I apologise for my absence yesterday and thank Deputy Niall Collins for taking the first ten minutes and thank other speakers for allowing that to be the case.
This is an interim Bill with three main objectives: to establish Uisce Éireann, or Irish Water, as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann; to confer power on to that board and on to Irish Water to install water meters in all domestic properties; and to provide that the Commission for Energy Regulation can advise Government on regulatory procedures and act as a regulator for water services and functions.
We will oppose this Bill, not necessarily because Fianna Fáil is against water charges but because of the manner in which Irish Water is being established and configured. There are not sufficient safeguards within the parameters by which it has been set up to stave off what we believe is a real and live threat of privatisation at a later date. I am conscious of the fact that we have many group schemes, private and public, and that many of them by their nature and location would not be considered profitable in the event of a buyer arriving in years to come who would be interested in vast multiple connections and population centres. We fear that without sufficient safeguards in the ownership of the company, that remains a threat where we could not guarantee the future for all areas. It is for that reason we feel there must be further strengthening of the configuration of the company to convince Fianna Fáil and others that the threat is not likely to be realised.
We do not oppose the installation of water meters but the Government should first, before the publication of the Bill, honour the commitments it made when it announced the policy process more than a year ago. There was to be a full audit of the existing networks that was to be made available to the House. That audit would allow us to address the myth that the water service is not fit for purpose. If, as many on the Government side have said, we do not have an efficient water service, why should people be asked to pay for an inefficient service? It is only when that service is fit for purpose and we can stand over it, with the necessary safeguards in place, conservation at its heart and a pristine service, that the Government will be in a position to charge.
Full costings were to be made available that would give us the exact figures not only for the reinstatement repairs necessary to bring the entire network up to the necessary standard, but that would put at our disposal a definitive cost analysis for water metering for the State and the National Pensions Reserve Fund, and ultimately for the user. There would need to be a proposal based on those costs that would state categorically how users would pay for putting that in place.
When the policy direction was initially announced, there was great confusion in both Fine Gael and in the Labour Party as to how it would be configured. We are no wiser today than we were then. It is against that sort of background that I cannot commend the Bill to the House. We are in the dark about the progress that has been made and what progress is likely. It is difficult enough for us to finalise our own policy in this area. How, then, can we acquiesce to the Government's request at this stage on the establishment of Irish Water and giving it the authority to commence metering? Nor can we support the idea in the Bill of the regulator being put in place.
Those are the broad questions we have but there are many other individual questions related to them. When this was announced last year, we were told installation would commence in 2012 and be rolled out on an accelerated basis. That idea has been canned. The Government now tells us there will be a three year roll-out. Previously the Government said 2,000 jobs would be created per annum in the roll-out. Can the Government commit to 6,000 jobs?
We were told there would be 150 to 200 local installation contracts. My sources tell me the tender process was very restrictive. I understand the Government tried to address that by compiling a list of local plumbers from which contractors had to pick. I have a problem with that because the Government still has not made any progress on the subcontractors Bill. How long has that been outstanding given the commitment that was made and the work that was done by the previous Government to put that in place? Why has there been such a delay? Can the Government commit to that legislation being in place before this Bill commences?
The tendering process is over and the applications are being considered. We were told no indicative figure could be given while the tendering process was under way.