Water Services Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

My point prior to Leaders' Questions related to the Taoiseach's comments in response to the national movement that has emerged in recent months opposing the Government's proposals on water charges. The Taoiseach said the protests do not relate solely to water charges and I made the point that I agree with him. This opposition movement partially relates to water charges but it is also about much more. The reasoning is mixed: there is ideological opposition, some worry about their ability to pay based on the figures bandied about before the climb-down by the Government some weeks ago and others are simply disturbed, annoyed and let down by the way the Government has handled this issue since the process began a couple of years ago. As the Taoiseach acknowledged, some people feel water charges represent a tipping point, the last resort along a difficult path travelled by this Government and the previous Government.

Government parties and members have failed to acknowledge their part in bringing matters to this juncture. The Government made commitments to the public on burning bondholders, eradicating third-level education fees, ending homelessness, introducing universal health care and restoring recapitalisation funds to the people. Indeed, the EU was obliged to restore recapitalisation funds, having come up with a mechanism to meet the demands of states that found themselves in circumstances similar to Ireland and other countries prior to the downturn. People voted for the Government parties on the basis of these commitments and the belief that there could be an easy way through the crisis. Unfortunately, there was no easy way, despite the fact that the Government was frequently made aware of what was required.

The Taoiseach sought to win two Dáil seats for Fine Gael in Roscommon by speaking from the back of a lorry of the retention of the accident and emergency unit at the hospital. This has not been achieved. Many other commitments were made that were not lived up to. It is sad that a homelessness forum is necessary to deal with the tragic circumstances facing the many people sleeping rough in this city and others. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, this morning highlighted the need for a national emergency forum to address problems in hospitals and this is a reminder of the Government's failure to keep promises that were made. It is against this background that the public has tended to sympathise with those taking extreme views on water charges. Cohesive and coherent governance is necessary for this Administration to remain in office and it is in jeopardy.

There is an obligation on the Government to recognise the situation it faces and alter course to win back the public and help them understand the need for certain measures. The Government has not gone far enough in this regard: rather than come out with one hand up it should have come out with two hands up. It should admit defeat, acknowledge the huge losses incurred by the State due to the path that was taken and start again. Had the Government chosen to stand back, reconvene and start again I do not think such actions would have met with any disapproval on this side of the House. Unfortunately the Government saw fit not to do this and instead proceeded with a regime that is less cumbersome but regressive, nonetheless. We will maintain our opposition to Irish Water, which has persisted since the entity was first mooted many years ago.

As I have told many commentators and Deputies, I have no problem with the concept of asking people to make an extra contribution towards the provision of an adequate water supply but I believe this can only be done when the system is fit for purpose. A mechanism must first be devised to make the system fit for purpose and the necessary funding mechanism must also be in place. Multi-annual programmes for the delivery of infrastructure have been carried out often since the founding of the State. In recent times the National Roads Authority, NRA, did significant work on the roll-out of the national primary road network around the country - many people consider this a success story. The multi-annual programmes I refer to were carried out on budget and on time so this is a model for delivery that could have been considered regarding infrastructure for the water network. The Government has made mistakes in how it has dealt with this but I do not necessarily want to rehash these failings and the rushed nature of this project. It has descended into a sorry debacle.

We will continue to oppose this Bill, which gives effect to the changes and climb-downs announced by the Government some weeks ago, and all of its contents. The announcement of this new system is a panicked U-turn. The conservation goals and capital infrastructure plans behind water charges have been abandoned by a rapidly back-pedalling Government. The fact that Irish Water is a super-quango has been recognised by the Opposition, the public and the Government but the Government still aims to raise €140 million through new charges. This approach will put at risk the spending on capital infrastructure that the system requires.

We must be mindful of the fact that some will say €540 million has been wasted on water meters as they will not be used for the next four years. Meeting this commitment on metering infrastructure costs up to €25 million per annum in interest payments. We are conscious of the fact that it cost €180 million to create Irish Water and that €80 million of this was spent on consultancy fees. The accountancy trick of taking water off the national balance sheet has backfired badly. Some weeks ago we felt it was time to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges and this view remains the same today on the publication of this legislation, which gives effect to the new charges. The issue should be revisited with a view to putting in place a timeframe for works to be carried out. Associated costs should be made clear, along with a mechanism for how they will be met - perhaps through general taxation mixed with a public private partnership. It should be clear to people that planned work has been costed and can be paid for. Once the system is improved and fit for purpose we can ask people to contribute. The system should have an ability to pay philosophy enshrined at its core.

Among the major issues that still exist, that are obvious, that must be acknowledged and that are yet to be addressed is the fact that the new system will cost households with two adults €160 and €60 for a single adult. The myriad water supports announced in budget 2015 and some weeks later will be replaced by a €100 conservation payment to all households. This amounts to almost ten U-turns in less than two months since water charges were first introduced on 1 October.

No commentary has been sought or given from the Commission for Energy Regulation, which was given the responsibility by Government to be the eyes and ears of the public and the consumer. It was to be the watchdog for the public and the consumer and was to act in the best interests of the consumer.

The principle of water conservation has been completely abandoned and with it the €540 million spent on water meters has been left rusting in the ground while a flat charge will be used until 2019, at least. We should remember that during the course of the debacle when the Government was trying to justify the reasons and methodology and give an explanation for the debacle as it travelled through the past two years, Ministers were falling over themselves trying to explain to us and others the need for water conservation and investment. The arguments have now been forgotten following what was brought forward some weeks ago. In a further blow to the tattered reputation of Irish Water, even since that announcement, revelations surrounding the €100 million increase in water meter estimation costs have raised further questions. The entire set-up of Irish Water should not only be abolished but subjected to an investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Comptroller should examine, analyse and recognise the failings of Government to manage the funding that was thrown into this project with nothing to show for it. Not one cent out of all the millions spent has gone into the reinstatement or rectification of the system as we know it.

We want to question the capacity of Irish Water to implement a capital investment plan. Has this been undermined? If not, the matter should be explained. We were told that private borrowing by the body was one of the main reasons it was set up. Arguably it is now impossible to do that due to the company's reliance on Government payments. To meet the EUROSTAT market corporation test, Irish Water will have to raise at least 50% of its revenue from non-Government sources. We are told the gross Irish Water revenue from domestic charges will be €300 million with a further €200 million coming from non-domestic units. However, it remains to be seen if the water conservation payment will constitute State aid. It is extraordinary that no independent assessment can be sought from the body that will carry out the test. We are dependent on statistical analysis from independent sources within this jurisdiction and we are not privy to the market test that will take place next March.

We have heard that the State aid figure is only 44%. What percentage of non-compliance in water charge payments will tip that towards the 50% breaking point? I hope that some Government Members or Members of the Government parties will confirm during the course of the debate today and tomorrow whether they have a plan B in the event of the test not passing. I am mindful that it might not pass for two reasons. First, 44% is the figure of State aid at present. What would it take for this to move closer to 50% in the event of non-compliance? At what rate of non-compliance will that percentage be reached? The second reason is adverted to in the Bill. I gather the utility known as Irish Water will not have to make any payments in the form of commercial rates to local authorities. Supposedly the relevant figure from a revenue perspective is €60 million. I put a question yesterday to the Minister on the matter but I was not entirely convinced from his reply or the subsequent written answer that I received the necessary clarification for the matter to be signed off. Many local authorities throughout the country have not factored this into their existing or proposed budgets for next year. Local authorities had understood, based on their consultations, conversations and correspondence with the Department in the past year, that they would be in a position to benefit from rates from a utility such as Irish Water, in particular and if nothing else, since the value that was put on the assets upon transfer was supposedly €11 billion.

I know for a fact that the only valuations that have been carried out on such assets to date are in the counties of Dublin and Waterford. No local authority from any other county has been in a position to give a clear indication of what income could or would be derived in commercial rates from Irish Water. How is it, then, that the Government can state emphatically that €60 million will be saved by virtue of this legislation? The legislation is supposed to provide that local authorities will not collect rates from Irish Water. The House was never informed about the value of these rates to the 34 local authorities throughout the country. How, then, can the Government maintain emphatically and categorically that under this legislation there will be savings to the value of €60 million?

I asked questions yesterday and during a previous debate when we discussed the Minister's proposal to give effect to these charges and this legislation. The Taoiseach gave me a commitment that the strategy and plan in respect of the rectification and capital expenditure works of Irish Water would be on the table for us to adjudicate on, as would the associated costs and a clear and defined method by which water services would be paid for in future. This never arrived during the course of the debate, but I hope it might come in this debate. In addition, I seek clear, categoric and succinct detail on the value that has been placed on Irish Water's assets throughout the 34 local authorities as well as detail on the revenue that was to have accrued to local authorities and which is being foregone by virtue of this legislation. I put it to the Government and the relevant Minister that the figure is far in excess of €60 million. The absence of this information places at risk the possibility of this programme, project, concept or model passing the EUROSTAT corporation market test.

Reference has been made to the issue of water meters and conservation. It is incumbent on representatives of Government and the Minister to outline to the House the type of conservation they envisage from the model before the House. The position is that a single person will be asked to pay €60 per annum, having got the conservation allowance from the Department. We have yet to get the details - I hope they will be forthcoming - on the costs to the Department of Social Protection of providing the workforce or resources to assess and distribute the reimbursement throughout the State. There must be costs associated with that process. Will they come from the social welfare budget? If so, are there other projects under the remit of the Department of Social Protection that will be pared back to meet such costs? Perhaps the Minister of State will address that question as well.

Let us suppose a person has a meter outside a dwelling and he or she can prove water conservation has taken place in that household and, therefore, he or she is entitled to a €10 refund. What costs are associated with the checks and balances in confirming that? It would almost cost €20 to give back €10. Again, what sort of consumption or usage levels have been scientifically proven to yield savings by virtue of this model? The same person could have a car wash facility at his residence seven days a week and not be charged an extra cent over and above the €60 charge.

Many people are willing, if and when we have a system that is fit for purpose and the necessary investment has been made in the water network, to make a contribution over and above general taxation as they would have an improved system. They do not expect their neighbours to waste water wantonly and then to have to pay the same charges as them.

I have set out some of the points on which confirmation is required. I have also set out questions which I ask the Minister to convey to those with responsibility in the area during the course of the debate in order that at its conclusion, irrespective of how Opposition Members might vote, Government party Members can be more informed before they make a decision to follow this legislation blindly. It is important considering how blindly they followed legislation on 19 December last year which caused such a furore and left the Government having to row back in an embarrassing fashion on its commitments having rushed the whole process to facilitate the appointment of a person to an EU post in Brussels.

This is not going to work. The Bill will not save water charges, the Labour Party or the Government. Whether the Minister knows it, what has happened in the past few months is more significant even than 100,000 people coming out onto the streets on 11 October. It is more significant than up to 200,000 people coming out three weeks later. It is even more significant than the hundreds of meetings that have taken place across the State as local communities come together, self-organise and self-mobilise to discuss how to beat these water charges.

What has happened is that working class people have felt their own power. They have discovered that they can force the Government back on water charges and that things it stated were impossible - like the need to have PPS numbers - can be forced back. They know now that they can force the complete abolition of water charges and, increasingly, that they can bring the Government down. What is most dangerous of all for the political establishment is the mass of people discovering their own power. That is precisely what has happened in the past couple of months and it is precisely what is responsible for the reshaping of the political landscape at breakneck speed. It means that they will not be fooled by the baby carrots contained in the legislation. They will not be scared by the big sticks the Government and sections of the media have been waving around in the past few weeks.

The Government, ably assisted by a large section of the media, with Denis O'Brien's Independent News & Media group of newspapers to the fore, has been demonising protestors for weeks. It has been doing everything possible to convince people that 10 December will be a violent day with violent protestors and a sinister fringe to discourage them from coming. Gardaí have been acting, including with excessive force, on behalf of GMC Sierra and other metering contractors to impose water meters on those who do not want them. Incredibly, there are three people who have 28 day gaol sentences hanging over them for six months because they broke an undemocratic injunction that restricted their right to protest peacefully within 20 metres of water meters being installed on their own estates. It is a blatant attempt to intimidate them and others from protesting, notwithstanding the promises of the Minister and his talk about how the scale of the roll-out of the metering programme has been particularly impressive and how, by any measure, it has been a success. Despite all of the promises that nobody would be disconnected from a water supply, a man in Templeogue, Mr. Bernard Molloy, and his wife and three kids had their water supply disconnected for two days because they refused to accept a water meter from Irish Water. All of these sticks were used against people, but none of them has worked. People are still planning to come on 10 December.

The baby carrots are not going to work either. People are not at all fooled by a flat-rate home tax until 2019, after which they will pay an average per family of €200 per adult. They are not fooled by the empty promise of holding a plebiscite on privatisation that could be undone by any future Government. They are not fooled by the talk of investment in water infrastructure by a Government and previous Governments that criminally refused to invest while the left was calling for it. There is a widespread and solid understanding that water charges at any level are completely unacceptable, that they represent the commodification of water and that they must be stopped. The result is that next Wednesday people will flood the streets.

The mob - the 99% - is mobilising all across the country. Last night I spoke at a meeting in Limerick and all of those in attendance are coming to Dublin next Wednesday. Two weeks ago I spoke at a meeting in Charleville. They are all coming up to Dublin next Wednesday, too. Almost every night in the past couple of weeks I have spoken at multiple meetings in Dublin south-west to hundreds of people who are all coming next Wednesday and bringing friends and family. There will be a partial shut-down of the country next Wednesday when the power of working people will be demonstrated on a working day.

By committing to go ahead with these water charges despite that opposition, the Government has tied its future to the successful imposition of water charges. Water charges are going to sink and will bring the Government down with them. People are coming next Wednesday to bring down water charges and force their total abolition, but that is not all. They are coming next Wednesday, too, to bring down the Government. If it manages to limp on until April, it will be met with a massive boycott that will fatally undermine it and the charges. Either way, the end of the Government is growing very near. People have concluded that it is incapable of listening to working class people and the 99%. It only listens to the sinister fringe which runs the country, the likes of Denis O'Brien, the bankers, the bondholders, the European Commission and the IMF. It is a small but powerful and wealthy sinister fringe that runs the country and is represented by parties in a sinister fringe such as the Labour Party which may have no seats after the next general election.

The Government can and must be brought down by people power. Whatever Government replaces it will do so in the shadow of a massive movement that will have brought down one Government and stopped the introduction of water charges. It will have the awareness that what the people will do to the Government they can do to the next. It will be a case of all out on 10 December to bring down the water charges and the Government and to help to start a new mass movement of the 99% to end the rule of the sinister fringe, Denis O'Brien, the bankers and the bondholders. It starts on 10 December.

The Government itself has acknowledged that this is the Bill of an Administration in fast retreat. There is no doubt that when it says so unconvincingly that it has listened to the people, it is really saying it never listened to them before, but that it will listen now as they are up in arms. It has provoked well over 100,000 people, perhaps 150,000, to come out onto the streets. Irish people are not natural protestors, as we have seen, and it has taken a great deal to bring them onto the streets. The Bill has been the final straw in a large number of impositions, including on working class people, middle class people and people who are quite prosperous. People from all backgrounds are marching and in revolt against the Government's measures.

The Government is fearful that it has successfully made the nation pretty well ungovernable. This particular document is a white flag raised by the Government in response to those who are marching. It is a desperate plea to reduce next week the numbers to something pitiful, but that is unlikely to happen. Next week we will see a large number of people protesting not so much against water charges but against everything. They will protest against the Government and everything that has been done by way of impositions on their backs. They will protest at the way the Government has been running the country for three and a half years. The Government is now so out of touch that it knows it cannot govern properly.

The consent of the people is required to govern. The appalling vista that confronts the Government is that a large number of people are about to indulge in civil disobedience and it can do nothing about it. How this vista has come to pass is apparent to everybody - the Government has governed while being completely out of touch with citizens.

While I do not approve of non-compliance with the law, the Government has provoked non-compliance, not only among legislators but also among people. People were provoked into non-compliance, not out of pig iron or obstinacy but because they cannot pay what the Government is asking them to pay.

The reversals that are so apparent in the legislation are not enough. The reversal on the use of personal public service, PPS, numbers is a statement by the Government that it did not realise its proposal was so provocative. It was a Big Brother measure that was totally unacceptable from day one, but for some extraordinary reason, neither Irish Water nor the Government realised this. At this stage, no one will feel compensated or consoled by the proposed water conservation grant or lower charges. Furthermore, the idea that the Government is a convert to the idea of holding plebiscites on issues such as this is utterly unconvincing.

This Bill is a final throw of the dice by a Government that is desperate. I tend to agree with Deputies on this side who argue it will not be enough to stop people coming onto the streets next week. As far as I can gather, the only people trying to stop people from coming onto the streets are the leadership of the SIPTU trade union. May I, from a somewhat unusual position in this House, make a plea to SIPTU to encourage its members to take to the streets? What has happened to the leadership of this great trade union that it is asking people not to go on the streets next week? It is so conservative and so strongly embedded in the Labour Party that it cannot give its members the type of leadership it should have given them from the start. The Labour Party has been reduced to the position that its great ally and leader of working people, the trade union movement, is asking people to pay the water charge and avoid taking to the streets. This is an extraordinary turnaround.

Irish Water is emblematic of what is wrong with this country. I am not convinced by the protestations from the Government parties that they will introduce a new appointments system under which, for the first time in the history of the State, people will be appointed to semi-state bodies on merit. Irish Water is a State monopoly with a little camouflage. Notwithstanding the camouflage that applies to appointments to its board, these appointments will be made by a Minister. All Ministers have proven themselves to be utterly unsuited to making board appointments because they put their cronies in charge, and the board of Irish Water will not be an exception. No more than one or two experts will be appointed to it and the bonus culture will continue, despite what we have been told.

Next Wednesday, there will be a showdown between the Government and citizens. I have never heard so many people say they will take a day of their precious annual leave to get off work and converge on the capital as they deliver a message to the Government about water charges. The issue has gone beyond water charges, as people want the Government to go.

I congratulate the Government, which I do not often do, on uniting workers, the unemployed and the public and private sectors, which were divided throughout the years of austerity and are now united under the single message of getting rid of water charges. It is clear from today's opinion poll findings that they also want to get rid of the Government. Next week's demonstration is the most highly anticipated demonstration in my lifetime, whereas today's debate is irrelevant and a damp squib. The real debate will take place next week on the streets.

The Bill signals that the Government has backed off from imposing two detestable measures, namely, the proposals to have landlords deduct unpaid water charges from tenants' deposits and to make councils debt collectors for Irish Water by removing unpaid water charges from tenants' rents. The proposed measures discriminated against people who do not own their homes, as they would have been the only people from whom the water charges could have been forcibly stolen, thereby preventing them from boycotting the charge. The protest on 10 December is a first step and the best way to prevent the Government from introducing these measures. It did not proceed with them because it is scared and wants to avoid adding fuel to the fire. However, there is no question that it will return to this issue unless people react.

The proposed plebiscite is a joke. I am not sure it is even legal to try to bind a future Government to holding a referendum on any issue. As other speakers noted, the only way to guarantee a referendum is to insert a provision to that effect in the Constitution. We do not need to waste further time on the issue.

By postponing its plans to have deductions made from rents, the Government has given people time to launch a campaign against the measures. The Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party will organise opposition to these measures among council tenants and those in private rented accommodation who are unable to afford to buy homes. After everything the Government has heaped on people who rent in recent times, it is incredible that it believed it could introduce these measures without provoking a reaction. Having cut rent supplement by 29% in recent years and with rent levels rocketing, the Government is adding to the current revolt.

This is a lame duck Government. If it does not fall next Wednesday, people still will not have deployed the most powerful weapon at their disposal, namely, mass nationwide refusal to pay water bills as of next April. It is not a case of if but when the nationwide boycott of water bills takes place, and it will definitely bring down the Government. For this reason, it should not plan for a further 18 months in office.

The Labour Party told barefaced lies to the electorate during the previous general election campaign when it took out expensive advertisements promising people it would protect them against the water charges it is now implementing. It was so stupid it took the Department with responsibility for water from the Fine Gael Party. The same Department is responsible for housing, another area where we are experiencing a despicable crisis.

Labour Party Deputies have spoken about the prospect of their party evaporating at the next general election. The water metaphor is apt, because that is precisely what will happen. Discussions are taking place on what will replace the Labour Party, as there is a strong chance it will not win any seats in the next general election. A new political movement of working class people is emerging. New activists are coming onto the stage and new groups are emerging. A combination of these and other forces of the left will, I believe, lead to the establishment of an umbrella body that will propose a national slate of candidates against austerity. These candidates will provide a genuine alternative for working-class people after the next general election. Having sold out long ago, the Labour Party has today written its political obituary by introducing this Bill. As I stated, it is standing over the two worst measures that people face, and there will be no sadness when it disappears from the stage of history. Working-class people await the opportunity provided by next Wednesday's demonstration to bring down the Government.

Today's opinion poll, which was disastrous for the Government parties, represents the decisive rejection by the people of the hated water charges, the parties that have tried to implement them and the Bill before us.

The people are no longer being fooled. They have been fooled a couple of times by electoral promises and pledges from the Labour Party and Fine Gael, and have seen through the lies and false promises. They are rejecting the con trick in this Bill. It is a desperate attempt by the Government to con people into thinking it is listening, but in fact it is luring them into paying these unfair charges. As has been the case with bin charges and other things before them, the allowances and caps will rapidly disappear, the charges will rocket and water will be privatised. The people know this.

This debate is irrelevant. The debate has already happened. The judgment has already been made. It was made on 11 October and again on 1 November, and will manifest on the streets on 10 December, when we will hear for the third time, in unprecedented numbers, the rejection by the people of water charges, the demand that they be fully scrapped and the demand that the Government which gave people the water charges must go because it lied to the people and refused to listen when they spoke with an unmistakable voice.

The only thing any representative of the Government has got right in the past number of weeks was when the Taoiseach said it was about more than water charges. He is correct. It is about the right to water and scrapping water charges. It is also about the right to a home and the right of people not to die homeless on the street. It is about the right of people to be treated in a dignified way in a health service that works. It is about the right of people to access a decent education system. It is about the right of people to have public representatives who tell them the truth, do not lie to them before elections, stick to their promises and will be held accountable if the promises are not kept.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the centenary celebrations of 1916 have come two years early. They have begun. The celebration of 100 years of resistance and revolution in this country started on 11 October, manifested again on 1 November and will manifest again on 10 December, when the real people's assembly will take place and cast a damning judgment on the Government and its failure to listen to or represent the people. The old politics are being swept aside. The democratic revolution the Government promised, but failed to deliver, is erupting onto the streets and it is now too late for the Government.

People want something new. They want an end to the cynicism, dishonesty, half-measures, backroom manoeuvring, con tricks and spin. They want honesty, accountability and fairness. The Government has not given that to them and they have now decided they will take it for themselves. They are absolutely right. The people are rising and a new revolution for a new century has begun. Almost everything that will happen in this Chamber in the next week or two will be immaterial, because a new democracy is being born on the streets and the people are beginning to talk about the new types of institution and organisation they need to genuinely represent their will and to ensure basic rights. People deserve certain basic things by right to live a dignified existence. These things should not be restricted to those with money. The idea that only people with money can access water, housing, a health system that does not involve waiting on a list for year, a proper education for their children and no forced emigration is obnoxious. That is what the people are saying. It is extraordinary that the Government does not seem to understand that.

All Government Ministers should go out onto the streets and see what democracy looks like. It is a slogan we will hear again on 10 December: "This is what democracy looks like." This is what democracy sounds like. This is what democracy feels like. Hundreds of thousands of people will get out and say they will determine their own future because they are sick of cronies, corporate vampires and political representatives who lie to them and take from them their self-determination.

We fully realise that we are indeed in different times when "Lord Ross", as Deputy Shane Ross is known, issues a call to the membership of SIPTU to rally and take to the streets. Things are not as they were, and we need to register that. I am beginning to wonder whether the Government's strategy is to kill the opposition to Irish Water by talking it to death. The reality is that people do not want to talk about this. It is probably true to say that they are sick of listening to the Government talking about it. It has talked about the concessions it said it will make for weeks and months. People want it to listen to what they are saying, rather than having it talk over their heads.

The reality is that the Government has lost the hearts and minds of citizens. Once that happens, it is in free fall, and everybody knows it. We are now in election mode. The Government as we know it is finished. It would do everybody a service by taking action rather than talking. The action citizens want is nothing short of a standing-down of Irish Water and the total abolition of the water charges.

As a result of its inaction and its failure to deal with the issue, the only thing that will happen is that it will get the opposite of what it hoped would happen. It hoped it would kill the opposition to the charge with kindness or concessions, but it is stepping back, and the concessions will only ignite the movement. It has taught people a very valuable lesson - that is, that they no longer need to be afraid, and the real power lies outside the gates of this House. When people start exercising it, they can see results.

The dogs on the street no longer believe the Government. One cannot blame people when what the Government says today is completely different from what it said yesterday and what those parties stood for during the election, when they told people what they would do if they gave them their votes. It has a real problem. If the Government still does not get it, it would want to wake up to the fact that people have had enough. They are sick of managing and listening to a narrative from the Government that bears no resemblance to their lives.

I am glad we have been joined by our colleague, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, MEP, in the Visitors' Gallery. His blog about his experiences when he visited a hospital with his new daughter went viral on YouTube when he coined the phrase: "Is surviving now the new thriving?" People empathise with that because they are sick of the current situation. Up to now the Government has got away with things because people were afraid that if they did something or shook things up, the alternative might be worse. Now, they do not care and hope that things will be better. That creates a powerful energy which, when organised, is sufficient to sweep the Government away.

I agree with the other Deputies; 10 December will be significant. People have had a taste of freedom, they like it and they are not going back. If we are wrong and the Government is right, the decent thing to do would be to test that, go to the people and call an election. We would get the result we think we would.

I wish to refer to some provisions in the Bill. The Minister spoke so much nonsense that I have very little time to deal with it. The idea that this is a cost-saving measure to deliver vital infrastructure and economies of scale is simply laughable. It is proposed that there will be one national authority instead of 34 local authorities.

We never had 34 local authorities dealing with this. The local authorities were dealing with this on a regional basis and did so very successfully when provided with the money for it. Deputy Wallace will speak on this in more detail later.

The justification of the metering programme as the only measure to deal with usage based charges is insulting. Customer leakage is minuscule. In fact, domestic usage of water is minuscule in comparison with the overall supply. As long as the authorities are not dealing with lead pipes and not investing in district water meters, the idea that putting meters on individual houses will deal with leakage is rubbish. Everybody knows that all this does is isolate supply to give the Government the ability to charge for it. The idea that the Minister would say the metering programme is particularly successful shows how out of touch he is, particularly when whole communities are alienated from An Garda Síochána as a result of the force acting as a private security firm, in essence.

If the Minister is naive enough to think the hundreds of thousands of forms that have been returned indicate some compliance, he is in for a rude awakening. I know many of those forms have been returned without being filled out. Many of them have Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as the main homeowner and many of them indicate the Government can shove its water charges wherever it likes. This does not indicate compliance.

The Government has spoken about initiating a forum, but there has been a forum: it has been outside these gates. People have delivered their verdict on this issue. The Government could do us all a favour by stepping aside and abolishing water charges and Irish Water now.

I call Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who is sharing time with Deputy Joe O'Reilly.

I wish to address some of the issues regarding this legislation, beginning with the primary issue of privatisation. The main concern of people as expressed to me both inside and outside the House, is that our water resources will be privatised. This is a serious concern. I welcome the commitment in this regard in the legislation, but it does not go far enough. I believe we should have a referendum on Irish Water to ensure that our natural resource is forever retained in the ownership of the people. I understand that as matters stand currently, the Minister for Finance and Irish Water own the shares. It is essential we provide reassurance to people on this issue. I see no reason this should not happen. Several referenda are planned and there is no reason we cannot have one on water. This would give the clear message to all that we value this resource and that it will always remain in public ownership, no matter what any future government does. Regardless of what any future government might do, its hands should be tied on this issue and our water resources should remain in the hands of the people. I will support this Bill as it is an improvement on what was planned, but it does not go far enough.

In regard to the board of Ervia, formerly Bord Gáis, as far as I understand Irish Water was set up as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis, but totally separate from it. In other words, notwithstanding that we needed a State agency to set up the body, provide services to it and provide professional and commercial knowledge, it was important that Irish Water or Uisce Éireann was totally separate from any other board, body or entity as soon as reasonable and possible. Obviously, having set up Irish Water, Bord Gáis has some reason to continue with it because of conditional borrowing and financial and other instruments in place. However, within a reasonable period, probably within the next year or so, there is no reason for Ervia to be involved in Irish Water at all. I believe services Ervia may be supplying to Irish Water should all be opened up to tender by other companies. The provision of skills and knowledge is one thing, but the provision of services to Irish Water should be open to competition. Therefore, it is essential that from some future date, Ervia should have no involvement with Irish Water.

Dealing with these two issues, privatisation and Ervia, would ensure the people can have confidence in Irish Water. They would know the resource could never be sold off or privatised and that the only business to be conducted at board meetings of Irish Water would be the business of Irish Water. That is all that would be brought to the table. On the question of who will be on the board, I welcome the fact the Government is seeking people in the public domain with experience and knowledge to put their names forward. I hope that when it makes these decisions, it will look particularly at consumers, domestic consumers and their representatives, consumer groups and commercial consumers.

I would like to respond to some points made earlier. Deputy Daly made a point about local authorities. With respect, her point was badly made. She made the point that the 34 local authorities provide services on a regional basis, but they do not. Some of the authorities in the greater Dublin area work together, but until 1 January there were 34 separate local authorities.

Not for water.

Each local authority had a different pricing on a cubic litre of water. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government website shows that no matter what county one was in, there was a different price for water. This was because the costs associated with the delivery of that water were different in each county. It would be wrong for us to have 34 different prices for around the country. In the case of electricity, we have one price throughout the country and everybody pays it and it is right and proper we would have the same for water.

If we take the example of the price for water in County Kildare versus County Wicklow, one is double the other. Water in County Wicklow is twice as expensive as in County Kildare. Therefore, if someone wanted to set up a business that uses significant amounts of water, he would go to County Kildare, which has some major IT companies. There is no way one would choose to locate in County Wicklow, because costs would be doubled. There is a very good reason, therefore, to have one entity in charge of all of our water supply.

Another good reason for having one entity is our regional strategy and planning policy for the greater Dublin area, Cork, Galway, the west of Ireland, Donegal and everywhere else. We now have a critical mass in Irish Water which has a capacity to deliver, based on the knowledge needed to have regional services that will affect the whole region and allow for proper regional development. Someone made the point that there are 42 locations in this country where untreated sewage is being discharged into fresh water in lakes and rivers. This is unacceptable. Ensuring we have a proper supply of water, that it is the best available and regionally distributed is what Irish Water is all about.

Some of my colleagues across the floor have spoken about this debate being useless, empty rhetoric. Perhaps it is for them and perhaps they would prefer protests on the streets. We have no problem with protests, but it is in this House Members should make their arguments and articulate the voice of the people on the streets. For them to say there is a revolution on the way next Wednesday does not indicate to me they know what century they are in.

It is certainly not November 1916 or 1918. This is the year we are in. There is serious concern among the public and they are very worried and agitated about this issue. To articulate in here that there is no point in talking, as those Deputies opposite do, is absolute rubbish.

When I was a young person reading about some of the ideas of Trotsky et al. - perhaps the Deputies might enlighten me on this - I think the dictatorship of the proletariat was the objective of communism or-----

James Connolly will do, Fergus.

I do not agree with the dictatorship of the proletariat anyway. I would not have agreed with it if I was around then and I do not agree with it now. No matter what country people are in, universally, right around the world - I do not know if you are or were a follower of Chairman Mao or not-----

Will the Deputy please speak through the Chair? Do not be inviting comments from others.

I am sorry. This is light-hearted, a Cheann Comhairle. There is nothing serious about this.

It is a serious matter.

The people in Cuba pay for their water. My colleagues on the other side will be delighted to hear there is actually private sector involvement in the company that supplies water to the city of Havana. In Libya, which would perhaps be closer to some other people who are not present here today-----

A Deputy

Who can he be talking about?

No, they are not here. If they were, they would know there is an excellent water supply in Libya-----

It has been destroyed by NATO.

-----and that water supply is, I think, paid for as well. Even if they go to Azerbaijan and all sorts of other places, or if they look up the Internet, those of them who have the freedom to do so, if their party allows them to, they can look at everybody else who pays for their water as well.

We do not agree with him, but we like him.

The opening point we all need to accept and address is that water will have to be paid for by some process. The question is how. In other words, the water that comes to us naturally from the sky, and is a free resource in that sense, must be treated, there must be an infrastructure to deliver it and there must be expense around creating pure, drinkable water. It is disingenuous and cynical, and verging on dishonesty, to create an illusion for people that free water is a possibility. There is no free water, there will be no free water and there cannot be free water. The question is how to pay for the water.

It is the proposition of this legislation that we would broaden the taxation base and bring more people into paying, and that we would not land everything on the income tax base and on the backs of working people exclusively. When it is done through income tax, a number of problems are created in that it makes us less attractive in terms of inward investment and makes work less attractive. There is a strategy that exists in every other Western democracy and that was recommended by the best of experts here, namely, that we broaden the tax base. That is the issue here.

People on the left and on the Independent benches are very cynical in several ways. First, they neatly jump over the fact that we must pay for water by direct or indirect taxation - by some process, water must be paid for, either by charges of this type or otherwise. Second, related to that, there is a cost in delivering pure, clean water to people's homes, which is their entitlement. Third, there is a failure to address the fact that equity is best achieved by broadening the taxation base, which they are not prepared to accept.

There are water charges in virtually every other country in Europe. I recognise, as we all do, that the Irish people have made enormous sacrifices. Over the past three years, people made great sacrifices in keeping faith with this Government and those sacrifices have been richly rewarded in that one in three of the people who were unemployed are now in work or, in other words, we have reduced the unemployment rate by one third. People are going back to work and it is an accelerating process with a domino effect. We have taken many people out of the universal social charge and we have reduced the top rate of tax by 1%. We have made it a longer jump into the basic rate of taxation or, in other words, there has been an increase of €1,500.

This is all a response to and an understanding of people's sacrifices and suffering, of which we are acutely aware. That is why the charges outlined in this legislation are affordable. In net terms, the charge will be €60 for a single person, or some €1 a week, and €160 for a household with multiple persons, or some €3 a week. If we needed any proof that the charges are now reasonable and affordable, and are set in stone until 2018 and can be capped after that, it is the subtle, cynical, populist effort of the people on the backbenches opposite to try to broaden out the issue and to ask people to march next week on other considerations. The people trying to organise the crowd for next week know there is no justification in asking people to march against charges of €60 and €160 respectively for water, which is just €1 or €2 a week. They know well that could not be justified for clear water and a uniform water supply. As that is not justifiable, however, they try to hone in on other people's suffering, discontent and difficulty around the fact we have had to make enormous sacrifices. The very subtle movement of the campaign is an indication that the charges are now reasonable.

I said the first premise of this legislation is to broaden the taxation base. The second is to achieve conservation. People on group schemes tell me that when meters were installed in the private group schemes, water conservation increased enormously. The metering system will ultimately lead to greater conservation as there is an incentive for people to beat the charges by using the meters.

We need uniformity. I come from County Cavan and am very proud of the fact it has an exceptional local authority, which is very avant-garde and very much to the front in the water services area. Sadly, there was no uniformity across the country. There were boil-water notices, sewerage outlets running into fresh water and lead piping throughout the country. That needs to be addressed in order that we can achieve uniformity, in addition to broadening taxation and achieving conservation.

In order to do all of this, we need to raise money outside of conventional methods. In other words, we need to source private money and not put the cost exclusively on taxpayers. In answer to a parliamentary question from Deputy Liam Twomey some months ago, the Minister for Finance stated it would take €850 million extra this year in direct taxation to raise what will be raised by this method, which is important.

I said I am proud of County Cavan's delivery on water and the excellent job my local authority has done. I am also proud that County Cavan has a wonderful network of group schemes. My good friend, the new Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs, Deputy Ann Phelan, will be interested in this as someone who is now involved in empowering these communities. Right across Cavan, we have a necklace of great co-operative community group water schemes. I am happy those people will now get €100 in recognition of their special costs. I am happy that people across my county of Cavan and in other counties who have bored their own wells, with the extra electricity costs, the costs of pumps and so on, will get €100 for conservation.

That is, if one likes, a bonus for people who were ahead of the game and paid for water directly long before this legislation was introduced, who conserved water and who had put in meters. They are now being recognised with the payment of €100 directly into their hands. People I know in my area who dug their own well will receive a conservation grant of €100 to recognise their great efforts. People in the group water schemes will receive €100 in recognition of the work they do in conservation. It is a win-win for them, as I am proud to recognise. They needed that recognition and empowerment, which is a happy consequence of the legislation. It also brings the delivery we enjoyed in our local area to a national platform through providing for uniformity.

There are Deputies who come into the Chamber to engage in cynical populism, knowing that there is a cost in the delivery of fresh water and that health and safety considerations dictate that we need a healthy water supply. They agitate against water charges knowing that were they to succeed - thank God, they will not - the bill would be paid for through a greater amount in direct taxation on the backs of ordinary working people whom they claim to champion and who will make up the deficit. They play on people's sympathies and the fact that they have suffered as a consequence of the deepest recession in the history of independent Ireland. Of course, we know the people have suffered and that there is real pain and difficulties as a consequence of what has been a very deep recession, but we are coming out of it. There is a record level of job creation; the return of the Christmas bonus, of which I am so proud; and money coming back to ordinary people in lower taxes, but just as we are coming out of it, there are Deputies in this House who try to undermine this achievement, make us unattractive to inward investment, make this a banana republic and bring us to a place that is worse than the one we were in. Instead they should do the patriotic thing and accept that one cannot have free water because it must be treated, that one cannot put public health at risk and that there is an honesty and reasonableness about this argument which merits repetition. People must be straight in this House.

I listened with interest to the previous speaker. I have sympathy for the argument that nothing comes for free. We tried to explain this during the tenure of the previous Government, but the then Opposition did not seem to get the message. It is important that we all recognise that there are only two sources of funding for State services. One either borrows the money and pays it back with interest or one raises it in taxes. There is no third way; there is no other magic source of money. When I constantly hear people telling me that one does not need to adjust budget expenditure and that one can virtually abolish all taxes, we need to say that is incorrect. I support Deputy Joe O'Reilly in that sense and I am glad to hear about his conversion to this theory in recent times. However, I do not think he has explained his logic about broadening the tax base. I have heard this argument before and it is Department of Finance-speak. The Deputy should understand what he is saying. If he accepts what I accept, namely, that virtually all taxes come from the people and that there is a finite number of people in the country, when one says one is broadening the tax base, one is rejigging it to take money off the same people in different ways. I hear people say on the news that so many people are not in the tax net and do not pay tax. This has been said on radio and Government Deputies repeat it like parrots. It is time people started to think rationally for a change and stopped repeating the mantra. The reality is that when one talks about broadening the tax base, what one means is that people who do not pay income tax will pay tax in another form and that when one takes this into account, those who do pay income tax will pay less.

I was looking at the Government Estimates a few seconds ago. A total of €38 billion has come in in tax, €1 billion ahead of profile, which is great news. I always believed tax receipts would bounce back. I had been making predictions, once I saw traffic getting heavier in the morning, that it was inevitable that they would bounce back. Some €15 billion represents income tax and USC receipts; the other €23 billion represents other taxes. VAT accounts for €10.5 billion; excise duties, €4.3 billion; corporation tax, €4 billion; and property taxes, €1.5 billion. At the end of the day, less than 50% represents income tax. People pay tax on very modest incomes, particularly following the introduction of USC.

What broadening the tax base means is taking from a tax that is objectively based on ability to pay such that the more one has, the more one pays and transferring the burden to different taxes which involve usage which, in most cases, is unavoidable. When one buys, one pays VAT or excise duties, which are often an attack on rural life because in a rural area one needs to buy more petrol, which is one of the big sources of excise duty. The problem with these taxes is that they take no account of ability to pay. Those who put forward the theory that we should broaden the tax base are actually saying we should take from one tax where there is some connection between it and an ability to pay and transfer the burden to citizens at large, regardless of whether they have an ability to pay. No more than the nonsense about free services and having no taxes that we hear all the time, this is equally nonsensical because it is the people who would have to pay.

The Government already knows from surveys that poorer people and those on lower incomes spend a much higher percentage of their wages on services than the well-to-do who tend to put more money aside. Therefore, if there are a lot of taxes on goods and services, proportionately one will pay more of one's income in tax. Therefore, what this argument is about is taxing the poor to benefit the better-off.

The number one argument against this proposition of broadening the tax base is that it is a very fancy exercise and when we defend it, we might as well say, "Yes, the Government believes in regression" which is what it has consistently done since it came to power. The ESRI and all other commentators have said its budgets have been regressive because the burden has been shifted from the top to the bottom. I am sure the Minister of State cringed last weekend when we were told that in the budget to be announced next year the top rate of tax would be brought down, rather than trying to roll back the USC, which was only ever meant to a temporary measure. I know how powerless she must feel when she hears such announcements being made ten months ahead because she is not sitting at the Cabinet table.

When I do not understand something in common logic I always suspect I am not being told the full story. Thankfully, the margin of error is in favour of the Government this year and, please God, it will continue that way. Irrespective of what the Government does, it is like a bungy jump. As I noted four years ago, the higher one goes, the bigger one falls but the more one falls, the bigger the bounce. That is happening now because we are out of houses. The internal economy had to pick up because when we are out of houses, we have to build them. Houses require a large amount of native produce. The cement, sand and timber are local. Much of what goes into a house is produced in the State. The biggest cost in building a house is labour and as houses are built we will see a lift in the tax take. It is logic and common sense. I often wonder whether economists get so lost in their academic figures that they do not look at what people are actually doing. Common sense suggests that, like a bungy jump, the greater the tension, the bigger the spring back. That is becoming evident in this year's tax returns. As this spring back happens, it is being reinforced because other sectors are also affected. That was one of the problems during the boom because it is very difficult to stop that oscillation.

In this context, why is the Government going to the trouble of introducing all these Bills and driving many Members on the other side of the House out of their seats for the sake of €140 million net, or only €100 million when one takes account of the transaction costs? That is one tenth of the tax taken this year over and above profile. The Government has €1 billion more than it expected, yet it is in the midst of a huge convulsion that is destroying its own popularity. The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, must be tearing her hair out wondering what they are doing in the Cabinet. I have been trying to figure that out.

There are a number of possible explanations. The first explanation is that the Government is too proud to say it got it wrong and cannot face the fact that its proposal does not fly. The second is that the gurus in Merrion Street believe that, regardless of how little we take now, in five years' time they will have engineered full cost recovery and the €100 allowance will disappear. I suspect 90% of the public believe this is the thin edge of the wedge. Income tax was similarly introduced in Britain as a temporary expedient during the Napoleonic wars but it has had a long shelf life. From my experience of the corridors of Merrion Street, I think people may be half right in believing it is playing the long game. Once this is introduced, Merrion Street will want to get to full cost recovery.

The third explanation is that it was because of the European Union. I do not think the troika gave a damn about water charges as long as we got the sums right. The agreement we reached with the troika made little mention of water. There was agreement on mortgage interest supplement but the Government had no problem getting rid of that. There were all sorts of other provisions in that document and I do not think the troika cared too much about them as long as the Government got the finances right and could prove that it had made sufficient changes in the economy to be able to pay it back. The troika was simply acting as bankers. I suspect that the people who have a big hang-up about charging for water are in the European Union. I do not refer to the EU as our local banker, the ECB or the IMF because all they wanted were sustainable finances. They would probably argue this is an inefficient tax in any event. I suspect the Taoiseach is under pressure from the European Union to introduce water charges because we all have to dance to the same tune and because it regrets giving us a derogation on charging water. The derogation does not state we cannot charge for water; it states that we do not have to do so. If Europe is sorry for giving us a derogation and is putting the screws on, why does the Taoiseach not say that we have a gun to our backs and are being told by our partners to end the derogation? The answer to that is we have a derogation and they can jump in a river. It is the law. I suspect there were conversations behind the doors to the effect that the Taoiseach ought to straighten up and charge for water because our EU partners believe there should be charges.

They might not be so convinced if they lived in this climate. I guarantee that, where I live, regardless of how much water we waste, we are not even using all the water in Lough Coolin, which is on the top of the mountain behind my house, not to mention Lough Corrib. There is enough water in Lough Corrib to supply the entire country. When we run out of Lough Corrib, we have Lough Mask, Lough Carra and all the other lakes in our area. We are not going to run short of water.

Which of the three theories is right? I think the second and third theories are right. When somebody makes a ridiculous proposition, there is always some reason behind it. Very few people do things that are totally illogical. There is some reason we are not being told.

The people have made it clear that they do not want water charges and they do not trust this or future Governments in this regard. They believe that, sooner or later, pressure will be applied to introduce full cost recovery for water. The water will be funded by charges rather than providing money through the Exchequer, which allows for an ability to pay cause based on income tax.

About one and a half months ago, I had a conversation with an 83 year old academic and friend of mine, a man of the people who has been involved in a number of good projects. I refer to an tAthair Michael McGéil, a fine and erudite man whom I respect. Long before the big marches, he came to my house, sat at my kitchen table and said, "Éamon, éist leis na daoine. Níl siad ag glacadh le táillí uisce." He did not make an argument for or against charges; he was simply making the point that, for one reason or another, the people have made it clear, in the only way they could speak given that we are not having a referendum on the issue, that they do not want the charges proposed by the Government. The wise course of action would be to withdraw this Bill and get on with building a proper national network.

The argument that the Government will be able to raise finance on the back of these proposals is nonsense. It is so fractional compared to government finances, it is not worth all the hassle the Government is getting. The sums show that approximately €500 million per year is required, and it would take a while to crank it back up to that figure, which is what the position was when we invested the €0.5 billion. In the greater scheme of things it would not much change the debt to GDP ratio, so that argument falls on its head.

The tragedy is that there are quite good ideas in what the Government is doing. Having a national network of water supply to national standards makes sense, as does rationalising the supply so pipes can be brought over county boundaries. There can be a reservoir in one area with the water being brought to another area under a larger, better quality scheme. That makes a huge amount of sense. I believe in the integrated national network and, as I have said repeatedly, if the water supply had existed as a universal service to everybody when water services were started, as in the case of electricity, it would never have been given to 34 county councils. I accept that, so I buy in to the need for a national network for water supply. Sewerage is different because we will never put sewers throughout the countryside. However, the sensible thing to do is to focus on getting the pipe work right. Let us forget about taking in a few hundred million euro here and giving out a few hundred million there.

Unfortunately, my time is limited so I will conclude on one specific provision. There are many interesting little nuggets in the Bill. One cannot sell Irish Water, but one can sell all the bits of Irish Water. However, we will have a chance to debate that on another day. One provision fascinates me, and I will make a prediction about it in the last few seconds I have to speak. The Bill provides for a water conservation grant. As instituted, it does not conserve anything, but there is a lovely clause in the Bill which states that the Minister can attach any condition to it. For the first year or two, until the Government gets over the next election, there will be no conditions attached to this water conservation grant. It will be a cash grant into the person's pocket. However, I am prepared to bet any amount of money with the Minister - I am not making a political point because I have seen this written by the good people with the long view on many previous occasions - that if that grant exists in five or ten years' time, a person can expect to spend a great deal of money and go through a great deal of hassle to get their water conservation grants. The Government will make it a water conservation grant.

I presume the reason for calling it a "water conservation grant" is to sell it to our European cousins and try to fool them that there is a conservation element. They will bite back in time, because they are good at biting back. In good time they will say that as it is called a water conservation grant, it had better be a water conservation grant. Otherwise, they will rule it out of order and declare it to be a state subsidy for water and therefore not allowable for borrowing purposes.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I support. It provides for the re-imposition of a water rate or water charge. Many people might not realise or even remember that households such as the one in which I lived, which had access to a public water supply, were paying approximately IR£145 per annum as late as 1996 for the pleasure of accessing public water. One of the poorer decisions of the coalition Government at the time was to abolish domestic water rates outside Dublin. People in Dublin never paid for their water, but people in the rest of the country did.

In 1999, I was fortunate to be elected to Cork County Council. It had a huge water and wastewater network which was fundamentally broken. The funding model was a shambles. Non-domestic customers, Exchequer funds and a small amount of council resources were paying into it. Approvals were required for every step to be taken. There were small and large schemes, regional water supply schemes and wastewater schemes, and that was just for County Cork. It was a joke at every step, so much so that the town in which I live is one of the 47 that do not have a wastewater network. It discharges wastewater and sewage directly into a bay. That has been the situation since there was the first mention of having a plan in 1974. That is what the Opposition wishes to continue; that is the regime it would be happy to have in place for the next 20 or 30 years. It has not worked, and it must be changed and remodelled. The consolidation of 34 local authorities, with 34 different local directors of services, 34 different water management systems and 34 different regimes, into one national water network is the right move. Deputy Ó Cuív has acknowledged that.

The debate now is about who pays. Water must be paid for - there is no argument from any Member of the House about that. The argument appears to be about whether it is paid for from taxation or through the user pays principle. There are some statistics which people are inclined to brush over very quickly and conveniently. Of the 2.3 million to 2.4 million households in this country, just 1.6 million access public water supplies. Approximately 800,000 households in this country do not access a public water supply and will not be customers of Irish Water. They provide their own water at their own expense, sometimes at quite a high cost, through a bored well or a group water scheme. Members opposite would oblige them to pay, through an increased level of taxation, to bring the water supply network in this country up to scratch. It is absolute nonsense. In the same breath they speak about equality, fairness and treating people the same. They do no such thing. These households are predominantly people in rural Ireland. People in rural Ireland have no problem subsidising public transport. Some use it a lot, some do not use it at all. They subsidise public transport because they know it is good for the economy and that the country benefits. However, this is like asking them to pay also for the ticket. That inherently does not square.

A total of 930,000 households have registered with Irish Water. Many of those are not users of and do not access the public water supply, but 50% of those that access the public water supply have registered, and there are still two months to the deadline. One per cent of the households in this country use 20% of our water. When one hears nonsense that district metering will discover the leaks, one must cringe and wonder what break from reality people are taking.

It has been tried and tested.

When a meter was installed in one household, it discovered a leak of 1 million litres in three months. I defy the Deputy to figure out how a district meter system would discover that. In another group of 22 households, leaks of 1 million litres per week were discovered by individual metering. That is water conservation through metering, in anybody's language. It is welcome to promote measures such as turning off the tap when brushing one's teeth, putting extra volume into the cistern to reduce the flush and so forth and to encourage being careful about water, but that will go only so far. When households are leaking 1 million litres of water in three months under the surface and it can be discovered only through a metering system, that is an issue. It is irresponsible to ignore it.

Every country in the world, particularly in the European Union, that has a water supply network has water rates.

While in many cases they are part-subsidised by the State, the majority is paid by the users. There was major opposition in this city and elsewhere to the imposition of refuse charges. People said they could not pay and would not pay, refuse was piling high, there were strikes, etc. Now, it is privatised and there are no waivers. While we always expect opposition to a new charge, there is opposition for the sake of opposition, and it needs to be more nuanced. Anger, decibels, volume and megaphones are not solutions. While protest is welcome, without proposals and alternatives, it is a different ball game. The same people would propose a property tax or a wealth tax.

Opposition Members have said the protest next Wednesday will be not just about water but about a range of issues with which the Government has dealt. There may be a protest about health care, while we have the fastest-rising life expectancy in the world. There may be a protest about social welfare, although I do not know of a more generous social welfare system in the world. In education, it is recognised by industry and according to educational standards that we send out the best and brightest graduates in the world. We have the lowest crime figures I know of in Europe. We have restored our reputation domestically and internationally and our economy is improving, which is welcome, although we have a long way to go.

The one group I would expect to protest, whom I hear and who should be noticed, is those who pay all the time for everything. They contribute to everything. They contribute in their communities. They are busy 12 to 14 hours a day working, raising their families, trying to put their children through education, paying for their health insurance and, in most cases, trying not to be a burden. They are exasperated. They pay extortionate levels of income tax and they are the ones I feel sorry for. Sinn Féin would have them pay extra income tax. Many of them do not access public water. Assuming there are two people per household, I estimate that 1.6 million people who do not access public water would be asked to pay in different ways to subsidise those who do. It is irresponsible and flawed, and for people to mention it in the same breath as equality, fairness, justice and equal treatment for all defies logic.

This is not a popular measure by the Government. We know and understand this. As backbench Deputies, we do not like to discuss the imposition of a new charge on households. For most households, it is not a new charge but a reimposition of water rates. I live in an area affected by cryptosporidium and continuous breaks in the water network, where homes and businesses that pay for their water are tearing their hair out, exasperated, and coming to me and other public representatives wondering what we are going to do about it. What we need is greater investment. I live in an area where asbestos pipes that supply townlands are constantly breaking and where the water network is so under-funded that its collapse is inevitable if we do nothing. People talk about revolution. Revolution means going around in circles, and backwards half the time. We are trying to go straight ahead, and that is why I will support the Bill. Although it is unpopular, it is right.

Last Friday, I arranged a cross-party meeting involving Irish Water officials in my constituency. It was a briefing for Oireachtas Members and local councillors in the Connemara area. It was very worthwhile on a local and macro level regarding Irish Water's strategy. The officials explained that when Northern Ireland Water was founded in 2007, there were approximately 200 water treatment plants across the Six Counties. They have been rationalised to 26, which are interconnected, so that if there is a maintenance issue in one, no area will be left without a water supply. The running costs of the larger plants are lower than those of the smaller plants. The smaller plants provided water to a local area, and where there were issues with breakages or maintenance, there were added costs. There are 860 water treatment plants in this country, of which the 20 largest plants supply more than 50% of the population, in the greater Dublin area and some of the cities. Irish Water's plan is to rationalise, close the smaller plants and invest in larger plants that are more reliable and modern and will supply a larger area.

At the meeting with Irish Water, we discussed county boundaries. We all have a great affection for our counties. My county is Galway, which borders Counties Mayo and Roscommon, where there have been problems with water. Irish Water's plan will ignore the county maps. For example, when it considers the water supply in Lough Mask, it will be open to bringing it to Galway and Roscommon. When one listens to Irish Water, the plan makes sense. Huge investment is required for water and wastewater. If we have heard it once, we have heard it a thousand times: “Why do you not fix the pipes first?” If it were that easy, and if there were money available to fix the pipes, it would have been done a long time ago. Considerable investment is required across the country.

While rationalisation can take place in water treatment, it is more difficult in sewage treatment because sewage cannot be pumped over large distances. It must be more confined to the urban area, whether small or large, served by the sewerage network and treatment plant. Our sewage treatment plants require much investment. Four of the 42 towns where untreated sewage is discharged are in Galway, namely, Kinvara, An Cheathrú Rua, An Spidéal and Roundstone. At the meeting on Friday, we also discussed people's concerns about the water supply in An Cheathrú Rua. Irish Water has short-term, medium-term and long-term plans to ensure the water supply is corrected. There have been problems with trihalomethanes, THMs, a relatively new issue. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is putting pressure on Irish Water which it was previously putting on Galway County Council. Irish Water has immediate plans to bring water from Spiddal and mix it with the water from Carraroe to lower the level of THMs. It has medium-term plans to invest in the reservoir there, and the work will take place as soon as possible, with a completion date scheduled for February 2016 at the latest, and earlier if possible. It has long-term plans to invest in the supply to Galway City and examine the regional basis of pumping water to Carraroe. These are real plans Irish Water has to address a situation of concern in my locality.

I welcome the Bill. Deputy Harrington has highlighted some of the concerns. Metering is the way to go. It is an investment in the future and conservation. The economy will grow and there will be a greater requirement and necessity for water to facilitate investment and the growth of populations and urban centres. This requires high-quality drinking water that meets the standards set down by European regulations. We also need high-quality bathing water, hence the need to invest in our wastewater treatment plants. As I said, water metering is an investment in the future.

The leakage rate in certain houses has been highlighted.

District metering has had an impact, including in my own area. We must get down to the level of individual houses to ensure we know the location of any leaks so that they can be repaired, because water is a precious commodity. I am not that old but I remember going to the next door neighbour's well to draw water or going down to the river to turn on the pump - if it worked, which it sometimes did not. Many people from the country realise the difficulties in getting suitable water in many areas. The people in the village of Kilrickle, in a neighbouring constituency to mine, on the old Galway to Dublin road, still do not have a proper water supply. Investment was never made in that town. They do not even have a group water supply because they do not have a source. That is a village that many people travelling from Dublin to Galway would have passed through over the years without ever thinking that it was any different from anywhere else, but the people do not have a water supply. Those are the challenges Irish Water faces in terms of using borrowed money to invest in this critical infrastructure. That is its role and that is how it must proceed.

When discussing the motion here some weeks ago I mentioned that I was contacted by two people who were at the march in Galway, both of whom had the same concern about an aspect of the original proposal - namely, that they did not want to give their PPS numbers. I tried as best I could to explain the requirement in terms of security but they did not buy what I was telling them, which is fair enough; they are entitled to do that. In that regard I am glad the Government has initiated an alternative approach whereby, on foot of proof that a bill is paid, the water conservation grant can be paid through the Department of Social Protection, which owns and controls the PPS numbers. That is a welcome change.

Whether the concern about privatisation is real or not, it has become an issue, and people are genuinely concerned about it. The Government has put a plan in place with regard to any future Government that might want to go down that road - namely, that a plebiscite would have to be held. I welcome that because, ultimately, the people will have a say in that decision if that day ever arrives. I do not see it coming from this Government, and most parties here are in support of public ownership of our water supply.

What we have been attempting to do in terms of both the property tax and the water charges is to look at a different system of taxation, the aim of which is to remove the burden of taxation on people who are working and try to reform the system by bringing in a property-based tax and a water tax, which can then be used to invest in infrastructure. That is the correct approach as long as we continue to reduce the amount of tax people are paying. We have seen that in the last budget, and the plan is to continue it in future budgets. That is a real choice that people will have to make. Do we want a Government that is reducing tax for those who go out to work, which incentivises work and create jobs? We acknowledge that there are people who cannot find jobs and that we need to ensure more is done to provide jobs. We have seen a good deal of success in that regard, with 70,000 new jobs created, and we want to encourage people to come back to this country. However, we cannot do that without investment in a range of areas, whether it be broadband, water or sewerage services. Water and sewerage services are part of the rationale for setting up Irish Water.

I understand there are people who under the original proposal had genuine concerns about ability to pay. The Government has put its hands up regarding the mistakes made in the process, but I welcome this Bill, which is a reflection of the fact that the Government is listening to the concerns raised with Deputies and Ministers. Those concerns were genuine, and I am hopeful that the changes announced in this Bill will alleviate them, because it provides certainty and assurance and allows for the capping of water charges up to the end of 2018. I am confident that people will eventually support the principle of water charges, but we must continuously explain the requirement to invest in our future.

The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Pearse Doherty and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

The previous speaker talked in glowing terms about how water infrastructure in the North of Ireland was interconnected, modern and efficient. He did not mention that over the course of three years €1 billion was invested in that, and he also omitted to say that a Sinn Féin Minister oversaw that process, and that that Sinn Féin Minister stopped water charges from being introduced in the North of Ireland. That goes to the crux of this debate on the Water Services Bill. Nobody in this House is arguing for less investment in water infrastructure. We all recognise that historically our water infrastructure has suffered from under-investment. What we do take issue with is the fact that we are asking people who simply cannot afford to pay to put their hands in their pockets to pay for this infrastructure instead of having a fairer system under which it would be paid from general taxation.

The previous speaker said he believed - this is Fine Gael and Labour Party policy - that the approach being taken by this Government shifts the burden of taxation from those who are employed - that is, those who have incomes - to those who do not have incomes and who are unemployed. This is very simple to me. If someone does not have an income and they are asked to pay more tax, it is simply unfair. The fairest thing to do is to ask those people who can afford to pay to pay it.

Another speaker said that the people he believes should be out protesting are those who pay for their insurance, health care and child care. There is no doubt that a number of sections of Irish society are squeezed, but he made the charge that we and others in the Opposition, and those on the left, would like to see those individuals pay more tax. That reveals to me that the individuals he is crying a tear for today in the Chamber are those individuals who earn more than €100,000.

I want to make it clear - I have said this on the record on many occasions - that many people who earn over €100,000 have over-extended and made commitments beyond their reach, and they will find it difficult to pay additional taxation. However, when faced with choices - this is the role we are given and the burden placed on us as parliamentarians and as legislators - with regard to investing in areas such as water, health or education infrastructure, where is the fairest place to impose that burden? Should it be placed on the unemployed, as Deputy Kyne believes, and those with no incomes, or on those who have the highest incomes in society?

A phrase bandied about by Government, which the Minister for Finance used, is that for the first time the Government has defined middle Ireland, but middle Ireland extends from those earning €32,000 to those earning €70,000. The Central Statistics Office, which is independent of all of us, has told us that anybody earning €70,000 is earning twice the middle income earned in the State. If the people who are earning twice the average income are now the middle, it is an abuse of statistics. The reality is that the ideological drive by this Government is to move the burden of taxation from the most wealthy in society onto the shoulders of those who are some of the poorest in society, and we see that manifestation here with regard to water charges.

Arguments have been made that this Government has listened to the demand for ability to pay to be taken into account. There is no such recognition of ability to pay in this legislation. Regardless of how poor one is or whether one had to go to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul last night to put food on the table this morning to feed one's children, one will have to pay this water charge. That is the Government's intention. There is no recognition of ability to pay.

There has been much talk about conservation. This is not a conservation measure. If the Government wants to introduce conservation measures it can do so without asking people to pay for water. They believe, as does Sinn Féin, that it should be their constitutional right to have water provided to them without fear of how much it will cost.

The Government has introduced what it terms a conservation grant. This is highly questionable. It is not that I object to the idea of every person getting a grant of €100.

The reason I express serious concern is that there are genuine concerns this will fail to pass the test that will be set in respect of EUROSTAT. Even after the first year, this has been structured such that it will be assessed every year. There is no guarantee about the €100 dividend, which we call a conservation grant, despite the fact that it does not have to be used to conserve water and is linked with the paying of water charges to Irish Water. Will EUROSTAT really believe this is not a subvention for Irish Water? The Government is in really risky territory. Either it is risky territory or the Government knows that this will pan out in a couple of years. The European Commission may state the Government cannot make the payment because it is linked with water charges. Anyone who understands the rules knows that any subvention linked with water charges must be deemed to be subvention to Irish Water and, therefore, part of the market corporation test. If the European Commission rules this year, next year or any subsequent year that the payment is linked with Irish Water, the Government will be forced to cancel it. It is a black and white issue. If the Government does not cancel it, Irish Water will fail the market corporation test. Adding €180 million to the subvention for Irish Water will mean that it will fail automatically. There is a question mark over whether it will pass in the first place, but it will definitely fail if this is deemed to be a subvention for Irish Water. We will have the Minister for Finance or the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government standing up and saying it is not our fault, that the European Commission believes we cannot do it according to European rules and that the big bad boys over in Europe made us do it. Therefore, the payment will be no more.

That is where people will be back to the figure of €260 for as long as the Government believes the cap should endure. One thing is for sure - the cap will not endure. The Government is ideologically driven to charge people more for water. The Government parties voted to charge them more for it. They wanted to see them pay over €500. Are the public supposed to take the Government at its word that it will keep the sum at €260 in coming years? That ship has sailed. The people have lost trust in the Government, which is why we will see tens of thousands take to the streets.

The Government has tried to belittle the protestors by saying they are the sinister fringe and the loony left. The penny started to drop when it saw its own supporters, people who used to go rattling doors a number of years ago in the local elections, carrying banners about scrapping water charges. People in Fine Gael and Labour Party headquarters started to scurry around saying they must do something about it because it was the ordinary people of Ireland who were on their feet and that they needed to calm and pacify the ordinary people. This is the Bill the Government believes that will do so, but the ordinary people of Ireland are not buying it. They will be on the streets and on their feet, making the demand they have continually made, that is, that water charges should be scrapped and that the right to water should be enshrined in the Constitution. The Mickey Mouse provision peddled by the Government in respect of a plebiscite does not make a difference. A Government could change it on a whim through legislation. We all understand the reality about the measures proposed.

I attended the Right2Water press conference earlier today with colleagues involved in the campaign. We appealed to people the length and breadth of the State to come out in their thousands to make their voices heard at the gates of Leinster House and tell those on the Government benches that what they have been saying is not providing clarity or certainty, as the Government suggests, and that they want water charges to be scrapped. That is the demand that will, I hope, be heard by the Government on 10 December and I have no doubt that people across all constituencies will be converging on the capital city. People are taking the day off work and their children out of school. It will be a family day and a day of celebration. I hope it will be a day that will deliver the sucker punch to the Government which is punch drunk on this issue. It is all over the place and on the ropes and on 10 December the sucker punch will be delivered by the people.

It is about time the Government started to listen to the ordinary voices of people the length and breadth of the country. The Government and the Taoiseach refuse to hear what people are saying or are selective in what they listen to. Sinn Féin will debate a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach on Tuesday. We have tabled the motion to reflect the views of the people in our communities and the tens of thousands who will gather on Wednesday when the motion is voted on. This will reflect the demand that people want water charges to be scrapped. The reason we will table a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach is very simple. It is his failure to act on the wishes of the people to scrap water charges. I do not expect colleagues in Fine Gael or the Labour Party to vote against the Taoiseach in that regard, but the time is coming and the clock is ticking. People will have their say on 10 December and also in the next general election when this will not be a distant memory.

Yesterday the Minister for Finance and the Government talked about the fact that Anglo Irish Bank junior bondholders, who are unguaranteed, would be paid from State resources in 2015. They are owed something like €280 million, three times what the Government wants to take off the people in water charges. The issues will not be forgotten by them when they take to the streets and go to the ballot box.

Today we see the Water Services Bill 2014, An Bille um Sheirbhísí Uisce 2014, sponsored by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government before the House. That the Government is still struggling to accept the reality that the people have rejected the proposed water charges and the current model of Uisce Éireann almost beggars belief. The hundreds of thousands of protestors who have taken to the streets in cities, towns and villages across the State did not march for Uisce Éireann-light; rather, they marched for the abolition of the Government’s water tax. Fine Gael and the Labour Party have failed to listen. They have failed to recognise that enough is enough. They have failed to recognise that, from its inception, Uisce Éireann has represented the worst of their failings as a Government.

We have seen obscene spending by the entity, where it appears little or no thought is given to the fact that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. Last month RTE showed us that the installation of water meters around the country had cost approximately €100 million more than the estimate given by Bord Gáis. Even this week, it has come to light that Uisce Éireann is spending more than €81,000 a week on legal fees and that it has paid more than €5 million to law firms since it was set up in 2013. This follows the chief executive, Mr. John Tierney’s estimation that it would spend €85 million on consultants by 2015. These figures are hard to accept at a time when ambulances are not being replaced, even though 20% of the fleet is over eight years old and has over 400,000 km on the clock; when people with disabilities have difficulties in accessing basic services, and waiting lists for outpatient and inpatient care are spiralling out of control.

Some of the elements of the Bill deserve close attention. The Bill states a plebiscite of the people would be held to decide on the future of Uisce Éireann. Sinn Féin previously proposed that this be ensured by referendum and that the referendum be held in the coming months.

That is not provided for by this Bill. It rescinds the power of Irish Water to require the personal public service number, PPSN, of its customers. This shows the people have been vindicated in their concerns.

The Bill also provides for the introduction of a so-called water conservation grant. Eligible householders are to be provided with an annual water conservation grant of €100 which they can use to aid water conservation in their homes. This measure contrasts with the Government’s failure to invest in repairing the massive leakage from the water system that occurs before the water reaches citizens’ houses.

Any home that does not register with Irish Water by a date to be prescribed will be charged €260. What is this date? Will it change as the political winds change? I note the proposed establishment of a public water forum, which would have a role in reviewing and commenting on the various strategies and plans of Irish Water, including investment and water charge plans. It is bizarre that the Government proposes to listen to the people but only after the fact. I note the Minister would also decide on the composition of the forum. This would remove any teeth the proposed body might have and would leave it unlikely to fully act as an advocate for the poorest in society.

It is proposed that a dispute resolution service will be provided for unresolved complaints from customers of Irish Water. Why should the people have to wait for this body to be set up? The main complaint of the people is that they do not want this unfair water tax, and they are clamouring for change now. I saw this call for change as recently as Monday night this week, when I spoke at a public meeting in my home town, Monaghan. Those who attended the meeting came from right across the political spectrum. The clear demand from all of those who attended was for this proposed water charge to be abolished. My colleague who already contributed is correct in stating that among the number of those who attended were traditional supporters of the Government parties.

Once again, has the Government thought of the many people who have to use increased amounts of water due to medical conditions from which they or their family members suffer? As Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on health, I am disappointed there is as yet no clarification of the issue of subsidised bills or exemptions for those with medical conditions. As no substantive answer has surfaced, I must ask again if it is true that this list will not issue until 2017.

Neither has the issue of water quality been addressed. Does the Bill contain any provisions that guarantee that those who are provided with hard water and water with excessive lime content will be given due compensation for the damage this water, provided by Uisce Éireann, causes to domestic appliances such as kettles, electric showers and washing machines? People who live in hard water areas are already incurring excessive additional household costs as a result.

As I have said previously, the people have rejected the Government’s proposals and its Mark II "Water Tax Lite" because they are already paying for this public service entitlement. The water tax remains unacceptable to the citizens of this State, who will again demand its abolition at the rally outside the gates of Leinster House on Wednesday next, 10 December. The people have already shown they can force the Government to change its course. They will do it again, or Members opposite will face the consequences.

I call on the Government and Members of both Fine Gael and the Labour Party to listen to the people and fully abolish this water charge, which is yet another austerity tax. Any other response is to continue sticking one’s head in the sand.

I am sharing time with Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Government has admitted it made mistakes with the introduction of Irish Water, as well as its infrastructure, and it has listened to the people. It is a bit rich to hear Sinn Féin complaining that we should have listened to the people. When we did listen and came up with a fair presentation of how we will address the issue of Irish Water, it still complains that we have not listened. One cannot get it right, in Sinn Féin’s opinion, yet its members are doing flip-flops on the issue themselves. Only a few weeks ago, the leader of Sinn Féin stated in the House that he would be paying the water charges. Now, no one in Sinn Féin is going to pay the water charges. It is amazing how quickly they listened to the people and did an about-turn when they realised they were being outflanked by some of the loony left, led by Deputy Paul Murphy, who cannot realise that imprisoning the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, while wondering whether he would let her go, is not right in a democratic society. It is outrageous that someone could do that and still believe they are operating in a democratic society.

On a point of information, is a Member allowed to call another person “loony” in the House? Deputy Costello said Deputy Paul Murphy was the loony left.

I presume, Deputy Costello, you were not referring to any individual when you used the term “loony left”.

No, I was not.

It is not a parliamentary term. I would like if the Deputy could withdraw it.

He got it from The Sun or The Daily Telegraph.

If it is an unparliamentary term, I am more than willing to withdraw it. Imprisoning a Member and Minister of this Parliament is undemocratic and deserves an apology in the House, which we have not yet seen.

The Government has sought to produce new measures and make them as fair and certain as possible. The capping of the payment for a single adult household at €60 per year, or €1.15 per week, while multi-adult households will pay €3 per week, is straightforward and fair and represents a reasonable amount of money. A free allowance of 21,000 litres per child will also be in place. The capped charges will remain in place until 2019. Once the water meters are fully introduced, anyone achieving reductions in water usage will be entitled to a further reduction in their charges.

The infrastructure and services of Irish Water are a natural monopoly. This Bill shows that the Minister has listened to the people's concerns that water services and the water infrastructure should not be privatised. Members on all sides of the House have indicated that they are in favour of retaining Irish Water, and the service it provides, in public ownership.

It is, however, now cast-iron in this legislation that a plebiscite will be necessary and the people will decide if Irish Water is to move from public ownership. This is a welcome measure, as is the removal of the obligation to provide PPS numbers, which was a source of concern for people. People were concerned as to how these numbers might be used but it is now clear that any numbers already obtained by Irish Water will be destroyed.

The new Irish Water service is a necessary consolidation of what went before. Many Members of this House have been members of local authorities and will know that the provision of water services by 34 local authorities was patchy and sometimes the quality left much to be desired. It remains the case that many services are not up to standards and levels of lead poisoning from water are high. In some areas water is undrinkable and the situation in Roscommon has persisted for four or five years but, thanks to Irish Water, this will be largely dealt with by Christmas. Many people will be able to drink tap water without first boiling it and the problem will be entirely resolved early in the new year.

There are more than 1,000 drinking water supplies in the country and this scale is too small to allow for economies. Some 126 drinking water plants need to be upgraded and 58,000 km of drinking water pipelines need urgent repair. The numbers are huge and we are still using Victorian-age pipelines as they have not been repaired in many local authority areas. It will take a huge investment to repair the network so it is important that we have a centralised, consolidated mechanism like Irish Water.

My own city of Dublin faces a difficult situation as restrictions were last year placed on the city's water supply from the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant. There are constant concerns about Dublin's water supply as the surplus now stands at only around 2% - we are consuming 98% of available water and this cannot continue. There may be severe rationing and there could be a colossal breakdown in the system at any time. Irish Water is required to deal with this and it is also needed for industrial reasons due to the consumption of water by that sector. As the recovery continues there will, no doubt, be greater use of water.

I am very interested in the area of conservation but this idea necessitates a metering system. Only through metering can we examine and survey the level of water consumed and deal with the issue in an adequate fashion. The capping system is a short-term solution and in the long term a strong conservation mechanism, based on water consumption, is required. The Government should consider grant-aided supports for rain harvesting to ensure a water supply can be provided to homes throughout the country. This area is not covered in the legislation but it could address many household needs that do not require treated water. There should be grant support to cover rainwater barrels, piping and pumping water through a house for non-drinking purposes. As the next step forward, I ask the Minister to consider the provision of grant aid for households to enable them to construct systems for retaining rainwater for non-drinking purposes.

This legislation reflects the fact that this Government has listened to the people and taken on board their concerns. The Government has attempted to be fair in the manner in which it has addressed the need for water services. At the same time, it is recognised that the introduction of a body like Irish Water was essential - such bodies operate throughout the developed world. Without taking the actions it has to provide adequate water services, the Government could not deal with the many water-related problems the country has faced for a very long time. I commend this Bill to the House.

This is not the first time I have spoken on water charges but I welcome the opportunity to reiterate my support for the principle of water charges. I also welcome the fact that this Bill is receiving two full days of debate in the House because, as I admitted the last time I spoke, it was a mistake to apply the guillotine when the legislation went through last year. I do not know why this happened but it was a brief debate that did not give sufficient time for a full critique of the Bill and an examination of the details. We needed an opportunity to tease out the problems that have emerged in recent months.

We are where we are and I support the provisions of this Bill, limited as they are. The Bill deals primarily with the introduction of a fixed water charge, the application of a cap and the introduction of a conservation grant. In terms of conservation, a charge per litre of water consumed is preferable to a capped charge. I always have been conscious of water consumption in my home and anyone who has been a member of a local authority will be aware of the costs of capturing, storing, treating and distributing water, along with the cost of safely disposing of wastewater. Water does not arrive in our taps without cost. Many people, including Opposition Deputies, have pointed out that water was never free and we always paid for it through taxation. However, the point is water was more expensive using that system because no attempt was made to conserve it.

We all know about the level of waste in our water system due to leaking pipes and under-investment but the truth is we all wasted water in our households by watering gardens, washing cars and so on. When I learned water was to be metered I became more conscious of conservation but as soon as I heard a cap was to be applied I took my foot off the throttle and became far less vigilant. Many people have said the same to me because it is human nature to react this way. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said, if electricity were free we would never turn off the lights. My point is, the sooner we switch back to metered water the better and cheaper it will be for all of us. A crucial part of water conservation is knowing how much water is used and when, where and how we use it. The fixed charge will give respite for a couple of years to allow assessment of water usage and it will give people the opportunity to use the conservation grant. We can change our habits to ensure we use less water and reduce the cost to the country as a whole.

I think the level of charge is reasonable, though some say it is too low. I believe it is reasonable in light of all the other costs people have faced in recent years. It will cover the production cost of water.

It will also facilitate the leveraging of the vital investment we need in the water network.

Some Deputies on the other side of the House and others outside it have threatened to bring down the Government on this issue. However, a charge set at €1.15 per week is perfectly reasonable. Let us put it in context. The total that will be paid in water charges is a little more than half of what is being paid in property tax and, incredibly, a little more than one third of what is taken in by the Government through the private pension levy. The talk about bringing down the Government and going out onto the streets is an over-reaction to what is a reasonable charge for an important product.

What is more puzzling is that those who want to bring down the Government have stated they do not want to be in government. This begs the question of what they do want. They should be careful about what they seek. It is unwise to bring people out onto the streets and encourage the language that has been used such as a "sucker punch" for the Government, as well as barricading the Taoiseach's car and imprisoning the Tánaiste. No matter how peaceful one intends a protest to be, one cannot control crowds on the street because of their dynamic. One should be aware of this and wary of what one is trying to achieve in that way.

An important aspect of the debate concerns the enforcement of charges. A successful tax has several features. It should be fair; there should be adequate resources for what is needed to collect and fund it; it should be simple to understand and transparent, and it should be easy to administer. Being easy to administer means that it should be easy to collect, as well as easy to pay. They are equally important, but for a tax to be easy to collect, there must be penalties. This legislation includes a penalty. If a person does not pay or make some arrangement to pay within 12 months, the charge will go up and will continue to go up during the years. We can impose all of the penalties in the world, but they are meaningless if we cannot enforce them. It is easy enough to enforce a payment, albeit a deferred payment, when we are dealing with an owner-occupier by placing a lien on the property. That is straightforward. However, we cannot and should not allow a situation where businesses and property owners and occupiers are the only ones who pay for water simply because they are easy prey. I understand that in the new year there will be further legislation or regulations providing for the enforcement mechanisms required, which I will welcome, as should everyone. I hope the €100 conservation grant will only be given to those who actually pay the water charge. People should have to do more than register; they should actually pay. We owe it to those who will pay, those tax-compliant citizens who will pay quietly every tax and charge, to ensure they will not be left to carry the can by paying not only for their water but also for those who will not pay. Those who have no intention of paying have no incentive to conserve water. I assure the House that nothing is more likely to get people out onto the streets than an upright charge-paying citizen seeing his or her neighbour not pay.

This legislation will prohibit the turning off of water for non-payers, which had been envisaged originally. That is the right thing to do, but no one should assume this means that if a person chooses not to pay, someone else will pay for him or her. That much should be made perfectly clear from the outset. No threat should dissuade any of us that it is absolutely right that everyone should pay, rather than only the few. I look forward to the announcement of effective enforcement provisions in the new year. Meanwhile, I am happy to support the legislation.

This is the third attempt since the 1980s to introduce water charges. The first two ended in failure, as this will. The legislation is being introduced by the same political parties which introduced the charges twice in recent decades. Put simply, the water tax is dead and will not be accepted for a variety of reasons.

The move from a situation where water services were funded by general taxation to a charge is regressive. The new flat charges proposed will cost the households on the lowest incomes eight times more as a percentage of their income than the top 10% in relative terms. They will impact most on those who have the least amount of money in their pockets, especially after the way the Government rifled people's pockets in a major way in the past four years.

People understand the charges make possible the privatisation of water services in the future and they simply do not trust the political elite on this issue. They want a plebiscite and a referendum to be held to enable the right to water to be inserted into the Constitution. That is what they are saying. The right to water is close to the hearts of the citizens of the State in terms of justice, equality and fairness. They regard water charges as yet another austerity measure and they have had enough.

These are the reasons people will be out on the streets next Wednesday, 10 December, when we will see another mass demonstration of people power. This time it will not be on a Saturday but a working day. The demonstration was called on a working day, in particular, because the view was taken that on Saturdays those in government were not in Leinster House and that, therefore, they not hear or see the people protesting. The people are keen to come out mid-week, on a Wednesday, to let those in government see the whites of their eyes. They are not calling for clarification; they want the water tax to be scrapped. This was essentially the message sent in the last two big demonstrations on 11 October and 1 November. Up to 8,000 people gathered around the Walkinstown roundabout in Dublin 12 to show their resistance to the water tax and send a clear message to the Government that they wanted the tax to be abolished. It is not a question of the crumbs off the table or the removal of the worst aspects of the tax. People have referred to aspects of the water tax in their opposition to it, but what they want is for it to be abolished.

I was in my constituency last Saturday knocking on doors. I met a young couple who were thinking about what to write on their placards. There is overwhelming support for the demonstration, with people arranging time off work and small shops organising to close down for the period of the demonstration in order that staff and the owners can attend the protests. They see this as a Trojan horse for full cost recovery further down the line in 2018, when the Government can push the issue beyond the next general election.

I have no doubt that there will be a high level of non-payment of the charges next year and, on this basis, the strategy behind Irish Water, as initiated, cannot work properly. The strategy was based on Irish Water being able to borrow off the books. In other words, the company would be able to borrow to invest in water service infrastructure. That is a burning necessity; we need to invest in water services. Under the strategy, the money borrowed would not count as part of the Government's deficit. For this to happen, over 50% of Irish Water's income would have to come from charges. This will not happen, but the Government has made no provision for this eventuality in the legislation. Even if there was widespread acceptance of water charges, there would be a certain level of non-compliance. We know that this is a big "if" because there will be widespread mass non-compliance which will leave a huge hole in the finances of Irish Water. Irish Water needs to raise over €500 million next year, comprising approximately €230 million from commercial water charges and €300 million from domestic charges. Let us suppose one third of householders do not pay. What will happen then? What is the Government's contingency plan? It is ridiculous for Ministers to state Irish Water will pass the EUROSTAT test next April. This is a denial of reality and a fiasco to beat all fiascoes.

The metering project has met major opposition in parts of the country, parts of Dublin and in other cities. We know that conservation is not about the installation of water meters. They could be installed in areas to test whether water was being lost in the ground or people's houses. The only true conservation method is to fix the leaks and replace lead pipes throughout the country and in cities.

That is the only way. The Government has likened the establishment of Irish Water to the scale of the establishment of the ESB and the electrification of all parts of the country which took more than 30 years to complete. This is nonsense. There is no comparison. If the Government had been in charge of that project, we would all still be in the dark or having this debate by candlelight.

The water charges are dead in the water, if the pun will be pardoned. It is a project designed to fail. The Government should accept the reality of the situation, abolish the charges and go back to the drawing board to come up with a proper plan and a real debate with the people. This has all been driven over the heads of the people of the State. The Government has been forced to take out the most aggressive parts of the legislation that was guillotined in the Dáil last December. Mandate, Unite, the CWU, CPSU, OPATSI and the MBRU are all calling on their members to come out on 10 December for a mass family day of peaceful protest. It will give another boost of confidence to people to demand the scrapping of the water tax. The Government will have to listen. It has not listened to date. It pretended to listen and heard what it wanted to hear but the scrapping of the water tax is the watershed for people in relation to this issue.

On 10 December will fall international human rights day. The Irish people demand that water be recognised as a human right and that people have the right to water. They call for a referendum to put it into our Constitution. The fact is that water is an integral part of the people of this State and their attitudes. They want a just and fair taxation system to pay for our water. They do not see flat rate charges as constituting that no matter what form they take or whether it is 50 cent or €200. After six years of austerity measures, of which water charges are a part, €30 billion has been taken out of the pockets of every man, woman and child. It is manifest in higher prescription charges and utility bills. There have been cuts in our incomes, job losses, cuts in rent supplement and increases in rents.

I have been notified of a case that will bring the foregoing home to the Government. I was contacted by someone living at Landsdowne Gate apartments who said he had just received a letter. It was the 28-day notice informing him of an increase of 23% in his rent from €1,300 to €1,600 to be implemented in the next month as part of an annual rental review. The man told me it was an incredible rise justified in the notice as reflective of the current market value. One of the biggest gripes in this instance is that ownership of the apartments was transferred only weeks ago from NAMA to I-RES REIT, backed by a foreign investor who is just coming in to grab profits. People are facing huge increases in their rents. With these impacts on them, people are saying that whether it is 50 cent or €50 per week, they will not pay.

The first thing to discuss in relation to water is its quality. The sad reality in Roscommon for the past few years has been that water quality has been disgraceful. We now see the problem extending to places like Williamstown. We hear Irish Water tell us that this, that and the other is being done, but sadly some of the objectives it says it will reach are unrealistic.

Only yesterday, I received an email from Irish Water on a scheme in Williamstown on the Roscommon-Galway border which referred to taking water from Lough Mask. Notwithstanding the need to get EIAs and appropriate assessments and put everything in place, I have been told the project will be delivered some time in 2016. Let us be honest with people that this is an unrealistic target. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is always crowing about how a particular town has one of the best lakes in Europe. It is a so-called "SAC" but raw sewage is going into it. If someone cuts a few sods of turf up the road, he or she is a criminal, but it is acceptable for the Government and local authorities to allow raw sewage into a lake. Ordinary people are being trampled on once again.

I would always have said that oversight was required nationally to ensure that all local authorities worked together to provide a quality system. However, I have a problem with Irish Water. What should have been done was that good directors of services from around the country should have been put together to spearhead this new set up. There are some great people who have delivered quality water in different counties. People from the likes of the water federation should have been involved. Right around the country, group water schemes have produced the finest quality water, often on a voluntary basis. I am damn sure they could show people how it should be done.

As a person who is involved in a group water scheme, I have been open about meters. Sadly, the meter is the flash point in the argument at the moment. We put in meters and went from 980 cubic litres per week down to 470 cubic litres. The conservation value was phenomenal. Sadly, the meters are put in but while we started off talking about conservation, whether one uses 1 gallon or 10 million gallons, it is the same thing. That does not give people the idea that we are talking about conservation. Rainwater harvesting should have been promoted for both the farming community and in towns. An incentive should have been introduced as it is a no-brainer to get people to use the large amount of water we get from the sky. We should encourage people to do that.

When one installs meters, the number of leaks one can fix is unbelievable. We have proved it in our own scheme. We should have concentrated on this at the beginning of solving the major problem with water. When one considers the number of houses that will be supposedly built in Dublin in the next four or five years and the increase in industry, it appears the city will be low on water in 2017 or 2018. We have not put in the foundations or done the work on planning to put in place structures yet there is a problem coming down the line. There is talk of getting water from the River Shannon and Lough Derg. That will be a problem given the number of designations in the west. What seems to happen in the west is that everything is designated and our resources are taken away.

I have looked into the matter of the plebiscite. I am a firm believer that we need a referendum and to put this in our Constitution. I am not at all saying this Government will privatise Irish Water, but some time down the road somebody may overrule what this Government did. I have looked into the legality of the plebiscite and, to be frank, it will not stand up. Anyone who is selling that is selling people an untruth. One must bring people with one no matter what one does in life. The whole strategy in this case has been rushed from beginning to end. Irish Water has started to run before it learned to crawl.

Governments have a major problem when people turn against them. The Government should rethink the structure of Irish Water because perception is very important. When people leave companies with large pensions to take up new positions with large salaries it does not give ordinary people who struggle to meet their mortgage payments and live from one day to the next much hope of a new vision for Ireland.

I am also concerned about group water schemes. As I stated, with the help of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, these schemes have produced the finest water. Things are going well but there is a fear that in one, two or three years some senior civil servant will decide to remove the €100 household grant from members of group water schemes. While it is understandable that the Government will deny this possibility, the reality is that there are no free dinners. I hope nobody will try to tear the heart and fabric out of the group water schemes because any such attempts will be resisted tenaciously.

Businesses and farmers either belong to a group water scheme or receive water from public supplies provided by local authorities. I note from the documentation that the regulator will assume responsibility in September 2015, at which point decisions will be taken on a new vision for water and water pricing structures for farmers and businesses. My group water scheme is proud to be able to produce water at 55 cent per cubic metre, whereas local authorities charge €1.30 per cubic metre. We do not want more jobs to be lost. The prices charged for water must not be increased for businesses or farmers as they are on their knees. If the regulator increases prices, problems will increase.

Anyone can make a mistake. I ask the Government to take a step back and rethink its entire water strategy for the betterment of the economy, country and, above all, the people.

I am pleased to speak on the Water Services Bill 2014. The Bill provides clarity and certainty for ordinary people. From my conversations with members of the public, the issue with water is not that they must pay for it but that they want certainty about water quality and how much they will pay for it. In recent weeks, those who intend to pay the water charges have not been given clarity on what will happen in cases where people do not pay. Deputy Mitchell also raised this issue. Water charges should be linked with property or some other mechanism should be found to ensure people pay them. It is not right that some people will choose to pay and their neighbours may not pay. Clarity is required on this matter.

I have consistently supported the establishment of an entity such as Irish Water. Deputy Stanley stated that the various county councils functioned well in providing water services on which neighbouring counties co-operated. Most of the water supplied to County Kildare is produced by Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. Ten years ago, a site was purchased for a company which intended to locate in County Kildare. It subsequently decided not to proceed, however, because Dublin City Council would not guarantee a supply of water. The rates Kildare County Council would have received from the company in question would have allowed it to provide many more services. As someone who is in favour of taking a national approach to the provision of water, I still believe we need an entity such as Irish Water. However, my problem from the outset has been with the way in which the company was established and went about its business and the personnel involved.

Deputy Fitzmaurice noted that installing water meters is a conservation measure because it allows people to identify leaks. It is extremely difficult to read the meters Irish Water has installed as they have a black cap. How will elderly people read their meters? I visited the websites of a number of water companies around the world to ascertain how they read meters and explain to meter reading to their customers. Irish Water's website features 12 pages on reading meters, three of which relate to how to read them and nine explain the reasons the technology allowing meters to be read from passing vehicles does not harm health. If Irish Water wishes to be user friendly, it should clearly identify to customers how they can remove the cap and read their meters.

I asked Irish Water if technology could be made available to allow people to read their meters using an iPhone or other device. This would be a conservation measure as it would allow people to track their water use and quickly identify leaks on their property. Irish Water's record on communications is poor, as is evident from its website. In southern Australia, one of the water companies' websites features a video of a fellow called Tim demonstrating how to read a water meter. This approach is simple to understand. I am also concerned that elderly people may not be able to read their meters as the ability to read meters is also a conservation measure and one which we should pursue.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government should consider the introduction of a grant to encourage water harvesting. The provision of grants to purchase water butts would help to sell the message that the Government is taking action on water conservation.

I fear that the board of Ervia, the company formerly known as Bord Gáis Éireann, will have many members with technical ability and few with common sense. Members of boards have a duty and responsibility to shareholders. In this case, the shareholders of Ervia are the Government and members of the public. The duty of the board members is, therefore, to members of the public. They have a responsibility to question all decisions made by the chief executive of Ervia and the company's constituent parts.

Life experiences are a source of many qualifications, of which common sense is one. Throughout the history of the State, members of State boards have not shown common sense and have failed to understand their roles and responsibilities. The boards of banks, for example, neglected their duty to act on behalf of shareholders rather than the banks.

I welcome the Bill purely because it gives people clarity. I understand another Bill will be published in the new year which may address some of the issues I mentioned. I welcome the fact that we will have a national company, because we have to deal with an entity such as this on a national basis.

I am happy to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. We need to address a number of issues. There is a need for a water board, water services, backup services and the charges that go with that. We need to measure that against two things. The Bill comes at a time when the people of the country have been through a very traumatic experience. That applies to everybody, in all walks of life, including those who are wealthy and those who are not so wealthy, and families.

Whether people would be asked to pay for water supplies was always going to be a serious issue. I can understand that it is an emotive subject. We had these arguments in my constituency in the 1980s. We should examine the issue against the backdrop of what would happen if nothing were done. If nothing were done we would not have an adequate water supply available to everyone on a national basis, something to which the people are entitled, unless some structure were put in place to co-ordinate the efforts of those providing the service.

A number of issues come to mind. Reference was made by my colleague Deputy Fitzmaurice to the fact that the directors of services in the various local authorities should be brought together. That is what is happening. There is a transfer of local authority staff to Irish Water, because they are the people with direct, local knowledge who can make it work. That does not take away from the fact that there is still resistance to the principle, which we have to measure against the theory that water should be free and is a human right. Of course it is a human right and it is free, but it has to be collected. That is the way it has always been. There was a pump in the centre of the square in every town and village in the country and people collected water in buckets. It was free, and so it should be. The principle of access to water must always be sacrosanct and has long since been established; about that there should be no doubt. The next issue is whether we expect the people who will be given the responsibility of taking water, putting it underground in pipes, bringing it into purification plants, carrying out all necessary work and delivering it to the people to do so for free. A basic argument is that we pay for it already in our taxes, but that is not true. If we want an illustration of that, let us go back a few years to a time I can well remember, though other Members will not because they were not born. In 1977 the then Opposition proposed to abolish rates and said that everything that was charged for would be free. It said there was no need for a charge because things would be paid for through an extra penny or two in taxation. That was the theory, but it was wrong. I am not making a political point; this is historical fact. The same people said there should be no car tax because it was a deterrent to people going to work. After two and a half years the country went bust, the IMF was knocking on the door and suddenly fear spread throughout the land. It was recognised that it was not such a great idea. It sounded good at the time and was emotive, and drove people to do things they would not ordinarily have done unless they voted the way certain people wanted them to vote. It was a disaster. Motor tax had to be reintroduced and water charges were introduced.

I can well understand the reason for resistance and concern, because people are not so much afraid as angry. We hear a lot about anger, and I warn everybody in the House to be wary of it. Whenever expressions of anger are set in motion and managed in the public arena, it can be very dangerous for society. When the economy went bust some years ago, people were fearful of the consequences and what the future held. There was a fear of the unknown. We did not come out of the situation laughing; we just about survived. The consequences affected every household in the country, including the wealthy and the not so wealthy. There are reports on a daily basis stating that the poor have suffered. Of course they have. Could things have been any other way? The answer was to burn the bondholders and say we did not need to pay for anything. I will deal with that point for once and for all. It would have been a good idea in meeting the political objectives of many people, but there would have been consequences, which have already been felt in a number of other countries throughout the globe that did just that. If we think we have suffered badly as a result of the economic downturn, let us consider how widespread the consequences would have been if we had taken a different route.

I did not like the route the country had to take, but we chose it. The previous and incoming Governments were criticised for allegedly following the same path. Nobody on the other side of the House explained what the consequences would be for every man, woman and child in the country if the Government had decided to burn the bondholders. Smoke from the funeral pyre would have been the only exhilarating thing, because the rest would have been serious retribution. I defy anybody to tell me that would not have happened. It is as simple as examining the average industrial wage in other European countries. When we ask ourselves what would have happened if we had taken the self-destruct route and led the people in that direction, I can say we would have suffered twice the amount we have and the consequences would have been severe.

I realised at a very early stage of my time in the House that water services in this country were inadequate, unreliable and insufficient to meet current and future demand, and that there was a need for a programme to make sure investment was made. The obvious thing to do would be to try to use existing services through local authorities, but that did not work. It is comparable to the situation with roads. Local authorities were in full control of all national, primary and other roads before a decision was made to form the National Roads Authority as a means of co-ordinating investment, focusing on the needs that existed and bringing investment to a head at an early stage. This policy was proven right, and it is a good example.

There are those who say the reason we decided to establish a different body was that it was to be privatised. I have disagreed with the concept of privatisation. Certain utility services should always be in public hands, and that is provided for in the Bill and will be provided for in future legislation. The Bill incorporates the concept that there will be no privatisation unless and until a plebiscite is held, and that cannot be changed. I do not know how often one can emphasise that.

There are those who say the Bill could be abolished in a few minutes; it cannot. It would be in violation of the Constitution. It is a promise made which is instilled in the Bill and it cannot be changed. There is no point in pretending it can, or saying there is a secret ruse to defraud everybody.

We need comparisons with the European Union. Across the Union countries must pay for various services - roads, water and so on. I am glad the cost to individual households for water has been modified to the extent it has, because I have always felt that in the current economic climate it is necessary to refine the payments to such an extent as to make it possible for people to pay them.

Some speakers have spoken about having a debate with the people. I see nothing wrong with this and I believe we should always debate the issues with the people, particularly increases in charges or taxation are proposed. This debate should be conducted in an even-handed way that takes full account of the views of both sides. We should not have one side shouting the other down, threatening the other or pretending reality does not exist. We must have a debate in which both views are put on the table so we can debate the issues in and even and open fashion and reach a conclusion.

I absolutely condemn the antics whereby Members elected to the House decide, in pursuit of their political objectives, to imprison or intimidate people, including Ministers. I refer in particular to the situation with the Tánaiste some time ago. That was a disgrace. It is a sad reflection on a democracy and on a freedom-loving people that some in our society believe an expression of their freedom is the imprisonment of someone else. They should spell this out for us at an early date, so that everybody knows this, including the people they hope may vote for them or for anybody else. We must be very wary of moving towards that attitude, because it could have disastrous consequences. We were very lucky it did not cause more disastrous consequences than it did on the occasion mentioned.

In regard to the intimidation of employees of Irish Water, some of these people are my constituents. It is one of the lowest tricks in the book to surround and intimidate people who are doing a job or doing their day's work. They are entitled to do their work without being threatened or impeded from doing it. These people are working for themselves and their families. Some of these workers are the only person in their household with an income. People must show due regard to the job they have to do and the difficult circumstances in which they do it. We must be careful not to encourage others to intimidate them or to create a situation in which they are in fear for themselves or their families.

We need an investigation into the establishment and setting up of Irish Water. In light of the current debacle in this regard, the public deserve and demand accountability in regard to who made mistakes, in order to ensure that history does not repeat itself. The former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, has been very vocal in setting out his stall and in setting out the background to the initiation of Irish Water. I was disappointed to read that he was never delegated powers and that mistakes he had flagged and highlighted occurred and were ignored.

The Taoiseach has said that the protests taking place currently are about more than water. I agree. When we speak to people in our constituencies, we learn that the water issue is the final straw. People are annoyed and frustrated by how democracy is operating in our country. They deserve and demand reform and call on the Government to commit to the various promises made by it at the last general election.

A super-quango has been set up as a result of the legislation passed last year. Like many other Members, I supported that legislation in good faith. However, I did not vote for a blank chequebook for Irish Water. We have seen from the amount of money squandered on consultants that history is repeating itself. The same firms are being used consistently by the Government for advice despite the fact that the expertise probably exists already within the public service. If the public service was trusted and a proper skills assessment was carried out, I am sure this would indicate that the right people exist to provide the level of expertise required. The public service needs to believe and trust in itself more rather than always seeking outside advice. The public are annoyed by that waste.

A single water authority is a good idea, and there are efficiencies to be gained as a result of the standing down of the existing 34 water authorities. The Minister has referred to economies of scale and to what may happen as a result of the various efficiencies achieved. People are obviously unhappy to note the variation in water charges currently depending on where one lives. A single authority will change this and ensure that everyone pays the same charge.

I have a concern regarding authorisation from the European Commission for the change in the model for Irish Water and in regard to how the borrowing and funding model of Irish Water has changed. My colleague Deputy Denis Naughten asked why the Government did not set up a not-for-profit company rather than a commercial State utility, and I agree. If it had set up a not-for-profit company, it would have brought the public with it every step of the way, as people would understand that profits were not being made at the expense of taxpayers.

The legislation for Irish Water was rushed through in a hasty manner. An education programme should have been put in place first to encourage people to conserve water, explain the value and importance of not wasting treated water and explain the importance of rain harvesting. The Government could have introduced incentives and grant schemes to encourage conservation and rain harvesting. I believe no charges should have been introduced before all meters were installed. If that had happened, the Government would have been in a much better position to initiate charges.

In regard to funding for water infrastructure over the past ten or 20 years, there is little information or accountability as to how money was spent or about the gap in the budget currently. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should set out this information and explain how much has been spent on upgrading water infrastructure and how much it costs to provide water. We know that water treatment costs amount to €1.2 billion annually, but what staff and other costs are involved in providing treated water?

If that had been outlined and given to people, there would have a better acceptance of water charges and they would have known what the gap was and what they were going to be paying for.

The issue of PPS numbers was a big bone of contention for people, so I am delighted that has been rowed back on. Senator Feargal Quinn had introduced a Bill on that issue, which I acknowledge. People were very annoyed about the PPS numbers. They felt it was one Government Department speaking to another in the first instance, and as the Government already had that information, it was particularly annoying that they would be asked for the same information again.

The conservation of water is not being promoted by the charge. One household that leaves a tap running will pay the exact same as another household that conserves water and uses it in an sparing manner. No conservation measure is included in the Bill, which is very annoying. As a previous speaker mentioned, there is huge difficulty involved in trying to read the meter, even for an able-bodied person. Anyone who is elderly or disabled would have huge problems in trying to know how much water they are being billed for and where they will stand when their bill arrives.

As Deputy Peter Mathews stated earlier, one year after the initial legislation was rushed through, here we are, making amendments to that original legislation. The old adage that rushed legislation is bad legislation certainly comes to mind. It is bizarre that anyone who is in a group scheme will be paid money as a consequence of this new legislation, with some households being paid between €20 and €60. If that is the case, it is morally wrong when so many people need money, for example, carers, who are getting a very harsh deal from this Government and who could do with this extra money, and those on medical cards.

With regard to the billing of households, why is there not a net charge rather than a requirement to apply for the €100 conservation payment? That will undoubtedly cause a huge amount of extra administration, which is probably not necessary if the net effect is that people will only have to pay €60 and €160.

We know water is necessary for all human life. I am glad that people will not be disconnected or that the water supply will not be cut down to a trickle because we all need it and use it daily. What leeway is there in the legislation to help those who may be in financial difficulty or poverty and have difficulty paying their bills?

I agree with the polluter pays principle. Fairness is not a full part of this legislation because conservation of water is not being catered for. This will encourage people to waste water from now until 2018, not conserve it. We all want to see clean and drinkable water, and that is very much welcomed.

A year ago, on 19 December, the legislation was rushed through by guillotine by a Government with the largest majority ever in this State. It follows from what was equivalent to the physical destruction that occurred in Europe in the years 1939 to 1945. There was physical destruction that required a rebuilding of the countries where that destruction had taken place. In Ireland, there was financial destruction.

We hear the figure of €64 billion as being the amount of money that had to be injected and infused into the banking system. The destruction in the overall financial system of households and businesses was approximately €140 billion. Where do we get that figure from? The losses in the Irish banks, in commercial terms, requiring the visible capitalisation was approximately €65 billion. We have to add to that approximately €30 billion for mortgage loan losses and provisions that are still hurting families and businesses, which gives us €95 billion. They were the Irish-owned, domestic banks. There were also the foreign-owned domestic banks, which had losses of €45 billion. If we add those figures together, that is €140 billion.

That is the destruction that occurred on households and businesses as a result of completely reckless organisation of the financial system up to 2008. That is about 70% of the national income of this country. It is proportionately the biggest destruction anywhere in the world ever. The United States had losses of approximately $1 trillion, which is under 10% of its gross domestic product.

A few nights ago, a lady GP appeared on "The Vincent Browne Show", where she described the inequality of the medical services for people in north-west Dublin and the GP resources available to those communities. She told us this in true reality language that the statistics just cannot convey. The same applies to the financial details the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform talk about. We can put flesh and blood on it. We can say that 350,000 people have emigrated. They are the equivalent of the refugees after the world war in Europe - they are our refugees. Then, we can talk about the 100,000 mortgage loans in distress that the two so-called banks are dealing with. They are not dealing with them, and I have first-hand experience of this. They are operationally out of control - OOOC. They are not doing what they should and could be doing as professionals.

There are approximately 100,000 mortgage loans in that situation, and these account for approximately 350,000 human beings - mothers, fathers, teenagers, children and so on. They are more refugees. They are imprisoned for the next ten years at least, or even 20 years, because they are hopeless cases that are not being dealt with properly by the banks in restructuring terms. The evidence is there to show it. I am not going to waste time trying to give the House instances of it; I have the instances. That is wrong. Then, there are 90,000 families on housing waiting lists which, at three people per household, is another 270,000 souls. They are hurting, and we have seen the acute expression of that in the sad and tragic death of Jonathan Corrie. That is the progression and where it can lead. Some 800 children sleep at night in beds that are not in their home, and that is wrong.

We have unequal distribution of the burden of finding revenues for the State to carry out the investments and make the payments for public services. There has been a failure of imagination and this Bill is a leviathan or behemoth expression of the failure of imagination as to what to do. We need reconditioned reservoirs, water treatment plants and pipes. It is a bill of about €10 billion, as the quantity surveyors - the experts - have told us. We are going to try to do it on a hand-to-mouth basis, levying taxation on the families I have just described, while the MNC corporates have paid nothing towards the national recovery, despite the fact their profits have not fallen like the incomes of our people have fallen. The evidence is there on the reported profits - their own reported profits - that they actually increased their revenues since 2008, and there has been no incremental contribution to rebuilding our country.

That is a shame and it is wrong. Water charges and the property tax are just creating two new bureaucracies which must collect the money from the families who are the subject of the invoices and who will not be able to dismantle their houses in the case of the property tax, so it will come out of their incomes. The same will happen with water charges, which will come out of their incomes. If their incomes have fallen and there are charges which are going up - which are not called income tax or USC - on those incomes, they are paying more in taxation. It is regressive because the people who have done better have only the same quantum - fixed amount - per volume of the so-called service of water, or per house. A house is only a small proportion of a multimillionaire's wealth, so it is regressive. That is the failure of imagination to deal with the financial destruction that occurred, which was the largest ever in the history of the modern world.

IMF loans are not being repaid. They are being refinanced. Unfortunately, our national broadcaster says that we are repaying the IMF loans. We are not really doing this. We are borrowing at slightly cheaper rates to replace the loans that were more expensive, which should never have been as expensive as they were initially when they were doled out to us. Telling the story that way is not truthful or imaginative. It is all being done because we are not seeing the right pace in addressing the problems, the right honesty in measuring them and the right fairness in spreading the cost of them. On 28 December, which is only three weeks away, the noble people of Ballyhea will carry out their 200th peaceful protest march to say that the people of Ireland should have never have been burdened with the loan losses of Anglo Irish Bank, which are now a quantum amount of €25 billion of promissory bonds. They are right, because out of €25 billion, €10 billion could be allocated for reservoirs, treatment plants and pipes, leaving €15 billion to replace the pension funds that are now creaking at the joints for the older people and pensioners of this country, hospitals and gardaí. We heard this morning that Dublin is a no-go place at night or even in the afternoon or morning. It is a menacing place to go because crime is visibly taking place on the streets. I can look out my window in LH2000 and see unfortunate people taking heroin. It is sad and it should not be happening.

Before he left two years ago, Ashoka Mody, the director the IMF delegation that came here, encouraged us not to tolerate these unjust loans, which are the remnant of that financial destruction, and not to allow the unfair burden of the cost of this to be imposed under the Whip system of massive majority government on the people of Ireland. That is what is wrong. Deputy Terence Flanagan spoke about a proposed amendment to the Constitution which would ensure that the parliamentarians elected to this House and the Seanad would be representative of all of the people - those who have to pay these water charges - that they would not be bound by the orders or instructions of unfair policies and that they would be responsible to that obligation and their solemn duty to the people of Ireland by being responsible to their consciences in that context. We really-----

Deputy Mathews's time is up.

There are 17 hours for this debate. There are two hours for the debate that has been deferred to 23 January. That is 43 seconds each for 166 Deputies. It is pathetic.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate this evening, almost 12 months to the day since the original legislation to give effect to Irish Water was rammed through this Oireachtas. I think, at the time, we got two hours and 15 minutes to debate the original piece of legislation. What we see here today is more of what we have seen from the Government for the past three and a half years. It is spin over substance. We are allocating so much time here to debate this important piece of legislation, which is right. I believe, from talking to the Whip's office, that many Government Deputies will not even contribute to the debate. The Government is saying that the debate can continue to 9 p.m. tonight and 8 p.m. tomorrow in the hope that the Opposition Deputies do not keep the debate going. The Government then hopes it can come out next week and say that it gave us the time but we did not make use of it. It is an example of the tomfoolery that is happening at Government level in terms of allocating appropriate time for debates. Why was the Topical Issue debate removed from today's schedule? I had a topic of local importance that I have been trying to raise for the past number of weeks. Deputy Mathews had a piece of legislation to be debated tomorrow. This was all part of the reform agenda that this Government was bringing about. On the first Friday of every month, there was an opportunity through a lottery system for Opposition Deputies and Government backbenchers to bring forward legislation to be debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Where is that important critical piece of the reform agenda now? It has gone.

We have no votes tomorrow. Why? It is because the Government Deputies do not want to participate in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We saw it today and we see it on many Thursdays when a vote is called on the Order of Business or anything else. Almost one-third, if not more, of Government Deputies are not present to vote. That is fine, because that is their entitlement. I do not agree that every part of Deputies' work is about being in the Houses of the Oireachtas, but let us be honest and open with the public. I remember deputising for my party Whip at a Whips' meeting when the Government Whips said that the Taoiseach did not mind what we were debating once the lights were on. It is a case of making a play for the public to make it seem as though they are working hard and the Oireachtas is sitting longer, but in actual fact nothing is being done. If the Government was serious about reform, our sitting week could start on Tuesday and end on Thursday. We all acknowledge that on Mondays and Fridays both Government and Opposition Deputies have work to do in their constituencies. It will be interesting to see how many people contribute tomorrow and how many Government Deputies contribute tomorrow. Why are we not having a vote tomorrow? It is because there will only be a handful of Deputies in the House, so we are keeping the House open and the Government can say "We gave you as much time as you wanted." It should have given us time last year when the Government came up with the original idea. If the Government had done that and had given time, which all members of the Opposition looked for, we would not be here today. If it had given a bit more than two and a half hours, we would not be here today. One hundred and fifty thousand people would not have to taken to the streets of Dublin, 3,000 people would not have to taken to the streets of Mullingar, 2,000 people would not have to have taken to the streets of Longford, and 3,500 people would not have taken to the streets of Athlone. I mentioned the three towns in my constituency because I know the numbers. I saw on RTE news how thousands marched in Donegal because of the decisions taken by this Government 12 months ago.

The funny thing is that both senior and junior Ministers now come out and say that they are new to the job and this should not have happened. What happened to collective Cabinet responsibility? It was agreed at Cabinet, which is the Executive arm of this Oireachtas.

It was brought to the floor of this House and every Deputy in Fine Gael and the Labour Party walked through the lobby to vote for it because the whip was applied. Certain people like to blame the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan, for his bullyboy antics in bringing forward this legislation. Others say it was disgraceful to threaten people that their water supplies would be reduced to a trickle if they did not pay. These people have only found their voices in the last several weeks.

Prior to the local elections, the Taoiseach promised full transparency on the pricing structure for water but afterwards Deputy Rabbitte suggested it was not the wisest decision to announce charges in advance of a local election. Of course, the Commission for Energy Regulation was supposed to be setting the charges. We have not heard much from that body in the last several weeks. I wonder where it has gone. The original idea was to keep the matter at arm's length so the Government would not be held responsible for the original charges of €278 for a household of two adults and €500 for four adults, two of whom may have been attending college. Where did the Government expect people to find that money?

Do not forget the €400 figure.

What €400 figure?

Fianna Fáil was going to charge €400.

How long has this Government been in power? When it negotiated a change to the troika agreement, it clapped itself on the back. If there was a figure, why did it not renegotiate it? Why did thousands of people need to take to the streets for the Government to see sense and roll back somewhat? It has not rolled back half enough because in the budget it announced a rebate of €100 through the tax system, and then a payment of €100 through the social welfare system. This was a knee-jerk reaction which forgot about the people in the middle who do not pay any tax.

This Government likes to refer to its predecessor but it was Fine Gael's idea to establish Irish Water. This Government commissioned PriceWaterhouseCooper to prepare a report but it ignored the report when it advised against establishing Irish Water. In its wisdom, it chose to invest €500 million on installing meters and €180 million on establishing Irish Water with 700 staff. There was no word of concern or objection from anybody in Government at the bonus culture but, then again, it was performance related pay not a bonus. Who set the terms and conditions?

This Government set the terms and conditions and it signed off on the decision to award bonuses or performance related pay. This Government demanded PPS numbers. Only six week ago I tabled a parliamentary question inquiring into the necessity for PPS numbers and I received two full pages of a reply which set out the rationale for them. Fast forward six weeks and they are no longer needed. It is amazing.

How much will be invested in infrastructure over the next several years? The biggest investment is in the installation of meters, the cost of which was underestimated and will be closer to €600 million than €500 million. We are taking money out of the National Pensions Reserve Fund to invest in water meters at a time when we have a crisis in homelessness. According to the Minister for Finance, these meters will not be used for conservation purposes until 2019 at the earliest. We are putting scarce resources into the ground when we have a crisis in homelessness. A summit on homelessness is taking place this evening. Should we not be investing in projects of that nature? The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has, for the third time this year, announced that he will roll out broadband to rural Ireland by 2020. Where is the Government's priority? If it wants to support businesses, broadband is critical infrastructure. This Government has prioritised the installation of water meters over critical services like broadband.

It claims there was no investment in water infrastructure in the last several years. That is simply untrue because figures will show that in the region of €5 billion was invested in infrastructure over that period. I can only speak for my constituency, which has a proper-----

Thanks to Deputy Bannon.

Deputy Bannon was not in Government at the time.

He was very strong in Opposition.

Was he? Time will tell. The electorate will decide who is here at any stage. County Westmeath has good infrastructure, including sufficient sewerage capacity and proper water systems in both of our main towns and many of our villages, because we had a proper county council which utilised the resources available to it and matched them with local resources to ensure development and investment. The idea behind Irish Water is that we need an overarching body to deal with water. What do our county managers do in their monthly meetings at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government? Surely they engage with one another in regard to what is needed in their respective counties and the potential for crossover between bordering counties. I question the need for establishing Irish Water. The money that has been wasted in its establishment would have been better spent on providing social housing or broadband.

We could have copied the model used by the National Roads Agency, which worked well in terms of collaborating with councils to provide road infrastructure. That model would not require anything like the 700 staff who currently work for Irish Water. What are these staff doing? For the next several years, service level agreements provide that the existing staff of local authorities, who have always dealt with water queries, will continue to do so. When there were two serious incidents of burst water pipes in County Westmeath, it was not Irish Water staff who were out at 11 o'clock at night trying to rectify the problem, but Westmeath County Council staff.

The work they do should be acknowledged. However, where were the Irish Water staff? They were nowhere to be seen.

The reason for installing meters was that it would be an incentive to conserve water, so why is a flat charge being introduced? Where is the fairness? Where is the incentive for people to conserve water? It simply does not exist. Regardless of whether one uses 10,000 litres or 100,000 litres, one will pay €68 per year if it is a single adult household or €168 per year if it is a multi-person household. Where is the incentive or fairness there? Where is the fairness for an old age pensioner with an non-contributory pension of €220 per week? The pensioner is perhaps living in an old person's dwelling provided by a local authority for which she is paying €26 or €32 per week, depending on where it is located. She must feed and clothe herself and must heat her home. She will pay €68 per year. Then consider John Tierney, the CEO of Irish Water and retired CEO of Dublin City Council, who received a gratuity to which he was entitled and is now in another job and earning €200,000 per year. If he lives alone, he will pay €68 per year. Where is the fairness or equity there? It simply does not exist.

We will oppose this legislation. The Government must abolish Irish Water. It must ensure that the investment in the infrastructure takes place first to ensure there is a fit for purpose infrastructure in place and that people, regardless of their location on our island, have quality drinking water coming from their taps. At some time in the future, when we have ensured the problems have been fixed, that all the pipes leaking treated water have been fixed, the treatment facilities are in place and people can use the water from their taps, we might possibly consider asking people to make a contribution. Most fair-minded people would consider it then. However, after the universal social charge, the property tax and other taxation, how does the Minister expect people to pay for a substandard service and a new quango? It is simply unfair and unrealistic to ask them to do that. The Minister must review this.

Ultimately, having spent and invested almost €1 billion and when account is taken of the concessions that go back into people's pockets, the annual return if there is 100% compliance will be €120 million per annum. Surely that €120 million could have been got from far different sources.

Finally, I omitted to mention the commercial customers who have been paying for water thus far. They have not been entertained or considered with regard to how they can be supported in paying for water.

Why are we having this debate tonight? The reason is that water charges are just another tax on the Irish people to cover the banks and the bondholders, who we bailed out and who are bleeding us dry, and will bleed future generations of this nation dry. That is the problem.

Let us cast our minds back to Wednesday, 9 March 2011, which was my first day in this House. Recall what the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said that day:

We approach the [economic] crisis as an opportunity and a chance to reinvent our country and to create a new Ireland that works and is fair and honest. ... Starting today, I want to close the gap between politics and the people, between Government and the governed. The cynicism, depth of difference, gulf and remoteness of many people in our country from their Government and what it actually means became glaringly obvious during the recent election campaign. I want to renew government in people's hearts and imaginations as a true reflection of their own standards, conscience and values, such as self-awareness, compassion, integrity, respect, dignity, kindness, courage, generosity, affection, authenticity, hope and, especially. truth and trust.

I could not have written it better. They were noble, fine words. Perhaps I was a little politically naive when I first became a Member, but I thought that perhaps the actions would follow these fine words. Unfortunately, however, it did not take many months for the reality to hit me - nothing had changed. This Government continued from exactly where the last one had finished. The undertakings to listen to alternative opinions and to work with members of the Opposition were just empty promises. Rushed legislation followed rushed legislation. There was a failure by the Government to listen to and to hear opposition Deputies and, indeed, to listen to and hear people. Bad decision followed bad decision.

Then, along came the Water Services Bill and Uisce Éireann. As the drip feed of information emerged, I scratched my head and thought that surely no government could give birth to what appeared to be a totally dysfunctional entity, a quango that offered well paid jobs for the inner circle boys. I thought that no Government, Department or Minister could be so out of touch or incompetent. Despite that, I still tried to keep an open mind. That was until I and some of my colleagues met with the senior executives in Uisce Éireann. Following the usual standard presentation by the senior executives, we asked a number of questions. One of my questions was about who would pay if the meter shows that a person or family is using so much water that it indicates there is a major leak and if by a process of elimination it becomes obvious that the major leak is beneath the floor of the house, which is a concrete floor and it would cost hundreds, if not thousands, of euro to locate, fix and restore. It was a valid question, because it is something that will happen tens of thousands of times around the country.

One knows when people are bluffing; one can see it in their eyes and body language.

The answer I eventually got was that the insurance companies would pay. I contested this answer, first because not everybody would have insurance to cover the damage, second, and critically, because insurance companies will cover water leakages only if they damage the structure or contents of the building. Insurance companies are not overly concerned about the loss of treated water. When I pointed this out, the senior executive's eyes darted from right to left several times, and his body language seemed to scream silently , “Please, please, get me out of here.” He responded that he thought insurance companies covered such instances during the Thames water project in London. It was utter nonsense. I hope that during the debate my question, which I asked way back then, and to which I have not had an answer, will be answered.

It seems the Government has not yet got the message. It says it has been listening to the people who oppose the water charges. If the Government was listening, it would know the people are demanding the scrapping of the water charges, not a package to sweeten the deal. I saw no placards calling for clarification or caps on charges until after the next election.

Some specific issues must be addressed. Deputy Lawlor was right when he spoke about the difficulty people have reading the meters. One would need to be a contortionist with 20-20 vision and a magnifying glass to read them. There are also serious concerns among people who know about these things that the category of meters and casings being installed are unfit for traffic-accessible areas and will have to be replaced within a few years. Somebody on the Government side referred to the street pumps in our country towns and villages. Will Irish Water decommission them in case somebody gets free water? I object strongly when I hear people who drink water or use it to wash or maintain a clean environment being referred to as polluters. They are no such thing.

If the Government wants to restore credibility, demonstrate that it really listens to people, show it hears what people are saying and deliver on the sentiments the Taoiseach outlined on Wednesday, 9 March 2011, it will abandon this ill-conceived project, stand up to the bully boys in the European Union and go back to the drawing board. If the Government does not do so, it may watch the tens of thousands of Irish people who will make their feelings known at lunch time next Wednesday. By Thursday, the Government will know it should have listened to the people and to the concerns from this side of the Dáil.

The plebiscite the Government announced is smoke and mirrors. We proposed a referendum that would enshrine in the Constitution a guarantee that water would remain in public ownership. The only possible explanation for the Government's refusal to accept the proposal is that it wants to leave open the potential for privatisation at some future time. All it would take to change the legislation would be a Government majority vote. A plebiscite would not be required. It takes a referendum of the people to change the Constitution, and I trust the people more than I trust any politician.

On Wednesday, 19 November, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, came here with his much anticipated motion on Irish Water. We were told the motion was going to clear up all the public's confusion, 12 months of poor decision making, inaction and misinformation that was being seeped out to the public by various sources. In his opening paragraph, he said decisions should not be made in anger, and I agree wholeheartedly. The problem we now face is that every decision the Government is making on water and water charges is being made in panic, with the same results. The motion referred to three key principles the Minister wanted to ensure, namely, affordability, simplicity and certainty.

On affordability, the Minister said water would cost €3 or €1 per week depending on the make up of a household. He said it was a modest charge, taking into account the conservation charge. Deputy Peter Matthews put it very well earlier when he spoke about budget announcements with decreases in direct taxation. Given the regressive indirect taxation that has been levied since the Government took office, people have less money in their pockets. We hear the charge for a single-person household will be €60, and child benefit has increased by €5. However, the net effect of child benefit has decreased. One cannot take one budget in isolation and say the Government has given something back to people and therefore they have more in their pockets to pay these extra charges, ignoring the previous three budgets which took even more out of their pockets. The net effect is that people are being asked to pay more with less. More and more people are going into poverty. The Minister of State does not want this to happen any more than I do. I am not scaremongering but giving the facts. The Minister of State will be aware of many people in his constituency who are struggling to make ends meet, not just people on social welfare but people who are working. When they cannot make ends meet, €3, €1, €60 or €160 will make a major difference to their lives.

The Minister said we now have simplicity. People will pay a certain amount, which is capped, for a certain number of years. Legislation will be brought in, and it is a simple message. The simple message given by tens of thousands of people across the State should have been heard. The Government did not listen to the people whom it is elected to represent. It did not give a voice to those who do not have a voice.

The Minister said we have certainty. Everybody knows who is liable, what the dates are, when the bills will come in and the penalties.

He also failed to say that an additional certainty for people is that charges are here to stay, the metering process will continue full steam ahead, and that we will not ensure that either this Government or any future Government will have the option to privatise water services by enshrining it in the Constitution by way of a referendum.

The other certainty from the Minister's announcement is that the campaign of opposition will not go anywhere, and he will know that next Wednesday when he looks out his office window and sees tens of thousands of people circling Leinster House and Government Buildings. They will be carrying placards, not saying they want concessions, caps and conservation grants but that they want this Government to listen to what they are telling them, to act on their behalf, and to abolish water charges. That message will be clear. It is obvious the Government did not hear it on the two previous occasions people took to the streets. I do not have confidence it will hear it now but I hope somebody somewhere in Government Buildings finally will wake up to the reality that this is a bad idea.

I will not touch on the issue of the plebiscite and the referendum because Deputy Colreavy mentioned it. Plebiscites take place in most countries but they are not binding. The position is slightly different here. I believe we have only had one plebiscite, in the 1930s, on the Constitution but the Minister has to understand that there is a cynicism among the general public, and nobody in Government has given a good reason to me or any other member of the Opposition why a referendum was not the preferred option. The only reason I have heard is that we do not need a referendum because nobody in this Chamber is in favour of privatisation. If that was the case, why not go to the people and enshrine it in the Constitution? If it is not the intention of this Government, and the Minister believes it is not the intention of any future Government, to privatise water services, why not enshrine it in the Constitution through a referendum if that is what people so choose?

The other issue in the Bill is the establishment of the public water forum. If the Minister does not mind me saying so, that is the most ludicrous idea I have ever come across. A water forum will be established by the Minister, with no less than 12 members and no more than 60. The Bill outlines all the powers the Minister will give to the forum by regulation. It will review and comment on the strategies of Irish Water, the investment plans and the water charges plans, and it will be representative of all the customers of Irish Water. If the Minister is sincere in that, will those people who have an ideological opposition to paying water charges and those representing the Right2Water campaign get a seat on that forum? Will they be allowed air their views or will the membership be made up of "Yes" men? How does the Minister propose to choose people to sit on this forum? We do not need a forum. We have had a public forum for the past 12 months on this issue. It has been debated in every city, town and village across this State, from town halls with 50 people present to mass protests of 100,000 people. The views of the people are well known. We do not want water charges so any water forum is just a sop.

What is not contained in this legislation but which the Minister earmarked in his contribution on 19 November is the issue of landlords being able to deduct charges. He said legislation would be needed to make them official debt collectors on behalf of Irish Water. Irish Water holds a briefing session for Oireachtas Members every week and one of the questions that arose at one meeting was what would happen in the case of local authority tenants. The response given to Deputies who raised that issue was that local authorities will be asked to collect unpaid water charges; it will be added to their rent.

Many questions remain about that particular proposal, and I know local authorities oppose it, but if a local authority tenant who is opposed to water charges does not pay the charge it will be added to their rent. They may pay their rent on time every week and be up to date but because water charges are now being added to the rent, they will continually go into debt. There are consequences from that. There are consequences for them if they apply for grants and if they apply for transfers, and that question has not been answered satisfactorily.

The Minister will get his answer yet again on 10 December and I hope finally that he will listen.

The next speaker is Deputy Catherine Murphy. I understand the Deputy is sharing her time with Deputy Fleming.

Yes. Next week it will be 12 months since the original legislation was rammed through the House. Since then we have had a year of confusion and anger, and one scandal after another, with regard to Irish Water. That is fundamentally about one issue, namely, old politics and a Government using a huge majority to dismiss dissenting voices. There is an arrogance about a Government taking citizens for granted. There has been cronyism and, ultimately, a super quango that essentially will be paid for by citizens.

We are back here debating this issue because everything about the Irish Water fiasco has been flawed from the outset. I have said on several occasions, and I repeat, that Irish people do not like being taken for fools. They were told that the Bord Gáis partnership was designed to save money and they watched as the Minister eventually disclosed that he knew the costs would be sizable, namely, €90 million, with some of the usual suspects in the list of consultants. They knew they were being turned from citizens into customers, and they resented that. For many, it is the straw that will break the camel's back.

If there is one thing Irish people have learned about in the past five or six years it is debt. They know that if they allow themselves to become customers they will be responsible for repaying all the debt incurred in setting up the quango but also for all the money the quango will borrow into the future.

This issue has been mired in controversy from the outset and if the Government hoped that this Bill would dismiss that controversy, it is mistaken. It cannot keep dismissing the controversies which have not only undermined the confidence people have in Irish Water but eroded confidence in this Government.

There are more controversies yet to come to the fore, one of which is the circumstances around the awarding of the metering contract. There are major concerns about this issue, and understandably so. There is a question to be answered as to why the cheaper installation offered by Siemens was dismissed. We must have an answer to that question. Why did the Government choose to accept the more expensive option that required us to borrow from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, with massive interest costs?

We must also get answers to the questions regarding the awarding of the contract. The key date is June 2013. In a reply to a parliamentary question tabled on 12 June 2013 the then Minister, Deputy Hogan, confirmed that the end of June 2013 would be the closing date for bidders to apply to be considered for the metering contract. GMC-Sierra, company registration No. 530230, was one of the successful bidders. GMC-Sierra was awarded a metering contract but, and this is the key, the same company registration number, 530230, did not come into existence legally until 15 July 1013, 15 days after the closing date for bids.

How is it that an entity that did not exist when the deadline closed was awarded a contract? GMC-Sierra, a company Denis O’Brien is a vested party in, was somehow awarded a contract before it existed. To tender for the contract requires, under EU and Irish law, a certificate of tax compliance. How could an entity that did not exist in law get a tax clearance certificate? These questions need answering. They will not go away and are being routinely spoken about across social media and online media, most notably on broadsheet.ie.

What sits uneasily with people is the broader debt burden, particularly the Anglo Irish Bank debt, placed on people's shoulders. That same debt burden underpins all austerity measures, including Irish Water. People watched helplessly as Anglo Irish Bank debt was turned into sovereign debt, placing a noose around their necks for decades to come. Some €500 million will be extinguished each year from now up to 2018, €1 billion per year will be extinguished from 2019 to 2023, and from 2024 on, €2 billion will be taken out of circulation and destroyed.

In that context, imagine the anger that people feel about a company called Millington, owned by Denis O’Brien, which was established to buy Siteserv, a company that owed Anglo Irish Bank €150 million, which was sold to Denis O’Brien’s Millington by Anglo Irish Bank for just €45 million. This is a discount of €105 million and represents, essentially, €105 million lost to the State. Interestingly, €45 million was reportedly the lowest bid for the purchase of Siteserv, yet it was accepted. I want to hear answers, because these matters will not go away and are being talked about repeatedly online, on social media and on Twitter. It should be noted here that GMC-Sierra is a subsidiary of the aforementioned Siteserv. It gets murkier. There are suggestions that, contrary to best practice models, the legal firm Arthur Cox acted for the seller, Anglo Irish Bank, and the purchaser, Millington, during the transaction. If this is the case, it is another question that deserves an answer.

The Taoiseach keeps telling us that this is about more than Irish Water, and he is right. It is about people power. It is about people demanding what they demanded before the last general election. It is about people demanding a different, reformed type of politics. People are realising that we should not have been exposed to the debt burden placed on our shoulders, with 43% of the entire European banking debt absorbed by a country that has 1% of the EU's population. People wanted and expected the Government to respect households' economic limits. They expected the Government to spend wisely. The last thing they expected was a huge, inflated quango.

The date of 10 December will be an incredibly important one. I was on the march in mid-October and it was the highlight of my year. For the first time, I felt that sense of solidarity that we have needed to see since the crash happened, before the Government came into office, where we act as a people and as a Parliament in unison. When people took to the streets, as we walked along people asked why we had not done this before. The first time some Technical Group Members met representatives of the troika, we were told they thought everything was all right, that no one was out protesting and that the opinion polls looked different. The troika has now gone and it is a very different scenario. Protest matters, and we have certainly seen, in regard to Irish Water, that the protest has made a fundamental difference in terms of why we are here today. The Government has been forced to listen to the people. One of the slogans that day in Dublin in mid-October was that it is not the people who are in power that matter but the power that is in the people. It is certainly the power in the people when they act in solidarity. Serious attention must be paid to what I believe will be a large demonstration this day next week.

Things should have been done and will be done in the context of the legislation. I raised the issue of PPS numbers last January and it has come up several times since. It has been mentioned that 900,000 packs have been sent back. I asked a parliamentary question and the usual non-reply I received was that Irish Water could not distinguish between the packs that were filled in correctly and those that were sent back with the message that people did not want to be customers, or with details not filled in, or with slogans and so on. As they were not segregated, it is impossible to know how many of the 900,000 packs sent back were genuine returns. It is misleading to trot out that number when it is perfectly possible to find out how many people returned them in a way the Government regards as legitimate. We will debate another Bill in January after pre-legislative scrutiny. This issue will run and run, because it is about far more than Irish Water.

The mishandling of the setting up of Irish Water is affecting the Irish economy. Consumer confidence has taken a battering due to the prospect of water charges, as many people cannot afford more pressure on household budgets. Many of those who can pay resent the imposition of more bills on them after several layers of additional taxes and austerity over previous years. The revelation of bonuses for Irish Water staff angered consumers. Another issue is benchmarking for the employees of this overstaffed super-quango. It has up to 2,000 excess staff, which is another inefficiency that will push up the cost for households.

Conservation was the real selling point of the programme of works and was the central point at the behest of the troika. However, at this stage, people see Irish Water as purely a revenue-raising exercise. In September, the consumer confidence index fell with the prospect of water bills in the new year. The catalyst seems to be the advent of forthcoming water charges. Statistics show fewer people are saving because they are discouraged by the feeling that water charges will eat up the money they put aside. The Irish League of Credit Unions states that eight out of ten families feel the household budget will be under pressure.

I have some information from the former MEP Kathy Sinnott on the water framework directive and the European Commission.

The exemption is based on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's commitment, strategy and budget to rectify the inadequacies in our water management without metering. This commitment is recorded in the 2008 Irish river basin management plan. With sources of funding in place or planned like general taxation, road tax and VAT, the former environment Minister, John Gormley, confirmed in 2008 that Ireland had obtained and was availing of the exemption from household water charges. At the time, Kathy Sinnott was assured by the European Commission that the EU could not take the exemption from us but the Irish Government had the power to cancel it. She has also let people know about the existence of the exemption and has been inundated with questions about its current status.

The water framework directive Article 9.4 exemption is still in place. The challenging news is that it is under imminent threat of cancellation. In fact, both the Irish Government and the European Commission are expecting that when the 2015 Irish river basin management plan is handed in on 1 January 2015, the commitment, strategy and budget in the plan will include domestic water charging. Why are they so sure that the plan, as yet incomplete and unpublished, will include water charging? In 2010, the troika told us to privatise and charge for water. Accordingly, both the Irish Government and the European Commission assumes we will meekly obey, stating in the river basin report that the only way we can protect our rivers is by charging for domestic water use.

Is this true? If the money spent on metering was spent on pipe work, we would see a significant improvement in leakage, for example. If the money collected in taxes that we were told would pay for water infrastructure was spent on water treatment plants, again we would see a significant improvement to water infrastructure.

Most effective would be to pinpoint the sources of river pollution and recover the cost of repair. The water framework directive is based on the polluter pays principle. To retain the exemption, therefore, it is imperative we identify the real polluters of water and make them pay. Some of these sources come under the Department’s remit such as outdated wastewater treatment plants which require significant investment for upgrades, as well as old tailings ponds from mining operations. The resulting pollution provides ideal conditions for cryptosporidium and other contaminants as was experienced in Galway city several years ago. Why should those innocent of causing the problem and who are already bearing the expense of bottled and boiled water be asked to foot the bill for cleaning up water pollution they did not cause? The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government should instead go to the polluter, which in many cases is it and local authorities, and recover the cost of cleaning up polluted water, or better still, prevent the pollution in the first place.

Privatisation will not solve our water infrastructure problems because private companies are geared to profit. It will make sense to invest in 500 m of new piping in a city because it will serve hundreds of paying houses. It will cut into profits, however, to replace 500 m of leaking pipes in a small village which only serves five paying customers or in a remote area for one house. A privatised water system will still be a leaky water system.

There is still time to save the Irish exemption. Once we can realistically show in the upcoming river basin management plan that we are on track to meet our clean water targets for 2027, then we can retain the exemption from domestic water charging. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government can do this by making the commitment that actual water polluters will pay, that funds collected for water infrastructure in existing taxes will be used to upgrade our systems and by creating incentives for improvements to domestic water use like rain water collection systems. Once the exemption is gone, it is gone for good. We have one month to save it. Retaining the exemption would take a burden off the people’s shoulders. They have borne enough at this stage.

A constituent sought clarification on several issues concerning the water conservation grant. On 20 November, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, stated on RTE Radio’s “Drivetime” that the €100 being given to all registered members of Irish Water, whether customers or not, is a reward for people for providing their own private wells and septic tanks in the past. He repeated this on "Morning Ireland" on 21 November. However, Seamus Coffey, economics lecturer at University College Cork stated on "Morning Ireland" on 19 November that the €100 rebate will have to be given to all registered people to allow Irish Water be set up as a semi-State company outside of the Government sector as otherwise it would be considered a subsidy. Is the €100 subsidy to registered non-customers of Irish Water a thank-you gesture, as stated by the Minister, or a compulsory gesture to get Irish Water off the ground?

It is extraordinary to think it is December again and we are here discussing Irish Water. In December 2013, we were being told about Irish Water. At the time, due to the lack of interest in a debate on Irish Water on the Government’s part, the entire Opposition walked out of the Chamber, an unheard of event in this House. Members opposite laughed and jeered as we did so on this side of the House. Our concerns, which were the concerns of the people, were ignored on that occasion. The alarm bells should surely have sounded in the Government then.

Last month, on the first weekend of November, that approach by the Government brought 100,000 on to the streets. The only good to have come from the Irish Water debacle is that people have found a voice and have, generally, protested peacefully. There is no room for violent protest, intimidation or shouting down others. Irish Water has given a reason for people to get out and say they have had enough, not just of Irish Water, but of so many measures over the past several years, some of which in fairness were introduced before this Government came into office.

Titles of Bills will often contain the word “amendment” in brackets. This Bill should be called the water services (U-turn) Bill. It has turned its back on so much of what the Government intended to do. The Minister knows, however, it still does not go far enough. The company and entity that is Irish Water does not have and will not have the confidence of the people at any stage because of the way it was rolled out over the past 12 months.

The company's management is imbued with a bonus culture and these bonuses even apply to staff performing poorly. The metering programme will cost some €600 million, though the meters are difficult to access and use for conservation purposes. Application packs have been sent to incorrect addresses and to people who have passed away. When people tried to get information from Irish Water earlier in the year they were kept waiting and, in many cases, received no response.

Irish Water has failed before it has begun because it has failed the confidence test. That confidence will never be restored and this Bill does nothing in this regard. The Minister emphasised that he is changing the board of Ervia and suggested this would drive change but such measures are cosmetic at best. The circumstances of people protesting these charges vary. Some people cannot pay even the capped charge due to the week-to-week nature of precarious household budgets. Many people who are lucky enough to have a salary have little left after direct debits are paid and this charge is one too many. There are those who will not pay because they are opposed ideologically to water charges. The majority of people might pay the charges but will not make payments to the entity that is Irish Water as they have no confidence in the company. They do not wish to see their money wasted on a metering programme and a culture of bonuses and until this is addressed people will oppose the charges.

This Bill fails the fairness test. We in this House are well-paid but are, nonetheless, entitled to the same conservation grant as those receiving social welfare payments every week. I call it the backbencher conservation grant. Many people earn more than the Members of this House but will still get the same grant as those receiving social welfare payments. The fairness test says that those who can least afford to pay should get most assistance but this Bill fails in this respect.

We were told conservation is central to Irish Water and the glossy advertisements were all about saving water but the conservation test was failed due to the choice of water meter. All water users should be able to access their meters to read the consumption data as this would aid conservation. Perhaps conservation and metering should have started at a district level with people given the option of taking a meter to assist in conservation. Metering at district level would have allowed quicker identification of leaks and problems and if people wanted a meter at home to assist in conservation they could have been given the option.

The new system fails the investment test. Will the investment programme published by Irish Water become a work of fiction like the health service plan? This has been the case with all such plans in recent years. When one drills down one learns that no extra money will be invested in water facilities. The investment programme identifies projects. The old system of driving money into local authorities was flawed but this structure is too big, too expensive and too inefficient. The National Roads Authority is lean and works on service level agreements with local authorities on a regional basis and this is a more appropriate structure. The water basin districts were dealt with on a regional basis and that is also a more appropriate structure. In my county of Mayo there are shortages and other issues but we generally have a good water supply. However, two miles up the road in Roscommon it is chaos. Everyone agrees that a change to the structure was needed but the structure proposed does not have the confidence of the people and never did. This bloated structure is now tasked with making investments in the water network in the coming five years but, on an annual basis, the level of investment will be no bigger than previously.

The new system fails the tests to which I have alluded but the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is pursuing the model as laid out. The Tánaiste supports the new approach of the Minister, as though she has forgotten the fact that she sat at the Cabinet table with the former Minister, Commissioner Phil Hogan, for three and a half years. Perhaps the Tánaiste now needs to be reminded who Mr. Hogan actually is - he is the ghost who dare not speak his name. The Tánaiste sat at the Cabinet table when the original plans were made, signed off on them and voted to ram through the legislation so she cannot wash her hands of this, no matter how she tries. The Labour Party's finger-prints are all over Irish Water, however it might try to lay the blame at the door of the former Minister, Mr. Hogan.

The group water schemes issue is still a mess as schemes with a private supply have been placed in a vague holding house pending discussions with Irish Water on its investment programme. Irish Water will have to hold discussions with representatives of group water schemes on changes in subsidies. I asked a parliamentary question on this but got the usual reply in the style of Sir Humphrey. When one is lucky enough to get a response on the matter of Irish Water it tends to be of this nature but the standard reply is that the Minister has no responsibility for Irish Water. Group water schemes are the most successful aspect of the Irish water system but there is no clarity on how they will be dealt with by Irish Water. These schemes are success stories and have delivered water to places that local authorities and engineers could not reach. Local communities came together in these cases on the basis of meitheal, which we all cherish, and supplied water to houses. With appropriate investment over the years, through local authority funding and through the CLÁR programme, which was abolished by the former Minister, Mr. Hogan, group water schemes ensured that people who otherwise would not have running water got a supply.

Can we be confident that Irish Water will take an interest in rural communities that are away from the water supply? I do not think so. I do not think a monstrosity like Irish Water cares for rural communities. The majority of group water schemes are financially successful, though they are not run by legions of staff and consultants. They are run by volunteers who care for their communities and get up in the middle of the night to fix leaks. These volunteers have been left hanging regarding their work and legacy and this has gone unmentioned.

This Bill is pathetic and so was the Government's response to the marches but the worst aspect of all this is the fact that the European Commission criticised the Government on this issue. The troika has left the country and these issues are not the business of the European Commission. The Government was elected and is answerable only to those who elected it - the European Commission has no further role in this.

If we are to believe the figures then it seems taxes are healthy and everything is ahead of target. Given that the system fails the conservation test, the fairness test and the investment test, why is the Government pursuing this? Why is the Government inflicting chaos on the country? Why is it inflicting damage on itself? None of this is required from a revenue point of view. It is true that reform is needed in water delivery and a debate is required on conservation. The debate will not involve the generation of occupants of this House but children now in green schools. Today's children will drive the debate on conservation, not a monolith that has wasted much money to date and will waste far more in future. Irish Water will not drive conservation. There is nothing in this Bill for the children in the green schools programme and there is nothing to encourage conservation.

Here we are. It is December. Next week will be interesting. From the point of view of the legislation we will see how many amendments the Government does not accept. We will see whether it will guillotine Committee Stage. I heard the Tánaiste at it again this morning. She keeps saying the Government is giving 17 hours of debate to the legislation. We all know Second Stage is not debate, it is pantomime. The real debate is on Committee Stage when we go through the legislation line by line. I would almost put my water conservation grant on it: the Government will guillotine the Committee Stage debate and no amendments will be accepted. Nothing has changed one year on. The guillotine will apply and the Government will not listen to the Opposition. We may not walk out this time, but the walking will be done on Wednesday, as it was on 2 November and 11 October last. Deputy Murphy touched on something when she said we might be back in the House for a water services Bill 2015 soon after we come back.

I call on the Minister of State to reflect on the fact that the Government began this year in the House with three weeks of debate involving Government Members telling themselves how great they were. However, the Government will end the year on Wednesday week, one week after however many tens of thousands of people will come out in opposition to the grand creation that is Irish Water. The Government must rue all the lost opportunity, lost capital and the lost sense of respect for this House, Government and democracy, and all because of Irish Water.

The Government has come under extensive public pressure on water charges. It has been forced to introduce the proposed lower rates. This was not something it wanted to do; it was something in which the Government had no choice. Next Wednesday, the Government will be faced with even larger protests. Today, however, it could take the opportunity to do the right thing and scrap water charges here and now and I call on the Government to do so.

Sinn Féin will be opposing the Bill. As it stands, the only acceptable solution is to abolish water charges and dismantle Irish Water. Water is a right for all our citizens. The charges being implemented by the Government are unnecessary, unjust and will cause major hardship for families and communities that have already been devastated by the Government's relentless pursuit of the austerity agenda. Sinn Féin has consistently opposed water charges north and south of the Border. We are committed to reversing water charges in government and we have said as much clearly on the record. Sinn Féin is committed to campaigning to defeat water charges and we are standing shoulder to shoulder with families, communities and campaign groups that are opposed to water charges. Simply put, these families can take no more. The Government is pushing people over the edge.

This Government is in crisis and has lost its mandate. Ministers are now so unpopular that they face mass protests at many of the events they attend. An Garda Síochána has had to reassess security arrangements for Ministers. Surely these people have lost their mandate. Throughout this year those in government have limped from one crisis to another, but all of their own making. We have a crisis in our health system and our education system and within our policing service. The Government is fighting a war on all fronts. It has made choices which have failed to ease the burden and give low and middle-income families a break. We have heard so much talk about democratic revolution but there is no democratic revolution in the Dáil. The democratic revolution is on the streets and at the ballot box, undertaken by ordinary people who have decided that enough is enough. The continuing trends in the polls show this much. The water fiasco is the last straw. That is the phrase that we hear from ordinary people in middle Ireland who have never protested in their lives. They say this is the straw that has broken the camel's back. It is a question of the accumulation of all the cutbacks in public services and increases in taxes. There comes a point where the people take power into their own hands and that is what has happened. Instead of listening to citizens the Government offered crumbs from the table. The revised plan does little to give relief to citizens who cannot afford to pay. It shows the Government is refusing to listen and it shows how far removed it is from public opinion.

Government Members foolishly hope the smaller bills that people will face in 2015 will encourage more to co-operate with a metering programme and, most important, to pay their bills when they start to arrive in letterboxes next April. This shows the increasing desperation and blind panic of the Government. It will probably have to face the electorate sooner than it had planned. Irish Water and the water charges are hanging around its neck. That is not how I would like to approach the electorate if I were in government. We have seen the peaceful protests work, including at the ballot box, in particular with the by-elections and local and European elections earlier this year.

Sinn Féin's 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 the input of those with long years of experience dealing with issues and problems related to the provision of water. Most important, the 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. It would be under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. I call on the Minister of State to note in particular that when our water services were delivered by local authorities, citizens could take any complaints they had to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman had jurisdiction over water services because they were part of local authorities. Now, the option for independent oversight has been lost. The Government may say the regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation, now fulfils that role, but it is not under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman either. I call on the Government to ensure that our water services are returned to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, as in the case of the freedom of information issue which arose earlier this year.

The Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions has Ombudsman personnel before it as witnesses regularly. When the Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, was before the committee, we had a discussion about concerns he had, shared by other ombudsman personnel throughout Europe, to the effect that even when public services go into semi-state or private hands, it is still a question of public services being delivered. Ombudsman personnel throughout Europe argue that such services are public services no matter who is delivering them and, therefore, they should be under the remit of an ombudsman. The idea is that a citizen should have the right to make a complaint if his experience of public services is not up to standard.

As the Minister of State is aware, there have been overwhelming numbers of complaints about Irish Water since it came into being. This is a major issue and I call on the Government to consider it. The Government has addressed the freedom of information problem that arose earlier in the year and I call on it to consider this problem in the same light.

It is vital to remind the Government that the charges being introduced are the same for millionaires as for those on the lowest incomes. This is a regressive tax. Some people are genuinely finding it difficult to make ends meet and will welcome any amendment to water charges. Our party is committed to reversing the charges if it is in government and if they have not already been reversed at that point. It is a red line issue for us. However, the people cannot wait for the next election and need to have these charges scrapped. I predict a huge gathering next Wednesday. Every Deputy has heard about this from their constituencies. It will be a moment of truth for the Government. Is the Government capable of seeing that at times it must roll back from a position it has taken?

The changes announced on 19 November were a desperate attempt to stave off massive and growing popular opposition, to allow the Government to serve the remainder of its time and to avoid humiliation in the next general election, whenever it may be. I urge as many people as possible to turn out for the peaceful protest planned in Dublin for 10 December. I look forward to standing in solidarity with the citizens of the State next Wednesday.

The Government should own up, admit it is wrong and abolish Irish Water and water charges immediately. The Government had an opportunity to listen, take a step back and abolish water charges and Irish Water but did not take it. The Government cannot govern against the will of the people. The Government has lost the mandate of citizens and if it continues on this path I predict that the days of the Members on the other side of the House in government are numbered. If the Taoiseach genuinely cared about the citizens of the State he would call a general election and go to the people. We have asked him to do this in a motion that we have tabled for debate next week. The Government parties went to the people with a 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.

The Government has failed the people. The promises are broken. I consider the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, to be a sincere and thoughtful person who has a great deal to contribute to Irish politics, but this time everyone in government must go back to the drawing board, get rid of the charges, scrap Irish Water and then re-engage with Irish people. The people have lost confidence, not just in the Government but in the political process. In fairness to them, they have taken control of that by going out on the streets. The Minister of State knows the profile of the people who have been protesting. In my home county and on the television, I have seen that they are people who have not protested before. They are mothers with their families pushing prams. They are people who have endured all of this hoping that at some point there would be light at the end of the tunnel. This issue has become the one on which they have chosen to resist.

The last election was not just an issue for Fianna Fáil but for every party, including my own. If one makes promises and commitments and then goes into government and breaks them, one will find there is no such thing as a safe seat. There is no such thing as a party that has a right to be in government. The country has changed forever. One can see it, and it is an issue for everybody. I call on the Government to reflect on that.

Normally, I would begin a contribution by saying I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. In this case, however, we should not even be here to debate this legislation at all.

It is almost 12 months to the day since the Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 was introduced and flashed through the House. It sparked a walk-out by the Opposition in protest at the ham-fisted way in which the Government forced the legislation through. That stance has been justified by what has happened over the last 12 months. We have seen an outpouring of protest against Irish Water and the litany of disasters the company has been involved in, from the establishment costs and the cost of consultants right through to the way in which the metering programme has been introduced. In recent weeks we have discovered that the metering programme will cost €100 million more than was budgeted for in the Department. We have heard all sorts of lovely language from the Government about how that budget was projected, but the fact is that it will cost €100 million more.

It will probably cost even more than that. At the moment, metering involves picking the low-hanging fruit, to use a well-used phrase. Houses and properties are being metered where the infrastructure is easy to get at. The locations of stopcocks and connections are known and companies can just go in, stick on the meters and leave again. When they begin to get into metering houses where stopcocks are lost and they have to go digging along the side of a road for 40 or 50 meters to locate connections to install meters, we will see the costs spiral out of control. Donegal County Council installed 12,000 meters in its non-domestic water metering programme a number of years ago. It had to borrow €9.7 million to do it, which worked out at a cost of approximately €805 per meter. The Government's projected cost is approximately €300 per meter. There is a huge difference. When companies go across rural areas installing meters, costs will continue to spiral. That is just one example of the disaster that is Irish Water.

I was someone who felt that having a national utility to deal with water services made sense. It is a fact that the management costs built into local authorities for water services have been too burdensome and expensive. There are not enough people working on the ground within water services to be able to provide an adequate service, and local authorities were too top-heavy on the management side. I worked in water services for 16 years before I entered the House. If the people do not re-elect me, I will hopefully go back to work in water services. Water services have been starved of funding throughout the years. It sickened me to listen to Ministers and Government spokespersons talk about local authorities failing to invest in water services over the years. The reason local authorities did not invest in water services was that they were not allowed to. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government exerted control at every step along the way in the delivery of water projects across the State. Local authorities had a nominal role in prioritising projects, but if those priorities did not suit what the Department wanted, they were changed. The Department's sanction was required at every step along the road.

The first surveys for the treatment plant I worked in at Killybegs in County Donegal were carried out in 1972. The plant was opened in 1994, having been completed on the basis of a design to meet a 1991 level of capacity. That was because the Department of the Environment had held up the project at every step. The same thing happened with every other project Donegal County Council put forward. That is not the fault of local authorities; it is the fault of central Government. Instead of talking about the failure of local authorities to invest, the Government should talk about its failure to invest. Even when there was plenty of money during the so-called Celtic tiger boom times, investment was not stepped up to meet the mark. It did not step up to deliver for the citizens across the country.

I heard the Minister refer in his contribution earlier today to Bundoran, County Donegal, where raw sewage continues to flow into Donegal Bay. Killybegs is the same. The Government is in fact in breach of the urban wastewater directive in not having solved those problems by this stage. Money has yet to be sanctioned in respect of plants that were ready to go to tender and construction years ago. Irish Water has been there for a year and is supposed to have reviewed all the investment programmes, but it still has not sanctioned the commencement of the construction of those projects. I believe that is because they are being done as design, build and operate projects. The Killybegs, Bundoran, Glencolmcille and Convoy schemes are being bundled and will be handed out to a private contractor to deliver and operate on a maintenance contract for years into the future.

It is interesting to look at that in the context of the creeping privatisation that has already taken place. Veolia, a French multinational, operates three plants in Donegal at the moment. A number of years before I finished up on Donegal County Council, almost 50% of its budget for sewerage services in Donegal was going to that company to run three treatment plants for three towns. The rest of the county was managing on the same amount of money without adequate treatment. Severn Trent is developing a sewage treatment plant in Letterkenny. If Irish Water continues to exist, ComReg will demand that its service level agreements are put to competitive tender when they come up for renewal. Local authorities will be forced to tender for service level agreements against the likes of Veolia, Severn Trent and Celtic Anglian Water, which has been in the news recently with regard to NTR. The Government may decide not to privatise the whole thing, but private companies will be involved and they will get the best of both worlds. They will get regional or county-based service level agreements from Irish Water to provide water services without any of the responsibility or demand for investment while being paid by citizens through the nose, if the Government gets these charges through. These services could and should have been provided by local authorities over many years.

We have arrived today at a situation in which the Government is bringing through this legislation. It says it is because it has listened to people's concerns and responded to them. It says the charging system that was introduced originally through ComReg was cumbersome and difficult for people to understand.

People fully understood the charging system. They realised it was the thin end of the wedge and that once it had been established, charges would go in only one direction, namely, upwards.

Two weeks ago, when the momentous changes that resulted in this legislation were announced, the Tánaiste stated that water meters could become the friend of consumers and citizens. A friend that milks us and costs us more and more would be some friend to have. The Government's plan was to subvent Irish Water to the tune of €539 million for the next three or four years, after which the subvention would be removed and Irish Water would assume the full costs of water. This means the costs of metering, including unit costs of water, could only ever rise. Consumers cannot, therefore, make savings on the metering programme.

We were told throughout this process that there were large numbers of leaks on connections and 49% of the water produced in the water services was unaccounted for. The impression given by Government spokespersons was that this was the fault of individual citizens and households and the wastage in their service connections was the reason we are in the current position. The Minister told some of the truth today and may even have exaggerated the position a little when he stated that 10% of the national leakage level is attributable to service connections. The Government is spending €539 million and may spend another couple of hundred million euro to deal with 10% of the wastage problem.

Irish Water estimates that the metering programme will only deal with 6% of water wastage nationwide. Based on the two different figures I have cited, between 39% and 43% will be wasted on the mains, even after the Government has spent more than €540 million delivering a metering programme. This shows the folly of what the Government is doing and demonstrates that the investment should have been made in district metering and control. A meter on a bulk main supply on a street or estate will catch the wastage taking place on service connections. On the other hand, installing 100 half-inch meters on the connections into 100 houses on an estate, street or town will not fix one leak on the mains. Using the Minister's estimate, one will catch perhaps 10% of the unaccounted for water. Investment in district and mains metering and staff on the ground to detect and fix leaks is the only way to resolve the problem. These are the areas on which the Government should have spent money. If it had been serious about getting a national utility off the ground, it would have taken this approach as its starting point and rolled out the utility in that way. It may then have had a chance of persuading people to buy into the concept of a national utility.

Citizens have no faith in Irish Water. The company started on the wrong foot and the position has become steadily worse. Irish Water and the Government fear citizens. The Bill establishing Irish Water included draconian measures to deal with people who refused to register or pay water charges. People were asked to provide their children's personal public service numbers to avail of the water allowance for children. These measures were proposed because the Government did not trust citizens. All that was required was to include on the registration form a question asking how many children aged under 18 years resided in the household. Allowances could have been provided based on these figures and an appropriate audit, as it has been described, could have been done to deal with people found to be milking or cheating the system. Instead, the Government made a series of mistakes and established a company in which no one has any faith. For this reason, Irish Water should be disbanded, the metering and charging programmes should be cancelled and water should continue to be provided through local authorities. This would require the Government to provide the local authorities with the means to deliver the capital investment the system needs across the board.

On 19 November, the Minister stated there would be no call-out service or charge. Prior to his statement, there had been considerable negative publicity about the possibility that Irish Water would charge citizens a €188 fee per call-out. In response, the Government has decided to remove the entire call-out service. A person who suspects a problem with his or her water service will not be provided with any customer service if he or she calls Irish Water. Previously, when local authority staff received a call from a customer concerning a problem with the water system, they would visit the location, identify the problem and tell the customer how to address the problem. In County Donegal, when we discovered a leak on a connection we used to advise the householder that the problem his or her responsibility but in most cases we would fix it if the customer was prepared to dig down to the source of the problem. The Government should have provided for this level of customer service when it started to roll out Irish Water.

The Minister's claim that we will have the cheapest water in Europe is a sham, as his claim that it will only cost €1.15 per week. The cheapest charge will be €3 per week because a single person household will receive a bill of €160 per annum. Even if one person households avail of the €100 water conservation grant, with which they can do as they please, they will still receive a bill for €160, while a two person household will receive a bill of €260.

According to the Minister, the provision for the holding of a plebiscite, in section 1, will ensure that Irish Water is never privatised. While I am not fully up to speed with legal jargon, I am concerned by the use of the word "may" in this provision. The Bill states the Government "may" decide to hold a plebiscite if it decides to alienate the shares in Irish Water. As such, it does not require the Government to hold a plebiscite but leaves it to the Government of the day to decide whether it wishes to hold one. The wording appears to provide a means of circumventing the requirement to hold a plebiscite.

As previous speakers noted, the legislation can be repealed by any future Government, thereby removing the so-called protection it provides in this regard. The Government could have announced on 19 November that it would hold a referendum to insert in the Constitution a clause on public ownership of water. It would be a brave Government that would subsequently hold a referendum to repeal such a constitutional provision. The Government should have held a constitutional referendum to address the concerns people have raised on public ownership.

The reason we are debating this Bill is that citizens have no faith in Irish Water or the Government. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people have taken to the streets in recent months to oppose Irish Water. These demonstrations echoed with cries of opposition to the bank bailout and the savage budgets imposed in the past six years, including cuts in child benefit and to payments to young people with disabilities and lone parents. People also demonstrated on the streets for these reasons. The only way the Government can address these issues is to dissolve the Dáil and hold a general election to give people their say.

People have marched in such large numbers because the Government has failed to deliver the so-called democratic revolution about which the Taoiseach spoke on the first day of this Dáil when he also promised that everything would change. People have been sickened because everything and nothing changed. The rot started when the Taoiseach visited Davos in the Government's first year. Having argued in this Chamber that what was being done to Irish people was not fair and we were paying a debt that was not ours, the Taoiseach told the great and good of world finance gathered in Davos that we had all partied and shared the responsibility for the crash. This was exactly the opposite of what he was telling people at home and highlighted the cynicism that pervades politics in this country.

That started the rot because people were sickened by the cynicism of the Government and the political system. It has led to the crisis faced by political parties, which have seen their ratings tumble in the polls. The citizens of the country do not have any faith in the party system which operates in the Dáil and in the Executive which dominates the House and removes from it any independence. The only way this issue can be resolved, people can be listened to and the citizens of the country satisfied is by dissolving the Government, holding a general election and letting the people have their say on Irish Water.

I have some sympathy for Government backbenchers because in the recent past, as a consequence of the ineptitude of the Cabinet, they have had to step out and defend Cabinet decisions with respect to the 11 U-turns that have taken place to date. The first was the suspension of the implementation of water charges until 1 January. The second was the introduction of the benefits package. The third was the allowance. The fourth was the introduction of the tax credit. The last three have been replaced with a new conservation payment, but the cost of administering it is still unclear despite parliamentary questions having been asked. No business plan was provided by the line Minister in the Department.

We are engaging in a very dangerous situation with respect to administrative costs. We then see the sidelining of the free allowances, the extension of the deadline for the application pack and the introduction of a flat charge per house being abandoned as a consequence of water metering. We have been told that there is and is not a bonus scheme, and there is a lack of clarity and transparency on that.

Not one extra cent in capital investment has been provided for Irish Water to implement the proposed €1.7 billion capital borrowing and investment programme. It has been completely undermined. The main reason for the organisation was to have a revenue structure in place, but that is impossible because of the resilience of people with respect to their resistance to Government.

On 23 October this year, I said in the Chamber that Irish Water was dead. Anybody who denies that should judge the contributions to the debate from the Government backbenches. People who prevented a debate this time last year and pushed us out the door in under two hours have absented themselves from the debate. Privately, in the corridors of the House, they agree with my sentiment. Irish Water is dead. The Government has spent a lot of political capital implementing a Fine Gael manifesto commitment of reform, which has been outstanding since 2009. It pre-dates the entry of the troika into the country.

The Government has implemented a programme of reform in Irish Water which was contrary to the proposal set out by the PWC report commissioned by the Government, and which explicitly advised it not to proceed with the model with which it did. The Government chose to ignore its own advice and proceeded in a manner for which it had paid extensive amounts of money to be advised against.

It handed over the operation of Irish Water to Bord Gáis on the understanding that it had the technical expertise in-house. Despite having those understandings and assurances, a significant amount of scarce taxpayers' resources was spent on technical expertise. What we have today is an unacceptable super quango. When we on this side of the House asked questions about it, we received blacked-out information and reports, and information requests through parliamentary questions have been resisted.

It has become a farce. Any detail with respect to sensitivities around PWC is blacked out with marker. We are seeing a crucially important natural resource being stripped away from local authorities. We had some accountability with respect to locally elected representatives. The Minister of State cannot argue that Irish Water is more accountable than the current system. He cannot say that the current executives of Irish Water are in a position to be democratically accountable to the people of the country.

They may attend private meetings with powerful people and Ministers in corridors, but they are not accountable to the Irish people and, in particular, the Oireachtas with respect to the important questions. Whatever happens, we need to have full transparency regarding Irish Water before an Oireachtas committee. The inner workings of the arrangement should follow the example of other countries where investments like this have worked relatively well.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not studied the example of Welsh Water, which provides a utility model which we should have emulated. As a party, we propose that any new organisation which was to be structured in this manner should have been mutually owned. The holding company should have been held by shareholders, who would have been customers, and could have democratically secured accountability from the CEO.

What we have is a large quango with no accountability and which lacks significant transparency. The delivery of this service involves going back to local authorities to ensure that their knowledge with respect to the transition from local authorities to the quango would be guaranteed. Highly paid executives from local authorities have been seconded or invited to work in a very expensive corporate model.

Water charges may be the norm in other countries, but the Government has completely lost the confidence of the people with respect to the delivery of this project. Irish people do not support the implementation of the model it has presented to the Oireachtas. There is a sense from the Irish people that the Government is driving this through in an arrogant manner when people are being pushed to the pin of their collar. They simply cannot afford this.

The implementation has been botched and the trust in Government has been lost. It is imposing domestic charges on houses where people are having difficulties with putting food into their children's lunch boxes. The Government is living in a bubble if it thinks people support this; they do not. It does not have the will of the people with respect to the roll-out of this project.

The Minister of State may be correct about the current state of our infrastructure and it may badly need investment but, contrary to the propaganda he has been spreading over the past number of weeks, there has been a substantial investment in water services in the country. There has been €5 billion invested in water services in the past decade.

I agree that water is a precious resource and we need to ensure safe and adequate access to it, but we need to do that in a way which guarantees democratic control. We can do it as a Government, we can include private bonds or we can deal with the European Investment Bank or strategic investment bank. They could get behind the Government and ensure we could adequately fund a new water organisation.

There is an absence of backbenchers in the debate. I understand only four spoke today. That demonstrates that the Government does not have their support. I know how the system works. Next week people will be whipped in here to go thorough the motions, knowing damn well that they do not support the policy. The Government does not have the support of the middle ground in society, and the backbenchers know that.

If the Government does not recognise this, it indicates and acknowledges the arrogance I highlighted earlier. It must recognise this is a source of concern for ordinary people who are worried about social cohesion. We are at a point where we can stop this now, go back to the drawing board and gain the support of the House in respect of getting a model appropriate to the people.

Enough is enough. We need to put up our hands and decide this will come to an end. The cost of this is unacceptable and harms society. The Government had the opportunity to do the right thing, but I am afraid it has not recognised that.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. There is little doubt unfortunately that Irish Water and the provision of water services have been unnecessarily in the headlines over the past 12 months and in the past number of months in particular. The only reason for this is that the Government failed to deal with the potential crisis in regard to the delivery of clean drinking water and the disposal of effluent from houses.

It is clear the Fine Gael Party decided in 2011 that it would establish a utility. There was nothing wrong with that in principle, but it decided from there to set it up in a particular way. To date, I have heard no comprehensive explanation as to why the utility Irish Water ended up as the surrogate child of Bord Gáis. I do not want to cast any aspersions on Bord Gáis or its ability or inability, but this has not worked out well. There may be some belief - there certainly was on that side of the House - that Bord Gáis brought certain expertise to the table. A Senator from the Labour Party made wilder allegations - ones I will not make - suggesting the Government was hoodwinked, but in stronger language than that.

From the start, the cost was entirely out of kilter with the expectations of all concerned. There was a belief that if we were partnering with or operating under the auspices of a utility like Bord Gáis, there would be considerable cost savings. This was the response of the Government at the time as to why it had partnered with Bord Gáis in the creation of this entity. It was suggested that many of the systems were already in place and that it would be just almost a matter of changing the label. There were billing and inventory systems, and payroll and asset management systems in place. It was not until Mr. Tierney went on the Seán O'Rourke programme and, being the dutiful public servant he is, outlined the cost structure the Government had known all along that people became concerned. That was what kicked off the greatest concern in the minds of the public and of people in this House who had failed to get answers here about the cost of the establishment of the utility. I do not want to say the €180 million spent was all a waste, but there has been no justification for that kind of spending when the expectation was that Bord Gáis could deliver many of the systems, technology and people skills at a much lower cost. In essence, there was no need for the involvement of Bord Gáis at all, because the Government ended up developing another entity from the start.

The notion of paying for or investing in the development of the infrastructure was put forward. Obviously, this needs to be upgraded. Parts of the country as we well know are still on boil water notices. This was brought to the attention of the public during the course of the Roscommon by-election. People there will remain on a boil water notice for some time. I would have thought the moneys set aside for the establishment of Irish Water and for digging holes in the ground to put in water meters - €500 million - would have been better spent upgrading our treatment systems, the pipe network and sewerage treatment plants which required immediate attention. It would have been better to invest in that way before starting to charge for water.

Most of the people I meet do not object in principle to paying for water. It is a utility and service people expect, need and want, but they do not expect this haphazard approach to its delivery. Therefore, attempting to introduce a charge before having a service delivery model in place was a retrograde step. The fact the Government is pushing ahead now with the introduction of charges, albeit for a lesser amount than originally envisaged and with greater certainty for a period, leads me to believe it is still putting the cart before the horse. Moneys were available, but the Government wasted them in the establishment of the utility and the installation of the water meters.

It is clear better technology was available to identify leaks without requiring the level of cost involved in installing meters. The only excuse the Government can give for the installation of meters is that they will identify where the leaks are happening. The Minister knows there is technology available that could be deployed at a far lower cost that would identify where the leaks are, leaving the Government with money and with no need to go back to citizens to collect a charge until such a time as the system is upgraded.

This whole issue has been bungled. The Government has now brought forward new legislation and is taking a new approach. It has settled on a charge, which is still considered too much by some people based on what is being delivered, and has said it has introduced certainty. It says people will know what they will pay until 2017 or whenever. The reality, however, is that the next election will be fought on whether the parties coming to government will introduce a pay per usage charge. I suspect many will opt to go down the flat fee route. This means the Government ends up with the ultimate white elephant - €500 million worth of water meters buried in the ground providing no meaningful or purposeful use. Fine Gael made significant political capital over decisions taken on e-voting machines. I believe the water meters will be this Government's e-voting machines to the power of ten. E-voting machines cost us €50 million, and this involves €500 million.

The money spent on this project was an appalling waste of the hard pressed resources of the State at a time we could ill afford to spend those moneys. It will be a shocking indictment of the Government. For me, for the Government to spend that kind of money and ultimately not use the product that cost so much best demonstrates how out of touch the Taoiseach and the Government are, and it also further undermines the capacity of the State to provide the appropriate funding to upgrade the system.

The Taoiseach uses the same defence quite regularly, particularly when he is not in a position to be challenged. His defence is the accusation that past governments, in particular the last one, invested nothing in our water or sewerage treatment systems. Some of the Government backbenchers rehash the same lines when they get a clear run with a journalist in a local paper or on a local radio station. It is worth looking at the facts. Between 2000 and 2009, successive governments invested over €5 billion in infrastructure. They upgraded and improved many water treatment systems, put significant funding into group water schemes which improved the delivery of clean drinking water to many communities and upgraded sewerage treatment systems. In the county I know best, the Ennis water treatment was upgraded at a cost of approximately €8 million. A plethora of small sewerage treatment facilities were put in place in areas like Quilty, Feakle and Scariff and the system in Tulla was upgraded.

All of this was done with little fanfare but, with the flick of a hand, the Taoiseach gives us this complete untruth that there was no investment in our water and sewage treatment systems over that period. I am not going to say that more could not have been spent, but if that level of investment had been maintained by this Government since it came to office, the people in Roscommon would have clean drinking water and the effluent that is being pumped into the sea and into fresh water in many places would not be a problem.

The Government did the classic thing. It stymied investment for a period, forcing the issue, and then said it was the previous Government that was so dreadful and invested nothing, so that it would have to create this massive utility. It is a shambles. The Government, collectively, should bow its head in shame. It should go back to the drawing board. There is a much fairer and simpler way of doing this.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this new Bill. This whole debate has been handled in the most appalling way. There has been gross incompetence, mismanagement, confusion and a complete lack of leadership on the whole affair. On top of this, the people of this country are being hammered again with another stealth tax. Let us have no doubt that this water tax is the final straw for the citizens of this State. That is why they are extremely angry at the moment. Let there also be no mistake that I will be voting against this legislation. Like the home tax, it is another attack on the lives of the people of this country, and it has to be rejected.

This Government has wasted a lot of money instead of repairing the broken and leaking pipes, or dealing with the issue of lead pipes in areas such as Marino and Raheny in my own constituency. It could have resolved the issues instead of taxing people who have hardly any money left in their pockets. This is part of the broader debate - the lack of money in people's pockets after years of austerity. That is what should have happened, and the vast majority of reasonable people know that. People have the full right to water and we already feel very strongly that we have paid for this in our general taxes. We must look very seriously at the whole debate about using general taxation to provide proper water services. We have run away from this aspect of the debate. We saw in the recent budget that people on top salaries will get tax cuts in the future while here we are, fighting over sums like €160 for families who are already feeling the pressure.

It is important to understand that there is major public anxiety. The original legislation was rammed through the House in four hours. That was not enough time and we must consider all of the problems it has caused for the people of this country, but also for the Government. This anxiety has been exaggerated and exacerbated, and people are very fed up.

I mentioned the issue of water leaks. There is now a situation where 40% of the pipes in this country are leaking. We have a disastrous infrastructure. In some areas, I believe that figure of 40% is a very conservative one and I have heard of some parts of Dublin city where there is up to 52% or 53% leakage. This is not acceptable. The issue of infrastructure has to be dealt with head-on. Another issue which is still on the table is that of the concerns about privatisation. Households feel they could be vulnerable in the future to large corporations with for-profit motives.

Another issue that has been ignored in nearly all contributions is related to the issue of general taxation and the public health implications. It is important to look at this. People will consume what they can afford rather than what they need. We must very careful in this regard. When the meters come into action, people will skimp on general hygiene because of property. There is likely to be an increase in diseases and illness.

This has been the situation since the 19th century, when clean water was always an essential issue in dealing with disease issues and health problems. Clean water, sanitation and public health have always been part of any caring society. Since the 19th century, the provision of clean water and sanitation has been regarded as an essential aspect of the prevention of diseases. This remains the starting point for many public health programmes designed for low-income countries today, in particular for people on low incomes and those living in poverty. The public health aspect has to be looked at very seriously.

Irish policymakers seem to be largely unaware of the public health implications of proposing a kind of poll tax or water tax on the supply of clean water. This has to be looked at from all points of view. In the past 25 years, population density has been increasing and more people are living in urban areas of more than 1 million people. These conditions put more people at risk of water borne diseases, especially in light of persistent reports of the presence of E. coli in a significant number of local authority areas and private water supplies, and in particular given the outbreak in Galway in 2007. Since 2011, the residents of Letterkenny have been exposed to increasing health risks because Donegal County Council has failed to implement a recommended programme to improve the quality of drinking water by eliminating all the issues which cause infections. This is very important and must be examined.

The current situation in the Republic is characterised by themes common to mid-19th century Britain, where Edwin Chadwick's sanitary reform movement campaigned to identify relative poverty as a field of public knowledge and as a means of active intervention to reduce the dangers of the relationship between contaminated water and disease. Public health conditions in early 19th century Britain were extreme, typified by periodic outbreaks of cholera and typhoid. However, relative circumstances concerning the universal lack of clean water exist in 21st century Ireland. Increasing urbanisation in Ireland, in combination with the substandard supply and quality of safe drinking water in some areas, has threatened public health. This is an issue we must look at seriously.

In Britain, political pressure was exerted on central government by the powerful interests of the laissez-faire capitalists and local elites. Chadwick's proposed reforms faced powerful opposition from those whose economic and political interests were threatened by the public measures likely to reduce their individual incomes through general taxation and, therefore, compromise their status in regard to the general population. Chadwick's views led him into further conflict with those who held the traditional upper middle class opinion that the circumstances of the poor were due to inherent character defects that should be actively curbed and punished. The above comment by other people appears to echo that sentiment. It was argued that improvements in water supply should be granted the authoritative power of a national project funded from general taxation. Chadwick and his colleagues took their cue from reformers and civil engineers on the Continent, notably in France and Germany, and used carefully accumulated health-related statistics to confirm their views and bypass opposing factional interests. I believe there is a lot to be learned from history.

As we have reached 8 p.m., in accordance with the Order of the Dáil of today, I ask the Deputy to move the Adjournment.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 December 2014.