Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Irish Water: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:noting that:- Since Irish Water was set up not an extra cent has been invested in water infrastructureacknowledging that:
- Irish Water failed the Eurostat test and therefore is not fit for purpose as it cannot borrow off balance sheet
- Irish Water has been a complete failure by the government- Over €750 million has been spent on setting up Irish Wateraccepting that:
- Bonuses are still a feature despite promises to end them
- Local Authorities are still in charge of maintenance of water infrastructure over the next 20 years
- However direct local democratic accountability is no longer present
- In some areas Irish Water is already scaling back on much needed schemes thereby limiting capacity for housing in the face of a national crisis- Water is a precious social and economic resourcecalls for:
- Upgrading water infrastructure is crucial and should be a national priority
- Planned waste water schemes should not be discontinued
- A new smaller delivery model is essential- The abolition of Irish WaterThe most admirable thing anyone can do in politics is to admit to being wrong or that mistakes were made. We have seen many mistakes in the past by all Governments.
- Suspension of the present charging regime until the national water infrastructure is brought up to international standard
- This standard should be set according to 3 key tests of water quality, water supply and water leakage control.
I had no difficulty doing it. I did it when I was on Senator Landy's side of the House and I am happy to do it here. It would be better to see more of it in politics.
As of today, 55% of people have paid their Irish Water bills, that is approximately 750,000 homes. I calculate that at 51% but I will go with the Government figures of approximately 55%. That is €146 million in revenue. Expenditure is €41 million on interest payments so far; €25 million on administrative costs; €550 million on water meters; €45 million on operating costs; and more on bonuses that we do not quite know, amounting to approximately €785 million. Not an extra cent has been spent on water infrastructure. More than 40% of people refuse to pay. We are a long way off the €5.5 billion of investment in the programme that was envisaged for Irish Water to undertake work throughout the country. We do not know how that money will come in. There is no private sector money coming into it. The organisation cannot borrow off balance sheet. We failed the EUROSTAT tests so, all told, it is a disaster. It is not of the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation’s making, although he has been sent in here this evening to take the bullets. Most people in Ireland acknowledge that a disaster of this level requires action, admission of failure and for the nation to stop digging with very valuable State resources.
Far from the €5.5 billion investment envisaged for Irish Water, it is now beginning to scale back on schemes planned for many years. I can give examples from Sligo and I am sure other Senators can give examples from their regions. Will the Minister of State ask his colleagues to look into what is known as the "bundle" scheme in Sligo, for Tubbercurry, Strandhill and Grange, where sewerage upgrade plants are required? It has come to my attention this week that Irish Water, while still long-fingering the work that has to be done on upgrading those projects, is trying to scale back on their capacity, whereby they will meet current capacity with a very small amount of additional spare capacity without taking any account of the national housing crisis. In Sligo, 1,000 people are on the local authority list. That does not include any private sector, industrial or enterprise demand, which may grow, and I am sure the Minister of State and the Government would like to see that happen.
Apart from its accounting disaster that I have just outlined, Irish Water is scaling back schemes, stifling the potential for growth and recovery in communities such as Strandhill in County Sligo. A trail of Ministers over the past five years has visited that location and wallowed in the beauty of that part of the country. The Government is preventing Strandhill, Grange and Tubbercurry from performing to their potential. They need existing water and sewerage upgrades. Irish Water acknowledges that but it is long-fingering the work. In so doing, it intends to stifle the capacity to grow. When Deputies McLoughlin and Perry and Senator O’Keeffe go out to knock on doors in Tubbercurry, Grange and Strandhill and ask people for their number one vote, they should tell them not to forget that Irish Water seeks to stifle the potential to grow in this area and the ambition people might have for their communities to have new neighbours or more enterprise.
Sligo city is one of the large urban areas in the country. It is supplied by two water plants. One is known locally as Foxes Den, the other as Carns Hill. Irish Water plans to close Carns Hill down, with only a basic upgrade to the Foxes Den plant, which will ensure that Sligo city, where there are 1,000 people on the housing waiting list, will have no spare capacity for private or local authority housing. The Industrial Development Authority, IDA, is undertaking the development of a 70 acre industrial park there, which we all yearned for in the north west because we want the employment. Senator Comiskey agrees with me. The Minister of State should tell Deputies McLoughlin and Perry and Senator O’Keeffe when canvassing in Sligo to remind people that they are endorsing Irish Water to limit the capacity of the town to grow and perform to its potential. They are not allowing any spare capacity for water for housing or the new IDA enterprise park. This is being replicated in other parts of the country. Surely the Minister of State is not happy this is taking place. No doubt he has been given a brief to tell us about the great successes of Irish Water but it is an abject failure.
I will never forget the big mistakes of the previous Government because we all got it in the neck, and rightly so. The last Government was punished for its mistakes. That was just but this Government should face up to some of its own mistakes. Irish Water is one of them. I recall the voting machines debacle and cringe when I think of the waste of €50 million and the storage costs. It pales into insignificance when one considers the waste of €785 million of the people’s money so far, when we did not have it. What would local authority staff, from Waterford to Sligo, from Kerry to Louth, with excellent water services personnel who have service level agreements with Irish Water have done in all those counties, including in Dublin, with €785 million to invest in infrastructure? Irish Water does not listen to the people on the ground who have the local knowledge. Not a single cent extra has been spent on the delivery or improvement of any water infrastructure since this deformed love child of Fine Gael and the Labour Party in government was born. It is perhaps the biggest indictment of the Government. There is no need to remind me of the failings of the previous Government. It is important that they were faced up to and the people rightly adjudicated on its performance.
It is this Government’s turn to face its responsibilities. This organisation needs to be abolished. We must stop throwing good money after bad. I have shown its abject failure in accounting and the waste of €785 million. What could any of us have done in our areas with that sort of money for infrastructure? Instead it is gone, €540 million has been spent on redundant meters, €45 million on top-heavy management salaries; and €41 million so far and €25 million per annum on interest payments. This is the people’s money. The House should take some of these figures on board.The figures do not lie. I have given Sligo as one example of how the shoddy work of Irish Water so far is to be further extended to undermine the capacity of counties such as Sligo in the north west, on the periphery of our nation in trying and yearning to benefit from the little recovery that is beginning in Dublin. What chance have we got in the north west if there is not even water for a single extra resident, much less the thousands of people who are homeless nationally, the thousand who are on the local authority waiting list in Sligo, the private demands that will come and for the 70 acre industrial park that God knows the north west needs? However, the Minister, the Government and its creation, Irish Water, intend to completely undermine this and stifle growth because they do not have the capability to provide the water.
I formally second the motion tabled this evening on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, the main points of which Senator MacSharry has outlined. This could be our last Private Members' motion before a general election and this issue has not gone away at all. Senator MacSharry has outlined very clearly the issue of water waste. In fairness to the Minister of State this was a Fine Gael brainchild from 2009. The reality of it was to set up a separate water utility with a view to future privatisation. Members of this House passed a motion earlier in 2015 that there would be a referendum on the ownership of Irish Water and that water would stay in the ownership of the people in perpetuity. That was opposed by Fine Gael and Labour Members. It was passed by the Seanad but it stopped there. Very recently the Minister of State's own colleague, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said in an interview that it would be a good idea. Can the Minister of State indicate what has changed? I believe it is the proximity to a general election that has changed. There is no doubt that massive investment is required in water infrastructure. The figures outlined by Senator MacSharry show that between 2000 and 2010 there was approximately €550 million to €600 million invested in water infrastructure.
I acknowledge that the first couple of years of the Government taking charge - like the last couple of years of the last Government - were extremely difficult. However, water infrastructure investment has dropped by up to €200 million per year. We are investing €200 million less in 2015 than was invested in 2010 at the height of the crisis. Why is this happening? It is because the Government has spent more than €0.75 billion establishing a water utility that no one wants and, worse, which was not actually required. An NRA type model for water could have been established that would co-ordinate the water infrastructure across local authorities which would leave the experience and knowledge within the local authorities. The current set-up is not working and the public are saying that by withholding their payments to water infrastructure. Why invest all that money in meters that are not being used? Most people, and I include myself, agree with water conservation and agree with a form of charging in the future when the infrastructure is in place and up to speed. Why should someone who is going to conserve water pay the exact same as a person who is not conserving? It makes no sense. The €100 conservation grant was seen for what it was - a total joke. It was not a conservation grant.
We saw the failure of the EUROSTAT test, which Minister Noonan and others had claimed as a fait accompli when EUROSTAT actually said the figures would not wash. That should have been the final message to the Government that Irish Water is dead and buried. Irish Water is now on the balance sheet of the State and cannot borrow independently of the State. In the intervening period €200 million less investment has been made in water infrastructure than was made during the worst year of the crisis in 2010. That is an absolute fact. If this is not working will the Minister of State clarify why we should keep throwing good money after bad at this problem? Go back to the drawing board, scrap Irish Water, suspend water charges and vest control back with the local authorities with an overseeing model equivalent to the NRA. That is what should be done and there is no doubt it would work much better. Water infrastructure is incredibly important, we know and understand that. However, because of the pride of the Government we are left with a utility that no one wants and which last year cost the Exchequer over €20 million. That has been the net cost to the Exchequer of this crazy plan.
Senator MacSharry has outlined clearly why we believe Irish Water should be scrapped and why charges should be suspended. The general election itself will give all parties - and those of no party - the opportunity to put forward their alternative to a company that is not working. Anyone who deals with local authorities knows that the process has become elongated, more complex and the works are not happening on the ground. It is as simple as that. Specific instances have been raised in the north west by Senator MacSharry where works were supposed to be in place but are not. It is true that Irish Water is scaling back on its operations. That is not what was promised. I ask the Minister of State why the Government would not put it to the people in a referendum - as agreed by Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin - that water would stay in the ownership of the people. That at least would remove doubt from people's minds that this utility would not be privatised in the future as has happened in the UK and in many other European countries. I am interested in the Minister of State's response and I strongly support the motion, which we intend to press. Senator MacSharry has outlined it clearly. It must be looked at with a cold eye. A new Government is coming in and it will change things. Irish Water will not be in its current guise, post-election. I am of the firm belief that water charges will be suspended by the next Government and that we will return to the drawing board on this issue. The situation cannot continue because the State is losing millions of euro each year and, since this Government took over, an average of €200 million per year less is being invested in required infrastructure. These are substantial sums. I second the motion.
I move amendment No. 2:
“To delete all words after ‘That Seanad Éireann:’ and substitute the following:
·the ongoing work by Irish Water in upgrading Ireland’s public water and wastewater systems and delivering new, national approaches to the delivery of water infrastructure and services;
·the Government’s funding model for water services, including domestic water charges, which facilitates increased investment in badly-needed water and wastewater infrastructure to deal with the legacies of past under-investment;
·that Irish Water has significantly increased core infrastructural investment since it became the national water services authority, from the estimated €300 million invested by local authorities in 2013 to an estimated €411 million by Irish Water in 2015 including the first fix programme – representing a 37 per cent increase in two years – to an expected €533 million this year;
·that this increased investment contributed to the elimination in 2015 of boil water notices affecting 17,300 people in Roscommon and the reduction in the population using drinking water supplies in need of remedial action;
·that Irish Water’s installation of approximately 802,000 domestic meters has enabled it to introduce a ‘First Fix’ scheme to assist householders in repairing leaks;
·that Irish Water has notified approximately 27,000 householders so far of possible lead piping in their homes, also identified through the domestic metering programme;
·that Irish Water has introduced new approaches to asset management and infrastructural delivery and is implementing a ‘2014-2017 Transformation Plan’ with local authorities, aimed at standardising and modernising operations;
·that well over 200,000 jobs in Ireland are dependent on water-intensive processes including the agri-food, pharma-chem, ICT and tourism sectors, and therefore need a secure water supply;
·the reduction in the number of people using drinking water supplies on the EPA’s ‘Remedial Action List’, from 940,000 people in January 2015 to 770,000 people today;
·the expected completion by Irish Water of twenty-six new wastewater treatment plants and nine new water treatment plants, along with the upgrading of fifty-three wastewater treatment plants and nineteen wastewater treatment plants between 2014 and 2016;
·the 28 million litres of water per day already being saved by Irish Water as a result of the ‘First Fix’ scheme, and the further savings from the replacement of 400 kilometres of pipework over the past two years;
the work done by Irish Water and local authorities over the last two years to increase the spare water supply capacity in the Greater Dublin Area from 1 – 2 per cent to approximately 10 per cent;
·the reduction in operational and capital costs already achieved by Irish Water, including the estimated €240 million to be saved through new asset management approaches to five major projects alone;
·Irish Water’s 2014-2021 Business Plan, which includes: a capital investment programme of €5.5 billion to 2021, targets in operational and capital savings, the aim to eliminate all current boil water notices, the aim to end the discharge of untreated wastewater at 44 locations and a target to significantly reduce leakage.’.”
Being selective with facts is one thing, but I want it to put some figures on the record. I will start at the end of the Senator's comments when he said that the figures for setting up Irish Water were €750 million. The establishment costs for Irish Water were reviewed by the Commission for Energy Regulation which approved an amount of €172.8 million to be capitalised in the opening regulated asset base of the utility and that is a fact. I hope the Senator is writing down the figures because they should be read into the record. The energy regulator is an independent organisation which does not play politics with a serious issue. I was surprised to see this issue, proposing to get rid of a charge, on the agenda without actually proposing where the money would come from or what services would be cut. When people serve on councils they are normally told that if they propose to cut a budget, the money must be found elsewhere. However, it appears this money is like manna from heaven and it is going to fall out of the sky like water. While we have had plenty of that recently none of it is treated and it is a very expensive job to treat it.
Irish Water and the Government have made more progress in two years than was made in the previous ten and the facts speak for themselves; Irish Water invested €343 million in 2014 and €411 million in 2015, a total of €754 million to date. Those figures are a couple of months old as we had debated this to death before. An expected €533 million will be invested in 2016. Last year's €411 million represents a 37% increase in just two years. They are the facts. Figures can be read out for one area or one county, particularly Sligo - as referenced by Senator MacSharry. I will refer to Clifden in County Galway, a region in the west of Ireland with which I am very familiar. It has a new sewage treatment plant.The people there are delighted. Prioritisation is required in the context of a national organisation. Piecemeal patching of the system in various counties is no good. By the end of this year, Irish Water is expected to have completed 35 treatment plants and 26 waste water treatment plants and to have upgraded 72 plants. There is no doubt that the record of the local authorities in the past in this regard is not comparable. I commend the local authority workers on the ground who had to deal with these issues before the establishment of Irish Water.
Before the establishment of Irish Water, approximately 944,000 people were dependent on drinking water supplies which required remedial action, while almost 20,000 people were on boil water notices. A full 49% of all treated water was lost through leakage but that has now been corrected by Irish Water. My own area of south County Dublin had the best record in this area, with a loss of only 16% of treated water through leakages. I will not mention the county with the worst record, except to say that it is in the midlands. Irish Water is now correcting that situation. A total of 44 urban areas throughout Ireland saw untreated sewerage going into rivers and the sea, posing a major risk to human health. This is now being taken in hand in a co-ordinated way at national level.
People naturally care about their water, given that it is one of the elements essential to our survival. A European-wide poll asked participants to name the five biggest environmental issues of most concern to them and water pollution topped the list. The pollution of our waterways is now being corrected. All around the country raw sewerage was being released into our waterways but nothing was done about this by the local authorities. In 2000, the Water Framework Directive forced member states to establish a national system of water treatment but this was totally ignored in the past. The current Government rightly saw this inaction as unacceptable and decided that the establishment of a single national body was the best option in terms of tackling this problem. Indeed, Fianna Fáil agreed that a single national body was the way to go and also agreed with the troika that charging for water was a good idea. The proposed charges were a good deal higher than those introduced by this Government.
Indeed, it was much higher than the current charges. Charging for domestic water was seen as new departure here but is not new in other EU countries. Furthermore, it was not a new departure in rural Ireland, where farmers, business people and others have paid for their water for many years. Do we want those in rural Ireland to bear the brunt of the charges for water, while letting their urban counterparts away with paying nothing? The water charges here are the lowest in Europe by a large margin.
By 2021, Irish Water will have invested €5.5 billion to bring our water services up to an acceptable standard. It will reduce leakages to 38%, saving 180 million litres of water every day. At the moment, this treated water is going down the Suwannee. It will also stop all pumping of raw sewage into our rivers and surrounding seas. It will cut costs by €1.8 billion; already Irish Water has reduced costs by 14%. One third of these costs reductions will be in the payroll area. I have already referred to the situation regarding boil water notices and to the new treatment plants. Irish Water has also produced a plan to deal with lead pipes all over the country which is essential in terms of human health. It has repaired or replaced over 750 km of pipe work, which is saving 32 million litres of water every day.
The proposal before us denies the progress that has been made to date and fails to establish an alternative model for our water services. It loads the costs onto our citizens who are already paying for water. Many of those who have proposed the motion are from rural constituencies but the farmers in those constituencies would not like to continue to pay for water while urban dwellers pay nothing. I accept that the public relations around Irish Water could have been handled better. However, people are now beginning to realise that Irish Water is working well. I do not know when those in Fianna Fáil changed their minds on this issue because they previously agreed with the troika that setting up a single utility was a good idea-----
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is one of the most unbelievable and absurd Private Member's motions to come before this House. Senator O'Brien has said that it is probably one of the last Fianna Fáil motions to be put to the House before the election but were I in his party, I would have moved something else. I would have asked, for example, what Fianna Fáil should do to restore the confidence of the Irish people so that they might vote for them. I would have tabled something along those lines and would certainly not have put-----
If I were Senator Landy I would have been asking that question. I would have been asking what we should do to restore the peoples' faith in us and how we could communicate that because the party's communications network seems to be very wishy washy at present.
I would point to three major elements in the Water Services Act that are very interesting and must be revisited. The first is the plebiscite on the ownership of Irish Water. This section provides that in the future where a Government proposes to initiate legislation which amends the ownership structure of Irish Water, such a proposal cannot be initiated without a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas approving the changes and, subject to such resolutions being passed, the proposal will be submitted to a plebiscite of all people eligible to vote in a referendum on a proposal to amend the Constitution. That means that 80% of the Upper and Lower Houses would have to agree. Unless we are going to have a takeover from North Korea, that is not going to happen. Therefore, the idea of Irish Water not being in the ownership of the Irish people is not true. I would also point out that Fianna Fáil voted against that provision when the Bill was being debated. It voted against the Irish peoples' ownership of Irish Water. That is the first thing it voted against.
The second matter is that of the public forum. The Government proposed a public forum which has since been established. The purpose of the forum, to be established by the Commissioner for Energy Regulation, was to represent the interests of customers of Irish Water and the Irish people. It was proposed that the forum would have between 12 and 16 members and would review and comment on the strategies and plans of Irish Water, including those concerning investment, water charges and so forth. What did Fianna Fáil do? It voted against that proposal. It voted against allowing people to be a watchdog.
The public forum now exists and functions as a watchdog for Irish Water. What did Fianna Fáil and others on that side of the House do? They voted against it and shot themselves in the second foot. They voted against the watchdog, but the best is yet to come. Members of this and the Lower House know that water to households can never be turned off. It will not and must never be turned off, despite lack of payment and regardless of what customers owe. That is part of the Water Services Act. Guess what Fianna Fáil did in that context? It voted against that provision too. That is marvellous.
Fianna Fáil voted against the three core elements of the Bill which hold Irish Water in the arms of the Irish people. That takes some beating. I know that Fianna Fáil is basically not fit for purpose. Nobody has a divine right to water but we do have a right to clean water. That is what Irish Water is about, it is about our streams, rivers and coasts. We polluted them and allowed them to be polluted.We have to clean them up in order that we can have clean water in every house and home for the future. I congratulate Fianna Fáil in the sense that what it is at here is circus-like. It is voting against the core principles of what Irish Water-----
It Members in the Seanad have tabled a Private Members' motion, which equates to them taking their eye of the ball, or the ballcock in this instance. They are not fit for purpose because they have not discussed what is it that we most need to do for the Irish people over the next few months. This certainly is not it. Its members voted against the core principles the Government was trying to retain-----
The Government was also trying to clean up the pollution in our lakes, streams, coasts and homes in order that people can have access to clean water, which is their right. Fianna Fáil is not fit for purpose.
I welcome my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, to the House. I am not going to disappoint the proposer of the motion in so far as that I will remind him of a few things and also that the world did not begin in 2011. His party was in government.
-----they left 1 million people dependent on water that was not drinkable. They left 20,000 people on boil water notices year in, year out. Their inaction were the cause of 49% of water leakages. They left a situation in Dublin city where capacity was down to between 1% and 2%, where in most European countries there is a headroom of at least 15%. They left 44 urban areas throughout the country with untreated sewage.
I recall as a new councillor being part of a deputation that had a meeting with one of the Senator MacSharry's ministerial colleagues at the time, who subsequently became infamous, to try to get sanction for a sewerage treatment plant for my town. I had photographs of five locations on the River Suir where raw sewage was flowing into the river and the Minister of the day had not the manners to take the photographs out of my hand and look at them. The next time the Labour Party was in government in the 1990s that sewerage plant was put in place. That is what we are doing across the country now, as was outlined by Senator Keane with regard to the number of new sewerage treatment plants, remedial works, upgrades, etc., that have been put in place.
When we debated this subject in the House two years ago, the figure thrown out by Fianna Fáil was that the charge for water per household would be €750. Then it depreciated the figure to €400. However, it was wide of the mark in all its figures, as it is with respect to the costs set out in this motion. The cost of setting up Irish Water was €172.8 million, not the figure of €750 million, which Senator MacSharry obviously plucked out of the sky, as he did with most of the other figures in the motion.
On the costs of Irish Water, the regulator has demanded a 7% reduction for 2015 and 2016. By the time we get to 2021, which is the end of the current business plan, the costs that were first outlined will be reduced by 40%.
I wish to deal with a number of issues regarding Irish Water about which I had a concern, which I put to the then Minister, Phil Hogan. One of those issues was the decentralisation of the fault centre and the call centre. In the past four days since I was notified of this motion, I telephoned councillors in all parties, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party and in every county.
I think I know a little bit more about where councillors are located in this country than Senator MacSharry. The answer I got from practically all of them was that they were positively disposed to the system that is in place now. I had reason to telephone the call centre in November as the water had gone off in the area where I live. On three occasions in seven hours I got a call back from the centre in Cork and the final call was to advise that the water would be restored within one hour of the last call, and that is what happened. With respect to the criticism I had at the time about the centralisation issue and the removal of autonomy from councillors, I have been proven wrong about that, and I am glad to say so. The system is working in terms of fault reporting and fault responses to elected representatives.
Fianna Fáil has put down this motion in the hope of trying to make a position for itself on this issue. Many of its councillors across the country are happy with the establishment of Irish Water. Many of them have told me openly that despite the fact that they did not think it would work, it has worked.
We saw the attempts to try to stir up opposition to the implementation of water meters. I saw that in my town. The resources of the State had to be applied in very nasty situations where people who wanted water meters installed in their homes in order that they would be able to beat the water services allowance - some 40% of people are now beating that allowance and paying the minimum amount - were prevented from having them installed by people who were transported into the town. Those people travelled in buses around this country causing opposition to the work of Irish Water. Having that matter dealt with in a motion would be more relevant than what Senator MacSharry has attempted to do in this motion. He probably compiled it some day last week when he was not on the stage in Sligo doing a bit of acting.
It is fair for the Government Senators to point out to Fianna Fáil that it supported water charges initially. It is a fair political charge because it is the reality and it was part of the four year EU-IMF troika plan to which Fianna Fáil signed up. It is politics and we are going to have an election campaign. The facts of the position taken by all the parties should be put forward and we should have a robust debate on all of them. Water charges have been very emotive for many people for all sorts of reasons because people need water to survive. It is a very important issue.
When those of us who opposed domestic water charges, although not investment in water services, say we want water charges to be abolished, we are accused by the Government parties of fairytale economics and that it cannot be done. The cost of abolishing water charges would be €80 million. When one would strip out the conservation grant, which would go with it, the net cost would be €80 million. Yet the Government, especially Fine Gael - the Labour Party has its priorities and it will set them out in its manifesto and I believe it has committed to this too - has said that it will abolish in its entirety the universal social charge, which would cost €3.5 billion, which is 50 times more than what it would cost to abolish water charges. It seems that this type of auction politics is acceptable where billions can be promised. The first act of Fine Gael and the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, is to say that their first priority would be to cut the top rate of USC that will benefit the top earners, the top 14%, who happen to be the same people who benefitted in terms of the last five Government budgets.Let us be realistic and honest about the propositions that are being put to people. Let us dismiss all of the nonsense tags that are being made. Tax cuts have been promised by Fine Gael which are irresponsible and cannot be met. The Government cannot say it will abolish the universal social charge and, at the same time, say it can deal with the housing crisis, the problems in the health service and the problems with floods, and give money to local government. It is simply not possible and, as the election goes on, people will see that.
Whatever propositions we put forward, as we have done every year with our alternative budgets, there is the matter of fiscal space. There is €7 billion of extra Exchequer funding over the next five years, as we are told by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and the Department of Finance. Any manifesto put before the electorate has to work within that fiscal space. Then it is a matter of political choices. What would each candidate do with that €7 billion over the course of five years?
One of the things we would want to do is abolish domestic water charges and the property tax. They are unfair and regressive. There is something fundamentally unfair about charging people for water in the first instance. It is also unfair for millionaires and very wealthy people to end up paying the same for these services as those on very low incomes and social welfare, including carers and people with disabilities. Many Senators will be going around the country knocking on doors and dealing with people who are in very dire straits. If they have not seen it already, they will then see that people are put to the pin of their collars.
I will accept that there is a recovery and will give the Government some credit for some of the policy decisions it has made. However, we also have a responsibility to hold the Government to account. There is nobody on the Government side who can say that the establishment of Irish Water was a success. It was an absolute disaster from start to finish. Hundreds of millions of euro in taxpayers' money were squandered, there is no doubt about that.
If domestic water charges are abolished, the question will then be how we fund our water services. We can do it through general taxation. We have commercial water charges in place. Domestic water charges are only a fraction of what is actually necessary to fund our water services. Billions of euro are already spent every year so €80 million in the grand scheme of things is not going to make or break investment in our water infrastructure. It would, however, make a difference to those families who were told that the property tax was going to fund local services, including water. No sooner was the property tax in place but it was followed by water charges.
There was a lot of sense in what Senator O'Donnell said about Fianna Fáil's arguments, even if it was a bit theatrical and obviously politically biased. She has an entitlement to make political charges. I do not accept the argument about checks and balances in respect of privatisation. My understanding is that a majority of Oireachtas Members is required, not 80%. All it takes is for a Government to decide we are going to privatise it and then the legislation can be changed by introducing a Bill which simply repeals the Bill the current Government brought in. That is why Members voted against the Bill. It was not just about some of the so-called protections that the Government was trying to pretend would paper over the cracks. We voted against the entire proposition of setting up Irish Water in the first place.
Let us remember that this Government brought in four different water services Bills. The first was guillotined in the Dáil after two hours of debate and, because of that, we were back within a short couple of months with the water services Bill mark II. Many people, including those on the Government side, raised concerns about water conservation and were not listened to. We should have a genuine debate about water services. Let us not pretend that abolishing water charges is fairytale economics; the parties that say so are promising billions of euro of tax cuts in the same breath and it just does not stack up. That is a debate we will have in the election campaign.
Water conservation and investment in water infrastructure are important but abolishing domestic water charges is not going to make or break all of that investment. It is a separate issue and we need to have a debate about the fiscal space that is available and how much of that money should or could be put into investing in our water infrastructure.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for making the time to discuss the most important issue of Irish Water. This matter has received lengthy debate in this and the Lower House as it is such a dominant matter. Water is one of our most important resources and it is crucial that we do all we can to utilise it effectively and ensure that we do not waste it.
I strongly disagree with the motion stating that Irish Water has been an absolute failure. That is simply not the case. Irish Water has increased investment in water and improved water quality. In my own county of Leitrim, investment in water supply, wastewater treatment systems and schemes will be in excess of €8 million under the Capital Investment Plan 2014-2016. This investment has allowed for a water supply scheme and reservoir and sewerage schemes. There are also plans for two wastewater treatment plant upgrades, a water treatment plant expansion and pipelines and reservoir upgrades. This investment was badly needed in County Leitrim to improve our water services. Similarly in County Sligo, investment in water schemes will be in excess of €16.1 million under the capital investment plan. I think it ironic that Fianna Fáil is calling Irish Water a failure, especially when I look at my neighbouring constituency of Roscommon where, in 2015, some 17,300 people came off boil-water notices. Some of these notices have been in place since 2009.
Irish Water is by no means a perfect solution but the problem surrounding Irish Water is not a perfect problem. The metering programme has led to increased water conservation. The installation of 804,000 meters has enabled people to measure how much water they are using. Metering data have shown us that approximately 40% of customers are beating the cap charge through lower usage. This fact is to be welcomed and proves the effectiveness of water charges.
I note that the Opposition motion also calls for the suspension of the present charging regime until our national water infrastructure is brought up to international standards. If we do not implement charges, how are we going to bring our water infrastructure up to such standards? In an ideal world this might be possible but in reality we need the charge as a source of finance to reform our water infrastructure. We need to work with Irish Water to support progress and help build the best quality water utility in the world. Furthermore, all of us in rural Ireland down through the years have been involved in building and running group schemes and we know how much that has cost us over the years.
I welcome the Minister of State. This is an issue that brought 100,000 people onto the streets. Looking at the record of this Government, which has much to commend it in many ways, this was the low point. It really annoyed the citizens and I am not so sure that the annoyance is at all gone away. Last week we had the Ombudsman complaining that he is not allowed to investigate Irish Water. There were more comments in another paper about the level of consultancy fees that Irish Water charges.
The tax system is a poll tax. Paying for water through progressive taxation, going by the budgets of this Government, would involve people on €100,000 paying about six times more in taxes than people on €20,000. The poll tax aspect has annoyed people. I was at one of the Maynooth marches against water charges and there were people who genuinely did not have €160 to spare. That is why they objected. "We never paid before" is a completely fallacious argument. We paid our taxes and the Exchequer ran a surplus for ten years. The water industry in Ireland was unable to prepare proper projects to submit to the Department of Finance. It wanted its own exchequer and invented this. The issue has seriously damaged the Government in many ways.
We also took on the surplus staff. John FitzGerald of the ESRI has commented on that; there are probably about 4,000 people doing the work of 2,000. The McLoughlin report on local government, which was published in 2010, estimated that there was a 30% surplus in county managers, a 20% surplus in directors of services, a 15% surplus in senior and middle managers and a 10% surplus in corporate service staff.It was recommended that there be 15% reduction in staffing in Dublin and Cork. All those people were transferred, which was a major mistake. It was documented and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government knew very well the extent of the over-manning.
Another unacceptable act was to put the onus on the consumer because water was being wasted. The idea was that if there was a charge for water, consumers would not be as wasteful. More than 90% of the waste occurred within the province of the county engineer and blaming little old ladies for drinking too much water or having too many baths and putting the onus on them was completely wrong. Leitrim was one of the best counties for not wasting water, as it had a figure of 36.5% for wasted water. The worst area was Roscommon, as has been mentioned, with 58% of the water wasted. It was wasted by the people employed in the water sector.
We decided to have a national quango that has hired extra staff and public relations personnel, with a large cost base. That has been well documented but why did we do it? The least amount of waste was in Fingal, which is right beside County Meath, with a figure of 21.6%, whereas Meath had a rate of 47.6% for waste, which was 2.2 times the amount in Fingal. We abolished both local water authorities. Why did we not take the efficient local water authorities and allow them to run the inefficient bodies? I gave an example of two authorities beside each other and where there was a vast difference in the amount of water wasted by each.
We did not research the project properly and it is financed in a way that is extremely regressive. The organisation has increased expenditure, overheads and the number of consultants, which has annoyed the Irish public like nothing else has done in the past number of years. This has damaged the Government's reputation among the public. It was a mistake and this should never again be the model for setting up any quango. There were local authorities which could do the job properly and there were those which could not. How could we reform the bodies not doing the job properly? If the bodies were over-manned, everybody should not have been given the guarantee of a job and a headquarters should not be set up, with corporate image consultants and major legal and accountancy firms. That was completely unnecessary. Trying to get this off balance sheet was an economic con job that was disallowed by EUROSTAT in any case.
I agree that we must properly invest in water but this is a crazy way of charging for water and this is a crazy organisation set up to do that. A recent opinion poll indicated that this is the most unpopular organisation in the public or private sector by miles in the country. I do not feel any need to defend it, although I would defend many things that this Government has had to do. Irish Water was its biggest mistake.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, to the House. Our water services are in a terrible state and they must be fixed. This can only be done by a single national body and the old way of doing it, through 31 local authorities, has not worked. Everybody recognises this. We need more than €13 billion to fix Ireland's water services and the first €5.5 billion is in the Irish Water business plan. It will fix the worst problems by 2021. We must remember that Irish Water has already fixed more in two years than had been fixed in the previous ten years. For example, 20,000 households have been taken off boil water notices, many of them affecting families that had to boil water before drinking it for years.
The Irish Water model of a public water utility is the norm for water services throughout the world. It is the proven model to deliver these services. Metering works, as 40% of Irish Water customers with meters are paying less than the cap bill, as has been mentioned by some of my colleagues. I have surveyed 100 houses that were metered and 92 or 93 of the occupants were amazed at what they were being charged through the meter for water. We should review the cap. Almost 50% of treated drinking water is lost through leaks and we pump out raw sewage at 45 locations throughout the country into our oceans and rivers. That is unacceptable in 2016.
There are 5,000 customers who still have to boil water before they can drink it. Water supplied to 700,000 customers is at risk of contamination. We do not have enough clean water and wastewater treatment to support future economic growth and the future of our country depends on our economic growth. We need treated water. This was the position before Irish Water came along and it is there to fix this problem. It has achieved much in the past two years and it will achieve more. We need a single national body to fix this problem. After many parts of our country were flooded recently, there were calls for a single national body to deal with those issues, including waterways and flood planning. Some of those calls came from people who have said they do not want this type of utility for Irish water. A single national body is the only way in which to have a full picture of all the issues nationally, plan for the long term and prioritise the most urgent problems, delivering the required actions in an integrated way.
Fixing our water and wastewater infrastructure is a massive national project that can only be sorted out by a dedicated national expert body. We have set up Irish Water as that national organisation and we now have a single utility with the systems and expertise to take on the challenge of fixing our water services. It now has responsibility and is accountable for getting the job done. We need more than €13 billion to fix Ireland's water services properly and the first €5.5 billion is in the Irish Water business plan. That will fix the worst problems by 2021. Irish Water will invest that €5.5 billion to bring water services to an acceptable standard, eliminating all boil water notices and reducing leakages to 38%, saving 180 million litres of water that is lost every day of the week. All pumping of raw sewage into our rivers and seas will be stopped and costs will be cut by €1.1 billion. Irish Water has already reduced costs by 14%, which should also be recognised.
I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, to the Seanad again. This morning I attended a senior citizens residents' association meeting where I live and a key issue for the people attending related to charges, including property tax and water charges. These are two unfair taxes on people who are not well off. This reminds me of Mrs. Thatcher's poll tax debacle and it will have serious consequences for the Government in the forthcoming election.
The Irish Water utility has been an unmitigated disaster for Fianna Fáil.I will start again.
The Irish Water utility has been an unmitigated disaster for the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. Fianna Fáil believes in a clear, new policy for the future. First will be the abolition of water charges but we will provide an alternative. The botched implementation of the water charges regime by the Government has shaken public trust in the quango that is Irish Water. This is evident from the fact that 57% of households have not paid. Fianna Fáil calls for the immediate abolition of charges. Domestic water charges should only be introduced when our national domestic water infrastructure is brought up to international standards and is in accord with the key three tests relating to water quality, supply and leakage. Fianna Fáil will ensure there are no charges in the lifetime of the next Government. Fianna Fáil will abolish the super-quango that is Irish Water. Fianna Fáil consistently opposed the creation of Irish Water and the controversy over consultancy costs, bonuses and overstaffing at the super quango has borne out our fears.
What proposals does Fianna Fáil have? It proposes that responsibility for domestic water be returned to local authorities. In the same way the National Roads Authority has been able to develop our national road infrastructure under the local authorities, our national water supply will be developed. The Fianna Fáil proposal is for a new, slimmed-down water infrastructure company with 100 staff in respect of which the Oireachtas will have control over consultancy costs and there will be no bonus structure.
In regard to water infrastructure for the 21st century, the upgrading of our infrastructure to ensure it is fit for purpose must be a national priority. This will ensure we have a supply that is safe, reliable and adequate for homes, business and industry. I am embarrassed when I hear about the situation in Roscommon, where the water is not fit to drink. I cannot believe this is the case. This is symbolic of the mess and incompetence in certain areas of our economy.
Fianna Fáil proposes a major capital investment programme - over a period of 13 years dating from 2015 - to meet the ideal targets. This programme will be funded via the strategic investment fund, private bond issues, European Investment Bank-----
-----and complemented by general taxation. The total cost for the abolition of Irish Water will amount to €216 million. Savings in wages will ensure this will be made up within five years and will bring an end to the throwing of good money after bad.
In regard to the total cost of Irish Water in 2015, the set-up cost was €172 million, water meters cost €540 million, loan interest on water meters was €25 million and company wages and administration amounted to €45 million. The total cost, therefore, was €785 million. The programme has been a total disaster. It crucifies people on low incomes who must pay for water and pay charges. As was mentioned earlier, Fine Gael has been true to form in looking after the better off in society.
I welcome the Minister of State. I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this motion because it exposes much of the inaccurate and untrue information it has put before the House tonight. Fianna Fáil is now bringing forward unrealistic proposals. The abolition of Irish Water would be a retrograde step at this point. Irish Water was established with a view to redressing years of under investment in our water infrastructure and to putting together a structure that would invest in our water and waste water systems in a realistic manner rather than in the piecemeal way done through the local authorities. We had a crazy situation where every one of the 31 local authorities did its own thing in regard to water infrastructure investment. Infrastructure stopped at the county boundary and could not move into the next county. This was ludicrous. Since Irish Water has been established, we have seen significant investment in infrastructure, with some €343 million invested in 2014, €400 million in 2015 and an expected €500 million in 2016.
We judge an operation or utility on how well it performs and on whether it is producing results. It is said, "By their deeds, you shall know them." In parts of this country and in my new constituency of Roscommon-Galway where we canvassed during the by-election, reference was made at every second door to the boil water notices and we were asked when they would be lifted. During 2015, those notices were lifted for over 17,000 people in County Roscommon. Some of those individuals had been subject to such notices since 2009, which was unacceptable.
Reference has been made to costs and the need for everybody to pay a little for their water. I see nothing wrong with asking people in towns, villages and cities to make a contribution to the provision of water. In rural Ireland, where people depended on group water schemes during the past 40 to 60 years, they contributed to the cost of their water supply. They gladly paid but wondered why people in cities and large towns did not pay any contribution towards water and sewerage services. We can only admit that was not fair. I believe it is appropriate that everybody should make a modest contribution towards the provision of water and wastewater.
Let us consider what Irish Water inherited when it assumed responsibility for water provision just two years ago. I listened with great interest to what Senator Barrett said regarding this utility being a hated entity. There certainly was controversy over its establishment and there were quite a few teething problems. Mistakes were made but the company has bedded in well and is now making a significant contribution to expediting the provision of a good and safe water supply for homes. It inherited a situation where almost 1 million people were dependent on drinking water supplies that required remedial action. Almost 20,000 people in Dublin were on boil water notices and spare capacity was between 1% and 2%. I am informed it is now close to 10% as a result of the fixing of leaks and the remediation of supply problems.
I am pleased when I walk through my home town to see Irish Water engaged in a major project to upgrade the water and wastewater system of the town of Ballinasloe.
I can see tangible evidence that Irish Water is working and that investment is being made in services. We need our towns to have good water services if we want to attract industry and investment. Whatever else we say about Irish Water, it is a commercial operation.It now has significant resources which will allow it to address many major infrastructural problems throughout the country in the next couple of years and to gear up many towns and villages in order that they will be able to avail of inward investment and benefit from expansion by local industry.
This Fianna Fáil motion is inaccurate in that it states therein that €750 million has been spent in the establishment of Irish Water. The cost was reviewed by the Commission for Energy Regulation and, according to it, the actual figure was €172.8 million. I advise Fianna Fáil, in the context of any future motion it proposes to table, to check the facts before doing so.
Irish Water has made a good start. It is only two years in operation. It is hoped that in five years time the country will be in a much better position and that many of the problems, including leaks, about which many speakers have spoken will have all been fixed and that we will have in place water and wastewater systems as good as anywhere else in Europe.
Of all the brainless decisions made by the Government in the past five years, the decision to establish Irish Water is top of the list. It exceeds all other bad decisions taken by the Government, many of which have impacted on the most vulnerable. There has been a total disregard of people who are vulnerable. The decision to establish Irish Water and the resultant imposition of water charges impact on all those severe income issues. Despite the fact that the Government had set out in its manifesto that it would abolish many of the quangos established in the past few decades, a proposal I supported, it established the mother of all quangos in Uisce Éireann. As stated by Senator Michael Mullins, the figure of €750 million referred to in the motion for the cost of establishment of Irish Water is not correct. The motion actually states the cost is over €750 million. The true figure is €785 million.
For the benefit of Senators on the opposite side, I will outline the profligacy of the Government. According to consultants, the set-up cost of Irish Water was to be €172 million. It is well known that low-performing public servants, of whom there have been many in local authorities during the years, will always cover themselves by commissioning consultants' reports, regardless of the cost, which, in the event of something not working out in the way intended, will excuse them. The manner in which the sume of €172 million was spent constituted a waste of hard-pressed taxpayers' money. The cost of water meter installation in 2015 was €540 million, yet the meters will not come into operation until, I think, 2019. Given that at that stage we may be approaching another election, my suspicion is that their operation will be postponed such that, in effect, we will derive no benefit from them. The cost interest payable on the loan is €25 million, while Irish Water administration and wage costs for the year are €45 million, all of which bring the figure to €785 million. I, therefore, agree with Senator Michael Mullins that the figure of €750 million is not correct. It is, in fact, too low.
The establishment of Irish Water could have been achieved more economically by creating a dynamic within local government. Many county and town councils which were abolished by the Minister who established Irish Water were on top of their wastewater programmes and the provision of quality water schemes. While some were not, the cure was to make chief executives within the local government system to perform better. Structures should have been put in place to ensure this would happen. This should apply across the public service. However, what happened was that the local government officials involved were transferred to the new quango known as Uisce Éireann. When the level of overstaffing was exposed, we were told that the position would work itself out by 2026.
Everybody here knows that owing to the economic downturn we have experienced many people have either lost their jobs or are in jobs that pay low wages. Many of the people involved are over-leveraged in terms of debt and struggling to meet repayments on their homes and have little discretionary income. I have no objection in principle to water charges. When they were first proposed in 1983 by the then leader of the Labour Party and Minister for the Environment, Dick Spring, the majority of Fianna Fáil members on the council on which I served, urged by me, supported their introduction. Subsequently, when Deputy Joan Burton was in danger of losing her seat to Deputy Joe Higgins in a by-election, it was decided to do away with water charges, leaving the Government with a political conundrum of having to introduce them. As a former colleague in this House often said, "It is never the wrong thing to do the right thing." The lesson for the Labour Party is that it is never the right time to do the wrong thing, which is what is happening.
It is my understanding that approximately 55% of consumers have not paid their water charges. Again, it is a case of overloading the willing horse. If that is the case, what will happen to those who refuse to pay? What action will be taken against them and what does the Government propose to do in terms of the investment needed? As I understand it, an investment in water infrastructure of €5.5 billion is required. Irish Water has no hope of raising that capital on private markets because it has failed the EUROSTAT test. As such, the reason for its establishment has been undermined. I support the call made in the motion for its dismantling and the abolition of water charges until such time as the water infrastructure has been put right.
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" refers to "water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink". That is how it was in County Roscommon. As far as I know, there are now no boil water notices in place there.
I was glad to hear Senator Jim Walsh say the Government had made no bad decisions. He said the decision to establish Irish Water was the worst one made by the Government. It was not a bad decision. Therefore, a fortiorí, the Government has made no bad decisions, although it probably has made a couple.
The Senator would want to plug a few holes. People are getting the benefit of meters by paying less than the standing charge for their water usage, so meters are useful. In fact, some people cannot get meters installed because their water supply is to the back of the house. I am raising this issue with Irish Water because they want meters.
When I was a wee fellow in Haggardstown, one of my duties each day was to go to the well to get water. The well was a good bit away from the house. It was a big enough task - perhaps even a chore at times - so it was fantastic when the rural piped water scheme extended to our area. It was a wonderful day. If some Opposition figures had their way, we would still be getting water from the well. At that time, we said the rosary every night at home. We then had the litany of the saints.
Shakespeare referred to people who eat fish. I do not think he was a fan.
A contract was awarded to Glan Agua for a €6.1 million water treatment plant in Roscommon on 11 January 2016 to serve the north east Roscommon and Ballyleague regional water supply scheme. On 11 January 2016, Irish Water announced the signing of a contract which will involve an investment of approximately €2.7 million in upgrades to the Kildare town sewerage scheme. On 8 January 2016, the boil water notice on the Whitegate regional water supply scheme was lifted, benefiting 10,000 customers very soon after the problem was identified. On 9 December 2015, Irish Water identified the preferred site for a €30 million wastewater treatment plant in Arklow. On 8 January 2016, it was announced that contracts had been signed for an €18.4 million investment in wastewater infrastructure in Killybegs, Bundoran, Glencolmcille and Convoy. I hope the Opposition is fed up listening at this stage but I could go on until the cows come home. This is only in a couple of weeks.
Notwithstanding the good work carried out by local authorities over the years, this level of work and investment would have been unheard of before Irish Water was set up. Notwithstanding his opposition to water charges and Irish Water as an entity, we have heard the leader of Sinn Féin praise the work of Irish Water in County Louth, a fact to which Senator Brennan will testify. It is a topsy-turvy old world indeed. Talk about having your water and drinking it, to mix a metaphor. The Cooley regional water supply scheme in County Louth has been completed. This has been on the agenda for many years - certainly since I joined Louth County Council in 1999. I often heard Senator Brennan raise it at Louth County Council.
Unfortunately, in doing so, it damaged a drainage system that Louth County Council had very kindly installed at my request some time previously to relieve flooding at her house resulting in the water flowing down her driveway and into a garage. This is not a Ronny Corbett story. I will be finished shortly.
This only became apparent with the recent wet spell. Irish Water was contacted and the contractor returned late on 23 December 2015 and did a first-class remedial job in addition to being very courteous to Mrs. Taggart who was very impressed.
The criticism of the Government and Irish Water contained in this motion is opportunistic and unfounded, notwithstanding the fact that Senator Mullins has said that some mistakes were made. I congratulate Fianna Fáil on being responsible in terms of the rule of law and not advocating disturbances, breaking the law or non-payment but I believe in Irish Water. Even though Fianna Fáil did a lot of things wrong, the roads will be a testament to it. I believe this is as significant as our road network and that the water and wastewater treatment network we will have in this country will be very important for the next 100 years, so I cannot support this motion.
Shakespeare also wrote "hell is empty and all the devils are here." I mean that in a respectful way, of course. I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in this debate and to propose the Government's amendment to the motion in response to what I believe is an ill-conceived Fianna Fáil motion. This debate presents an opportunity to outline the real improvements that Irish Water has already made to the public water and wastewater systems in this country through increased investment and new approaches to services and infrastructure delivery. In moving towards a more sustainable model for funding investment in water services, the debate tonight will remind the House that these improvements are addressing the many legacies of under-investment in our water and wastewater networks - legacies inherited from the many years of under-investment by the previous Administration. It is an opportunity to outline the work that remains to be done, which is vital for the protection of public health, economic growth and the environment. By investing more in our public water system and by standardising how services are delivered and assets are managed, Irish Water is improving water quality, making water supplies more secure and reliable and increasing wastewater treatment - progress we can all agree is critical for our local communities and local and national economic well-being.
At the outset, let me dispel any Opposition claims about lack of extra investment in water services. Some of those arguments were rehearsed here tonight. They are, frankly, untrue. Since the national utility assumed responsibility in 2014, Irish Water has increased investment significantly. In 2013, local authorities invested approximately €300 million through the water services investment programme. In its first year alone, Irish Water invested €343 million. This increased to €411 million last year. That is a 37% increase in investment in just two years. This year, Irish Water expects to invest €500 million in the network. The actual figures do not lie.
The increased investment by Irish Water, which has contributed to improvements in water quality, supply and wastewater treatment, has not been curtailed by EUROSTAT's decision last year to categorise Irish Water expenditure as Government expenditure. There has been no change to the planned level of investment or level of water charges. Irish Water's capital investment plan for 2014 to 2016 remains unchanged from that included in the baseline forecasts in the stability programme update and the spring economic statement last year. Irish Water continues to be funded by a combination of external debt, Government contributions and revenue from customers.
This investment is critical if we are to address the legacies of decades of under-investment that Irish Water faced when it became the national water services authority in January 2014.
Let me recap for the Fianna Fáil Members, who seem to be suffering from selective amnesia, the legacy left behind by the previous Government. This included the reality of approximately 945,000 people being dependent on drinking water supplies requiring remedial action; almost 20,000 people on boil water notices, which was an abject disgrace; 49% of all water produced lost on leakage; and 44 urban areas throughout Ireland seeing untreated sewage going into rivers and seas, posing a major risk to public health and the environment.This is Fianna Fáil's legacy of underinvestment. Since then, Irish Water's investment has delivered 24 new treatment plants, 20 for wastewater, four for drinking water, as well as 32 upgrades. Up to 750 km of pipework has been replaced or upgraded, representing a saving of 32 million litres of water per day.
For too many people, particularly in Roscommon, the reality of having to boil water before using it for drinking or cleaning had become all too familiar. For the residents of Castlerea, for example, boiling water before use was a regular daily occurrence from November 2009 to June 2013. I am pleased to report that last year, 17,300 people in Roscommon no longer had to boil water coming out of their taps. This is real progress making a difference to people's lives; progress in which Irish Water's expertise and work has been instrumental. The number of people dependent on water supplies listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s remedial action list of works requiring remediation has reduced significantly from a high of almost 945,000 two years ago to 770,000 today.
Irish Water's domestic metering programme is additional capital investment to the main investment figure outlined earlier. In a programme of scale and ambition unmatched anywhere, Irish Water has installed close to 804,000 meters in less than two and a half years. Three quarters of all homes to be metered under phase one of the programme can measure how much water they use. I must compliment the contractors on the ground on the way in which they have performed their work with great dignity and commitment in an often difficult and sometimes threatening environment. Nobody going about their daily work should have to experience that. As well as facilitating metered charging, which the OECD and others have deemed the fairest form of charging, meters are incentivising customers to conserve water and are assisting in the detection of customer-side leakage, which Irish Water estimates accounts for 6% of all water produced.
Through metering's identification of customer-side leakage, Irish Water has been able to offer householders a first-fix repair scheme. Meter data enables the utility to alert householders to significant leaks within a householders' property. Before this, local authorities did not have the capacity to do this. Where the leak is between the boundary of a property and that of a house, Irish Water has offered to repair the most significant leaks it has encountered. In addition, more than 2,200 customers, through Irish Water's leak notifications, have undertaken repairs of leaks internal to the house.
Between Irish Water and customer repairs, 28 million litres of water are now being saved per day. When added to the 32 million litres per day being saved through pipework replacement over the past two years, 60 million litres of potable water is being saved daily in this country. To put this in context, Cork city requires 62 million litres of water per day. Irish Water's conservation focus over the past two and a half years is already equivalent to the daily water needs of our second city. The better management of our existing water supply infrastructure in this way will provide medium-term capital investment savings. It makes far more sense to save existing water than to build new plants without addressing leakage on both the public mains and customer sides.
Another benefit from the metering programme has been the identification of possible lead piping in householders' properties. The problem of exposure to lead in drinking water is a legacy of lead piping used in the construction of houses built up to and including the 1970s. Though the issue is in the main the responsibility of individual householders, as all lead piping has been replaced in the public network, sustained exposure is a possible health risk, particularly to pregnant women, the unborn and new born babies and young toddlers. For this reason, last June the Government published a strategy to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. Irish Water is playing its part in implementing the strategy. It has written to 27,000 households informing them of the likely presence of lead piping in their property and provided them with customer advice on dealing with the issue, including health advice from the HSE. Again, the effectiveness of this first national strategy on the issue is enhanced by the data available from the domestic metering programme.
In parallel with increased investment, Irish Water has introduced new approaches to asset management and maintenance. For Irish Water, asset management underpins its infrastructural investment with central strategic planning now based on accurate data on asset performance and full control of all investment decisions. It plans investment consistently across the asset base rather than on the basis of large scale, one-off investments. This approach, including the use of new technologies, for five major projects alone, including the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant upgrade, is expected to result in savings of €240 million. That is equivalent to the entire Exchequer funding of capital investment in the network in 2013.
In terms of asset maintenance, Irish Water has commenced a major programme to repair known defects across the public water system, including national programmes of disinfection, pH correction and chemical optimisation for drinking water treatment. Similar programmes are under way for wastewater treatment, along with work to control trade and abnormal discharges to public sewers.
Irish Water has made a significant contribution already to bringing our water services up to the standard that its customers demand. It has made important improvements to the quality and supply of drinking water. It has begun addressing the large deficit in wastewater treatment. It has introduced new initiatives and systems to standardise services, manage assets and plan new infrastructural builds with a national approach. For the first time, we now have a national water services strategic plan in place with a 25 year time horizon, coupled with Irish Water’s business plan for 2014 to 2021, which demonstrates how the objectives will be delivered in the immediate period ahead. Increased investment, one of the main aims of the Government's reform programme, has enabled some of these improvements but the national utility approach has also been crucial. The introduction of domestic water charges - more modest than what Fianna Fáil had planned to impose - was necessary and has contributed to the increase in investment through providing a sustainable long-term funding model through the creation of a direct link between the usage of water services and payment for them.
Irish Water has an ambitious programme of work to tackle the ongoing legacies of underinvestment. Its business plan contains important goals to reach by 2021, such as lifting all current boil water notices; eliminating the risk of drinking water contamination for people currently on supplies in the EPA's remedial action list; ending the discharge of untreated wastewater at 44 locations; reducing leakage from 49% to 38%, saving 180 million litres every day; implementing the national lead strategy to reduce risk of contamination in up to 140,000 homes and an additional 40,000 homes on shared services; and significantly increasing water and wastewater capacity to support social and economic development, including 15% spare capacity in Dublin.
A critical underpinning of the business plan is the achievement of efficiencies, namely, €1.1 billion in operational costs and €500 million in capital spending. These efficiencies are driven by the holistic and asset management approach to delivery of water services through the national utility model. This addresses the problems of the previous delivery model which involved a fragmented system with many different ways of working, a lack of economies of scale and insufficient integration between operational and capital investment decisions, which impacted particularly on capital maintenance leading to underperformance and deterioration of existing assets. I remember when I was on Louth County Council along with Senators Jim D’Arcy and Brennan, we had to go cap in hand to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, begging for moneys to address infrastructural deficits in our water supply services.
Fianna Fáil, as it outlined in its motion, would remove Irish Water from the playing field and thereby delay or discontinue this important work to address these legacy issues and provide for future needs. It would jeopardise our ultimate goals of secure and reliable drinking water supplies and comprehensive wastewater treatment for all parts of the country. This would be at a time of rising population, a growing economy and a changing climate, developments that are putting new and increased demands on our public water and wastewater systems. As we look towards a more prosperous future, let us build on the reforms introduced so that we have a public water and wastewater system that serves all our needs and of which we can be proud. I, therefore, urge the House to support the Government's amendment to the motion.
I thank the Minister of State and Senators for contributing to the debate. I will start with a rebuttal. Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell made a good play for the next Taoiseach’s 11 nominees to the Seanad. I am sure it is secure after her performance earlier. I know she likes to call me the amateur actor. In fairness, when it comes to her, I certainly am, as she surely is the professional in that regard. Although she is not present, I know she will not mind me having those few words.
I gave the Minister of State the example of Sligo. Will he confirm with Irish Water that it is scaling back necessary schemes there? Sligo city will not have any spare capacity for the 70 acre industrial park which IDA Ireland is building there.The same applies to the 1,000 people on the housing list and, of course, to private housing demand. The Minister of State said that the population is increasing. I agree with him, provided the population is not in Sligo. He had better ask Senators O'Keeffe and Comiskey and Deputies McLoughlin and Perry about that because I am sure they are anxious to have a little population growth through natural causes. What about performing to our potential? My information about Irish Water is that it is scaling back all over the country because it does not have the money to function. In terms of the raw sewage being poured into the river at Carrick-on-Suir, I agree. Can anyone imagine-----
In regard to the raw sewage that is still being pumped in various places throughout the country, the 28 million litres that are being saved per day, as the Minister of State mentioned, the 24 treatment plants, the 32 plants upgraded and the 750 km of piping laid since Irish Water took over, let us imagine how much more raw sewage we could have stopped being pumped into our waterways, how many more plants could have been built, how many more plants could have been upgraded and how many more kilometres of pipes could have been laid if we had not thrown €785 million down the drain. The Minister of State is correct in saying that €400 million has been spent this year, give or take, that approximately €350 million was spent last year and that in the region of €300 million was invested the year before. As Senator Darragh O'Brien said, that is still €200 million less than was being spent at the height of the crash in 2010. The reality is that we have thrown good money after bad. I have clearly outlined the scaling back which prevents the capacity to cater for the rising population to which the Minister of State referred. That is what needs to be acknowledged. Even given the little bit of work that has been done, which cost €200 million less than the spending at the height of the crisis, as we have seen, can anyone imagine how much our local authorities could have achieved throughout the country in Waterford, Tipperary, Sligo, Fingal or Dublin city in making those improvements? If we split up that €785 million three years ago and said, "That is for you, that is for you and that is for you", how much work would have been done?
Let us use one of Irish Water's own figures, namely, the €1.5 billion required to upgrade the system nationally. My God. If we had a Minister worth his or her salt and a Government with the ambition and vision to do it, we could have had our existing staff, who have service level agreements with Irish Water, roll out half of those improvements already with the €785 million and have €35 million to spare.
To conclude, I am many things - and so is Fianna Fáil - but one thing I do not have is a brief for the previous Government, which the people adjudicated on. My responsibility as an elected representative is to hold the current Government to account. For that reason, I have no difficulty supporting this motion.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Máiría Cahill
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Máiría Cahill
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan