Purifying water costs the country an average of €1.2 billion every year, of which €600 million is wasted. To eliminate waste and create a respect for water, with which most of our citizens would agree, introducing a charge is appropriate.
We need to focus on the conservation of water. Most of us here have gone canvassing over the years and have spent many days, months and years knocking on doors. If one goes to the back door of the majority of houses one will see taps dripping. This is a clear example of where water conservation does not work. Apart from embracing water charges we need to engage in a serious educational programme of water conservation and advise people on how they can conserve water. By conserving water we will drive down the cost for everybody. We know that €600 million of the €1.2 billion spent purifying water is wasted but there is probably much more. To prevent the vast majority of this water being leaked we need to create an investment programme. The idea of having a domestic water charge, criticised and all as it is, is to facilitate Irish Water to raise money on the bond markets so it can engage in a substantial investment programme to re-equip areas which have pipes which date back decades. In each area where the pipes are upgraded we will see a dramatic reduction in water leakage.
The meter programme is appropriate and should happen. While the flat charge will prevail until 2019, and probably beyond, the metering infrastructure should be used to build intelligence and find out the location of the leaks. It is totally unfair if house No. 27 pays for water, conserves water and is in control of water while No. 28 is the exact opposite. The only way this can be identified, improved upon and acted on is if we have intelligence from the meters. The meter installation problem should continue until every house in the country is metered and we are in a position to gather intelligence and act on it. I have no doubt that pockets of the country have significant leaks, and if this is the case investment will have to be made. People in areas which do not have leaks should embrace the conservation project.
This project is in its infancy. By 2025 we will have a completely different environment with regard to water. The water will be fit to drink, blackspots in the country will have been dealt with and rectified and people will appreciate why they should pay for water and will do so. I hope that in 15 years time our water quality will be on a par with best international practice. This is what all of us who believe in the principle of paying for water want to see. We want to see a natural resource which is fit for consumption. We do not want to see examples such as Roscommon.
I wish the Minister and the Minister of State well with the Bill and with the help of God it will pass and we will see a fairer discourse and narrative on paying for water.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to the House. The Bill is a complete disaster for the Government. Like all other Senators I have received an enormous amount of e-mails. The e-mail systems are practically blocked up as a result. There is a consistent message from people that enough is enough and they have reached saturation point as far as taxation is concerned. This is the fundamental issue in this particular regard.
Water and its infrastructure have been paid for by taxation over the years. People on farms have been paying for water for a number of years. We pay Veolia, which is a multinational company given the responsibility by Roscommon County Council of collecting the water rates, but 20,000 households in Roscommon are not able to drink water as a result of bad management and pollution which has not yet been resolved. During the by-election, commitments were given that no charges would be put on people who had boil water notices but it was then decided they would have to pay for the discharge of water even though the water in the first instance was not drinkable.
One must bear in mind the introduction of the household charge, which has been reluctantly accepted by the Irish people. It is collected by the Revenue Commissioners. It is obvious this charge should have incorporated water. A specific percentage of the household charge should have been earmarked for water. Irish Water is a quango, even though when it came into office the Government promised to abolish quangos and reduce the number of State companies. Irish Water is one of the largest State companies to be established. Unfortunately there has been political involvement through appointees from political parties and retired county managers. Anyone who could be appointed was appointed on a political basis, such as membership of the Fine Gael Party. I believe the ratio is two Fine Gael members to one Labour Party member with regard to judges, peace commissioners and prison inspectors. It is the old system and the Government has not changed it. It continues to develop.
An office was established in Castlebar to provide ten jobs for Castlebar which, like all west of Ireland towns, is going through a very difficult time. This was done just to show the Taoiseach could deliver jobs to County Mayo.
It is time for the Government to scrap the company and return to the system we had and improve it by investing in it. It is politically disastrous. We have seen the number of people on the streets. Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies, Senators and councillors saw the results of the local elections in which they were practically wiped out in most counties. People absolutely rejected Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors. They are going through a very rough time. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, who is a member of the Labour Party, wanted this job.
Senator Keane would not be sitting here if the people in her constituency voted for her in the by-election. That is for sure. Do not let me turn on her. I wish her well because she is on the same panel has me so I have a vested interest in her situation.
It would take one minute to read a meter. One has to get down on one's knees with a screwdriver and sticks one's head down a hole in the ground into which one cannot see to find out how much one is using. To my mind, the place to have the meter is in the front hall, with a little electronic screen indicating one has used X quantity of water. Instead, the meters have been put in holes in the ground and the caps are being broken by cars and lorries. It has been an unmitigated and complete disaster and now a forum is being set up to consider the issue. I will tell the House who the forum will include - Fine Gael and Labour Party members, at a proportion of two to one, with more jobs for ex-councillors and ex-Deputies. Perhaps the Government parties might need them after the general election when perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, might be there. I believe one of his constituents was appointed to Irish Water also.
I am sorry, but in the circumstances, I really deserve more time because I have a lot more to say. Incidentally, I am involved in a little dispute with Veolia which is trying to charge me for water for an office that has no water supply.
I can tell the Minister of State that when running a business, one must pay for water and it is very expensive. However, Fianna Fáil will be voting against the Bill. It is standing by the people, with the people and for the people. Moreover, we will be supported by them in the next general election.
I welcome the Minister of State. The water charade since last year, when the first item of legislation was rammed through, was enough to spur anyone onto the streets not just once but repeatedly. The anger of the people about water charges and this regime was evident on the streets in recent weeks when there were more than 150,000 people on the streets on a single weekend. Moreover, every week since, tens of thousands of people nationwide have been out protesting against water charges. To put it clearly, after the announcement of the changes to the scheme and after the publication of the Bill under discussion that was meant to provide assurances, tens of thousands of people descended on Leinster House last week and essentially brought the city to a standstill. Their message was clear: no tinkering at the edges would suffice, as the people simply did not want water charges.
The Minister and the Government must, however, realise it is not just about water charges; some of this has been discussed by many Members in the course of the debate. The anger is the culmination of people's feelings about numerous charges applied in recent years that have both deprived them of spending power and thrust them into severe poverty. Aside from other considerations, one of the biggest problems in introducing water charges in Ireland is that far too many people have inadequate incomes relative to the cost of meeting their basic needs. Social justice concerns are central to any sustainable water model, particularly given the salience of water charges compared with other taxes and charges. As many Senators have stated in the debate, many people simply do not have the money to pay these charges. While €3 a week may be a pittance to the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and others, many families simply do not have it. One must remember that in Ireland deprivation rates rose from 11.8% in 2007 to 26.9% in 2012, while recent European Commission data show that Ireland has much higher levels than most other comparable European Union countries. Material deprivation in Ireland is 58% higher than the EU-15 average. One quarter of Ireland's population experiences material deprivation, while one person in ten lives experiences severe material deprivation. Many are going without essential goods. As I stated, the real problem essentially is income inadequacy, as too many have low incomes when compared with the high cost of living here. The answer from the Government should not be water charges but rather scrapping the system, which would reduce the cost of living and therefore, free up disposable income.
The mismanagement in respect of the payment of salaries and bonuses and the incompetence in planning, communications and budgeting essentially are symptomatic of a systems failure, a failure of government and governance. What was the initial purpose of introducing water charges? Was it financial, to encourage conservation or the upgrading of essential infrastructure? While few would deny the importance of infrastructure and conservation in tackling the high levels of water being lost through leaks, what has transpired, namely, mismanagement, cronyism and the overarching threat of privatisation, has meant that Irish Water does not the enjoy the confidence to fulfil its task in terms of conservation. I acknowledge that a plan is needed to meet our water needs, but I do not believe the current plan is it. The Bill is not it either, nor were its predecessors.
When it comes to the prospect of water privatisation, people are not buying the promises and assurances being spun by the Government. Promises about protecting water and other assets are made, but one must remember that Governments change and politicians move on. Many Members have spoken about the holding of a plebiscite and the point was made that Governments could change and legislation could easily be put through to take out the relevant section. Consequently, I have no confidence in that promise whatsoever. That said, as my colleagues have mentioned, Sinn Féin believes water charges should be scrapped. However, scrapping them should not have the unintended consequence of restoring a system that allowed leakages and waste by some property owners and landlords which ultimately have to be paid for by the rest of society. There should be water conservation; there should be repairs and essential upgrades of the system; perhaps the only good thing to emerge from the water services fiasco is that, at least, public discourse and attention have been drawn to water waste and deficiencies. This essentially is where government, at both local and national level, should focus its efforts.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, and thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to say a few words.
Obviously, like everyone else on this side of the House or certainly all of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, I will be opposing the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, is somewhat new to the role and that it is clear that there has been an element of listening, given the adjustments the Government has made to move from its original plan to the current position. However, as the saying goes, if it was me, I would not start from here. Throughout the country the quality of infrastructure is variable. Obviously, some of the infrastructure in Dublin is more than 100 years old and not fit for purpose. In Senator Terry Leyden's county of Roscommon there are boil water notices and this issue sneaks into south County Sligo which is supplied from Lough Gara and where people also are unable to drink the water. There are other scenarios such as that in Sligo town which has a state-of-the-art system known as the Foxes Den that pumps water from Lough Gill and services the greater urban area of Sligo and on which there has been a lot of expenditure during the years. The quality nationwide is so diverse that this is the priority and what needs to be dealt with. It was necessary to assess what needed to be done, cost it and then set about doing it. Moreover, this should have been done through the system of local authorities which were doing the job well. As I have stated previously, in Sligo the go-to lady in dealing with any problem connected with water was Ms Kathleen McTiernan. While she was a tough woman, she did her work exceptionally well. There was a Kathleen McTiernan in every county and just as the National Roads Authority does its work and delivers through local authorities nationwide, that is how one should go about upgrading infrastructure throughout the country to the same standard as that in places such as Sligo town where a lot of work has been done. The question then arises as to how it would be paid for. I believe up to €10 billion is the Government's own figure. As I do not disagree with it, we must be innovative in how it is done. The Government might consider a bond issue or using aspects of the National Pensions Reserve Fund to raise further moneys, perhaps through the European Investment Bank. Obviously, that would create employment and bring the system up to standard, which is the priority.
I believe I have used this analogy previously, but the Government has set up McAlpine to build a house. To put it another way, it is like setting up Kerrygold when all one needs is a milking machine. This is a huge structure that lacks local knowledge and is detached from the people who were doing the work well on the ground, namely, as in the case of Sligo, the Kathleen McTiernans in every local authority area who knew exactly where all of the bodies were buried and knew precisely what had to be done and how to do it. When such persons were given the right resources, they got the system up to standard. This could have been done instead of putting this structure in place. This time two years ago the same water service was being delivered throughout the country.
Nothing has happened in between except that we have spent about €770 million on salaries, consultants, meters and so on. That is unacceptable; it is ridiculous. I have had the opportunity to speak on Irish Water before and I will not delay the House, as I know others want to get in. The reality is that we should revert to a local authority system. We should abolish Irish Water and we should set about bringing the water quality and infrastructure up to the standard to which people are entitled and there are other ways of funding that.
After a lot of soul searching I will be opposing the Bill tonight. I have consistently opposed the concept behind the Bill since my earliest days in this House.
I am not naive and I know that water costs. I know that everything we do occurs in an economic context. I also know there is an opportunity cost for every euro we spend in the public sector where it is not available somewhere else. Clearly the priority from the outset should have been to fix the infrastructure. The second priority only then would have been to develop some degree of metering and-or billing capacity. Instead we have had exactly the opposite. If the billing procedure and the metering technology that were put in place were free, cheap or generating all the income we needed to fix the infrastructure, one could perhaps think of a justification for it. However, I am seeing estimates of between €430 million and €540 million just to get the billing-metering of the operation up and running.
In addition we have completely lost at this stage the incentive for water conservation. Furthermore we are told that water is not free, which is correct. We have been paying for it already. If we are paying for it from our taxes now, surely from the outset, when this thing was first created, there should have been a complete write-off against our tax for whatever would have been paid because that part of our income tax that is currently going to pay for water would no longer be paying for it. In this regard the complicated weave of tax, social welfare and accounting instruments, which are put in place to satisfy this theoretical goal of this being off the national balance sheet, is such that any external scrutiny of what we are doing with rebates, etc., would find it very hard to maintain that this is completely disentangled from the national balance sheet.
For all those reasons I am very much opposed to it. However, there is also a political reason. The middle ground has been lost on this. I say this with no disrespect to my colleagues. We have many fine conviction politicians in the two Houses, many of whose convictions I do not agree with. Some of them are very far to my left and some of them are to my right. However, the notion that reasoned, thoughtful, non-extreme people could actually be the main objectors to this has been lost in the noise of the extremism. It is critical that people realise it is a respectable position to oppose this very flawed initiative, send it back and get something suitable in its place. That is why I oppose the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey. The establishment of Irish Water has been a mess from the start. The public has not accepted it from the get-go. The issues have all been mentioned here previously. The squandering of millions on consultancy fees and bonuses drove people mad. People were pulling their hair out when they heard the different revelations about Irish Water. During the European Parliament and local elections people gave their answer on Irish Water. Those elections took place when meters were being installed outside people's houses and people gave their answer loudly and clearly to the Government. However, the Government has not listened. It may have listened a little with the changes we have seen implemented, but it needs to listen considerably more.
The opposition to water charges and the protests against them grew organically from the start with people taking control themselves. I would be somewhat sceptical and wary. I question the sincerity of many people who have subsequently jumped on the bandwagon. However, people have not accepted water charges and do not want them for many different reasons. Those in the Right2Water campaign do not believe in paying for it anyway. Other people are sick and tired of debacle after debacle and of broken promises. People's disillusionment is at an all-time high. We meet it every day. People have spoken about how they come across it on social media. We hear it on the streets and in every clinic we hold.
The Minister, Deputy Kelly, was thrown in at the deep end. He was thrown in to clean up a mess that the Department was left in. I am not sure if it was a very wise move on behalf of the Labour Party. I certainly would not have been offering my services to clean up that particular mess, but that is what has happened and he is trying. In fairness the efforts he has put in place to sweeten the medicine are not good enough.
The conservation grant giving €100 to everyone is a joke. Has there been a proper independent analysis of the cost of the grant? The figures I have indicate that the total cost will be €165 million. That is money that will come out of the Department of Social Protection. The idea of setting up Irish Water in the first place was that Irish Water and the water services would not have to compete for Exchequer funding when it came to budgeting for social welfare or investing in schools and hospitals. If the Minister of State visits any accident and emergency unit in the country he will see the problems on the ground owing to lack of investment.
Some of that €165 million will go to people who have a private well and never even asked for that money. It is bananas in the extreme. It was news to me to hear in the Minister's speech - this is a good one - that €100 will be given to people in nursing homes. It is a cynical throwback to how business was done by previous governments. This is what has people annoyed. They do not see any change from previous administrations in how the Government has been behaving itself.
I have figures on Irish Water that were supplied to me. I do not believe they were addressed in any of the Dáil debates - I certainly could not find evidence of it. Total costs and everything else are based on 100% of people complying and signing up to Irish Water. It will be nothing in the region of that. If 100% of the people suddenly wake up and decide there is no need for these protests and decide to sign up to it, €65 million is all that will be left for Irish Water. The money available to Irish Water to invest in maintenance, upgrades and whatever else needs to be done will decline very significantly. If for instance half of the people do not sign up and the costs are revised, there is potential for Irish Water to be in the red.
We need a referendum. I do not like the idea of a plebiscite - the idea that we would give the plebs their say. We need a referendum so that it is enshrined in the Constitution that Irish Water will not be privatised. If the figures I have are anything to go by there will be enormous pressure on any Government to seek private investment in Irish Water.
I do not know if the Bill will pass tonight. If it does I certainly will listen intently to the various proposals made tomorrow. As previous speakers have said, perhaps a 90-day period of reflection might not do any harm.
I apologise as I had to leave for a few minutes. Let me commence by saying that I fully respect this House. I was a Member of this House and I repeat that some of the best debates take place here. During my previous and current roles, I have taken on board issues in this House, listened, reflected and even made changes as a result of issues that have been raised here.
Over the past week and a half in the Dáil over 41 or 42 hours of debate, I took on board amendments and the spirit of amendments in respect of the plebiscite and the dispute resolution issues. We looked at the amendments that were put forward. I thought they were decent and appropriate. We looked at them from the point of view of the Attorney General as regards certain issues and a drafting perspective. I made slight changes but the spirit of the amendments was taken. One can ask Deputy Naughten or Deputy Donnelly about that. We made the changes and to be honest, we will do the same here.
If amendments are put forward that I feel will support and enhance the Bill in either House of Parliament, of course, I will take them. That is the way it is. If I as the representative of the Government feel they are justified and support and improve the Bill, I will take them. However, I will do not so just for the sake of it. I respect the fact that I must bring forward the best legislation possible for the people of Ireland to the best of my ability and the best opinion I can put forward. I will do that here again.
Everyone in this House knows what this legislation is all about. Some comments that were made earlier in the week by a colleague of mine were unnecessary and probably silly to be frank. In respect of lecturing people as regards what will happen if they do not pass this legislation, everyone in here has a mandate and everyone here should be here. Everyone knows exactly what we are discussing and the consequences one way or the other of whatever the result is. This legislation is about amending the previous legislation. If this legislation is not passed, the previous legislation exists. That is just a simple fact. Regardless of whether this legislation is or is not passed, it will not change the fact that Irish Water will exist and operate.
I will comment briefly on a few issues. I will approach it in a thematic fashion rather than by Senator if this is all right because there are so many speakers. The key issue about which most people have spoken is that of the plebiscite. Let me say straight that I believe in personal conviction and am a person who stands over what I believe. I come from a political philosophy that would not tolerate the privatisation of Irish Water in any shape or time. This is what I believe in absolutely. I know that everyone has accepted my bona fides. I have not yet heard anyone in this House or the other, local authorities or anywhere who said that they believe in the privatisation of Irish Water.
He did not, to be fair. He qualified that.
In respect of the legislation we have drafted, what Government in its right mind would potentially pass a resolution, repeal the legislation through both Houses and then tell the people that it is taking away their right to decide on the future of water in this country? I do not believe it is ever going to happen. I would like to see a Government try to do that.
There is another aspect to this. I and this Government must reflect on the law of unintended consequences. I did exactly what I said I would do in this House. I took the motion that was passed here and I brought it to Government. I hope everyone trusts and believes that I did so because we had discussions that I cannot get into. There are genuine questions. I am not deflecting in any way, shape or form. What would we be having a referendum on? Members must remember that through all of this, I must bear in mind all the advice from the Attorney General who is the representative of the Government. I am not legally qualified. Are we having a referendum on water or Irish Water? Are we having a referendum on water services? What are we having a referendum on? This is a genuine and difficult question. Where would we be in respect of the ownership of particular property and property rights? Where would we be in respect of private wells, group schemes, the infrastructure and the land on which that infrastructure exists if it is private property and companies that already produce water on this island, of which there are a multitude?
There is a range of issues such as the inventory of what is protected through this referendum. I cannot guarantee that there will be no unintended consequences from what I accept is a very strongly held view of many people that we need to have such a referendum. I accept the spirit of that view but from a practical point of view, I have just outlined a number of issues. I cannot say or guarantee that there will be no unintended consequences if we were to go down that route. Where would we draw the line? Would we draw the line at this or would we go down the road of ensuring that every other thing goes into the Constitution - CIE, the roads or the bogs? The list could go on. I am not saying that in a flippant manner. I am saying it genuinely. Where would we go?
I have heard discussion in the other House about Europe and how Europe could put pressure on. This has been referenced in this House although not as much. Obviously, I can accept that as an argument. I have COM(2014) 177, a Communication from the Commission on the European Citizens' Initiative "Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity!", with me. It says that treaty rules require Europe to remain neutral in respect of national decisions governing the ownership regime for water undertakings. I will not go into the detail of it but it goes through Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union establishing the principle of neutrality in respect of these issues.
I say this genuinely, as somebody who in spirit accepts what people are saying here. My bona fides on this could not be any clearer. I accept the spirit. I would never tolerate the idea of Irish Water, or the water infrastructure of this State, being privatised in any way, shape or form. I want to make it clear on behalf of the Government, in light of what I have just outlined to the House with regard to the headline issues - we will get into it in more in-depth detail tomorrow - that the Government is going as far as it can on this issue, given the consequences if we went to a referendum. I can say hand on heart that that is an absolute fact. It is the truth.
That is the major issue that was raised here across the board. However, I would like to comment on a few other issues that were raised. Throughout this debate, I have to accept the bona fides of the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is an independent body, that it does everything in an appropriate manner and that its figures are justified. It not for me to question the commission in any way, shape or form.
I join many Senators on all sides of the House in acknowledging the contribution of the local authorities. I appreciate that the local authorities, for which I have responsibility in my current portfolio, do some good work across the country. There are some very good people in our local authorities. I accept that many local authorities have co-operated with one another in the provision of water infrastructure. As water and the infrastructure for water do not stop at local authority boundaries, we have to deal with these issues at national level. I emphasise that we need investment at a level we have never before seen or comprehended. We need to put billions of euro into water infrastructure quickly. If we do not do this, frankly, we will go down the same road as Italy, which has just been fined €42 million. If Italy does not deal with some of the issues it is facing, it will face further fines every six months.
We need to look at the way Irish Water has created the savings that have accrued from the development in Ringsend and a number of other things, including tendering, and a number of other capital projects. When we think about the future of this country, we must reflect on the fact that raw sewage is running straight into rivers or the sea in 44 urban areas. I stress that I am talking about raw sewage in places where people are bathing and children are swimming. As a father of young children, I do not think this is acceptable. In fairness to everyone in this House, I think that, regardless of what side of this argument they are on, they will accept that this cannot continue.
Investment at a scale that has never been seen before is needed in the interests of future generations. We also need to ensure that the children of today will have jobs in the coming years. When one speaks to representatives of IDA Ireland about the issues they face when they are touting Ireland as a place to invest in, they mention the need for investment in infrastructure, educational issues such as language skills and transport issues such as the development of the road network. I will call a spade a spade and say that issues with regard to broadband telecommunications across this country, in particular, have to be dealt with. I would be the first to say that.
The other issue is water. I know that if we do not do something about water, it will be the biggest issue into the future. I assure the House that if some of our water supplies get infected or polluted because of a lack of investment, some of the largest employers in this country will look at Ireland again when they are making decisions on where to locate and on future investment. We would not be able to bring in the investment that we need into the future. That is a fact. We need to ensure that investment is made, because it will need to more than double in the future.
I compliment and thank the Senators, particularly on the Opposition side of the House, who have expressed their agreement with metering, which helps us to finds leaks. When we know there are leaks, we can save on investment and diversify our investment. By making sure investment takes place in the areas where it is needed, we will not have to spend all our time chasing the leaks. People should bear in mind that the revenue being raised through this process is being used to ensure Irish Water can borrow on a scale that is necessary to make the investment about which I have spoken.
I wish to acknowledge, in fairness to Senator Quinn and others, that the collection of PPS numbers was an issue. It was raised again during this debate by Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout. I commit to this House that the protocol which has been agreed with the Data Protection Commissioner will be laid in the Oireachtas Library for anyone to see. I think that is the right thing to do. At some point in the future, I will ask the Data Protection Commissioner to confirm in its capacity as an independent regulator that Irish Water has completed the big process of dealing with all the PPS numbers. I also commit that I will ask Irish Water to come before an Oireachtas joint committee to confirm that all of this has happened.
Senators Mac Conghail and Keane raised the issue of rainwater harvesting. People who need to be supported in their employment of rainwater harvesting will be supported. The introduction of the water conservation grant will help more people to ensure they can introduce methodologies such as rainwater harvesting. There are many other fantastic water conservation and treatment technologies out there, by the way. Anyone who invests in such methods will be supported. The Government will ensure there are initiatives to support conservation in the coming year. The introduction of the water conservation grant is the first such initiative. I want to make it clear that there is an onus on Irish Water to support such initiatives directly.
It was suggested during the debate that the water charges will be paid to the Exchequer. I want to make it clear that this is absolutely and simply untrue. Water charges from households and businesses form part of the allowed revenues of Irish Water as determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation. They cannot be used for anything other than the provision of water services.
Senator Healy Eames suggested that Siemens offered to undertake a metering programme. While such an offer was widely reported in the media, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government never heard anything about it. The Department never received any formal proposal from the company in question. Unless the offer was an act of charity, which I doubt, it must be respected that a process of procurement and open tender would be required under European laws.
Reference was also made to Irish Water's establishment costs. The Commission for Energy Regulation, which is an independent regulator, examined this and determined that €172 million of the expenditure of €180 million was justifiable. Of course there are issues and concerns. The use of terms such as "consultants," "service providers" and "set-up costs" at certain times during the discussion on this issue was not helpful. It is a fact that when the Commission for Energy Regulation looked at this, it passed €172 million of the €180 million that was spent. It is not the Government or Alan Kelly who is saying this. It is a fact.
That is €8 million in waste.
There were many contributions to the debate and I accept absolutely the bona fides of the contributors. I hope Senators will also accept what I said at the beginning of my contribution about the way I treat this House, no matter how anyone else treats it. These are my initial thoughts on the themes and issues referenced in the debate. I look forward to the debate on Committee Stage tomorrow. I commit to look at all of the amendments tabled overnight and we will deal with them in a considered way tomorrow. I again thank all Senators for their contributions.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Fiach MacConghail
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Feargal Quinn
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Sean Barrett
- Paul Bradford
- Thomas Byrne
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Katherine Zappone