Not beside the name of anyone who supported Irish Water. Systems were devised and developed and we have a water supply.
When some clever officials got into trouble with the Minister over treatment plants - Bray was the first, but there were others - they decided to portray the ordinary people of Ireland who had septic tanks - many dug them by hand and installed them at huge cost and got treatment plants in recent years - as being dirty and the ones causing the trouble. No one who has drawn water from a well would pollute someone else's water. They had it right.
I could name 34 towns and villages in south Tipperary that have no treatment plants. In my village, a big tank has a four-inch pipe that belts out raw sewage. Deputy Fitzmaurice mentioned something similar. But, no, the former Minister, Phil Hogan, was going to terrorise the dirty people of Ireland, make them have manners, clean themselves up, and get their septic tanks right and tell the EPA that they were causing the trouble. However, now the tune has changed altogether. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, mentioned yesterday that 4,200 plants were below standard. That was hardly true, but maybe it is. Now the real beast has been formed and the Government has always known where the trouble is. In 2006, the EPA found that more than 50% of plants in Kilkenny in the former Minister's constituency were below standard. We were going to prosecute, arrest and jail the dirty people in their households who were polluting the ground. We were going to bring them off in the paddy wagons. They were not fit to live where they were. They should have gone back to caves or elsewhere, or emigrated to get jobs in Canada.
What happened? I said it was like Joe Duffy's "Fiver Friday" had come to Clonmel. The former Minister dropped the amount to €5. I passed a basket around here for the fivers, as Deputies might remember. The entire thing dropped off the agenda. Several people in the business made applications - I did not - to become legitimate contractors, but they ran up against a large obstacle. One page of the form - I got one, but it had a lot of pages in it - stated that I had to get a letter from a local authority - it need not have been my own - confirming that I could take sludge by emptying Johnny, Mary or Tommy's tank. The problem was that local authorities - the Minister of State's, the Minister's, mine in south Tipperary, Offaly and so on - could not give out those letters because they had no capacity to do so. It became a national issue. Were people expected to eat the stuff? What were they going to do with it? They had nowhere to take it. It would have cost them several hundred thousand euro. Then they were going to be given grants. Then it turned out that only 29 tanks were going to be tested in Tipperary, my and the Minister's county. Some 19 below and ten above or the other way around; I am not sure. The entire thing died a death. The little people were left alone. Nineteen of them.
Everyone who registered thought he or she could get a grant. First, people could not get grants unless they were inspected. Second, the grants would be put into their wages. The grant would only cover a look into the tank and a bit of reseeding of the ground. It would not cover the substantial works. The Government knew that. It was a con job of the highest order.
Which brings us on to this, the real con and the mother of all quangos. We were told that the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, was going to fix prices, but the Minister told the House two weeks ago that the Government would fix them. Is the CER redundant? The Government is using the Social Welfare Bill. I turned the dial for the 11 o'clock news on RTE last Saturday week while travelling and heard that the Department of Social Protection was going to employ more staff to administer the €100 payments. This is a great. Deputy Donnelly cited a list of figures, including the €536 million to fit the meters, the cost of running everything and so on. Off balance sheet? The cost will be inside it like a corrosive rust. It will wreck the balance sheet, and all for the sake of a child conceived by Labour and breast fed, bottle fed and delivered on behalf of the fat cats. It stinks to high heaven. It is just a quango.
The former Minister of State across the way has enough information. He was being intimidated by whoever wanted to get this job. The contract for the meters was awarded before the company had a registration number, something that I did not think could happen. As I have said umpteen times, the legislation was signed into law on Lá Nollaig, 25 December. Whatever the reason for the indecent haste was, I do not know.
Irish Water is there, but the Government does not have the common sense to scrap it. Have the wake and the funeral and bury it. It will bury the Government. That is happening. It will do huge damage to democracy. People are marching. I thank and salute them for their behaviour yesterday. They were in good spirits despite all of the economic hardships they were facing, the cost of travelling to Dublin and the cold.
I salute them for how they conducted themselves. There were a few people involved who would not be wanted on any march. They are looking for something different out of it all. However, most people behaved very well and should be saluted.
I am hugely worried about the talk of this being done off balance sheet. We all know it will actually be on the balance sheet and will cost us a fortune. All of the fat cats have bonus contracts and will receive a bonus even if they do not earn it. It is ludicrous. These contracts were drafted by the very people who created the monster that is Irish Water. That is what has been wrong with this country for the past 20 years. We have had quangos and more quangos created by people with their hands on the handlebars of power. One would need a jackhammer to get them off. Of course, Ministers come and go. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, will be gone from here eventually. I might be gone as well. However, whoever is here will not be able to change any of these arrangements.
Senior officials have this country plundered. It is time they came in here and dealt with everybody. I am not referring to the officials who are accompanying the Minister in the Chamber today but to the senior officials in Departments. What happened to Kevin Cardiff after all the advice he gave the late Brian Lenihan? He got promoted to Brussels. He could not be sacked or otherwise punished. There is no retributions for those people. At least all of us in this House must face the electorate, which is as it should be. The same does not apply to the members of the permanent government. They devised this scheme to suit themselves and it is nothing more than a pension scheme for some of their own people. I know of three former county managers who have been appointed to the new body, along with several other former senior officials.
In the meantime, no pipes have been fixed and no sod has been turned on a number of promised sewerage plants. After all the talk about the Ringsend plant and the €180 million that was laid out, there is very little to show for it. We are now looking at a different animal; it is a completely different plant. Anybody who knows anything about it knows it is not the same plant.
I asked the Minister earlier about the exemption we got on the river basins, but he did not refer to it. We have very few exemptions and derogations from Europe. This one was hard fought for, but now it looks like we are just going to dispose of it. Are we stark, raving mad? After all the EU did with the financial crisis, after it robbed us in the so-called bailout - I call it the clean-out - are we now going to give away the one hard-won derogation we have? There is no explanation as to why this is being done. We are supposed to be putting a new plan forward on 1 January and it seems we will get rid of the derogation. I can only conclude this is being done to preserve the beast, stimulate it and put it on steroids. It is being beefed up for the wealthy people and con artists who are laughing at us.
I met with some of the people from Irish Water two weeks ago and asked them seven or eight questions. I have had no answer yet, even though I e-mailed the questions to them the following day. Instead, they told me barefaced porkies. They said they had heard nothing about a problem in Clonmel with sewers being blocked on private properties. I am tired of writing to them about these issues and tired of asking parliamentary questions about them. The CEO of the council also has written to them. How can they expect us to believe they are not aware of the problem? These are the people who were isolated from any responsibility at senior level in Departments and other local authorities where they were answerable to nobody. They were looked after by the former Minister, Phil Hogan, the big fella who also looked after himself when he got sent off to Brussels.
The huge worry I have - I suspect it is shared by the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, and maybe the Minister, Deputy Kelly, too - concerns the people who have been paying rates for years - the farmers, shopkeepers, hairdressers, funeral parlour owners and so on. There has already been a problem in recent years with meters and the ongoing increases in standing charges. Somebody will have to pick up the can for the climbdown the Minister has done. I will not use the word "legacy" again; the Minister knows all about that. Will the shortfall in revenue be pushed on to these people? I have no doubt that it will.
GMC Sierra is installing 600 meters in the Clogheen, Mullinahone and Killenaule areas of south Tipperary as I speak. These are to replace the meters and boxes it fitted 15 months ago under contract with South Tipperary County Council. The council insisted at the time that the workers put metal manhole covers on the footpaths, especially in Mullinahone where the streets are narrow, the footpaths are low and trucks sometimes go up on them. The company agreed to do so. Now, however, its workers have taken away all the steel covers and replaced them with plastic ones. I am told all the steel covers are in a scrap yard in Clonmel. The workers will not be gone off the job before the new covers are broken. Then we will have leaks and the devices will have to be replaced. It is about creating more business for themselves. Who will call a halt to this in consideration of the cost to consumers? Business people are already paying charges and there is a 98% collection rate in south Tipperary. I salute both the rate collectors and the business people of south Tipperary for paying. People do not mind paying for a service once they actually get that service.
The problem, however, is that the price will be jacked up through the roof and people will be put out of business. Two weeks ago in this House we debated the Bill put forward by Deputy John McGuinness to reform the rates system. Somebody will have to pay if the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is going to use the Social Welfare Bill to give €100 back to households. Some people who have a septic tank and a well have told me it is like Christmas coming early. Although 8 December has come and gone, their €100 will go further in the sales on 6 January. That is assuming they get the payment. The Department of Social Protection will have to take on more staff to administer the scheme. The whole thing is stark, raving mad.
I do not know why the Minister does not stop and admit that this beast is a bad creation, is not fit for purpose and is climbing on the people. It is about looking after the fat cats and it is not good for democracy. It will wipe the Labour Party off the map and will severely damage the Minister of State's party. And all for what? To fulfil promises and side shoves to cronies. These people have been shoved into Irish Water for no other reason. It was the same thing with EirGrid. The powers that be in that case were determined to do what they wanted throughout the country. This week we heard there will be a new consultation. They are going to play nice and come down to the country and listen to people. I asked the chairman of that company two years ago to put on his wellies and walk through the fields of Tipperary to see where the pylons were being installed. He did not want to hear about it. He and his colleagues have learned, however, and now they have a different attitude. Bhí siad ag éisteacht and the Minister and Minister of State are supposed to be listening in the same way. However, they are only listening like the farmer who is in bed half-asleep, with one ear on the pillow and the other one covered with his scarf or cap. It goes in one ear and out the other with the Minister and Minister of State. They are not listening and will not listen, and that is the rock on which they will perish.
I have huge concerns, as I said, regarding business people and big industry. Large firms have to use power water and are already paying for it. As other speakers noted, there is no element of conservation in any of this. The meters are going in at the huge cost of €536 million - the Government was €100 million out in its estimation - and will not be used at all. They are nothing but ornaments. Perhaps people will put a geranium plant inside the box and water it. The spanking new meters that were installed in Mullinahone last year, which I went out to look at, have been taken out again. All that was needed was the little device on top; the clips were already there. The new piece could easily have been fitted to allow them to be read electronically rather than manually. It is very hard for anyone to read the meter because the new fitting they put on top of them obscures some of the red digits. Previously, if one wanted to check if one had a water leak, one had to turn the water off at midnight and get up and 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. in the morning to read it again. However, that is not the case with this system because 1,000 litres must be involved before one can tell whether there is a leak.
It is nothing but a set-up. The whole thing was designed and created as a cash cow and perpetrated on the people to make fat cats fatter. It is like rubbing butter into a fat sow's you-know-what. It is nothing more than an insult to people's intelligence. It was designed and created that way and the Government parties intend to vote it through tonight or tomorrow in spite of knowing in their heart and soul it is wrong. Government Members are denigrating the good councils on which many of them served over the years. We did not have a barren desert before. Local authorities had water treatment plants and good services and supplies and they were contactable.
When people ring Irish Water now to fix a leak, staff do not know where towns in Tipperary are. They say they never heard of them. They tell people to ring the council because they cannot do anything. I experienced that one Sunday evening about two months ago. When people came home from a match, the road was blown up and the water main was leaking. They rang and rang the emergency number in the council and eventually they rang the Garda in Cahir because the road was a danger, not to mind the water being wasted. The Garda gave them Mattie McGrath’s number. Thank God I was able to get someone in the council; I had the number of the caretaker. This is the farce that has been created. When the council caretaker comes out now to check a leak, as he always did, he can no longer touch it and must advise the person to contact Irish Water first. Did you ever hear the beat of it? Irish Water then must come back, when it decides to come back, and instruct the caretaker to deal with it.
That is just nonsense of the highest order and the Ministers know it, as does the man sitting quietly on the uppermost benches opposite. That man previously held a grenade in his hand. Had he pulled the pin, both the Government and Irish Water would be gone. Funny things have happened in this matter. Deals were done in hotels in Dublin and I have information which indicates that this was the case. Of course, I do not have as much information as the former Minister of State. The information in my possession has not been verified so I will not put it on the record of the House but side deals worth hundreds of millions were done not just in respect of water, but also wind energy. It was all a big crazy scheme.