Water Services Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, in the name of Deputy Stanley are, unfortunately, out of order. We will begin with amendment No. 3, in the name of Deputy Stanley, which arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 38 are related and may be discussed together.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, line 22, after “Act” to insert “other than section 24”.

It is regrettable that 24 out of the 28 amendments that I tabled have been ruled out of order, which makes it very difficult for me, as an Opposition Deputy, to have any meaningful input into this legislation. On the amendment-----

Can I just interrupt the Deputy for one moment on that point? This is all about technicalities and I would suggest to Deputies that before they submit amendments, they contact the staff to check if there are other ways of dealing with issues. We continually have this problem. I understand the Deputy's frustration because I was an Opposition spokesman myself. It would be better if we could arrive at a situation where the services of the staff here are available to Opposition spokespeople to check issues. I just wanted to make that point and put it on the record.

I submitted my amendments in plenty of time but was only notified at 9.10 p.m. yesterday that they were out of order.

It gives me no pleasure to sign a letter to the Deputy to the effect that his amendments are out of order.

At the moment, operating the water service in this country costs €1.2 billion, but I believe that this cost will increase under a centralised service run by Irish Water. Our amendments are aimed at addressing this because obviously there will be a cost to the householder down the line. Even at a cost of €1.2 billion, divided by 1.5 million households, we are talking about an average cost of approximately €700 per household. On top of that, there is the proposed installation of water meters, which will require the borrowing of up to €500 million from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, although the local government professional services steering group believes the figure will be higher. The cost of that will also be put onto the householder. I ask the Minister of State to address this issue, which has not been addressed in any of our previous debates on this legislation. The funds for the installation of meters will have to be paid back on top of the cost of the water service, which will increase the annual charge.

Accountability under the new water service structure is also an issue of concern. Irish Water will be a private company, limited by guarantee but in State ownership. I accept what the Minister of State has said, that it is not the intention of this Government, at this point in time, to privatise it. The Minister of State can look me straight in the eye and tell me that and I will believe he is telling me the truth. However, had I asked a previous Minister two or three years ago if he or she intended to sell off the harvesting rights in Coillte or large chunks of Bord Gáis, I would have been told that the Government had no intention of doing so. The point is that intentions change with circumstances.

Currently, there is democratic control within the local authority system and the process is owned by householders and those who pay rates. When a company is created and a meter is placed outside my door and every other door, the process becomes a cash cow. There will be a commodity value for a private company and international investors from the likes of China or whoever has the cash to buy it. That is where the danger will lie down the line, as the new Uisce Éireann will be exposed to privatisation. The current Government will be in power for a certain length of time but even in that time, circumstances may change. That is the concern that Sinn Féin has.

Amendment No. 38 relates to poverty-proofing. I have asked whether a poverty impact analysis has been carried out, as there would be a significant impact, particularly on low-income people. Yesterday I raised here the commitment in the programme for Government relating to a waiver for refuse collection. Low-income households in County Laois have been waiting for 26 years for a waiver system that exists in other parts of the country. There is no waiver or exemption in this process; it is the same with the household charge. The can can be kicked down the road but the bill will be put in the pocket. The bill can be paid when the house is sold.

Refuse collections have no waivers or exemptions. There is an exemption for low-income households in the North, as well as other exemptions in the rates system. We are not totally happy with the system but as one of five parties, we have limited power to change. That is a key point. How will water charges affect low-income groups, large households, disabled and sick people and premises that need much water for medical reasons? Those households will be affected in a very bad way. As I mentioned with regard to refuse collection, there is no waiver scheme or relief, with the household charge coming and bills dropping through the letterbox next week.

I told the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, last Friday that I met people in Graiguecullen last Thursday night and it is not a case that they do not want to pay but rather that this is affecting their physical and mental health. The accumulation of what has happened in the past four to five years has ground down these people mentally, physically and economically. They are exhausted and terrified of what is coming. I do not want to overstate the matter but I have never seen people as concerned and in fear of what is coming. Although I will not overstate the Government's proposals, I will not understate it either. I believe in giving facts to people. Will the Government take on board amendment No. 38 in order to poverty-proof the process? There should be relief for people if the Government is going to follow through on the issue.

The accountability issue runs through a number of amendments. Currently, a Deputy or town or county councillor can contact an area engineer and get a response. However inadequate the system is under the local authorities, councillors and Deputies were able to get a response during the big freeze. Officials in the Custom House may be removed from this but the people on the ground trying to ensure that services keep going saw the benefits. During the big freeze most of the Twenty-six Counties saw this benefit and were able to keep a reasonably good water supply going. Where there was disruption, the problem was remedied fairly quickly because of a good working relationship between local elected representatives and the water services section in a council.

In the North it is a different story, and the Sinn Féin Minister had a major battle to get any kind of response. County Louth - the Minister of State's home - had to supply parts of County Down with water. That is how far the water was moved because of the separate company involved, Northern Ireland Water. I am highlighting the bad elements in the North, which are evident in the system we inherited. The Assembly was established but Northern Ireland Water had been set up for a number of years. It is inadequate so we must have democratic control in the local authority system, particularly with regard to essential services like roads, water, sewerage and housing. We must have that in a democracy. Those who set up local authorities may have founded the Minister of State's party or my party but they had in common an acceptance of the need to have local control over local services. We are advocating a national framework team to oversee the process, co-ordinate it and implement standards. We must work through the local authority system to make that improvement.

The Government is prepared to sell the operations of the lotto system and trees from Coillte. I heard a Labour Minister quipping that Coillte sells trees but currently it sells the product directly to local sawmills. The Government is proposing that it would sell trees to a multinational company, which would sell the product to sawmills or the highest bidder. If the Government is prepared to sell trees, the lotto and the profitable parts of Bord Gáis, it tells me that it would have no qualms about selling the water company if the need arose. That would be a step too far. I appeal to the Minister of State to accept the amendments we are putting forward in good faith. We are trying to knock the rough edges from the Government's actions. The day we establish Uisce Éireann will be a bad day for democracy.

We will have to contact a call centre if there is a problem with water services in my constituency; local councillors will be dialling 1890 numbers. Nobody has told me anything different. We will have to contact a call centre and get some kind of a response. We should be clear that the relationship will be the same as the one we currently have with Bord Gáis. It is a fairly good company but it can be difficult to deal with it with regard to problems in service. I have no problem dealing with a local authority and there is no great problem in dealing with a Department because there is a line of accountability to us in the Chamber and every council chamber in the country. This Chamber, which has little enough power already, will be taken completely from the equation with regard to water and sewerage. Most of the power should rest with local authorities but we will be taking the power from them.

It is ironic that this is happening at the same time that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is telling us how he will enhance local government. The Portakabin that houses the tourist office for six months of the year will come under local authorities but the water services - which most local authorities have done a good job in providing - will have their heart ripped out and taken from the control of local councillors and county managers to be given to Uisce Éireann.

The Government's promise to reform local authorities is cosmetic. I wish the Government would carry out the reform and my party would fully support meaningful efforts. We are engaging with the Government and trying to maximise the efforts to bring about this reform. Nevertheless, we cannot speak about reforming local authorities if the Government is ripping away the core services of water, sewerage, roads and housing, which is almost privatised. Down the country, people are being steered to housing agencies, which have already accumulated large housing stock. They are not answerable to anybody in their allocation of houses and there is no democratic control. I can see the scheme of letting for Laois and Offaly County Council. Deputy Cowen can do the same. We were involved in the making of it and officials are bound to operate by that document. The core services, like water, must be kept within the democratic system.

The Government's actions will destroy local democracy and diminish national democracy. It is ruining the democratic structures in the country. Although it is not the intention, the Government is leaving the new Uisce Éireann wide open to being privatised.

Like Deputy Stanley, I am disappointed that many of the amendments have been ruled out of order. Having said that, I wish to raise the point being made specifically within these amendments in respect of the poverty-proofing issue. To elaborate on this, it is necessary to revert to the costs associated with setting up Irish Water. To that end, I sought on Committee Stage confirmation and exact figures on Irish Water. We have no objection in principle to the concept of water charging but we do object to the absence of information on the setting up of Irish Water and the costs associated with it. Can it be confirmed, in the first instance, that the cost to the State of water metering will be €500 million? A figure of between €300 million and €500 million has been mentioned, and the legislation caps the figure at €500 million. This means that the cost, at the high end, could be €500 million. Can the Minister of State confirm this?

Where is the commitment given by Bord Gáis when it got the contract to carry out a full audit of the networks throughout the country? It promised to put on paper a commitment to rectification, reinstatement and making the network fit for purpose. This promise, in addition to its billing network, is partly why it won the contract rather than Bord na Móna. I would have believed Bord Gáis would have been able to stand up to that commitment. It has not done so to date, yet we find ourselves discussing what has been described as an "interim Bill". It is an effort to give some indication of progress having been made in this regard in the absence of all the required legislation coming before the House. I would much rather, in the late autumn, that we were discussing the whole Bill with knowledge of the total cost and all the ramifications, rather than expecting Members to vote in the dark. The latter is what we are doing.

Let me return to the figures. In the absence of an audit, can the Minister of State, who is as much in the dark as I am, confirm the cost of making the network fit for purpose throughout the country? Will it be another €500 million? Will the Minister of State confirm Bord na Móna's figure in regard to rectification in Dublin? Is the cost €500 million?

Deputy Stanley referred to existing national maintenance costs, in respect of which the figures vary. Do these costs amount to approximately €700 million? I am not using the highest estimate. As I stated on Committee Stage in respect of counties Laois, Offaly and Westmeath, the current maintenance costs are in the region of €12 million per annum. With approximately 20,000 houses in each of those counties, the cost is approximately €600 per household. This is the existing cost and it results in a total of €2.2 billion, which does not include the new maintenance cost or the provision for the directives in regard to having upgraded and reinstated networks. Over time, the upgrading and reinstatement costs are expected to diminish but the front-loading cost will be quite high.

With regard to the call centre, the sop is that 400 jobs are being created. I am sure there is a skirmish around the Cabinet table over where the centre is to be located. As has been said, the simple fact of the matter is that we have call centres in every county at present. We have expertise and local knowledge of the networks as we know them.

Contrast what happened north and south of the Border some years ago during the big freeze. A body similar to that which the Minister of State proposes to set up was put up in place in the North and it was not able to deal with the complexities and difficulties arising from what happened at the time. The favourable reaction, commitment and dedication of the staff in the local authorities throughout the country to the public was plain to be seen over the Christmas in question. I availed of their services, having been out of water for two weeks.

When will we have the audit? Will it be ready before the next Bill is introduced? When will we know the costs and have confirmation? The Minister of State may rubbish the figures I have given him. Is it proper and fair to proceed to establish Irish Water in the absence of the figures?

What is the Government's position on the service agreement with local authorities and the existing staff, for example? The Minister of State mentioned on Committee Stage that Irish Water would enter into service agreements for a two-year period?

To 2017, at least.

Up to 2017. I do not how long metering will take so I do not know how long the service agreement will last. Will it be from today or next year? Will there be a one-year arrangement? I do not know and many of the staff do not know either. Many of them do not know where they will stand in 2018 considering that the Minister of State is saying the first agreement is to last until 2017. Is it likely to continue thereafter? I do not know.

What provision is made in the central government funds for local authorities in regard to the costs associated with personnel involved in water services? An absolute information deficit remains, yet the Tánaiste stated earlier today that the Opposition is bankrupt of reasons for not supporting this Bill. He is pretty bankrupt himself in his own head at the Cabinet table. Perhaps the four-person brigade is looking after this matter at the Cabinet and the Tánaiste is outside the loop. I do not know but I would have believed that he would have known the exact costs. I estimate the exact cost to be €2.2 billion. How much of this will come from the National Pensions Reserve Fund? How much is to be capitalised and over how long? Can the Minister of State give any indication to anybody in the State as to the likely cost? If we knew this, we might know what the end user will face. When will the billing procedure be in place? When will people know? Given the current rate of progress, I hazard a guess that they will definitely not know before June 2014. The Minister of State knows the implications of this, that is, if the first year and half is anything to go by.

When poverty proofing, all the issues must be on the table before any guesstimate can be given, never mind a hard and fast rule. What are the implications for those in group schemes? What exercise has been carried out to determine the implications? Those who have a private source of water are completely outside the loop with regard to the proposals in question but many group schemes use a public connection. Water quality and safety are paramount and are more important than anything we discuss here. We saw the detrimental consequences of threats to water quality when there was a problem with cryptosporidium in Galway some years ago.

Many directives affect local authorities and group schemes. Are they being followed to the letter? Will the new arrangements result in new demands on the schemes? If so, will this increase the maintenance costs associated with them?

In the event they cannot be maintained and the initial commitments to users cannot be fulfilled for whatever reason, what obligation is the Government placing on Irish Water to take them in charge? Will that be done purely on the basis of cost-benefit analysis or on the basis of a revenue stream? They are the very issues that would be considered by anyone who sees an opportunity down the road to buy this company. Many would have said before that was never a likelihood for Bord Gáis and it is currently under way. We fear that because of the way Irish Water is being configured under Bord Gáis, the potential for it to be sold in future is real. If the Minister of State can tell me what Irish Water's obligations will be in the short-term with regard to group schemes, it might offer some comfort to those within those schemes on any potential sale in future.

The Minister of State could not possibly have done the necessary poverty-proofing of the proposals and their implications for households in future because no one in the Government has confirmed the absolute costs associated with the establishment of Irish Water, the upgrade of the networks, particularly in Dublin, and the maintenance contracts that have not yet been concluded. How can the Minister of State tell the House this has been poverty-proofed and no one will find this body wanting when it comes to the provision of water? He cannot even tell us what the free allowance targets might be, which would go some way to resolving the question.

Against that background and the commitment the Government gave when it announced this in the first instance, we are no further, even though this interim Bill has been introduced and the Government wants us to blindly support it. I am sorry but that will not happen. We have no problem with the concept of charging for water and we support it, but not in the manner in which the process is being undertaken. Despite the best efforts and intentions, especially as a result of leakage and problems with the network throughout the country, we have what many would describe as an inefficient service. I do not want to walk through the "Tá" lobby with the Minister of State as a first step in a process that will lead to charging people for an inefficient service.

We do many things in the wrong order and this is one of them because we are doing it in the absence of the sort of detail we need, as is indicated by the number of amendments that have been ruled out of order which relate to the wider picture as opposed to the specific nature of the Bill. We do not know the detail. When we get to Report Stage, we are not talking about broad principles, we are talking about detail, but that detail is entirely absent.

In principle, I have no objection to metering water to ensure it is not wasted, but there must be a sufficient free supply so people can live. This is not a commodity and there must be investment in building wastewater treatment plants to the specifications required and upgrading of deficient water pipes. That level of investment necessary would be significantly less if more than 48% of water treated arrived in people's houses. Wastage levels of 52% are outrageous and none of us would defend that.

We are being asked to take a leap of faith and while I do not doubt the Minister of State's personal bona fides, when I look at the packaging of Irish Water and consider the obligations the European Union has placed upon us in terms of our debt to GDP ratio, I know not meeting that 3% target will be a significant issue for us. We all know the Government will tax fresh air to reach that 3% target. There is not sufficient control over the taxing of water, particularly if this asset is sold off, and I am seriously concerned that it will not remain in public ownership. I do not see water as a commodity and feel it should remain in public hands.

On Committee Stage, we were told €1.2 billion is needed and that €300 million is provided in subsidy. Is there any guarantee of that subsidy continuing? We saw with the property tax how much money has been withdrawn from the local government fund. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was not behind the door in telling us that €150 million was being withdrawn from the ring-fenced local government fund, not because we need to maintain the roads but to pay the national debt. Can the Minister of State give us a guarantee that the €300 million subsidy will continue into the future?

One of the amendments I tabled that was ruled out of order related to the free allowance. I wanted to see some assurances on these two issues: ownership and the free allowance. The free allowance should make poverty less of an issue. In the absence of a respectable free allowance, we should insist on poverty-proofing. In the absence of those assurances, I would be completely in support of the points to which I have referred.

Shortages arise, not only in summer. In north Kildare we have experienced difficulties, sometimes because developers have taken shortcuts in the way pipes have been laid so that they are far too close to the surface and will freeze in winter. Then there is the inadequacy of supply where there is enough water in the country but it is not in the right place and it is not all treated. There is an abundance of water in the west but on the east coast there are times when the water supply is on a knife-edge.

There are other aspects of Irish Water in terms of metering. It will not only be a matter of metering. With some of those pipes that are laid far too close to the surface, when one lifts up the cover on the stopcock one finds it is practically at the surface and there will not be a place to put the meter, if meters are to be put on top of the valve. It depends where they are put. They can be put closer to the house. There is an argument for doing so because one would capture what happens outside of the house, including on the property of the homeowner. I want to hear what the Minister of State has to say about what will be done in terms of metering in situations where those deficiencies are encountered.

There will be residents resisting payment of a water charge, even in the context of waste, where they can be without water for days on end. Whereas that might have been satisfactorily dealt with in some places, over the two bad winters I came across residents without water for up to two weeks. That was in an urban area, not in a rural area on a hill-top.

There are also deficiencies where all kinds of engineering feats were attempted to open up ways of putting more water into a system where those at the end of a supply chain are always the ones whose pressure is reduced. Owners of such residences will resist these attempts in the absence of being guaranteed reasonable water pressure that will provide them with a supply. This is not necessarily to do with leakage or waste. Some of these deficiencies have occurred because of the lack of oversight when housing estates were developed. It is an issue that must be remediated.

Clearly, there is a difficulty with the amount of water supply. In Kildare, for example, the water is primarily purchased from Dublin City Council, from Ballymore Eustace, and from Fingal at its Leixlip water treatment plant but the amount of water required, for example, for Intel, would be equivalent to that for the town of Leixlip, which has a population in excess of 16,000. No doubt if we reduce the waste of water, it reduces the kind of pressure on the amount of supply, although north Kildare does not feature large in terms of the amount of water that is wasted because the percentage is in the low 20s.

The important aspect for me is the free allowance and the absolute guarantee of Irish Water staying within the State sector. We are passing this legislation in blind faith. We have been talking about process for the past number of months in terms of how we do business here, and the way legislation is presented to us is part of that, especially with regard to a project that is being implemented on a piecemeal basis.

I would also ask the Minister of State about the governance issue. It is essential that we see the architecture of it, not least for the protection of those who work within the water services and who often do a good job. There are good leak detection units and some of the big water treatment plants are very well run. It is essential to see a complete governance approach. That is one of the elements that is missing.

With regard to an aspect that arose on Committee Stage, the Department's favoured approach is through PPPs. It is almost as though one does not get one's upgrade unless one does it by way of PPP. The international experience appears to suggest that this is the wrong approach. We were given examples, such as Paris, where the PPP had to be bought out and the system had to be brought back within public control. Will Irish Water be free to look at best governance or will it continue with the approach taken by the Department, that while other options are viable only the one approach will be taken? This often does not produce the best financial return for the State. Consumers are concerned about how their money is used and it is important we know what kind of arrangements will apply where there will be new facilities put in place in addition to the water supply and the metering issue.

I thank the Members opposite for their input today.

Notwithstanding the reasons the amendments are before us, we believe that amendment No. 3 is not appropriate. The purpose of section 24 is to provide the commission with the necessary powers to prepare for the performance of regulatory functions and to advise the Government on the development of policy regarding the regulation of water. It is important that this work commences as soon as possible. The impact of Deputy Stanley's amendment, if it were to be agreed, is that they could not commence that work until after 1 January 2014.

Amendment No. 38 proposed that a poverty impact analysis should be carried out by the Department of Social Protection before this section is commenced. I assure the House that work is very much under way to examine all of the issues, particularly regarding affordability and water poverty, and the Department is in active consultation with the Department of Social Protection and other stakeholders on this matter.

I refer to some of the points raised by the three Members opposite. All of them - Deputies Stanley, Cowen and Catherine Murphy - are particularly concerned about the issue of privatisation. The Bill is an amendment to existing legislation which forbids the sale of any water asset to any private person or persons, in other words, the legislation which the Bill is amending already protects the State or local authority water assets from privatisation. In the second Bill, which will come before the House later in the year, there will be a legal guarantee to give an absolute assurance as best we can that there will be no question of privatisation arising as an issue. I would agree with Members opposite that the supply of water is a fundamental activity of any state. The ownership by the state of water infrastructure is the rule rather than the exception, and that will be the position here. I am not aware of any other model, apart from that in the UK, of which there is significant criticism.

Members also mentioned the issue of transparency on costs and raised questions about audits and future plans. It is generally agreed that €1.2 billion was the figure in 2010, for both administration costs and capital investment. Clearly, we need to improve the amount of capital investment in the water supply.

Deputies Catherine Murphy and Cowen referred to the Bord na Móna proposals for augmenting the water supply for the greater Dublin area. Deputy Murphy lives in a constituency where there has been significant investment by private enterprise to improve the water supply in terms of the industry that is involved. I believe they are paying €29 million in advance to the local authority for future water supply. So there is an issue there regarding improvement. Everybody accepts that the infrastructure needs to improve and it is no secret that to have state-of-the-art water services nationally we need to invest €600 million per annum on capital improvements in order to meet the future demands of the greater Dublin area and to mitigate climate change issues that arise. As Members have said on Second and Committee Stages, 42% of all the water we treat, pump or store never reaches any household. It is referred to as unaccounted water. A significant proportion of that comes from leaks. Infrastructure, which in some cases is 150 years old, needs to be radically improved.

We need transparency on the cost of all these issues - everybody wants to know how much they will pay. That will be determined by the energy regulator and not the Government, Bord Gáis Éireann or Irish Water. The regulator will need to get the business plan from Irish Water, and examine all the existing running costs and the future capital investment. In the United Kingdom when the regulator decides a price it remains fixed for five years and if there is a significant increase in inflation, it can adjust it within the five-year period. All of those issues will be dealt with openly, transparently and accountably. There is no question of people not knowing what it will cost. There is no question of not having total transparency and accountability from Irish Water to the regulator. When the regulator makes proposals, they will be put out for public consultation and then there is also the question of making its determination. An important part of all our administration here is the accountability for Irish Water to the Oireachtas. The legislation provides for accountability through the annual report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I have been a member of Oireachtas committees in the past. The committee will have the power to call representatives of Irish Water to appear before the committee if an issue arises of concern to it. That will be a very important part of the democratic accountability process.

Deputy Stanley and others referred to the accountability to local representatives on the ground. This is a critical issue. Deputy Catherine Murphy pointed out that some of her constituents had no water supply and did not know whom to contact - I have also come across such people in my constituency in the past. Local authority staff have a very proud record of being able to respond in times of emergency. The accountability of Irish Water to local authority representatives, the Oireachtas and most of all to public is a critical issue. The structures will need to ensure that accountability is there and that elected representatives - Deputies, Senators and members of local authorities - have the same access to the management team in an area as they have at present. Where the service levels exist Irish Water will be in a position to ensure that the local elected representative has that number. Irish Water will be accountable to elected representatives on the issues that arise.

The second piece of legislation covering many of the governance issues that have been raised will be properly teased out here in the Oireachtas. Many people are concerned about how to resolve a possible conflict between the water infrastructure requirements for a local authority development in a city, town or community and any Irish Water plan for improvement of water infrastructure. One possibility would be that many of the planning decisions might be made at a regional authority level. That framework will need to be spelled out in fine detail before any charges will commence. The Bill before the House is effectively enabling legislation to allow the regulator to commence its work and to set up the company.

Deputy Cowen asked for the estimated cost of the metering programme. It would be inappropriate to release estimates of the cost of the metering programme in advance of completion of the ongoing competitive procurement process. It is intended that the metering programme would be funded through borrowing on commercial terms from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, and that is from the Fianna Fáil national recovery plan, published in 2010.

All I am asking is for the Minister of State to confirm or deny.

I want to be very clear on this. If we were to say what it might cost, we could then make it more expensive for us to buy the products and that is part of the issue.

How then can the Government poverty proof it?

There is no problem with poverty proofing, which is a critical issue.

It is a secret.

No, it is not a secret at all. It is not like the meeting in the Fianna Fáil curia - or whatever it is called.

It is something similar in Fine Gael's structure.

It used to have a black book or something. I am not sure if it still has it.

I did not know the Minister of State was a member.

I read stories about it.

I am a bit worried - I heard he was.

I return to the serious issue-----

-----of poverty proofing. It is a critical issue for people. We need to identify the types of households and the types of people in order to ensure that people are not in what is termed as water poverty - that is when more than 3% of their income goes towards the cost of water. That is the benchmark mentioned in the literature I have read. We sought and got more than 200 submissions to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers on all the issues. Department officials and I have met representatives of specific interest groups who have a mandate and are advocates for those who would be deemed to be from low-income households. We have commissioned an ESRI report on this specific issue. When that report is finalised it will be in the public domain. All the issues on poverty proofing, free allowance, etc., will need to be addressed here in the Oireachtas and I will be happy to ensure there is full and proper debate on every aspect of that. Key to the credibility of what we are doing is for people to accept the very difficult economic situation we are in.

Deputy Cowen said that unless all these issues were properly discussed today, his party could not accept the process. One of the difficulties is that we do not have time because of the time pressures of the troika agreement signed by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government.

The Minister of State gave commitments when he set this up.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. Sitting in this seat was the former Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, who signed a deal with the troika. On behalf of the State he signed up to introducing charges by 1 January 2014. That is what he signed and as the succeeding Government, we have to accept that commitment. That is what the previous Government did - that is the way the country was at the time.

That is fine - no problem.

I am trying to bring enabling legislation through the Oireachtas so that the basic powers to establish the company and allow the regulator to commence work are established. Notwithstanding the troika agreement, it is a matter for the Government to decide when charges will commence. I believe the Deputy mentioned June 2014. The Fianna Fáil-led Government signed up to 1 January of that year.

On the information deficit about which Deputies expressed concern, all of these issues will be dealt with transparently in the Oireachtas before charges commence.

On group water schemes, as I understand it there will be no change to existing arrangements between group water schemes and local authorities. Next Wednesday, I will address the National Group Water Scheme conference, at which time I will discuss that issue.

I believe I have dealt with most of the issues raised by Deputies. It is important we get across the message to people that water is a scarce resource. We must continue to ensure the quality of our water. In terms of water quality, 99% of our water is as good as the best in the world. However, there are significant issues we need to address, including the impact of climate change and how we propose to remediate that impact and how we propose to address the potential water shortage in the Greater Dublin Area from 2020 onwards.

While we have an abundance of water in Ireland, in terms of rainfall, it does not always fall in the right places. People need to understand that while water falls freely from the sky prior to use it must be treated, stored and pumped. We need to secure efficiencies in terms of water wastage. We cannot as an economy afford to spend €1.2 billion on water treatment and infrastructure while 42% of it never gets to the tap of any home. We will also need to educate and inform people about this issue. Irish Water will engage proactively with the public in terms of empowering people to understand how they can reduce their consumption of water. I met recently with members of a group water scheme, which was an amalgamation of three group water schemes, which has reduced its pre-metering water consumption by 60%. In this regard, they have involved everybody in the community, including young people. Every national school student has a card which identifies him or her as a water deputy. They see it as their social responsibility to assist their community, which is a rural community, in the protection of its water supply.

The Green Flag scheme run by An Taisce is important and worthwhile. The water complement of that scheme is also important. It is important we get the message across to everybody that water is such an important but scarce commodity we must conserve it. We need the help of everybody in the country to do so, which will require that we educate people and ensure transparency in this regard in our politics. This is what this legislation is about.

I remind Members that we are on Report Stage and as such their second contribution should not exceed two minutes.

The Minister of State referred in his response to the commitment given by the previous Government to the troika that water charges would be introduced in 2014. The local elections will be held in the first week of June 2014. Can the Minister of State confirm if people are to be billed for water from 1 January 2014? The question of when water charges will be introduced has been asked a number of times, in respect of which the response has been that they will apply from 2014. The Minister of State appeared to be alluding today to their being introduced on 1 January 2014. Perhaps he would confirm if that is the case.

The issue of the cost of establishing the water services company and the cost of water to each household has not been addressed. There will be a direct correlation between both issues. The new company will be a stand-alone company that will have to wash its own face and pay its way. That is what we have been told. The current cost of water provision is €300 million per annum. The Minister of State said in his response that in future €600 million per annum will be required.

Yes. I am sure the chief executive officer of the new company - I understand it will be Mr. John Tierney - will confirm that figure for us if and when necessary. As it stands, a €600 million capital investment will be required and the cost of installation of meters will be, taking the most commonly used figure, €500 million. Operational costs are estimated to be approximately €1 billion. I believe the cost will be higher and that the new company will not do the job as cheaply as the local authorities. Taking all of those figures together, households will be faced with colossal bills. This issue has not been addressed to date, including by the Minister of State today.

Deputy Stanley, who moved the amendment, will have another opportunity to contribute.

The Minister of State, despite his efforts to answer Members' questions, has not addressed them specifically. The Minister of State has acknowledged that poverty proofing of this proposal has not been completed. He also acknowledged that a package, in terms of the method and means by which the regulator will set a price, is not yet with the regulator.

That is what this legislation seeks to do.

Perhaps, but there is nothing in place for the regulator now should this legislation be passed today.

I acknowledge the commitment of the previous Government in regard to water charges. The Government has been in office now for two years. I would have expected it to have made a conscious decision at this stage to stop blaming the previous Government for everything. It is not wearing with the electorate. The Government has appointed Bord Gáis rather than Bord na Móna. While Bord Gáis gave commitments to keep to the timescale provided for in the agreement, it has not done so. It also has not provided the information I requested. The Government is hiding behind a procurement process, which I believe is complete. The Minister of State told us today that setting the price will be the job of the regulator. Some would argue the Government will hide behind him too.

I recently spoke to the Minister of State about the energy regulator's delay in agreeing a pricing policy in respect of power. This process has been ongoing now for 11 or 12 months. I am not asking for interference in the decision rather I am asking that the regulator make a decision in the interests of the State and a reduction in costs, which would mean less charges in the electricity sector. On the Government's commitments in this area, this legislation is poor and late. The Minister of State has acknowledged that this legislation provides no certainty that water services will not be privatised. He also said that matter will be addressed in future legislation in this area.

That is what the Minister of State said. He can correct the record if he wishes.

I do not need to correct it, the Deputy is wrong.

This legislation is not complete. The Government is seeking approval of this legislation in the absence of it being poverty proofed and so on. I do not believe I have misunderstood what the Minister of State said.

The Minister of State referred to the free allowance being determined by the regulator, which means we are handing over responsibility to the regulator. There is an element of Teflon about that about which I am more than uneasy. The Minister of State also referred to the annual report being laid before the Dáil. We hear this all the time. While the policing report was laid before the Dáil on budget day, it was not debated, which is a deficient method of oversight. We must put in place a mechanism which ensures such reports are debated in detail.

I am concerned that poverty proofing of this legislation has not yet been completed. That is a serious issue.

I asked the Minister of State about several points, including the €300 million. Will this continue to be invested? The Minister of State said it was a subsidy. With regard to the preferred method of building new treatment plans and the approach the new company will take, will it take its lead from the Department? Dr. Eoin Reeves gave the joint Oireachtas committee very useful information stating local authorities had conducted value for money tests and concluded in favour of traditional procurement. However, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has not granted project approval because design, build and operate is its preferred method of procurement, even when a value for money report shows one can save money by using the traditional route. We need to know what the approach will be.

With regard to consumer protection, the service must be fit for purpose, and there must be redress for people whereby they can complain or an element of consumer protection. Where is this? Will it be in the next piece of legislation? It must be somewhere.

I know Deputy Cowen has read the legislation, which amends the Water Services Act 2007. This is what the Bill will do. It amends an existing Act which forbids privatisation.

Why did the Minister of State say the next Bill will give absolute certainty?

I asked whether it could be included in this legislation as amended and the very clear advice of the Attorney General was that it is already in the Bill. It is like adding a carriage to a train; it is already on the train but in a different carriage, and that is the legislation we are amending.

So there is absolute certainty.

If and when this is passed-----

There will be absolute certainty and nothing else will be needed.

Can I just make the point? It is like adding a carriage to a train which already has a similar carriage. We are giving more power to the energy regulator to do something and we are establishing a company.

How many carriages are on the train?

That is the big question.

Obviously not enough.

Let me put it this way, the first station at which it is stopping is the one Fianna Fáil put it into, and we are trying to ensure everyone on it gets a fair deal, literally and metaphorically, in every respect.

The Minister of State is using the wrong analogy.

I did not interrupt the Deputy and I ask him, difficult as it may be, to listen to me for a minute.

I am absolutely clear that the next more substantive Bill will deal with and address all of the other issues which, rightly, properly and fairly, have been put before me today, including the framework for water charges.

With regard to affordability, we have to get this right. Discussions are taking place and we have met all of the advocates. The ESRI report is not yet finalised. The issue of charging will not commence until next year so there is plenty of time to get it right. We want to get it absolutely right and ensure what we are doing meets as many criteria as people wish us to meet.

To answer Deputy Murphy with regard to design, build and operate, I have seen many schemes throughout the country, as have all Members. A design, build and operate scheme is in place for the water supply for Limerick city and is a partnership between the local authority and a company. The company designed, built and operates it, and it is operated very efficiently. The local authority deals with it every day and there is a resident engineer. All issues with regard to water quality, operation and improvement are matters for the local authority and will be matters for Irish Water. I do not see any conflict with regard to design, build and operate, which is efficient and effective and works.

Sometimes it is not. This is the evidence we heard.

I have no doubt the evidence is accurate but I ask the Deputy to accept the information given to me, and what I have seen with my own eyes is also very clear. It is very effective and is well worth visiting. I have never seen anything as efficient. It is well run and is accountable to the local authority. I hope this reassures Deputies on the issues they have raised.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(3) Section 24 of this Act shall come in to operation after the 1st of January 2014, or following a review of that section under section 24(4), whichever date is the later.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 20, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 20, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement. Recommital is necessary as they involve a charge on the Exchequer.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 21.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 10, to delete lines 31 to 54 and in page 11, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following:

13.—(1) (a) In relation to borrowings by the Board under section 12, the Minister for Finance, after consultation with the Minister, may guarantee, in

such form and manner and in such money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) and on such terms and

conditions as he or she thinks fit, the due repayment by the Board of the principal of any money borrowed by the Board or the due payment of instalments or other amounts of money owed by the Board under a contract entered into by the Board or the payment of interest on any money, instalment or amount or both the repayment of principal or payment of such instalments or amounts, as the case may be, and payment of the interest, and any such guarantee may include a guarantee of payment of commission and incidental expenses arising in connection with such borrowings or such contract.

(b) In relation to borrowings by the subsidiary under section 12, the Minister for Finance, after consultation with the Minister, may guarantee, in such form and manner and in such money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) and on such terms and conditions as he or she thinks fit, the due repayment by the subsidiary of the principal of any money borrowed by the subsidiary or the due payment of instalments or other amounts of money owed by the subsidiary under a contract entered into by the subsidiary or the payment of interest on any money, instalment or amount or both the repayment of principal or payment of such instalments or amounts, as the case may be, and payment of the interest, and any such guarantee may include a guarantee of payment of commission and incidental expenses arising in connection with such borrowings or such contract.

(2) Where a guarantee under this section is or has been given, the Board or the subsidiary, as may be appropriate, shall, if the Minister for Finance so requires, give to him or her such security (including debentures) as may be specified in the requirement for the purpose of securing to the Minister for Finance the repayment of any money which he or she may be liable to pay or has paid under the guarantee.

(3) The Minister for Finance shall, as soon as may be after the expiration of every financial year, lay before each House of the Oireachtas a statement setting out with respect to each guarantee under this section given during that year or given at any time before, and in force on, the commencement of that year—

(a) particulars of the guarantee,

(b) in case any payment has been made by him or her under the guarantee before the end of that year, the amount of the payment and the amount (if any) repaid to him or her on foot of the payment, and

(c) the amount of money covered by the guarantee which was outstanding at the end of that year.

(4) (a) Money paid by the Minister for Finance under a guarantee to which paragraph (a) of subsection (1) applies shall be repaid to the Minister for Finance

(with interest thereon at such rate or rates as he or she appoints) by the Board within such period from the date of payment by the Minister for Finance as may be specified by him or her after consultation with the Board.

(b) Money paid by the Minister for Finance under a guarantee to which paragraph (b) of subsection (1) applies shall be repaid to the Minister for Finance (with interest thereon at such rate or rates as he or she appoints) by the subsidiary within such period from the date of payment by the Minister for Finance as may be specified by him or her after consultation with the subsidiary.

(5) Where the whole or any part of the money required by subsection (4) to be repaid to the Minister for Finance has not been repaid in accordance with that subsection, the amount so remaining outstanding shall be repaid to the Central Fund out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

(6) Notwithstanding the provision of money under subsection (5) to repay an amount to the Central Fund, the Board or the subsidiary, as the case may be, shall remain liable to the Minister for Finance in respect of that amount and that amount (together with interest thereon at such rate or rates as the Minister for Finance appoints) shall be repaid to the Minister for Finance by the Board or the subsidiary, as may be appropriate, at such times and in such instalments as he or she appoints and, in default of repayment as aforesaid and without prejudice to any other method of recovery, shall be recoverable by him or her from the Board or the subsidiary, as may be appropriate, as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction.

(7) In relation to a guarantee under this section in money in a currency other than the currency of the State—

(a) each of the references to principal, each of the references to instalments or other amounts of money, each of the references to interest and the reference to commission and incidental expenses in subsection (1) shall be taken as referring to the equivalent in the currency of the State of the actual principal, the actual instalments or other amounts of money, the actual interest or the actual commission and incidental expenses, as may be appropriate,

(b) the reference to the amount of money in paragraph (c) of subsection (3) shall be taken as referring to the equivalent in the currency of the State of the actual amount of money, such equivalent being calculated according to the rate of exchange for the time being for that currency and the currency of the State, and

(c) each of the references to money in subsections (4), (5) and (6) shall be taken as referring to the cost in the currency of the State of the actual money."

Where provision is included in legislation for a guarantee or borrowings by the Minister for Finance this amendment provides that moneys required by the Minister for Finance to meet any sums payable under section 13 be provided from the central fund. It provides that the Minister may borrow using the security of the central fund and may create and issue securities bearing interest and pay all borrowed sums to the Exchequer.

I apologise. I have read the note to the wrong amendment.

We are discussing amendment No. 21.

I apologise. I had the wrong page open.

Amendment No. 21 provides that the Minister for Finance may guarantee the borrowings made by Irish Water or Bord Gáis for the purposes of the Bill. The provision of a guarantee of the borrowings of a semi-State company is a common provision included in legislation establishing many other State bodies and companies. This provision provides that the Minister for Finance may, after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, provide a guarantee of the borrowings of Bord Gáis and or Irish Water for borrowings made for the purposes of the Bill. It also provides for the Minister for Finance to seek a guarantee from the board or subsidiary for borrowings and for the Minister to provide details to the Houses of the Oireachtas each year concerning any guarantees made under this.

The Minister of State did not answer my earlier question on the timing of the charges next year. Will it be 1 June, 7 June just after the local elections or 1 January? I mentioned earlier that many people are not sleeping, but another group of people not sleeping are those who occupy the Government benches who know what will come through their constituents' letterboxes next Monday.

The problem with this amendment is that it will give powers of borrowing to the Minister to hand money to this separate entity without the accountability about which I and other Deputies have asked. This is the problem. This has not been thought through. There is no accountability at present, and as Deputy Catherine Murphy correctly stated, one pays more attention to the wallpaper than something which has been laid before the House. Somewhere near this building there are probably forklifts stacking books and reports which were laid before the House. There is no meat in this sandwich in terms of democracy. It is a non-event.

Is there any mention of a cap on borrowings in this specific instance?

The figure of €500 million is in the legislation.

Does this relate purely to the costs associated with the metering programme?

It is all the costs to the company. I presume it is everything. I understand that the maximum it can borrow at any one time will be €500 million.

We discussed earlier the sort of indicative costs, but I would continue to argue with the Minister of State about the specific costs.

No, there is no problem.

The indicative costs are far in excess of that. Is this from one source and can the company borrow from other sources?

This is the maximum borrowing that the company can actually make. Regardless of where it borrows from or in whatever currency, that is the maximum it can borrow. Clearly, however, it will be trying to borrow in the best market for taxpayers.

Does that indicate that the sort of costs and funding required to make services, facilities and networks fit for purpose will take some time to be put in place? If so, will there be ramifications concerning inflationary costs? I am conscious of the proofing not being complete on the poverty issue.

In the UK, the regulator fixed the price of water for a five-year period but it was varied within that period because of inflation.

Okay. It was to give effect to what might happen in a few years time.

Yes. It was therefore tied into it. To answer Deputy Stanley's question, the troika agreement states that it must commence by 2014. However, the Government has made no decision as to when charging will commence. That is what is in the troika's timetable.

If we are going to keep to that, it will have to be on 1 January 2014.

Not necessarily.

The Government is telling the troika that it will honour all the agreements.

Is it known how the details will be presented to the House by the Minister for Finance? The limit on borrowings very much depends on the income stream. I must ask again about the €300 million subsidy. Suppose one puts a €500 million cap on the level of borrowings that can be made and then withdraws the subsidy in year two and there is inadequate income, what will happen to support the borrowings? One could run into a difficulty with the imposition of more charges. Can the Minister of State address the approach the State will take to the €300 million subsidy?

Has the Minister of State consulted the regulator as regards this cap figure? Is the regulator in agreement with that provision considering that he does not have at his disposal a lot of information that one imagines he would need to have to agree with such a figure?

The Bill gives the regulator power to commence the work and to consult on all these issues. As regards the point raised earlier by Deputies Catherine Murphy and Stanley, when a report is laid before the House, it is up to Members to read it should they wish to do so. For example, when I was on the committee dealing with transport, we brought in CIE representatives 12 times over a two or three month period. Oireachtas committees have those powers. The legislation states that the report must be laid before the Oireachtas, which means that the body is accountable to the Oireachtas. The relevant committee will then decide when it wants the representatives to come in. For example, the CIE representatives were queried about auditing and other issues. We found that useful but it is not the only way in which the House can hold Irish Water accountable. I presume the Whips can also arrange for a debate to be held. I cannot imagine that there would not be such debates at regular intervals due to the importance of the issues involved, including climate, costs and the economy.

As I understand it, the Minister for Finance must make a full and detailed annual statement to the House on the guarantee he has given and the outcome of funding arrangements. The sum of €300 million is roughly what the Government is putting in this year. It is a matter for each annual budget to determine what that amount will be. Any government can decide what that amount will be depending on financial circumstances and demands. Irish Water will state what its development plans are and how much it needs, which will determine when it requires various tranches of money.

Can I clarify this matter now?

The Minister of State is seeking our support for the Government to make a cap of €500 million available for this purpose, associated with the establishment of Irish Water and the metering process. He is also saying that the regulator will digest and assimilate all the information the Minister of State is providing, when he gets it.

That concerns costs, repairs, reinstatement, call centres, deals with local authorities and service providers, and procurement costs associated with the installation. If Irish Water feels that it does not have half enough, will we be back in a couple of months time, before the Minister of State even comes back with a second piece of legislation, to increase the cap, or is it the case that Irish Water can sing for it if it costs any more?

The regulator will have a responsibility in legislation to have consumers' interests at the very heart of it. I could not imagine, therefore, that it would be a runaway train of cost increases. Everything will have to be tested properly, publicly and transparently.

This Bill allows the regulator to start because it has no statutory powers at the moment. I wish to reassure Deputies that in the second legislative provision we will have full, total and absolute detail on all these issues. It might be helpful if the relevant Oireachtas committee were to invite the representatives of Irish Water, within a few months of its establishment, to talk about their plans. The regulator could also be brought in as part of the accountability process. The regulator will be independent in terms of decisions but there is no reason the regulator should not be invited in to talk generally about how he sees the situation, as well as listening to what Members of the House would like to see happening. If Members consider that approach to be helpful, it is the way to go.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Bill reported with amendment.

Amendment No. 22 is out of order.

Amendment No. 22 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 23.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

14.—(1) All money from time to time required by the Minister for Finance to meet sums which may become payable by him or her under section 13 shall be advanced out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof.

(2) The Minister for Finance may, for the purpose of providing for advances out of the Central Fund under this section, borrow on the security of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof any sums required for that purpose and, for the purpose of such borrowing, he or she may create and issue securities bearing interest at such rate and subject to such conditions as to repayment, redemption or any other matter as he or she thinks fit, and shall pay all sums so borrowed to the Exchequer.

(3) The principal of, and interest on, all securities issued under this section and the expenses incurred in connection with the issue of those securities shall be charged on and payable out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof.”.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Bill reported with amendment.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25, in the name of Deputy Brian Stanley, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.

Amendment No. 26 in the name of Deputies Catherine Murphy and Brian Stanley arises out of committee proceedings. I call on Deputy Murphy.

Apologies but I am having difficulties in finding my notes.

To be helpful, the note I have to hand states, "In page 11, to delete lines 17 to 43". Perhaps Deputy Stanley will move the amendment.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 11, to delete lines 17 to 43.

I will leave it at that, as the amendment is self-explanatory.

The purpose of the amendment is to delete section 16. This section is a standard corporate governance provision included in legislation for establishing State bodies. Accordingly, I cannot accept this amendment. It is a standard corporate governance provision providing that Uisce Éireann will keep accounts in a form to be approved by the Minister, with the consent of the Ministers for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Public Expenditure and Reform.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 27 to 37, inclusive, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 27 to 37, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 13, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

“(4) (a) This section shall not be commenced until such point as the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection have carried out a poverty impact analysis study.

(b) Such a study will have regard to—

(i) whether the impact of the imposition of charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would have any significant impact on the income levels within lower and medium income groups,

(ii) whether the impact of such charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would be likely to cause deprivation,

(iii) whether the effect of the charge would be such as would cause people to be deprived of two or more of the items identified in the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) as indicators of poverty.

(c) The Minister shall have regard to such a study before commencing this section, and shall take appropriate measures to amend this legislation pursuant to such a study.”.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 42; Níl, 77.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 39 not moved.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 13, to delete lines 34 to 42 and in page 14, to delete lines 1 to 40.

We oppose the amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 14, to delete lines 41 to 44 and in page 15, to delete lines 1 to 20.

I understood the amendment had been ruled out of order.

Does the Deputy wish to speak to the amendment?

I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 42 is out of order.

I was not notified that the amendment was out of order.

It is in conflict with the principle of the Bill.

Last night, I received a list indicating which amendments were out of order and it did not include amendment No. 42.

We were informed amendment No. 41 was out of order.

There is some confusion about amendments Nos. 41 and 42.

It is unfair to inform me at this late stage that my amendment is out of order.

I will clarify the position with the clerk.

If it is helpful to the Deputy, the Government does not have any role in decisions regarding amendments. This is a procedural matter for officials of the House.

On the basis of a misunderstanding, we will proceed with debate on amendment No. 42.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 15, to delete lines 21 to 45 and in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following:

“27.—Section 12 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1997 is amended by the insertion of a new subsection (3):

“(3) Section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act 1983, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsections for subsection (1):

‘(1) Section 2 of this Act shall not apply to the following categories of persons—

(a) residents of a building vested in a Minister of the Government, a housing authority (within the meaning of the Act of 1992) or the Health Service Executive,

(b) households who, in the year in which the liability falls, if on that date are dependant on any of the following payments from the Department of Social Protection:

(i) jobseekers’ allowance, or

(ii) jobseekers’ benefit, or

(iii) one parent family payment, or

(iv) supplementary welfare allowance, or

(v) family income supplement, or

(vi) farm assist, or

(vii) old age non-contributory pension, provided the recipient is not also in receipt of an occupational pension, or

(viii) invalidity benefit, or

(ix) disability allowance, or

(x) disablement benefit, or

(xi) blind pension,

(c) persons who, in the years 2013, 2014, and 2015, is able to satisfy the relevant local authority that he or she has not been able to pay more than 75 per cent of his or her mortgage repayments in the preceding year on their residential property.”.

The purpose of the amendment is to introduce exemptions for low-income households. We established on Committee Stage, when my amendment to have the Bill poverty-proofed was rejected by the Government, that this legislation would not be poverty-proofed. Provision should be made to exempt from the payment of water charges blind and disabled persons, widows, those in receipt of non-contributory pensions, which is the lowest pension payment, and people on one-parent family payments. Single parents must manage a household on €217 per week and meet a range of costs such as paying for school buses and lunches. Even in Mrs. Thatcher's Britain, exemptions were made for those in receipt of housing benefit and those on low incomes. The legislation before us does not provide for any such exemptions.

I referred to the Government's failure to meet its commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a waiver scheme in respect of refuse collection charges. People on low incomes will be penalised as a result of this failure and penalised again if the Government does not accept the amendment or introduce some form of exemption scheme. From next week onwards, property tax bills will be posted through the letterboxes of the people with the lowest incomes in the State, including blind people, pensioners, lone parents and those in receipt of invalidity pensions. Many householders, including the working poor, are in dire straits, while others are in desperate circumstances and clinging to the edge. I appeal to the Government to accept the amendment in good faith and provide some level of protection for those on the lowest incomes. It would be shameful if the Bill were to be passed without providing some level of clarity and fairness for the poor.

As an earlier speaker noted, the Government is asking us to walk with it in the dark on this issue on the basis that something may happen in future. This debate is the big gig because the legislation before us removes the prohibition on charging for water provided in the 2007 Act. The Government is asking the House to make this change without providing any protection for the lowest income groups. Government back bench Deputies have been bleating about meeting people on low incomes in their constituencies, as I am sure they do, but it is no good listening to people or offering them soothing words. This debate provides an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is by taking action to protect such people. I appeal to Government Deputies, particularly Labour Party Members, to come up to the mark and provide protection for those whom they continually tell us they wish to protect. Rather than constantly droning on about it, they should do something by voting for the amendment.

I support the amendment. As the Minister of State is well aware, the People Before Profit Alliance strenuously opposes the Government's plan to introduce water charges and establish a company that will commence the process of privatisation, notwithstanding its denials that this is the case. I assure the Minister of State that there will be a major campaign of resistance to the Government's plan to charge people for water. This campaign will put into the shade the level of opposition to the household charge and property tax. If, however, the Government insists on going down that road, as appears to be the case, I do not understand the reason it is unwilling to provide exemptions for those who are unable to pay the charges. Why does it not get the idea that one cannot get blood from a stone?

It is obscene that people on the very lowest incomes will not be exempt from water charges. Dependence on State payments such as jobseeker's allowance, jobseeker's benefit and the lone parent payment is an indicator that the recipient is living in poverty and struggling to survive from day to day, week to week and month to month. It is obnoxious to expect people in this position not only to pay the property tax that will be imposed in the coming weeks, but also to pay for water, which is indispensable to life, hygiene and basic health and safety. I appeal to the Minister of State to at least include in the Bill a provision exempting such groups from water charges.

I suspect the Minister of State knows full well that the action the Government is taking in this legislation will lead to privatisation. As I pointed out to him, European law, as enshrined in various treaties, specifically, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, requires that once revenue is being generated in any particular sector by a monopoly, the sector in question must become subject to the laws of competition. As a result, private companies will seek to enter the water market and it will be privatised. We know this is the case because it is exactly what happened in the area of waste collection when charges were introduced. At that time, the Government indicated it would provide waivers and the public authorities provided some waivers for people on the lowest incomes. However, as soon as waste collection was privatised, the waivers were abolished and people who were unable to pay were forced to pay. We are now taking exactly the same route.

Given the Government's despicable insistence on introducing water charges, will it not at least insert these protections so that this or any other water company will not be able to charge people on the lowest incomes or deny them water because they cannot afford it?

We all support the idea of water efficiency and the need to measure the amount of water used. Notwithstanding Deputy Stanley's language, there is a different policy in the North.

There are exemptions.

Sinn Féin claims to be a party of unity. Do not divide the country.

The Deputy should check his facts.

I wish to discuss apartment blocks. I will upset Deputy Stanley. I have met constituents of mine who are in apartment blocks. I understand that a single water meter will be provided per apartment complex. It will be for management companies to measure the amounts used or to apportion the cost per apartment.

In the interest of fairness to apartment dwellers, of whom there are many across the country, not just this city, I hope that we will allow a variable rate in such cases. It would be unfair for a person living alone to be asked to pay the same as a family of two or three children.

It would be great if the Bill gave some indication as to what the situation would be for those to whom Deputy Buttimer referred, but there is no such provision. It is an interim Bill that sets up Irish Water and allows for metering to commence. The Government, in its wisdom, has stated that, in the absence of all of the information that it sought when the scheme was announced in the first instance, it would plough ahead in the dark and expect us to follow it. This will not be the case.

If nothing else, we have reaffirmed in this debate that poverty proofing is still ongoing. By association with this fact, we have established that the concept of a free allowance has not been set out in any shape or form. We have also established that, in light of the audit and the necessary rectification, the exact costs associated with making the network fit for purpose are not known. As the Minister of State mentioned, there is a 40% leakage rate.

No definitive programme of action is on the table. The reasons for this are that the procurement process has not been completed and the regulator will be the one to make the decision. We have established that the Government will hide behind that person. We will pass the Bill despite there being no information ready to go to the regulator tomorrow morning. As we do not know when that information will be ready, we do not know when the new Bill will be compiled to address the issues that we have raised.

This being the case and until such time as the Government or the regulator proves otherwise, the least that the former could do in respect of the proposed amendment would be to acknowledge the need for exemptions for those who are unable to pay. God knows that they will not be able to afford the leaflet drop being sent out next week regarding the property charge.

In the absence of relevant and correct information that would allow the House to reach a justified conclusion, the Minister of State has confirmed that-----

If I could be helpful-----

-----poverty proofing has not been completed and there are a few carriages still to be added to this train.

A fair deal for everyone on the train.

Only when all of the carriages are on the train will the Minister of State be able to confirm-----

The Deputy can twist my words if he wants, but I am afraid that-----

-----with certainty that privatisation is not a prospect.

I can confirm that-----

The Minister of State cannot confirm how many carriages are needed.

-----all of the issues relating to probable-----

That he has failed to address the matter highlights the manner in which the Government has handled this process. This is similar to how it handled the household charge. It is all over the shop.

It is. The Government will depend on the regulator, yet it will not give that person the necessary information to make a decision.

That is rubbish.

When the same regulator was asked by the energy sector for an increase, he also gave it a premium. The Government has failed to address the issue of energy provision. Many companies with external investment are prepared, have licences, are connected to the grid and have planning permission. They can reduce the cost of electricity to the people we represent, yet the Government will not instruct the regulator to hurry up and make a decision any more than it will give him the necessary information to make provision under this Bill. In the absence of that information, I cannot blame Deputy Stanley for tabling amendments on the issue of people who cannot afford to pay. We do not even know what the water will cost. We are only guessing. Will the Minister of State please acknowledge the effort being made on this side of the House with answers that would allow us to make reasoned decisions?

Three further Deputies have indicated that they wish to contribute, those being, Deputies Mattie McGrath, Catherine Murphy and Anthony Lawlor. They should be aware that only four minutes remain.

I would like an opportunity to respond.

I will make it five minutes.

The Government set the guillotine.

Could I have a bit of order, please? The Deputies should be quick.

I support this amendment. There is some confusion over it, but it makes a basic request for a bit of humanity from the system for people who cannot pay. The past ten days have seen attacks on people with disabilities. They will not be able to pay. The Minister of State knows this better than I do.

I disagree with the basis of the Bill. We are handing responsibility for water over to Bord Gáis. We will have great gas, but we will have no water. We all know that the Bill is a crude instrument. The Minister of State is the softer side of the Department. Tá an Aire, Big Phil, imithe. Has he gone with the Chief Whip to Australia to see if he can get water? St. Patrick's Day is not for another ten days. It is the Flight of the Earls again. The current Government criticised the last Government.

We are forcing people into penury. In our time on local authorities, we made representations for people. Now, we might as well write to Santa Claus as write to Bord Gáis. We have seen how it treats people, for example, disconnecting them or demanding upfront payments. As Deputy Cowen mentioned, the regulator has given Bord Gáis increase after increase. There is no accountability, understanding or shred of humanity in this legislation.

Deputy Catherine Murphy should be as quick as possible, please.

In many ways, we are blindly handing control over to the new company, Bord Uisce. Since we do not know what the free allowance will be, it is a major issue. As the Minister of State pointed out on Committee Stage, people with some medical conditions require large amounts of water, for example, people on dialysis. Will the regulator have the final say in this regard? A major administrative tier would be required to handle the work. Will the Department provide guidance on the matter?

We will not reach an amendment on which I was going to contribute. It is ironic that Sinn Féin opposes water charges for Irish people in the South-----

Did the press officer send this around?

On a point of order-----

-----while it deals with Irish people in the North differently. There seem to be two sets of Irish people as far as Sinn Féin is concerned.

Actually, there are no water charges for-----

(Interruptions).

I wish to ask the Minister of State a question.

On a point of order, the Deputy is misleading the House. There are no water charges in the North. They were not introduced in 2007. There are exemptions from household rates for low-income households.

I take Deputy Stanley's point. I would like the Minister of State to have the opportunity to speak.

I will make a quick point to him.

We are discussing rate poundages. The Minister of State well knows what is done in the North. The regulations stipulate that companies must put in place certain bondages and insurance policies.

Small companies might not be able to provide those because of their scale. Could the issue be examined also?

A second Bill will come before the House to deal with affordability, cost, medical issues and the categories that will be exempt.

Live horse and you will get grass.

Water poverty is high on the agenda. There will be absolute clarity before any charge is made as to how the charge arises, what it will be and who will be exempt. We are setting up the company and allowing the regulator to begin the work.

It is a case of handing over the family silver.

I assure Deputy McGrath that without the Bill being enacted the work cannot start.

As it is now 1.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 48.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.

As the question has been agreed, I wish to inform the House that the Bill, which is considered by virtue of Article 20. 2. 2° of the Constitution as a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann, will now be sent to Seanad Éireann.

Another chance for the Seanad to save itself.