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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Apr 2010

Vol. 707 No. 2

Priority Questions.

Planning Issues.

Phil Hogan


1 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will order a detailed look-back investigation into the failure of corporate governance at board level in the Dublin Docklands Development Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16231/10]

In appointing Professor Niamh Brennan, a recognised expert in corporate governance, as chairperson of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority in March 2009, I have demonstrated my commitment to ensuring that the authority conducts its business and is managed in a transparent and appropriate manner.

I wrote to the authority's chairperson last year, requesting that a comprehensive review of corporate governance arrangements within the authority be undertaken. Consequently, the authority commissioned two independent consultants' reports to assess its planning and financial procedures. While the reports highlighted some deficiencies in the authority's governance and administrative procedures, they also reviewed improvements introduced to DDDA processes since Professor Brennan's appointment, and identified that many of the deficiencies have since been addressed.

At my request and on foot of advice from the Attorney General, the authority has been engaged in a third-party consultation process about these reports and a related report prepared by the executive board of the authority itself. The purpose of this process has been to give relevant former and current board members and DDDA employees an opportunity to comment on the contents of these reports. I expect that the authority will be submitting the final reports within the next day or so, taking into account the outcome of the consultation process. Once received, I will complete my consideration of the matters involved, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.

I expect to be in a position to conclude this process, including consideration of such further examination of issues as may be required, and I will revert to the Government on the matter early next month. In the meantime, it would be premature for me to comment further on the issues involved.

I asked the Minister if he was prepared to ensure that there was a look-back investigation into the manner in which decisions were made at the DDDA. I did not receive an answer to that. The authority initially was liable for €35 million out of a €288 million given by Anglo Irish Bank, which ultimately led to the purchase of the Irish Glass Bottle site in 2006 for €412 million. There were senior officials from Anglo Irish Bank, namely, Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Bradshaw, sitting on the board of the DDDA at the time the authority was making those decisions. The annual report for 2008, which was published without the financial report for 2009, announced a €27 million operating loss and a deficit of €213 million. We now know that then chief executive of the authority, Mr. Paul Maloney, approached the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government seeking approval of borrowing limits for this purchase before it was submitted to the board of the authority.

What is the estimated liability for the DDDA if Anglo Irish Bank calls in its loan? We also know that the assets of the authority were put up as security for this loan. Will the Minister give an undertaking that there will be a proper look-back investigation into the failure of corporate governance at the authority? We need to get to the truth of the matter about the major conflicts of interest that took place in this organisation, which is under the stewardship of his Department.

I will leave no stone unturned on this matter. This is precisely why I appointed Professor Niamh Brennan as chairperson of the authority, who has done an outstanding job so far in looking at these matters and is an expert in corporate governance. The Deputy must remember that I commissioned these reports. Professor Brennan has been quite assiduous in looking at all of these matters. Since coming into office, planning procedures have been tightened up and one will not find a more rigorous planning authority at this stage. The corporate governance structures have also been tightened up.

I have noticed some of the Deputy's statements in the media, and we need to be extremely careful in what we say when we talk about the invalidity of planning permission and so on. We are playing around with taxpayers' money and we need to be extremely careful. I want to see a Dublin Docklands Development Authority that functions. It has been acknowledged by all sides of the House that the authority has done great work for social regeneration and cultural activities, for which we only have to look at the new theatre that has opened. There is a vibrancy in that area which is something we simply cannot afford to throw away. Let us deal with this in a responsible way and let us get to the truth. We both share that ambition.

I am delighted that the Minister has said that we want to take this matter seriously because, on 17 August 2009, he wrote to Professor Brennan and asked that certain matters in respect of corporate governance be brought to his attention no later than October 2009. I did not hear in his reply whether he received that report.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government last December, Professor Brennan stated that it was "absolutely clear that there were systematic conflicts of interest between the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and Anglo Irish Bank by virtue of those common directors. There are questions about whether, as directors of the authority, the individuals in question owed their duty solely to the good of the authority or were engaging in transactions influenced by their outside interests."

I want those matters investigated. I want the Minister to come back to the House with a full report on these matters. We want to get to the truth of these matters and I am delighted to hear him say that he will leave no stone unturned, but he will be judged on that statement by the manner in which we expose the full rigours of his authority to get to the truth and make sure that the conflicts of interest and the bad decision making processes never happen again.

In view of the fact that the assets of the authority were put up as security for the loan from Anglo Irish Bank, I am sure that the Minister has an estimated liability to the bank by the authority if that loan was called in.

The Deputy and I have discussed this matter across the Chamber before. On the last occasion here, he stated quite categorically that two members of the board had a conflict of interest. He has used this phrase again today. I wrote to him subsequently and asked him to name the individuals in question. The Deputy then replied to me——

The Minister should answer the question he was asked. I will come back to that if he wants me to do so.

——and said that he would be in a position to name them when he had possession of the report. He has since come into possession of those reports, and I think it is incumbent on him to name these people.

The Minister should stop distracting us.

If we want to get to the bottom of this——

A Chathaoirligh, when is the Minister going to answer the question he was asked?

The Deputy is very clear about the role of the Chair.

The role of the Chair is to insist that the Minister answer the question.

I am answering the question on conflicts of interest. It is obvious to anybody looking in on this that there were potential conflicts of interest. However, Deputy Hogan was the person——

Professor Brennan said it.

——who stated categorically that there were members of the board that had conflicts of interest.

Does the Minister think there were no such members?

I asked him to name them.

The Minister must be happy that there are no such conflicts.

There is much confusion about the €5 million figure as the cost to the taxpayer, which is something the Deputy quoted in the media. It is very misleading to assert that the DDDA has exposed the taxpayer to the full risk in this venture.

How much is the liability to Anglo Irish Bank?

The authority is a 26% shareholder and is therefore responsible for 26% of the capital guarantee. That is as it is and we must look at that as part of the full report. The figures are there, however, and the Deputy has only to calculate them himself.

Will the Minister guarantee the House to get to the truth of how those decisions were made and how the Dublin Docklands Development Authority is effectively financially broke at this stage? What is the estimated liability to the authority, which will ultimately fall to his Department, for a loan that will have to be paid to Anglo Irish Bank if those loans were called in at this stage? The securities that were put up for the Anglo Irish Bank loan were those of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, so what is the estimated liability?

The Minister has the last word.

I have answered that question, but I will answer the Deputy's first question again.

He will not answer the question.

I will state it repeatedly that, yes, I want to get to the bottom of this. As Minister, I have taken on board many of the concerns and we are moving in the right direction. The Deputy can be guaranteed that I will get to the bottom of this.

I will get to the bottom of all the financial irregularities that were exposed concerning some of the planning issues as well. The authority's accounts show a write-down on the valuation of the Irish Glass Bottle Company's site from €412 million to €50 million, based on the red-book valuation of the site. A write-down of that scale reflects the distressed property market and the banking system. This matter has been in the public domain and it is clear to most people that this was a case of Celtic tiger Ireland going overboard.

No independent valuation was carried out.

I could elaborate on some of the things the Deputy has raised in the media over a period. One of the main points he made was that I was not publishing these two reports because they contained politically embarrassing material. Now that he is in possession of those reports, however, he will see that is not the case.

We have another one here that the Minister did not publish.

I am anxious to get to the truth of the matter. If the Deputy worked with me we could both do the taxpayer a good service.

The Minister got his chance.

I understand that we have an adversarial system and the Deputy must try to score points, but it is not helping the taxpayer in any way.

We just want the truth.

Departmental Projects.

Ciaran Lynch


2 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the actions that he has taken on foot of the Ernst and Young report on capital projects funded by his Department; the cost of commissioning this report; the measures that have been taken to curb the series of concerns expressed in this report regarding the attitude of local authorities to project fund management; the measures that have been taken to ensure current and future projects each have a project brief based on a thorough appraisal of project requirements; if direction has been provided to local authorities on the implementation of the report’s recommendations; if so, if he will outline same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16176/10]

In 2008, in the context of requirements relating to capital funding, my Department, following a competitive tendering process, commissioned Ernst and Young to carry out spot-checks on capital projects, at a cost of €545,048. It involved the examination, in local authorities and my Department, of 143 projects valued at a total of €330 million in nine programme areas to assess adherence to capital appraisal guidelines.

In general, the report found good performance concerning procurement and that local authorities comply with the relevant guidelines. The report also found that, in a large number of cases where significant capital expenditure was involved, processes adopted by local authorities mirrored the formal appraisal guidelines.

However, the report also records deficiencies in formal appraisals and project briefs, and completion of documentation, as well as delayed submission of final accounts. In particular, the report identified 11 issues concerning appraisal and management of projects, and made recommendations to accompany those findings.

Many of the projects examined were undertaken when strengthened capital appraisal guidelines from 2005 were relatively new and before the introduction of fixed price contracts from 2007. On this basis, I hope and expect that the situation will improve significantly and that this will be reflected in subsequent spot-checks.

I am concerned, nonetheless, by the findings of the report. Accordingly, my Department wrote to local authorities on 22 March 2010 re-emphasising the importance of adherence to the capital appraisal guidelines. In this respect, all project managers have been asked to review current arrangements for the management of projects to assure themselves that they are being appraised, managed and monitored sufficiently in line with Department of Finance guidelines, as well as with relevant departmental circulars.

As far as the nine specific programme areas are concerned, issues arising from the report will be taken forward by the relevant sections in my Department dealing directly with those areas. I will also be considering what further, more general steps should be taken, including in the area of training, with a particular focus on the issues referred to in the report.

By way of follow-up, spot-checks on capital projects are now being undertaken both by the local government audit service and my own Department's internal audit unit in respect of 2008 projects. I look forward to seeing a significant improvement in the results.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I am baffled by the manner and tone of that reply. This is a damning report. The only conclusion that can be drawn from it is that we had runaway over-spending by local authorities involving hundreds of millions of euro. If the Minister wants to make light of that, I would ask him to re-examine the report. For example, it shows that almost one third of work was over budget and there were no contingency plans when costs overran. The auditor has said that it was considered a success to secure funds and how they were spent was considered a secondary measure. In addition, one in every 25 cases revealed showed that there was no prior departmental approval for their expenditure.

The report showed that over 30% of projects ran into over-spend. What is the monetary value of that sum? Can the Minister provide a breakdown by relevant headings and individual local authorities? What efforts has the Minister made to recoup the costs and sanction local authorities that went ahead with projects without his Department's approval?

Oddly, the Minister says that guidelines at the time were quite loose, but they were not. European directives and procurement process were in place at the time. The report shows that European procurement procedures were breached concerning tendering processes for some of these projects. Will the Minister indicate how many local authorities this matter relates to?

I do not think the Deputy can say that I am taking this matter lightly. He must remember that my Department commissioned this report and even though it came in at the lowest tender it is certainly a fair amount of money when one is talking about €545,000. In no way can the Deputy say that I am taking this lightly. I have clearly said that I have concerns about overspending, be it in capital projects or current spending. As well as taking this measure, the Deputy also knows that I have established an efficiency group to examine current spending. We discussed that matter the other day.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions about specific local authorities. I will get back to him in writing about them. If the Deputy provides specific questions, I will give him a breakdown. I will give him every answer that he is looking for in that regard. There is no difficulty there, although it will take some time to examine each and every local authority to see what is actually going on. In general terms, however, local authorities are responsible for an expenditure of approximately €11 billion. In looking at the national accounts, one must ask some searching questions. In my own backyard I have seen what happened concerning the waste treatment plant in Ringsend where I had to cough up a further €30 million because they got the contract arrangements wrong. This is of great concern to me and I share the Deputy's real concern about this matter. I will try to get back to him as quickly as possible on any of the questions he has on specific local authorities.

I welcome that the Minister will provide a response on the detailed questions I will list for him on the conclusion of this debate. In addition to those questions, were there bonus payments attached to those projects and if so, what were the criteria for the bonuses? In light of the report, has the Minister given consideration to the fact the bonuses may not have been merited? We had a situation where money was given out by the Department where the project plan, if it was in place, was a secondary measure. This was a recipe for a disaster. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that the projects would overrun.

Who ultimately sanctioned the budget overspends outlined in the report? Did the additional permission come from the Department or was the overspend made by the local authority and did it then come looking for the money? Surely the issue should have been flagged earlier, when the overspend was happening and the local authorities needed the Minister's permission. It should not have required a report to bring it to our attention. The audit outlined in the report relates to a sum of approximately €330 million, but that is out of a total capacity expenditure of €5 billion. Can the Minister indicate the actual overall spend for the period in question, because Ernst & Young only examined a percentage of the expenditure for that time? If we apply the report to the overall sum of €5 billion, I am sure the sum in question is appalling.

On the question of bonuses, the Deputy has made valid points and I have always shared his view. As mentioned on the previous question, we lost the run of ourselves in terms of bonus payments during the Celtic tiger years. The Deputy's question is specific and I will have to come back to him on it. On the question on the role of the Department, where I see a gap is that often managers take decisions and are not accountable for those major financial decisions. The person who then has to take the rap and has to go before the PAC is the Secretary General of my Department. I have discussed this with other Deputies and it makes sense that in the context of reviewing local government structures, we look at the possibility that managers go before the PAC and account for the financial decisions they have made.

Waste Management.

Phil Hogan


3 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the impact on the commercial viability of the Poolbeg waste energy plant, Dublin 4 if recent proposals on a new incinerator levy are enacted; the financial exposure to the taxpayer in the event of breached commercial contracts as a result of the incinerator levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16232/10]

I recently launched a public consultation on the application of levies to both landfill and incineration facilities. The approach I am considering will be designed to ensure that material which could otherwise be recycled is not drawn to facilities in lower tiers of the waste hierarchy. The facility in question is being advanced by Dublin City Council, acting on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities in the context of their statutory regional waste management plan, by way of a public private partnership. The State is not a party to this PPP agreement and has undertaken no financial or other liability in respect of the project.

As I have previously indicated, it is my understanding that the quantities of residual waste currently being collected by the Dublin local authorities may not be sufficient to meet the volumetric contractual commitment which forms part of the public private partnership agreement. Any inability on the part of the authorities to meet this commitment could give rise to public financial implications which would of course be a matter for those authorities to address.

I have appointed an authorised person, under section 224 of the Local Government Act 2001, to conduct a review of the parameters of the project. This will address the nature and extent of financial and related risks and consequences which may arise for Dublin City Council in connection with its participation in the project agreement, in a changing policy, legal and economic environment.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was represented on the PPP steering group for this project. Therefore, the Department was involved with it and it was in line with existing Government policy. In addition, some finance was contributed to the project by the Department. Now that the Department is no longer in consultation on it, has the Minister been in contact with Dublin City Council about the implications of the legislation? Also, will there be a contingent liability on the taxpayer?

What is the current status on mechanical biological treatment plants, MBTPs? In order to meet landfill directives we will need additional MBT plants and we must ensure we meet obligations and requirements under the directive deadlines or we will be exposed to further fines from Europe. What is the plan of action with regard to these plants and where are they?

I have had no direct contact with Dublin City Council on the proposed levies. I am aware many local authorities have called for the introduction of landfill levies, as have many people in the industry. It is through the introduction of these levies that we will ensure we get increased rates of recycling. The levies are also a stimulus to the MBT industry. Those in the composting industry, in particular, have called on me to introduce these levies, which make sense because they change behaviour. We must remember when talking about the implementation of the landfill directive, that we are talking about the biodegradable fraction of waste, which when it decomposes causes difficulties such as methane emissions. I had the pleasure recently of turning the sod at an MBT plant in Meath which will deal with over 200,000 tonnes of waste. This is the way to go. We want to increase recycling rates up to 70%. This target is part of the international review we commissioned, which was very clear that if we want to change waste management structure and behaviour, we must introduce levies.

The new food regulations which will come into play at the end of June will make a big difference and will mean that how we treat food waste from our restaurants and hotels, which currently goes to landfill where it causes difficulties, will change. If current practice continued, it would be difficult to meet the landfill directive requirements. This change will encourage those in the MBT and composting industries. This is the direction we want to take to get away from reliance on landfill and large scale incineration.

What is the current status on the construction of the incinerator at Poolbeg? When will the report of the authorised officer commissioned by the Minister be available?

There was a hiatus over Easter when the individual in question, Mr. Hennessy, could not do his work. He has now returned and I hope he will continue with his work. He will meet one of my Department's officials next week. I hope he will complete his report as quickly as possible, within the next month or so. That will give us a clear indication of the potential liability for Dublin City Council. Given the changing environment and the fact we are changing policy — we have made it clear the commitments in the programme for Government now constitute Government policy — it would be most unwise for Dublin City Council and the proposed operators to continue down this path and not take account of changing Government policy. That is what this Government is about and that is my commitment.

Before he responds on Question No. 4, I take this opportunity to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, well and to congratulate him on his appointment.

Unfinished Housing Estates.

Terence Flanagan


4 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the actions he will undertake regarding unfinished housing estates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16233/10]

The Department is progressing a range of actions, with the co-operation of local authorities and other key stakeholders, to address the issue of unfinished or unoccupied estates. These actions include an accurate quantification, classification and mapping of the various types of unfinished or unoccupied estates on a county by county basis to understand the scale and distribution of the problem. I anticipate that, following a pilot exercise with one local authority, a comprehensive national inventory should be completed in the middle of the year.

The Department is also preparing a best practice policy manual which aims to identify the necessary responses to ensure satisfactory outcomes in tackling difficulties on specific sites in a co-ordinated and pro-active manner. The responses will require a range of interventions across a number of disciplines; there are issues of public safety, the provision of bonds and securities, environmental protection, building control and estate management.

Developers and owners of sites are required to ensure that they are left in a safe and secure condition. Local authorities are prioritising action to ensure that these obligations are discharged and that sites within their areas are properly secured from public access and, where necessary, are made structurally sound. In this regard, existing legislation such as the Derelict Sites Act 1990 and the Litter Acts 1997 to 2003, along with planning legislation, can be used to ensure developers and the owners of sites engage with local authorities in addressing specific difficulties. We will also keep the need for further legislative reforms to assist local authorities on this issue under review.

It is a matter for the National Asset Management Agency to consider how it deals with unfinished or incomplete estates that come within its remit. I will make the Department's data available to NAMA to inform its analysis.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, on his first Question Time and I wish him well in his new role.

I thank him for his response. This is a major problem throughout the country, of which the Minister of State is well aware, and the issue with regard to unfinished housing estates has been well documented in the media. To not know the amount of housing estates involved is ridiculous. Each local authority should know and have information to hand on the quantity in its area. It is beyond the stage of issuing a best practice policy manual as there are legacy housing estates that have been there since the Celtic tiger. Merely issuing guidelines, circulars or best practice manuals is not enough. The Minister of State briefly mentioned legislation on derelict sites and litter but we need to ensure these developments are completed. There needs to be watertight legislation to ensure developers will no longer be able to leave an unfinished estate and move on to the next project. It should be part of best practice to ensure it does not occur again. How much money will the Department set aside to complete developments where developers have gone bankrupt and are not in a position to complete developments?

To cut to the chase, we do not have a bottomless pit of money to throw at the problem and the responsibilities do not fall directly to the Department to address the multi-faceted issues which exist. On the first issue on what direct numbers we have, there are very different estimates depending on the source of information used. There is huge variation in the figures. For instance, the Construction Industry Federation stated there were approximately 35,000 completed but unsold units available for sale. However, a study by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI, Maynooth, put the total figure at more than 300,000 units.

The great Scottish town planner, Sir Patrick Geddes, summarised planning by stating there are three issues involved: survey, analysis and plan. What is most important is to survey the scale of the problem and then to analyse those figures. I am glad to state the Department is putting considerable resources into the initial survey of the scale of the problem. We will start with a pilot study in County Laois. Officials from the Department are not only doing a desktop study of the issue but they are going out and inspecting the unfinished developments so we can quantify the scale of the problem. That is hugely important.

When we get to analysing the problem there are three main issues: the very important issue of public safety; the completion and management of the essential infrastructures and amenities; and the long-term future and resolution of the sites themselves. These are three very distinct problems with different scales of response from the Department, the National Asset Management Agency and the local authority.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. What about situations where developers are high and dry, insolvent and not in a position to complete housing estates? All home owners purchase their homes in good faith with a view to all facilities being completed in the housing estate. We know that in ghost estates and derelict sites roads have not been completed, public lighting is not working and sewers may be broken. The people living there are desperate and need help and guidance. I am very disappointed that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not have this information to hand but that it has to go out and inspect to know how bad the problem is. It shows how out of control is the situation. Will the Minister of State give hope to those living in housing estates where developers have gone bankrupt? Will they see action from the Government to help them in their dire need?

I take that point but the last thing we want to do is rush headlong into proposing solutions when we have not adequately or accurately analysed the scale of the problem in the first instance. Last week, I took it upon myself not only to address the Irish Planning Institute conference but to spend an entire day listening to the various papers it put forward. There were very good addresses by some county planners from throughout the country, by the likes of Bill Nolan, pointing out the various aspects of the challenges we face. There was anecdotal evidence suggesting the scale of completely unfinished estates is not as high as some fairly strong headlines have suggested in recent days and we need to be careful on that. However, there is an onus on developers to carry out the development in accordance with the plans submitted and the local authority or the planning authority can take action based on that.

I am glad to state with regard to the loans taken over by the National Assets Management Agency, that it has a planning sub-committee headed by Willie Soffe, the former Fingal county manager. It will examine some of the planning aspects of the problem. The first port of call for individuals with unfinished facilities is their legal representatives but they can and should approach the local authority to ensure the planning conditions are being complied with, and look to the developers. Many of these developments do not come under the National Assets Management Agency and the matter can be taken up under civil law with the respective developer. Deputy Terence Flanagan knows as I do that very often an approach can be made to the developer in the first instance to try to address the outstanding issues, whether it be sewerage, lighting or roads. If issues of public safety are raised I would urge the home owner to go directly to the local authority because there is a range of legislation under which the local authority or the planning authority can take action.

Water Meters.

Phil Hogan


5 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to roll out domestic water meters on a national basis; when he intends to implement the Programme for Government commitment to introduce domestic water charges; his further plans to impose a flat charge on water usage in the absence of water meters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16234/10]

In December last, following a decision by Government, I informed the House that I would bring forward proposals for the installation of water meters in households served by public water supplies. These proposals, which my Department is now finishing, will give effect to the commitment in the renewed programme for Government to introduce charging for domestic water in a way that is fair, significantly reduces waste and is easily applied. I expect to bring these proposals to Government in the coming weeks.

The proposals will include draft legislation to remove the prohibition on charging for domestic water services and will also address the arrangements for the delivery of the water metering programme, cost estimates and how these costs are to be financed, as well as plans for the development of a pricing structure for domestic water services. I will provide further details on these matters following their consideration and approval by Government. I am confident that the introduction of charges based on usage and not a flat-rate charge as suggested in the question will encourage the conservation of water resources. Reducing consumption will help to reduce the significant costs incurred by local authorities in providing supplies of quality drinking water and treating wastewater discharged into the public sewerage system. This matter should be seen in conjunction with my announcement earlier this week of investment of some €320 million in conservation works over the period 2010 to 2012, which will provide for a very substantial scaling up of activity in mains rehabilitation. This significant investment in conservation is part of the overall investment of the €1.8 billion in the water services investment programme 2010 to 2012.

Fine Gael supports the Government proposal to introduce domestic water meters. People need to be charged for excessive use of water after a certain allowance for household use. Too much water is being wasted and there is no appreciation of the fact that water is a finite resource. Over the winter months that issue came home to people. I support that view.

How will the Government pay for this major investment? Has the Minister quantified the investment that will be required to roll out the metering system? How long will it take? In the meantime how will the Government pay for the water investment programme as we approach 2015?

As I said to the Deputy at the recent committee meeting, one would be forgiven for believing that Monday's press launch was about water metering; of course it was not. It was about the water services investment programme, which is a very significant capital investment in our water infrastructure, be it in improving drinking water quality or investing in wastewater treatment plants. Considering the number of schemes included in that, the Deputy will realise that we are taking action in a very pragmatic way. We will no longer concentrate on the schemes, but on the contracts themselves and try to get the greatest possible bang for our buck.

The issue of paying for water meters has not yet been brought to Government. As I told the Deputy the other day, I have not brought forward the memorandum to Cabinet and it would be unwise and premature for me to talk in the House about my initial thoughts on the matter. However, he can be assured that the commitment on this in the programme for Government will be honoured. I very much value the support expressed by the Deputy for the water metering programme. There is now a responsible recognition from the Fine Gael Party that treated water needs to be paid for, but in a fair and transparent way.

I am sure the Minister carried out studies before he advanced this proposal in the programme for Government and he has an idea what it will cost to meter every house in the country. I am sure the Department has provided a memorandum or some notion of the ballpark figures, which he might like to share with the House. He might also share the length of time it will take to roll out metering.

As much as I like caring and sharing——

Since we are on the same side of this argument, the Minister could be generous.

——I am not in a position to let the Deputy in on the deliberations. These are important matters. It would be quite wrong of me to let the Deputy in on this before I have even gone to my Government colleagues.

I know the Minister is not great at looking for information.

The Deputy can be assured that this is a major programme which will provide a further economic stimulus. Obviously, it is not just about water conservation. It will also provide local authorities with an extra revenue base and provide a very important economic stimulus and create jobs. From every perspective this is a win-win. It is important to remember that this is to be done in a fair and progressive way. There will be a free allocation with users paying above that allocation. When people see the programme we plan to roll out, most fair minded people will agree it makes sense.

I wish to ask——

I ask the Deputy to be very brief; he has broken his promise.

The Minister did not answer. I have not broken my promise; I have a minute to go. I have given great assistance to the Acting Chairman.

Does the Minister have an indication as to what it will cost to roll out this programme? Is it €1 billion of €1.5 billion?

Is it €500 million?

I have been very clear in that I have a series of options that have been outlined. I need to go to Government, consider those options and pick the best option — the most efficient, cost-effective and fairest option.