I welcome the Government's announcement yesterday of changes to water pricing and to Irish Water. Without a doubt, the cost of water and the fear of not being able to afford another bill has been to the fore in the minds of most people. The suite of changes set out by the Minister shows that considerable depth of consideration has been given by the Government to concerns articulated in regard to certainty and affordability, including issues of governance at Irish Water.
Clearly, we have massive infrastructural problems with our water and sewerage systems, which have not been addressed in a meaningful way over the years. The previous system in which local authorities operated as sanitary and water authorities was not in a position to address the considerable shortcomings. Forty-two towns in this country have no wastewater treatment facilities and many of them are in designated environmentally sensitive areas. One hundred and sixty-two urban wastewater treatment plants are operating currently while awaiting licences. They must be licensed by the end of 2015 but they are in limbo because, in most cases, remedial works are required at the very least. In the meantime, our rivers, lakes and coastal areas are being polluted and we face the threat of prosecution, fines and other sanctions. There are problems and knock-on effects for citizens in terms of a proper and adequate water supply and the treatment of sewage. These are no small things, even though I have heard them referred to very glibly in this House during the course of debate. As responsible citizens, we must address these issues. Our well-being is connected to our environment. Not only do we need water, but we need a safe environment and we must be environmentally responsible. We must ensure we have proper wastewater and sewage treatment facilities. As a modern country, society and economy, if we want to attract people here to invest in business and provide a healthy environment for our people, this investment must be made.
I am glad to see the three-year capital investment plan Irish Water has set out. For years, my county has had different wastewater treatment schemes, water schemes, etc. on lists which could never be dealt with because we did not have a rates base to provide a polluter-pays contribution. The environmental degradation is real, as is the lack of proper water. There is no other tenable and viable solution here, so I welcome the changes made. In my own town, €5 million has been spent on fixing leaking pipes. Local authority workers were out every other day fixing pipes, which was such a waste of resources. Substantial businesses were without water, as were whole housing estates. When one looked into the ground, one could see that the pipes had simply melted away. There was no way that was going to be addressed in a comprehensive fashion, so I welcome the expeditious implementation of the capital programme which is very necessary and will reap benefits for our citizens in the long-term.
With this particular saga or debacle in regard to Irish Water, the natural fears that people expressed highlighted the conflict of ideologies in this Chamber. However, it is worth remembering that this is an open market economy and we draw benefits from capitalism. Even the proponents of socialism want to draw benefits from capitalism. They want foreign direct investment and the taxes we glean from it, so there must be a reality check.
I refer to the violent nature of some of the protests, which was condoned by some Deputies. Where people desire socialist ideals, they should realise that they must be pursued through democratic means, because if one destroys our democracy in the course of trying to achieve something, what is one left with? That is not socialism. We can try to implement socialist ideals, some of which are worthwhile or worthy, but we should not undermine our democracy in the process.
It is always worth remembering that, in many ways, democracy is about how we try to persuade people as to the merits of our case. We persuade people with words and language, and there are very many articulate people in this House. It is never about force or banging somebody on the head and saying that he or she must follow a certain way; it is always about persuasion. That is why I was very alarmed to hear Deputy Paul Murphy suggest that it would still have constituted a peaceful protest had the Tánaiste been detained in her vehicle for 12 hours. Is this really being presented as some democratic endeavour, and to what end? The Tánaiste has her own well-founded and deep-rooted convictions about her position, so should she be bullied and intimidated into changing them? Is that what we are talking about?
The aim of the revolution we are being told about is to cause civil strife, uproar and, ultimately, anarchy, which is the only place I can see it all ending up. With anarchy, there is the destruction of so many freedoms we enjoy. We must obey the law of the land. Democracy is exercised in this House and we should reflect on it and not throw it away. Members of this House have a platform and they should show leadership. The sort of carry-on we have seen is not democratic.
The country has been through a great deal in recent years. We should take stock of the economic recovery and what it will mean for people. It will allow us to self-determine. The objective is to ensure people can get back to work to sustain their families and that is the direction in which we are moving. Considering the precipice we were on economically, there was no assurance that we would come out of the doldrums or the black place we were in, but we have done so and should focus on the positives. We know that there is more we need to do as we strive to address all of the concerns and problems such as housing people and so on. Of course, water charges are not popular, but let us consider the social benefits that we will reap now and in the future. Already the plans for County Roscommon are being implemented. People have been told that they will benefit from them in the short term and the future and I fully expect this to be the case. We will all reap the benefits in the end and are building something for the future. We are addressing problems which under the previous system could not be addressed. Let us not be swatted from our goal of returning the country to its productive best by those who talk but have no clue what to do.