Exactly one year ago the Government rammed through the legislation to establish Irish Water and water charges without any substantial debate. There have been massive public marches in opposition to Irish Water and numerous U-turns, the most recent of which was the Government's announcement that it wanted to bring clarity and certainty and to restore confidence where there was confusion. After the debate of the past week, people remain confused, baffled and bewildered, because the Government is making it up as it goes along. Last Wednesday evening, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and his entire project were exposed, because when one adds up the figures - the €165 million cost of the conservation grant, the cost of the metering project, at €41 million, and other administrative costs such as billing - if there is 80% compliance and 80% take-up of the grant, we are looking at a net revenue of €25 million per annum. That is after €539 million has been ploughed into the ground for meters that will never be read and €180 million has been spent on establishing Irish Water in the first instance.
The Government is desperate to do anything it can to reduce the cost of Irish Water so it can pass the famous market corporation test to remain off-balance sheet. Last night at the 11th hour, the Minister announced that the servicing and repayment of outstanding local authority loans which were to be transferred to Irish Water will instead be repaid by the Exchequer. Deputy Cowen asked about the transfer of loans last month and received a misleading reply from the Minister. Three devices have now been used to subsidise Irish Water so that it can pass this test. The first is the water conservation grant, costing €165 million, the second is the estimated €60 million for the rates attached to properties that were transferred, and the third is this €460 millions in loans. This is being done in a desperate bid to pass the test. One could not make it up. I ask the Taoiseach to go back to the drawing board and, more fundamentally, to have the confidence to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the value for money of this project. Will the Taoiseach or the Minister correct the record of the House regarding the reply issued to Deputy Cowen on 26 November, which stated that the process of valuing the liabilities to transfer to Irish Water was ongoing?