Irish Water: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Barry Cowen on Wednesday, 15 January 2014:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes:
— the critical role water plays in our social and economic infrastructure and the right of all citizens to access a safe, clean and sustainable water supply;
— the need for a comprehensive national water investment programme to improve, protect and maintain supplies to homes and industry throughout the country;
— that investment should specifically target ongoing leakage issues and the quality of water supplied to homes; and
— the vital part that a strong water infrastructure plays in attracting investment and promoting economic growth;
condemns:
— the scandalous overspend in the €100 million it has cost for the creation of Irish Water to date, in particular the €50 million going to consultancy fees;
— the complete lack of transparency in the establishment of Irish Water, as it does not currently fall under freedom of information legislation;
— the fact that Irish Water places a new layer of bureaucracy on top of the existing water services system with excessive spending on recruitment and consultancy fees which duplicate existing expertise;
— the financial pressures that democratically accountable local authorities face in being stripped of their water assets while being burdened with pension bills;
— the fact that home owners will face water charges from January 2015 despite the lack of a national audit of the water infrastructure and investment programme to ensure people are paying for a service that delivers; and
— the Government’s decision to rush Irish Water legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas without proper oversight or scrutiny;
rejects any moves towards the privatisation of Irish Water;
calls on the Government:
— to conduct an immediate value for money review to clarify the spending levels of Irish Water on consultancy fees; and
— to end the duplication of resources between Irish Water and local authority staff; and
calls:
— for the immediate extension of freedom of information legislation to cover Irish Water including its establishment period; and
— for a complete national audit of the water system and the roll out of a comprehensive water investment program to bring the service up to standard.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
"To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
- notes the critical importance of water services to the social and economic well-being of the State and it citizens, and the vital part that a strong water services system plays in attracting investment and promoting economic growth;
- welcomes the establishment of Irish Water as one of the largest elements of public sector reform under way in the State and acknowledges the fact that the creation of the utility will bring:
- more investment in the water infrastructure, to address leakages, improve resilience and water quality and expand to meet economic need - doubling the present level of investment within a number of years; and
- a more efficient operation, through use of consolidated asset management systems, IT systems, standard operating practices and availing of economies of scale;
- welcomes the provisions of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 which precludes the privatisation of Irish Water and will ensure that water services infrastructure remains in public ownership;
- notes that the creation of the national water utility company has many benefits and welcomes the fact that this new approach will facilitate the doubling of capital investment, resulting in better quality water services and more jobs;
- recognises that a key underpinning of the major programme of water sector reform is the utilisation of expertise within the State sector to the maximum degree possible through leveraging Bord Gáis skills and systems and seconding staff from local authorities and the Department;
- acknowledges that the benefits accruing from the initial set-up costs will far outweigh the costs and provide long-term value for money for customers - the Minister has sought the advice of the Commission for Energy Regulation on this matter to validate the position;
- notes the commission's initial view that many of the costs presented to it are likely to be legitimate and will ultimately yield benefits and lower costs for consumers but that the commission is examining this matter further in the context of a fuller review of all of Irish Water's costs over the coming months - in accordance with best regulatory practice, the commission has indicated that it will consult fully on these issues and consider all responses before coming to a conclusion;
- welcomes the extensive efforts made by all stakeholders to ensure that Irish Water was operational from 1 January 2014 and notes in this context:
- the progress on the roll-out of the domestic metering programme being delivered by Irish Water, with some 85,000 meters installed to date;
- the provisions in the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, which provide a mechanism for funding the past pension service of local authority employees recruited or transferred to Irish Water; and
- the ongoing commitment of local authorities and their employees to ensuring the delivery of quality water services following the making of service level agreements with Irish Water, and notes that these agreements underpin a collaborative arrangement between Irish Water and the local government sector to transform water services in Ireland;
- recognises the need for transparency and accountability from Irish Water in respect of governance and budgets and welcomes the commitment by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to provide that Irish Water will be subject to freedom of information legislation as soon as is practicable."
- (Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd)

Deputy Joe Higgins is sharing time with Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Joan Collins. The Deputies have two minutes each.

The Irish people are being taken for a nation of idiots. This Fine Gael-Labour Government and its predecessor piled tens of billions of euro onto their shoulders. The private property speculation debts of bankers and bondholders is to be paid for by savage austerity, cuts in public services and a gouging from working people of new taxes on their homes and on water. Irish Water-Uisce Éireann has been established on the diktat of the troika, representing the sharks in the financial markets in Europe for the purpose of extorting another bondholder's tax from the working class and to make water a market commodity in preparation for privatisation and future sale to European multinational water companies.

We recently learned that consultants have already made a massive killing on the privatisation programme, with €50 million being funnelled into their insatiable bellies from the home taxes on ordinary taxpayers and for what purpose but to advise on how these same taxpayers can be extorted for even more austerity. This is, in my view, the economic equivalent of the Chinese barbarity that forces a condemned man to pay for the bullet that blows his brains out. Who purports to be outraged at all of this? Fianna Fáil, the political party that first capitulated to the troika and set this fiasco in train. The media then cheerleads for austerity. These people really do take our people for fools.

When attempts were made in the 1990s to introduce water charges in Dublin a massive boycott by ordinary people, mobilisation and political pressure forced their abandonment. People should repeat that campaign when charges are introduced in 2015, thereby bringing down this tax, austerity and, hopefully, the Government and parties responsible for it.

When debating this topic before Christmas I made the point that water is a right. While Ireland supports the right of people in the developing world to access to clean water a different attitude is being taken to the right of Irish people in this regard, with it simply being viewed as a commodity from which profit can be made. The legislation rushed through this House prior to Christmas was all about profit rather than service provision.

I welcome this opportunity for further discussion on this issue, as sufficient time for discussion on it was not provided prior to Christmas. In my view, the motion should have included an acknowledgement of the work of Sean O'Rourke. We might not have had as much information as we now have but for the role of the media in this matter. This situation is akin to the line from a Laurel and Hardy film of "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten us into." The common denominator between all of the big developments in this country, including the DART, Luas, the hospitals, the motorways and the Poolbeg incinerator, is the massive overspend and waste of public money in each case. Had any of these developments taken place in another country they would not have cost as much as they did here.

We have all heard of the amount of overspend to date. It appears that Irish Water has organised the bonuses for people working in Irish Water before any of the service it is supposed to provide has been put in place. Issues also arise in regard to its employees in terms of the manner in which they are employed, whether they are subject to the same conditions and pension levies, etc., as are other people in the public service and what people will be paying for. Our current system is ancient and leaking and produces poor quality water. There was a great deal of flooding again last year in Dublin Central and other parts of the country. This was caused by our antiquated water infrastructure, which dates back to Victorian times. One can only imagine what could have been done with the already massive overspend in respect of Irish Water. The insurance issue has still not been resolved and money continues to be spent on fluoridation of our water although there is no evidence to support that that is absolutely necessary.

The two key words continually mentioned are "accountability" and "transparency" but these are still not in action.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important motion on water services and the right of all Irish citizens to access to a safe, clean and sustainable water supply.

We have learned in recent days of the €80 million consultancy controversy and the lack of vigilance by two Government Ministers in relation to water services. I do not agree with the cosy consensus among all the political parties, in particular the major political parties, on the need for people in this State to pay for water. I reject this notion because as citizens of this State we are already paying for this service through our high taxation system. For example, I purchased a packet of 20 cigarettes in my local shop this morning for which I paid €9.50, 76% of which goes to the Government by way of tax. Like many other people, I pay my taxes. It is the taxes we are already paying that should be used to pay for the provision of water services.

Many of us are let down by the quality of our water service, in particular the people of Roscommon who are being supplied with dirty water and the people in and around Dublin city in terms of the 40% of leaking pipes in that area. Last week, there was chaos in my neighbouring estate of Charlemont on Griffith Avenue in respect of the installation of water meters. Some 64 meters in my estate had to be removed and reinstalled. This Government has a brass neck trying to charge people for water. The current service is appalling. The Government needs to get its act together and to ensure the 40% of pipes that are leaking are repaired and there is sensible use of public money in relation to the infrastructure and development of our water services.

I call on the Government to put in place a national water investment programme to improve, protect and maintain supplies to homes and industry throughout this country.

The vast majority of the opposition over the past few months to the introduction of water charges is based on the fact that it is a new tax that is unfair and regressive. In my view, it will impose a greater burden on the poor than on the wealthy.

The fact that Irish Water will be allowed to increase prices every year - the company has not said it will not do it - not to mention the fact that householders will pay the price for the extravagant spending on consultants by Irish Water makes it all the more unfair.

Ideologically, I do not have a problem with Fine Gael because privatisation is part of the essence of what that party is about. However, I am deeply disappointed in the Labour Party. I have always believed that an essential part of socialist or left-wing ideology is to oppose privatisation. There is no question in my mind that the objective of the new means of supplying and charging for water will inevitably lead to privatisation. As we all know, privatisation is almost always about profit and often about greed. It is not about providing a service. If people want to see how privatisation has worked, they should simply look at the British system of providing water and travel and so on and the associated costs to individuals there. This is what is scaring people in Ireland.

I do not have as much time as I would have liked to speak on this matter. Anyway, we are repeatedly told that this will drive efficiency. Surely, reorganising what we already have, given that 60% of water is being lost in some areas, would be preferable. We are spending €500 million per year anyway on fixing what is broken.

I would not like to be from the Government parties when it comes to going around during the local elections and talking to people who have had their water cut off for weeks on end, or talking to people who get a bad service with poor quality water. I would not like to have to explain to them that they must pay for it in the coming months without any accountability or an explanation of why we are paying for it, how we are going to pay or the actual costs per year.

I support the motion put down by Fianna Fáil on Irish Water but I wish to clarify that I do not support the cynical nature of Fianna Fáil tabling the motion. The party has fully supported the idea in the past. It maintains now that it supports charges for water but not at this time. It echoes the cynicism we have heard in the past.

I did not say that.

I wish to deal with two areas quickly, because I realise I have only a minute and a half remaining. I want to concentrate on the idea of conservation. I cannot use the word "lie" in the Dáil-----

-----but certainly what has been said is not a truth in respect of conservation. If there was a real approach to conservation of water we would not have the energy regulator referring to how, if the revenue achieved through collection of water charges does not meet the cost, it will have to increase the cost of water charged to people. Water is a human right. A conservation programme should have been put in place long before this. This was a major opportunity for the so-called Labour Party Government to bring in such a measure. There should have been a major drive to bring in rainwater harvesting grants throughout the country and for people in homes and businesses to put in rain harvesting and dual access mechanisms in premises. Truly expensive water is being flushed down our toilets every day of the week. It is an absolute outrage that the Government will charge people for what is a human right, that is, to access toilet facilities. This should have been about water conservation. Expensive water is simply going through the taps of the people. This is drinking water for our needs. These measures should have been carried out before this was brought in. If they had, we would not be discussing the big idea of trying to get water from the Shannon to Dublin because we would be dealing with far less water and smaller volumes would be needed to run the country and the city. It is outrageous.

This entity will be privatised irrespective of what the Minister of State says.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. The establishment of Irish Water aims to modernise the way water services are delivered throughout the country. Water is a most valuable natural resource and must be protected because it is critical to the health and well-being of our citizens and the environment. I welcome the Government commitment to place Irish Water under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, a welcome and important step to ensure that the new system is as transparent as possible. This is important because the company is spending money that has been hard-earned by taxpayers.

Setting up a new State utility company was never going to be a simple process, especially given the time constraints involved in this case. The move was an essential provision of the deal agreed upon with the troika. However, leaving aside the arrival of the troika to Ireland and the subsequent deal reached, if we are serious about delivering a clean and safe water supply to households throughout Ireland, then we should recognise that the current model is outdated and, in many cases, has failed to provide a continuous supply of water fit for human consumption, especially to households in rural areas.

Much of the commentary on Irish Water in recent days has referred to the cost of consultants, which has become something of a dirty word at the moment. When people think of consultants, they think of advisers and the compilation of reports that gather dust on shelves. During the economic boom we had nothing but reports by expert groups which cost the Irish taxpayer vast sums of money. It is easy to see why people were outraged when they heard about the figures being spent on consultants in respect of the establishment of Irish Water. However, the money was not only spent on advice. It was spent on the logistics necessary to set up the utility company, the business, the necessary networks and the systems, all of which must be in place. We are setting up a new State utility company and there will be significant new costs, but they will be one-off costs. Anyway, it is imperative that there is proper oversight of the money spent and proper accountability of the actions of Irish Water.

The energy regulator is to conduct an analysis of the spending and set-up costs of Irish Water. This analysis will be crucial in terms of the financial oversight and in terms of communicating with the public on the value-for-money aspect of the spend. A far smaller report was undertaken at the end of last year. It revealed no major issues with the costs involved. It is important that the energy regulator's examination is detailed and that the regulator's assessment of whether this represented the cheapest way possible of procuring these services is widely communicated to the public.

When all is said and done, the aim of the entity is to save taxpayers' money by providing an efficient and centralised service. Irish Water came into being on 1 January. It is now crucial that the company sets out its role in terms of how it will interact with local authorities from now on, including in respect of group water schemes and authorities which have commitments to new sewerage schemes. Communities where schemes are planned are at a loss to know who they should deal with in respect of planned new schemes. These communities must have an avenue to communicate with Irish Water.

The issue of group water schemes is crucial to many rural households. We have heard a good deal of talk about the "polluter pays" principle but it is crucial that members of these schemes, who had the initiative to set up the schemes when the State failed to provide the water supply, are rewarded rather than punished for their initiative. If payment is based on the consumption of water, then it is imperative that the system is fair and that those on group schemes do not pay twice for their water.

In recent months Irish Water has run a significant campaign in an effort to inform the public of how and why water meters are being installed. To boost public confidence in the company, which, we should remember, is less than three weeks old, far greater efforts must be made to explain how and why such significant sums of money were spent on consultancy fees and on the process undertaken to ensure those services were procured at the best price available.

The key issues in respect of this new State utility company include value for money, accountability, transparency and communication. Householders, who are ultimately the people who will pay for the costs incurred, need to be reassured that value for money is a top consideration at all levels throughout the business. The public also need reassurance that there is proper accountability and transparency within the structures. The company should communicate with the public to ensure this work is properly represented.

I believe that bringing the company within the remit of the freedom of information legislation is an important step in achieving greater transparency, accountability and better communication and I look forward to the ongoing oversight of the company's work in the months and years to come.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I believe that the debate in recent days, despite the controversy involved, has been helpful to a degree in informing the public and raising awareness about the Irish utility, Uisce Éireann, otherwise known as Irish Water. I attended the environment committee meeting at which, I believe, the executives from Irish Water put on the record - it is there for all to see - their response in detail regarding the recent controversy.

Rather than the hysteria and populist soundbites that have emerged - I would expect these in the initial days from politicians and some in the media - we need to look in detail at the responses that are now on the public record. People can see for themselves the facts as they are in the proper context and why Irish Water as a national utility is needed. Furthermore, people can see the facts on where the money has been spent on introducing new customer billing and support systems and, more important, on the national asset management system for every piece of water infrastructure that exists in the country.

I note with interest that the Fianna Fáil motion criticises the lack of a national audit of water infrastructure. I agree that such an audit is required. As a member of a local authority for seven years, I represented a town that had a boil notice served on it for almost three months during the Celtic tiger years. That happened, in my area and elsewhere, because there was insufficient investment in water infrastructure. Cryptosporidium was detected in the town in which I lived and in Galway city. It almost shut down the tourism industry in that city. Just before Christmas we saw the shortages in capacity in Dublin. These developments occurred after a period in which Fianna Fáil in government assured us there had been huge investment in infrastructure. The reality is that our legacy from the previous Government was major neglect of the water supply system. We had 34 local authorities doing their best during that period, with very limited funding, to maintain a water infrastructure. They were obliged to do so on an ad hoc basis, with no critical mass efficiency, no interconnectivity across the local authority areas, no consistent maintenance plans and no modern asset management system.

With the introduction of the new national utility, Irish Water, we will, at long last, have the audit Fianna Fáil is seeking and which it failed to undertake in government. It is badly needed. We have been investing more than €1.2 billion per annum in a water infrastructure that is leaking 40% of supply into the ground. How is that sustainable? Listening to Opposition spokespeople, however, it seems they want that situation to continue. They have offered no answers as to where the investment will come from to fix leakages and ensure we have the quality water supply and sustainable networks we are all agreed are necessary. They should stop speaking out of both sides of their mouth. I understand why Members opposite would choose to engage in political point-scoring instead of considering the facts and seeking to move beyond the substandard legacy of national infrastructure this Government inherited. In the context of the criticisms to which we have been subjected in recent days, it is important to keep certain facts in mind in terms of the record of Fianna Fáil in government. More than €220 million was spent on PPARS, the inefficient IT system for the health service. Some €55 million was spent on electronic voting machines that never saw the light of day. In fact, it was this Government which acted to remove those devices from storage sheds throughout the country. That is the legacy of Fianna Fáil in government.

I have no problem with constructive criticism when it is due and fair. I accept there were questions to be addressed in terms of the establishment of Irish Water. In that context, I welcome the commitment by the Taoiseach and the executives of the new utility that there will be full transparency in respect of its operations. Its credibility will stack up as we see how it proceeds to serve taxpayers with efficiency. More than €85 million has already been saved for the taxpayer by the use of the infrastructure and expertise of Bord Gáis. That has not been acknowledged to the degree it should be. There has been a great deal of comment by Deputy Cowen and others regarding the PricewaterhouseCoopers' submission that was redacted. I would have no problem with that report being published. The reality, however, is that the Minister's decision not to go with its recommendation has saved taxpayers €85 million.

I am interested in solutions, not hysteria. Irish Water, like the ESB - whose establishment in 1926 was also opposed by Fianna Fáil - can become a great national utility that will serve the people of this country well into the future.

Dublin people do not have to be reminded of the need for a national utility to oversee the supply of water. Dubliners have had to endure lengthy interruptions in supply on no less than three occasions in recent times, including in the run-up to Christmas. The establishment of Irish Water is about ensuring security and safety of supply in a context where we have seen a chronic lack of investment in the past 20 years. Deputy Coffey referred to the expenditure associated with PPARS and electronic voting. He forgot to mention the so-called Bertie Bowl, the vanity project of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Deputy Finian McGrath spoke critically of the lack of investment in water infrastructure. I wonder whether the issue of investment in water for the Dublin area arose when he was doing the grubby little deal with Mr. Ahern which helped to keep the latter in power.

It is completely unacceptable that the Fianna Fáil motion should criticise what its Members have described as an overspend by Irish Water. No facts have been established to back up that claim. In fact, all of the information provided to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on Tuesday indicates that the set-up costs were benchmarked below the international norm. There has been a great deal of heat and noise generated on this issue, much of it stemming from Fianna Fáil. It is largely a case of fake outrage. We must keep in mind certain key points. When representatives of Bord Gáis briefed the environment committee in November 2012 on the establishment of Irish Water, not one question was put to them by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or the Independents on the issue of establishment costs. I checked the Official Report this morning to confirm that. The Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who is in the Chamber today, attended a meeting of the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government in July 2013 to discuss the forthcoming legislation. Again, the Opposition failed to raise the issue of the establishment costs of Irish Water.

Members opposite are full of concern now, but they had two clear opportunities to raise these matters and failed to do so. The first time the issue of the asset management register was raised was when my colleague, Deputy Coffey, referred to it at the meeting in July. We learned on Tuesday that the major part of the spend by IBM relates to the establishment of that register, which will be a critical tool in directing further investment. What we are seeing here is a failure by the Opposition to use the opportunities available to it to raise questions about Irish Water. As the record of the Dáil shows, I was the first Deputy to raise, by way of parliamentary question, the issue of consultancy costs relating to the establishment of the new utility. I am glad Members opposite read my questions and build on my work.

The Fianna Fáil motion concludes with a call for Irish Water to be subject to the freedom of information regime. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, made clear last November that this would be done. As Members opposite are aware, the legislation amending the freedom of information provisions is still going through the Houses. As part of its reform of the parliamentary process, this Government introduced a system of pre-legislative scrutiny, to which the freedom of information proposals were subjected at the finance committee. Colleagues and I repeatedly raised the need for Irish Water to be subject to the freedom of information regime. I am glad the Minister has given a strong commitment in this regard, having taken on board the views of backbenchers, and I am sure the provisions will apply retrospectively.

The Opposition seems to be more interested in stunts than it is in the hard work of legislative scrutiny and parliamentary inquiry through the committee system. Fianna Fáil Members have called for a national audit of the water system and a comprehensive investment programme. It seems to have escaped their notice that this is exactly what Irish Water is doing. An asset management system is crucial to identifying the right places to invest and the cost of that investment. I have been in politics since 1999, during which time we have seen continual cuts in the water supply in the Dublin area and the issuing of numerous boil notices throughout the country. In this motion, we see a failed Opposition criticising a Government that wants to do something about these problems. The Fianna Fáil Party should take its failure home and withdraw the pointless motion it has put forward.

I agree with previous speakers that we must go back to the fundamental question of why we are here and what we are trying to achieve. The establishment of a national utility is a massive undertaking.

Reference was made to difficulties resulting from water shortages in Dublin and we are all aware of the position in the west, particularly Galway. On two occasions in the past four to five years, huge and densely populated areas of Cork were left without water for well over a week. On both occasions we learned a couple of very important lessons. First, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the then Government were ill-equipped to deal with the problems that arose. I am not trying to make a party political point in this regard because the Department remains ill-equipped to respond quickly to crises. As is currently the case, at that time water was delivered by local authorities. While the people on the ground did an excellent job, we learned that the water supply system in our country has been extremely under-funded for a long period and that it needed a dramatic overhaul. That overhaul is now being facilitated by the current Government. The second lesson we learned is that there is a significant cost to providing water. Those who are watching this debate must realise that, as taxpayers, they are already funding the cost of a very leaky, inefficient and expensive water system. The money to fund that cost is paid out of their taxes. I am strongly of the view that as a result of the introduction of water metering, families are going to use water more efficiently and that the net saving to them will be significant.

If one were to compile a spreadsheet analysis of all the semi-State organisations in this country, Bord Gáis would be at the very top in terms of efficiency and the personnel who work for it. The company has transformed the utility for which it has responsibility. Indeed, its business in this regard is very efficiently run. Bord Gáis is based in Cork. I have met many of its senior officials over the years and I have been very impressed by the professionalism with which the entire group, but in particular Bord Gáis Networks, is run. We must have faith in the company under whose umbrella Irish Water will operate because, after all, it has the relevant expertise. The staff of the company know what they are doing and they have proven this to us by means of the way in which they have run their utility business in the past.

The issue of the leaky, creaking infrastructure Irish Water will inherit is relevant in the context of many other areas. Before one can invest in repair, one must first bring in revenue. This is not a chicken-and-egg situation, rather it is clearly one where we must not put the horse before the cart. The new utility has been put in place within a very narrow timeframe. One of the great criticism of how politics in Ireland functions relates to the slow pace of how we do things. That criticism is fairly accurate. In fairness and for a variety of reasons, the current Government has been forced to do things much more quickly. In this instance and in a very short period, we will be putting in place a new national utility that will provide a secure and safe water supply. When problems arose in Cork in 2009, the Mercy Hospital and Cork University Hospital were obliged to bring in tankers of water. Other Deputies outlined what happened in Dublin and Galway when similar problems arose. There is nothing more fundamental to life than water. I am not just referring to the necessity to drink it. Water is also necessary in order that medical professionals can perform surgery in hospital operating theatres and so that those in the fire services can do their job.

What is being done with regard to Irish Water and the water supply system must be done quickly and efficiently. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to state whether the money expended to date has been well spent. However, I know enough about Bord Gáis to state that its record to date is exceptionally good. It will probably be a number of years before we will be in a position to look back on this period and state whether the costs involved were justified. My suspicion is that we will look back and state that what was done was a remarkable achievement on the part of Irish Water and Bord Gáis and that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government showed great foresight and determination in having confidence in Bord Gáis in the context of its proven track record.

If one were to run the political and media activity and the hysteria surrounding this matter in recent weeks through the filter at the end of a pipeline, I am not sure that one would find anything of great substance when the filtration process was complete. The one word which has continually arisen during the debate on this subject is "consultant". The entire country became upset at the idea of €50 million being spent on consultants. People, including politicians, reacted and envisaged something from an era that is long gone, namely, €50 million worth of reports being left to sit on a shelf somewhere. The latter is not the case. Deputy Coffey made an outstanding contribution in which he highlighted the nub of the matter. As he pointed out, systems rather than reports are going to be put in place. The largest provider in this regard will be IBM, which will put in place a network which will provide information on the quality of water and which will allow us to identify the location of leaks and how to repair them. In addition, we are going to have a semi-State company that will raise funds on the private markets - these will not appear on the State's balance sheet - for the purposes of employing people to repair the leaks that exist at present.

There will be many benefits to Uisce Éireann. I do not wish to be ultra-partisan in respect of this matter. We all agree that what is being done is good from a national perspective. Unfortunately, it took the arrival of the troika and the inclusion of this matter in the memorandum of understanding in order for action to be taken on this issue. There will be benefits from what is being done but there will also an element of hardship. Deputy Dara Murphy correctly highlighted the fact that the net effect of the process will be that savings will be made. Those savings will be both environmental and economic in nature. I am of the view that we are doing the right thing in the context of the modern world in which we live.

For me, the crux of the matter lies in the fact that already hard-pressed families do not need another excessive bill being delivered to their homes. I refer, in particular, to those with large families, those whose homes are in negative equity and those households with two incomes coming in but with constant outgoings. I would impress upon the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, the fact that the quota of water that will be allocated to people must be more than adequate. If one compares the average use of potable water in countries across Europe with that which obtains in Ireland, one will see that, unfortunately, we are abusing the system at present, whether it is by leaving the tap running while brushing one's teeth, taking long showers or whatever.

It must be acknowledged that mistakes have been made. I am not very happy with the level of openness and transparency relating to the entire process. However, I am very pleased that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has stated that the freedom of information legislation will form part of the mechanism by means of which the activities of Irish Water will be scrutinised. I compliment Deputies Kevin Humphreys and McCarthy and others on the Government benches who raised this issue and highlighted the fact that openness and transparency are required in respect of it. I am fully aware of the fact that Bord Gáis Networks, with which I have had many dealings in recent years - particularly in the context of the Shannon LNG project at Ballylongford in north Kerry - has the interests of the Irish people at heart. It has been stated that Government Ministers supposedly were not aware that €50 million was spent on consultants and there is a perception that this money may have gone out the back door and that people were paid money they did not really deserve. The culture which previously obtained in this regard no longer exists. The money in question was spent for the benefit of Irish Water, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the State.

We have undergone a process whereby the noise and the nonsense have been filtered out and we have now reached the crux of the matter. If there are questions to be asked in the context of the county managers' allocation of €5.5 million to €5.7 million, then I would like to hear the answers to them. Deputy Cowen pointed out that Fianna Fáil is in favour of the concept of Uisce Éireann. In that context, there must be transparency regarding how and why the company was established and, ultimately, how much its operations are going to cost the people of the country.

Everything that has been done conforms to EU tendering guidelines. Nothing underhanded has occurred but I recommend that, from now on, those appointed to State boards, agencies or whatever should possess the relevant expertise. If such individuals are affiliated to political parties, we must ensure that they bring something of substance to the table with them. A charge has been made against the Government on this front. I would like to see that which is the subject of the charge being completely eradicated from Irish politics.

The final point I wish to raise relates to the bonus culture, which has again reared its head. I understand that the troika insisted on a tight timeframe and that an incentive was put in place in respect of certain people as a result.

The troika implemented a tight timeframe but no one should benefit from a bonus. Do a job and get paid for it is how the country should work.

Deputy Sean Fleming is sharing time with Deputies Timmy Dooley, Charlie McConalogue, John Browne and Michael Moynihan.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion on Irish Water. I thank my colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, for tabling the motion.

The motion notes the critical role water plays in our social and economic infrastructure and the right of all citizens to access a safe, clean and sustainable water supply and the need for a comprehensive national water investment programme to improve, protect and maintain supplies to homes and industry throughout the country. A total of €6 billion has been invested in improvements to water services in recent years and further funds will be required. I have no doubt we could be here in ten years' time debating the need for further investment to improve the quality of the services. The motion also calls for the immediate extension of freedom of information legislation to cover Irish Water, including its establishment period. I am pleased the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, is in the Chamber to hear this part of the debate.

Many on this side of the House as well as in the public sphere would accept that this new super-quango, Irish Water, was not the way to go about implementing the investment programme and the process was flawed from the beginning. Bord Gáis was chosen because it has a customer base of 600,000 and was therefore deemed the most suitable organisation to implement a new State monopoly with a customer base of 1.8 million. It must be noted that Bord Gáis will produce the billings and enrol customers but the Government plans to privatise that arm of Bord Gáis which has the specific expertise for dealing with the customer base. The expertise that will be required will be privatised once Irish Water is up and running. If the Fine Gael Party is in government after the next election, it will be privatised. The commitment in the legislation that Irish Water will not be privatised is only a commitment for today and does not prevent it being privatised at some future time-----

That is what Fianna Fáil did with Telecom Éireann.

Water services have been privatised in England where people pay charges of €600 a year.

I contributed to Second Stage and Committee Stage of the Freedom of Information Bill. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, agreed that there was a case to include Irish Water and Iarnród Éireann under freedom of information legislation even though I accept that commercial semi-State bodies are not normally included because they are in competition with other organisations. However, the difference with Irish Water and Iarnród Éireann is that they are State monopolies which are not in competition with other providers. On that basis, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, last year agreed to include Irish Water under freedom of information but he back-tracked on that decision. I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage which he refused to accept but I will table a Report Stage amendment.

Fianna Fáil has called for Irish Water to be included in the remit of freedom of information legislation. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has stated in recent days that he will include Irish Water under freedom of information for a limited period. I argue there is only one reason it is being included for a limited period, which is to enable the body to be established, but he does not wish it to be constrained by freedom of information regulation in advance of a future privatisation. He has signalled that freedom of information will be removed. The Comptroller and Auditor General is not empowered to audit Irish Water. The Minister has not adequately responded to parliamentary questions nor has he dealt with the issue of the bonuses which are rife in this organisation. I ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to comment on this bonus culture which most people presumed had been done away with.

I refer to the cost of €180 million in set-up expenditure and €85 million on consultancy fees. It is not credible that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, did not know about these costs. He is a capable, intelligent man. I do not believe for one moment that he did not know that consultants were involved. I would not insult him by saying I do not believe he did not know. Of course he knew because I believe he knows how to do his job. It is not credible to use Manuel's excuse, "I know nothing". He will try to get away with that excuse for the weekend but I give him more credit than that. The Minister's line of defence is that he did not know. I would not insult him by saying he is not competent to do his job because I believe he knew. I think he sat on the information in the belief that it would be hidden by Bord Gáis and no one would know about it.

I do not hide things.

The costs associated with the establishment of Irish Water are being transferred to the balance sheet of the new entity and will form part of its asset and capital base.

I refer to the evidence given yesterday by the Secretary General of the Department to the Committee of Public Accounts:

Irish Water is a commercial semi-State body within the Bord Gáis group and, as such, requirements for a ministerial consent to enter into capital commitments are required.

That consent would be required from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resource, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. Perhaps he has been hiding away this week and allowing the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to take the flak about a semi-State organisation - Bord Gáis - which is under the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte's remit. He will have to answer the question as to whether he gave ministerial consent to Bord Gáis to enter into these capital commitments which form part of the capital base of Irish Water. This saga is not over yet and we need to get to the bottom of it.

I note that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has in recent days been hiding behind the regulator. He has asked the regulator to verify his version of events. This information was made public at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday. The Commissioner for Energy Regulation, Mr. McGowan, stated in his presentation to the committee that the Commission for Energy Regulation expects to be formally appointed as Ireland's water regulator in the coming weeks. He is not the regulator because the Minister has not signed the order. As we speak there is no regulator. The Minister has been hiding behind the regulator that does not exist-----

The Deputy is wrong again.

I asked Mr. McGowan why he was attending the meeting last night if he had not been appointed as regulator. He replied that the Minister had asked him to take a preliminary look at the figures. He is still not the regulator. Will the Minister confirm that he will appoint the regulator, even though he has been hiding behind a so-called regulator for the past week? Mr. McGowan does not have the statutory authority to act as regulator.

I refer to the Government amendment to the motion which refers to a regulator which does not exist, has no statutory basis and has not been appointed. When the Minister signs the statutory instrument to appoint the regulator, there is a period of 21 Dáil sitting days - seven or eight weeks - so the regulator will not be in place before next May. The Minister has been hiding behind a body which has no legal standing. The regulator does not exist and it has no role in this matter whatsoever. It is extraordinary that the Minister has not signed the statutory instrument.

Mr. Tierney confirmed that Irish Water has 200,000 commercial customers as of 1 January 2014. Every school, sports club, hospital, shop and bar in the country is paying its money to Irish Water amounting to €190 million. Each local authority has a different water rate. Irish Water is a single entity but it is charging different rates to commercial customers in each local authority area. The figures are different for the water going in and going out. I asked the regulator yet to be appointed if there will be one national rate of a separate rate for each county as is currently the case. He replied that he could not answer that question because he had not received the submission from Irish Water because he has not been appointed as regulator.

I asked if the Minister could answer that question but he said "No" because it would be his role to do that job. The Minister cannot even tell the people whether there will be one basic rate for water - a universal charge from Dublin to Cork to Galway. If he does so, he will be straying beyond his legal remit and into the role of the regulator who has yet to be appointed. If the Minister tries to give a rate, he will be interfering with the independence of that regulator. Neither the regulator nor the Minister can give an answer. We are spending €190 million of taxpayers' money but the Minister cannot even tell us on what the rate for water for those who will get their bills for €400 next January will be based.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is one central question, namely, how did the water consumers in this country get stuck for €85 million in consultancy charges? It is as simple as that. An effort has been made by backbenchers, in particular in the Labour Party, to make the Minister the scapegoat. He has big and broad shoulders, is well used to that and is able to take it on the chin. However, this was a Government decision which predated the Minister's appointment as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It goes back to what Fine Gael did in opposition when it sought to create the whole concept of NewERA. The Minister will be familiar with who the author of the NewEra document was. It was a former chief executive of Bord Gáis.

Questions are rightly being asked as to why Bord Gáis was given this onerous task. At the time, the Minister and his Government colleagues said the reason Bord Gáis was involved in all of this was that it had expertise. The Minister said yesterday, and Deputy Coffey said earlier, that it saved the State €85 million. I would like to get some of the details on how it saved €85 million. Did it deploy staff to the operation of Irish Water and if so, what are those staff doing now? How was it that Bord Gáis was in a position to have all these staff available to do that charitable deed?

The expectation and belief was that it had systems, expertise and the model to set up Irish Water-Uisce Éireann without replicating or reinventing the wheel. However, the Government set aside a budget of €180 million and it handed it to Bord Gáis to establish Irish Water. There were no economies of scale or savings and it is reprehensible that Member after Member has trooped in here to say what a great job Bord Gáis has done. I do not believe it has done a good job. It has robbed the consumers of this country and it is now clear that it did not have the expertise.

I cannot understand why the ESB was not considered. It has a much wider network, has a bill going to every house in the State and has asset management systems. There is no big difference. We have still not found out what the real cost is from Bord Gáis, whatever it presented to the Minister. Deputy Cowen will have a thing or two to say about what Bord Gáis presented to the Minister at a later stage.

The ESB did not apply.

Why did it not apply? The answer is that Fine Gael had a cosy deal with Bord Gáis through its connections and links with the person who was the author of the NewEra document. It was handed on a plate to a company which clearly did not have the expertise. If it had the expertise, it would not have had to buy in all these extra consultancy services.

Take what the State has in the ESB. There is no difference between pipes and wires when it comes to asset management or between manholes and pylons or poles in terms of the management of an asset and how one details, contains and manages that. It is very clear that we have not heard about what went on between Fine Gael and Bord Gáis. We have not been given the answers. The Minister and Mr. John Tierney are being scapegoated by Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers. Mr. John Tierney was brought in during the final days of all of this. The budget was already agreed between Bord Gáis and the Government, or Fine Gael.

The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, has made some incredible statements over the past couple of days. He was not aware of what was going on but who was? Who handed this lucrative contract to Bord Gáis, for what and what is behind it?

We now have this outrageous situation where there is an agreement to provide bonuses to the staff of Irish Water when there were hard working people in local authorities delivering the water services within the constraints imposed on them. They never got bonuses. Their pay was cut, they had to pay the universal social charge and had all the other cuts imposed on them while the Government is supposedly saving money in Irish Water.

It is establishing another quango, despite the fact its stated intention was to rid the country of quangos. It has created a super qaungo and has given it a phenomenal amount of money. It has set it up in an obscure way where the funds have been taken from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and, therefore, the Minister or the company is not answerable to this Parliament or society. It is reprehensible and something clearly needs to change.

Others spoke about what IBM will do and what all these consultancies will bring to the table while, at the same time, not recognising the inherent system which already exists within State control. One only has to look to the ESB and other utility companies owned by the State that have all the systems on which the Government has spent €180 million.

I support the motion tabled by my colleague, Deputy Cowen, that Irish Water be brought under freedom of information legislation about which the Minister and Government are reluctant. The one question which is central to how this issue has been mishandled by the Minister and the Government is about where the public stands in this whole issue. How is the public being considered in terms of what is being delivered to them? Deputy Cowen rightly described Irish Water as a runaway train on which the Minister has sanctioned expenditure of €188 million. However, he refused to give any information to the Parliament of this country on how it would be spent. What is more, the Minister made every possible effort to try to ensure the detail of that information would not come out by excluding the body from freedom of information legislation. Belatedly, the Taoiseach indicated yesterday that there was no problem bringing it under freedom of information legislation. When asked how that might happen, he indicated an amendment could be tabled to the Bill which is on Report Stage. That highlights the fact that there was a deliberate effort to prevent that information from coming into the public domain.

There has been a total lack of information for the public and the local authorities from whom this service is being taken. There are still major questions which remain unanswered in terms of how our water services will be delivered and the impact on the public. For example, where will group water schemes stand under the new regime? The Minister has not been able to indicate exactly what will happen and who will be responsible. There has been much comment that it may be the responsibility of the promoter of each group water scheme to administer the billing on behalf of Irish Water. There has been no effort by the Minister to address that question. Many people in our communities, who have made a huge effort to deliver water to more remote parts and to take on responsibility, remain in the dark as to how it will work when Irish Water takes over.

I refer to the takeover of unfinished housing estates. Irish Water will now have a very significant role in regard to water and sewerage services in those estates. How will that happen? Can the Minister give an assurance Irish Water will take on that responsibility and liaise with people living in those estates who have been left in the lurch because their estates have not been completed and, in many cases, faulty systems were put in place which no longer work?

I refer to planning permissions which are still the responsibility of each local authority, although I wonder for how long under this Government.

A key condition of someone getting planning permission is sanction for access to water services and sewerage services. Until recently, such services were under the remit of the same local authorities that were responsible for awarding planning permission. Planning officials who are responsible for awarding planning permission for housing and business developments will no longer be able to receive assessments of the impact of such developments on water services from their own local authorities. They will have to seek permission from Irish Water for water services to be delivered. If there are weaknesses in a particular area, such as an inadequate water supply or an inadequate sewerage system, the local authority will be helpless to address it, and it will instead fall under the remit of Irish Water. All of these questions remain unanswered.

Absolutely no effort has been made by the Minister or the Government to give people an assurance about what might happen. Similarly, people have been given no information about what level of water charges will be levied on them and no assurance about the accompanying level of service. Indeed, it has been made clear that those who have inadequate and poor water supplies - those who have dirty water, for example - will still be expected to pay water charges. I urge the Minister to accept this motion. As he has accepted that Irish Water should be opened to the freedom of information regime, I presume he will support the motion before the House.

I am glad to have an opportunity to support Deputy Cowen's motion. Fianna Fáil has consistently opposed the Government's Irish Water model. As we all know, the legislation was rammed through the Dáil before Christmas without any real scrutiny. The Minister seemed to be happy to go along with that. These functions have been taken from democratically elected local authorities and placed with Irish Water, which is a new super-quango that has been set up by the Government. I read with interest yesterday that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has said he intends to abolish a huge number of quangos. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, seems to be hell-bent on setting up a new quango.

The Government decided to give responsibility for Uisce Éireann to Bord Gáis. The process involved in this decision was never made public. We do not know why others were ruled out. Who else was interviewed for this position? The Minister said it was given to Bord Gáis because it had the expertise and the operational capacity to deliver Uisce Éireann. It turns out that Bord Gáis did not have that capacity or expertise after all. Advisers and consultants have had to be employed to advise Bord Gáis at a cost of more than €100 million. Either the Minister was misled by Bord Gáis, or he clouded himself to the reality of what was going to happen. The Secretary General said yesterday that the Department was aware of the costs involved since March 2013. It is quite amazing that neither the Minister, Deputy Hogan, nor the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, were informed of this. It is hard to believe. When I served as Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, representatives of a number of boards, including Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Bord Bia and Coillte, came in on a regular basis to brief the Minister on the costs involved in running the service for the year. It is hard to believe that the Minister and the Minister of State were unaware of what was happening in this case.

My personal opinion is that the decision to take powers from our democratically accountable local authorities as part of the establishment of Irish Water was wrong. The local authorities had the engineering expertise and the staff on the ground. They have the facilities in place to collect charges. They have the experience of collecting water rates, rents, business rates and property charges. If they has been asked to provide this service on a county-by-county basis, they would have had the wherewithal to do so. Obviously, the Minister thought differently. There is no doubt that the quango which has been established will be in Government ownership for a small period of time. I suggest that this is the first step on the road to privatisation. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this aspect of the matter in his reply. Will Irish Water be sold off in the same way that it is proposed to sell the national lottery and Bord Gáis? Coillte would have been sold as well if it had not been for the interference of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is obvious that this Government is more interested in privatising than in providing services to the people.

What about Telecom Éireann?

What about Aer Lingus? Deputy Browne and his colleagues made a bags of that.

We remember the morning Mary O'Rourke spoke on the radio.

She had been in the bath.

Did Fine Gael not say it intended to bring about change?

Contracts were handed out to companies to install the meters in the absence of a proper tendering system. Many qualified local contractors were excluded. I can give the Minister the names of people in Wexford who asked to be included in the tendering system, but that opportunity was denied to them.

The Minister might also clarify the current position with regard to subcontractors. I have been informed by some subcontractors in Wexford that they are not getting paid by Uisce Éireann. I ask the Minister to investigate that and see if it is the truth. That situation should not be allowed to continue. It is certainly not in the best interests of subcontractors. We have had cases in the past of subcontractors being left high and dry. Contractors are not being paid by this body at an early stage in its existence.

I listened to what the representatives of Uisce Éireann had to say at the committee meetings that took place over the past two days. They made a great play about the service that will be provided to customers. As I understand it, customers in Wexford who are affected by a fault will have to ring an office in Kilkenny. The officials in Kilkenny will notify their counterparts in Dublin, who will notify the people on the ground. If this roundabout system of getting word to the relevant people that there is a leak or a fault is to be put in place, God help the person who has the leak or fault because he or she have to wait quite a long time to get a solution to the problem.

People want to know how much they will have to pay for their houses' water supplies. This seems to be a mystery. It was said on radio this morning that a tariff may be imposed on large families. It seems that the more children one has, the higher the water rate one will pay. Perhaps the Minister is moving into the family planning area as well. Has he decided that one will have to pay a smaller water charge if one has a small number of children, and that one will have to pay a higher water charge if one has more children?

The Deputy was going grand until that point.

He might clarify that as well when he is replying.

We are bad enough - do not go there.

The Deputy should put something into the water in Wexford to get a few hurlers.

That would be an ecumenical matter.

I compliment Deputy Cowen on the tabling of this fundamental motion, which relates to an issue about which there is widespread concern among the public. We might have a debate in here, but there is a great deal of anger outside the House regarding many issues which have been raised forcibly. In recent months, as progress was made with the establishment of Irish water, those involved with group water schemes were constantly looking for information and documentation on what will happen. Major issues arose in this regard before Christmas when the rush to set up Irish Water was intensifying. The trustees of group water schemes have received no clarification - good, bad or indifferent - about where they fit in. If they did not give their time voluntarily, funding would not be drawn down and, because of State issues, water would not be brought to their communities as currently happens. There has been uproar among such people over the last week or ten days, as their trust in the new body has evaporated completely. There is no need for me to elaborate on this complete loss of trust because the Minister knows about it.

Over the last week or ten days, people from many communities have been contacting me constantly to express concern about the continuing leaks from the old lead pipes on which the system relies. As soon as a leak is fixed, another leak is found somewhere else. This results in lower water pressure in housing estates and farming communities, particularly at times of high consumption. The manner in which leaks continued to spring was a major issue in one part of my constituency last summer. When those affected contacted the local authority, they were told that no funding was available to deal with the matter. They were looking for €5,000, €10,000 or €15,000 to repair a stretch of water piping. Now they have learned that a vast amount of State money - €180 million or €185 million - is being spent on consultants. They are still affected by the leaking pipes and the inadequate structure that is there.

How can we convince those people that setting up Irish Water, Uisce Éireann, was the right thing to do? The local authorities have been grappling with this and trying to deal with it over the years. Now a whole new body is being established which will take away from the concept of people being able to get on to their local representatives and get some kind of satisfaction on their water bills, the structure, the leaks or the inadequate supplies. There is a raft of these things.

We have created a very large national organisation or quango that will be removed from what is happening on the ground. I cannot see any justification for the amount of money used to set up Irish Water. If the €100 million that has been invested to date and the other moneys committed were given as a block grant to local authorities, significant extensions and repairs could be made to the group water schemes. All the public sees is that it has been given in consultancy fees and talks about talks, for want of a better term.

Certainly there are issues with Bord Gáis Energy taking it over. Many other utility companies were vastly experienced in how we could proceed and had better local knowledge. The fundamental issue is that it has not been justified and we have not established that there is value for money. Who knew what money was being spent and when it was being spent? Why was this shrouded in so much secrecy? Why was the Government so adamant that the Freedom of Information Act should not apply to this body? We need answers because there is major concern among the ordinary punters, including people who have had difficulty with their water supply. The people want to know what the future holds for us for the cost of water. A meeting last night in County Meath discussed the quality of water and the damage that is doing to utilities and so forth in their houses. There is a whole raft of issues, but fundamentally we have questions over the value for the money spent. There were far greater needs for the money that was spent on consultants and as far as I am concerned it has been squandered.

The programme for Government made a commitment to establish Irish Water, a new State company to take over the responsibility for the delivery of water services. As the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, outlined in his speech yesterday, the Government has delivered on this commitment. Within a relatively short space of time, we have moved from a fragmented system of service delivery to a unified delivery structure by a single utility, Irish Water. This has been made possible by the Government's decision to establish Irish Water within the Bord Gáis Energy group and to leverage the experience and skills of the management and staff in Bord Gáis Energy while retaining the knowledge and the expertise that exists within the local government sector.

On 1 January 2014, Irish Water assumed responsibility for the delivery of water services in Ireland from the 34 county and city councils, following the commencement of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013. This is a very significant milestone in the water services reform programme. The establishment of Irish Water will deliver significant benefits to the people in the years ahead. If we are to attract industry to provide jobs, we need to increase the investment in water services infrastructure. The new sustainable funding model will secure the level of investment that is needed to upgrade, repair and expand our public water and wastewater infrastructure.

The economic situation for all Irish people has been difficult in recent years and we need to create more jobs and to do so we need to make Ireland an attractive place in which to do business. Providing a world-class standard of water services is a critical component of that task and will help make the economy more competitive and will assist in promoting industrial development and investment. A greater security of supply will assist in making this country a more attractive place for water-intensive industries including pharma-chem, ICT and agrifood. The Government simply cannot continue with the current situation with over €1 billion of taxpayers' money being spent annually on water services, but with 40% leaking into the ground. Furthermore, there are significant additional requirements for capital investment in water to meet our EU water quality requirements.

Costs have, of course, been incurred in the establishment of Irish Water. However, these costs are an investment in a modern fit-for-purpose water utility which can provide a better service to the citizens of this country. The establishment of the company will deliver major savings of approximately €2 billion over the next eight years. The benefits to the people will also include the introduction of a lower operating cost model; the elimination of wastage through leaking pipes; increased investment in essential infrastructure; sustained investment in wastewater treatment to improve our water resources; and continued improvement in drinking water supplies. All of the costs will be subject to the detailed scrutiny of the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is being given responsibility for the regulation of water services.

There has been much comment on the level of expenditure to date on the development of systems by Irish Water. I accept that the sums of money involved are substantial, but they must be viewed in the context of both the overall scale of the water sector reform programme and relative investment required for systems within the regulated utility sector. Investment in ICT systems is critical for all high-performing utility companies. The level of investment incurred in establishing Irish Water to date compares favourably with investments made by similar utilities both here and in the UK.

Deputy Dooley might not realise that the ESB made an investment of almost €100 million on a new customer billing system, which was launched in January 2005, while the Single Electricity Market cost €256 million to establish in 2007. I am glad to be able to put those facts on the record for the benefit of Deputy Dooley.

Irish Water also outlined to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht this week that at least three water utility companies in the UK are each planning to spend in excess of £100 million equivalent to approximately €120 million on upgrading their IT systems for customer billing and asset management.

One of the central elements of the Private Members' motion is the call for the Freedom of Information Act to include Irish Water. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform gave a commitment last November that he intended including Irish Water within the remit of the Freedom of Information Act. The Private Members' motion also seems to imply that the establishment of Irish Water is a prelude to privatisation - this is simply not the case. The Government has consistently stated that the supply of water and wastewater services will remain in public ownership. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 specifically provides that Irish Water cannot be privatised and will remain in public ownership.

I am not surprised by the ill-informed comment regarding the establishment costs of Irish Water to deliver a top-class water service for the Irish people in the years ahead. After all Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have opposed this policy from the beginning, but have failed to put forward proposals regarding the cuts in public expenditure from other programmes or the increases in taxation that would be required to increase spending on water services in order to meet future needs.

We cannot continue with the existing fragmented approach. After nine hours of committee hearings we now know that there is transparency and accountability in Irish Water at all levels and that there is a strong relationship between Irish Water and local authorities in delivering a top-class water product in the years ahead. I am particularly pleased to confirm to Deputy Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, that there is no smoking gun arising from the recent committee hearings. Equally, I am glad to tell my colleagues in Fianna Fáil that Irish Water has learned from some of the mistakes of that party's leader when he was Minister for Health and Children regarding the ill-fated PPARS project which resulted in €131 million, including €57 million in consultancy fees, being wasted and squandered.

I assure Deputy Sean Fleming that I will not sign any blank cheque for anyone, not even the water regulator. Fianna Fáil smearing the good name of people in Bord Gáis Energy is disappointing but not surprising. I commend all the staff in Irish Water and the local authorities who are embracing change to ensure we deliver a top-class water product for people in the years ahead in the interests of public health and of jobs. The Government has nothing to hide.

I call Deputy Calleary, who is sharing time with Deputies Troy and Cowen.

I welcome the Minister's statement of confidence in the existing staff of various water services bodies across the country. Many of his ministerial colleagues speaking in recent days have given the impression that we have a water service similar to Calcutta, which is not the truth. Water services staff in local authorities across the country, many of whom have migrated over to Irish Water, have delivered excellent service in very difficult conditions, particularly in recent weeks.

The notion of a single unitary authority is dependent on 34 service-level agreements with all the local authorities that some of the Minister's colleagues are keen to distance themselves from. Those agreements will continue for 12 years. There is nothing unified about a structure that is utterly dependent on service-level agreements for 12 years even though the Minister claims he has brought it all together so quickly.

The Minister has chosen not to answer many questions. Irish Water was established as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Energy because Bord Gáis Energy could bring existing resources to the party. Nobody criticised any individuals in Bord Gáis Energy; that was the offer that we were made.

Deputy Dooley did.

When we submitted a freedom of information request to get the document in which the Minister confirmed that Bord Gáis Energy would be the parent company of Irish Water, it was completely redacted. We still have no knowledge of how the Minister made that decision. The Minister has criticised our party leader for ignoring a consultancy report without making any reference to why he ignored the PricewaterhouseCoopers report he commissioned to determine what structure Irish Water should have.

On the last Thursday on which this Dáil sat the Minister and the Minister of State rammed this legislation through in three hours. Had this not happened we would not be here this Thursday getting answers to these questions. We would not have been here last night or on Tuesday night were it not for Sean O’Rourke having asked a question and for the work that Deputies Cowen and Collins, and other parties have done over the past two years. The Minister chose last night to apologise to one Deputy, his Government colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy O’Dowd because he did not get back to him. What about all the other Deputies whose questions were ignored?

That is not true. The Department did not get back to me. The Deputy should be factual.

Their questions were not answered. In his remarks last night, the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, made the point that the budget for Irish Water was presented to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Economic Management Council. Who presented the budget? That is important. If the detail of the budget was presented to the Cabinet whoever presented it obviously knew its detail. That would contradict what the Secretary General of the Department said last night. We have to drive this on.

We are expanding.

We all need water. We have a very strong pharma-chemical sector, we have a very strong agrifood sector. The Minister has only to look up his own road to see that. We had that long before Irish Water arrived. We have to drive it on but we have to take away the secrecy. We have to start sharing information. Most of all, the people who use the service must have confidence in it.

I am sharing my time with Deputy Cowen. I will speak for only a couple of minutes.

At the last general election Fine Gael and the Labour Party came into government promising greater accountability, transparency and efficiency within the public service. The information that has leaked from Irish Water in the past few weeks shows that this like many other promises was flushed down the drain. The Minister arrogantly claimed that he does not micromanage his Department and that he was unaware of the breakdown of the €180 million made available to Irish Water. That is a grave insult to the people who elected him, who gave him the honour and privilege to serve in government. The Minister is the democratically elected person and he must take responsibility and be accountable for the money that his Department spends. No one believes that he was not aware of the €180 million expenditure and its break down. When the Minister says that he does not micromanage people he should not forget how he tried to micromanage a situation in Kilkenny, when he tried to prevent a family of an ethnic minority group from being afforded the opportunity to live in a local authority house.

This is the Minister who led us to believe that he has a hands-on approach. It is insulting to the people of Ireland for him to come in here and say that he was unaware. I reiterate, no one believes him. He talks about the great savings that will be achieved by this venture. The Taoiseach quotes savings of €1.2 billion, the Minister quotes savings of €2 billion. Can he outline and substantiate exactly what savings will be achieved? There are 4,300 staff working within the water services. How many of these local authority staff will be retained, or let go? How many will be retained to provide the service level agreements?

The Government agreed to pay bonuses to people who are already paid well to do their job, at a time when it was renegotiating the Haddington Road agreement which saw a reduction in the pay and conditions for people in front-line services, ambulance drivers, firefighters, nurses and teachers. That is what this Government sanctioned.

I thank my colleagues and all Members who have contributed to this debate. It has been very informative and has established the point we have reached in the past two or three years and in the past week, since this issue came to prominence further to "Today with Sean O’Rourke” when a question was put to the CEO of Irish Water. Deputy Coffey made the point that it is important to consider the responses on the public record by the various players ever since. It is right and proper to do that. I accept that point.

In the first instance the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, said on the “Prime Time” programme that the Cabinet and he had approved €180 million for the establishment of a public utility. That is what they did in 2012 and at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, in November 2012, all Deputies would have had an opportunity to elicit how this utility was going to be established. I thought about that comment on the way home and since then and checked the record because I could not remember that specifically being spoken about. I will return to that point.

Yesterday, in response to Deputy Martin’s queries about freedom of information, the basis of this motion, and further to the lack of information, accountability, openness and transparency in this process, the Taoiseach said, "This [Irish Water] is a public utility in public ownership. Therefore, there is nothing that should be secret about it and there is nothing that will be secret about it – the Deputy may smile". Some of us on this side of the House could not contain ourselves when we thought about what had preceded this response. The Taoiseach went on to say, "Of course this will be subject to the full rigours of freedom of information, as it should be, because it involves the Irish taxpayer and the Irish people". I agree with him but he does not agree with our motion. He does not agree with the Bill that is referred to in the motion and he does not agree with the other Bill that we published this week on the Comptroller and Auditor General because, as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin says, it is not yet practicable. It will not be practicable in his words until the commercial entity, the monopoly, the company with no competitors, is up and running because sensitive information might emanate.

I accept the point that the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy O’Dowd, made last night in response to Deputy Calleary, that he was speaking on his own behalf when he said that the Department had not given him an answer and that it was unfortunate that Deputy Kevin Humphreys did not get the information he sought. I would have expected some member of the Government during the course of this debate to offer a similar apology to the rest of us who found no solace or information on behalf of those we represent, the taxpayers, in this process since it emerged, as we now know, in September 2012. The Minister of State said:

The budget is being funded by a commercial loan which Irish Water has arranged with the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF. There has been a suggestion that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, deliberately withheld details of the establishment costs of Irish Water from Deputies. This is simply not the case. The total budget for the establishment of Uisce Éireann is €180 million, which includes the contingency of €30 million to which I refer. While the overall budget was outlined to the Economic Management Council and the water reform sub-committee of the Cabinet committee on economic infrastructure, no Exchequer funds have been provided to date to Bord Gáis or Irish Water in respect of these establishment costs.

That begins to contradict what the Minister said on “Prime Time”, that the funds were raised in the normal fashion, by going to Cabinet, getting approval, then informing us on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht of his Vote for the following year and so forth.

It was non-voted.

The Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, continued by saying, "However, the establishment costs are not voted Department expenditure". That contradicts what the Minister said on “Prime Time”. He went on to say, "Rather, they are being funded by means of a commercial loan from the NPRF". This is the kernel of the response: "It is not appropriate, therefore, to include details of those costs in replies to parliamentary questions". What is it all about? Was the Minister of State talking to the Taoiseach? Did he not insist? He did not. We have been trying to cover our tracks all week. We have been tripping one another up.

At the committee meeting to which the Minister referred when David McCullagh asked him the question about the funding of Irish Water, Deputy Kevin Humphreys made a point - like his Labour Party colleagues he is not here and they have not been here except when they contributed to this debate. He tried to intimate that at that meeting I and other Opposition Members did not query the process that had begun shortly before the meeting on 13 November 2012.

At that meeting, I said the following to the Minister:

How much must the Minister commit towards Irish Water next year? There has not yet been confirmation as to the cost, for example, of metering [let alone set-up costs]. When the committee met Bord Gáis [the previous] week ... the cost from its perspective was estimated to be €450 million whereas Deputy Stanley mentioned that a report of which he had sight [stated that] it could cost [up to] €1.2 billion.

Deputy Stanley will remember that.

I continued:

The existing cost of local authorities for maintenance of water services, based on the research that [we] have done, appears to be approximately €600 million per annum. [This is incorrect, as it is actually €1.2 billion.] There is that figure, the figure for metering which I ask the Minister to clarify and the charge to be imposed, and then one must measure that against the Minister's statement that he will have to supplement Irish Water in the coming years before it becomes self-sufficient. At what level will the Minister supplement Irish Water?

The crunch question was how much the Minister must commit towards Irish Water next year. The answer from the Minister was as follows:

A provision of €10 million is provided to set up the structure for the establishment of Irish Water in 2013. Legislation to set up Irish Water on an interim basis will be brought forward pending the full implementation in 2013. The cost of metering will be paid out of a loan from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. It will not be included in the Department's Estimates as metering will be rolled out over a number of years.

We are no further on today than we were a week yesterday. We have had people put in front of the media, and we have heard from the CEO of Irish Water, the Department and the Comptroller and Auditor General. We have had them all in, yet nobody referenced that meeting or those questions. The point I am making is that the Minister gave the impression that it was approved by Cabinet and that it was to follow the normal course after that. It did not do so, however, as it went to the Economic Management Council, which is made up of two Fine Gael and two Labour Party members, and we know who they are. The Taoiseach was aware of this too, as he said yesterday, because he is on it. However, the Taoiseach was not aware that the configuration and the costs associated with the set-up were done in such a way that we will never get answers, according to the Minister's statement last night.

I say this in the interests of openness and transparency, which is sought by many others on this side of the House and, I am sure, many on the other side of the House, especially in the Labour Party, if I was to listen to its members. Deputy Michael McCarthy, the Chairman of the Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, said on Sunday that freedom of information should apply to Irish Water forthwith. Another Labour Party member, Deputy Michael McNamara, said something similar, and Deputy Charlie Flanagan said there were questions to be answered, as did many members of the Cabinet. I ask all of them now, if they really mean what they have been saying for the past week, despite the charade we have had with committees and everything else, to support this motion and support the intent behind it. If they really mean what they say, they should vote for the motion, take the bold step, let us put this sorry saga behind us and try to allow the public to give the sort of respect that a company such as Irish Water deserves or should deserve.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 51.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • 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.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • 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 Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 51.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • 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.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • 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 Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.