Leaders' Questions

Some weeks ago the Economic Management Council agreed on a regime for water tax. The details of that scheme and regime were released by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the following day, a day after the Taoiseach was questioned in the House on the same issue but about which he could give very little information. However, the following day the print and broadcast media were full of significant details about the water tax regime, with the Minister, Deputy Hogan confirming that there would be a standing charge of €50 which people would pay irrespective of ability to pay. There was no ability to pay clause included in the regime nor any provision for low income earners. Those whose houses would not have been metered by the time of the introduction of the charge would be given estimated bills. In the aftermath of the revelations in the media, the Labour Party articulated some degree of shock, mainly at the angry reaction to the Minister's revelations to the media, and it called a halt. Since then there has been a lot of spinning and counter-spinning between Fine Gael and the Labour Party as to who is to blame for the debacle and the fiasco.

Before the Easter recess the Tánaiste told the House that a number of issues remain to be addressed. He said that he wished those issues had been addressed some months ago but they remain to be addressed. It is clear he was being critical of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. The Tánaiste said that three out of every four households would not be metered by the time the charge is introduced. The Tánaiste said he wanted a rebate system for those who have not been metered if their usage was lower than estimated. He wanted an ability to pay clause implemented, the Labour Party being a relative newcomer and recently converted to the idea of ability to pay. He was particularly concerned about old people, pensioners and people on low incomes. The Labour Party has said now that it is opposed to the idea of a standing charge because it goes against the principle of conservation.

The Cabinet met today. Has the Government dealt conclusively with the issues outlined by the Tánaiste? Has a final decision been made about the water tax regime to be introduced under the aegis of Irish Water? Will the Taoiseach confirm if there will be a standing charge? What kind of ability to pay mechanism will be introduced? Will a rebate system be available for those who have not been metered or will not be metered prior to the introduction of the charge? Will there be a waiver system for pensioners or a means test? In the words of the Tánaiste, will these decisions be made quickly and will certainty and answers be provided to the people?

The answer to Deputy Martin's final question is, "Yes", there will be certainty provided to the people and we will do that as quickly as possible.

The Cabinet did not make any final decisions today about the water issue because we did not discuss it. We had a very long agenda.

Uisce faoi thalamh.

I remind Deputy Martin that his proposition was to have a charge of €400 with no discretion, no rebate at all-----

The Cabinet discussed our proposal but not their own.

A Deputy

We will be on this for three years if people keep going.

Please, you have had your fun, let us hear the reply.

Deputy Martin listed a number of issues-----

There is no water in the pipe.

I can confirm to the House that a number of issues need to be properly teased out and they are being teased out properly. They concern the vulnerable sectors in society-----

The vulnerable Labour Party.

Please do not jump to the bait, thank you.

Three more weeks, Billy.

I will refrain from making a comment in reply to Deputy Kelleher's remark. Genuinely, a number of issues related to the vulnerable sectors of society need to be teased out and made right. Many Deputies raised the issue of the progress of the water metering programme and how to make the charges fair, affordable and as equitable as possible. The point that needs to be reiterated, irrespective of whichever party or none, is that the current system is completely unfit for purpose. We cannot have a situation where 20,000 people are expected to live their lives with boil water notices every day, where 40% of the water in Dublin city leaks into the ground, and where €1.2 billion is paid out every year for an inferior system. We all want the country to be attractive for consumers, business and foreign investment. Major industries require a high volume of pristine water and we are not in a position to deal with that requirement in the way we would like without having the facility of Irish Water to borrow and invest to fix all the leaks and provide a structure for the next 50 years.

I confirm to Deputy Martin that the discussions about those issues are genuinely very constructive and we hope to have this matter concluded quickly in order that the people will have clarity and will know what exactly is involved. We have refocused on those sectors which have been referred to by many people, so that the charges for them can be as fair and equitable and as affordable as possible in the interests of providing a system that will deal with the gross inadequacies and also provide a platform which the entire country can be assured will provide high quality water and an infrastructure that is fit for purpose.

The Taoiseach is incorrect in the charge he levied at our party about a €400 charge. That is not the case.

It is there in black and white.

The Taoiseach said the Cabinet debate was constructive. It would have been nice if there had been a constructive debate in this House. Before Christmas the Taoiseach railroaded the legislation for Irish Water through the House. He described in nice language the establishment of Irish Water, which now has 500 staff, excluding the 400 staff in the call centre. It has a huge bonus culture. People are climbing aboard Irish Water every week, in addition to the existing county council delivery system. There was no debate about the €180 million spent on consultancies.

A question for the Taoiseach, please, Deputy.

He has not answered the specific questions. He may not wish to hear my criticisms but Deputy Kevin Humphreys put it succinctly-----

Sorry, Deputy, we are over time. Please put your supplementary question. It is not about Deputy Humphreys.

The Labour Party Deputy, Kevin Humphreys, said that he had lost trust in Fine Gael and he felt the party was totally out of order in the way it was handling the water charge debate.

Sorry, this is not for Leaders' Questions.

He said that it is the second time that the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, has tried to bounce the Labour Party into a decision, the first time being about the septic tanks. He said it was no way to do business and no way to make rational decisions of importance to this country.

Has the Deputy a supplementary question?

When I asked the Taoiseach about this three weeks ago, he was not in a position to give the House any detail or answers. The following day, however, we got lots of details because the Minister obviously sent them out to everybody.

We are way over time.

A new phrase, "in the not too distant future", is being used in this regard. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, could not answer when he was asked what it meant. The Taoiseach is now using the term "as soon as possible". I have been asking the same question for three months.

What is the Deputy's supplementary question?

I am trying to get a definition from the Taoiseach.

(Interruptions).

When will the Government make a final decision in this matter? Is there any chance, given the form it has shown to date, that something will come out tomorrow morning?

One never knows.

I ask Deputy Martin to resume his seat, please.

This is what the Government does leading up to an election.

This is Leaders' Questions, not a time for play-acting. Please allow the Taoiseach to reply, although to what I do not know. He has a minute in which to do his best to respond.

Deputy Martin asked me two very straight questions. One was whether we will have clarity in respect of what are the issues around water and the second was whether we will have it quickly. The answer to both questions is "Yes".

When will we have the answers?

Tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach go bhfuil a lán daoine feargach faoin ábhar seo agus faoi Uisce Éireann. Tá muintir an Stáit fós gan eolas ar bith maidir leis an gcáin uisce. Tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach, agus é ag rith ar fud na háite, go bhfuil na daoine buartha faoi seo.

Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach informed the House that the water tax would cost householders an average of €240 per annum. While the Labour Party was clearly on board at that time, the Tánaiste, panicked by the sheer weight of public anger on this issue, initiated a belated negotiation on the detail of the tax. In the same period, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, provided details which the Taoiseach would not provide in the House and, in his usual off-hand manner, reassured everybody that the issue would be speedily resolved. The Tánaiste responded by stating the Labour Party would not be bound by any timetable. There one has it. It is a case of tweedledum and tweedledee and Government parties that are at odds with each other over an issue that was Fianna Fáil Party policy. At that time, it was opposed by the Labour Party and became one of the subjects of the party's Tesco advertisement during the general election campaign. As the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, knows, this is the type of thing one does during an election campaign. We must now conclude that the current shenanigans in the Cabinet are not about people's rights, conserving water, the provision of clean water or saving taxpayers' money but about trying to cobble together yet another pre-election stunt. One thing that is clear from everything we have heard is that there will be a water tax because the Labour Party does not have the spine or gumption to say "No" to Fine Gael. In the spirit of transparency, accountability and the openness he often professes, will the Taoiseach tell citizens and the Oireachtas how much the water tax will cost householders?

It will be less than in Northern Ireland.

Given that water does not cost anything up there, the Minister's response is great news.

It has been a while since the Minister was up North.

Deputy Ellis was up there a few times in his day.

I will be up again.

These are issues on which the Government will make decisions. Everybody can comment and have his or her views on them and all the rest of it. I have answered Deputy Martin by stating that we will deal with this matter very quickly in terms of providing clarity and information for every citizen.

When Deputy Adams speaks of his party's putative partners over there, I assume he is referring to tweedledum and tweedledee. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources put it well when he stated one party wrecked the economy and the other would wreck it if it ever got the chance. I am not sure if the Deputy supports the €400 or €500 cost about which Deputy Martin spoke, which would be charged without relief or discretion being shown to anybody.

Deputy Adams should understand that this country has an inadequate and inferior infrastructure for the delivery of water for consumers and business.

We know that; the Taoiseach should tell us something we do not know.

The Deputy should stay quiet and not upset himself.

We cannot continue to attempt to portray Ireland as being up to standard in terms of water supply and delivery when 20,000 people have boil-water notices every day and Dublin's water supply is operated at 96% capacity and the city cannot afford any blip in the system. We must and will deal with this issue.

The issues that have been raised by the Labour Party, Fine Gael and other members outside need consideration and they are being given consideration. I confirm to Deputy Adams that the discussions we are having are genuinely constructive and making real progress. We hope to have the matter clarified and finalised quickly in the interests of everybody.

When will that be?

We will provide information in order that every citizen will know what is the Government's intention. There is unity of purpose in understanding the vulnerability of some sections of society, for example, those with medical needs, certain older citizens, and families. These matters will be thoroughly discussed and decided upon quickly.

The Taoiseach's assertions about the constructiveness of the discussions and so on are very reassuring and I thank him for that. I note, however, that the Cabinet did not even discuss the issue today, which shows how constructive and serious it is about the matter. What we learned from the media again - it was not their fault as that is their job - was the news that the long-awaited banking inquiry is being set up without reference to the Oireachtas.

Perhaps the Deputy will stick to the issue of water.

We will return to that issue and the scandal of how white collar crime is dealt with by the State. Today's news management was a clear attempt to distract attention from a Government that is in crisis. Governments stumble on small things such as this. People are angry at the imposition of one tax after another, which is completely contrary to the Government parties' election promises.

The Deputy should ask a question.

The Government should invest taxpayers' money in fixing leaking pipes and providing councils with the wherewithal to provide water more economically, rather than spending it on the installation of meters. Clean, fresh water is a basic human right. The Taoiseach stated that Uisce Éireann would save money.

Sorry, Deputy, we are over time.

Gabh mo leithscéal, a Cheann Comhairle, ná bí ag cur isteach orm, le do thoil.

I will, of course, if the Deputy does not adhere to the rules, which apply to him as they do to everybody else.

I understand that.

Some €86 million of taxpayers' money was spent on consultancy services. In addition, 29 staff of Uisce Éireann are paid more than €100,000 per annum. The Government has also pumped €490 million from local property tax - the family home tax - into Irish Water.

What is the Deputy's supplementary question?

Citizens are asking what is the point of the Labour Party in government. I have a simple question. Will VAT be levied on top of water charges? Has this matter been part of the discussions the Cabinet is not having? Will the Taoiseach at least indicate what is the Fine Gael Party's position on the issue and allow the Labour Party to catch up another time, rather than have us read about the issue in tomorrow's newspapers? Will VAT be levied on top of water charges? Is it not clear to the Taoiseach that this is a debacle? Will he not admit and acknowledge, again in the interests of transparency, that the Government's policy on water services is a shambles?

Deputy Adams is talking gibberish.

I do not agree with Deputy Adams's statement. The Minister for Finance made clear that VAT does not apply to water. Sinn Féin appears to believe that we can swan along without any charges or contributions and that all these services can be provided for nothing. Deputy Adams's people have been around the country telling those who have private wells and water supplies that they will also have to pay Irish Water, which is, as the Deputy knows, a gross falsehood.

That is false and a lie.

I have evidence of it and if Deputy Adams's office in Dundalk had been open yesterday, I would have called in to tell him that. It was closed to members of the public, however.

My office was open and the Taoiseach walked by, thank God.

We are not happy with circumstances in which almost 20,000 people have boil-water notices, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that 16% of water supplies, many of them in Dublin and Cork, are at risk and 36% of water treatment plants did not meet effluent standards in 2011.

The Taoiseach knows everything bar the price.

The European Commission has launched a pilot infringement against Ireland in respect of 80 treatment plants.

The Deputy seems to be of the belief that we can continue with this kind of system.

The Government bled the householders.

That is not the case. The Government is trying, unlike the Fianna Fáil Party, which tried to introduce a €300 or €500 charge without any discretion-----

The Government has been in office for three years.

Three years we have been waiting for this.

It is black and white, Deputy Fleming.

-----to look at the vulnerable sectors of our society and have this as affordable and equitable and as fair as possible, taking into account the legitimate sensitivities that are there-----

Yes, the sensitivities of the Labour Party.

-----in terms of affordability, the sectors involved and the progress with metering. The matter will be brought to a speedy conclusion and everyone will understand the Government’s decision.

It will be quickly.

Will it be this week or next week?

Everyone will understand the decision will be in everyone’s interests.

The Taoiseach’s Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, described the Garda whistleblowers as distinguished. Other than that, there has been no real encouragement from the Government for those who take such courageous actions. For anyone to step forward again, it would take an even greater act of bravery than before.

In the past week, I was approached under the Garda Síochána Act by a serving member of the Garda with a serious allegation of corruption within the national drugs squad. This morning, I brought the evidence I was presented with to GSOC, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, in the company of former garda, John Wilson. However, the problem we have is that the garda who gave me the evidence is terrified that members of the Garda who are serving with GSOC could somehow leak this information and, as a result, evidence would be tampered with. The garda in question may have no need to be afraid but that is beside the point. The bigger issue is that so long as serving members of the Garda are working within GSOC, how can such distinguished people trust it.

I understand the Government is reviewing the operation of GSOC but it is all taking too long. In the meantime, however, those who wish to seek justice are left with nowhere to go, except for our offices. The Taoiseach did have the opportunity last year in the House to act but, instead, he rubbished Deputy Wallace’s policing Bill, dismissing it by stating there was no problem at all.

It was a worrying ordeal for the garda in question to go to GSOC today, given his understandable concern about confidentiality. However, this worry was significantly increased this morning when it became obvious that we were under surveillance by an unmarked Garda car while waiting in the now infamous Insomnia cafe adjacent to GSOC’s premises. John Wilson, who was there with me for support, left the cafe momentarily to establish what was going on.

A question please.

He was subsequently followed down the street by the unmarked Garda car. What was all this about? It is bad enough that the independence of GSOC is questionable. For the people about to report an incident to be put under surveillance by an unmarked squad car is, to say the least, astonishing.

As the leader of this country, what will the Taoiseach do about this, bearing in mind good people are being silenced and the legislation he is standing by is anything but fit for purpose?

I have no information about Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan being followed or under surveillance by an unmarked car. He is a sharp man to know that an unmarked car was actually shadowing him. Maybe it was not him they had under surveillance.

They are very easy to spot.

Maybe they thought there was somebody dealing.

That is under the belt.

The Taoiseach should withdraw that.

He should withdraw that. It is outrageous. I know the Taoiseach is under pressure but he should withdraw that.

We are awaiting reports from Mr. Guerin SC and Mr. Justice Cooke. An Oireachtas committee is looking at the terms of reference in respect of GSOC. These are matters of the greatest importance. Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, along with Deputies Daly and Wallace, presented me with several documents in respect of various allegations which I am following up at the Deputy’s request. Hopefully, we will have a proper and thorough response for him.

It seems that anybody who has had any connection with a garda over the past 30 years wants to bring forward reports and comments. We want to devise a system to be able to deal with these fairly and thoroughly in the interests of following through on allegations and, if they are true, dealing with them and, if not, addressing that aspect.

I cannot comment on the Deputy’s report to the House of being under surveillance and being followed or whatever. If he wants to give me whatever documentation he has, I will treat it with the utmost confidence, unless he says otherwise, and attempt to have a follow-through made for him.

With regard to the policing legislation introduced by Deputy Wallace last year, whenever the Guerin report is issued and whatever recommendations it makes will be followed through, as I have already said in the House. There are a whole range of issues with regard to justice and the different systems that are now being analysed and investigated. The House will have full sight of those for discussion and implementation of whatever recommendations come forward, including the Deputy.

The Taoiseach has just made the situation worse. The person who came to me was terrified about coming forward. He came to a Member of Dáil Éireann because he felt it was the only action he could take. I brought it into the Chamber today where many distinguished people have served down through the years but we have our Taoiseach stand up and make a joke out of it.

He did not make a joke.

Deputies

He did.

This person was terrified to come forward for obvious reasons, given that, in the past, John Wilson, for example, who is sitting in the Visitors Gallery, had a rat hung on his door for doing the right thing. Today, I was hoping the Taoiseach might give a little bit of encouragement. The bigger issue is not the individual case but the fact that no one can have confidence in GSOC so long as serving members of the Garda Síochána are operating within it. That was the issue I wanted to raise today. However, the Taoiseach belittles and makes a joke out of being followed by an unmarked car with two obviously identifiable police officers. When he is going to do something about this?

The Taoiseach needs to deal with this quickly because people are losing faith in what they have to have faith in, namely the Garda Síochána. Whether it is my wife or my children, if something happens we have to go to the Garda and trust it. At the moment, that trust is not on the floor but below it. The Taoiseach needs to deal with this seriously. The one thing I was certain about today was that he would not answer my question because he has never answered a question since I came in here. Can he try and make it a first? Will he tell me and the people that he is going to do something about this issue? After that incident today, the man in question was not terrified anymore, he was quivering. He was on the verge of breaking down. I bring it up here but you make a joke out of it. You are a disgrace.

This is Leaders' Questions.

I made no joke about any comment the Deputy made.

Deputies

You did.

He made a remark about dealing. He was out of order.

It was outrageous.

The Taoiseach should withdraw the dealing remark.

The Taoiseach should withdraw the dealing remark.

The Deputy walks in here and gives a report to the people about being followed and being under surveillance. I know nothing about this. If he wants to tell more stories or make allegations, I do not have any information about them.

The whistleblowers' legislation is being treated with proper respect and will be dealt with in a way that will constitute a radical change from what applied before. I note the comments of the interim Garda Commissioner about where there is room for dissenting voices in the force and the need to protect whistleblowers when they come forward. The Deputy will be aware that the Government has made a decision to have a statutory independent authority for the Garda. I myself chair the new committee in respect of justice reform and the committee dealing with the statutory independent authority. The latter committee had its first meeting this week. The process is now being set in train for public consultation with hearings by the appropriate committee. It will report back to the Dáil by July with recommendations for the setting up of this authority.

It is clear that when the Guerin and Cooke reports come forward, they will be published and debated here. We will see what recommendations are contained therein. It ill behoves the Deputy to come in here and make allegations about the treatment of his comments as "a joke". I assume he is quite serious in what he is saying. I do not know the person he is speaking about.

If he trusted the Taoiseach, he would have contacted him.

I do not know the garda to whom the Deputy referred. I invite the Deputy to give me the information he has received from the person who is terrified, or is very uneasy about coming forward.

Will the Taoiseach meet him?

We will treat it with the utmost confidentiality and with the respect it deserves.

Will the Taoiseach meet him?