When I asked the Taoiseach a number of questions yesterday about Irish Water, following Deputy Fergus O'Dowd's comments that it has been an unmitigated disaster, an abject failure and much more, the Taoiseach responded that, in his view, Deputy O'Dowd was simply saying it had teething problems. That response illustrated how out of touch the Taoiseach is with the situation on the ground and with people's attitudes. Deputy O'Dowd was certainly right in saying there is an intense dislike of the entire process and that people feel angry and intimidated.
The fundamental aspect that is absent from the water rates regime that is being introduced via Irish Water and via the regulator is the ability to pay principle. Deputy O'Dowd said yesterday that as Minister of State, he pleaded with his senior Minister and with other Government members that there be exemptions for disadvantaged groups including, in particular, the unemployed. There is absolutely no protection under this regime for the more than 370,000 people on the live register. The households benefits package does not include those who are out of work. Second, there is no protection for low-income earners, of whom we have the second highest proportion in the OECD. Consumption taxes are by their nature regressive, but nothing has been built into this charging regime to protect low-income workers, one in five of whom, we are told, are earning below the living wage. Third, we have families with three, four and five adults who will face very significant bills. The estimated charge is €380 for a three-adult family, €482 for a four-adult household, and €584 where there are five adults in the home. We are talking here about dependent young people in full-time education or unemployed. Those families are being screwed by this regime. The estimates are extraordinarily high, with no mitigation whatsoever. To add insult to injury, those on boil water notices will receive a bill and will have to pay for the water-out element of the regime, notwithstanding the significant expenditure they have faced as a result of having to boil water.
Will the Taoiseach amend the legislation to enshrine at its heart an ability to pay clause? That would have an impact in terms of the intense dislike of the process to which Deputy O'Dowd referred and in terms of people feeling angry and intimidated.