Leaders' Questions

This week the Dáil is discussing Government priorities and, clearly, one of these is the introduction of water charges in the final quarter of this year. Last month, the Taoiseach said in the House that the Government would produce a financial and business model that would enable people to know the amounts on the bills that would come in their doors. He modified that subsequently to say that they would know the average charge for water across the country and he said the Government would produce a financial and business model. Everybody is waiting for this model, which will outline the free allowance, public subvention and other matters. Most people would like to know what their bill will be, not the average bill. Why has there been a delay in producing the business model? This essentially relates to Government decisions on the free allowance, public subvention and the first fixed charge.

Irish Water has been up and running since Mr. John Tierney was appointed in January 2013. A total of €180 million has been spent on establishing this entity but it seems the Taoiseach is nowhere near being in a position to provide transparency about the amount people will pay. The reason the regulator cannot set a price and Irish Water cannot make a submission to the regulator is that the Government has not made those decisions. Why did the Government delay and why does it continue to delay publishing the business model, given all the money that has been spent in Irish Water on recruitment and so on? It is stretching credibility to suggest that the Taoiseach would not know the bottom line at this stage.

The Deputy has raised this matter previously. I agree with his opening comment about discussing priorities but I am sure he will agree with me that it is significant that the seasonally adjusted live register now stands at 398,300, which is below the European average of 11.9%. This is the first time the register has been below 400,000 since 2009. Clearly, that is a priority for the Government, and I commend all those who have been working in that area.

The reason we have not published the business model in respect of Irish Water and water charges is that I want to get it as right as possible. The charge the Deputy made a number of weeks ago was that the Government had no intention of introducing a business model until after the local elections. He asked why the business model had not been produced by now and how much the bills would be when they came through the door in January. I cannot answer the second question because I have no idea of the extent of the culture of water use that will apply from September on when charges will begin to be incurred, although the bills will not be demanded until 1 January next year. I confirm that the Government will publish the business model before the local elections, as I have said in reply to the Deputy previously, and that will indicate the average charge that can be expected per household, taking into account the allowance that will be approved and the charge that will apply thereafter. That will be determined by the level of subvention that the Government will be able to make available in respect of this.

It seems to me as if the opposition the Deputy puts up to this is based on retaining a system that is not fit for purpose these days. As he will be well aware, we should be investing €600 million a year in infrastructure to provide water for people, business and industry for the many years ahead. A total of 40% of the water in Dublin is leaking away. We need a structure and a system to address that properly, and that is why Irish Water was set up. All of that is in place. The metering programme is in place, with the contractors that have been appointed required to provide local employment.

We have done a great deal of work on the business model. It is not finished yet but it will be published before the local elections, hopefully in the not too distant future. However, it is not an easy thing to do. We have to try to do this in such a way that people understand it is necessary, fair and affordable, and that is where the work is at the moment. I therefore confirm to the Deputy that we will publish the business model before the local elections. People will then understand the scale of the average charge. This will bring about a change in the attitude towards the use of water that we have had in the country for many years.

The Government has had a minimum of a year and a half to determine basic elements such as the level of the free allowance, the level of social affordability and the level of public subvention. The view is that it is deliberately withholding this model because it does not want people to know too much about it before the local elections. Deputy Healy raised this issue a month ago during Leaders' Questions and the Taoiseach said the model would be published in a couple of weeks. The Deputy suggested that perhaps the Taoiseach was covering for the Labour Party. I can understand that to a certain extent because the party made it clear that it was not in favour of water charges and the Tánaiste was strong on that. He once said: "Water is a necessity. I've always believed essential services like water should be delivered as a public service".

Fianna Fáil signed us up for it.

Does Deputy Martin have a question?

No one can understand why these three basic issues - the subvention, social affordability and the free allowance - have not been resolved. Over a year and a half, Irish Water has spent €180 million using an expensive transition team. It stretches credibility somewhat to suggest that the Government could not have come up with this model earlier. That is the delay, and the Taoiseach will be aware that that is why the regulator cannot do its work and Irish Water cannot make its submission. Those essential decisions have been deliberately withheld from the public domain. This is a key priority which could have been discussed this week if we had that information. However, we do not have it, for some reason that I cannot fathom, and I do not believe it is because the Government has not worked the model out; it is for more basic political reasons. In fairness to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, he said we might know by St. Patrick's Day. Perhaps he was thinking of the phrase the Taoiseach once used, "Paddy likes to know". I do not know whether Paddy will know on St. Patrick's Day but perhaps the Taoiseach could enlighten us as to whether he will.

I said the business model would be published before the local elections in order that people could understand the average charge that would apply. That will take into account the subvention and the free allowance. The Deputy seems to want to continue with what we have.

I have not said anything of the sort.

Yesterday the Deputy mentioned universal health insurance, and he seemed to want a perpetuation of what he created himself, the cost of which increased by 300% to €15 billion and has resulted in a system that is inequitable, unfair, inaccessible and costly and that discriminates against those with medical needs.

What we are trying to do is to put in place a structure to deliver water at the highest standards of professional competence, which will stand the country in good stead for the next 50 years. It is to transform all the local authorities into a single entity and deliver that capacity. We have people coming in every week wanting to invest here. They need high volumes of water for industry. We need to have a system so that the charge is fair and acceptable and is seen to be able to be delivered. There are issues the Government needs to get right. That is why the officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government must put together the structure of this. A great deal of detailed work is going on.

It is costing €180 million to set that up and they do not know.

I reiterate that Deputy Martin will not be disappointed because we will publish the business model before the local elections.

Will the Government publish the charges?

Yesterday Deputy Martin said we wanted to put universal health insurance out beyond the next general election. Three weeks ago he said we wanted to put this out beyond the local elections. It is not so on both counts.

We are waiting. When?

We are not afraid to face into challenges that were left untouched for years with the result that this country was sent into an economic abyss. We will have it published before the local elections, but not before St. Patrick's Day.

Ba mhaith liom aird an Taoisigh a dhíriú ar an scéim Gateway. Tá sé soiléir don saol agus a mháthair gur cleas í an scéim seo. Is bealach í chun pictiúr maith a tharraingt gan meas ar bith a thaispeáint do shaoránaigh. Last year the Government introduced the Gateway scheme, which was designed to make participants work 19.5 hours per week for a top-up of €20 on their jobseeker's allowance. This scheme forces unemployed people to carry out work for local authorities with threats of cuts or suspensions of welfare payments, even though it pays only a fraction of the minimum wage. It involves no training or education and there is no prospect of long-term employment for those forced to take part. Local authorities have been given an allocation of 3,000 places to fill. Surely, if there are 3,000 positions to be filled, those citizens working in these positions deserve to have proper terms and conditions. If Fine Gael does not understand that, I am sure the Labour Party must have brought it to their attention.

Gateway follows on the heels of JobBridge, a failed Government initiative which also exploits welfare recipients with little hope of meaningful long-term employment or skills training. Last night a Government Deputy told RTE that Gateway was teaching unemployed people what it is like to get up in the morning. Does the Taoiseach accept that this is adding insult to injury and that it reflects an establishment view that the real problem is not unemployment but the unemployed? Will he end this exploitation of citizens who are long-term unemployed by scrapping the Gateway scheme?

The answer to that question is "No". Deputy Adams is the leader of his party and his party has a different view.

I know that, thank you. I have no intention of leaving either.

Some people here might disagree.

(Interruptions).

We got approximately 30 seconds out of that.

It seems to me as though Sinn Féin does not want to pay for anything, does not want to have any charge imposed for any service, and wants nothing to do with the European scene. From a Sinn Féin perspective, everything in life is free and wonderful. Unfortunately, that is not reality.

It is free labour.

It is the old chicken-and-egg problem with young people walking into one's office who say they are qualified and looking for a job: one cannot find a job without experience and one cannot get experience unless one has a job. Deputy Adams's view of the JobBridge scheme is not shared by these young people. Yes, there have been a few cases - I have come across them myself - in which things might have been better, but I have so many pieces of correspondence from young people who are qualified and were taken on by firm after firm and who have been more than able to measure up to the challenges they have met. The evidence, if evidence is needed, is that 66% of them find permanent employment or leave to start their own firms. This speaks for the value of their training, their commitment and their capacity to rise to that challenge. I do not accept at all Deputy Adams's version of the failure of JobBridge. From a European point of view this scheme is very successful and is being examined by other countries as a model to be replicated.

The Gateway scheme does not force people into employment.

It is not voluntary.

When one sits down and talks to people who have unfortunately been long-term unemployed, they say it is a rut that is very hard to get out of. Many of these people want to make a contribution. I have seen them on various schemes from Tús right through to Gateway. We have started with the scheme of 3,000 jobs with local authorities whereby a particular sector of those who are long-term unemployed, and who have been interviewed by staff of the new Intreo service, are offered positions to help them get back to feeling motivated to go to work. There are so many opportunities out there for 19.5 hours in addition to their social welfare payment.

I have spoken to some of the participants - not all of them by any means - and I know that people like to be able to make a contribution to their communities in their own right and to get out of the rut of long-term unemployment. There are so many opportunities at community level where a visible change can be made and where these people want to make a contribution and to be seen to do so. They are not being forced out. This opportunity is provided to a particular sector of the long-term unemployed.

The Taoiseach has highlighted, probably unintentionally, what people dislike about this Government. This is forced labour. It is compulsory. There is no training or education budget. The people forced onto this scheme are paid €20, which is taxable, so a person with three or four children may end up with less money than before getting involved in the scheme. There is no transport allowance. Compare this sector of citizens with the sector of citizens the Taoiseach knocks around with. The Taoiseach talks about jobs. He has axed 3,000 jobs from local authorities. He placed a public service recruitment embargo on local authorities. Again, compare this with €500 million taken from local authorities by the Government and given to Uisce Éireann to spend on consultants and water meters without any sustainable jobs.

For God's sake, cop on.

Anybody who lives in the real world knows that what is needed is proper investment and long-term, sustainable jobs with good terms and conditions. Gateway is being used to undermine real jobs in local authorities. The Taoiseach must acknowledge that this is a scam that serves to massage unemployment figures. It is a race to the bottom. Pat-----What is Pat's name again?

Pat Rabbitte-----

The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, please.

Deputy Adams should ask the real leader of his party.

-----is the leader of cheap labour. This is what the Labour Party has descended to: cheap forced labour. The Taoiseach has not distanced himself from the remarks that this is about teaching the unemployed how to get out of bed in the morning. Citizens want and deserve the dignity of a proper job with proper terms and conditions. The Government is not investing in that, and this Gateway scheme is doomed to failure and should be discontinued.

It is a long established principle that when one speaks about a Minister one refers to him or her as Minister, Minister of State or Deputy. I would like that to be retained in this House.

We have ushers around the House. If Deputies need to be reminded of a person's name, I am sure the ushers will help them.

I was not aware, until Deputy Gerry Adams made the comment, that €500 million had been paid to consultants by Irish Water.

I said it had been paid to Uisce Éireann by the Government.

It was not the first time the Deputy was out on some of his figures. I am quite sure that even he, despite the fact that he does not want any charge for any service, agrees that there is movement, given that the live register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since 2009 and that we are now below the European average for unemployment.

They have all gone.

We know about the Deputy. I am quite sure Deputy Gerry Adams is aware that 61,000 new jobs were created in the past 12 months and that two thirds of them were in firms less than five years old. I am quite sure he supports the fact that the education system has one of the highest participation rates among OECD countries and that the young people emerging from it are well able to meet a range of challenges.

They are able to find jobs in Australia and Canada.

I am quite sure also that when Deputy Gerry Adams goes to his constituency and talks to people who have been long-term unemployed or those who have been short-term unemployed and are now in the world of work, they will tell him about personal dignity and the contribution they can make.

I do not accept at all that we should be static and stay with what we were left with when we were elected to office three years ago. We were losing 7,000 jobs a month. The Gateway scheme is to have 3,000 participants. They are selected because they have been long-term unemployed in their localities and want to make a contribution. They are people who ask what they can do to help. I have evidence of this happening every day in communities all over the country where people who are employed or unemployed work for the benefit of their communities. This is a situation where people who are and have been unemployed for a long time have been spoken to by Intreo. They want to make this contribution and are quite prepared to assist local authorities and communities by giving 19.5 hours a week.

Would the Taoiseach work for what they will receive?

A Deputy

I thought Deputy Gerry Adams did.

What I want to do is create situations where more people can find work that will provide an opportunity for them to develop their careers. Deputy Gerry Adams was unemployed for a long number of years -----

I was in gaol.

----- yet he seems to appear in locations around the world just like that.

The Taoiseach gives his super junior Minister €17,000.

The Taoiseach's and the Government's ideological commitment to private banking has ripped off the taxpayer and the people. The value of Wilbur Ross's and his North American vulture capitalist friends' shares in Bank of Ireland has more than trebled, from €1.1 billion to €3.8 billion. They are now selling 6.75% of Bank of Ireland for €690 million, at a huge profit, while retaining 30%. I raised this issue during Leaders' Questions on 7 November 2013 when I said:

In April 2013, on Bloomberg television, Wilbur Ross, the American vulture capitalist, described Bank of Ireland as his best investment anywhere in the world during the financial crisis. In July 2011 the Government sold State shares in Bank of Ireland to a consortium of North American vulture capitalists for €1.123 billion. The effect of the sale is that the State now owns 15% of Bank of Ireland's shares at a net cost of €4 billion, while these vulture capitalists own 37% at a cost of €1.123 billion. The fire sale of Bank of Ireland shares has handed Wilbur Ross and his wealthy associates a capital gain of €2 billion. No wonder he was celebrating on television. They are onto a sure winner in the future.

This is all too true. Not alone had the people bailed out Bank of Ireland, the Government had guaranteed the shares would rise by designating Bank of Ireland a pillar bank. It made no sense. Now in the media Wilbur Ross is lavishing praise on Richie Boucher and the Government. Why would he not? With no risk, he and his partners trebled their investment. Will the Taoiseach tell the people the truth? Will he tell them that while they were being fleeced in budget after budget, owing to the Taoiseach's ideological commitment to the privatisation of banking, he has cost them €2.7 billion which has gone straight into the pockets of Wilbur Ross and his North American friends. If a person ran a sweet shop in the way Deputy Michael Noonan handles State investments, he or she would not be long in business. Will the Taoiseach sack the Minister for Finance who proposed this rip-off to the Cabinet - the rip-off of taxpayers and the people - in what was and is a fire sale?

The answer to that question is "No." I was not sure whether the Deputy was going to propose that Anglo Irish should have been made a pillar bank, if one was to follow through on his dissertation. There are two things he should bear in mind. First, the fact that Mr. Ross invested in Bank of Ireland meant there was less of a capitalisation requirement for the taxpayer. Second, there will be no legacy debt attached. When the Minister for Finance brings his memo to the Government with a recommendation to dispose of the State's element of ownership of Bank of Ireland, the taxpayer will make a profit. Therefore, the taxpayer was saved from further capitalisation of Bank of Ireland and when the Government decides to dispose of its shares, the taxpayer will make a profit. I am no fan of banks. As the Deputy is well aware, what has happened from the point of view of the Government is that it has put in place a set of targets and requirements for banks and the Central Bank: to offer every mortgage holder in distress a sustainable offer by the end of the year; establish the Personal Insolvency Agency; meet the requirement for SME lending; and provide the opportunity to open doors for greater access to credit in order that people can do business and create jobs.

The answer to the Deputy's question is that the Minister for Finance will not be sacked; the taxpayer will make a profit on the disposal of the shares we own in Bank of Ireland.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response, but, once again, we have heard the usual smoke and mirrors blather. The fact is that the Government's ideological commitment to private banking has gone even further. As bad as the Wilbur Ross affair was, the taxpayer has been ripped off again, as recently as December 2013. This happened when Bank of Ireland was unable to call or buy all of the preference shares held by the Government. On that occasion the Government voluntarily sold the excess shares to a third party at a knockdown price to facilitate the bank. The Government rushed deliberately to complete that sale before 31 March 2014, when those shares will be worth an additional €325 million. In addition, the whole operation meant the State's share in the bank was reduced by another €100 million. The Government, therefore, lost €425 million in the deal. How can the Taoiseach continue to support a Minister for Finance who has stood over such a rotten and shameful deal for the taxpayer?

As I pointed out, we cannot have a functioning economy without functioning banks. When the Government was elected to office, we had a banking system which was completely dysfunctional, had gone off the rails and required radical restructuring. This happened with the putting in place of the pillar bank system.

The Deputy asked if the Minister for Finance would be sacked. The answer to that question is "No."

We have a duty to the Irish taxpayer to see-----

The Taoiseach is standing over that.

-----that money paid into banks can be recovered to the greatest extent possible given the catastrophic economic mess left by those who went before us.

In the case of Bank of Ireland the fact that Mr. Ross invested in the bank meant that the Irish taxpayer had to put less money into the bank than it might have had to do.

When did the Taoiseach sell shares for €425 million?

When the State, on the recommendation of the Minister for Finance, decides to dispose of its equity there the taxpayer will make a profit. That is our commitment, our duty and responsibility to the Irish taxpayers not to leave them at a loss, given the scale of what was inherited here.

It was €3 billion less than the Taoiseach would have paid.