That Dáil Éireann:
— that the 2009 Fine Gael Party NewERA document advocated the establishment of Irish Water;
— the announcement of the Irish Water Charges Plan on 30 September and the introduction of the new domestic water tariff system on 1 October;
— the €172 million set-up costs of Irish Water;
— the €80 million being spent on consultants within the set-up of Irish Water;
— the €500 million ongoing estimated spend on water metering across the country;
— the €300 million in total annual domestic revenue accruing to Irish Water;
— the performance related award bonus structure within Irish Water; and
— the 700 staff due to be employed within Irish Water by the end of 2015;
— the Government’s plans to subsidise Irish Water's domestic revenue stream through several options by an estimated €125 million;
— the estimated domestic revenue stream, after Government subsidies, of approximately €150 million - €175 million; and
— the number of changes to the water charges system introduced by the Government since 1 October;
— the Government's failure to address excessive spending on outside consultants;
— the lack of information for members of the public and lack of a complaints system;
— the lack of communications between the Oireachtas and Irish Water;
— the lack of additional spending on the water infrastructure network; and
— the Government's refusal to acknowledge the ability to pay or otherwise; and
calls on the Government to:
— fully review the appropriateness of the Irish Water model from a funding and service delivery point of view;
— assess the actual sustainability of the funding streams of Irish Water;
— confirm that it has no intention of privatising Irish Water;
— establish an equitable regime for reliefs on domestic water tariffs;
— ensure the body is subjected to full Oireachtas scrutiny, not just internal political party forums; and
— cease any payment of bonuses within Irish Water.
I wish to share time with Deputies Sean Fleming and O'Dea.
This is the third time we have had to use Private Members' business to raise the issue of water charges and the setting up of Irish Water in an effort to highlight the unmitigated disaster it has been. I have also published various Bills in an effort to amend the legislation which gave effect to the setting up, ongoing maintenance and administration of Irish Water. On each and every occasion we were voted down and largely ignored, yet the problems never went away, the costs were never reduced and people’s fears were never addressed. The problem that was, and still is, Irish Water, was allowed to drift, and the runaway train continues apace.
We failed to divert the initial course of action by the Government, which created a gold-plated, bonus-driven, super quango. We were not alone in that regard. PricewaterhouseCoopers, PWC, was commissioned by the Government to carry out a report and it advised against the vehicle that became Irish Water. We then focused on the many deficiencies within the legislation, which was not open to debate. We say now what we said then, namely, that the provisions of the legislation will impinge on people’s ability to pay for a system that is not fit for purpose. One could ask whether we should we be forced to have to take that route. Of course we should not.
The role of the Opposition is to seek to hold the Government to account. In order for Government to allow the Dáil to work effectively on behalf of citizens, it must provide that legislation is analysed and scrutinised. That was most definitely not the case with the legislation to give effect to the quango in question. If it had been, many issues and problems that have ensued might have been identified. Those problems now have the potential to derail Irish Water. Many citizens are frustrated, fearful, worried, annoyed and definitely very angry. They are angry to such an extent that many feel it necessary to follow a path of disobedience. Such a course of action threatens the ability of the Government and this House to bring the public with them towards meaningful recovery for all; rich and poor, young and old, employed and unemployed, public and private sector, urban dwellers and rural dwellers. Divisions have been created that will be hard to mend. The situation will ultimately lead to a grave distrust of the Government. As trust subsides, Governments panic and bad governance sets in. When backbenchers panic, governance will get worse. As the Government's once massive mandate weakens it finds itself at a crossroads. One of those roads leads to an election. Last week some Government Deputies described the budget as an election budget. I caution them to be careful what they wish for in that regard.
Fine Gael and Labour made many commitments in the previous election campaign. Having vehemently opposed the tough yet progressive budgets which achieved two thirds of the fiscal adjustments to consolidate the economy, the Government promised to steer a different path. Fine Gael and Labour said they would not be party to the tough but necessary corrective measures. The public accepted their analysis and argument. People had seen them vote against such budgets and their associated finance Bills. They had promised a softer and easier way. They said the troika agreement would be torn up. In addition to the softer and easier way, the two parties promised a new politics, a democratic revolution that would include report cards for Ministers. They said there would be no hooky appointments to State boards or other such bodies but what we got was very different. What we got was a recognition that the fiscal consolidation path had to be continued, the four-year programme and the targets it contained would after all continue under the new Government with its new politics of democratic revolution. Hence, the Tesco advertisements were binned, the red line issues were deleted, the five-point plan was silenced, the strategic investment bank was quelled, to name but a few of the promised initiatives. The Government had also to rid itself of the statement the Labour Party made about Frankfurt's way.
In addition, there was the infamous explanation for the reason people were let down; that it is what one does during an election. That was another item to add to the bin. The expensive advisers that were to be ditched were hired with gusto and their associated payment caps were also thrown in the bin. The only advice they could give in order to plough ahead was to blame Fianna Fáil and that might have won the Government the previous election. I do not say who will win the next election but if the Government continues along the same path, it will not win another election.
Fianna Fáil achieved 450,000 votes in 2011. The party, in government, did two thirds of the heavy lifting necessary to achieve fiscal consolidation and allow a prospect of growth. The party achieved more votes and seats than any other party in the local elections. Fianna Fáil had discussions with the troika on several occasions since the Dáil was convened. The troika reiterated to us, other Opposition parties and Independent Members that the financial targets were the bottom line, not the detail. All those factors determine that we have a duty and mandate, as well as many others, to participate and to engage and recommend paths to recovery. We were ignored on Irish Water. The Government can ignore us at its peril, but it should be very careful about ignoring the public. It does so at its peril.
On assuming office, Fine Gael wanted to broaden the tax base. That is a credible and understandable objective. However, one would assume that to achieve it, the parameters would have to be right, the preparations would have to be thorough, the public would have to be won over to the concept, the procedure, the path and its delivery. Property tax and water charges were the means chosen by the Government to achieve such a broadening of the tax base but it would have to be done fast by a tough Minister in a strict timeframe. The tough Minister in question would need an incentive, a carrot. He would also require a line that would not trouble Fine Gael or Labour either as they would have to be brought along to support the endeavour. The Minister appointed by the Taoiseach was Phil Hogan. The timeframe was three years, the carrot was Brussels and the political line was that it was Fianna Fáil's fault anyway. With its ducks in a row, and its target in sight, the Taoiseach and the Economic Management Council, EMC, consisting of the then Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, of the Labour Party, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, from Fine Gael, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, also from the Labour Party, with the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, would pursue the target and the carrot with gusto.
We know now that most of the Cabinet would be kept in dark about the mechanism used to fund the quango. Ministers did not have to feign surprise last January when they were told about the cost of consultants. They were surprised and they were not aware of the facts, as they should have been, but that is the way the Government works. The members of the EMC disregard many of their ministerial colleagues. Not only were members of the Cabinet ignored but the Minister of State with responsibility for the implementation of NewERA, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, was ignored if he was not prepared to toe the line. The Opposition was ignored and debate was shut down. The Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, was to be instructed on policy and Irish Water was told to plough ahead and set up its pay systems and bonuses. Local authority managers were told they could resign or retire, get their packages and get a new job in Irish Water. Irish Water could do as it liked. It could get the charges as quickly as possible and swell the Government's coffers for future tax giveaways and election victories. However, the Government did not bank on John Tierney's interview with Sean O'Rourke. Only then did the chickens find their way home and consider roosting. The cat was out of the bag, but the Government said to plough on regardless. Furthermore, it instructed Irish Water and the CER to plough on regardless. The Government never banked on a resilient nation, a persistent Opposition, the local election results, the by-election results or people power, as exemplified in the march that took place last Saturday week.
This weekend’s announcements by RTE following our parliamentary question last week eventually proved what we suspected all along, that Irish Water as set up by this Government, by every member of the parties associated with it, is nothing but a gold-plated, bonus-driven super quango. The Government would not do it before but now is the time for an honest, open, frank debate; now is the time to initiate an appropriate review of Irish Water and its ability to be a service provider. In the meantime, all impending charges need to be suspended.
To set this debate in its proper context the Dáil needs to acknowledge and note some facts. In 2009 it was Fine Gael, not the troika, which in its NewERA document advocated the setting up of Irish Water. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, I believe, was at the heart of it. I would very much like to know who were the consultants hired to initiate that plan. I ask the Dáil to note that it cost €172 million to set up; I ask the Dáil to note that €80 million has been spent on consultants; I ask the Dáil to note that €500 million has been spent on metering; I ask the Dáil to note further the categoric and unambiguous fact that there are performance-related bonus structures in Irish Water, despite what the then Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, said last January, that there is no bonus culture in Bord Gáis Éireann nor will there be in Irish Water. I ask the House to call on all its Members from Fine Gael and the Labour Party, as well as ourselves, to condemn the Government for its failure to address excessive spending on consultants and the set-up costs, for its lack of information provided to the public, whether by CER or Irish Water or the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, for the lack of a complaints system which should be enshrined in any such body, and for the lack of an adequate communication system for Oireachtas Members. This is the second or third time we have raised this issue in the House. We raised it last year, in September, October and November and Departments refused to answer questions about Irish Water tabled by me and others. The conceited, underhanded nature in which the body was configured from a monetary perspective allowed the Government to avoid answering questions. The Government gave a commitment in January or February which it has not honoured and we are now at the end of October.
I ask the Dáil to condemn the lack of additional spending that is evident in the same Irish Water. The three-year spending programme of €1.7 billion announced earlier this year was not a red cent more than was given in capital expenditure by the previous manner in which funds were expended in this area. I condemn the Government for the lack of a mechanism of an inability-to-pay clause.
When I think of the ongoing concerted effort by Government to keep the public in the dark and all the double-speak we have heard, I am reminded of what has been said in recent months. The Taoiseach spoke on this issue in the House on several occasions. He initially said that children would not have to pay for water, that there would be no charge. He subsequently said that children would be given 38,000 litres free and then he said it would be 21,000 litres. He said the average charge would be €240 but it is far from it. The Taoiseach admitted that Irish Water has had a few teething problems. I refer to what we have been told in recent days. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, said Irish Water needs to be more customer-friendly; the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, said that Irish Water needs to work on its PR; the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, said he met with Irish Water two weeks ago and he expressed concern about the bonuses; and a total of 20 Fine Gael Deputies spoke out last week at a parliamentary party meeting saying that they had a problem with the communications in Irish Water but they had no problem in marching up to vote for it. I remind the 20 Deputies, wherever they are, and the Labour Party Deputies, that nobody but themselves set up Irish Water. They would not listen to anyone because they took their orders from the top down and they were kept in the dark.