Will the Minister withdraw his statement on information that should have been given on this Bill? He has misled the House. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has read from the Official Report of the Committee Stage debate which shows that is the case. The original Bill was 28 pages long. I tabled an amendment to it on Committee Stage. Without mine, the amendments fill 37 pages. The Minister remembers what happened when he rammed through the House the previous legislation on water services and the mistakes made. Here we go again, but this time it is even worse. In effect, the Minister has two new Bills. He said he was changing the Title of the Bill.
This is a total abuse of Dáil procedures. A raft of Government amendments seek to railroad through what should in reality be separate Bills. My party completely opposes this and will be opposing the Government's amendments. They should be rejected and the Government should come back to the House with new Bills and proceed through the normal Stages through which legislation has to go in order to become law.
I had tabled 27 amendments opposing the Bill in all of its sections. We were told by the Bills Office on Friday that they would be accepted, after a lengthy series of e-mails and a chain of correspondence regarding whether they would be accepted. I only found out at noon yesterday that the amendments had been ruled out of order but I was not informed through my correspondence or by e-mail to my office. The Bills Office said we did not have an opportunity to communicate or to put down replacement amendments. We spoke to the Ceann Comhairle's office about this yesterday. Despite the Bills Office and the Ceann Comhairle accepting that there had been "miscommunication" - although I could use other language - regarding my original amendments, in that wrong information had been sent in correspondence, of which we have a copy, they could not accept my revised amendments. I have sent them to the Bills Office and I am insisting that they be taken. I will be reading them out on every Stage today. We are elected here, we have a right to do it and I will be doing it, make no mistake about it.
This is effectively the Committee Stage of the Bill as it is the only chance that Deputies have to discuss the substance of changes and what they mean. We will not get a chance to see the amended Bill, as would be normal practice before a Bill goes to Report Stage. What sort of carry-on is this? I know the Minister did not come through the local government system, which is fair enough. However, what sort of carry-on is it to bring this in when we cannot even see the Bill we are amending? Therefore, it goes to Report Stage without there having been the facility to submit amendments up to the point when the Bill is taken.
Of course, that does not change the substance of what I was attempting to do anyway, which is to oppose this shoddy attempt to force through punitive measures against people who have not paid or are unable to pay their water charges. It is a clear attempt to force through these measures before the summer recess and a panic reaction to the obvious fact that huge numbers have not paid the water tax yet. If proof of that is needed, we only have to consider the refusal of both Irish Water and the Minister to say how many people have paid their bills to date. They are normally good at coming out with statistics and informing us. Obviously, the facts do not fit this time in order for them to do that. The fact the civil debt Bill is also on the schedule this week is further indication of the desperation on the part of the Government to get this in place before the summer holidays and to have a clear run-in to the election.
Allowing companies like Irish Water to go to court and secure attachment orders for unpaid bills is clearly designed to frighten people into paying and have them quaking in their boots. The courts must be looking at the long lists they already have and wondering where they will fit all these people in the body of the court. Obviously, the hope is that the threat to attach bills to someone's house and basically to force the local authority and private tenants to pay the water charge is the stick that is being deployed now that the carrot has failed, in that the so-called conservation grant has not tempted enough people to sign up and to pay.
There is also the issue of Irish Water finances. The original level at which charges were to be levied, as approved by the energy regulator, would have set them at a far higher rate than the current flat charge. Of course, the concessions that have allowed a flat rate to be charged will end in 2018. I know the Minister spun around a good few times on this. We remember all of the U-turns he and the Government did in reducing and changing charges to make the bitter pill look and taste a little sweeter so people might swallow it. People can see what their bills are likely to be up to that date but, of course, beyond it, everything changes and the meters kick in. As I said at the time, the Government's climbdown in the face of mass opposition to the water charges was only postponing the much higher bills, which will very quickly be, on average, €500.
The Minister knows where this is going. Households will have the full cost of the water services passed on, as Irish Water will be obliged to do after 2018 under the EU directive. That is when the fun really starts. The Minister knows all this but what he is doing is playing a game to soften and sweeten things this side of the election. It is the same with the civil debt Bill. It is a delaying tactic to make sure there are no sharp edges and nothing disastrous happens such as court cases or people being imprisoned this side of the election.
In the meantime, however, Irish Water has to win approval for its current shambolic finances from EUROSTAT, and the Minister might update us on that position. The simple fact is that the amount Irish Water will take in commercial and domestic water charges this year, and in the next three years, if the legislation is not changed, is not sufficient to meet the costs of maintaining water services as they currently are, never mind carrying out the necessary rehabilitation of the infrastructure. When the cost of the water conservation grants is taken away from what the Government will net on this, the Minister knows very little will be left. That will inevitably mean that if the water charges and Irish Water stay in place, the average bill will be €500, and well over that for some households, depending on their composition and water requirements. The Government is being totally dishonest about that but is happy to avoid the issue as it desperately attempts to win back sufficient electoral support to, hopefully, remain in government after the next general election.
Of course, we all recognise that water needs to be paid for, one way or the other, and that the current system is not fit for purpose. That is why we already pay for water, which requires investment and efficiency in delivery. Creating a corporate monster that is gobbling up money at a rate of millions of euro a day is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to put that money into mains rehabilitation, not pump more water into a system that is already leaking. We have been honest about that and we have set out in our budget proposals how we would pay for the service, if necessary through normal borrowing on the State balance sheet. Irish Water is now borrowing at a higher cost than the State. One way or another, the Government has put a raft of money back onto the State's balance sheet, including €500 million that was put back on the State's balance sheet before Christmas, and the Minister will remember that, in the Estimates, the Government provided Irish Water with €399 million for operational costs, also on the State's balance sheet. It then provided €222 million for capital costs, which was all on the State's balance sheet. Let us get away from this phoney debate about what is on the State's balance sheet and what is not, which was supposed to be the reason for setting up Irish Water in the first place. We will be setting out in greater detail our proposals in regard to a public body to be accountable to the Oireachtas through democratic oversight.
It is worth pointing out that the bulk of the amendments introduced by the Government concern waste management. This is, of course, a serious issue and one that requires legislation, as myself and others have pointed out. However, rather than introduce such legislation, the Government has attempted, as with the water charges elements, to introduce substantial new changes to the waste management sector without the normal publication of a Bill, and without Second Stage and Committee Stage debates, which give an opportunity for Members and, indeed, stakeholders and interested groups to consider the changes properly and propose amendments, where relevant. It is regrettable we have not had that opportunity. However, it is not possible now, given the manner in which this is being done. Deputies were only given short notice of this when it was sprung on us last Friday, which makes it impossible to debate and consider properly the issues involved. Yet, interestingly, from talking to people on local authorities, particularly at management level, I know that county and city managers were advised several months ago that such legislative changes were to come in this Bill. Of course, the Government did not see fit to let Members of the House know about it.
The Minister has come in here this morning trying to bluff his way through this. He did not let us know through the normal procedures which would have allowed for proper consideration of the measures proposed, some of which will have extremely serious implications for waste management.
I reiterate my opposition to how the Government has gone about this, railroading it through the House. We have been put in a situation where we do not have a fair opportunity to debate it. If the Minister was on this side of the House, his party leader would be screaming at the government side over this. All we are asking for is a fair opportunity. Whether the Government side likes us or not, we on the Opposition benches have been elected. All we want is a fair opportunity to come in and put forward amendments. Procedures for dealing with issues have been set out and the practices are well established here. I have only been here for four and a half years, but I have been observing the procedures carefully and try to use them and have proposed amendments on any Bill that has come forward under my brief. I put forward amendments on Committee Stage to this Bill and put forward amendments for Report Stage. We should be dealing with these issues on Second Stage now and I am flagging these amendments for Second Stage.
The Minister came into this House and told us he wanted to leave "a legacy". Phil Hogan left this House with a legacy, and depending on where one stands, one would have a different view of that legacy. Big Phil Hogan was noted for being a cute hoor and for pulling strokes like this in the House. However, what this Minister has done and how he has gone about it here today would make Phil Hogan blush. What has happened and how he has treated the Opposition is disgraceful.