Water Services Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 13

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 12, line 29, after “determine.” to insert the following:

"All Board appointments shall be subject to the approval of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.".

This amendment deals with appointments to the board of Irish Water under section 13. The Minister informed us that the purpose of the section is to provide for an increase in the maximum number of members who may be appointed to the board of Ervia. When is it expected that the appointments will be made? Will they be made only when this legislation is passed and, if so, how many members are envisaged? The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has indicated that he will increase the numbers to reflect the professionalism associated with each member and the expertise necessary for the board to perform efficiently. I am conscious of the obligations he intends to place on the board in regard to the bonus element of pay. He informed the House yesterday evening that he will be giving the board responsibility for negotiating on behalf of the taxpayer with a view to amending the pay structure. This leads me to wonder what expertise he has in mind for the board to enable it to meet that responsibility.

This amendment makes all board appointments subject to the approval of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. That is only fair and proper. It would meet the standards that the Government supposedly sets for board appointments, including the public advertisement and scrutiny of all board appointments and giving committees a role in affirming appointments. Perhaps the Minister will respond to the thrust of the amendment in the first instance and I would also be grateful if he could elaborate on the points in regard to the section.

Section 13 provides: "The Board shall consist of a chairperson and such number of other members, not being more than 10, as the majority shareholding Minister may determine." I have serious concerns about the Minister's intention to establish a unitary board for Bord Gáis and Uisce Éireann. We are told that Irish Water will be the largest utility in the State. If it is to share a board with another substantial utility company, it means people will be trying to ride two horses in the same race. It would be a difficult job for a board to oversee two completely different companies, which should have different cultures. I do not think a unitary board is a good idea in terms of corporate governance. I am not sure of the degree to which this proposal has been thought through.

Is this another case of giving more control to Bord Gáis, or Ervia as it is now called? Are the directors and senior management of Ervia calling the shots on everything? I suspect they have had a heavy influence to date in how the legislation was drafted and how other matters have progressed in the Uisce Éireann project. I have huge concerns about that.

I support Deputy Cowen's amendment which provides that the appointees to the board should appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. That is sensible.

My proposed amendment relates to the composition of the board and the power of the Minister to appoint. The Bill states that the "Minister may determine". Those are the three key words, and we have seen an example in the last few days of how the Government determines appointments to boards. The concern here is that the board must have a proper composition. Will it be made up of people who are predominantly disposed towards privatisation? Will it be people who might not have a great insight into the situation of ordinary working people or small businesses? Will it be a few of the usual suspects? Will it be dominated by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, and other heavy hitters? Will ordinary people be represented? What I mean by "ordinary people" are the 1.67 million householders in the State who will be customers of Irish Water. How will they be selected? Where is the filtering process and who decides who is worthy of it? It appears that the Minister has all the power. We could wake up one morning and see in one of the newspapers a list of the people who have been appointed to the board.

There are huge issues and corporate governance concerns about there being one unitary board for the largest utility company in the State. As I stated earlier in the House, it is a company that is in serious trouble financially due to how the Minister has gone about this business and the bookkeeping and creative accountancy he is using to give it life, shore it up and ensure it will get past EUROSTAT. It is the funniest piece of accounting I have ever seen. I sat on the boards of two companies and I have never seen accountancy like this. They were very small companies and I served on them in a voluntary role. That type of bookkeeping was just not allowed. In the case of this huge utility company, however, the Minister is carrying out all of these smoke and mirrors acts to try to get it past EUROSTAT in Brussels. There are huge questions about this.

The unitary board is a massive concern for me because it cannot keep its eye on the ball, and somebody will have to keep their eye on the ball of Irish Water. Irish Water will require the full attention of the eight to ten board members, but it will not get it. The Minister has put the two boards together, and there is some other agenda behind that. The big boys in Bord Gáis, IBEC or somebody else has convinced the Minister to do this, and it seemed to be a good thing to do in the view of sections of the media.

The board will decide on huge matters such as borrowing, pay and bonuses. I do not have a problem with bonuses for low to middle income workers who have earned them on the basis of performance. However, I have a problem with them for the management. We have seen recently how the managers favoured themselves. We learned that the managers were going to give themselves 18% while the ordinary workers would achieve 7% or 8% at best. That is 7% or 8% of very little. Of course, the boys at the top, on over €100,000 per year, were not happy to take the same percentage as the people on low and middle incomes. They intended to fatten up their wallets with higher percentages of a higher amount. They were going to take the cream. There must be a diligent board in place to pay attention to that.

Who determines the priorities for investment between sewerage treatment plants, leaks, meters or consultants? Will it be blown on call centres? There are 31 call centres in the State that could have served this purpose. They are the 31 local authority offices. The people in those offices have been dealing with these calls for years, and I have received a good service from the people I have dealt with over the years. However, I cannot get a good service now because it has been farmed out to a private company. We must have board members to watch this. There are also the service level agreements in place with local authorities. They must be overseen, managed, reviewed and monitored. That must be handled very carefully and the board will want to have an input into it.

A board that has one eye on the boyos in Irish Water and another on Bord Gáis will not be able to do that job. That is the problem with this. The Minister will not get good corporate governance with this board. I do not know who talked him into this or how he arrived at the decision but he is taking the wrong road.

In recognition of that, my amendment proposes that the key sectors be represented. They include the householders, who are the main customers, and the commercial users. In September next year, the commission will review the charges they are paying for water to the local authorities. They must be represented. They are the small businesses throughout the country who are already paying commercial water rates and have no problem with that. They must have a voice at the board. Finally, there are the trade unions, the representatives of the workers who are working in water services both in the local authorities and in Uisce Éireann. Those workers must have a voice on the board, but there is no such provision in the Bill. It simply states that the Minister "may determine".

It is not good to leave it so vague. It gives a huge amount of discretion to the Minister. When one gives a Minister that type of discretion, with no disrespect to the current Minister, he or she can do what they wish with it. That is important. The very least the Minister should do is accept the amendment proposed by Deputy Cowen regarding the committee having a role in this and the amendment I propose to ensure that those three key sectors are represented. They are the main stakeholders and we must have a guarantee that they are on the board.

Section 13 seeks to increase the membership of the board of Ervia. Ervia, formerly Bord Gáis, was chosen to be the parent company for Irish Water due to its experience in developing the infrastructure of a State utility company. Indeed, it has commendable experience in that regard.

Bord Gáis was established in 1976 and section 7 of the Gas Act 1976 stated that the board would consist of a chairman and such number of other members, not being more than six, as the Minister for Finance determined. After it was established it embarked on a very ambitious project. The gas utilities were fragmented across the State. That was cured and gas leaks were fixed. The Kinsale pipeline to Cork was completed and a big pipeline was constructed to Dublin. There were then pipelines constructed from Dublin to many of our smaller cities such as Limerick and Galway. Even Nenagh, the nearest large town to the Minister, was connected to the gas network. That was a huge achievement by the company. It was overseen by a board of six people and it managed to complete all of these tasks with that board.

In 2013, under this Government, it was decided that the board had to be expanded from six to eight members. That was done in the Gas Regulation Act 2013. However, a second very interesting provision was added under the Gas Regulation Act.

Under the provision:

A person may not be appointed or act as a member of the Board if he or she is a director or an officer of a company or other body corporate which engages, within or outside the State, in

(a) the supply of natural gas,

(b) the shipping of natural gas,

(c) the production of natural gas,

(d) the supply of electricity, or

(e) the generation of electricity.

The provision is very sensible, ensuring there is no conflict of interest between the directors and the company on the board of which they sit. The Government proposes no such provision in this Bill. It is important that we have such a provision because of media reports last month that the head of Irish Water's parent company, Ervia, had confirmed that he was to divest himself of more than 400,000 shares in a company that made money from installing water meters. In the interests of balance, I note that he said, “I have excused myself from any commercial contractual dealings with anything to do with CAW [Celtic Anglian Water] in the company which is what is required under the code of conduct so everything I have done is above board.” He also said proceeds from the divestment would go to Focus Ireland.

This is not a question of a conflict of interest but of a perceived conflict of interest. It is very important that there be no perceived conflicts of interest in the company and that legislative provisions be introduced on Report Stage to ensure this. As Deputy Brian Stanley pointed out, there is the board of Ervia, the parent company and the board of Irish Water, the subsidiary company. This is how they are referred to in the Act which was introduced this time last year to create Irish Water. A solicitor whose company provided advice on water services and water regulation for water companies was appointed to the board of Irish Water. He resigned his position, perhaps because there might have been a perceived conflict of interest. I am not suggesting for one moment that there was a conflict of interest, but it is very important that we address the issue because, to put it mildly, the public does not have a huge amount of confidence in Irish Water.

The Deputy is moving slightly away from the amendments.

No, I am not. The Minister's amendment seeks to increase the board of Irish Water and I am questioning why the board needs to be increased. Bord Gáis achieved much with a board of six people. Having increased the board of Irish Water to eight in 2013, why must it now increase to ten? Will provisions be introduced to ensure there will be no conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest?

Why is it important that Ervia be included in the Bill? Ervia is included because under the legislation that created Irish Water last year, Ervia, then Bord Gáis, received a single share in Irish Water. The Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Finance each received a number of shares. The crucial point is that Ervia's is the only votable share. When it comes to an AGM, Ervia will have the only votable share. All of the discussion about the difference between referendums and plebiscites and between the words “may” and “shall” is a red herring in the context of the fact that Ervia holds the only votable share.

The Act of 2013 which increased the number of board members in Bord Gáis also contained a provision on the majority shareholding of the capital stock - preferential stock - that, “The majority-shareholding Minister, the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall not sell, exchange, surrender or otherwise dispose of all or any of the capital stock held by him or her under section 7B without the prior consent of the Government.” While the 2013 Bill that established Irish Water specified that shares would be issued to the Ministers for Finance and the Environment, Community and Local Government, it did not specify that they could not dispose of the shares without the Government's prior approval. The Act states Bord Gáis, now Ervia, shall not, without the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, alienate the share issued to it, in accordance with subsection (4). This does not mean that in order for the Ministers to permit this to happen, there must be prior approval from the Government; there does not. The wording of the proposal in the plebiscite is, "Where the Government proposes at any time to cause the initiation in either House of the Oireachtas of proposed legislation to allow the alienation of shares in Irish Water". Why would any Government initiate legislation it is not required to initiate when it can just dispose of the shares without doing so?

The Deputy is definitely moving away from the membership question. Many other Members wish to speak.

Section 13 pertains to the board of Ervia. The board of Ervia, unencumbered by referendums, plebiscites and legislation from this House, can vote and make a decision to alienate the shares. We must face reality. Although we can talk around in circles for as long as we want, I can foresee something in the future. I am not one who says Irish Water cannot and will not be privatised, that privatisation is beyond contemplation. The Bill which established Irish Water in 2013 clearly makes it very easy to privatise Irish Water, far easier than other pieces of State infrastructure. A future Attorney General will advise a future Government on the legislation. We have all heard the Attorney General's advice. We heard it in the mid-west on the Heathrow Airport slots. Shareholdings were to be maintained which protected the State's interests and to be used to ensure nothing like the loss of the Heathrow Airport slots could occur. However, it did occur. Every member of the Government hid behind the Attorney General's advice and I foresee it happening again.

No matter what we do here, it will be subject to statute, which a future Government will be able to change. If the Minister wants to make it more difficult for a future Government to privatise Irish Water, I suggest Ervia's shareholding be transferred at a given time. The date by which it is posited that all or many of the infrastructural developments will be competed is 2017. When the parent company has achieved what it set out to do, namely, to develop the infrastructure, perhaps we should contemplate in legislation handing over the single, magic, votable share to a consumer co-operative held by the customers of Irish Water. As the people who would be most affected by the privatisation of Irish Water, they are the ones who should control it. I look forward to an explanation from the Minister as to why we need to increase the size of the board and whether provisions will be introduced to ensure there will be no further perceived conflicts of interest.

It was interesting to hear Deputy Michael McNamara's contribution and I appreciate from where he is coming. He has a legal mind and understands this issue very well. Perhaps he might shift further over to this side of the House when the time comes to vote. We must wait and see, but it is up to him. However, I welcome his very valid points.

I have major issues and I am disappointed that the senior Minister is absent, as I need clarification on some serious issues. Why must the boards be amalgamated? The Minister is putting it out as a sop that he is proposing to amalgamate the two boards, cutting down on the number of quangos. Deputy Michael McNamara spoke about the careful scrutiny of the legislation on Bord Gáis and the transfers, which was all done in the House and the Bills office and for good reason. Will the consumer be represented on the board? The Minister will appoint the board members. The consumers are domestic and business customers who have been paying water rates for 20 years.

In addition, as stated previously, I fear the water rates will be jacked up enormously because the Government is losing money. Each time an amendment is tabled here, it is dropping €30 million or €40 million. Last night, it was €480 million. This is a complete shambles and simply is not acceptable. While I have that on record anyway, the Government will force through the Bill using guillotines, but I have grave concerns about the make-up of the board, as well as the expertise and qualifications that the people on the board will have.

I seek clarification on a matter regarding the board from either the Minister of State or his colleague, the senior Minister. The board of the entity called Bord Gáis Éireann, BGE, announced in January 2013 the appointment of Mr. John Barry as acting chief executive officer for an interim period pending the appointment of a new chief executive officer. This executive, Mr. Barry, is the man who until recently was manager of Ervia's major projects. Surely this is its biggest project, and this board will be the most powerful board in the country. He was manager of the major projects and was tasked with the responsibility of overseeing and establishing Uisce Éireann, or this beast, as I will call it today. Is he currently suspended pending an investigation into financial impropriety? I seek an answer to that question.

I am asking this on the record. This is very pertinent to-----

You are making an allegation now.

I am asking a question for the Minister to answer.

Please do not make allegations against people-----

I am asking a question.

-----who are outside the House and are not here to defend themselves.

Yes, but I am asking a question about whether Mr. Barry is suspended. It is to do with work that was done in a project and work that was done for a county council where there was overcharging. I am reliably informed that he is suspended, and before Members go any further here - before this Bill is passed and before it goes to Seanad Éireann - I ask either the Minister of State now or the senior Minister this evening to get clarification in this regard. It would rock the very foundations of the matters under discussion if there was this kind of carry-on from people who are in place already. I am merely asking the question, and the Minister can clarify the point. I note that he is unable to clarify financial matters. Last night, Members learned about the €460 million, and while the Minister did not answer parliamentary questions tabled by me, Deputy Cowen and others, it then was announced that this had been decided on last May. Moreover, the House was never consulted on this.

I seek answers to that question. Is the said gentleman suspended? He is the sole architect and designer of the so-called Uisce Éireann, which is Irish Water and which I have described as an untamed beast at this point. It is running wild and running amok and one can see why the people on the street are objecting to it. Nevertheless, the Government is forcing it through, as it did this time last year, in the final days of the session. Moreover, it was signed into law by Uachtarán na hÉireann on Lá Nollag. This is a charade of the highest order, and unless there is transparency, openness and full information, there is no point in proposing the cancellation of one board or the merger of two into one. There is no point in trying to make it look good and be transparent and sellable. Nothing about this is sellable. It cannot be sold and one could not give it away if one wished. The Minister of State is also aware of this. It could not be given as a Christmas present. Santa Claus would not take it or bring it anywhere.

I have asked a serious question about the former chief executive officer who was the designer and architect who designed the scheme. He designed Irish Water and passed it on to the Government, which ran with it. Moreover, the Government is still running with it and now has no place in which to hide it. It has been exposed in all its worst condition as being unsellable, untenable and unviable, and it should be withdrawn immediately. These questions also should be answered, as well as the financial questions that have been asked but not answered by the Taoiseach today or ever. It is too much a case of "As I roved out," "Live horse and you will get grass," or "Wait until tomorrow and we will see when it works." It will be too late. As a previous speaker, Deputy McNamara, who is a member of a Government party, has stated, the shares can be sold off without any need for further legislation here. I seek a freagra ar an cheist sin. I have put a serious question on which I seek clarification. Is this true or not, and if so, why? I seek an explanation as to what is going on there. What if such issues happened under Ervia or Bord Gáis Éireann, which is proposed to have charge of Irish Water? Is this gentleman suspended and was there impropriety? If there was, get it out in the House and have an investigation. I totally accept that he is entitled to his good name until such time as this is proven. I am not being a judge but am asking a question.

We take the point.

My point is that everyone is entitled to his or her good name. As for an investigation, this should be fully investigated and explained and questions should be brought here when the Minister comes in.

We have heard the point, and other Deputies want to speak. I remind the House that-----

Yes, but I want that question answered by the Minister when he comes into the Chamber. If the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, cannot answer it, I want answers before Members proceed to the next Stage of the Bill.

We will have to have time for that. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I will be as brief as I can. The word "trust" was used, and all Members realise that this is critically important. At the outset, Members were told that the entire idea behind partnering with Bord Gáis Éireann was to cut down on the costs and gain access to expertise in billing and such matters. This then progressed to a need to hire consultants. Members are familiar with the stages that happened along the way and that have eroded any prospect of trust. It appears to me as though quite a complex arrangement is being put in place here. The more complex the arrangement, the less one has any prospect of building trust if this company survives into the medium term at all. I have a question about the board itself. Ervia has a board and then there is Irish Water's subsidiary board. Do they have two different sets of memorandums and articles of association? How do they dovetail with each other? How do the two boards interact with each other? What will be the ratio between the Bord Gáis side and the Irish Water side in respect of the numerical component? Can the Minister of State give details to Members about the expertise?

The contribution by Deputy McNamara was very useful. We still are in a highly uncertain time and, although it is to be hoped that it does not happen, we may again have outside intervention in a direct way. When one begins to examine the assets, it is clear that the company certainly has plenty of them, with a limited number of financial liabilities. Consequently, when examining this legislation, one must consider the worst-case scenario and work back from that. Members must satisfy themselves with regard to the worst-case scenario, and I do not believe the governance structure of this joint entity is at all clear. Were the Minister to address that, it would be welcome.

The Minister of State might inform the Dáil as to who owns the overall company, Ervia. To the best of my knowledge, it still is owned by the people and therefore, as Irish Water technically is a subsidiary of Ervia, there is no doubt about the ownership of Irish Water, which still is ours. I take Deputy McNamara's point that the legislation is definitely more simple and easier than previous legislation surrounding other semi-state companies, but that could be a product of the times in which those companies were set up as much as anything else.

The ideology of the time.

Absolutely. It certainly could be.

As I have read more about this subject, one interesting point to emerge is about Northern Ireland Water, and the more this matter is discussed, the more important it becomes. Northern Ireland Water has been in existence for seven years. It cost more to set up than Irish Water did. It has had its own hiccups - at one point, 36,000 people were without water for up to 11 days. A Sinn Féin Minister was even obliged to go to the Assembly to defend the payment of bonuses to its executives.

It was necessary to shake them up.

However, Sinn Féin never has had any discussions about getting rid of Northern Ireland Water, and it now delivers the service it was created for. The structures of Irish Water and Northern Ireland Water are highly similar. There is nothing in the management statement or the financial memorandum of Northern Ireland Water that makes any reference to the necessity for board members to be drawn from trade unions or from among workers. I have looked through the biographies of the board members of Northern Ireland Water, none of which makes a reference to representing a specific group of, for example, people who avail of the services of, or who work for, Northern Ireland Water. They are appointed to that board because of their expertise, and I note that many of them come from accountancy companies or other water boards across the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of argument that really is just about creating noise in this Chamber, and I do not consider it to be highly effective in respect of the debate.

The Minister of State should, when responding, focus on how Northern Ireland Water was established and how it has operated for the past seven years. We should seek to ensure that in establishing Irish Water we do not make the same mistakes made during the establishment of Northern Ireland Water. Despite that there is a great deal of white noise about statistics and who is being paid what and so on, we are, thus far, on the right track. Overall, this is fairly clear-cut and straightforward.

Like my colleague, I often get confused. Some people would say I am easily confused. I become particularly confused when we get into the type of minutiae into which we have gone in the course of the debate on this particular section. During all my time as a Member of this House I have always been conscious of the need for legislation to be brought back before the House for reference in the event of any major change thereto, particularly legislation which directly affects the consumer. In terms of membership of the board, I do not see in what is provided anything that changes anybody's entitlements dramatically. It has been suggested in some quarters that the consumer is not represented. I am sure some of the members of the board will be consumers and as such will have to have some regard for the impact of their board decisions on the wider community.

During my time in Opposition I, along with a colleague in the Labour Party, tabled 180 amendments to a particular Bill, only one of which was accepted by the then Government. In regard to the crocodile tears from the opposite side of the House regarding this debate, debate on all Stages of that Bill took place in one day. That Bill was the victim of a guillotine, strange as that may seem. Imagine that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, a guillotine was imposed by those now in opposition howling with derision at the suggestion of any curtailment of time now. I have never in my life heard anything like it.

What does that have to do with membership of the board?

I would point out for the benefit of Deputy Grealish that there are people with whom he had long associations in the past who were involved in the curtailment of debate on many items of legislation. In deference to the Deputy and others who might be incriminated along with him, I will not go there.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Durkan has the floor.

The Deputy is irritating me and he knows he should not do so. I should also not allow him to irritate me. It is amazing the newfound wisdom that has emerged on that side of the House. Incidentally, while six months ago two parties on that side of the House were in favour of charges, only one party favours them now. There is a group of other people who we are not too sure whether they are in favour or opposed to them. I am sure we will find that out as time goes on.

What is most important in terms of the members to be appointed to the board is that such members be competent and capable of doing the job, that they do not have a conflict of interest and that they are capable of discharging their duties in a manner that befits the position they hold.

Given the way Irish Water has been set up nobody-----

I am tormented by the Member opposite to the extent that I could make another comment that he might not like to hear. However, I will withhold it for now.

I will hold it in reserve for him.

Three strikes and the Deputy is out.

I do so in the knowledge that the poor, innocent man is venturing into territory into which he should not go if he were wise.

In my view, we should have a board that is competent, capable and responsible and is not impervious to the views of the community or this House or subservient to any one or other to the detriment of one or other.

I call the Minister of State to respond.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I wish to contribute.

I am sorry, the time has come for the Minister of State to respond. Time permitting, I will come back to the Deputy when the Minister has finished.

The purpose of this section is to increase the maximum number of members who may be appointed to the board of Ervia. This measure is part of a reorganisation in the corporate governance structure of Ervia and Irish Water about which many Deputies have spoken.

In response to the issue raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy, a single non-executive board at Ervia level will be responsible for the governance of both companies. The increase in the maximum number of members will ensure that the board has adequate water services experience and expertise. With regard to the amendments, the Government recently approved proposals to strengthen the board structures of Ervia and Irish Water. This will involve a number of changes. The revised structures include the appointment of a single non-executive board at Ervia level which will have responsibility for Ervia as well as for Irish Water and the gas network subsidiary. A process to fill the vacancies on the Ervia board commenced last month, with vacancies advertised on the State boards website. The candidates being sought must have expertise in the water utility sector and experience in organisational change, customer facing systems and utility infrastructure financing.

On the issue raised by Deputy Cowen, as I said, the process to appoint the new board members is under way. It is intended that those appointments will commence early in the new year. While not suggesting that Deputy Stanley is raising conspiracy theories regarding consumer interests, the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, has responsibility and oversight of customers' interests. To be fair, the Government has gone to great lengths to try to address the Deputy's concerns.

To push the matter to one side.

Like any national utility, Irish Water will have in place a complaints process through which customers can engage with it. As the Deputy will be aware from previous discussion on this issue, customers whose complaints are not adequately dealt with will have access to dispute resolution mechanisms with the Commission for Energy Regulation.

The Government has gone a step further in establishing the public water forum to address customer interests. This forum will comprise members of the public and consumers who will represent customers' interests. All of those issues are being adequately addressed. Essentially, the board must have the necessary expertise to run a national utility competently and in accordance with good corporate governance.

On Deputy McNamara's concerns regarding board members having the sole right to privatise if they so wish, which obviously is not the case, I want to make it clear that Ervia does not own the economic shares in Irish Water. The Ministers for Finance and the Environment, Community and Local Government hold those shares on behalf of the taxpayer. The proposed plebiscite, provision for which will be strengthened on Report Stage, will protect the interests of the public and the taxpayer in this regard. I can assure Deputy McNamara that his concerns are unfounded.

(Interruptions).

With regard to Deputy Mattie McGrath's concerns, Ervia has confirmed that issues have arisen regarding a former employee, dating back ten years ago, which are under investigation. I note the Deputy is not in the House now. However, it was highly inappropriate of him to name people in this House who have not been named in the media or in the public domain. That the Deputy chose to name people, whom I am sure everybody would agree have a right to due process, in this House is unfair.

The board of Ervia is being expanded so that people with suitable expertise and experience can be secured to ensure a positive contribution to the corporate governance of what will be the largest utility in this country. Reference was made to Bord Gáis and what it has managed to deliver over a short couple of decades in terms of upgrade of the gas network. The ESB, another national utility of which we are all very proud, undertook a network renewal programme not so long ago and managed to raise billions of euro off balance sheet to invest in the networks of this country so that business and domestic households would have an adequate facility. The Government and I expect Irish Water to do similar. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel; rather we are looking at ways and mechanisms to raise funds to invest in what is an essential infrastructure. A proper and adequate board is important in this regard. That is the purpose of this section.

We believe what is being sought is already adequately provided for and for those reasons I am unable to accept the amendments.

The time permitted for the debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil on Tuesday, 16 December 2014: "That section 13 is hereby agreed to in Committee."

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 81; Staon, ; Níl, 47.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Brian Stanley.
Question declared carried.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 12, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“Development Contributions in respect of Irish Water

14. The Minister shall, within three months of the coming into operation of this Act, make and publish a report proposing new arrangements needed, if applicable, to ensure revenues formerly derived from development contributions payable in respect of commercial and industrial developments under sections 48 and 49 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) may continue to be utilised towards investment in water services and water infrastructure.”.

There has been much talk of establishing Irish Water with the ultimate aim of saving the State money. However, circular 21/2013 from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government states that from 1 January 2014 "planning authorities, when granting permission, should no longer include a portion in respect of water services infrastructure in any development contribution applied". It also states that the Department will issue guidance on the appropriate transfer of development contributions by planning authorities to Irish Water.

In the main, development contributions relate to roads, water and wastewater, while a smaller community component may also apply. These development contributions constitute a sizeable portion of the income that feeds the capital fund for developing water infrastructure. In 2014 there have been no development contributions, be they industrial, commercial, residential or otherwise. It is difficult to know whether this situation will be remedied soon or at all and we are not talking about small amounts of money.

Due to delays of around a year in auditing at local government level, the most recent figures I have date from 31 December 2012 but at that point there was a cash balance of €303 million and €394 million was owed, of which some €202 million was owed in the long term. There are doubts about whether the €202 million will be collected. We are talking about very large sums of money that are subject to the general Government deficit because local authorities are regarded as an extension in terms of national finances. Money that was collected in respect of development contributions for water and wastewater prior to 2013 will now be transferred to Irish Water. The circular states that balances will transfer to Irish Water, including development contributions that are being analysed as part of the ongoing exercise. Can the Minister of State say whether Irish Water will also be subject to the general Government deficit or will it be permitted to spend the money that is transferred? Local authorities can only spend what is accrued in any one year to ensure the general Government deficit is not put out of kilter. This is an important issue.

Development contributions relating to water and wastewater can vary between local authorities because they have the freedom to create their own development contribution schemes. Development contributions in Kildare were quite high and I supported this approach because it included a community fund for developing important community infrastructure. Neighbouring counties, on the other hand, may have far lower development contributions.

On the subject of industrial development, I will refer to the Leixlip wastewater treatment plant. Much of the money used to upgrade that tertiary treatment plant to become a first-world facility came from local wet industries in the tech sector.

Can development contributions still be applied? For example, what if another industry came along to Waterford or Westmeath? Or are they prevented from doing this by virtue of the fact that the circular is in place? Are special contributions restricted? Large amounts of money are at issue. It is astonishing that people are gone after for relatively small amounts whereas millions have been lost in development contributions which cannot be applied retrospectively.

It is not in any way clear how any scheme to be put in place will apply in respect of dovetailing with the local authority. If development contributions are to be applied by Irish Water will there be a relationship between Irish Water and the local authorities? Will they become collection agents? Will the Minister of State give some indication of the thinking in this area? We are discussing the need to invest vast sums of money in water and wastewater. Yet here is a fund that had been in place for a long time but has been basically suspended because Irish Water is being set up. I find that astonishing and I am keen to hear the comments of the Minister of State on some of these questions.

I support the amendment from Deputy Catherine Murphy. We have been unable to get the figures from the Minister but we know now, almost by default, that the question of the finances and the funding of this arrangement are, at best, up in the air. Furthermore, we know that, at best, only a small income, perhaps in the region of €30 million to €40 million, will be derived from the introduction of domestic water charges. If we had the figures we would know but it could be far worse; we could be introducing these domestic water charges at a loss to the State.

Again, this brings into question the basis of the entire water charges fiasco. As Deputy Murphy said, since 1 January these charges have not been implemented. Now, the question of whether Irish Water will have something similar to these development charges in future arises. If so, do we have any idea what the basis of such charges will be? What will the cost be and how will they be implemented? For example, how would such charges dovetail with the local planning authority? I am keen for these questions to be answered.

Several times during the course of this debate I have asked for a response to a question I raised. Perhaps the Minister of State, who is taking the session this evening, may be able to help me in this regard. Some householders may find themselves in a position whereby their sewerage is blocked but the blockage is in an area in the public domain outside their house and garden and under the public road outside. Irish Water indicated to a constituent of mine in recent days that the company is not responsible even though the blockage is accepted to be in a public area. The company maintains it is not responsible for removing the blockage and claims the householder is responsible. If it is a matter of a simple blockage it may not be too bad and it may be reasonably cheap to have it sorted. A person might even be able to sort it out himself. However, let us suppose the blockage required the opening of a road. Then, the question of a road opening licence arises as well as the hiring of a contractor and reinstating the road subsequently. Significant sums of money could be at stake. It could run into thousands of euro.

Thank you, Deputy. I think you have made the point, but your point is not on this section. We are discussing regulations and orders.

Perhaps it could be addressed in the general spirit of the legislation. I have asked the question three times already.

The Minister of State may be able to answer the question seeing as the Minister has been unable to answer it.

We will have to try to get around to that.

Over the course of the past two or three days or even the past two or three two weeks since we have been discussing the funding of Irish Water it has become clear that Irish Water is similar in structure and governance to the way water companies throughout Europe are structured. It is becoming clear from this debate that we are not far off the structure of Northern Ireland Water. I am keen for the Minister to discuss this with me and give me a clear steer.

Let us consider the financial statements and financial memorandum between the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development and Northern Ireland Water Limited. The structure we have been discussing, the nature of the shareholder, the governance structure, and the board of Northern Ireland Water are almost exactly similar to Irish Water and its functions. I have not had an opportunity to examine the articles of association of Irish Water but I cannot imagine they are too far away either. Northern Ireland Water even has a scheme of charges for domestic water. These charges are considerably higher than the charges we are putting into legislation. Anyway, that company has a structure comprised of non-domestic and domestic water charges for everyone.

I have only briefly examined the Commission for Energy Regulation report. I am keen to hear the views of the Minister on whether there has been a major dose of hypocrisy going on in the debate with regard to what the Minister as well as every spokesperson from the major political parties should know. Are we hearing that there is no great difference between what Irish Water will be like and the way Northern Ireland Water is already structured? That company has been in place for the past seven years. It has experienced all the issues that we have been discussing. There have been difficulties with loss of supply for large numbers of people. Bonuses have been paid by ministers to senior executives. This should be stated clearly by the Minister rather than flapping away from it. Basically, much of this debate has been a mockery of the people's feelings given the structure of other water companies.

You are moving away a little. The amendment relates to regulations, orders and development contributions.

I will finish on this point. I have sat through the debate and taken a keen interest in it. Perhaps I was not around when the Commission for Energy Regulation report was discussed on Committee Stage. However, it seems we have been led up the hill and back down again by some Members of the Opposition given that in other jurisdictions, especially one where a particular political party essentially runs the water system, they have in place a system that is almost exactly like Irish Water. That is hypocrisy and makes a mockery of the feelings of the people, including those who came out onto the streets, especially seeing as we will be doing the same thing that is done north of the Border. It is exactly the same as what is done throughout most of Europe. It is similar to the United Kingdom except that in the UK the company is privatised. Our company is not privatised, Northern Irish Water is not privatised and most similar companies in Europe are not privatised.

I support Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment. I wish to echo the questions put to the Minister of State. Will he clarify whether the proceeds from development charges, or a portion of them pertaining to water, will now be transferred to Irish Water?

It is opportunistic in the extreme when one considers that last night we were discussing the fact that liabilities of €460 million associated with Irish Water are not to be transferred but that the income generated from this stream is, of course, to be transferred. The prospect for local authorities in initiating development is greatly enhanced in the event of it having this source of income available to them, considering the constraints that now exist with regard to the Local Government Fund. I am also conscious of the fact that many rural and group schemes would not be in a position to be kick-started were it not for the availability of funds and expertise at the disposal of the local authorities to help people in doing that.

I ask earnestly that any such commitment given at this stage be reconsidered with a view to those funds being retained by local authorities. I am conscious of the presence in the Chamber of the Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs. I am sure she, too, would like to have those funds retained and available in the event of local authorities being in a position to assist people who reside in rural areas and maintain the fabric of many rural areas that might otherwise be in jeopardy, in the event of the sort of funding necessary not being made available for people to set up group schemes. Make no mistake, these would not be deemed to be profitable nor, in the event of privatisation, be deemed to be a network that would merit the interest of anyone seeking to purchase a network in the future. These and similar schemes would be the ones left behind and therefore, there is a significant obligation on us as representatives to ensure the Government works in tandem and in co-operation with local authorities so the revenue stream remains, no matter how little it might be in present circumstances. It is hoped that planned initiatives or those committed to in the future would generate the sort of activity which would allow that funding to be made available again to local authorities in order to initiate development in their respective areas.

I echo the very thoughtful comments of Deputy Cowen. I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy for proposing this amendment which probably should have been proposed in another section, section 4 perhaps, because it is a fundamental aspect of the costing for Irish Water and of the future income and expenditure of local authorities.

I refer to new developments in the constituency I am proud to represent which is now Dublin Bay North. I refer to the effects of the crash on major developments in the constituency. These came to a halt when they were 20% completed and they must now be resumed and built in a sustainable and progressive way. We have all at one stage been councillors and we are familiar with the interaction between the local authority and developers in the preplanning stages of development. Additional information provided in the planning stages often relates to water services and to drainage in particular. In fact, drainage tends to be the key element of the expertise of local authorities because they know their own territory better than anyone else. Those who represent a seaside constituency or a constituency with high ground, have particular concerns in this regard. We are used to the planning process as it proceeds, possibly, to a decision by An Bord Pleanála. Deputy Catherine Murphy is correct that we need certainty as to how those development contributions will be made, how they will be estimated and what role Irish Water will have in that regard. There does seem to be a lacuna in the Bill. It is something the amendment, which I urge the Minister to accept, would begin to address. As someone who is opposed to the strategy, I would prefer to have local authorities involved, even on a regional basis, and that they would continue to administer water and drainage services. I am very familiar with the Dublin region.

It is difficult to see how the company will work in terms of development contributions. One thinks of the National Transport Authority and the National Roads Authority which are enabling national bodies but Irish Water seems to have a much more intrusive role locally. I agree with Deputy Cowen that it is difficult to see how the expertise we need would be available, in particular in the drainage sphere. When I appealed to the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, not to proceed with the Bill, I said in particular that I felt this monster quango with powers over every river and tributary and piece of drainage infrastructure in the country was not the way to proceed. We need local expertise - Munster people looking after Munster, Leinster people looking after Leinster, Connacht people looking after Connacht and the same for the Dublin region. The amendment is timely.

Another issue that arises is the way water services were funded locally, and the residual water duties and obligations which are left to local authorities, to which a number of Deputies eloquently referred in last week’s debates. Deputy Twomey’s thoughtful contribution suggested looking at other water companies. A major point in connection with Irish Water is the impact in particular of the property tax on my constituency. It is so disastrous and is placing such a heavy burden on people that the minimum they will expect after the general election is that the charges for which people will have to stump up sums of up to €800 on 21 March 2015, in addition to the new water charge, is that in future all local services will be funded under the one payment. That is something which, again, has not been thought out.

We have had many interesting contributions from constituents on the figures for the establishment of this vast new enterprise, following the long debate of last Thursday night. I am sure you have had a few of them yourself, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Again, no matter how many people try to figure out the numbers, one is talking about between €40 million and €60 million net advantage to the country. No matter how one looks on it, based on what we have heard to date, we can see that will be the net cost of all of this aggravation, anxiety, angst and unfortunately, desolation, or fortunately for the Government when it has to face the electorate. That is a desolate picture. I urge the Minister to look again at the matter. The amendment is timely because it is a major part of a huge jigsaw that Deputy Catherine Murphy has identified and which simply has not been addressed by either the Minister or the Minister of State.

One of the things we need to keep in mind, arising from Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment, and indeed from the section, is that it is true that as Deputy Broughan has just said, perhaps we did not think about the issue properly. Perhaps we have spent a lot of time thinking about it, but we did not do a whole lot about it. Whether we like it or not, for the past 20 years it was obvious that there was a need for a carefully constructed body to deal with water supply in this country. There is no good in saying we will do it the old way because that did not work. To be fair to local authorities, they struggled to provide a quality water supply. The big problem was there was no central authority except the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. We have seen other countries across Europe change their tactics in this area.

A debate similar to this one took place in the neighbouring jurisdiction when it introduced changes in this area. During that debate, various queries and theories were put forward as to whether the new system would do the job it was intended to do. Notwithstanding whether it did so, the job still has to be done by somebody.

While it is dangerous to agree with the Opposition, I concur with the views expressed by Deputy Cowen. As Deputy Broughan will attest, the Government side rarely agreed with me when I sat on the Opposition benches.

I am still waiting for an opportunity to get into government.

I do not propose to discuss that issue, although we could do so if necessary.

Deputy Cowen noted the vast number of people who depend on water. A supply of water is a basic and crucial service that must be made available to every household in urban and rural areas.

That is the reason I tabled the amendment.

I appreciate that, although I note also that Deputy Catherine Murphy and I view the issue from two different perspectives. For example, she proposes that water be supplied without investment or a co-ordinated approach. I have been listening to that perspective for the past 20 years for God's sake and I have yet to see any progress being made. In parts of the constituency the Deputy and I share the water supply is extremely deficient.

Deputy Durkan was a Minister of State in the 1990s.

As Deputy Broughan will recall, I was responsible for a different area. While the Department of Social Protection caters for a large number of people, it has a limited role in the supply of water.

Everybody depends on having a water supply. Perhaps Deputies should try to function without a water supply for a week or two or perhaps six months or boil water for a couple of days, weeks, months or years.

What about the elderly gentleman in my constituency who was without water for a full week?

Let all of the Deputies opposite who have spoken so loudly on this concept propose an alternative. Water is being boiled ad infinitum and they have not yet made a single progressive or positive proposal, other than to reiterate the view that water should be free. I agree that water should be free and is a fundamental right.

The Deputy should vote with us.

There are to be no interruptions. The Deputy should address his remarks to the amendment.

On a point of order, I have not heard anything about the amendment.

I am speaking to the amendment.

Water is a fundamental right, provided one collects it oneself. When one expects others to do it on one's behalf the presumption is that someone will be paid for collecting it. The presumption being made by the vast majority of speakers on the Opposition side is that somebody else should pay for it.

We have always paid for water.

I propose to address the issues raised by the Acting Chairman, Deputy Twomey, in his earlier contribution. Every time the Deputy speaks in this debate, he refers to the North. I wholeheartedly welcome his repeated references to the North as Sinn Féin struggled for years to have the issue discussed in the House. It is fantastic, therefore, that he mentioned the North so many times.

Deputy Durkan has been in Fine Gael - the united Ireland party - for a long time. Given its newfound interest in the North, the next logical step would be for the party to run candidates in elections sna Sé Contae.

Deputy Stanley should not encourage me to debate the issue with him.

Deputy Durkan had a good run on this amendment.

Sinn Féin would welcome electoral competition from Fine Gael in the North. Perhaps the party would supplant the SDLP.

A couple of facts have been missed in the discussion on Northern Ireland Water. We heard about the structures in place in the North. Northern Ireland Water was established by the British Government under the direct rule system. A five party power-sharing Executive replaced direct rule in 2007. The party I represent is one of the parties at the Executive table and for a couple of short years, we held the regional development Ministry. Alex Attwood of the SDLP subsequently took over the Department from Sinn Féin. In the short period that Conor Murphy was Minister, he tried to address some of the problems in Northern Ireland Water. One of the major problems was the lack of investment in sewerage infrastructure. More than £1 billion was invested in urban areas of the North, primarily Belfast, to upgrade the sewer network as the problem had not been addressed under direct rule.

A second problem the Minister faced was that the envelopes containing bills for water services were ready to be sent when he took office in 2007. Sinn Féin prevented the water charges from being implemented. As one party in a five party Executive, we are committed to doing everything in our power to prevent the introduction of domestic water charges. We are also committed to preventing their introduction here for the same reasons. The current Minister with responsibility for water in the North is Alex Attwood of the SDLP.

Sinn Féin passed the budget to install water meters.

Instructions have been issued to stop installing meters.

As I indicated on many occasions to the previous Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, I would not hold up Northern Ireland Water as an example to follow. Several changes must be made to the company. Sinn Féin is only one party in a five party coalition. I highlighted the weaknesses in Northern Ireland Water on previous occasions when I compared the position in the North with the position here when county councils were in charge. During the big freeze of 2010, Louth County Council supplied water to County Down because the board and corporate structure of Northern Ireland Water showed a failure to be responsive. The Minister had to kick backsides to get them to do their job. We should not hold up Northern Ireland Water as a good example because the company needs to be improved. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin does not hold 51% of the votes in the Assembly and Executive. However, we will continue to work on the issue and would welcome suggestions from Fine Gael. We would also welcome any influence the party can bring to bear on the current Minister in the Executive, Mr. Attwood.

I welcome Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment. There are significant concerns about who controls development levies and where they are spent. When I was a county councillor we were heavily lobbied and received considerable attention from the people who paid development levies on how revenue from the levies was to be divided up between roads, recreational services, water and sewerage infrastructure and so forth. Those who paid the levies, whether to build a once-off house or for a commercial or large housing development, were always pushy in seeking to influence how revenue from the levies was spent. The people they approached were the councillors who were democratically accountable for the allocation of these moneys. Every year, the management of the local authority was required to prepare a proposal and report on the expenditure of these funds. I note from the Minister of State's body language that he does not like hearing this. These are, however, the facts of the matter. Councillors and officials were held directly accountable. No such mechanism is included in the Bill.

What was the result?

God help those who try to achieve some level of accountability from Uisce Éireann in respect of how it spends income from development levies.

On privatisation, we heard from a member of one of the Government parties, Deputy Michael McNamara-----

That matter was put to bed.

No, it was not. Having read the relevant part of the Bill, the Deputy has highlighted an important issue. He felt strongly enough to abstain from the vote on the original Bill last Christmas. Perhaps the Minister of State will recall the Deputy's wise decision to abstain. He should not try to brush the matter to one side with a wave of his hand. He is not Mr. Hogan.

This is a timely amendment because this issue is causing serious concern. Some level of accountability is required, although I do not see how it will be achieved in the Bill before us, which does not provide for any accountability. The Minister has more work to do on this matter. Those who pay development levies will demand accountability from us and we will not be in a position to provide it. The unfortunate county councillors who are closer to members of the public will be in an even worse position. How will this issue be addressed?

On the section, I have a question on regulations and orders.

I am asking that, at the very least, the Minister of State give a commitment, on behalf of the Minister, that all regulations will be brought before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. That is the very least he can do because regulations introduced by a Minister can have major consequences. We have seen legislation introduced through regulations and regulations have been used to supplant legislation. The Minister will have significant powers and we will have no opportunity to scrutinise or to have an input into that process.

I support the amendment which is very acceptable and would not be particularly formulaic. It is not something which would be particularly binding; it is simply directional and I do not see anything to fear on the part of the Minister.

There has been a lot of commentary on the role of development levies. When I was a member of Dublin City Council and as a Deputy in the city area, I noticed the major pressure brought to bear on officials to grant planning permission, often in dubious circumstances, in order to gain development levies at a time when local authorities were starved of funding. Things, however, have changed. We know that 80% of property tax revenue is due to be ring-fenced for expenditure in the areas in which it is raised. We will see what will happen in that regard, but I have my doubts. We saw €250 million of property tax revenue being siphoned off for Irish Water and I am not convinced that will not happen again. There are new means and mechanisms for funding local authorities. It is appropriate that the Minister should try to find a way in which the money that will be payable through development contributions will play a role in improving the water supply across the country. I am, however, very fearful. The purpose of Irish Water has - pardon the pun - been watered down. It was supposed to be in a position to raise private finance to be invested in decent water infrastructure all over the country. In my constituency alone billions of euro are required to make the system function and operate in a fashion which will be enduring and ensure a proper water service and drainage system will be available to the public long into the future. I do not believe, however, Irish Water has the capacity to deliver this at this time. The amendment makes sense because the wording is flexible. It reads: "may continue to be utilised towards investment in water and water infrastructure". That is very reasonable and I do not see any reason to oppose it.

The debate we have had highlights why we need a national water utility which can meet the needs and demands of society. Deputies on both sides of the House have stated clearly where investment is needed. The difference between this side of the House and the Opposition is that the Government has to set out its model of funding, structure and, more importantly, from where the funding will come. It is somewhat hypocritical for Deputies to tell the House that we need to invest in A, B and C around the country without telling us from where the funding will come.

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 allows for the transfer of property from a water services authority to Irish Water by way of ministerial order. Where such property transfers occur, rights or liabilities related to that property also transfer to Irish Water. With regard to development levies collected by a local authority transferred to Irish Water, most will continue to be utilised for the purposes for which they were collected.

Following the establishment of Irish Water, with effect from 1 January 2014, planning authorities were requested to operate revised procedures for the application of development contribution levies. In the case of planning permissions granted prior to 1 January 2014, they were advised that the full development contribution charge, where such was attached as a condition of planning permission, including, where relevant, the portion in respect of water services infrastructure, should be paid to the planning authority in accordance with the terms of the planning permission granted.

In the case of planning permissions granted after 1 January 2014, planning authorities were advised that, when granting planning permission, they should no longer include a portion in respect of water services infrastructure in any development contribution applied and that such charges would instead be levied by Irish Water. They were further advised that new development schemes made after that date should not contain charges in respect of water services infrastructure.

Deputies will agree that we have a very complex and varied connection system for water around the country. One local authority applies one connection charge, but the charge applied by another can be quite different. This is no different from any national utility where we need to develop consistency in standards, costs and quality. That is why, fundamentally, we need Irish Water. It already happens in the case of the electricity network, as I have outlined, where the ESB outlines its proposals for connection policies every so often. They are scrutinised and analysed by an independent regulatory body which examines their cost, impact and how they can serve the customer. It then signs off on the connection charge. The ESB developed standard connection charges over a decade ago. It is a fairer system and creates transparency and consistency across the board. Irish Water will be required, in a similar manner to other utilities, to provide a customer charter which will assure the customer the standards and quality to which he or she is entitled. It is the responsibility of the independent regulator to have oversight of that process.

Deputy Michael P. Kitt referred to comparisons and how Irish Water's establishment, operational, capital and structural costs compared. The CER has closely examined and analysed the structure of Irish Water and all that goes with it and found it to be very efficient in comparison to that of similar utilities in Wales, Northern Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. These documents were presented at a joint committee meeting, at which CER representatives were available for full questioning on any of these matters. I ask any Deputy or member of the public to browse the CER's website, on which a large amount of detailed documents are published for all to see and which provide for full transparency on the structure of Irish Water.

I asked a number of questions which were not answered. I asked about the general Government deficit. Any money collected in water and wastewater charges in local authorities prior to 2013 is being accumulated for transfer to Irish Water. Local authorities are only allowed to spend development contributions collected in the same year. For example, money collected in 2014 can only be spent in that year. Prior to that local authorities were not allowed to spend money because the general Government deficit figure had to be maintained. When this money is transferred to Irish Water, will it form part of the general Government deficit?

If development contributions are collected in Waterford, they will be paid into the Central Fund. There was a legal obligation to spend the moneys raised in the area for the purpose for which they had been collected. If they are paid into a general fund, there will be a question mark over the legality of this. If the money is not spent for the purposes for which it was collected and not spent within seven years, there is a requirement to return the development contributions to the person who paid them. That has been standard practice for a long time. If one is connected to a public supply, one has always paid for it.

Most people did not realise they paid, because it was part of the cost of their house. Often, it was a large amount of money, which would have been part of their mortgage. Therefore, the notion that people have not paid is wrong. All of the capital moneys that have been provided for the upgrading of treatment plants has come from the development contributions. There is little certainty in regard to how Irish Water will handle this issue in the future. I have not heard anything that indicates to me how it will be handled. I presume, based on the Minister of State's contribution, that the amendment is not going to be accepted.

As the time permitted for this debate has expired-----

Will the Minister of State answer my question?

Sorry; as the time permitted for this debate has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil on Tuesday, 16 December 2014: "That section 14 is hereby agreed to in Committee."

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 81; Staon, ; Níl, 49.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and John Halligan.
Question declared carried.
Section 15 agreed to.
SECTION 16

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 13, line 10, to delete "and shall be construed together as one".

This is a technical drafting amendment to remove the text stating the "Water Services Acts 2007 to 2014 and shall be construed as one".

I tabled an amendment to the Title to make Irish Water comply with the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003 and I am disappointed that it was not accepted.

Amendment agreed to.
Question put: "That section 16, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 81; Staon, ; Níl, 49.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Joan Collins.
Question declared carried.
TITLE

Amendment No. 46 is out of order.

Amendment No. 46 not moved.
Question, "That the Title be the Title to the Bill," put and declared carried.
Bill reported with amendments.
Sitting suspended at 4.55 p.m. and resumed at 5.55 p.m.