Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Water Services Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
We in Sinn Féin are not going to delay the procedures today. I know that we have been accused of this in the past but the delay on this Bill was due to the negotiations between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We obviously have several issues with this Bill which will not be taken on board because of the debates that took place in the Dáil and in this House on Second Stage. I want to put on the record, however, that there is still no clarification on group water schemes and where funding for these schemes will stand in the future; on the excessive use charge; on undiscovered leaks; or on the first fix fee. We in Sinn Féin still have serious issues with this Bill but we understand the people want to get paid before Christmas. We will not delay the passing of the Bill but we will oppose it at this Stage and on Report Stage.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Michael McDowell, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, Catherine Noone, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Colette Kelleher, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Michael McDowell, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
The Minister of State indicated he wished to speak on this Stage. Does any Member want to contribute? I remind the House that this is not Second Stage, it is the conclusion of the debate on the Bill. Members are entitled to make a few comments. I call on Senator Murnane O'Connor, who is to be followed by Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Today was crunch time. This legislation needed to be passed. It is refunding law-abiding citizens who paid a charge they were forced into paying. Hundreds of thousands of people protested against the charges, and hundreds of thousands paid. They deserve timely refunds.
Water is something many of us take for granted, but we cannot survive without it. Now this legislation is passed, we will work on educating people on water conservation. This Bill is partly about education. Everyone needs to be educated about water conservation. We need to achieve this but we also need to ensure we have an information campaign, including leaflets, and that people will know where to get the information. This is crucial.
It is crucial that, under this legislation, 30,000 cheques per day can be issued. Considering that 970,000 refunds will have to be completed, the legislation should go to the President for signature as soon as possible. We must do our utmost to refund the people who have paid because it is so important. Christmas is only six weeks away. It would be great if we could issue the refunds before then.
On the rural water scheme, we must put incentives in place for people who are paying for water. I will make sure I work on this personally. Today is a good day. Everything has been done well and we are all happy. I hope the President will sign off on the legislation as soon as possible.
Tá sé náireach ar bhealach go bhfuil an Bille seo á chur tríd na Tithe inniu in aon suí amháin. Ní chóir nach ndéanfaí mionscrúdú ceart ar chuid de na himpleachtaí a bhaineann leis an mBille. Is cinnte nach é Sinn Féin atá ag cur moill ar an reachtaíocht seo. We need to be clear that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the parties to blame for the delay in bringing this Bill forward to the Houses and in the making of the payments that are due. The Bill was due to be published in June but it was delayed so the pantomime of the Fine Gael leadership contest could take place. It was then due to be published and passed in July but squabbling in the background between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil delayed it even further. This is crucial because it proves Fianna Fáil's fingerprints are all over the Bill. It wanted to make sure that it could design a Bill that would, on the surface, end water charges, yet leave a mechanism in place for their return. Many people will rightly deduce that a Fianna Fáil return to power may well equal a return to water charges. If it was such a big issue during the last election campaign and helped Fianna Fáil to win back many seats, why did it not completely abolish the water charges?
-----with group water schemes, as I have mentioned.
Clarification is still required on future funding and the form that funding or subsidy will take. We have issues over the excessive use charge. Will it be measured at the meter or will there be a straight-off fine? Will there be a first-fix-free policy on undiscovered leaks, or will such leaks incur the excessive-use charge? All these questions remain and could have been addressed had there been a more comprehensive debate and Bill, and if relevant amendments had been accepted in the Dáil. Instead, a very flawed Bill has gone through today, and that is why we opposed it. If Fianna Fáil had any backbone, it would have opposed it also.
Cuireann sé ríméad orm go bhfuil an Bille seo rite ar maidin. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach gur féidir linn dul ar aghaidh ó thaobh an fadhb mór seo a bhí ann. I am delighted the Bill has been passed today. I greatly appreciate the work, commitment and considerable effort of the committee in this regard. As an Independent and one who has come from the outside, I very much appreciate the Government party, Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil coming together. Rather than just focusing on negative politics, they said they had got to create a solution to the best benefit of the people.If I take nothing else from whatever length of time I spend in this House, it is that I appreciate what both sides of the Houses have done. Having said that, I am equally disappointed with Sinn Féin and others, who for the sake of politics and jibing, decided to go against this process at every stage. There are people who paid money and we decided they should be repaid that money. It should have been done last summer and not now.
There are some officials here from the Department. I said the last time I spoke that I really appreciate their contribution. They made a major contribution, as have personnel from the Commission for Energy Regulation, Irish Water and others. Irish Water will be a public utility and body of which we all will be proud. As my colleague, Senator Coffey, said the last day, we will be as proud of it as we are of the ESB and others. I thank everybody for their contribution.
I commend Senator Ó Céidigh on his chairing of the water services committee. He stepped into the breach, so to speak, and did a fine job in reaching a resolution on this matter. I join with him in thanking the officials. When I have been in this Chamber when it was elsewhere, I was not immune to giving out about officials but the officials from my Department have had six water Bills in the past seven or eight years. I commend them on their efforts, particularly on this legislation, which we are finalising today. I hope there will be fewer than six water Bills in the next ten years.
I was trying to answer Senator Ó Clochartaigh's query earlier and yesterday the Senator's colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh, raised the matters to which the Senator spoke relating to section 7. I refer him to the answer I gave to her yesterday. I thank all the Members who contributed to the water debate this week and over the years. This conclusion marks the end of what has been an arduous political and legislative process over the past number of years. Debate has been robust and although people disagree on aspects of how water services should be funded, the discussion at least has now reached a positive conclusion. I will be political for a moment. It is imperative that the citizens of the State who obeyed the law of the State should receive their refund. As Senator Murnane O'Connor states, I hope as many as possible, if not all, will have this before Christmas. That was the intention of the this Bill and I hope it comes to pass.
I was interested in Senator Ó Clochartaigh's reference to the Fine Gael leadership contest. He said it was pantomime. I do not know how one would describe the Sinn Féin leadership contest that ended up with Ms Michelle O'Neill. There was no contest, as far as I know.
In enacting this Bill we are providing funding clarity and certainty for Irish Water so it can deliver a public water system that provides a safe and secure supply of water to our homes and communities, as well as the water-intensive industries that sustain approximately 400,000 jobs in the country and the wider economy. We are providing funding certainty so the utility can address major deficits in urban wastewater treatment, which were referred to earlier, and so the public health and aquatic environment are protected. The Bill supports a strong policy framework for water services so we can aspire with confidence to achieving a modern public water and wastewater system fit for a modern society and economy. As Irish Water continues to deliver change and progress, securing water quality supplies, reducing leakages and increasing spare supply capacity and wastewater treatment capacity, all of us in the Oireachtas must constructively and regularly engage with the questions of how to improve public water services and manage this extremely important resource into the future. The public deserves no less.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Colette Kelleher, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Michael McDowell, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Grace O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.