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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Nov 2014

Vol. 858 No. 2

Water Sector Reforms: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on 19 November 2014:
"That Dáil Éireann:
supports the establishment of Irish Water as a long-term strategic investment project that will deliver the scale of investment necessary to deliver water services infrastructure to the highest standards required to meet the needs of the Irish people;
recognises that managing our water resources effectively is essential to ensure that Ireland can continue to support indigenous economic activity and employment, including in relation to tourism, and to attract major overseas investment and employment;
— the important regulatory role of the Commission for Energy Regulation in relation to water services, particularly in protecting the interests of the customers of Irish Water;
— the efficiencies in capital and operational programmes already being delivered by Irish Water and the continued efficiencies to be achieved in the years ahead; and
— the progress being made by Irish Water in implementing the national programme of domestic water metering, with some 500,000 meters now installed, supporting 1,300 jobs;
condemns intimidation and harassment of workers involved in the metering programme and any other form of non-peaceful protest;
acknowledges the demanding timelines for implementation of the water reform programme to date, which have not fully reflected the scale of the challenge in moving from local government delivery to a fully regulated single national public utility;
recognises that the complexity of aspects of the previous charging regime has created uncertainty for customers in relation to their bills in 2015 and beyond;
in light of the foregoing, welcomes the package of measures approved by the Government on 19th November, 2014, particularly the measures which provide certainty, simplicity and affordability in relation to domestic water charges, and maintain a strong focus on conservation;
and endorses the Government's continued commitment to public ownership of the national water services infrastructure."

I call on Deputy Barry Cowen who was in possession.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for permitting the suspension of the debate for 45 minutes to allow time for the Minister to come back into the Chamber and participate in the debate. It also gives Members an opportunity to respond in a constructive fashion to the motion before the House. In addition, many questions may be asked, clarifications sought and propositions put, but ultimately when it comes to a vote people will make an informed decision on whether to support this motion. I welcome the Minister back to the House for that purpose and hope he will continue to partake in the debate from here onwards.

I specifically want to raise the issue of Irish Water no longer having to pay the €60 million promised in commercial rates to local authorities. It appears this has been done to reduce Irish Water's expenditure in order to help this proposal pass the EUROSTAT test. Is that test in March or is it not? In the course of an earlier submission, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, made comments to the effect that it has been already approved. Has it been approved by the appropriate authority or is he depending on a telephone call to Commissioner Hogan in order for that to have passed the test?

Many local authorities have provided within their budgets, which take place this week, for the income that was to be derived from Irish Water with those assets having been transferred to Irish Water. Does the Minister remember the networks with €11 billion worth of assets? Calculations were made by local authorities some of which have passed budgets. Some may have to reconvene their members to rectify a discrepancy. Will the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government be asked to subvent local authorities by this amount? If so, what guarantees are in place that the local or central government fund will not be reduced by €60 million and nobody will be any the wiser as to whether the money was ever going to be made available to them? That needs to be clarified.

Local authorities around the country are deliberating over tight budgets. In the absence of even €200,000, they may have to suspend disability grants and house adaptation grants for the elderly at €15,000 a pop. That would save Revenue the cost of the fair deal, which is up to €50,000 a year.

In County Offaly, for example, applicants are being told to wait for three to five years because the funds are not available. If the funds do not exist, it will cost €15 million for those people to be housed in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme. Meanwhile, the Minister cannot provide €1 million to rectify that in a once-off payment to clear backlogs.

Apart from that, when local authorities wanted to make an effort to address those issues, the Minister pulled the rug from under them because they now do not have from Irish Water the commercial rates they get from other utilities.

If the Minister clarifies that before the debate concludes, I will have no problem with that information being made available to the House. We will then make a decision on how we will vote thereafter. That is the process in which the Minister is engaged. It is the process of putting a motion before the House, as the Taoiseach well knows. I am glad to see him back to also participate in the debate, considering he was the very one who told us more than 50 times that we would have clarity and certainty.

I want that clarity and certainty, as does everybody else here, and we expect to get it. If the debate takes a week or a month we will wait for it. As I said earlier, in case the Taoiseach did not hear, I want to see the detailed analysis of what is required, how it will be done and the associated costs. The Taoiseach is on the record as saying one week it will cost €20 billion and the next week it will cost €10 billion. He has had 11 months to figure out what it should cost, and I expect he will clarify that before the debate concludes.

I appeal to the Government to halt the proposals for Irish Water and the water services proposals it has laid before the House. As regards the EUROSTAT test, I am conscious of the on balance sheet and off balance sheet charade to which we have been listening in recent weeks and months. The bottom line is that the Government has to guarantee it, so the people have to guarantee it. That is the important point that should not be lost on anyone.

On Monday evening's "Prime Time" programme, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, was put out to bat on behalf of the Government, having had the leaks in the weekend media. To be honest, I thought he was less than sure-footed and less than committed to stating that there would be enough funding available under that model for future work to be done to rectify the system, leave it fit for purpose and then allow people to make a fair and equitable contribution. That worries me and it should also worry the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, because he is the one who is supposed to be straight. He is the one who tells it as it is and who is held up as shooting from the hip, but he was very subdued on Monday.

Flaky is the word. For once the Deputy got it right.


The duty of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account and to offer constructive and competent alternatives. I and others have sought to hold this Government to account in this area in the past, but it has not been allowed by virtue of the guillotine. Our party has been consistently opposed to the establishment of Irish Water, to all it stands for and to all it has sought to do, as well as to the way it has done it.

That animal has turned into a monster. The public has no faith in it whatsoever. It has no traction, it is shot dead and people do not want to see or hear of it again. Against that background, the Minister should consider abolishing Irish Water.

We could have a wake and a funeral.

The Government continues to give it the sort of commitment it gave to Bord Gáis and where is that? It is gone.

You did it to the ESB as well.

There will be no more interruptions. Please give the speaker respect.

How much will the metering cost - €500 million? It is like the Olympics; it seems the Government will take them up and put them down every four years, given the way it proposes to deal with them.

Read the script.

The Government, and more particularly the Members of the House, needs to look at other State bodies that have been successful in delivering multi-annual programmes on budget and on time. We have seen different arms of the State, such as the NTMA, where the remit was broadened beyond its initial responsibility for the national debt.

Does Deputy Cowen remember Eircom? The previous Government privatised Eircom.

Its remit was broadened to cater for pension reserves and the purchase of bonds. The NRA is another success story. It built up capacity with a tight management plan and executed successful implementation of multi-annual programmes across county boundaries. People have seen its ability to deliver and can see it as a success story in providing infrastructure throughout the country.

Whether the remit of it or any similar body was broadened, it could work within a budget and deliver a programme on budget and on time. It is an existing, successful model that is not bloated, not goldplated and not bonus driven. It is certainly not the super quango that is Irish Water.

What about the HSE?

It can be funded in many ways - on balance sheet, as was done for similar multi-annual programmes in the past, or through a public-private partnership, as has also delivered in the past. The completion of such a programme could take three, five, seven or ten years. We do not know how long it will take because we do not know the exact extent of spending that will take place. I acknowledge there must be a spend but the Government should acknowledge the €5 billion spent between 2000 and 2011 that it has failed to acknowledge. It fails to honour the fact that it took place. There is more to be spent and there are difficulties, including leakages of 40% that need to be reduced to 20%.

The water quality tests must be put in place against any such investment. I have every confidence in consumers agreeing to a contribution thereafter to the maintenance of an upgraded facility. The contribution would be one that reflects the consumer's ability to pay and rewards conservation measures. The Government said from day one that this was about conservation. It has now proposed a system that will be reviewed in four years' time. Do Government Members remember, from their previous roles as councillors, that a condition of development being carried out is that water meters are installed? Those who have been awarded contracts for installation in recent months have taken them up and said they are obsolete. What guarantee can the Government provide in four years' time that what is in place now will not be obsolete then? Is there any guarantee? Government Members were well able to heckle earlier but now we cannot get a response to a simple question.

It is so obvious.

Voting machines were obsolete after less than four years.

I will allow space and time to debate. I will not allow 11 months, which the Government has already had, but it is fair and reasonable to expect such information to be available to the House in the coming days.

Deputy Cowen should go back to the iodine tablets.

This has been, as many Deputies said, an unmitigated disaster.

Is Deputy Cowen talking about his speech?

It is an unholy mess.

What about the HSE?

The HSE is still there despite promises to the contrary.

Despite the Government thinking it has solved the crisis today, it has done nothing of the sort. In respect of what remains of the debate, I ask that the Government engage in the process and allow it to be constructive, where the contributions of all Members are taken into consideration and where Members of all parties, and none, are allowed to make suggestions and provide alternatives to the Dáil.

We have had 15 minutes of Deputy Cowen and no suggestions.

If the Minister of State was listening, he would have heard them.

Why are they not listening?

They do not listen because they guillotine.

That is not a suggestion. What suggestions were made?

They guillotined legislation 11 months ago and have guillotined 65% of what was before the House. The Government has the numbers and has put a process in place whereby the former Minister, Phil Hogan, had a carrot and an incentive. The incentive was Brussels and when he got it he put it on the Taoiseach's desk and the mess left behind is for the rest of us to clean up.

What is Deputy Cowen suggesting?

The suggestions are on the public record. If the Minister of State wants to go back over it, I can repeat them. We now have a lecture from people who carried out ten U-turns since they went before the House looking for suggestions.

Can we dig up the 2007 election manifesto? There are a few U-turns in it.

I ask Members to desist from interrupting. Deputy Cowen has the floor.

I thank the House for the time to respond to this motion. The Government feels it has gone far enough but that remains to be seen. There is much detail that will be questioned and I hope the information will be laid before the House to allow an informed decision to be made by Members thereafter. I hope Deputies will not walk blindly in order to be embedded-----

They are in a coma.

-----in the Fine Gael policy derived and born in 2009, adhered to by the Labour Party in the meantime and watered down to such an extent that it feels it is palatable. I am afraid that is not the case and I can do nothing only to object to that motion before us.

Deputy Cowen's party signed up to water charges of €400 per house.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Prior to the last election, the party to my right, if Members will pardon the pun, published an advertisement warning what Fine Gael had in store for voters.

Deputy Stanley cannot use advertisements in the Chamber.

Did Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh print them?

In the four years since then, we are after travelling a long distance. A Labour Party Minister came into the Chamber to present a scheme to get in water charges and impose another tax on householders. The Government is in crisis and has lost its mandate. Since the Government exited the bailout this time last year, it does not have the political cover provided by the troika for the pain it continues to inflict on low and middle-income households, which the Labour Party is supposed to be protecting.

Instead of that, we have relentless austerity. Throughout the year, the Government has limped from one disaster to another, all of its own making. It has squandered the opportunity to ease the burden and give low and middle-income families a break. It failed to do so in the budget and had another regressive budget. That is not the Sinn Féin line - the ESRI and other organisations have said so. There is a lot of talk about democratic revolution but there is little democratic revolution in the Dáil. The democratic revolution is on the streets and at the ballot box by ordinary people who say that enough is enough.

The water fiasco is the last straw. What the Government is proposing does little to give relief to citizens who cannot afford to pay and it shows the Government is refusing to listen and shows how far it is removed from public opinion. Public confidence in the so-called water reform process initiated by the Government has been nothing short of a complete shambles from start to finish. The promise to hold a plebiscite if and when it is proposed to privatise Irish Water is a distraction from the Sinn Féin proposal to hold a referendum on putting a guarantee in the Constitution that the water service cannot be sold off unless the people of this State so desire. The requirement to hold a plebiscite written into the current Water Services Act through amendment or in a new Bill, would be meaningless.

A future conservative Government intent on privatising Irish Water, as the current Government has done with parts of Bord Gáis, could simply amend the legislation and in that way avoid having to hold a plebiscite. The only way to safeguard against privatisation is to pass our Bill. If the Government is committed and on sure ground, it can put hand on heart and support our Bill over the next couple of days.

The new rates at which people will be billed in 2015 are only an introductory offer. The Labour Party started with Tesco-style advertisements before the last election but now we have a Tesco-style offer to get people to sign up and pay for water. Once they do, the charges will increase after four years, if we get that far. The clause related to affordability is meaningless as we do not know who will interpret it. We have been told it will be a Minister, but what affordability means to a Minister is different from what it means to somebody on €150 or €180 per week. The increase will not happen before the next election as the Government desperately seeks to save itself from a drubbing, but the economics of the way in which Irish Water has been established make it inevitable that the company will take in far more in water charges in the future than it will under current proposals. What is brought in under current proposals is a small proportion of the total required, with the difference made up by subventions. Approximately 10% of the cost of running Irish Water will be collected, and that is with the hope that most people will pay. I wish the Government luck with that, because, judging by what we have seen in recent months, it may not get that far.

I have pointed out on numerous occasions that the predictions being made by the Government regarding an average charge would end up being an underestimate. In August, the energy regulator announced new rates, with average charges of €275 for a two-person household and €483 for a four-person household, far above what was mentioned by the Taoiseach last January, February and March. We see that sands can shift, and by passing responsibility to the energy regulator the Government can keep the issue at arm's length. Government spokespersons will of course claim that the rates did not apply to a household of two adults and two children under the age of 18 who would be eligible for the allowance for children, but even the €240 average charge was wrong, as the total would have been €278 in the first year.

It is no coincidence that opposition to the water charges, which had always been there - as I informed the House during the debate on the Bill to establish Irish Water - increased greatly once people realised, following the regulator’s report, exactly how high their bills would be. The figures were €480 or €500 for a household with five adults.

The Deputy is only trying to frighten people.

People will realise that they will face such rates in four years. I heard the Minister mention earlier that he does not follow election cycles, but this is responding to the election cycle. Since the people took to the streets, the Government has become frightened and was forced to announce so-called concessions, first for people on social welfare and then for certain tax bands in last month's budget. It has been forced into numerous U-turns but has failed to stop the building momentum and has had to make further significant concessions today. It is a major climb-down by a Government with a large majority.

Government Members hope the smaller bills that people will face in 2015 will encourage more people to co-operate with the metering programme and, most importantly, to pay their bills when they start to arrive in letterboxes next April. That is obviously a gamble on the part of the Government born out of increasing desperation, blind panic and fear that it might end up facing the electorate sooner than planned, with the albatross of Irish Water and the water charges hanging around its neck. It has been clear to the Government over the past month and more that it needed to do something major and come up with major concessions if it is to have any hope of staving off the protests and the anger of people in the streets while surviving.

We have seen that peaceful protests work, including those at the ballot box, particularly with the by-elections and local and European elections. The changes mark a humiliating climb-down on the part of the Government, but they will not be seen as enough. People want to see the back of these charges, and the continuation of Irish Water as currently constituted means that the amount to be taken through domestic and commercial water charges from 2015 to 2018 will not be enough to feed the hungry beast.

Over the past year or two, many Ministers have repeated that the stated aim of the establishment of Irish Water - I remember a former Minister, Phil Hogan, saying this over two years ago - was to upgrade infrastructure and fix leaking pipes, but that will not happen, because the amount of money to be brought in through household charges will only be enough to pay and maintain the corporate structure, including the 400 staff and particularly those 20 staff in the higher echelons with salaries of over €100,000. There are also call centres and other corporate structures to be fed. Irish Water has already soaked up an enormous amount of public money from the taxpayer, who is being asked to effectively pay again through water charges. Not only was over €80 million given to consultants - who must be the worst consultants in history, given the advice Irish Water is acting on - but €530 million was taken from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF, which is now buried as meters outside our houses. There is one outside my door which replaced one that was already there. What was the purpose of this, when there will be flat charges for four years? How will the money be repaid if Irish Water, through water charges, cannot raise enough money over the next four years to do so? How will the books be balanced? The Government is trying to get past the next election.

This does not take into account the costs for local authorities of running day-to-day services under service level agreements. On top of the NPRF money, the State has also promised to allocate another €200 million in capital funding in the recently published Estimates. That will have to be increased, I presume, given the concessions that have been announced today. The water support payment has been changed to a water conservation payment, which will be given to every household. Along with the raid on the NPRF, we saw almost the entire amount taken in from the local property tax this year given to Irish Water as a subvention. How can we believe anything the Government states? The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, told me and other Deputies in the Chamber many times that the money was to provide for libraries, parks, footpaths and public lighting through the local authorities, which have seen their allocation through the local government fund decimated in the past number of years. Irish Water has also received money from the local government fund, which originated in the motor tax fund. The money from the local property tax was supposed to be for footpaths, lighting, parks and libraries, but it was not used for this, as €486 million was shifted in 2014.

The Sinn Féin alternative is to abolish Irish Water as it stands, because the public and Deputies on this side of the House have lost confidence in it as it has stumbled from one crisis to another. We would create a new public body with a much greater input from democratically elected local authorities and with the input of those who have long years of experience dealing with issues and problems related to the provision of water. Most importantly, this body would be accountable to the Minister and the Oireachtas, with the Comptroller and Auditor General having an important role in auditing and overseeing accounts.

If the flat charge and the lower rates for many households can be seen as the carrot part of the Government’s plan to save Irish Water, it has also referred to the stick being used for those who continue to refuse to pay or who cannot pay. No doubt the Government and Irish Water are hoping that by the time the first bills are issued next spring, enough people will pay and people will have been softened up with the Tesco-style giveaway today. Perhaps I should say "supermarket-style giveaway", as it may not be fair to Tesco to use the other term.

The Government hopes, therefore, that not many people will have to be dealt with using the punitive measures outlined today. These measures include landlords making deductions from tenants' deposits. Do Members on the Government side of the House know how hard it can be for a tenant to get a deposit back from a landlord? The poorest of the poor will see their deposits raided.

As the Government did not foresee the scale and increasing momentum of opposition to the water charges, only a brave person would predict the impact of today's announcement. Only when all of the details are known of the scale of penalties in six months or more will it be possible to make a judgment. The Government may be confident that it has bought much-needed breathing room but only time will tell.

The Government is to do away with the requirement to return the forms sent by Irish Water and will ensure the destruction of documents containing the PPS numbers of those who have already returned them. It is clear that PPS numbers are no longer required, but they were required previously and people were bullied into submitting the details. The flat charge and other concessions mean people no longer must prove they are eligible for allowances for children aged under 18 years.

We all want water to be conserved, both in households and the overall system; we put forward proposals on water conservation at the time of making our detailed submission. When the legislation establishing Irish Water went through the House, much was rightly made of the enormous level of waste in the system. Approximately 41% of water is wasted between the source and the user and I would not be surprised if this figure increases, given what has happened. Many leakages have been caused in the installation of water meters and the disturbance of old piping, particularly in parts of Dublin. We all agree that water conservation is a real issue and that something must be done about it, but surely the fact that the Government has changed its mind and is introducing a flat charge owing to mass public pressure contradicts the claim that conservation is the main reason for metering.

It is a cap, not a flat charge.

As the meters are now redundant, while some people welcome the changes and hope the Government will take the next logical step and abolish the charges, nothing will be done to promote conservation. If the logic of water charges and metering was to encourage people to use less water and take measures to prevent wastage, what incentive does a flat charge create for conservation? It seems people will pay more or less the same amount, whether they use two cups of water a day or fill a swimming pool every day.

Having a cap is not the same as having a flat charge.

I remind the Government that the charges introduced today are the same for millionaires and those on the lowest incomes. This is a regressive tax. If nothing else, the Government's recent actions expose the fact that the conservation argument was a red herring used to hide the truth that water charges were actually nothing more than another form of taxation. They are actually a water tax to be imposed on already hard-pressed householders who have seen a litany of cuts in wages and services and extra charges and taxes. All of this has happened relentlessly since the bank bailout.

On conservation, Irish Water has soaked up huge amounts of money, but the problem of leakages in the system has not been addressed and may have been worsened by the metering programme carried out by contractors on behalf of Irish Water.

We thought we had lost the Deputy.

People dealing with boil water notices will receive a discount, but this should be extended to those with lead piping as it can be a health hazard and is present in many towns. If the Government is to cancel charges for those receiving undrinkable water, it should do likewise for individuals with lead pipes until they are replaced.

Some people are genuinely finding it difficult to make ends meet and will welcome any amendment to water charges. However, the changes are inadequate and serve only as an introductory offer to entice people to sign up to the imposition of charges that will be far higher in the long term. Sinn Féin has committed to reversing the charges if it is in government, if they have not already been reversed at that point. Today's announcement is a fig leaf attempting to cover enormous political difficulties experienced by the Government, particularly in the local and European elections. The huge protests have caused the Government pain. These changes are a desperate attempt to stave off massive and growing popular opposition to allow the Government to serve the remainder of its time and avoid humiliation in the next general election, be it in 2015 or early 2016. The next logical step following today's announcement is for the Government to take this defeat on the chin and abolish water charges and Irish Water, as configured. The Government and some elements of the media have attempted to portray the water charges protests as a sinister conspiracy. An effort has been made to entice and frighten people into accepting the concessions, but it will not work. I urge as many people as possible to turn out for the peaceful protest planned in Dublin on 10 December. Mass peaceful protest works in conjunction with the ballot box and shows that there can be political consequences. This is clear in the way the Government has backed down today on water charges - it is a humiliating retreat. It should own up, admit it is wrong, abolish Irish Water and water charges. If people come out in high numbers on 10 December to demand that the Government abolish the charges, it will have an incentive to take the final step.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is sharing time with Deputies Shane Ross, Catherine Murphy, Clare Daly and Seamus Healy. I ask for order in the House, please.

Last January when I wrote in a newspaper on the water issue, I made the point that access to water was a fundamental right. Water was being treated as a commodity from which profits could be made. There is no doubt that the manner in which Irish Water was set up was a debacle similar to the debacles that ensued following the setting up of the DART, the Luas, the national children's hospital, some motorway and the Poolbeg incinerator projects. In all of these cases the common denominators were massive overspending and the waste of public money. We can see how much has already been spent on Irish Water and one could be forgiven for asking how many accountants and lawyers does it take to set up Irish Water. Ní raibh airgead ann i gcomhair na fadhbanna a réiteach, ach bhí airgead ann i gcomhair na ndlíodóirí agus na gcuntasóirí.

Bonuses and consultancies were at the top of the agenda and this was all organised and decided before Irish Water provided any service. It was always obvious where the priorities lay regarding Irish Water. While these bonuses and fees were being decided and paid, I met people who had asked Irish Water questions but had received no answers. Questions were raised about payments and the fact that people with illnesses might have a greater than average need for water. Some people have dependent adult children who might be unemployed or in full-time education. Questions have been asked about allowances and what they will cover - people wanted to know how many minutes a shower should take and how often the toilet could be flushed. They wanted to know what the allowances would be for people with gardens, allotments and pets. Serious issues were raised about PPS numbers, while concerns were expressed about meters and problems with shared meters. People living in apartments were anxious and the same applied to those living in rural areas and on islands because they were all paying for water schemes. There are examples in rural Ireland of very good water schemes.

People do pay for them but they are getting an efficient service, the amount is nominal and the people who pay are the ones who have the say; they are the decision-makers. Was there any question of doing a social impact analysis to see the effects of what is being proposed? These were all genuine concerns expressed by people but there were no answers to these questions. One could easily think it was like a scene from a Laurel and Hardy film: "Another fine mess you've got me into." If ever there was an exercise in how not to do something, certainly the establishment of Irish Water was it.

People have been protesting for a variety of reasons. Some people are against the principle of paying for water. Some people simply cannot pay because basically they cannot afford it. They will not be happy with what we heard today. Other people in turn were protesting at the entity that is Irish Water, because of its inefficiency and ineptitude and the gross arrogance of the way in which it was doing its business.

Is cinnte go bhfuil fadhbanna ag baint le cúrsaí uisce sa tír seo. Tá na fadhbanna sin againn le blianta anuas. We know some of the problems. Every beach in this country should have a blue flag, because we have fabulous beaches, but they do not have blue flags. Areas in central Dublin and other parts of the country have systems that are antiquated and leaking and we all know about the poor quality of water. We have had water shortages, last summer in particular. Then, there is the spectre of potential privatisation. That is a real fear. While the Government might maintain it is committed to no privatisation, people do not believe it. Regardless of what the Government says there is a real possibility of a future scenario involving the privatisation of Irish Water were it to become insolvent.

Some people waste water and we also have the problem of leaking pipes and the extent to which water is lost. It is a poor system and the infrastructure is poor but this system and the infrastructure has been in place for years. The problems did not arise overnight. Where were the possible solutions in the past? They were missing.

I have met people who agree with paying for water and there are others who can afford to pay. Some people are willing to contribute because Irish people are generous and they are prepared to contribute to ensure we have a better service and to solve the problems. Some people may have been satisfied with where the Government was starting today and with what it was proposing, but the Government has lost that ground because it has put the cart before the horse.

Regardless of whether we agree with water charges some serious issues still have not been addressed as of today. The basic serious issue is with Irish Water. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government said in his speech that the local authorities could not have done that. Furthermore, he said insufficient resources had been put into our local authorities over the years in this area and that they could have done a far better job than what we have seen to date from Irish Water. I am unsure how Irish Water can continue. It is an overpriced quango and we need to go back to the drawing board for a viable organisation like the local authorities which can do this. I recommend those in government read an article by Dr. Tom McDonnell from the Nevin Economic Research Institute. He has set out some viable options for a system of water provision. We have to keep human beings in mind and not simply customers and profits. Since Ireland is totally supportive of the developing world having access to clean water at no cost, our citizens deserve the same.

I am staggered by the tone, nature and exchanges in this debate. The unreality of what is going on here is something which I do not believe will be lost on people outside this House. I wonder why so may people marched in the first and second marches and why they will march again on 10 December. Has the Government for one moment confronted the reality that those who marched were not the usual suspects, not the small numbers who we see on every march or the small numbers who protest about some specific issue? I do not share Deputy Higgins's talk of a risen people but this was middle Ireland in revolt as well as those who cannot afford to pay. It was a combination of those who can afford to pay and those who cannot. We should ask why this is happening. To me, it is because Irish Water symbolises what is so wrong in Ireland today and what is so wrong with this Government. It embraces so many wrongs and so many attitudes which people now resent that it has united unusual and unlikely forces against the Government and this measure.

The Taoiseach was right when he said this is not just about water: it is not. That attitude has been compounded. I was staggered when I heard the Minister talking this evening about his legacy. Honestly, I thought I was living on the funny farm when I heard that.

I am, and I am living in this bubble which the Government is creating.

Deputy Ross should ask the people of Tipperary.

A Deputy

It is Orwellian.

What is happening here is that we have a Minister, who has come to this House and who has only been in the House for a few weeks, talking about his legacy, which is a disaster of monumental proportions. Let us get on with talking about the people and not about him or his legacy.

What is Deputy Ross's solution?

Let us live in the world of the people. Nowhere is it more evident than in what the Minister said.

It is left down in Tipperary.


Let me quote from the Minister again. Let me further quote the Minister.

What is Deputy Ross's answer?

Deputy Ross has the floor.

The Minister said that the charging regime was not well understood by the public. That is the most condescending statement that I have heard in this House since I have come here. The public well understood these charges. The public resented the charges. They are in revolt not only against the charges but against the Government and its attitude.

What is Deputy Ross's solution?

The important point is that we realise that this symbol has been recognised by the Government in a humiliating retreat. No such retreat has been witnessed under any other Government, even a Fianna Fáil Government, in the past 20 years. These measures are unrecognisable from the Bill that the Government introduced in this House and then guillotined. That is the second thing the people are revolting against.

The Government voted for it too.

They are revolting against the fact that the Government has a complete contempt for parliamentary democracy. The Government showed that by guillotining the Bill, which was one of the most important measures introduced in this House. Then, for the Minister to come back to the House and try to say that we need not worry because the people did not understand the changes and that his legacy will in fact show that a great institution is being set up is not acceptable.

I regret deeply that people have taken this attitude but it is true. It was evident when the Minister said that he was going to appoint people of the highest calibre to the board of Irish Water.

Deputy Ross will not be on the board.

That would make a change because this Government has not appointed people of the highest calibre before. The people who started off - we have yet to see who the Government appoints - here were again the usual suspects on the board of Irish Water.

They were retirees.

Let us have a look at them without naming them. The chairman was listed as someone who has been on the board of virtually every semi-State quango going, but she was one of the usual suspects. It is so typical of the way this country is run. Her curriculum vitae in respect of her position on Bord Gáis and the parent company, Ervia, left out one interesting thing: she was on the board of Bank of Ireland at the time of the guarantee and the property bust. Will she be appointed again to the board of this particular body?

What did Deputy Ross say about Seánie?


Another person was appointed. I will not mention that name either.

What did Deputy Ross say about Seánie?

However, let me say this: someone was put on the board. I rang officials from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I asked them about the person in question on the board of Irish Water. They said they do not know anything about him. That was their answer. Further inquiries about this person have drawn a blank. This is someone who is on the board of Irish Water and who will, presumably, be removed or explained.

He has no legacy, has he?

Today, those in government are asking the people to trust them and to trust Irish Water. They will have a major difficulty in doing that because of the legacy of what has happened in the past year and a half.

We were told Irish Water would be partnered with Bord Gáis to save money, but it transpired subsequently that the amount to be spent in consultants' fees was known by the then Minister. From beginning to end, this has failed the test of trust. What we are seeing here today is the Government in a serious climb-down because of the game changer that was the 100,000 people on the street. Deputy Shane Ross was right that they were people who would not normally protest. There was no major media campaign in advance to let people know this large demonstration was to happen. It was organic. It happened mainly on social media where people swapped information.

I was on the demonstration and there was a sense of solidarity which I have not encountered in the four or five years since the country went into the bailout. People were asking why they had not done it before. They will look at today's motion as an introductory offer. They know the costs will rise, the State subvention will reduce and that borrowing costs will have to be met by the customers of Irish Water. They are not fools but are offended at being taken for them. They needed clarity and certainty not PR speak and they were certain that this was the straw that would break the camel's back.

I went into areas that would be regarded as well-off and I was astonished at the number of people who said it to me on doorsteps. I asked if they were going to go out and protest, but while most of them were not, they were offended by the debacle that was Irish Water and the fact that the Government would not listen when complaints were made throughout the year about the problems being encountered. It goes back to the PPS numbers issue, which I raised last January at committee level, and things like taking estates in charge. Even now, the Government is looking at the numbers and the Minister referred to short-term emotion and anger or long-term prudence and common sense. To refer to prudence gives the impression that there will be some money, but the Government is simply going to fund a major quango. I am not sure it will get through the EUROSTAT rules. I have quite a fear that in the same way we had the troika thrown back at us, if it does not get through those rules, we will be back here being told it was EUROSTAT that would not allow us to do it.

There is a vast hole in the numbers here. The local government fund was ring-fenced in 1997 to fund services, including water services, and it has been cleaned out. There was €999 million in that fund in 2009 and there is €110 million in the fund now. Just this year, €490 million was transferred to Irish Water. I am looking at where the Government is going to get the funds to fix the pipes. It is quite interesting when the Minister talks in his speech about the need for meters. In an ideal world, I would say there was some sense in them, but the Minister of State with responsibility for public enterprise said in 2011 that it made no sense to spend hundreds of millions of euro on metering a leaky system. There are different experiences nationally with leaky pipes. In my constituency, where there is a fairly modern housing stock, the leakage rate is not of the order of 40% but is in the low 20s. One must target the approach to leaks in areas where there are Victorian pipes. It does not require the installation of a meter at either end of a 100 year old pipe to determine that there is a prospect of a leak.

People are also offended by the metering programme and to which company the contract has been awarded. They question how the same names keep cropping up over and over again to get great benefits like the second mobile phone licence for example. Here we go now with a major metering programme putting us into a contractual arrangement which is, presumably, impossible to get out of.

This stinks to high heaven. There is no confidence in Irish Water and people do not want to be Irish Water customers. There is a real need to go back to the drawing board. There will be no acceptance of Irish Water and there will be a great many people on the streets on 10 December. I wonder what the Government will do then.

The Minister tells us he believes his package will be seen as fair and accepted by the majority of people. That is further proof of how completely out of touch the Government is. It really does not get it. People have gone way beyond the idea of tinkering with this toxic entity. The only thing that will satisfy the population at this stage is the abolition of water charges in their entirety, the recognition that water is a human right and a public service that should be funded from progressive central taxation and that the Irish Water entity is so ill-conceived that it can never work. The Government would do the taxpayer a favour by abandoning it now and refusing to throw good money after bad. If it does not, it will be its legacy and a monument to its arrogance.

It is a bit of a sick joke that things have got so ridiculous in the Government's statements that it tries to tell us we could make money out of it if we worked our water meters well. In any case, who would believe the Government anymore? It is comprised of the same people who told us in the last weeks and months that it had to have the PPS numbers to make the scheme work, but now tells us it does not. The levies had to be at the amounts being demanded by the CER, but now they do not. The Government told us it did not need to change the law to protect Irish Water from privatisation as it was there already, but now it is being changed. The Government's backflipping would be the envy of a professional acrobat. Everyone knows the only reason the Government is making these changes is the unprecedented people's movement. Everyone knows the Government's desperate efforts here are simply an attempt to hook people in to get the charge established. Once that happens, it will rise relentlessly. It is precisely for that reason that the Government will fail as people have made it clear that they cannot and will not pay. They are sick of managing and of getting up early in the morning to work longer and harder for years.

The Government's idea of dressing up this extortion as a means of improving the water infrastructure is insulting. The Tánaiste made the point last night that she was shocked to hear of raw sewage going into the sea. I was shocked that she was, as the dogs in the street know that to be the case. Why does the Government not fix it? One would think there had never been any investment in infrastructure in the State. There was and when it happened it worked well. The Government and its predecessor managed to slash investment in water infrastructure by 70% since 2008. Not only that, but capital programmes which were under way were axed when Irish Water came on the scene. Projects planned by local authorities were shelved and the Government has not put a single water butt onto a Government building not to mind dealing with anything else in terms of conservation. Instead, the Government has decided to continue to throw away hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers' money on the installation of water meters notwithstanding previous studies saying it was an uneconomic proposition in the context of revenue generation and despite the fact that the Government has abandoned it anyway by reverting to a flat charge whereby millionaires pay the same as those on social welfare.

The people know we have paid for our water supply already at €1.2 billion per annum. We are paying twice now through €700 million in property tax and pension funds which are being frittered away on Irish Water.

People have said they will not pay a third time or have the Government charge us a fourth time in repaying the borrowings. If the issue was one of infrastructure, why did the Government provide tax breaks in the recent budget for the top 17% of earners to the tune of €400 million when this measure would only yield €90 million?

That is a good point.

The Government has made a serious mistake today. As the Minister stated, this is an historic day. The Government had an opportunity to listen, take a step back and abolish water charges and Irish Water but did not take it. No one can govern against the will of the people. The Government has lost the mandate of citizens and its days are numbered. If the Taoiseach had any self-respect, he would call a general election and go to the people. We had to listen to him at the weekend waffle about democracy, aided and abetted by some of his friends in the media who tried to discredit a people's movement and insult people by claiming they had allowed themselves to be led by a sinister fringe. Where was the coverage of the 200 women in Coolock who protested peacefully outside the local Garda station last night? Those who are undermining democracy are not in communities but sitting on the benches opposite. The Government parties went to the people with the message that if they voted for the Labour Party, they would be saved from the Fine Gael Party's water charges, while Fine Gael stated that if people voted for it, the party would not introduce a charge, unless meters were installed. That is fraud, not democracy. The Government has betrayed the people and succeeded in awakening a sleeping giant. Now that people have woken up, they like it and will not go back into their box. The demonstration on 10 December will be enormous and the Government will not survive it, unless it cops on beforehand. If it tries to limp along after that date, it will find it will become impossible to collect the water charges in April 2015. I strongly suspect, however, that collection will not be the Government's problem because it will probably be gone by that point.

The arrogance of the Government is absolutely breathtaking. The contempt the Taoiseach and his Ministers have shown for the Dáil, Opposition Deputies and the hundreds of thousands of people we represent demonstrates that they have lost touch with the real world. The irony and hypocrisy of the Minister's announcement in introducing water charges will not be lost on the general public. During the most recent general election campaign the Minister and the Labour Party asked people in Tipperary North to vote for him to prevent the Fine Gael Party from imposing water charges. He stood on a Labour Party manifesto which opposed water charges. His party broadcast the so-called Tesco advertisement in which people were warned not to vote for Fine Gael because it wanted to introduce water charges. By introducing them, the Minister has done a U-turn and broken the promises and commitments he and his party made. This hypocrisy is undermining democracy.

Not to be outdone, the Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Joan Burton, contrary to commitments and promises made by her party, has presided over the destruction of the social welfare system. The child poverty rate stands at 28.6%, with 130,000 additional children living in poverty. Without doubt, these children have been affected by the savage cuts in child benefit introduced by the Tánaiste. Other cuts introduced by her include the abolition of the telephone allowance, reductions in the respite care grant, the free fuel scheme, electricity payments, maternity benefit and the one-parent family payment, as well as the abolition of the bereavement grant, and the list goes on.

Despite election promises, the Government is implementing the austerity policies of the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. It cannot be trusted and does not have a mandate for austerity or the introduction of water charges. The lie is being peddled that the public will not pay for water.

I am sorry, Deputy, but I must-----

The untruth being peddled is that the public will not pay for water.

The word "untruth" is more appropriate.

Members of the public continue to pay for water through general taxation. The proposed water charges amount to double taxation and an attempt to make hard-pressed families pay a second time. This revenue raising exercise which has nothing to do with conservation will not work. Today's announcements amount to political trickery to get water charges over the line and establish the principle of charging for water at any cost. Once water charges have been established, water will become a commodity and charges will increase to reflect the principle of full cost recovery under European Union law. The announcements are the thin end of the wedge. They are akin to a supermarket's use of a loss leader, the practice of casting out a sprat to catch a salmon or the trick used by the spider of inviting the fly to come into its parlour. Members of the public know that water charges are a trap and they will not be fooled. They also know that charges introduced at a low level will balloon into significant sums, as occurred after refuse and bin charges were introduced. I will tell a little story to illustrate my point. As a member of Clonmel Corporation when it introduced bin charges of £5 per annum, I opposed the measure on the basis that the charges represented the thin end of a wedge that would, in time, hit hard-pressed families very hard. I was ridiculed by the usual councillors from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. What happened subsequently? Bin charges now stand at more than €300 per annum, more than 30 times higher than the introductory rate; the waiver for low income families has been abolished and the refuse service privatised. That is what the future holds if we allow water charges to be introduced. Members of the public are aware of this and will not be sold a pup a second time after the Labour Party sold them one in the 2011 general election.

Families have had enough after six years of austerity. The hated water charge is the straw that broke the camel's back. Commitments to introduce legislation to prevent privatisation are nothing more than promises from a Government that cannot be trusted. Proposed legal changes to cap charges for a number of years, make it more difficult to privatise Irish Water or require a plebiscite before privatisation are completely bogus. As any Act can be repealed or amended by a simple majority of Deputies, such a proposal is pure deception. If the Government was sincere on this issue, it would agree to a constitutional amendment.

Members of the public know that only people power can defeat water charges and secure the status of water as a human right and public good. The most important task for the risen people is to turn out in large numbers for the national protest on 10 December. In County Tipperary they should support the march in Nenagh at 2 p.m. next Saturday which will start at the railway station and the march in Clonmel on the following Saturday - 29 November - which will start from the Main Guard.

The Deputy can afford to pay water charges.

Some weeks ago I promised that the Government would listen to people's genuine concerns about the impact and affordability of water charges. We also promised to bring clarity, certainty and predictability to the issue. That is what the Government has done in the decisions announced today by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

There is a recognition by all reasonable voices that the antiquated 19th century set-up we have for water services will not serve the needs of the country or children. For too long, difficult political choices were ignored and put off by previous Governments. The problems arising from an unreformed water network and under-investment can no longer be ignored. We cannot ignore the raw sewage that continues to flow into streams, rivers and harbours near 42 towns.

Why did the previous Minister, Mr. Hogan, ignore it and leave the country?

We will have one voice, without interruption.

The Acting Chairman should calm down.

We cannot allow 22,000 people to be stuck on boil water notices indefinitely.

We will not stand over a situation where water supplies for 945,000 people require urgent remedial attention. We cannot afford to lose into the ground nearly 50% of all treated water. We cannot threaten job creation and recovery by keeping the drinking water supply for the greater Dublin area on a knife edge. None of this is acceptable.

The old system, based around 34 different local authorities each trying to provide water services out of annual grants from central government, has failed our country. That is not because of any lack of dedication by local authority staff. It is because water planning stopped at county boundaries. There were no economies of scale.

That is not true.

He is making it up as he goes along.

Deputy, you will have an opportunity to speak. Please be silent and give the courtesy of free speech to everybody else.

The ability of local authorities to borrow for investment was severely restricted and investment decisions have been slow, bureaucratic and unco-ordinated. Every Deputy in the House knows that. Why should we continue with this? Would we try to plan and run our electricity and rail networks on a county basis? It seems that is what the Opposition wants.

Our population is increasing, our economy is now the fastest growing in the eurozone and our climate is changing. We have to change Ireland's public water supply system to meet these new and growing demands. There is no good time to take decisions that have a financial implication for households, least of all as we are emerging from one of the worst recessions this country has endured. The last recession was caused by economic mismanagement and by choosing the politically expedient over the difficult reform. As Taoiseach and head of Government, we have to take decisions in the long term interest of our country.

By 2030, the world is expected to have 40% more water demand than supply, which will be a critical problem for many countries. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are already the third global risk about which countries are most concerned. We have a responsibility to ensure that Ireland is not a victim of water deficit, by investing sustainably in our water system after decades of under-investment so that it is resilient enough to face the new demands. In today's announcement the Government is bringing clarity, certainty and predictability to the pricing regime that will apply to domestic water services.

We have listened carefully to the concerns of families and vulnerable people all over the country. I commend those who have done this in a peaceful and respectful manner. Their voices have been heard and listened to. Today we have outlined a comprehensive package that will provide long-term certainty for everyone. Single adult households will have a capped charge of €160, which will amount to an effective charge of €60 after registering with Irish Water to receive an annual water conversation grant of €100 from the Government. That is a cap of €1.25 per week. All other households will have a capped charge of €260, which will also amount to an effective charge of €160 once the annual water conversation grant is also taken into consideration. That is a cap of €3 per week.

It is important to note that this is a capped charge, not a flat charge. Water conservation is still central to this package of reform. There are real incentives for households to manage their water use. All households with a meter can still use their water carefully in order to reduce their bills even further. If metered households can reduce their water consumption by between 10% and 15%, then approximately half of Irish households will be able to beat the cap and have bills lower than the capped amounts set out. Even households without a meter today still have an incentive. If their metered use in the future shows less use than the capped charge they will be entitled to a rebate. Meters are also an essential tool in detecting leaks on the customer side. This represents 10% of the overall leaks nationwide. The first free fix scheme that will be rolled out by Irish Water will address these wasteful leaks. This will save money through treated water not being lost.

The capped charges will be in place until 2019. The volumetric charge of €3.70 per 1,000 litres remains low by European standards. Some parts of Britain pay as high as €6.63. People do not know what the price of gas or electricity will be in three years' time, but what they do know from today is the maximum bill for water for the next four years. People will rightfully ask what happens from 2019 onwards. This Government is determined that water charges will always remain affordable. That is why the Minister will legislate so that domestic charges from 2019 onwards can continue to be subject to caps and allowances set by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. That is to ensure that water will be always affordable for families.

There will be no change in charges until the metering programme is near completion and the public is confident that its contributions are being used widely by Irish Water to address the many defects in our network, and for those purposes only. Average charges will also continue to be kept low through reductions in operating costs by Irish Water. The regulator has instructed that there be a 7% reduction in operational costs to be delivered each year between now and the end of 2016, and €1 billion in revenue efficiencies by 2021. Irish Water will come forward in early 2015 with a plan in respect of those operating costs to significantly reduce headcount up to the end of 2018 by steadily eliminating the inefficiencies inherent in the current fragmented water system.

I understand the daily challenges being faced by low and middle income households across the country to make ends meet. This Government is determined that the economic recovery now under way is felt right across the country and in every household. That is why I can confirm today that this is the last new national charge to be introduced by this Government. I can also confirm that the combined budgetary measures, such as tax cuts, improvements in child benefit and the water conservation grant, will more than off-set water charges for every household in the country with somebody in full-time work.

As a result of the tax cuts announced in the budget by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, a single worker on the average wage of €35,000 will get tax cuts of €400 in 2015, almost seven times the net water bill of €60. A married couple with two children, earning €55,000 and €50,000, respectively, will be more than €1,040 better off next year after paying the maximum net water charge of €160. A single person on the minimum wage will get a tax cut of €173, almost three times the maximum net water charge for a single adult household. This is only the first instalment of a plan to progressively reduce the tax rate on low and average earners, because we can now afford to do so. I confirmed during my budget speech that the intention of the Government is for the tax rate on middle income families to be lowered further in budget 2016 to, at most, 50%. This is all possible because Ireland is now in recovery.

We have moved from a situation in 2011 where the very future of the economy was in doubt to one where we now are the fastest growing economy in Europe. We have created 70,000 new jobs since we launched our action plan for jobs and are on course to exceed our 100,000 new jobs target next year. An unemployment rate of 11% is unacceptable and that it why we must push on with our reforms to help create more jobs and investment. The Government is also hitting its deficit reduction targets, a prerequisite for jobs and investment.

I have not heard one constructive suggestion from anyone on the Opposition benches except the term "abolition." The alternative being offered by Opposition parties is to undo the progress we have made, increase taxes on income and employment and retain a broken and wasteful water system. They want less work and less investment, and more waste.

They thrive on fear and misinformation. They only offer protest, slogans and dead ends; they are not offering solutions to the complex problems facing society and the economy.


It is very clear that there is no planning.

Please refrain from interrupting. The Deputy will get his opportunity to speak. This is not the parish pump. Will he, please, allow the Taoiseach to speak?

It is with the Deputy in the Chair.

Empty vessels make most noise.

The Chair is in total command.

As I said, they only offer protest, slogans and dead ends; they do not offer solutions to the complex problems facing society and the economy. When the country sees the benefit of these reforms and the debate moves to the next challenge, they will abandon those vulnerable households and householders whom they have encouraged to break the law. They have no alternative to the requirement for Irish Water and the programme of restoration and investment it is necessary to implement.

In contrast, government is about finding solutions and making decisions to implement these solutions. We are driven by the need to reshape the country to safeguard the future for children. In that context, we stand over fully the decision to create a single water utility. A single centre of expertise to manage the national water network is already beginning to deliver benefits. The utility has adopted a new approach towards asset management and capital project planning. This is evident in the targeted €170 million saving through the proposed Ringsend wastewater treatment plant upgrade as an alternative to plant extension. This amount is equivalent to the cost of the establishment of Irish Water and has been saved in one strategic decision by the utility. We have also witnessed the saving of €100,000 per month through the restructuring of the upgrading contract for the major treatment works required in Galway city which are under way. This has happened because the utility is taking a national approach to all water assets. This is best practice in asset management and points to the company's new and modern approach. This would have been very hard to achieve under the disparate, local authority managed public water system.

The centralisation of procurement is also delivering new efficiencies that were never achieved under the old system of 34 water service authorities. Some €12 million has already been saved on goods and services procurement in the first year alone.

There has been a focus on improving water quality, a focus people living in certain parts of the country such as Roscommon would like to have seen years ago. By the end of the year, as a result of Irish Water investment, boil water notices will have been removed for the first time in 12 years in many parts of County Roscommon.

That has nothing to do with Irish Water.

The people living in these areas will, no doubt, appreciate the improvement to their lives.

In addition, almost 21,500 people are using drinking water supplies that are no longer deemed to be at risk through the Environmental Protection Agency's remedial action list.

Irish Water has outlined a €1.8 billion capital investment programme to improve water services nationwide. In the interests of transparency and accountability, a new public forum, drawing from households and businesses, will be established to engage with Irish Water on matters such as priorities for investment and service standards. I believe the people liked the concept behind the Constitutional Convention and that they liked the method of selecting a gender balanced group from different categories and regions. Therefore, we intend to have a people's forum - 60 people - that will have responsibility and authority to engage with Irish Water on a regular basis on its investment programme in order that people will see that the contributions made for the domestic water supply go to where they were intended to go. I believe the people will respond to this initiative in the interests of Irish Water being seen to be responsible to the people for their supply.

In undertaking a reform of this scale and ambition, I recognise and acknowledge that the Government has made mistakes along the way and regret the unnecessary fear caused regarding the scale of charges because of the misinformation and confusion being bandied about. However, establishing Irish Water has not been a mistake. I recognise that, as a new utility in charge of a vital natural resource, it faces huge challenges to build public trust in its operations. It knows and accepts that challenge and I believe it is up to the challenge and will prove this in the period ahead. By the end of the first phase of its operations, by 2018, I want to see Irish Water accepted as the trusted guardian of our vital water supplies for the benefit of every citizen in the State. This can be achieved by delivering for the people, delivering better supplies into people's homes, not having raw sewage enter our precious rivers and lakes and providing a consistent and high quality service for industries reliant on water. These will be the criteria on which the success of Irish Water will be judged. The coming years will see the transformation of water services and, in time, Irish Water.

Today's announcement is a major milestone in delivering on our reform programme. After decades of inaction, the Government was elected on a strong platform of radically changing how we managed the economy, public institutions and our natural resources. This is what that reform looks like. From local government to welfare and work activation, the financial sector, the national finances, bankruptcy laws, supports for small business, further education, the junior certificate, health services, freedom of information, the Haddington Road agreement, the political system and child protection, the Government has introduced more radical reforms in a little over three years than the past three Governments. Change can be difficult for many, especially when faced with uncertainty. I hope the Government announcement today on the scale and scope of the water charges will address many of the fears and concerns people have had about these reforms. I know that the announcement will bring both relief and certainty to the majority of people who wish to contribute to the continued development of the country. We can now move on and continue the work to secure the nation's recovery and make Ireland a better place for families, children and our way of life. I commend the motion to the House

Today marks a fresh start for Ervia-Irish Water. This new beginning has been made possible through the viable and tangible economic recovery under way. This is a welcome turnaround in a little over three and a half years. From despair that could have ground us down, we have moved to the cautious but realistic hope of a future rooted in shared prosperity. This has been achieved through the resilience of the people whose sacrifices made the recovery possible.

Speaking of the United States in 1932, before he became President and in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said:

The country needs, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. Take a method and try it. If it fails admit it frankly and try another.

Yes, in fixing the country we have made some mistakes along the way. I have no problem in admitting this. At times we have been accused of not listening. However, I believe the country is in a much better place because of the work we have done. Today we have listened and delivered. We have listened to concerns and frustrations expressed about Irish Water and delivered a new charging structure that is affordable and provides certainty and clarity about what people will have to pay.

The Government has never walked away from any challenge that has confronted it, yet we have endured perhaps the biggest set of challenges facing any Government in the history of the State. That task has required us at all times to be level-headed. We have had to balance economic demands with the maintenance of social cohesion. We have had to broaden the tax base, while ensuring low and middle income families are not squeezed further. We started that process of reform in the budget and will continue with it.

We have had to get businesses back on their feet while continuing to invest in vital services.

A modern economy needs an infrastructure that provides clean water in sufficient quantity for homes and businesses. Security and quality of water supply and sewage services are essential to economic growth. To see why, we only have to consider the impact on businesses in Dublin this time last year when there was a water shortage, or the fact that multinationals based in Ireland have stressed the need for a reliable water supply to facilitate production. Last week, we had a great announcement on the north and west side of Dublin of 1,000 construction jobs at a new state-of-the-art biological medical facility, which will be one of the most advanced in the world. That is Irish success. That is what all of our people have done. That is what we, as a Government, have helped to deliver. Multinationals in Ireland need to have reliable water for the tens of thousands of people who are finding employment, not to mention our own local industries, businesses and entrepreneurs.

Simply put, our water pipes, sewers and treatment plants must work as efficiently and productively as our fibre-optic networks, data centres and power plants. Instead, much of Ireland’s water network dates from Victorian times, and we have seen problems across the country with supply, such as boil-water notices in several counties. This is the result of chronic under-investment in water infrastructure over many years, and people have to understand that.

The Tánaiste was in government.

It is therefore essential that we provide for enhanced investment in the network and encourage conservation of a precious resource. I believe many on the Opposition side want clean water, but we cannot have that without investment.

This is a critical point which I want to make seriously. I know many of the Members present have listened and debated, and I have listened to them as well. Rather than have water services compete with other demands on public funds such as school buildings, hospital beds and broadband networks, the Government established Irish Water as a self-funding body that is separate from the State’s needs. Instead of being in the queue for the annual budgetary allocation, Irish Water will be able to focus on investing for the long term - the next five, 20 and 50 years that are the standard time horizon for a provider of essential services. We have set up a system that will ring-fence water investment by enabling access to capital funds separate from the State’s own needs. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the investment needs of the ESB or Bord Gáis depended entirely on the public capital programme and were in competition with all the other demands made on the State? We want to get both. We want a public capital programme and we want an investment programme for the ESB, Bord Gáis and our desperately needed water infrastructure. The position of those on the Opposition benches who talk about funding water investment and everything else via general taxation means that those vital areas would have to compete with each other and, potentially, our schools, hospitals and other infrastructure would lose out. I do not believe that is what the Opposition wants, which is why this debate is so important. We have to settle, as a country and as a people, on a mechanism for effective investment that delivers the infrastructure at the best possible cost to everyone who lives in this country. Irish Water is the only mechanism that can deliver access to funds in a way that is independent of the State itself. It is just foolish to assert that general taxation can be the mechanism that secures these funds and everything else, despite much-shared agreement on the Opposition benches that this is what we need. It could happen, of course, but it would only be at the price of diverting funds from other priorities.

We are to have water charges for this one single reason: to allow us to invest in upgrading a ramshackle system that remains entirely unfit for purpose despite the best, but inadequate, efforts of previous Governments. Water charges are an investment in a cleaner environment, which will underpin our attraction to tourists and our agricultural base. They are an economic investment, vital to attracting continuing local and foreign investment. They are a vital ingredient to secure a better quality of life for every family.

Over the next ten years, we simply have to fund a programme that will cost at least €600 million a year, even to keep the current set-up in operation. The alternative is that the ugly sight we saw on last night’s television news of raw sewage polluting our precious rivers at 42 different locations, and the horrific situation that the people of Roscommon have had to endure, would spread right across the nation. The alternative would also involve widespread shortages for up to 1 million customers in the greater Dublin region, where current supply is precarious, to say the least.

We want to attract environmentally conscious tourists. We want to export food with a high-quality, green Ireland brand image. We want to attract industries that are able to access the quantities of water they need. All of this means sustained investment in our water production and sewage and effluent systems. Commercial water charges are part of that, and now we are seeking to establish a modest, affordable and capped domestic charge that will gradually be based on metered usage under the control of the consumer. Since I had the honour to become the leader of the Labour Party, in response to the many questions I have been asked, I have laid out this approach repeatedly. I am delighted to be able to say that due to the work of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, we have set out fair, capped, affordable charges that are set at a modest level, and there is now absolute clarity and certainty about the charges. The scaremongering on the issue from some in the Opposition will finally be seen for what it is. The new charging system is modest and affordable, as I pledged in this House in recent weeks. A single-adult household will pay €160 a year and qualify for a €100 payment in the shape of a water conservation grant from the Department of Social Protection. In other words, the net bill for a single-adult household will be just €60 a year, or approximately €1.15 a week. All other households will pay €260 a year and qualify for the same €100 water support payment. This means their net bill will be €160 a year, or approximately €3 a week. These capped charges are being introduced until the end of 2018 and the legislation being introduced will provide that a further cap, which will be equally affordable, will be introduced from 2019 on. Therefore, it is €1.15 a week for a single-adult household and a little over €3 a week for all other households. In addition, charging will not begin until January, to allow Irish Water and the Irish people sufficient time to complete the registration process. This means that no householder will see a bill before April, and when they do, that bill will be modest and affordable.

By that time, the various budgetary changes we announced last month will have taken effect.

These budgetary changes, which will be in people's salaries from January and February and their social welfare payments from December, will see a single worker on average earnings gain almost €8 per week. This will mean that Irish families will still be better off next year even when the water charges take effect. This revised pricing structure ensures certainty, simplicity and affordability. It also allows sufficient time for Irish Water to bed down as a utility, secure future investment, fully roll out metering and demonstrate that, over time, the meter can be one's friend, because we are not walking away from the core principle behind this new system - the need to conserve water. On their bills, householders will also see what their metered usage is and, if it is less than what they are paying in capped charges, they will be able to qualify for an annual rebate, so there will be a clear incentive to conserve. Denmark, for example, witnessed a 12.6% reduction in household water consumption between 1996 and 2007 following the introduction of meters and volumetric charging. Once householders see that the meter can be their ally in further reducing bills, I believe the current opposition to metering in some parts of the country will decrease.

The Department of Social Protection will be administering the water conservation grant of €100. As has been said, because of these changes, PPS numbers will no longer be required by Irish Water. Under the supervision of the Data Protection Commissioner, the PPS numbers held by Irish Water in respect of those who have already registered with and provided their details to the company will be deleted. Once again, this demonstrates that the Government has listened to those concerns and addressed them. The water conservation grant will ensure that net bills are affordable for all households. However, I am keenly aware that people also need easy payment systems. Following discussions with the Government, Irish Water will ensure that an easy-pay option is available so that customers can make part payments of as little as €5 any time they wish. Retired people and pensioners in particular have asked me about this and I am glad to say this will be the case. A full range of flexible payment options will be available, including through local post offices.

We are also addressing another concern. We are ensuring that Irish Water cannot be privatised at some future point. Any future attempt to do so would require a referendum in which the people would have their say. This bar is set so high that any reasonable person will see there is absolutely no question of Irish Water ever being privatised, nor was there to begin with. However, I accept that people want assurance on that point. When this country was on its knees and in desperate need of cash, disposing of the family silver would have been a way of raising funds. When Fianna Fáil was subject to the troika pressure, it listed a lot of those things in its plans. Happily, because of the way we managed this process, the number of things we had to do was significantly reduced. The electricity and gas networks have remained in State ownership. That was an issue.

That was always going to be the case.

Look at the list and read it back.

Do not talk nonsense.

I know Deputy Martin did not read many documents. He should read it back. I hope all the changes we have made will alleviate the concerns of the many thousands of people who marched peacefully and legitimately in recent weeks in cities and towns across the country. Their peaceful and dignified manner contrasts with the behaviour of some of the ringleaders of the protests to which I and other Labour Party and Fine Gael colleagues have been subjected in recent times. They are ringleaders who masquerade with a ballot box in one hand and a megaphone in the other and who have no interest in solutions, only in fomenting despair and discontent. Their principal ambition seems to be to turn us into Greece. They are ringleaders who incite and whip things up and then, like cowards, put their megaphones back in the boot of the car and drive away. They run away. What kind of leadership is that?

When I became Labour Party leader and Tánaiste, I said we would govern with head and heart in equal balance - listening to the people and doing the best for this country. I believe the revised package of water reforms announced today by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, does exactly that - listening and acting in the best interests of the people and the State.

In the time available to me, I will refer to something Deputy Cowen said earlier. Great public projects, both in Ireland and internationally, rarely follow a smooth path, and Irish Water is no exception. Deputy Cowen spoke about the motorways. For years, the Fianna Fáil motorway programme was plagued by whopping cost overruns and mismanagement that at times threatened to derail the entire enterprise. Eventually, better project management through a national structure rather than a local county-based one greatly improved the situation. The main motorways are of great economic benefit to the country, but one needs vision to see through a serious investment programme to address a serious problem in the country. Today, we have adjusted the system to improve efficiency and long-term clarity. It is Irish Water mark two, and I have no doubt there will be further adjustments when we get the results of large-scale meter readings in the period up to 2018, when the measures announced today will come up for review. The important thing is the goal we have set of sustained investment, a secure supply at a reasonable cost, clean rivers and a water system that is fit for the times we live in. It is so sad to read about the towns that suffer with raw sewage, including Cobh, Passage West, Ringaskiddy, Youghal, Killybegs and Arklow. A total of 42 smaller towns are affected, including Kilkee, Kilrush, Rush, Spiddal, Duncannon and Dunmore East.

In two years time, we will proudly commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the spark that ultimately gave this nation its freedom. We will listen to the criticisms and alternatives that the Opposition will offer. However, getting behind a really solid investment programme in water of the kind we have outlined today is a fitting memorial. Although it was the second city of the British Empire, Dublin in 1916 had an appalling infrastructure and appalling poverty and death. Today we have, comparatively, a very poor national water infrastructure. We must act to fix it. I invite the people in the Opposition to look at our proposals and see what they will deliver to families, communities and the country as a whole.

For the tenth time we are looking at Government proposals on this issue, so we have been looking at them time and again. For over six months the Government has been saying it understands the scale of public anger about Irish Water and water charges. There have been near-constant meetings of the Cabinet and Cabinet sub-committees to find a way off the hook. This issue was central to a budget announced a little over a month ago. After large-scale demonstrations throughout the country, there have been emergency meetings and there has been a desperate scramble to rescue Irish Water. This is not about Irish Water mark two. It is a desperate scramble to rescue the Government from the mess it created.

Yet for all of this, the crisis will continue, because the Government will still not acknowledge that its entire water policy is a shambles and should be scrapped.

This will not be the final announcement, because it leaves in place a policy that wastes large amounts of public money, is inefficient and obliges people to pay for unacceptably poor services and poor water quality. George Orwell's Animal Farm is on the junior certificate syllabus for 2015. His spirit is alive and well in the Orwellian language used by Government spokespersons, including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Ministers. Standing back from the politics, I have never witnessed such a complex payment method in all my life. Irish Water sends a bill for €260 while the Department of Social Protection sends a cheque for €100. The Government calls this a water conservation bill, which is as Orwellian as it gets. It is incredible.

What is the Deputy's suggestion?

I would scrap the whole thing. It is being done for the sake of €100 million. Nobody has ever witnessed this before. On the one hand, a bill will issue for €260, and on the other, a water conservation cheque worth €100 will be sent. It is risible.

Fianna Fáil wanted to charge €400.

Less than a year ago the Government was pushing through legislation with claims that it would herald a new and positive era for water services. The speeches we are now hearing were last heard a year ago. Speaker after speaker from the Government benches hailed their visionary leadership and claimed that everything would be transparent and fair and earn public confidence. Instead, however, they sapped confidence. After the latest of a dozen U-turns and a massive climb-down, we are still left with charges for a flawed service and an expensive, unnecessary and arrogant bureaucracy. We have the absurd situation whereby €500 million is to be spent on installing meters which no longer have a purpose. I ask the Government to stop using the fig leaf it introduced today. This is a scandalous waste of money. I challenge the Taoiseach to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to report on the establishment costs of Irish Water and investigate the awarding of contracts and the whole idea of installing water meters without carrying out due diligence in advance. This a very serious issue, given that €500 million will not be used. Do not bluff us with the €60 charge or the claim that someone will save something under that amount.

It will be used.

It is a very serious issue.

Fianna Fáil spent over €100 million on PPARS.

No amount of camouflage will take away from the reality that €500 million is being spent on contracts that we cannot escape. There is no transparency around this, because commercial sensitivity is being used as a cover. If the Government is serious about transparency, can we see the amount for which it is on the hook in regard to water meter contracts? The charge is capped until 2019.

What about your €64 billion?

That is no answer to this issue.

Change the script.

It is no answer to the fundamental point I am making about €500 million. We are also paying for the construction of a billing infrastructure which is not needed. We have a regulator that will not be regulating. What was the role of the regulator in all of this over the last month? The regulator was not even mentioned in the newest iteration. The charge on which the Government continues to obstinately insist will bring in a paltry amount at the maximum possible cost. It will spend a fortune to bring in negligible revenue. At less than 0.3% of the general Government budget deficit, it shows an almost perverse insistence on maintaining a policy which not only has no public legitimacy but will also continue to cause serious damage. The net effect of the latest Government policy will be the diversion of scarce resources from vital public services in order to fund Irish Water’s work.

The only credible policy is to call a halt to Irish Water and scrap the charges in order to stop the damage now, rather than wait for the inevitable final climb-down next year. Today was supposed to be about drawing a line under the issue; all it has done is keep it going. From the very beginning the Government has tried to claim there was no alternative to this policy. It said it was the only way to get essential funding and to improve services. That was false when the policy was announced and it has been proven false to the extent that even the former Fine Gael Minister of State with responsibility for this policy has described it as an unmitigated disaster. Has any member of the Government met Deputy O'Dowd to discuss this? Did the current Minister, Deputy Kelly, meet him? Was he asked to elaborate on why he believes the policy was an unmitigated disaster?

This is no accidental shambles. It is not an unexpected policy error. The establishment of Irish Water and everything it has done was set out by Fine Gael before the general election. It is one of the longest established and most detailed parts of Fine Gael policy and it was incorporated in full in the programme for Government in spite of the Labour Party’s pre-election promise to veto it. The Tánaiste neglected to mention the Tesco advertisement or the clear promise that her party would stop Fine Gael from doing this. That promise evaporated within a day of the election. There was nothing in the troika agreement that obliged the Government to proceed as it has done, and in any case it is now over a year since the Government began its three-month celebration of the conclusion of that agreement.

The scale and intensity of public resistance to Irish Water and these charges has been clear since Deputy Barry Cowen began forcing the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Irish Water to answer specific questions about their work. What was supposed to be a low-cost, highly effective entity was exposed as a highly wasteful and ineffective bureaucracy offering indecent bonuses and focused primarily on creating an infrastructure for charging people for water rather than delivering clean and reliable water supplies. The particular intensity of the reaction is not solely because of the charges or the waste at Irish Water; it is because of the cumulative impact of Government policy. As every independent study has confirmed, the only decisive shift in policy when Fine Gael and the Labour Party came to office was that their budgets were significantly more unfair and regressive. From day one their policy has been to place a larger burden on those on middle and lower incomes. The one consistent part of their policy has been to ignore the ability of people to pay when introducing or extending taxes and charges. This was combined with non-stop spin about how, contrary to the evidence, people should thank them for being fair and visionary. That is why the water charges became the last straw. An unfair and wasteful policy was constantly sold as progressive and visionary. Of course people were going to be alienated and they were not going to stand for it. The protest of people was seen in their votes in the local elections and has been unmistakable since then.

Even though some candidates and parties have tried to exploit the issue, there is a genuine, widespread and entirely legitimate public opposition to this policy. The aggressive behaviour seen on some protests in the past week does not reflect the broad mass of the public. There are some who cynically want to be in democratic assemblies while at the same time pretending to be outside them. Members elected to this House do not need a bullhorn to be heard. However, the behaviour of the Minister, Deputy Kelly, undermines the legitimacy of this Parliament and, unfortunately, the legitimacy of the point I am making. If the Minister and the Government treat the House with contempt, they give fuel to the argument that people are better off protesting outside. I hope the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste will take that on board. There is nothing peaceful about trapping someone in her car for two hours. There is nothing democratic or legitimate about harassing public officials as they carry out their public duties. In this country there are more than enough opportunities for people to have their voices heard without resorting to aggression. Nobody who participated in any of the actions which have rightly been deplored can say there was no alternative. If certain political parties were genuinely sincere about supporting the public’s outrage on this issue rather than trying to exploit it for their own ends, they would allow local voices and people who are members of no party to be heard more, rather than looking for opportunities to promote their own candidates.

At the core of this shambles of a policy is Fine Gael’s NewERA policy, which was first launched in 2009. This policy introduced the idea of placing services into commercial holding companies and funding investment through a combination of charges and the sale of State assets. As we have seen in relation to gas supplies and our forests, a creeping privatisation agenda has been implemented from the Government’s first days in office.

There has been no recognition that, for a small and peripheral country such as Ireland, the impact of commercial monopolies in public services could prove disastrous in terms of both costs and services. There has been a refusal to commit to the long-term future of maintaining State assets. As it stands, there is no investment case for Irish Water. There is no water quality case for Irish Water. There is no fairness case for Irish Water. All we have is a wasteful and damaging quango which should be abolished before it does more damage and wastes more public funds.

It is obvious that there has been a consistent policy of giving Bord Gáis preferential treatment in this matter. The only independent review of policy the Government allowed, which was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, explicitly recommended against attaching Irish Water to Bord Gáis. The review found that such an approach would be wasteful and inefficient and set out 17 disadvantages of proceeding as planned. The Government chose to proceed anyway. We also know that the Government worked to withhold for as long as possible details of the costs associated with Irish Water and excluded other potential operators without detailed consideration. Why was the Fine Gael Party, in particular, so eager to put Irish Water under the control of Bord Gáis? Why did it move so quickly to do so and why has it spent so much time defending its decisions? The Irish people are owed an explanation of where the ideas for the NewERA approach came from and what discussions were held by Fine Gael with Bord Gáis before and after the general election. With whom did the former Minister, Phil Hogan, consult before drawing up this particular proposal? I would like answers to those questions. Our system of water supply needs investment; nobody is questioning that. However, it is absolutely untrue to say there was no investment in the past and that there can, moreover, be no investment without first establishing Irish Water and introducing charges. As Deputy Barry Cowen pointed out, more than €5 billion was invested in water services between 2000 and 2010, bringing substantial improvements in our water supply system and to wastewater treatment plants across the country. That should be acknowledged. Reference was made to the 1,000 jobs being created by Bristol-Myers Squibb. That company would not establish a pharmaceutical plant here if it did not have confidence in our public water utility system. The same is true of the various pharmaceutical plants that set up here in the past decade. I know this because I was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment for some of that period. The reliability of water services never featured as a negative for any company looking to set up here. Let us have balance and perspective in this debate instead of the Government's attempts to over-egg the pudding and rescue itself from the mess it has created.

From day one we have pointed out that a policy of "Fix it first" was the only way to proceed. This is truer now than ever. The case for Irish Water falls apart when one considers that most of the planned improvement work for the water network is to be undertaken by the existing structures. Under the current plans, it is the water services staff of local authorities who will deliver the improved service that has been promised. Irish Water's principal activity is the construction of a method for metering and billing, and its only significant contracts and investments relate to that function. Irish Water in itself will do nothing at all to improve water quality and supply. The proposals in regard to the situation in Roscommon are another fig leaf, as measures were already in train before Irish Water was even established. In fact, Irish Water will divert significant public funding from other services.

There was a time when the Government intended to raise €300 million per year in charges and take €500 million to €600 million off the general Government balance and general Government debt. It was argued that this would free up money for other services, but that is no longer the case. While the formal decision on how the debts of Irish Water are treated will be made by EUROSTAT next March, today's announcement raises questions as to whether the accounting exercise trick being deployed will actually work. EUROSTAT needs to cop on and the Government needs to cop on, because they are fooling nobody with this type of stuff. What we are talking about here is the Irish people's debt. It is a bit like what happened when research and development was magically reclassified by EUROSTAT and, lo and behold, the deficit was reduced by €2 billion, just like that. That type of thing undermines confidence in official statistics, and the type of accountancy trick we are seeing here is in the same genre. If we want people to have faith and confidence in European institutions and how we do our business, we must sort this out. Nobody is fooled by the reality behind these figures. If the investment remains and the charge remains capped, the shortfall will have to come from somewhere. It will have to come from Government funding and, therefore, it will be accounted for in the normal public finances. That means money coming from other services. A backfiring accountancy trick is nothing new from a Government that refuses to do even basic long-term planning.

One of the most appalling aspects of this shambles is that huge public funding will continue to flow into the programme of water meter installations even though there is no need for those meters. Contracts for €500 million have been signed. Given the scale of investment needs in our economy, is it not close to obscene that the installation of meters will eat up funding that should be going into improving vital services? Nobody on the Government side has addressed that question in any shape or form. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, spoke about legacy. It may well be that the legacy emanating from today's announcements will be €500 million wasted and no measurable benefit whatsoever for anybody. Today's package has been put together in a panic and will not last. It leaves in place charges for a failing service and entrenches the position of Irish Water. Instead of putting in place the most complex system of charging for water ever invented for the sake of a paltry amount which will be collected at great cost, the proposals should be scrapped and the Government should go back to the drawing board. Irish Water should be scrapped immediately. It has no substantive role to play and is fatally defined by the arrogance and hubris of those who established it. We do not need a company like this. It is not required to improve services and increase efficiencies. Its primary purpose was always to make it fit for privatisation. Fine Gael and the Labour Party were wrong to establish it and Sinn Féin was wrong last September when it called for it to be retained. Given the latter party's obsession with what Deputy Gerry Adams calls "electoralism", it is no surprise to see that its policy has changed, just as Deputy Adams changed his own position in regard to whether and where he would pay the charge. As my party has pointed out, the alternative is to establish a different type of public utility. We have had successes in this regard, such as with the National Roads Authority. That type of utility format accommodates greater regional co-ordination and investment and helps to avoid the commercial mentality that has given us the bloated bonus culture and the focus on billing that we have seen at Irish Water. This Government refused to listen to the Opposition on 19 December last year when the Water Services Bill was rammed through the House in less than four hours. The Government refused any amendments and even refused to listen to the concerns and worries of its own backbenchers. It is now reaping the rewards of that bull-headedness and arrogance. We have seen a massive climb-down by the Government today, within 11 months of its Bill being voted through the Dáil by those same backbenchers. What is proposed is a masterpiece in failure. The pause button should be pressed before any more taxpayers' money is wasted. The Government has yet to explain what incentives will be available to encourage people to conserve water or how much they will invest in infrastructure. We have had no detail on any of this for more than 12 months. All we have had is the Taoiseach bandying about figures of €10 billion and €20 billion.

I gave the figures that came from the regulator.

Ministers prefer to pick tens of billions out of the sky without giving any specific information about what is needed or what will be spent. The Government has to wait until next March before being told whether it can borrow off-balance-sheet, which we are still being told is the main reason for setting up Irish Water in the first place. At the same time, we continue to pay back interest of €20 million on the €500 million borrowed to install the meters that are not now required. It is not just the sum borrowed that we have to consider but also the interest payable and so forth.

"And so forth". That says it all about the Deputy's attitude to a key investment.

The Tánaiste is one to talk about attitude.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, was right in his assessment of the situation. Does the Tánaiste wish to interrupt me and comment on that?

I ask Deputy Martin to conclude as his time is up.

Deputy O'Dowd described the setting up of Irish Water as an "unmitigated disaster". Unless the Government stops all of this now, we will have more of the same into the future.

Ná déanfaimis dearmad gur tharla an méid seo inniu mar gheall ar na mílte daoine a léirigh a dtoil go soiléir ar na sráideanna agus i measc an phobail. Today has come about through the will of the people. Their demand has been very clear; namely, that this additional water charge be scrapped. Today is not about the Government having a road-to-Damascus conversion. It is not about the Government being part of a genuine democratic revolution.

It is not about the Government trying to provide relief from the water tax for hard-pressed households. Today’s proposals are about giving the Government a lifeline, not relieving the pressure on those who cannot pay water charges. During the past weeks, the Government has built up today’s announcement. It engaged in a PR offensive in a desperate attempt to cling to seats in the next election. This is a tactical U-turn by a Government which has made U-turning part of its modus operandi. Although citizens can take strength from the fact that we have turned the Government, we know it still has some distance to go.

Even today, despite all the Government’s preparatory work and two Cabinet meetings, it has made a mess of the debate. For months the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have refused to answer straightforward questions, and they rationalised this by saying there would be a full debate. However, again, the Government’s arrogance kicked in. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste left, as did the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, after he had made his speech and before the Opposition had the opportunity to respond. It took the withdrawal of the Opposition to get the Minister to return and participate in the debate. After all the hype, it is clear from the Government’s announcement today that it has not scrapped water charges. The water metering programme will continue, metered charges will come in, and there is still no constitutional right to water. Households that fail to register with Irish Water will receive a default bill of €260 per annum per dwelling. Such households will not be entitled to the €100 water conservation grant.

The water conservation grant is vintage stroke politics: dodgy accountancy allied to the politics of carrot-and-stick, comprising a bill on the one hand and a rebate on the other. What kind of economics is it? It will not be operational until some time after September 2015. Legislation will be introduced allowing landlords to deduct water charges from their tenants' deposits. There will be a statutory charge on a dwelling in respect of unpaid water charges. There will be penalties for those who do not pay after a year. A single-adult household will face a €30 penalty and other households €60. Although the Taoiseach said the capped charge would be in place until 2018, he knows that once water charges are in place, they will only increase. This has been the history of all these charges. Sorry, Tánaiste-----

Sorry, Deputy Adams; I was looking at my notes.

Dúirt an Tánaiste go raibh sí ag éisteacht. Ba chóir don Tánaiste agus don Taoiseach a bheith ina dtost, lena dtoil.

Táimíd ag éisteacht.

Níl sibh ag éisteacht.

Agus táimid ag fanacht le féachaint an bhfuil moladh ag an Teachta.

Tá a fhios agam nach raibh sibh ag éisteacht, agus sin í an fhadhb leis an Rialtas. Tá siad ag caint, ach níl siad ag éisteacht ar chor ar bith.

Bhíomar ag caint mar gheall ar na rudaí atá á rá ag an Teachta.

The Government had the opportunity to get rid of water charges. Sinn Féin has shown how it can be done and paid for. The Government has refused to get rid of water charges, and this is why we need the maximum possible turnout and protest against water charges on 10 December: to deliver the message once and for all that water charges must be scrapped. Today’s exercise is an attempt to quell the unprecedented levels of protest the Government has faced. It shows that people power, peaceful demonstration and mass mobilisation are working. It also shows that the Right2Water protest campaign must continue.

Although the Government said it has been listening to the people who are opposed to water charges, had it really been listening, it would know that people were not asking for a package to sweeten the deal, but for the charges to be scrapped. Dúirt an tAire, an Teachta Kelly, nár thuig an pobal i gceart. Sin bolscaireacht. Dúirt sé nár thuig an pobal córas na dtáillí i gceart agus go raibh an pobal mar amadán. Sin agaibh é. This patronising drivel, which is repeated in the legislation, shows the Government’s attitude to citizens. The Government claims the public does not understand the charging regime. How stupid are the people? The people understand the charging regime; it is the Government that does not understand the people. From the outset, the Government’s establishment of Irish Water and efforts to impose domestic water charges have been a fiasco.

This was a Fianna Fáil idea, agreed between that party and the troika. I listened very intently to the Tánaiste's earlier remarks defending, promoting and arguing for the water charges. She neglected to explain how, during the 2011 general election campaign, the introduction of water charges was one of Fine Gael’s six key policy areas that the Labour Party said it would not allow to be brought in. It featured prominently in the party’s famous Tesco-style advertisement with the slogan, “Every little hurts!” Could the Tánaiste not have taken a moment or two to explain her U-turn on the issue? Deputy Martin was correct in stating that the new Government, led by the current Taoiseach, did not have to implement the deal done by Fianna Fáil and the troika. However, not only did the Government implement the deal, it rushed it through the Dáil and ignored Opposition amendments. Deputy Stanley proposed dozens of amendments, of which the Government did not accept even one. That is arrogance. Just before Christmas, the Government caused an unprecedented walk-out by all the Opposition Deputies, and this was repeated today.

The Deputy's party caused a sit-in.

All the Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies voted for the legislation the Government has introduced and which it has hollowed out. Will they march through the lobbies again later today voting for exactly the same thing? All the fine, self-congratulatory praise the Government heaped upon itself was echoed in the debate just before Christmas. The whole Irish Water saga has been marked by a series of debacles. It took the appearance of the CEO of Irish Water, John Tierney, on a radio show - I think it was “Today with Sean O’Rourke” - to acknowledge that €50 million of the establishment costs of Irish Water had gone into the pockets of consultants. That information was never divulged here. So much for political reform, transparency and accountability. Later, it emerged that the real figure was €86 million. The entire fiasco has been a waste of public money, taxpayers' money, Paddy's money, the money belonging to the people.

Let us hear the Deputy's solution.

Mr. Tierney subsequently revealed to the Committee of Public Accounts that Irish Water staff had received bonuses of up to 10% of their salaries. Last weekend, it was revealed that some staff would qualify for bonuses of up to 19% of their salaries. The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, is safely in Europe. It is clear that he was aware of all this while he was Minister, although he has denied it. Although I and others said in the House that many citizens were deeply disturbed when Irish Water demanded their PPS numbers, the Government would not listen. It knocked back any suggestion from us or any concern that we raised. Last month, it was reported that Irish Water had sent 6,239 letters bearing incorrect names to customers. Ironically, the letters asked customers to confirm their personal details, but these had gone to the wrong addresses, in a very serious breach of data protection provisions. Yesterday, another breach of data protection provisions emerged. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has confirmed ten cases in which the bank details of Irish Water customers were sent to their landlords by mistake. Again, the Government would not listen.

The Taoiseach should not expect the citizens out there to thank him for climbing down on this PPS issue.

It is a proposal.

I use the term "citizen" very consciously. I listen to the Labour Party and others talk about customers, clients and jobseekers. These are people who have citizenship. This is supposed to be a republic, and citizens should have rights as a birthright.

Irish Water is the Government's Frankenstein creation. It is characterised by excessive spending on consultants, bonuses and cronyism, as well as the manner in which it was established and its management to date. It has been an unmitigated disaster.

The Taoiseach says that the Opposition has no alternative to the vision of Irish Water. The Taoiseach should sack his speechwriter. If this is his vision, then God help us all. Even Government Deputies have woken up to this reality. The former Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who introduced water charges legislation, valiantly defended the Taoiseach's party and Government every time he was asked. He was shafted, however, and then went on to acknowledge that Irish Water had abjectly failed. He described it as arrogant, uncaring, a cosseted quango with a bonus culture, and an unmitigated disaster.

Sinn Féin's problem.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy has accused the Government of having manipulated and abused the Dáil in the way it rammed through legislation establishing Irish Water. He also says that the credibility of Irish Water lies in tatters.

Mired in scandal since its inception, Irish Water is now a toxic brand. Any proposal to leave this company with responsibility for the delivery of water services in this State is not credible. It should be abolished. Irish Water has become synonymous with everything that is wrong with this Fine Gael-Labour Party Government: cronyism, political manipulation of State boards which would make even Fianna Fáil blush, threats to citizens, and escalating taxes on struggling families.

The Taoiseach can no longer hide behind the troika for their decisions. He can no longer blame the big lads. He cannot say the big boys made him do it. Waving a blank piece of paper at me in an infantile way proves nothing. The Taoiseach's Government deals in an entirely compliant way with the elites in this society and in the European Union, and particularly in the banking fraternity. He treats ordinary citizens and the Oireachtas with contempt.

Quite a few times I have tried to figure out the almost benign arrogance that comes from exercising power. The Taoiseach does not need to consult us, so he does not do so. The sensible thing would have been to come in here, have the discussion and pick up some of the good ideas from some of the other TDs, incorporate them and then do whatever he wished to do. Instead, however, he came in with a fait accompli, using the guillotine and pushing his majority with incredible arrogance.

I listened to what the Taoiseach said earlier about cherishing the children of the nation equally, but he has attacked the welfare of vulnerable citizens. In addition, he cut back on the entitlements, protections and guarantees that hard-working families and the elderly in rural Ireland should have. Their public services were cut back while punitive taxes are imposed. The Taoiseach does not even recognise that citizens have rights, and he has cut child benefit, medical cards and the respite care grant. I could give a list as long as my arm of the punitive measures he has introduced.

Do not forget the €2.5 billion rural development programme.

The Taoiseach needs to understand that citizens are sick to the teeth of relentless austerity and being patronised, as well as the endless list of taxes and charges aimed at those on low and middle incomes. For many of them, the water tax is the final straw. That is why we have seen huge numbers of citizens on the streets protesting within communities. To be honest, the numbers on the streets surprised us all. As someone who has been involved in street protests right back to the civil rights days, I can say that the current protests were spontaneous and organic. That is what is dangerous because the people have eventually risen up. They have not been organised in a rent-a-mob fashion; they have been out there because that was the straw that broke their backs.

The Taoiseach claims he does not envisage the privatisation of water services. If that is true, why does he not support the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 3) Bill 2014, which Sinn Féin has brought forward? It seeks to ensure the rights of all persons to safe, sufficient and accessible water, and that all water services and infrastructure remain in public ownership. Why does the Taoiseach not support it? He knows that any move to privatise water would ensure even greater charges for consumers than those already suggested.

In the North - the Taoiseach often mentions the North, usually in a disparaging way to try to score some strange political point - we prevented the introduction of water charges. We stood up to the Tory Government in London and prevented the privatisation of water services. We will continue to do so.

The constitutional amendment Bill put forward by Teachta Stanley allows for a referendum to retain control of water services in public ownership. Is the Taoiseach afraid of the people? Does he not want to give the people a say? Will he not trust them to take a good decision on this issue? He will not. There has been no satisfactory explanation of his reluctance to hold a referendum on water ownership beyond the fact that Fine Gael are the political champions of privatisation. It is Fine Gael's writ that runs this coalition. Fine Gael runs this Government and Labour is there as an appendage.

The reason for all the Taoiseach's twisting and turning, all the contradictory statements, and all the leaking, spinning and kite-flying about all the figures that were put forward, is now very clear. The Taoiseach completely underestimated the determination of ordinary citizens to resist the imposition of water charges. He has been forced to turn, back off, hollow out and back down again and again on his plans. He has dismissed and patronised people, which is offensive. He talks down to citizens and dismisses their real concerns.

They have clearly said that water charges should be abolished and that the right to water should be guaranteed. The mass demonstrations have not been about demanding a lower amount that the Taoiseach intends to charge. The people have not asked him to give them sweeteners or offer them bribes. The response from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste has been absolutely mind-boggling.

Gabh mo leithscéal, tá an t-urlár agam.

Níor chuala mé rud ar bith ábhartha ón Teachta go fóill.

Níl ach leath nóiméid fágtha ag an Teachta.

The Taoiseach ignores the fact that many families cannot afford to pay. They are taking to the streets and are telling the Taoiseach that he cannot force them into this. The Right2Water campaign is a fantastic example of a grassroots people's movement. There is no place in this for the type of treatment meted out to the Tánaiste. There is no place in this for physical or violent approaches. Anybody who is not prepared to behave peacefully should not turn up at any demonstration.

It is no surprise that the Government inflates these incidents to deflect attention from the central issue. The demonstrations that I have been on in my own County Louth, including Drogheda and Ardee, have been family-friendly, good-humoured and peaceful.

The RTE report said that the Sinn Féin stewards tried to get the demonstrators off the road, as had been committed to before the demonstration.

That is what happened in Sligo, as the Taoiseach knows.

Having said that, I appeal for the biggest possible mobilisation on 10 December to demonstrate the continued widespread opposition to water charges and the Government's position on it. Perhaps the Government Members will join the people that day, and then they will not be able to say that they cannot hear what the people are saying.

I propose to share time with Deputies Mick Wallace and Joan Collins.

The people of Ireland are not fools, and they recognise political trickery when they see it. Today, in the supposed concessions on water charges, they will recognise a transparent manoeuvre to get Fine Gael and the Labour Party past the next general election without being politically annihilated. It simply will not work. People have not turned out in their hundreds of thousands in October and November on the streets of Ireland demanding the abolition of water charges only to be conned by this poisoned carrot. People have not been turning out in their hundreds to public meetings, street meetings and events such as protests against water meters only to be assuaged by transparent political trickery. People are no fools, and they understand that the capped charge will rocket when it suits any establishment Government of the future. They understand the agenda. The aim of water charges is to partly fill the black hole left by the transfer of billions of euro in taxpayers' funds to the bankers and bondholders of Europe to save the European financial market system on foot of the crisis for which our people have no responsibility.

To do so, the Government proposes to gouge €1.2 billion from the pockets of ordinary people in parallel with the central taxation they pay directly, from which water services have been maintained and delivered for generations in this country. They understand the poisoned carrot, the charges with so-called concessions, will quickly go to €500 and €1,000 per household once the pressure passes. Therefore, the campaign for the abolition of water charges continues. What incredible contortions the Government is executing to establish the principle of a bankers' and bondholders' water tax. In April, July and October next year, the Government will look for €40 or €65 from households. In September, it will send €100 back to the same households. Imagine the incredible bureaucracy and wasted labour required to execute this idiotic circular maze. Truly, this is an Alice in Wonderland, or Alice in Joan-and-Enda land, scenario. Alice in Blunderland might be more apt. Hundreds of the workers tied up in knots doing this would be better off sourcing homes for the people made homeless by rack-renting landlords and the failure of the Government to provide any social housing.

The majority of ordinary people want to fight this and, if they have already registered, in April they will be sent a bill for €40 or €65. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain, in order to bring about the end of this water charge, by engaging in a nationwide boycott, just as, in the 1990s, a mass boycott and political pressure forced the abolition by Fine Gael and the Labour Party of the hated water charges at that stage. A mass refusal to pay the water bill in April of next year will leave the Government utterly exposed as one with no democratic credibility, suspended in midair, and will leave the water charges regime in tatters and impossible to implement.

In a press conference, the Minister said that if people were taken to court by Irish Water it would affect their credit rating. False. The Irish Credit Bureau, which is the agency of the banks, said only a few days ago that unpaid water charges would have no bearing on people's credit rating. I hope the Minister will correct that.

I did not say that. I said that it could affect it.

To add to the rack-renting torture that so many people are subjected to as private tenants, the Government will appoint landlords to rob tenants' deposits. This is breathtaking. One of the most vulnerable groups in our society, those depending on private landlords, are to be subject to further robbery, with the landlord as the agent. This is some legacy for a Labour Party Minister to leave. The legislation will be bitterly opposed and I appeal to tenants not to be intimidated. They should join the anti-water-charges campaign, and ordinary homeowners will boycott the charge and fight to bring it down.

The water charges saga has been characterised by the most incredible mendacity and deceit by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Conservation was the catch-cry. The Taoiseach passionately said we should turn off the taps a few weeks ago. The Tánaiste passionately said to use less a few weeks ago. Conservation has now disappeared and is nowhere to be seen. It has been dropped without ceremony. For 20 years, we put forward serious conservation proposals and water-saving measures that were never taken up. In Denmark, water conservation measures such as retrofitting of homes have lessened the usage of water.

The Tánaiste has had the audacity to continue the media smear of decent residents in communities such as west Tallaght that have been hit by years of austerity. Among the ordinary women who organised the water charges protest when she visited were women who administer the food bank from the same building she visited. Is it any wonder people are angry? Any people's movement from 1913 on has been met by the usual pathetic smears of sinister forces and fringe elements.

What about the Tánaiste's movement? What about restricting her movement and falsely imprisoning two women in a car? That is movement.

The Government and the media portray this as leading the stupid mob by the nose. James Connolly answered that much more eloquently than I ever could.

What undermines democracy in the country is establishment political parties lying through their teeth to ordinary people at election time. The Tánaiste had a Tesco advertisement in one hand, promising no Fine Gael water charges, and in the other hand an application form to join a Fine Gael Government with water charges. Is it any wonder the Labour Party was eviscerated in Dublin West and Dublin South-West in the recent by-elections when they deceived an entire people in this callous fashion?

The campaign for the abolition of this bankers' and bondholders' water tax will continue without let-up. If it is still there, it will be a massive issue at the next general election and the Government will continue to push it at its peril. The Labour Party, in particular, will be lucky if it does not evaporate and disappear if it continues this breach of the interests of ordinary working-class people.

A few minutes ago, the Tánaiste said that big new projects would always experience problems. This is true, but Irish Water is probably one of the big projects that should not have started. When the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said we would look back and be proud of it one of these days, I wondered what land he was living in. The Tánaiste also expressed surprise, shock and outrage at the amount of sewage going into our seas and the rivers. It is shocking. How come the Government did so little for four years if it knew this was happening? The Tánaiste referred to 42 towns, which is an underestimate. In Wexford, Arthurstown, Kilmore Quay, Duncormick, Curracloe, Oylegate, Ferns, Camolin, Duncannon, Wellingtonbridge, Clonroche, Ballycanew, Campile and Ballyhack, 13 towns, are on the list for work on waste treatment plants. Irish Water came along and the work was postponed. The council was not allowed to do the work. What has Irish Water done?

It has taken six from the list. Kilmore Quay, Duncormick, Curracloe, Oylegate, Ferns and Camolin have come off the list. Of the remaining list of seven facilities, none has been started and we do not know when they are going to start. I do not understand how the Government can stand over the failure to act on the sewage treatment problems facing Ireland.

I understand money is difficult to get and the Europeans have refused to provide us with a write-down on the bank debt, which should have been forthcoming. An organisation was prepared to give us €64 billion to bail out useless banks but it would not provide money to deal with water treatment issues. The Government has boasted about being able to borrow at less than 2%, which is great, but we should be allowed to borrow money at that price in order to invest in water and the treatment of wastewater. If that is on the books, it would force the Government into breaking other EU rules. These are people who are supposed to help us rather than cripple us. Italy and France have just admitted they will not meet the rules this year, next year or in the following two years. They will get away with breaking those rules; they do what they like and we do as we are told. We should be borrowing money at less than 2% in order to tackle the problems in water and sewerage infrastructure.

The Taoiseach mentioned Ringsend and boasted that Irish Water will save €170 million. It will do so by scrapping the long sea outfall. Up to now, scrapping this was not allowed because extra discharge would cause problems for communities. I would like to hear what local communities will have to say about the potential extra risk along that coastline arising from abandoning the long sea outfall in order to save money for Irish Water.

The Minister, Deputy Kelly, today indicated that the installation of water meters should go ahead because without water meters, we cannot tell where are the leaks. I have worked on the streets of this city for 20 years and I can tell the Minister such a statement is untrue.

The issue is all around the country.

The majority of the wastewater problem is in Dublin.

What about Cork?

Dublin has a far worse problem.

It has a major problem.

In Dublin we would not be looking for individual leaks. The cast-iron pipes have been corroded and the four-inch pipes have a bore of two inches left, as the rest consists of corrosion. We would not be fixing leaks here and there but rather replacing pipes. It is not a matter of looking for leaks and one does not need a meter to know where are the pipes I have mentioned. These pipes were leaking ten years ago and it is worse now.

They were leaking 40 years ago.

They were leaking 100 years ago.

We know where they are but like its predecessor, this Government has done nothing about fixing those pipes. It is madness.

My speech referred to hundreds of kilometres of pipes needing to be upgraded.

We have been contacted by concerned superintendents who have argued that the manner in which gardaí have been sent in many cases to police protests is unfair. These gardaí could not get overtime for the past number of years in order to look after normal work but when the water charges came along, any amount of people can be allowed to work in order to police these protests. These gardaí are unhappy because this does nothing for their relationship with the community. This is tied to the politicisation of our Garda Síochána.

That is a new statement. The Deputy will have to stand over that.

I mentioned yesterday that the selection of the new chairperson for the policing authority is not an independent selection, and the manner in which the selection process took place leaves much to be desired. If we are not going to get an independent police authority, we would be better without a police authority. The Government is about to choose a new Garda Commissioner.

The Deputy is approaching a different issue altogether.

Given the latest Garda Inspectorate report, if the Government picks somebody from the existing hierarchy and continues its politicisation of the Garda Síochána in Ireland, nothing will change in how policing is done.

That is an unfair comment.

That is unfair to the individual concerned.

The former Garda Commissioner might be gone, as well as the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, but nothing else will have changed. The Government is not demonstrating any appetite for real reform of the Garda Síochána.

The Deputy may be familiar with the former head of the Revenue Commissioners.

The Deputy is making an accusation of bias.

It seems there is no end to this fiasco involving Irish Water, water charges and the Government's handling of this issue. In the first line of his speech, the Minister stated this is a significant moment for the country. I presume he was referring to this so-called debate before he gave those on the Opposition benches two fingers by walking out of the Chamber.

At least I informed the House first.

Such arrogance and lack of respect has been a key factor-----

That is out of order.

It is not. It was a display of pure arrogance.

Deputy Joan Collins has the floor. There should be no more interruptions.

It is at the core of the mood of people.

At least I informed the House, which is more than others have done.

It was a display of arrogance and hypocrisy.

This arrogance and a lack of respect for people has been the key factor in the shambles which the Government has created. This sorry mess contrasts sharply with the magnificent people power movement by ordinary citizens of this State over recent months. The uplifting experiences of hundreds of thousands of people on 11 October and 1 November came as for the first time people had the confidence to come out on the streets and say they were not paying this austerity tax. The Government has been forced into a humiliating U-turn with every issue relating to charges in Irish Water but that is not enough. On 10 December, the Government will see another protest and there will be a mass movement of non-payment next year. The people want a 180° turn on the issue, with the scrapping of charges and a new strategy and investment plan that can deliver water charges that are fit for purpose for an essential public service paid through progressive taxation.

The Minister may have heard that approximately 20 minutes before he gave his speech, one of the afternoon radio shows on RTE gave listeners ten minutes in which to send texts indicating whether they would pay these charges. With the amount of leaks coming from the Government, I do not know why the Minister needed to give a press conference. Within that time, 15,000 people sent texts, with 71% indicating they will not pay this tax and 29% indicating they would pay the tax. That is the level of determination that people are demonstrating in refusing to pay this charge.

That was on the Joe Duffy show.

It is not that we are saying the Government is not listening but rather the people are saying the Government is not listening. That is the difference. We have tried to bring the issue to the Chamber over the past number of months but the Government has not listened.

The Members opposite have witnessed the people's anger and determination to reject water charges and a blueprint for privatisation. This mass movement of citizens has frightened the life out of the Government and it has responded by trying to split the movement. That is what the announced measures are meant to achieve. We first saw a pathetic attempt by the leader of the Labour Party to portray the protests by ordinary citizens against metering in their estates as not being genuine and being organised by outsiders. That was absolutely untrue. Deputy Wallace has referred to the issue and in Clanbrassil Close, a small estate of 24 houses off Clanbrassil Street, Irish Water and GMC Sierra arrived to fit water meters with 21 gardaí. How should that affect the people in that cul-de-sac?

This was an act of provocation and after three days the inspector wrote to the Garda Commissioner requesting more gardaí and resolving not to return if they were not assigned. The inspector did not want to put workers and citizens in the area in jeopardy.

The concessions outlined today are aimed at splitting the Opposition. The tactic is to sit it out, get people used to paying, get the general election out of the way and return to the real strategy of full recovery in 2019. This will not work as people trust neither the Government nor the political establishment. The Government must get the message because serious developments are taking place in communities. The establishment has let people down and it has lost people's trust on this matter due to the issues of cost and privatisation. I will seek to maximise the turnout on 10 December and will work to convince people that mass non-registration and non-payment will defeat these charges. Defeating the concept of turning a public service into a commercial entity is the only secure guarantee against future privatisation.

My final point relates to water conservation. In his speech the Minister said he is tired of declaring that leaks will be fixed before metering starts but a pertinent point was made on this by Deputy Wallace. I do not have a water meter and if a leak occurs I will have to fix it - the same applies to many people. The Minister will be aware of a programme in Cork where the local authority installs district meters as a way of monitoring water flow and detecting leaks. Such a programme of district water meters could be implemented nationally at a fraction of the €530 million cost of the Irish Water metering programme.

I listened with interest to what Deputy Collins said and was reminded of her previous speeches on bin charges.

They were privatised.

The Government privatised bin collections.

The Deputy assured working communities that she would defeat bin charges and told them not to pay. Where did that get her? She made similar claims relating to the household charge and told people not to pay it.

I do not tell people what to do.

She said "don't pay the household charge and we will defeat this tax". She said the same on the property tax; she implored people not to pay and assured them that through her leadership and their efforts the property tax would be defeated. At the same time she comes before the House decrying changes to services that these taxes are supposed to fund.

Some €4 million-----

We should look at the track record of Deputy Joan Collins. She has come before this House repeatedly and assured people she will defeat tax after tax. She tells people not to pay these taxes and then comes before the House and says she opposes changes to services that are funded by the same taxes. This is the Deputy's track record of honesty and consistency with the communities she represents. Deputy Collins has spoken in the House of the need for debate and the scrutiny of track records but we know her tactics on this issue. The Deputy wants to see people shouted down and does not want to engage in debate. She does not wish to hear views exchanged.

This Government has announced changes to the water charges system today because it listened to the legitimate concerns of people. The Government has acted on these concerns and the future needs of the country. Fianna Fáil Members are absent from the Chamber, as usual, and that party always kicked challenges and problems into the future - this Government has not done this because such behaviour only causes problems and costs to grow until they are unbearable. In the face of all this the Government has not been blown off course by the party that caused the crisis and other forces, such as the Deputies opposite and Sinn Féin, that have sought to worsen this mess. They seek to exacerbate the crisis and the only things uniting the Opposition parties are a sense of denial that the problems I outlined exist and an inability to put forward ways to explain how solutions will be funded.

This is complete nonsense.

The politics espoused by those on the other side of the House put the country in the position in which it found itself in 2011. This Government has responded to the legitimate concerns people raised and put forward a plan to deliver investment. I predict that Deputies Seamus Healy and Joan Collins will be the first to table Topical Issue matters wanting to know when the investment this Government aims to deliver will happen.

Councillors will table questions in local authority chambers wondering when certain investments will happen but the Deputies are attacking the charges that will fund investment.

The Government has put forward a system that will ask people to make a contribution to pay for delivery of the water system the country needs, a water system that must be fit for purpose. We will ask people to pay between €60 and €160 per year, net, for services that are required. This will be done in the context of a budget that has given people what they badly need - changes in their after-tax income for the first time in many years and changes in the taxes that caused people such difficulties during this country's time of crisis.

We should look at what the money will be used for. Dublin City Council is responsible for 2,450 km of water mains and between 1997 and 2007, when more money flowed through the country than water flowed through those pipes, Dublin City Council replaced 5 km of mains pipes per year. This is why the system needs serious attention. The rate of work outlined means around 100 km of work would be done every 15 years and this is why an organisation like Irish Water is required. It will pool the country's expertise and it will have the ability to raise its own funds so the work can be done. Work will be done in Galway and Ballymore Eustace. The Ringsend water treatment plant will be improved and when this is completed the savings delivered will equal the start-up cost of Irish Water. This is the kind of work that Deputy Joan Collins will raise in this Chamber. She will ask when it will proceed and how her constituents will benefit. If there is any change to how the work is delivered she will criticise the Government in this Chamber but her stance is against creating the capacity to do the work.

No, we are against paying for the same thing twice.

It is a pity Deputy Paul Murphy is not here so I can respond to his claims. It appears he drove around his constituency on the hunt for a protest he could attend with his microphone. He sought to incite people into doing the things we saw this weekend.

That is completely outrageous.

What Deputy Paul Murphy did was outrageous. Is Deputy Healy suggesting the false imprisonment of two women is not outrageous?

Deputy Paul Murphy decided he is the law of the land. Deputy Coppinger made things worse by condoning all this on the radio. What does the Anti-Austerity Alliance, AAA, stand for? It stands for anger, not answers. It stands for slogans, not solutions. The Deputies opposite have no interest in fixing these problems or responding to the crisis.

The Deputies want to prolong the crisis so they can continue to conjure up the idea that the problems that have crippled the country for decades can be fixed with no cost and no change. The Government acknowledges it has made mistakes and that there have been difficulties along the way. We want to create a system that gives certainty and delivers water in future.

What have we seen from the Opposition? We have seen people who come to the House to promote uncertainty and confusion for their own political ends. What we have seen today from the Government is a plan that responds to the legitimate concerns that people had and that puts together a system to respond to the challenges of the future.

Today our Government is responding to the people's concerns and continuing to show leadership. Both are equally important. First of all, we are responding by establishing affordability. This will come in the form of a net €60 for a single person dwelling or family and a net €160 for a dwelling of more than one person, in other words, €1.15 per week and €3 per week respectively. That is affordability clearly established.

The allowance of 21,000 litres per adult child will remain where it is relevant and for the future. The price of water has been reduced by 25% to €3.70 per 1,000 litres. Where a person is only using water or sewerage the charge will be halved. All households now have certainty until the end of 2018. Another important aspect is that if a boil water notice is in place there will be a 100% rebate for the duration of that boil water notice. This addresses the legitimate concerns of the many people who were on the protests with sincere and decent motives. Of course, it does not address the concerns of those participating in thuggery around the imprisonment of the Tánaiste last weekend. That type of protester will not be satisfied with today's outcome, but reasonable people will see this as meeting their concerns.

It is worth noting that 815,000 people have registered already, indicating that there is buy-in to the whole concept. All people wanted was for the matter to be sorted out. People wanted the question of affordability sorted out. They wanted the issue of bonuses addressed. That was clearly addressed yesterday by the board and it will be the subject of independent scrutiny. These are significant attempts to meet the concerns of the people.

Another important point is that in the case of a mixed house, that is, a shop and living accommodation, the old arrangement involving the council charge will apply in the commercial section of the house while the new charge will apply in the dwelling end. Again, that addresses the relevant needs. All of the concerns of the people are addressed in these measures.

How are we showing leadership and responding today? We are showing leadership by not ignoring and failing to walk away from the facts, including that 20,000 people are on boil water notices; that there is 100 year old piping in areas of the country and a major issue with bad leaden piping; that sewage is entering lakes and rivers, presenting health and safety issues; and that there remains a need for inward investment and the attraction of inward investment to create jobs, but this cannot materialise if we do not have a reliable and sound water service. For example, during last year's web conference we had 20,000 valued visitors in our city and the water almost went off. This has been much cited but it is relevant. That cannot be allowed again. We cannot have half of the expensively treated water in our system leaking away. It cannot be allowed to continue. These are the issues that need addressing.

All of this begs the question of what has been happening thus far? What has happened to the money? What has happened with taxpayers' money? Up to now the country has been spending €1.2 billion to maintain the system, but we still have a level of leaks up to 49%. We have been investing and I am satisfied with the level of investment in my constituency. However, if we did not set up this semi-State utility we could not access the money off-balance sheet that will be needed in the next ten years to create a state-of-the-art service and water system. This is a necessary exercise. This is what leadership is about rather than walking away from the problems, as cited earlier by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. We are not walking away; we are showing leadership and facing the matter straight, head-on and we are dealing with it. No other system, nothing else, is acceptable.

It is extraordinary that people on the left can come into the House and suggest that they oppose the concept of paying for water as well as the property tax. Despite this, they say we should broaden the tax net. We cannot broaden the tax net if we do not take on the question of water charges. We are almost the only country in the OECD at this stage that is not doing it. We cannot broaden the tax net if we do not do that or put in place a reasonable property tax. We are broadening the tax net. From the limited economics that I studied I understood this was a left-wing or socialist concept and that it was acceptable to the left for a government to broaden the tax base and have more people paying. I understood the thinking on the left was that this would create equity and that the government in question would not have an over-dependence on narrow direct income tax. There is a tremendous inconsistency and dishonesty in this regard. There is also a dishonesty in the view that we should have services of a given quality and a given quality of life without facing up to the facts that money simply does not grow on trees and that funding must be secured in the most equitable way possible.

My proposition is that we should accept and endorse the plan brought forward very well, thoughtfully and responsibly to the people by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. We should endorse the plan as one that achieves affordability and reason and that addresses the difficulties people have had. At the same time the plan will ensure that we will have a modern water supply in future, that the health of our people will be secure, that we will be attractive for inward investment and tourism and that we will have a good quality of life and a quality environment. The people who oppose this may look to Scandinavian and northern countries and maintain that those countries have great services, but those countries have high taxation. They cannot have it both ways. This is reasonable and I believe people should be big enough to accept that it is reasonable.

We need to examine the facts in a calm way. I am disappointed that the Minister is leaving, but so be it. I often wonder does anyone listen in this House. I have made comment previously to the effect that it would be almost as well to put the contributions up on the web and not bother coming to the House in order that we could save ourselves a good deal of time. If the Dáil is to function, each side must listen to the other side. In particular, Government must listen and justify the rationale not by rote speeches but by detailed analysis.

My understanding is that the idea of going to a metered water charge was that there were leaks on people's properties and this would discourage people from wasting water. In this way we would save on capital investment and building new systems when the amount of water being produced was already adequate in a given area. I am very much in favour of an integrated joined-up national grid for water and I have said as much in public several times.

If that was the reason and it was intended to create a utility like the ESB, the logic would be that sooner or later the full economic cost of water must be charged. If people used vast quantities of water, they would be charged for them. Now we have the water meters at a cost of €540 million and the huge establishment costs of a centralised organisation that is unlike the NRA, which operates with a very small staff. In fact, there might have been a marginal gain by coming under what the meter would tell you, but from the Uisce Éireann side of it, the major private users with the big leaks will be able to continue on their merry way because it will make no difference. As the only justification for water metering as a tax has been done away with, the simple thing is to abolish water charges in total.

The argument I will be given in favour of this money-in, money-out approach - it was water-in, water-out - and a massive bureaucracy is that it will facilitate off-balance sheet borrowing. The income of the company from domestic water rates will be approximately €300 million. I was doing a little sum. There are 500,000 houses which are never mentioned by most people and they are in rural areas unconnected to waste water systems. Those people pay €200 to €300 to get their own septic tanks cleaned. The average contribution they will make is between minus €20 and €30 per annum. Can the Ministers of State confirm if that is correct?

Can the Deputy repeat that?

There will be a net contribution of between minus €20 for a single dwelling house and plus €30 in rural Ireland. Am I correct?

I am not immediately able to answer your question.

I ask Deputies to speak through the Chair and not to have an across-the-floor conversation.

We are trying to be constructive tonight. When one tries to be constructive around here, one gets into trouble. The Ministers of State were trying to be helpful to me. We would not like to make a mistake. I think by the nodding heads, my sums are right.

These 500,000 houses will yield damn all to the Exchequer. However, to get this null or minor sum will require a huge amount of administrative work. Uisce Éireann will have to issue all these people with a bill and chase up the defaulters while the Department of Social Protection will have to process all of these applications and confirm the identities of the householders. There will be many checks involved including of people who move from rented accommodation. The mind boggles. Between 5% and 10% of the money-in and the money-out to net this zero figure will be taken up in administration. For the 1.3 million dwellings which are connected to sewerage schemes, the charge will be between €60 and €160. There will be a net gain of €100, but if we take the €300 figure, it will cost Uisce Éireann a massive €30 million to chase down people and collect the money. It could cost a further €13 million for the Department of Social Protection to process all the changes of tenants among its clients in order to pay out the money. That is €43 million in administration fees.

Given the 500,000 houses from which virtually no revenue will be derived, there could be a bill of €50 million to €70 million. Moving the money from here to there and back again, one winds up with €100 million in one's pocket. I thought it was slimline-government time with the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracies, but we are now setting up a new one. The position will not be the same as with free electricity where pensioners mainly stay put. In this case, one is talking about the entire population who reside in dwellings. They will be coming and going all the time and there will be a whole section in the Department and Uisce Éireann that will be checking addresses every day.

I turn to the next obvious question to which no one seems to have the answer. I would love to see the revised business plan for Uisce Éireann. The Government keeps saying it will borrow off-balance sheet. Can someone explain how a company with a turnover as small as that of this one can borrow? How much would any rational borrower lend it? Will there be loans of €3 billion, €5 billion or €10 billion? The Government says it will invest €600 million a year. We were doing €500 million a year when we were in government. The Government says it will increase that by €100 million to solve the problem. What I would like to see is the business case setting out how much of that €600 million the company will be able to borrow. No doubt, those who will lend the money will look at repayment capacity. Therefore, it is not like the ESB that borrowed €7 billion. It could do that because it is paid in full by every customer. It has a long-standing record of professionalism in its business. The Government must tell the House if the maximum amount of borrowing it can realistically do is in the region of €2 billion or €3 billion as it will not be open-ended.

The other problem about all of this and the assertion that there is a great gain in borrowing off the balance sheet is that even if the Government was given €1 billion tomorrow, it could not spend it. Between planning and arguments about the siting of waste water plants, which are much more expensive than water, the Government would find it could not spend the money quickly. One of the biggest logjams in getting things done in the past has not been money but rather the ability to get through the processes we have, rightly, put in place. Considerations include archaeology and local objections. Deputy Ring will be very familiar with things like this all over the place over a long career. Everyone wants the system. I remember one of the best speeches one of Deputy Ring's colleagues ever made. Councillor Gerry Coyle noted that everyone wants the mobile phone but nobody wants the mast, that everyone wants to be able to dispose of rubbish but nobody wants the dump and that everybody wants the sewerage system, but they do not want the processing plant near their houses.

That is right.

What is the gain here in that case? What are we getting out of this apart from one thing that always happens. I am willing to admit I saw it happen when we were in government. There is a thinking in officialdom, which will wait 50 years to get its way eventually. I see it doing things with this Government that were tried a few times with me, although I said "No". Officialdom will keep coming until it gets somebody to do the thing it wants done. There is somebody in officialdom who was there in our time who wants a metered system of water.

They will allow the figure to be written down to virtually zero because they take the long view that once the system is in place, they will be able to chip away at it until they reach their objective of full cost recovery.

Slogans are dangerous and I do not agree with the slogan, "We have paid for water". If we have paid for water, we have not paid for something else because the Exchequer returns for the first ten months of 2014 show that, after setting aside interest and loan repayments, we still spent more on direct services than we took in taxes. Clearly, there are costs that we are not covering and must borrow money to meet. We should analyse the figures and arrive at a realistic and fair conclusion.

I hear another argument about broadening the tax base. Unless one plans to tax people outside the State, broadening the tax base means rearranging the chairs because one must still take money from the same group of people, namely, the residents of the State. What then is being broadened? Normally, broadening the tax base means introducing different taxes to complicate people's lives when it would be easier to have fewer taxes. Having examined documentation produced by the Department of Finance, I believe there is a subtext to the argument for broadening the tax base. The whinge from the Department is that too many people do not pay income tax. This overlooks the fact that people who do not pay income tax pay VAT and excise on petrol, beer and so forth. It appears that those who are paying income tax - a fair number of people in the system pay handsome amounts of income tax - believe one of the ways of lessening the burden on them is to introduce a large number of new taxes that everyone will have to pay. If that is what is taking place, we must be honest about what is meant by broadening the tax base. Let people argue that the top guys are paying too much and the bottom guys are not paying enough. Let those who believe that is the case call it as such.

Increasing the number of piddly little taxes, of which a tax generating €100 million is one, is an irrational system for collecting money. When I was a member of the Government I used to hear a great deal about €100,000 being wasted here or there and I always tried to put such figures in context. To put the figure of €100 million in context, let us take the example a household with a net after tax income of €50,000. If this household were to devise a plan to save €1 per annum, one would not believe it was doing much to save money. If it were to produce a complicated, money-in and money-out plan to save €100 per annum, one would conclude that the savings achieved would not do much for the family economy. The Government spends €50 billion annually. The figure of €100 million from water charges is exactly the same proportion of overall Government expenditure as a saving of €100 would be for a family with a net income of €50,000.

My conclusion is that while the Government may not have a long-term plan, somebody in Merrion Street is taking the long view. A long time ago, Charlie McCreevy made the same comment in respect of Europe's view on corporation tax. The officials in Merrion Street will wait forever because it is in their minds to go the full hog and charge the full economic cost, not only in terms of water in but also of water out.

I would like to respond to some comments which were made about me earlier in this debate, some of which were audible and at least one of which was inaudible. I wish to put the record straight on this issue.

First, I want to show a red flag to the so-called socialists in this House who have struck decent and honourable men and women in the course of performing their duty in a very difficult economic climate. I refer to the almost 2,000 men and women whose job is to install the hated water meters. Every one of these men and women has a home and most have spouses and children. The intimidation and abuse they experience is appalling. I ask the so-called socialists to desist from this. While they should protest if they wish to do so, they must allow these decent men and women to perform their jobs and live the decent and honourable lives to which they and we are entitled.

I propose to address a number of issues raised by Deputies, specifically Deputy Cowen. Unfortunately, when I asked the Deputy what he said his contribution had not yet been published. That is not a reflection on the Debates Office. The Deputy informed me that his remark was to the effect that I only spoke out after the horse had bolted, that is, after I had been sacked by the Taoiseach. The contrary is the case. I noted in my time as Minister of State that Deputy Cowen was absent more often than he was present for debates. It is notable that the Fianna Fáil Party benches are empty as I speak. What is new? The Deputies are not here because they do not want to know, although they will bang the drum when it suits them.

Where are the Labour Party Deputies?

I am referring to the Opposition but I will let Deputy Ferris put the boot into others.

The Shinners are here.

There was a nightmare scenario, about which I was very worried when I was appointed to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. In the event that officials are brought before an Oireachtas committee, which I would be happy to attend, I ask that all of them, including the relevant assistant secretary, who were present at any of the meetings at which I made comments on this matter state in clear, absolute and categorical terms that I was never silent and at all times made the points being made by many speakers in this debate. At my first meeting, I raised issues about affordability and water poverty, which was a key issue for me. The meeting defined water poverty as referring to those who spent more than 3% of their income on water. I asked that a report be commissioned on this matter and a report was done. I also raised the issues of low income, single parent and large families as well as children. These issues were most important to me at all times and I referred to them at every single meeting.

I also had a meeting, which was well attended by departmental officials and one or two Ministers, at which I raised the issue of fixing the pipes before the installation of water meters. I was not silent on that point and made clear my strong view that we needed to show credibility on the issue of water wastage. In County Roscommon, for example, more than 60% of water was being wasted, while in County Kerry the figure was more than 50%. We needed to acquire credibility by fixing the pipes before installing meters. This would allow us to make the case that, having spent so much money, the water coming through people's pipes would come into their house and would not be wasted and disappear into the ground. I emphasised the importance of building up public trust on this issue. Needless to say, my view was overruled by those who attended the meeting.

At every meeting I attended, particularly those attended by Irish Water officials and, previously, by representatives of Bord Gáis, I stressed the importance of communication. My message was that we must explain the position to people when installing meters because the public must buy into the issue. I stated at a meeting of a public forum, which can be viewed on YouTube, that the battle for the hearts and minds of the people was about this very issue and that if we did not address it by selling it, the system would not work. We are now faced with protests, which was the nightmare scenario for me and the last thing I wanted to see. Everything I did and continue to do is to ensure the truth comes out, not only about my role but also because people must be informed and educated about what must happen in terms of water conservation.

We must talk about jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, farming and other water-intensive industries such as information and communications technology. Why did Intel give Kildare County Council €32 million? The reason was the company wanted to augment its water supply in order that it could continue to employ thousands of people at its site. We have a wonderful opportunity to attract tens of thousands of jobs in water intensive industries. That is the message we need to sell and one that has not been sold.

Irish Water did not explain the shortage in Dublin's water supply and similar awful scenarios that will be realised if we do not augment and improve the water supply.

I went to Kerry County Council, Galway, Roscommon, Tipperary and everywhere else to sell this message. The trouble was that nobody listened to me. They are listening now, but perhaps it is too late.

I was asked by Deputy Martin whether anybody asked me about my comment that Irish Water would be an unmitigated disaster. I made such a comment at a high level meeting in the Department, which senior officials and the Minister attended. There was nothing hidden about what I said. We are now in a very difficult situation, with which we have to deal as best we can. I emphasised communications and schools time and again. I sent Irish Water a wonderful book about water produced by someone in Dundalk IT. I spoke to teachers in the Blackrock Institute of Further Education about how we could introduce a water model to all schools so that all children and primary schools would understand conservation and jobs, but that was not to be.

In regard to privatisation, when I spoke on the first Bill I said the No. 2 Bill would include a commitment that privatisation would never happen. When the Bill was published it made no reference to privatisation being banned, something to which I objected strongly. If one asks the officials they will say the same. It was wrong and we were going back on a fundamental promise I made in the Oireachtas. Needless to say, it was changed. The former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, in fairness to him, took it on board and it was in the Bill. I am very concerned about this issue and welcome the decision of the Government that privatisation will be the subject of a referendum, which is the way it should be.

I had a fundamental disagreement over the first fix being free. I spoke at a conference in February that year and said the first fix would be free, and Mr. John Tierney disagreed with me. When I went back to the Department I was told a press release would be issued to the media, contradicting what I had said. I said that was fair enough, and if it was released I would resign. It was not released. I am telling the truth, to which people are entitled. They are entitled to the facts, which I am giving to them.

The last debate I had with Irish Water and others concerned what would happen to Irish Water and whether there would be a reverse takeover with Bord Gáis. I was the only one at the meeting, which was attended by at least three Ministers, to say Irish Water must be a stand-alone company and should not and could not become part of any other company or conglomerate if it was to have credibility. I am concerned about the proposed legislation which has not yet been published. Irish Water must stand alone and I see no reason why anybody else should be involved in managing the board. Let it be the best it can be, which will happen.

Let us have the best and most accountable and professional Irish Water we can have, free of all encumbrances of politicians. If it is to have credibility, that is what has to happen. I always tell the truth and act in accordance with my conscience. I am not afraid to face anybody in any committee and will tell the truth at all times, because all I have are the facts for which I stand. I stand for the credibility of all of my actions as Minister of State. That is my life and what I have always done. I thank the Government for allowing me to speak and will return to some of the issues again.

I do not have inside information and welcome the points made by the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. I spoke on a Private Members' Bill a number of weeks ago. When insults were flying from one side of the House to the other, I said I felt what was needed was to fix the problem and to forget about sacking people left, right and centre. We need to fix a system which has been under-invested in for decades and come to a solution that is clear, certain and affordable. Today's announcements fulfil those criteria.

Members of the Government need to hold up our hands. We have done so in the past number of weeks, but perhaps it came too late. Irish Water needs to do the same. It rushed the water charges, the timeframe was too tight and it has played catch-up on this over the past number of weeks. It did not communicate the message, a point Deputy O'Dowd articulated.

We have seen the consequences of decades of under-investment in my neighbouring county of Roscommon. I am glad to say the problems there will be fixed in the very near future. As a result of the confusion and scaremongering, water charges were not an issue in my constituency until a number of weeks ago. People on group water schemes have been paying for water for the past 20 or 30 years. I welcome the fact they will be included in the €100 rebate and if some make some profit on that because their charges are under €100 per annum, so be it. It will make up for all the years they paid when there was no rebate. I am confident that today's measures got it right and brought certainty and clarity to the situation.

What has happened today also demonstrates that people have been listened to, which is a good thing. The charges will be capped until 2019.

On privatisation, I never had any doubt that the Government would try to privatise Irish Water, but it is important to put into legislation a proviso that if any future Government decided to privatise it, that would have to be decided by the people in a referendum.

I am glad that conservation can be achieved through the use of meters. I gather up to 70% of people can reduce their water charges by using meters. The charges can be reduced, but cannot be increased. The requirement for PPS numbers has been abolished and those which have been provided will be deleted, in conjunction with the Data Protection Commissioner.

While the journey to today's announcement has taken a long time and has been a rocky road, and we might ask why we could not have done this three or six months ago, a lot of the problems have been fixed.

Deputies Dessie Ellis and Aengus Ó Snodaigh are next on the list. Has that changed? Does Deputy Mary Lou McDonald wish to speak for ten minutes?

Yes. Today, when the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in summoning all of the gravitas he could, opened his remarks he said this was a significant moment for the country. He went on to explain that the choice to be made was, according to him, between short-term emotion and anger or long-term prudence and common sense. Undoubtedly, this could have been a significant moment for the Government, where it finally listened to the common sense of the people.

It could have been the moment when it understood that people cannot and will not pay a charge for the water that comes through their taps - the moment it abolished water charges. Good sense could and should have prevailed. Instead, the Government chose to portray the people's opposition to the water charges as short-term emotion and anger.

I want to tell the Minister of State that he and the Government make the most grave mistake if they believe that either the anger or emotion expressed by hundreds of thousands of people on our streets is short term. The people's anger is a long time in the making - year after year, budget after budget. The people's emotion emanates from deep inside. It is the emotion of carers who have been penalised by the Government, of parents who have been put to the pin of their collars to keep their children warm, clothed and fed - the very children the Government so shamelessly failed to cherish - and of families struggling with poverty. This emotion is not transient. It is borne of bitter experience and is fuelled by the Government's distant disregard for how people in the real world have been forced to struggle on its watch.

The Government is not one guided by long-term prudence or common sense. It is conspicuously lacking in both of those virtues. No prudent government could dream up or stand over the corporate monster that is Irish Water. No prudent government would blow €500 million of the people's money on water meters, while 40% of treated water - as it never tires of reminding us - leaks from decrepit pipes. Nobody with an ounce of common sense would demand payment for domestic water from families that are already struggling just to get by. Nobody with a screed of cop-on would present this latest cobbled-together plan as the final resolution on the water charges issue or the matter of Irish Water. Nobody in the Government should imagine that today's cobbled-together plan will mark the end of the campaign to abolish water charges. It will do nothing of the sort. The Minister's notions about his legacy are perhaps the clearest proof - if more proof was necessary - of how out of touch is the Government. It is a rare claim to cite Irish Water and unaffordable charges as one's legacy and gift to the Irish people.

Earlier, some Deputies referred to the issue of affordability, which has been stated as one of the hallmarks of this plan. I have heard people shrug off the notion of a charge of €160 or €60 or €280 as though it was nothing. Indeed, this charge has been broken down to the per week cost. Deputy Joe O'Reilly stated it would be €1.15 or €3 per week. I do not know how often the following statement must be made in this Chamber, but I will make it again, if for no other reason than to have it on the record - I represent people for whom an additional €3 per week is too much and cannot be paid. They do not have that money. These are families that struggle now with the bills they have, families in deficit and that do not sleep at night because they cannot pay their electricity bills. These are families that have lost the roofs over their heads because they could not meet their rent.

Is there anybody in government who understands these facts? To glibly talk to these families about affordability and to tell them it is only €3 a week is of no assistance to them. I have said it before, but will say it again, that many of these families are what we now call the "working poor". They are not necessarily people reliant on social welfare payments. Anybody elected to this House who takes the trouble to knock around his or her community or neighbourhood is bound to have met the "working poor". Members know them, because they must live in their neighbourhoods. They are people who quietly and desperately panic and worry because they are just not making it. There is no affordability for these families, which are many. They have told the Government, in their thousands, that they are unable to pay anything. This is the position and the Government has been told this again and again. The word "affordability" from the lips of anyone in the Government is a joke. This is not an affordable scheme.

This is not a scheme that is correct in principle, because there are people who will not pay this charge, not because they are some kind of social deviants or irresponsible citizens, but because they believe, as do I, that water as a public good and perhaps the most basic necessity for every family and person should be paid for through progressive taxation. Like me, they believe that no citizen - one's elderly neighbour, people with a disability or people who have had the misfortune to lose employment - should ever face the prospect of being penalised because of being unable to pay for his or her domestic water. This is a matter of principle and does not represent social deviancy, but rather social solidarity, the stuff of which Irish people are made.

The Government says its plan represents simplicity and certainty. The people's message to the Government was simple - it should abolish the charge. It should do that and stop making it up as it goes along. It should abolish this charge. Let it go back to the drawing board and let us debate robustly, democratically and fairly the issue of leveraging funds for the creaking infrastructure. The popular democratic demand is that the Government should abolish the charge.

The Government speaks of certainty. People want the certainty that they will not face the prospect now or any time in the future of not being able to pay for something as basic as water. They want the certainty of knowing that water, as a public good, and water infrastructure will never be privatised. Yet for all the bluster, that certainty has not been delivered. What is certain is that penalties have been proposed for those who cannot pay or those who will not play ball with the Government's scheme. The Government talks about penalties and about landlords to deduct unpaid charges from tenants' deposits. Awful threats. It talks about attachment to properties. Perhaps, therefore, when property is sold on when somebody goes to their divine reward, the family will have to pick up the tab.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd is to my mind the first Member on the Government side who has spoken honestly and directly on this issue. While we might not agree on everything, I acknowledge the honesty of his contribution.

There has been much talk about protests and about the incident last weekend involving the Tánaiste. I do not approve of anybody throwing bricks at An Garda Síochána or anybody else. However, the people who have come out in their droves to protest are not thugs. They are not guilty of any thuggery. They are active citizens with a mission and a message - that the Government must abolish these charges.

There has been much talk about privatisation of Irish Water and we heard the former Minister of State speak about this earlier.

The commitment that the Government is trying to put across in its supposed plebiscite is much like the triple lock, and people may remember the trickery involved with that. Rather than putting a commitment to Irish neutrality into the Constitution, the Government created something which was not such a commitment. The very same trickery is being attempted by the Government on this occasion.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte said last night:

There won't be any privatisation of water services. No Government with its head screwed on would seek to privatise something as critical as the water supply.

We only need to look at the record of this Government to date in that it has already privatised social welfare services, has tried to privatise Coillte, although it backed down on that because of the backlash, and is trying to privatise bus services at present. There is a record and a trend, and it is not the fault of the IMF or the ECB; it is the fault of this Government and its intentions. The only logic to the Government's argument that there should be a plebiscite is to have a plebiscite that matters. That means we would have a referendum to enshrine within the Constitution the right to water and that Irish Water would never be privatised.

As I said, Deputy Rabbitte said no Government with its head screwed on would do this, that or the other, and in particular privatise critical services such as water supply. However, this is the same Minister and Government that have cut child benefit, despite promising the opposite, and said there was no cut to social welfare services or allowances, when 17 social welfare allowances were cut since the Government took office. The Government has been engaged in transparent cronyism despite the fact it said there was a democratic revolution. All we need do is look at the board of IMMA, which was filled for five minutes just to get a nomination. A constitutional right to water and a constitutional protection of water services is what is needed.

There has been a lot of talk about under-investment from the other side of the House as if Fine Gael and the Labour Party have never been in government in this State. They are just as responsible for the under-investment in the water services in this State as Fianna Fáil, and they cannot shirk that. They were in government and they did not invest, and they have been in government for the past four years and they still have not invested. Instead, they say they will land it on top of the people and let them pay three or four times. The people are not fools, although today's package assumes they are. The Government will see that they will not be hoodwinked into signing up to this water charge, which will inevitably rise in the future. The carrot the Government has offered today is all it is - a carrot. The stick comes after 2018, when the water charges rocket to levels the Government cannot imagine but which we have imagined and outlined directly from the start of this debacle under Fianna Fáil, when it promised to introduce water charges with its partners in crime at that time, the Green Party.

The Minister, Deputy Kelly, said earlier that this new package provides certainty, simplicity and affordability. I have been on the marches and I did not hear anybody chanting "What do we want? Simplicity", or "What do we want? Affordability". What they want is the charges ended now. This means the Minister is not listening. He came here and said "We have listened". In fact, he has not listened because he has not come here and abolished the water charge. If he had listened, that is what he would have presented today.

Of course, water has to be paid for. The taxpayer is already paying for it, up and down the country, and that should continue under a progressive taxation system. However, the model that is being proposed today and that has been proposed from the start is regressive. A family of two or four, on €30,000 a year, will pay the exact same as a millionaire in this city or this State. That is not progressive taxation. The League of Credit Unions latest "What's left" survey showed that 483,000 people have nothing left at the end of the month - not €10, not €3, not €1 but nothing. They cannot pay for something with what they do not have.

I understand Deputy Costello is sharing time with Deputy Nolan.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this very important and serious issue for all the people of this country. I have just come from a meeting with Welsh parliamentarians, who tell me the average cost of water for them is between £450 and £500 per household. They moved away from the old rateable system, although some 40% are still on that system, which is charged separately, to a new metered system where the average charge is £450 to £500.

Of course, Sinn Féin can scarcely talk about charges considering the household charge it is part of and the fact it has now put forward a budget which will see an 11% cut across every Department in Northern Ireland.

Come on. Be honest.

It and the DUP have put forward that budget, which will shortly be implemented. Of course, even at that stage, Northern Ireland is supported by approximately £2,500 per annum per citizen from the United Kingdom.

First, Sinn Féin members have no problem with funding coming from England or from the United Kingdom and, second, they are complaining that everything that is introduced in Northern Ireland is not of their doing but is the doing of the British Government. Now, they have signed up with the DUP to put forward a budget that has 11% cuts right across the board at a time when the level of poverty in Northern Ireland is higher than that in the Republic. They are certainly very hypocritical in coming forward here and talking about the poorest people in the country when we see what they are doing in Northern Ireland, where they are in power.

As I have said in this House previously, there is no doubt that many mistakes have been made in regard to the establishment of Irish Water, the manner in which it was communicated and the lack of communication with the people. There is much concern abroad about the costs, PPS numbers, privatisation and payment. These are issues that have been brought to our attention and they have brought people out in unprecedented numbers to march on the streets. However, we did promise we would listen to what people have to say and we did promise we would do our damnedest to deal with the matter and come up with a solution.

There are some in this House and outside it who do not want a solution. A solution is anathema to them because their whole policy is not based on ideology but on protest - protest first and last. People like that will never be happy with the situation. We have seen that one Deputy in the House has described the imprisonment of the Tánaiste for nearly three hours as a peaceful protest when it was in fact imprisonment of the second highest officer in this Government.

It was a sit-down protest.

It is not a sit-down protest; it is imprisonment. That same Deputy said: "Then we decided we would let her go."

Yes. There are people sleeping in their cars every night and the Deputy did nothing about it.

Order, please, Deputy Coppinger.

What does the Deputy think that is? That is detention. First, foremost and last, it is detention.

Sinn Féin Members might speak to their leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, about the time he was imprisoned in the Lower Ormeau Road and how he took the British Government to court. In the same fashion, he was surrounded by the RUC and the army for a period of time and could not move in any direction. He might tell them the amount of money he got from the Crown.

Tell the people of Tallaght-----

Sorry, Deputy Coppinger, if you cannot stay quiet, I will have to ask you to leave the House.

I know all about it because I was present and I was a witness in the court as well.

What constitutes imprisonment and what constitutes protest? Imprisonment and peaceful protest are two totally different things. The sooner Deputy Ruth Coppinger and her colleagues realise that, the better it will be for democracy in this country. Certainly anybody who has been elected to represent the people of their area in this Parliament should have full respect for the other people who have been elected democratically to it. There is a way of going about it and it must be proper, peaceful protest and not something they describe as peaceful when they then behave in a totally different fashion.

I hope that when people examine this package, they will decide for themselves whether we have listened properly and have done a reasonable job in responding to the people's concerns. The first instance is the issue of simple and affordable bills. I have already given an indication of what the charge in Northern Ireland is, namely, a multiple of what the proposed water charge here will be. It is also a multiple in the United Kingdom. I met parliamentarians from the UK here tonight. They thought it was hilarious that we could be talking about a charge of €60 per annum for single adult households and that we would have a cap of €160 for everybody else. I do not think there is a country in Europe that would consider this to be anything other than an affordable, fair, simple and straightforward charge. It brings a degree of certainty to the issue such that there is now no confusion. There are two capped charges that stand for the next four years.

At the same time, there is the option of households moving to metered charges. Where households feel they can reduce the bill through a metered charge, they are entitled to do so. The estimate that has been given by the Minister is that approximately 50% of households would reduce their bill by moving to a metered charge if they were to reduce their water usage by 10% to 15%. I hope this provides a degree of certainty and addresses the question of cost. Of course, each child is still entitled to 21,000 litres regardless of whether he or she is in college.

I am on record as saying I would prefer if we had a referendum to enshrine the Irish Water service in our Constitution so that it would remain in public ownership and would never be privatised. That is still my preference but what we have introduced has certainly strengthened the current situation. It is true that the existing legislation, which is the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, prohibits the shareholders of Irish Water - the Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Finance and the board of Irish Water - from disposing of their shares. That is stated categorically in the legislation. A concern remains that some future Government might private Irish Water and that the legislation could be changed but it is proposed to introduce totally fresh legislation which will state very strongly that a referendum would need to be held if there was any attempt to privatise Irish Water or the infrastructure of the service being provided. It is being stated categorically that privatisation would require a prior referendum and an amendment of the Constitution. It would be a very reckless Government that would come into this House and propose that this legislation be changed to do away with the commitment to retain Irish Water in public ownership. This is a very substantial commitment. If one takes it in the context of the possibility, as we have seen in the past, of a number of unintended circumstances arising from referendums that have taken place in this country and the cost of holding a referendum, which I understand is in the region of about €20 million, one can see that it is something that should be considered. It has strengthened the matter to a very considerable degree.

Why is all this being done? It is being done because the current system is flawed and its continuation is dangerous. There are 28,000 households in County Roscommon that still have boil water notices. In parts of County Kerry there are ten or 12 times the level of lead in the water. Cryptosporidium is commonplace in the summertime and interferes with the tourism industry, as well as endangering the health of people, particularly in the west. The 34 local authorities have been unable to provide a quality standardised service of clean water and to deal with wastewater. Despite the fact that we are an island and present ourselves as a green, clean and fresh island with healthy food, we have one of the worst records in Europe for pollution with so much wastewater flowing into our rivers, lakes and seas.

I trust that this proposal by the Government will receive a fair hearing.

The last time I spoke about Irish Water in the Dáil, I spoke about my encounters with people in Galway city and county and the anger felt there. I said at the time that this anger was genuine and based on a fear that what was being introduced was going to be completely unaffordable and that what had been set up was more of a HSE rather than an ESB. The uncertainty in people's minds was exploited, preyed upon and whipped up by people who were peddling myths and mistruths. What was needed was a fresh start and a new beginning for Irish Water and that is what we have today. We have received that new start and that ability to put certainty and affordability in place. It involves making sure people know what they are going to be charged and putting in place a properly based argument for the need for a public utility that deals with water, the need for investment in our infrastructure, the practical applications of water meters and what they can do to detect leaks and how we can incentivise people to conserve by reducing their water usage rather than penalising them for excessive water usage.

The past number of protests have been broadly attended by two groups of people. The first comprises those who would not pay for water even if it was a cent per year while the second group consists of those who had genuine concerns about affordability, ineptitude and inefficiencies and wanted a proper system in place. We will never be able to level or reason with the people who do not want to pay but what we can do is address the fears and concerns of people who are worried about whether they can afford it. The measures that have been put in place, such as a guaranteed cap until 2018 of €60 per year for a household with one person and €160 per year for a household with more than one adult, puts that certainty in place. If one works it out, that is 16 cent per day for an individual and 44 cent for any other type of household. The fact that we can say that this will be the case until 2018 and that when the meters come in, they will allow people to reduce their bills even further takes away that worry about affordability and gives people peace of mind and certainty for the future. We then need to say what our capital programme in the next number of years will be. I understand the Minister will be coming back in a few weeks time and that Irish Water will announce the projects across Ireland to take away sewage that is going into the rivers and waterways in 42 towns across the country and to replace the lead, broken, old and inefficient pipes. We will also be able to say that this public utility will be able to raise money so it will not be competing for capital funding with health, housing and so forth. It will have its own revenue stream to invest and the modest charges will be put to good use and be used practically.

The other aspect that is particularly good is the cost where we will have the cheapest water in Europe. This is another measure that can put people at ease.

Genuine concerns were expressed by reasonable people about privatisation because they had been whipped up. They were told this was the plan, that they were being lied to and that it was going to be slipped through. We have provided for certainty in this regard. Nobody in the Dáil or the Seanad has expressed a desire to privatise Irish Water, but if people with different views make it into Government Buildings at some point in the future, they will have to hold a referendum before they can do so. We have dealt with the issue of privatisation.

PPS numbers will no longer be required and we have made the figures people will be paying affordable. The cost will be €60 for an individual and €160 for any household larger than one. We have put in place a programme of investment in order that people will know what is going to happen. I am not sure what more we can do to make it sound like a reasonable proposition into which people can buy and understand.

I am confident that in two years time we will still be dealing with those who oppose charges, regardless of what reasonable and practical arguments we make, but the vast majority of people who understand the need for investment in good water services and the crucial role water plays in our lives and the economy will be satisfied by these measures because they are certain, affordable and predictable.

For the past couple of weeks the Taoiseach has been harping on about today's announcement bringing clarity, certainty and predictability to the Irish Water pricing regime. It has brought clarity because it is clear that the Government has lost its mandate to govern. It has brought certainty because it is certain that the protests against Irish Water and the Government will continue. It is predictable that the citizens of the country will punish the Government for the policies it has pursued in the past four years.

The Taoiseach correctly noted that the protests were about more than water. Water is currently the focus of the protests, but they are also about the Government's betrayal of the people and the so-called democratic revolution that it harped on about in 2011. The citizens of the country are sick and tired of this and the previous Government. They must have their say if they are to be able to punish the Government for betraying their goodwill. The Government is afraid of them. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, said that every citizen of goodwill would look favourably on these figures, but he intends to give landlords the legal power to deduct unpaid water bills from tenants' deposits. That will simply push up the size of deposits. In addition to a deposit of one month's rent, tenants will have to pay €300 or €400 to cover their landlords for potential bills in the future. That will just continue the cycle of homelessness and unavoidability that affects the private rent sector.

The Government has stated these measures are about water conservation, but that claim has been shown to be untrue. They are about revenue generation and getting people to accept the principle of paying for water in order that the service can be privatised in the future, irrespective of any legislation requiring a plebiscite. The Minister has stated that if citizens reduce their consumption by 10% to 15%, they will beat the cap on water charges and thereby reduce their bills. Last week representatives of Irish Water stated in front of a Dáil committee that metering would only reduce consumption by 6%. How will people achieve the level of reduction required to beat the cap? This evening published figures that show that a five adult household would have to reduce consumption by 71% to beat the cap. That is not possible. If the Government was serious about conservation, it would have taken the €529 million from installing meters across the country and used it to roll out a district metering programme, whereby bulk meters would be installed to monitor mains and detect leaks. In the real world I worked in water services for Donegal County Council and in a water treatment plant. I have fixed and detected leaks. Proper district metering would identify leaks on citizens' connections and mains. Not one meter installed by Irish Water at a citizen's household will detect a mains leak.

The Government claims that replacing lead piping is a priority for Irish Water. Five years ago Donegal County Council successfully rolled out a programme to identify and replace lead connections across the county. This could be done across the country. Local authorities have been implementing such programmes for many years. If the Government was serious about water infrastructure, it would make the money available for this to happen. The local authorities concerned did this work free of charge for citizens and without fuss. That is not what the Government wants, however, because it is trying to persuade citizens to accept the principle of paying for water in order that Irish Water can be privatised in the future. Much was made about the requirement to hold a plebiscite before anything could happen to Irish Water, but tomorrow morning Government Deputies will vote down legislation to facilitate a referendum on inserting a right to water into the Constitution. That legislation could have been amended or the Government could have held the referendum with the other referendums planned for next year.

Irish Water may not be sold off as a corporate entity, but as the service level agreements with local authorities come up for renewal in 2025, the Commission for Energy Regulation which was established to deregulate the electricity market and enforce competition will insist on open competition for the service level agreements. We will see the likes of Veolia, Severn Trent and Celtic Anglian Water jockeying for regional service level agreements with Irish Water. They will have the best of both worlds because they will be paid huge amounts to maintain the system, but they will have none of the responsibility. That is the type of privatisation which will be forced on the people in years to come. It will take time to materialise, which is why people will have to continue with their protests. The Government does not have a mandate, as the citizens are making clear. This Friday the Can't Pay, Won't Pay group in Donegal will organise a 24-hour protest outside the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh, in Letterkenny. The numbers attending that protest will show that the so-called clarity, certainty and predictability will not wash with citizens. On 10 December there will be a mass mobilisation outside Leinster House and many thousands of people will show this is not what the citizens want. The Government's only option is either to abolish Irish Water and water charges or go to the country in a referendum in order that the people can give their answer.

I wonder whether the Cabinet has been watching reruns of "Only Fools and Horses". Today's attempt to sell dodgy goods at a discount is reminiscent of Trotter's Independent Trading. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, is familiar with the series. In the Christmas episode in 1992 Del Boy convinced Rodney that they would put tap water into bottles and sell them as "Peckham Spring" to unwitting plonkers - to use the Cockney phrase - wallies and dipsticks. They think things are lovely jubbly and cushty, as Del Boy would say, until the entire scam falls apart.

I am not sure which of these roles, Rodney or Del Boy, applies to the Taoiseach and which to the Tánaiste, but I am sure they will not find enough plonkers to buy their repackaged and discounted goods from the back of their three-wheeled Reliant Regal. Their discounted goods are not wanted and, as every man and woman knows, when the sale ends, the goods go back to their original price. The Government wants to introduce these charges before raising them at some time in the future. This is what happened with bin charges, whose introduction the Government continually points out we failed to prevent. One need only look at what happened as a consequence of that failure; that is the point we are making. What happened was the waivers went, standing charges were introduced, and tags and bags doubled in price.

Ministers have spoken about legislation the Government will introduce to prevent any cap being lifted until 2019. What a joke. Do they really think they are dealing with an uneducated rabble out there? They have no control over what any future government might do and cannot order it to hold a referendum. The only way to guarantee a referendum will be held is to put something in the Constitution in the first place.

Ministers said they listened to what people had to say. I have been on a lot of protests and have not seen any banner mentioning affordability or clarity. People had two points to make, namely, to demand that water charges be abolished and to proclaim, "No way, we won't pay." The Government listened to what was being said but chose to ignore it.

The Deputy never paid for anything in her life.

The shouter is back. I am glad he is taking an interest.

Full-cost recovery is written into the memorandum that was agreed between the troika and Fianna Fáil in government. That is the overall aim down the line. I am not sure how the paymasters in the troika and the European Union will take to what the Government has done today, given that it has not provided enough food to feed the hungry beast of Irish Water. It must be very embarrassing for Members on that side of the House going on all week about raw sewage. I have never heard that expression as often as I have heard it in here in the past two weeks.

We have had to listen to a lot of it.

Yet the conservation argument has gone out the window, or fallen off the back of Rodney's truck. Does the Government intend to store the water meters along with the e-voting machines? What is the point in anybody accepting a water meter when it will not be needed for four years? Why would a person do that?

The question now is whether this trickery will work. Will the discounted goods be bought? I firmly believe the answer is "No". The protests will continue because people are how emboldened. They have seen their own power, something that has not happened for a number of years and which the Government hoped would never happen. People are confident and they see that the days of "There is No Alternative", TINA, which we used to hear every morning on the radio, are well over.

Ministers have tramped through here today and talked about anger not being a good emotion for people to be working off. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, made a very unfunny joke that the three As in the acronym for the Anti-Austerity Alliance all stand for "Anger". In fact, anger is one of the most powerful and energetic emotions there is. It is the motivator for most of the change that has happened in society throughout the decades, centuries and millennia. Sometimes that anger is suppressed and sometimes it bubbles over, as we have seen recently. Attempts by the Government and media to denigrate those who are angry by describing them as a "mob" are highly insulting.

I draw Members' attention to an observation made by James Connolly. I am sure the Government will be dusting down the books about him in time for its 1916 celebrations. He said, "All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress." Connolly's point was that the hierarchy, the people at the top, never did anything to advance progress. It was always the "mob", as they were depicted by the likes of this Government and other elites, who forced change. There is no record in history of any movement led by the hierarchy for abolishing torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage or shortening the hours of labour. I am sure Connolly's observation is one the Government will be suppressing for the centenary celebrations.

The question for ordinary people is where do we go from here. Non-payment of the bills remains the most powerful weapon we have to get rid of water charges, to finish them off for once and for all. The penalties the Government has introduced today will not cow the masses out there. We were told today that after a full year of non-payment plus three months, which takes us up to March 2016, the Government will move to impose penalties of €60 or €30. I am sure people are quaking at that prospect. After all, that is the month in which there will be a general election, if this Government is not gone before then. Do Members opposite not agree that water charges will be the greatest issue in the election campaign? Why would anybody in their right mind pay out under the pathetic system that has been introduced today when they can lobby and demand that any party proposing to form a government must abolish the charges? I guarantee that this is exactly how people will see it. The Government's attempts to calm things down and get itself off the hook will not work.

On 10 December, a huge demonstration will take place in this city. There is already talk of people taking the day off work. I welcome this and invite people to take part, too, in the We Won't Pay protest outside Irish Water's headquarters on Talbot Street on Saturday week at 2 p.m.

Deputies Seán Kyne, Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Patrick O'Donovan have agreed to share time.

In common with a number of colleagues, I have already acknowledged in this House that mistakes were made by the Government and Irish Water in regard to this project. It is important to put up our hands. Those mistakes relate to the ambitious scale of the project, its timescale and the speed of its implementation. A particular difficulty was the complexity of the charging regime, with even those who were happy with the principle of paying for water confused by the details or taking the view that the proposed charges were too high. Communication, particularly by Irish Water, was often poor. I welcome, therefore, the clarifications and corrections the Minister has given the House today. I welcome the simplicity of the new regime, with two separate charges for persons living on their own and for families of two or more people. I welcome the certainty provided by the provision that charges will be capped until 1 January 2019. This gives assurance to people that they will be able to budget in the coming years. I welcome, too, the provisions on affordability. In combination with the recent budget measures such as the changes in the threshold for universal social charge and the higher rate of tax, which put money back in people's pockets, the water charging regime becomes more affordable.

I was contacted by only two people who took part in protests in Galway. They are genuine people and they both marched for the same reason, namely, out of their concern regarding the requirement for householders to provide a PPS number to Irish Water. No matter how much reassurance I tried to give, I could not convince them this was a good idea. In that context, I welcome the change in this particular requirement, with householders now liaising with the Department of Social Protection, which is the owner and controller of PPS numbers, in order to avail of the €100 conservation grant.

A common concern among those opposed to the proposed water charging regime was the issue of privatisation. It seemed to me, as colleagues noted, that people's fears in this regard were being stoked up. Having said that, I welcome the clarification that a future Government will have to remove the relevant provision from the legislation. It would be a very brave government that would refuse to put that question to the people.

I put a query to the Minister for Finance in recent days regarding the liberalisation of the water service market and whether there is any requirement under EU legislation in this regard. The response indicated that there is no European legislation requiring Ireland to liberalise its water services market. The Minister pointed to a communication issued earlier this year in which the European Commission confirmed that it would continue to show full respect for treaty rules governing the European Union obliging it to remain neutral in regard to national decisions governing the ownership regime for water services undertakings. I appreciate that people have genuine concerns in this regard, and I hope today's clarification will allay these fears.

I also welcome the water conservation measures and the grant that will allow people to cut back on water. I disagree with those who have said the meters are a waste. There are still opportunities to save money by using less water than one would pay for under the planned new rules. The statistic the Minister highlighted about 22 houses that have meters installed and which were leaking 1 million litres per day, enough to run Gorey town, was startling. We can see the saving that can be made with proper metering and investment, and I see it in areas of Galway where district metering has been installed to make it easier to identify leaks within the system.

One of the most important issues, and the rationale behind Irish Water, is that it can invest in our broken system in the towns where there are problems with wastewater. Some 42 towns are listed, four of which – Kinvara, Carraroe, Spiddal and Roundstone – are in my county. Irish Water can invest to ensure the bathing water and drinking water standards laid out by the EU regulations are met. It is important we continue this investment. So much needs to be done. Dublin is on a knife-edge and requires an investment of €500 million. Many people who are happy to pay bills will want to know that everyone else is also paying. I welcome the measures put in place to ensure compliance.

Hands up: the roll-out of Irish Water was handled badly, as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Taoiseach acknowledged today. I have listened to my constituents, who have expressed their frustration and annoyance. The Government has responded with a revised, more realistic and more affordable plan for water charges. Today's announcement addresses the many grievances people have against the water charges. I have listened to Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and her Sinn Féin colleagues sermonising and demanding the abolition of water charges while, 100 km north of this city, Sinn Féin is imposing higher water charges. I ask the Sinn Féin Members to stop their crocodile tears.

There are no water charges in the North of Ireland.

The Deputy is showing terrible ignorance. She should stick to the facts.

The water charges will be among the lowest in Europe.

We are just correcting the record.

On a point of order-----

There is no point of order. The Deputy has her time to speak.

I would like to correct the record.

The Deputy knows well what I am talking about. I strongly condemn the antics of the Opposition in the recent past.

The Deputy should stick to the facts.

It has been unacceptable and destructive rather than constructive.

Sinn Féin and the likes of Deputies Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins have done nothing but waste time, scaremonger and exploit the situation. Deputy Paul Murphy was a disgrace last Saturday. Having assisted in trapping the Tánaiste in a car, he appealed to the mob with the words, "Do we agree to let her go?" This is not democracy at work. Violence and intimidation are not effective forms of protest. There was another woman in the car, an ordinary worker, as Deputy Joe Higgins continually describes his supporters. She, too, was doing her job but was trapped in the car for up to two hours. It was a low point. The Tánaiste had been invited to Tallaght to a ceremony for the graduation of further education students. Deputy Paul Murphy had also been invited, but chose to wreck the day for the graduates.

There seems to be a concerted effort by Sinn Féin and members of the Anti-Austerity Alliance to undermine and challenge the rule of law and democracy in the Chamber and throughout the State. Not happy with ignoring and physically obstructing a democratically elected Government and its agents throughout the country, these people expect to employ the same strong-arm, thuggish, bully tactics in the Chamber. They are trying to destabilise the State with menacing, threatening behaviour and are hell-bent on obstructing the Government from doing its job, which it has been democratically elected to do, regardless of whether the Opposition Deputies like it.

It is disgraceful that the ordinary workers that Deputy Joe Higgins loves to depict, who are employed to install the meters and earn a decent day's wage are subjected to horrendous abuse from these so-called protesters. How can these protesters be proud of themselves? While it is their democratic right to protest, it is not their democratic right to intimidate people and obstruct them as they do their daily jobs. It is not a democratic right to spit, threaten and frighten. I know a young female engineer who was threatened with a baseball bat and told her face would be on it. People have been followed home and vilified on social media. These protesters are led by Sinn Féin, Éirígí and the likes of Deputy Paul Murphy and it is unacceptable. It is easy for the Opposition to shout and criticise-----

On a point of order, the Deputy has made a false allegation about my party.

I am sorry, but I am continuing.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

Our party is involved only in peaceful protests.

Is it? Ask Máiría Cahill about the keyboard warriors.

Our party would have no hand, act or part it such activities. On a point of order, I want Deputy Mitchell O'Connor to withdraw the false allegation she has made.

We will ask Máiría Cahill what she thinks of that assertion.

Will the Deputy, please, take his seat? There is no point of order, even if he roars and shouts all he likes.

She has accused my party of being involved in that behaviour. We have not. She should at least be honest. We have engaged in honest debate and she should do the same.

Honest - the Deputy does not know what the word means.

The Deputy should hold onto her prejudice and deal with the facts. We were not involved in those protests.

He might stage a sit-in.

Hold to the facts and do not make false allegations.

My job is to chair. I will give Members the time they have been allocated. There is no point of order and if the Deputy continues his actions, I will call the Ceann Comhairle to resume the Chair and he will deal with the Deputy.

He might stage a sit-in.

Deputy Mitchell O'Connor has made a false allegation against me and I want the record corrected.

The Deputy should not wave her hands at me to sit down. She is not in charge here.

The Deputy's bully boy tactics will not work here.

Neither will a baseball bat.

Members of the Government, please. Will Deputy Brian Stanley, please, resume his seat, or I will call the Ceann Comhairle? Deputy Mitchell O'Connor has an extra minute and a half.

It is easy for the Opposition to shout and criticise across the floor and out on the streets. Sinn Féin was a pretty sight in the Dáil last week, defying democracy in the Dáil, on the one hand, and denying child abuse, on the other.

It has gone quiet all of a sudden.

Deputy Paul Murphy was a national disgrace last weekend. Today, real politics and leadership were shown.

It is a pity Deputy Ruth Coppinger has decided to vacate the Chamber, along with the Fianna Fáil Members, who were crowing a while ago about the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, was gone. Fianna Fáil has little interest in the €400 charge it was going to levy on people when it was in government. Deputy Ruth Coppinger referred to a sitcom that was on television in the 1970s and 1980s, "Only Fools and Horses". There was another BBC sitcom about a grumpy old man who opposed everything, Victor Meldrew. If she is going to draw comparisons, the leader of her party would fit this characterisation.

Will the Deputy, please, stick to the motion?

I am sticking to it, but I am addressing the point made by the now absent Deputy, who has run away to be with the said Victor Meldrew. I welcome the clarity provided. Irish Water has not been the Government's finest hour, considering everything else the Government has had to contend with since taking office. It has probably been the worst-managed issue. The manner in which it has been addressed today and the time that has been allocated to it will go a long way towards rectifying the wrongs that were done.

I particularly welcome it from a rural dweller's point of view. Deputy Brian Stanley comes from a part of the country that is not dissimilar to my own, with a large number of people in group water schemes who are already paying for water. They do so in County Laois where there is also a large number of people with private wells. They will be obvious beneficiaries of what the Government has done today. I hope Deputy Brian Stanley will support the Government's initiative to help people in group water schemes and with private wells who have provided their own water for a long time.

Deputy Pearse Doherty is at the Select Sub-Committee on Finance talking about a land tax on farms and a wealth tax being reintroduced. Sinn Féin is resurrecting its land and wealth tax proposals. I know it does not have a lot of time for farmers and rural dwellers, but I do. The Government's initiative for people with septic tanks, in group water schemes or with their own wells is long overdue recognition by the State that some people have to provide their own water and do not have the services to which urban dwellers have become accustomed. In some ways, their taxes have been used to subsidise these services.

Perhaps Deputy Brian Stanley might acknowledge that a lot of people in County Laois pay for water. With Deputy Michael Colreavy, he might also acknowledge that those who have provided their own water for generations will benefit from what the Government is doing. I know that Sinn Féin will be telling people in counties Laois, Leitrim and Sligo how to access the €100 the Government will provide. At the same time, however, its Members will come into the House and criticise it. The party's total hypocrisy is unbelievable. What has it done in the Six Counties, as it calls it? It has deferred water charges but not abolished them. It deferred them until after the Westminster elections and will state it has struck a deal for voters against the "big bad Unionists." It will make sure there will be no water charges. It stated this about PSNI stations, rural schools and accident and emergency units in the Six Counties, yet it renegued on every single one of these promises. That is because when it is in government in the North it has to make tough decisions like Fine Gael and the Labour Party must do here. It knows that when push comes to shove, the little abacus - that runs in one direction with money only going out and never coming in - it is running down here does not work north of the Border. The reality is that somebody has to pay for services. No matter how many holes it digs in backyards, it will never dig up a crock of gold. It might dig up the Northern Bank money, but it will never dig up the elusive crock of gold it is promising people. It will never have to pay for anything under Deputies Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Ask Máiría Cahill about the commitments of Deputies Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald and they will get their answer from her. The reality is that when it comes to telling the truth - Sinn Féin has some history when it comes to telling the truth - it is not capable of telling people in this jurisdiction or the North one scintilla of the truth. That is because the populism it has paraded throughout the island in recent years is coming to an end. People are wising up to it.

Ask the people - call an election; I dare you.

It brought rapists and child abusers to this jurisdiction, yet its Members come into the House this evening to tell us about how we are going to run a water system. Shame on it.

Shame on the Deputy.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan's time is up. He should resume his seat.

They interrupted me also. For the first time in the history of the State, a Government has recognised the long overdue need for sewage treatment works and good quality drinking water. I, therefore, have no problem in supporting the Government's proposals.

That is an outrageous allegation and the Acting Chairman should ask the Deputy to withdraw it. He is a scandalous hypocrite.

Tell that to the woman who was here last week, you hypocrite.

The Deputy should pour some water over himself to cool down.

Will the Deputies, please, show respect for the Chair?

It is hard to show respect when there are so many interruptions.

The next speaker is Deputy Denis Naughten who is sharing time with Deputy Billy Timmins.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion before the House. It is wrong that some Deputies are going to be paid between €20 and €60 for water on foot of today's announcement. It is morally wrong that this is the case. This evening I have dealt with the case of an elderly woman with a profoundly disabled son who lives in a council cottage. She will pay €80 for water. Her next door neighbour, a single man who retired early and has come back from abroad, with a five-bedroom house and two reception rooms will be paid €20 by the Government for water. About 200,000 households with one single adult in rural areas will share a €4 million plus windfall on foot of today's announcement. That money could be used to provide 3,600 medical cards for sick children who are being denied them under the medical card system. At a time when we cannot fund these medical cards, it is morally wrong to hand out money hand over fist to people across the country for water. We are putting the cart before the horse in the proposals that have been published today.

People will pay for water and then receive a rebate if they can reduce their consumption, but that can only happen if they spend money on equipment and appliances. They do not have the money to do this. Instead of penalising those who blatantly waste water or fill up their swimming pools, we are asking people to pay up front and then try to lower their water consumption. The proposal was supposed to be about introducing metering to conserve water. The metering undertaken to date has cost €666 million. It will take 42 years to pay back the cost based on the level of water conservation alone. This is based on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's own figures.

During the debate a lot of people have raised the issue of the poor water supply in County Roscommon. One in four in the county has to boil water before he or she can drink it. On foot of today's announcement, however, people will still receive bills for water that they cannot drink. If they live in urban areas, they will still have to pay for water. Pubs, restaurants and other commercial users will only receive a 20% discount on their total water bills, even though they cannot use it - never mind the loss of business and the reputational damage being done to their businesses and their town.

There is a huge cost involved in providing a replacement water supply. We have heard that in Castlerea Prison €20,000 will be spent this year in buying bottled water. Roscommon Primary Community and Continuing Care which has a number of long-stay geriatric hospitals in the county will spend €14,000 in filtering its water supply. The people of Strokestown and surrounding areas in the north-east Roscommon regional water supply scheme will have to wait until August 2015 at the earliest before their boil water notices can be lifted. That is because Irish Water and its predecessor, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, is and was not prepared to purchase temporary mobile treatment plants. Instead those living in the north-east Roscommon regional water supply scheme area must wait until the Roscommon central water supply scheme is upgraded. The mobile unit was installed two weeks after the boil water notice had been put in place.

We will have to wait until the mobile unit is shifted up the road. We still have no commitment from Irish Water that it will happen. Instead of buying a number of mobile units, which could be used in other parts of the country when boil water notices are in place, and installing them in Castlerea, at the north-east Roscommon source and at the Killeglan springs, Irish Water and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government let the people of County Roscommon boil water for up to two years. It is unacceptable and the ethos is to let them suffer and continue to suffer.

At the same time, 45% of commercial water charges remain uncollected. Some commercial users are not paying for water at all. There is absolute confusion following the Minister's announcement about farm families and other domestic and non-domestic users of water about what will happen from April. From deciphering the speech of the Minister, it seems people will get two water bills. One will apply to non-domestic or commercial water and the other to the so-called free domestic allowance people had been receiving until now. People do not know what is going on and it is adding to the confusion rather than clarifying the position.

When the Irish Water legislation was introduced this time last year, the only two Opposition Members in the House were Deputy Billy Timmins and me. At that stage, the vast majority of people were prepared to pay for water but not for inefficiency or profits at Irish Water. Instead of a commercial semi-State company, we should have established a not-for-profit organisation. We have plenty of experience of that in the country. We could take the public utility into public ownership and make it democratically accountable to the House. That option was refused in the House this time last year when Deputies Billy Timmins, Michael McNamara and I raised the point. The reality is that Irish Water is not working and the result is inefficiency, confusion, increased administrative costs and a loss of public trust. The rush to get Irish Water up and running by the politically driven deadline of 1 January 2014 gave us a cobbled together structure with weak foundations and which is unaccountable to the public.

It was depressing to listen to some of the contributions prior to Deputy Denis Naughten. The Irish Water board members should resign and, if not, should be sacked. The Minister did not mention the board although he mentioned at the press conference afterwards that new positions will be advertised tomorrow. The board, which should ensure policy is carried out notwithstanding that the legislation was naked in respect of policy, should resign forthwith. In so far as there is any crossover between the boards of Irish Water and Bord Gáis, the people involved should resign and, if they will not, they should be fired.

The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht should carry out an investigation on the debacle, starting with the Irish Water forum and its various proposals, which may have been changed due to union involvement and intervention from various Ministers right up to today's announcement. If today's motion was tabled by the Technical Group, Sinn Féin or any other body in the House nine months ago, it would have been laughed out of court. It shows how bad things are that Government speakers welcome it while acknowledging the mistakes that were made. The motion is an indication of how poor the Government has been on this issue.

Just before Christmas Deputy Denis Naughten and I were debating the Bill in the House. It is a case of the ghosts of Christmas past. I see Deputy James Bannon is in the Chamber and he also came in on that day. I pointed out that the legislation would come back to haunt the Government. I am not being wise after the event. Deputies Michael McNamara and Michael Creed made contributions on behalf of the Government and Deputy Denis Naughten also spoke but received no airtime or coverage because Luke "Ming" Flanagan had carried out a stunt in the Dáil using a container of water from County Roscommon. That stunt does not serve political debate or the House well because it disguises the serious issues, which were not covered by the media. The serious flaws in the legislation were not covered until the marches took place, notwithstanding the fact that many Members from the Government side knew the situation after the local elections.

We arrived today because the Government showed a lack of respect for the House and, by extension, a lack of respect for members of the public. The Government did so by passing legislation with no detail and giving inconsistent and inaccurate information. Incorrect figures and allowances were given and we now have the laughable situation where some of the wealthiest people in the country, good luck to them, will end up in an enhanced financial position as result of the motion. People on group water schemes will end up being paid money for the privilege of taking water. The two main planks of Government policy were to repair the network and conserve water. I see neither policy in the motion, which I will not support.

Irish Water sprung from NewERA. The former Minister of State with responsibility for NewERA, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, was recently replaced, by whom I do not know. Do we have a Minister for NewERA? What has happened? It was one of the great planks of Government policy. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd penned an article outlining the shortcomings of this before the debacle and, from talking to people who were at the meetings, my understanding is that the Deputy pointed to the many shortcomings of the legislation, including the lack of detail, long before it was debated on the floor of the House. However, he was dismissed.

In 1863, when the Vartry scheme was introduced by the British to bring water to Dublin and the pipeline to Greystones and Bray, it was debated for five weeks in the House of Commons and seven days in the House of Lords. It caused difficulties but at least it was given time. It cost 12p for 800 gallons or less and 11p for every 1,000 gallons over that on a sliding scale. At least the debating time was given to it.

The Government has turned a good concept into a monster. If I leave my tap running or hose down my car while someone next-door conserves water, is it fair that we pay the same? I believe in the concept of water metering and water charges. I always believed in it on the basis of an educational timeframe and a grant scheme to enable the installation of grey water and dividing grey water and potable water in order that an individual knows how much grey water and potable water should be used on average. The potable water for basic necessities should be given free and anything above that, irrespective of what it is used for, should be charged. The vast majority of people would have gone along with that. Our current scheme does not work, with over 34 authorities dealing with one utility. Can we imagine if there were 34 companies like Bord Gáis or the ESB? How the Government managed to make such a mess of it is indicative of the disdain in which it has held the public over recent years due to the large majority in the House. I hope the Government has learned a lesson and the arrogance reflected in the process ceases. With policy implementation in the coming year, I hope there will be a more humane approach with greater respect for members of the public. That is all the public asks. I do not believe the measures today will win political kudos for the Government. On the contrary, when the shortcomings of the legislation are picked out and people analyse how poor the policy is relative to what it should be, they will pass harsh judgment on the Government.

I know many of my former colleagues - they are fine individuals - will suffer as a result of the mistakes of a few, which I regret. A few in the Cabinet have collective responsibility for this difficulty.

There are a few specific issues I would like to raise. Deputy Denis Naughten mentioned the commercial position and I submitted a parliamentary question yesterday dealing with commercial responsibility being handed over in 2015. I could not ascertain from the response what would be the charges but in his speech today, the Minister indicated that the regulator would decide a charge. Wicklow has the highest charge per cubic metre in the country and there is a very high standing charge. The charges should be standardised. In places like Arklow - and there are 20, 30 or 40 such places around the country - there is no proper sewerage scheme in place so where do the people in those towns stand? The Oireachtas cannot be treated like this.

I emphasise that the board should be sacked. Violence has taken place and I find it reprehensible that some Members did not have the decency to condemn the violence that we saw not alone in Tallaght but in many locations. People have deliberately manipulated the vast majority of decent, honest people who wish to protest in a peaceful manner but they have been let down by so-called political leaders.

Deputy James Bannon is sharing time with Deputy Brian Walsh.

After many long weeks and months discussing Irish Water, I am glad that a clear certainty has been brought to the debate. I commend the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the rest of the Cabinet for introducing what I would describe as a reasonably fair package. We have all heard the reasons we must invest in our water system but it is important to reiterate some matters.

We are spending €1.2 billion to maintain a broken water system, as 49% of all treated water goes in leaks and there are 20,000 people throughout Ireland on boil notices for water, including many families in the parishes of Newtowncashel in County Longford and Rochfortbridge in County Westmeath. There are 42 communities discharging raw sewage into local rivers and lakes. It was mentioned by the Minister today that more than 800 km of pipeline in Dublin is over 100 years old, and the same can be said for rural Ireland, which has examples of antiquated pipe structures in many areas of the midlands dating to the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In some cases, these pipes for water delivery to communities contain asbestos or lead. We have been operating a system not fit for purpose and which has been neglected by successive Governments through the years. That is unacceptable.

In this day and age, an adequate water infrastructure should be in place for all the people in Ireland. Over the past number of months I sat in this Chamber across from the Fianna Fáil benches, although none of those Members is present this evening. I have found their rhetoric on Irish Water stomach-churning, as they lambasted the Government in the Chamber and held meetings throughout the country in an attempt to lead the opposition to water charges. Ultimately, when everything is said and done, Fianna Fáil signed the deal with the troika and wanted to charge Irish people €400 per year for water. Records can prove that fact.

With Sinn Féin, it is a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The party's Members either do not know or choose to ignore how much it costs to run our water system while the party introduces water charges across the Border at a rate of £280 per house. The party has repeatedly insisted that the €300 million it allowed in its pre-budget submission here to cancel water charges would cover all the costs, ignoring that €850 million per year would be needed to fund and invest in our water system. Deputy Pearse Doherty has twice conceded that there is a €550 million hole in Sinn Féin's costings on Irish Water but has said it does not matter because the economy is growing. He is right about one element, as the economy is growing thanks to this Government's effort and the creation of more than 70,000 new jobs in the past year. The Independents include Deputy Paul Murphy, who must be condemned for his antics in inciting hatred at a peaceful protest, which put the lives of our women, children and elderly people at risk. There is nothing wrong with peaceful protests and I have always welcomed them through the years. People are entitled to protest in an orderly and civilised manner.

The Government has listened to people describe the pressure people are under around the country. I have stated time and again in the House that this sacrifice has allowed the economic recovery to happen. As the Minister, Deputy Kelly, mentioned earlier, we have provided certainty, simplicity and affordability in the measures introduced today. For a family household, the absolute maximum net cost will now be €3 per week and for a single household, the net cost will be €1.15 per week. Affordability is a key principle within this package and it will underpin all future Government policy on water charges. There will be legislation for capping to ensure it will remain after 2019.

Another key principle underpinning this package is the concept of water conservation, which is vital for Ireland's future. Metering is key to measuring the amount of water used by a household, and meters will allow people to beat the cap and pay even less for water through conservation measures. Meters can only reduce bills and are essential in finding leaks. I remember a number of years ago, when Longford County Council charged me for water used in my business, the first bill I received was for approximately €1,500. When I questioned this, the meter reading indicated that I had many leaks on the farm, which I went about repairing. The following year, the bill was reduced to approximately €327 because I had fixed the leaks. That was a costly reminder to get the house in order.

Another matter that has caused concern to people is the possibility of Irish Water being privatised. The current legislation is sufficient in terms of addressing that but I am pleased to see that the Minister is further reinforcing legislation by requiring any change to be put before the people of Ireland through a plebiscite. Irish Water will never be privatised without the consent of the Irish people and it is important we make that clear to everybody. The public was rightly annoyed about the high cost of setting up Irish Water and I cannot disagree with that. I am glad that the bonus culture aspect of Irish Water has been completely eliminated.

It must also be noted that this country has higher rainfall levels than most other EU countries.

We should encourage more people to harvest water. I would like to have seen provision made for further grant assistance for the harvesting of water, as it is effective in obtaining water for giving to farm animals, watering gardens, washing cars and doing other chores.

I congratulate the Minister on providing greater clarity and making this package reasonable. In the past 12 months we have made efforts to improve infrastructure in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, and this time last year I got €1.2 million to upgrade the regional water supply in County Longford. I got €4.13 million for the rehabilitation of Mullingar water mains in County Westmeath. In the coming months and years, major projects will need to be funded in my constituency and I hope funding from Irish Water will improve infrastructure there. Water infrastructure will be very important for Ireland in the future. It is important for jobs and investment and it is a priority for the people.

I am sorry to disturb the Deputy, but I must now adjourn the debate until tomorrow morning.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 20 November 2014.