Leaders' Questions

On 15 January the Taoiseach said to me and the House:

This 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.

That was in respect of the establishment of Irish Water. It is fair to say that everything has been secret about Irish Water and that over the past 12 to 15 months, the Government has done everything it possibly can to prevent the truth from coming out and to prevent a fully comprehensive debate around the issue of establishing Irish Water. Everything has been secret about the cost of the establishment of Irish Water until recently when we learned through radio interviews that it was €180 million. The cost of the transition office was a closely guarded secret until the weekend when we found out that approximately €8 million was spent on setting up the transition office. The cost of establishing Irish Water under the aegis of Bord Gáis Éireann has been a well-kept secret. Despite the Government getting advice to the contrary, it decided to do it this way with vast costs. The cost and content of the service level agreements have also been kept a closely guarded secret. Now we are told they can add €2 billion to the cost of the establishment of Irish Water.

All of this will result in higher charges for the public. However, the public will not be told what they have to pay in water charges because that will be a closely guarded secret as well until well beyond the local elections and into next year. Then, the regulator will be put in, superimposed, as a basis for not giving the people any sense of how much water will cost them because of the excessive nature of the establishment of Irish Water and the costs involved.

Last week I asked the Taoiseach if he knew that retired county managers and senior public servants were moving seamlessly into Irish Water and if he thought it was in order for them to do so, even though they may have enjoyed generous severance and pension packages. The Taoiseach said he did not know. However, he must have known and it is inconceivable that he did not know and that he did not speak to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, about it. We know now that one such county manager received approximately €336,000 in a generous package before moving to Irish Water. Lo and behold, the same individual headed up the transition office. The transition office decided how many people got jobs at senior management level and that same person got a senior job in Irish Water. The people who wrote to us from outside of the loop, local authorities and Bord Gáis-----

Deputy, please put your question.

-----had a point when they said that there was no point in applying because the jobs were spoken for already and that there was an element of an inside track.

Does the Taoiseach believe that was right or that it was appropriate and correct? Will the Taoiseach undertake to publish all material now in respect of Irish Water? Will he publish all the service level agreements? Will he publish the cost-benefit analysis in respect of the installation of water meters? Will he indicate whether he believes the manner in which people have moved from the local authorities to Irish Water is appropriate?

Deputy Martin has raised several issues, if I may say so. Clearly, last year it was perfectly obvious from Government that the cost of the establishment of Irish Water would have a headline figure of €180 million.

PricewaterhouseCoopers carried out an analysis and recommended that there be a greenfield operation. The Government is about making decisions. Since the setting up of a new utility involved 34 different local authorities, Bord na Móna and Bord Gáis submitted tenders for the setting up of the utility. The tenders were evaluated by NewERA and the Government made its decision to set up a new utility called Uisce Éireann or Irish Water, on the basis that it would have costs somewhere in excess of €80 million to €85 million extra were we to set it up as an individual new utility on a greenfield site.

The service level agreements are on the website of Irish Water and there is nothing secret about that. The comments made yesterday by the eminent economist, John FitzGerald, received a good deal of attention. He also said that there would be considerable savings through what was envisaged with Irish Water with the capacity to reduce the national debt significantly. I differ with the respected economist on the basis that he seems to assume Irish Water would have the same number of employees at the end of 2025 as it has taken on board along with the contract agreements with the councils.

The point is where we should have a real discussion. When the financial and business model for Irish Water is published in the coming weeks, it will indicate that the costs set out to be incurred by Irish Water will only be incurred as a consequence of serving the customers' needs, not the needs of the staff of Irish Water or Irish Water itself. It is about the needs of its customers. The financial and business plan will also demonstrate how it is expected to reduce the headcount by approximately 50% within ten years. That is where the real discussion will take place, on the basis of actual propositions for the setting up of the financial and business model for Irish Water.

In respect of Deputy Martin's question last week, as I understand it, three persons who retired from county councils and received lump sums and pensions were recruited under open competition for Irish Water. Deputy Martin is aware of the position in so far as the public service is concerned and the capacity of people who get further jobs in the public service and the limitations on what they can earn. Irish Water is not part of the public service, as such, in that it is to be a commercial semi-State body. There are views that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has an authority under section 27 of the Act, and he will look at that.

Far from Deputy Martin's assertion that this is some sort of secret organisation that has nothing to do with the public-----

-----I remind Deputy Martin that his party now favours a continuation of the status quo, that is, 34 local authorities with all the staff contained therein and with higher costs. What Deputy Martin wants to do is leave the situation as is. That means he is happy for 18,000 people to have boil water notices and he is happy to have a million homes where there is a need for serious action in terms of increasing the quality of the water and the integrity of the system. All this means Deputy Martin is happy to leave a sticking plaster job continue in many places throughout the country where we are out of line in terms of standards, capacity, integrity and quality of the water.

I suppose the Government is going to fix it.

This needs to be dealt with. The way to deal with it is by setting up a new utility, Irish Water, with the capacity to borrow on the open markets for infrastructural development to provide for the needs of our country for the next 50 years.

It is a super-quango.

Deputy Martin may be happy to leave it the way it is, but I am not. There is nothing secret about Irish Water. Any more information Deputy Martin wants to be published about it will be published. I have given that instruction to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to see that Irish Water puts up all the information on its website.

The Taoiseach had to instruct him. He would not answer questions on it before Christmas.

Deputy, will you stay quiet, please?

This is in order that Deputy Healy-Rae and all the others have access to that as well as the public.

Sorry, we are way over time, Taoiseach. Thank you.

This is a publicly owned utility and therefore there will be nothing secret about it.

The Minister would not answer questions on it before Christmas.

Would you stay quiet, Deputy, please?

There may be areas, as Deputy Martin is well aware, where there is commercial detail that is particular to Irish Water. However, the majority of information about this utility is public knowledge and, if it is not, it will continue to become public knowledge in the time ahead.

The Taoiseach's answer has no credibility and is not correct. Everything we have found out to date has been via the media, not from the Taoiseach or the Minister, Deputy Hogan. I will leave others to judge the statement I have just made. The Taoiseach should not come to the House and try to pretend there has been full transparency from the Government in the past 12 to 15 months in respect of the establishment of Irish Water. It is through the media that we have learned the bulk of what has come out in recent weeks in respect of the establishment of Irish Water.

The other point to make is that the Taoiseach was warned by his own advisers that going down this route would be much more costly. He was not told that setting up a separate entity, free from Bord Gáis, would cost much more, he was told that if the new body was set up under Bord Gáis, it would cost much more than the Government intended. That is the advice the Taoiseach received. He is still refusing to answer a question I have asked on at least four occasions, whether it is right that people should move across from one sector to the next. Does he not accept that this fuels cynicism, particularly when one of these individuals is heading up the transition?

The Deputy is over time.

Who came up with the idea of the transition office only the county managers? Over half the staff come from the local authorities, which is a factor in the €180 million cost element.

Will the Deputy put a question to the Taoiseach?

In terms of the charges facing households, it now looks like they could be anything up to €500. Can the Taoiseach shed any light on what people will be paying in water charges in January 2015, particularly in the context of the enormous expenditure in which the Government has engaged? The ESRI report refers to a full cost recovery model in terms of the submission to Irish Water and in terms of the accountancy trick vis-à-vis the debt-to-GDP ratio.

There has been a lot of talk about accepting advice. As I pointed out to the Deputy last week, the Government of which he was a member paid €7 million for three days work by financial advisers before landing this country with the greatest economic catastrophe it has ever experienced. His Government did not accept that advice. Deputy Martin should not come in here claiming a wonderful antiseptic, untainted political record in terms of dealing with the public accounts. Nor do I accept the assertion that people will be paid for doing nothing in Irish Water. As I said, we will publish the financial and business models for Irish Water in the coming weeks, showing that the reductions in headcount in the coming years as people reach pension age and so on will leave it with in the order of 2,000 staff, down from 4,300.

Deputy Martin asked about the charges for households. I recall two occasions in the past three years where Members opposite said that in rectifying the situation in regard to septic tanks, an issue that has been going on for 40 years and which Fianna Fáil in government was afraid to touch, some people would be charged €20,000. That claim was made by Deputy Martin's former deputy leader.

Mattie was only charging a fiver.

Not a single grant has been paid out.

The Taoiseach is over time.

We also had people on the benches opposite saying that thousands of euro in charges would be heaped on top of people under the property tax. Members opposite are all on record as having said that.

As I said, in the coming weeks the Government will publish the financial and business models for Irish Water. The only charges to be incurred here will be in respect of consumers, that is, the customers of Irish Water.

That is not the case at all. The Taoiseach should read his own Government's economic submission.

We are six minutes over time on this question. I ask Members to adhere to the rules.

The Government will deliver the level of charge as a matter of policy and the regulator will have an input into that. It is about the Irish consumer.

The Taoiseach is hiding behind the regulator again.

Before proceeding, I ask Members to adhere to the rules set down by the House. This question went over time by six minutes. I have to be fair to everybody who wants to speak. I ask Members and the Taoiseach to keep that in mind when asking and replying to questions.

Yesterday the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, announced that he is referring the penalty points scandal to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. While Sinn Féin welcomes the decision to hold an independent investigation, a number of serious questions arise. It is almost two years since the Garda whistleblowers drew attention to irregularities in the implementation of the penalty points system. Rather than announce an independent investigation at that time, the Minister has chosen to do so just before a planned appearance by one of the whistleblowers at the Committee of Public Accounts.

The Taoiseach will recall saying that his Government's coming into office heralded a democratic revolution which would usher in a new era of political reform. Surely a key requirement of any serious political reform in this State would be to enhance the capacity of elected messengers of the people to ask the questions that need to be asked of public officials. Indeed, the Taoiseach said he wanted stronger Dáil committees which would be resourced properly. Now, however, when robust questions are being asked, we see once again that the real intention of the Government is to close down public scrutiny and frustrate oversight and accountability, including the work of the Committee of Public Accounts.

Is it not the reality that the sole reason for the protracted nature of this controversy is the failure by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to deal decisively with this scandal in the first instance? Does the Taoiseach agree that the Minister has attempted to undermine the Committee of Public Accounts and has made the situation for future whistleblowers more difficult by his failure to defend the integrity of the whistleblowers in this case?

I am not sure what the Deputy's position is now in terms of whether he supports the Minister in what he is doing here. The central tenet of what the Minister has done is to keep respect and integrity in the Garda Síochána and in the process here. As Deputy Adams is well aware, the Committee of Public Accounts, over many years, always had an independence within the Houses of the Oireachtas to examine reports that were commented upon and presented by the Comptroller and Auditor General. In this case, where there was a reference to a financial loss to the State, there is a connection. At the same time, there is a whole range of other matters which the Minister had to take into account.

Yesterday the Minister announced that he is referring the allegations of improper cancellations of fixed-charge notices to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for investigation. He sent a formal letter today to that effect and is also writing today to the Committee of Public Accounts requesting that it forward to the ombudsman commission any documentation it has that may be relevant to the investigation. The Minister is entitled, under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, where he considers it desirable in the public interest, to request the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate a particular matter, where it appears to the Minister to indicate that a member of the Garda Síochána may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that might justify disciplinary proceedings.

The discussions taking place at the Committee of Public Accounts are a matter for that committee. The Minister for Justice and Equality has acted responsibly and decisively in referring this matter to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for completely independent and objective analysis in as broad as a way as the independent commission thinks fit. I am glad to note that the Garda Commissioner is happy about this and will co-operate fully with the commission.

He is delighted.

I find it peculiar that Deputy Adams should raise the question of whistleblowers in the first place. He used to have a very different way of dealing with them himself.

Once again the Taoiseach avoided my question. I asked whether he agreed that the sole reason for the protracted nature of this controversy is the fact that the Minister did not deal with the scandal decisively in the first instance. The Taoiseach cannot have it both ways. He praised the work of the Committee of Public Accounts before saying the investigation into this matter must be truly independent, the implication being that the committee is not truly independent. Only last week, however, he referred to it as the watchdog for the public.

As well as the monetary issues involved, the Committee of Public Accounts also has a responsibility to consider good governance. I ask the Taoiseach not to join the Minister in undermining the rights of Deputies to raise all of these matters in the appropriate committee. He should take the opportunity now, rather than making snide and totally inaccurate remarks about me, to put on the public record that the Committee of Public Accounts is performing an important public service.

I will go further and state that the Garda whistleblowers are also performing an important public service. Does the Taoiseach agree that if the Minister is doing the right thing now, he would have done an even better thing if he had taken action when this controversy first broke more than two years ago? Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that the Garda Ombudsman Commission will have the power to question the Garda Commissioner and will be given full and unfettered access to the force's PULSE computer system?

Tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach go ndeirtear gurb í cumhacht na gceisteanna a chur an rud is bunúsaí i gcomhair dul chun cinn a dhéanamh. Tá a fhios sin ag an Taoiseach. Tá sé tábhachtach dúinne mar Theachtaí Dála a bheith in ann daoine a cheistiú. Sin an fáth go bhfuilimid anseo. Tá an ceart againn ceisteanna a chur ar dhaoine agus is léir sin. Táim sásta i ndiaidh freagra an Taoisigh go bhfuil sé an-soiléir go bhfuil an ceart sin faoi bhagairt. Tá an ceart atá ag Teachta Dála ceisteanna a chur faoin choiste faoi bhagairt anois leis an oidhreacht seo agus i ndiaidh freagra an Taoisigh.

Tabharfaidh mé freagra don Teachta ar an cheist a chuir sé orm. Ta an Coimisiún Ombudsman an Gharda Síochána fíor neamhspleách agus ní féidir liomsa rud ar bith a dhéanamh leis. Leagann an coimisiún síos na coinníollacha agus déanann sé féin an iniúchadh. Bhí mé ag éisteacht le duine atá ag freastal ar an gcoimisiún ar maidin agus dúirt seisean go bhfuil siad beagnach réidh le tosú, go mbeidh sé i bhfad níos leithne ná mar a bhí agus go mbeidh sé neamhspleách ar fad. Tá litir curtha ón Aire chuig an coimisiún agus is dócha go dtosóidh an coimisiún ar a chuid oibre go luath. Tá litir curtha ag an Aire freisin chuig an Coiste um Chuntais Phoiblí ag iarraidh orthu, má tá eolas ar bith acu, go gcuirfeadh siad chuig an gcoimisiún é.

Chuir mé ceist ar an Taoiseach faoin gcoiste.

Tá a fhios agam cén cheist a chur an Teachta orm.

Níor chuir mé ceist faoin gcoimisiún. Bhí mo cheist faoin gcoiste

Tá fhios agam, ach táim ag tabhairt freagra don Teachta faoin gcoimisiún. Chuir an Teachta ceist orm faoin gCoiste um Chuntais Phoiblí. Of course, the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts relates to value for money as opposed to matters of governance.

Good governance.

It has adhered to that remit over the years. The Minister for Justice and Equality cannot just refer a complaint by a garda against a colleague to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is because of the changing allegations that have been made that, in the public interest-----

They have not changed; they remain exactly the same.

-----the Minister is required to ensure that integrity, confidence and trust in the system will be retained. That is why the matter has been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I support him in that regard because it is exactly the right thing to do.

What the Committee of Public Accounts does in the context of its discussions is a matter for its members. I cannot interfere with the work of that committee.

It should be left alone and the Government should stop trying to gag Deputy Ross.

The only change is that the Garda Commissioner made a show of himself.

Will Members please stop making snide remarks? I cannot hear what is being said by the Taoiseach.

I do not believe it is good practice for information provided during a private session of a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts to be bandied about in the national media or for comments that could in any way be construed as straying outside of the remit of that committee to be made. The committee is doing its job but it is important that it should stay within its remit. As already stated, that remit relates to value-for-money matters. I know the committee will pursue its remit in the best way it sees fit.

The Government has rightly criticised Fianna Fáil on many occasions with regard to the way in which it established the HSE. In 2005 the then Fianna Fáil-led Government had an opportunity to establish an efficient and effective health service but it blew that opportunity for political gain. Instead, it created a bureaucratic monster. The current Government is now doing exactly the same thing with Irish Water. It is establishing a new monster that will waste billions of euro of taxpayers' money. In order to bankroll all of this waste, Irish Water will be obliged to overcharge the people for water for which they already pay. When Scottish Water was set up, it achieved cost savings of almost 40% in the first five years. It did so by getting rid of the inefficiencies in the system and creating a competitive market for the operation and maintenance of water infrastructure. In contrast, we have just learned that Irish Water is signing 12-year service level agreements with local authorities. In other words, it is locking in the cost relating to the existing workforce. This means that the money people will be obliged to pay in respect of their water will end up paying salaries for jobs that do not exist. It also means that there will be no room for Irish companies to bid and compete for work.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, seems to believe that the idea of saving money in the first few years can be achieved only in a mythical country. He stated that we will see savings in approximately five or six years. Ministers are continually informing us that Irish Water exists in the commercial sector. I come from that sector and I have worked on mergers. In that context, I am in a position to state that the only mythical country around here seems to be the one in which the Government resides. If one attended a meeting relating to a multi-billion euro merger and stated that there would not be any cost savings for the following five years and that the workforce would be locked in for the following 12, one would be fired on the spot. However, that is not the case here. In this instance more than €500 million is being spent on the installation of water meters and almost €200 million is being spent on the establishment of Irish Water, the existing workforce is being signed up for 12 years, Irish companies are being blocked from tendering for work and the Government is maintaining that it will be at least five years before any savings are made.

Will the Taoiseach indicate why Irish Water is signing 12-year service level agreements? I could understand if it were signing three-year agreements in order to maintain integrity and to retain institutional knowledge but it is actually signing them for 12 years. Will the Taoiseach also indicate why Irish businesses are being locked out of the sector and why the Government is creating another monster in the form of Irish Water?

Irish businesses are not being locked out of the sector, nor is another monster being created. What we are doing is addressing the challenges relating to the future. Perhaps Deputy Donnelly, who spent some time working with McKinsey and Co., wants to propose that we should sack 2,000 workers. Is that what he is saying?

Does he want to sack those in Wicklow?

There is a move to get rid of anybody over 50. If that were to happen in the case of the Government, there would not be many people left in the Cabinet.

(Interruptions).

If the Deputy comes from the commercial side of the business sector, then I suggest he needs to get his facts right. The fact is the Irish water system is, in many cases, entirely deficient. It has suffered as a result of a lack of infrastructural investment for many years. That is why, as a result of their being 34 different local authorities, there are gross inconsistencies in standards. It is also why the population of this city was so anxious and concerned just prior to Christmas when difficulties were experienced at the Poulaphouca facility, which is near where the Deputy resides.

It is not the case that Irish Water will be a bloated monster for 12 years. Deputy Donnelly has taken the same view as that expressed by a respected economist yesterday to the effect that Irish Water will have the same staff headcount in 2025 as it does now. That will not be the case. When the Government publishes its financial and business model in respect of this matter, the Deputy will be able to argue his case. That model will demonstrate that a reduction of up to 50% will take place within ten years. If one is going to make an investment in respect of something as large as this in order to deal with the scale of the challenge our country faces, one must invest sufficiently to get it right. There is no point in investing and ending up with an inferior product. If a water main in Wicklow bursts at present, Irish Water does not have the information with regard to the location of the various connections and weaknesses in the system. That information has resided with the various local authorities for many years. It is for this reason that contracts are being signed with the local authorities in respect of the provision of the relevant services.

Deputy Donnelly should not state that people will be paid for doing nothing. If he is truthful to himself, he should state that, in order to reduce costs within three years, he proposes that in the region of 1,800 county council workers should be sacked. If that is what he is proposing, then he should say so.

Of course that is what the Deputy is saying.

I am not saying we should sack 2,000 workers.

The Deputy is saying that.

(Interruptions).

I am saying it is about time that taxpayers stopped funding unnecessary waste in the Irish public system.

Sack the workers.

We will leave that to the Labour Party.

Take the money and sack the workers.

(Interruptions).

There has been enough waste. Are patients better off because Fianna Fáil merged everything into the HSE and retained all the inefficiencies? The answer is that they are not better off. Part of the problem in respect of this matter is that there has been no Dáil oversight. The Taoiseach informed Deputy Martin what Irish Water was not set up in secret. Let us examine the facts. It is a fact that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, explicitly precluded Irish Water from the provisions of the freedom of information legislation while it was being set up.

That is not true.

That is a fact. I was on the committee and I know that is a fact.

That is not right. It is not a fact.

Sorry, please put your supplementary question. It is not about making statements.

I will deal with that as well.

It is not a fact.

Stay quiet, please.

The Deputy is misleading the House.

It is a fact that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, refused to answer questions from any Deputy on the Irish Water set-up costs. It is a fact that the service level agreements on the website are completely devoid of any commercial detail-----

Deputy Donnelly, please put your supplementary question.

I will. It is a fact that we got a four hour debate in the House-----

It is not a fact; put your supplementary question.

-----that the Taoiseach is quoted-----

I will not ask you again, Deputy Donnelly, to put your supplementary question.

The Taoiseach was quoted in the Irish Examiner as saying the business model will be available in a few weeks.

You are not on air. Please put your supplementary question.

He has done this the wrong way around. The Taoiseach committed over €1 billion of public money to be spent and he is signing multi-billion euro service level agreements before anyone has a chance to see the business model. Why is the Taoiseach signing 12-year service level agreements? I understand three-year agreements and I understand the need for consistency. Why 12 years? Will the Taoiseach instruct Irish Water to ensure that those service level agreements allow Irish businesses to bid for the work over those 12 years?

Before I ask the Taoiseach to reply, I want to make it quite clear that if I do not have the confidence of this House to run this Chair, I intend resigning. I will not come in here, day in, day out, and be ignored by either the Government or by the Opposition. If I call time I mean it is time and it is up to you people to answer within the time limit allocated. If you wish additional time, go to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and get it. I am not going to spend my time getting upset here every day with people running six and seven minutes over on each question. Let this be clear.

I accept your ruling, Ceann Comhairle. It might be helpful to everybody if the clock at the back of the Chamber was actually switched on for these replies-----

I would be delighted if it would.

We do not get the same time.

-----so we would know these things.

In reply to Deputy Donnelly, I expect him to go to Wicklow County Council tomorrow, call the staff who are dealing with water services in any shape or form and tell them he wants-----

A Deputy

Fire them.

-----half of them sacked. Is that what he wants?

This is the HSE all over again.

Stay quiet, Deputy Donnelly.

It is not a case of the HSE all over again. In fact, I agree with Deputy Donnelly that unnecessary waste in the Irish system must be done away with. Should we not first deal with the 40% of water which is leaking away every day? Does he agree that we should deal with the problems of 18,000 households who have had to boil water for the past six months? Does he agree it is right to deal with the inadequacy of the system which has to serve 1 million households? Does he agree it is right to deal with the EPA and with our many inadequacies with regard to the European directive?

An annual review will see to it that the costs incurred are in respect of the customers and consumers of Irish Water. The Minister made clear that Irish Water is a new creation which could not be included under the Freedom of Information Act until the body was established. The Minister was clear that it was 1 January-----

Why is the agreement for 12 years?

The Deputy should go down to Wicklow tomorrow and call the staff together and say, "Donnelly is on the warpath, he wants you sacked."

It is Fianna Fáil all over again.

That completes Leaders' Questions. The Deputy should go and learn the rules of the House, please. Learn the Standing Orders and learn some manners.