Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Instruction to Committee

I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 177, Standing Order 131 is modified to permit an instruction to the Committee to which the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 may be recommitted in respect of certain amendments, for which it has power to make provision in the Bill in relation to:

(a) amendments to the Water Services Acts 2007 to 2014 to provide for a number of matters including:

(i) requirements for the owners of dwellings supplied with services by Irish Water;

(ii) provision for an approved housing body, responsible for the payment of water charges in respect of a tenant, to claim the water conservation grant on their behalf;

(iii) registration by approved housing bodies of certain dwellings in receipt of services from Irish Water;

(iv) the payment of water charges upon the sale of a dwelling; and

(v) the establishment of a database of water services to dwellings;

(b) provision for a number of changes to the Waste Management Act 1996 to strengthen the regulatory regime for household waste collection, introducing new provisions for the waste permitting process, and imposing new obligations on waste collectors and other facilities accepting household waste including separate collection and the mandatory application of pay by weight;

(c) amendments to motor tax legislation; to provide in secondary legislation, for the purpose of determining eligibility to a particular rate of motor tax or an exemption from motor tax, the physical characteristics required of a vehicle, the uses to which a vehicle may be put and the supporting documentation that may be required; and to amend the definition of a motor caravan to allow the physical characteristics required for eligibility to the motor caravan rate of tax to be determined by secondary legislation; and

(d) provision for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make the required payment from the Local Government Fund to the Exchequer in 2015, as envisaged in the 2015 Revised Estimates Volume;

and to change the long title of the Bill to take account of these provisions.

I am tabling this motion to permit a number of important amendments to the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 in the areas of local governance, finance, waste management, motor tax and water policy. These amendments have been well flagged and provided in writing to Deputies within the required time frame as provided in Standing Orders. Indeed, the water-related amendments mentioned here were announced by my Department on 6 May, all of nine weeks ago at this stage.

Before we get into discussion on the motion and the individual amendments in due course, I would like to take this opportunity to outline the importance and timeliness of these amendments. I am bringing forward very important changes to the Waste Management Act to comprehensively reform our system of household waste collection. Government waste policy is articulated in A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland. This sets out a number of commitments relating to reforming-----

Is it possible to get a copy of the Minister's speech because it is the custom of the House that where a Minister reads from a script, it should be made available to all the Deputies in the House?

I will ask-----

It is not a question of just dismissing it.

I am not dismissing it. I have asked-----

It is being passed out at the moment.

That is the list of amendments.

I will arrange for the Deputy to-----

This came up the last time.

Can we suspend until we get it?

No, we are not suspending. We will get the Deputy a copy and allow the Minister to continue.

We should suspend.

We are not suspending. We will allow the Minister to continue and we can circulate the speech.

With no disrespect to the Chair, the democratic revolution should start now.

We should be given a copy of the speech. This Government seems to think that it can just walk on the people and the people's representatives.

Deputy Ó Cuív seems to think he can walk on the Cathaoirleach. He should resume his seat.

I am getting the Deputy a copy. I politely ask him to resume his seat. It will only take a moment and he will have his copy.

If the Minister agrees to-----

He has agreed to provide a copy of the speech.

If he waits and starts his speech again-----

The motion is on the Order Paper so, therefore, we are continuing with it.

It is not a copy of the motion. It is a copy of the speech.

We are continuing with it and we will get the Deputy a copy of the speech.

When we get the copy, we can-----

Surely the Deputy can listen to the Minister when he is speaking and then we can get the Deputy a copy of the speech?

There is a lot of detail there.

There is a lot of detail. The Minister gave details of dates. We need to see the speech.

I will invite the Minister to continue and then the Deputy will get his copy.

We need to be able to make notes as the Minister is speaking. Could we agree to suspend the House until we get the speech?

No, we are not agreeing to suspend the sitting.

As a matter of procedure, the Minister should have ensured that copies were here before we started.

The Deputy will get a copy of the speech, which will be available in a moment. I will agree to have this taken up with the Ceann Comhairle but in the meantime, I invite the Minister to continue with his speech. All of the Deputies will have a copy in a few moments.

I think we should wait until we get a copy of the speech. In fact, I think the Minister should leave the House and get us a copy.

The motion is before the House and we want to proceed with it. It was agreed yesterday-----

I have no problem with holding for five or ten minutes if that is-----

It will not take that long because it only takes a couple of minutes to get a copy.

On a point of information, we are here discussing the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. The motion relates to this Bill.

On a point of information, if I heard him correctly the Minister says he is changing the Title of the Bill. Could I have a copy of the new Bill? Could we at least have the Title of the new Bill we are discussing?

We are dealing with the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, motion to instruct the committee. Presumably the information would have been available in the Deputy's pigeon hole the same as for everyone else.

The Bill has a new Title.

Will the Acting Chairman or the Minister tell me or provide the Title of the Bill?

The information before me is the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, motion to instruct the committee. That is what we are dealing with.

That is the old Bill.

We are dealing with the motion to instruct the committee.

That is the old Bill which included Killarney National Park, dog breeding, air pollution -----

Deputy Stanley, we are dealing with the motion to instruct the committee. It was agreed yesterday on the Order of Business.

I am very clear on what was agreed yesterday which was the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 but the Minister has now informed us-----

Please resume your seat for a moment and I will get clarification.

The question is very clear.

The Minister has informed us that the name of the Bill is changed. We do not have the new Bill but could we at least have the Title of the new Bill, please?

I understand your question, Deputy. Please resume your seat and I will get clarification. I will read the clarification contained in amendments Nos. 1 to 4 inclusive:

Bill entitled an Act to make provision for transfer of certain functions under the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act 1932 to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; to amend and extend the Air Pollution Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Waste Management Act 1996; to amend other Acts and to provide for related matters.

These changes are provided for in amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, which are on the list provided to the Deputy. The Title of the Bill can only be changed when the amendments are approved.

This is a new way of doing business.

It is a new way.

It is not. It is provided for in Standing Orders.

It is the normal way.

I ask the Acting Chairman to read out the proposed new Title for the benefit of the House.

It is a totally different Bill.

The Minister said the Title was being changed.

It is not a totally new Bill. The Title is changing under amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, but it will only change when the amendments are adopted. That is not a new way of doing business; it is the way we always do business.

How will the new Title read?

(Interruptions).

One voice at a time, please. I have given the Deputy the answer. We are awaiting copies of the Minister's speech. I understand copies have arrived. I invite the Minister to continue with his statement on the motion.

I am bringing forward important changes to the Waste Management Act to reform comprehensively our system of household waste collection. Government waste policy is articulated in A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland. This sets out a number of commitments in relation to reforming the regulation of household waste collection in Ireland, including requiring improved environmental and customer service standards to be adhered to by collectors and encouraging more responsible behaviour by households.

The new proposals to give legislative effect to these commitments in the policy have been subject to a consultation process which closed in early 2014. The consultation paper set out a clear proposal to move the household waste collection sector to a per kilogramme price per weight charging system, in line with the commitment in A Resource Opportunity.

The new framework for household waste collection system provided for in these amendments is intended to meet the following policy objectives. The framework will respect the waste hierarchy and the polluter-pays principle; it will provide clear incentives and obligations for households and collectors; it will give more teeth to regulatory bodies such as the national waste collection permit office to tackle poor performance and below cost selling by waste collectors; it will simplify pricing structures and enable customers to compare the cost of different household waste collection services more easily; and it will provide an effective means of enforcing those obligations. These changes will further drive improvements in standards of customer service and environmental protection in the household waste collection industry and serve as a precursor to future wider reform of waste collection generally as Ireland continues to meet its targets under EU legislation and positions itself to benefit from the new circular economy package, to be published later this year by the European Commission.

The amendments I am proposing today in relation to domestic water charges support statements that the Government has made over the past eight months about providing a domestic water charges system that is simple, certain, affordable and encourages conservation. The public deserve a reliable, secure supply of drinking water and satisfactory levels of waste water treatment. Central to this major reform programme is having a water charging system in which unpaid charges are pursued fairly and justly.

Last November, I announced changes that simplified the domestic tariff structure. I stated quite categorically that I would be insisting on making a distinction between those who are willing to pay but cannot pay, as opposed to those who just refuse to pay. Those who want to pay but are in financial difficulty will have the potential to avail of easy-pay options, instalment plans and to enter pay agreements, just like any other utility. Irish Water has put these measures in place and they are being availed of. Those who do not register and do not pay will not be able to avail of the water conservation grant and will be pursued by Irish Water. It would not be a fair situation where the compliant population pay water charges to fund water services for those who can pay but are not willing to pay. It would also place the burden of the cost of upgrading and improving a deficient water system onto the next generation.

Key among these measures was the introduction of capped charges that would see a single adult household face a maximum charge for water services of €160 per year from Irish Water. A household with two or more adults would face a maximum charge of €260 per annum. In tandem with these measures the Government also announced that measures would be introduced to address the non-payment of water charges. Irish Water customers who have unpaid arrears in respect of water charges of at least the annual capped charge and who have not entered into a payment plan would attract an automatic late payment penalty of €30 for a one-adult household or €60 for all other households for each year that the charges remain unpaid. Further measures were also announced to strengthen the payment of water charges by both owner-occupiers and tenants.

The Water Services Act 2014 was passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas last December. The Act included all of the measures relating to the capped charges, the introduction of the conservation grant, the introduction of the late payment fees and several customer protection measures. However, additional consideration was required to address the measures announced by the Government to enforce the payment and collection of water charges and it was indicated that these measures would be introduced at a later stage.

The Government reiterated its commitment in May to legislate in these areas, principally, regarding liability for domestic water charges and the process of registering with Irish Water and in particular, clarifying the registration process in respect of landlord-tenant relationships. Today, I am fulfilling these commitments through the amendments proposed to water legislation. Measures announced in May to place a requirement on a landlord to retain a tenant deposit until the tenant provides evidence that he or she has paid their water charges, will be brought forward soon in a forthcoming Bill.

However, I take this occasion to warn people to be careful about propaganda they will be likely to hear from the Opposition which will undoubtedly be spinning mistruths with scare-mongering stories about evictions of tenants. I will respond by outlining two key facts. First, there will be absolutely no change to tenancy protections under these provisions. In fact, the Government will be strengthening these shortly. The measures outlined here will put water bills on the exact same legal footing as other utilities such as gas and electricity. Payment of utilities is already a standard part of letting agreements, something that the Opposition has elected to ignore because it did not fit in their narrow narrative of chaos, victimhood and feigned anger. Indeed, Syriza, the political heroes of the hard left in Ireland, seem intent on forcing the Greek people to pay for their consumption of water on a full-usage basis and at a higher cost than the people of Ireland. Let us not indulge in too much hypocrisy.

There is a lot more water in Ireland than in Greece.

I ask the Opposition to spare a thought for the 11,300 people in County Roscommon who this week are no longer on boil-water notices, thanks to the work of Irish Water.

Having safe drinking water is the least our citizens deserve. They certainly deserve it having been put in that place for decades.

In tandem with these amendments, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, published the Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill yesterday. The Bill seeks to implement the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission's report on the enforcement of debt, principally around the streamlining of existing enforcement procedures. Under the Bill, creditors will be able to apply to the court for an order enabling either attachment of earnings or deductions from social welfare payments, as appropriate, for the purpose of enforcement of debt. This important change will be accompanied by a crucial safeguard: the abolition of imprisonment of debtors, except in the case of maintenance arising from family law proceedings. This, I believe, represents a balanced approach to the recovery of civil debt so that creditor rights are protected with a range of legal mechanisms which compel payment by those debtors who will not pay, while removing the outdated threat of imprisonment in such cases. The legislation supports the distinction between the "can pay but won't pay" debtors and those who are willing to pay but are in financial difficulty, a distinction that is crucial in implementing the underlying fairness aspect of domestic water charges.

The water conservation grant, the details of which I announced last November, will play an important role in helping households deal with the costs of water services and in adopting more sustainable approaches to water usage. Though many homes in rural areas have been paying for water for years, which is often forgotten, the introduction of domestic water charges across the country is a major change for the vast majority.

I fully understand the resentment to any new charge or tax. The people have had to deal with the financial difficulties presented by the recession and they have stepped up to the plate. As the country now begins to look around the corner to a recovering economy, an essential ingredient has to be a modern and sustainable public water system that can meet the demands of a growing and mature market economy and of which we all can be proud.

I am also introducing a technical amendment to clarify the wording of a provision in the Bill as published, as well as introducing technical but nevertheless, important amendments to allow payments from the Local Government Fund to proceed as envisioned in the Revised Estimates Volume and two changes to the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952, relating to motor tax matters. We will have an opportunity to go into more detail on these provisions as the individual amendments are discussed in the House.

Before I start, it is customary on Second Stage - this is a quasi-Second Stage - to explain the Bill's proposals. This is effectively a new Bill. Will the Minister explain to us section-by-section now, on this quasi-Second Stage, the proposed amendments to the Bill, which are more substantial than the original Bill?

The Deputy has 15 minutes to continue with his speech.

I have not started; I am asking a question through the Chair.

The Deputy has 15 minutes. I am sure the Minister will address his points later.

Once again, well established custom in the House is being ignored for a purpose. The purpose is to cut short the democratic process in this Dáil. The process of a proper Second Stage where the Minister would outline step-by-step each provision he is proposing, then on Committee Stage flaws in the proposals could be debated, with the Minister and Deputies coming back on Report Stage with amendments, is being cut short by the Minister.

In Parliament it is common to have three Stages in a Bill. I know the Minister is relatively new in the job but there are good reasons for this. The purpose is first, on Second Stage, to have a debate on the principles of the Bill, and have them outlined both in principle and then section-by-section by the Minister. Then we have the Committee Stage. Very rarely, both in my experience on the Minister's side of the House and on this side of the House, have I seen proposals brought into the House and teased out properly on Committee that do not require amendment. We then have the Report Stage where both sides take time to reflect on what happened since Second Stage. I suggest the Minister should consult his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Deputy Coveney, on how he handled the Animal Health and Welfare Bill, with all the changes he made having listened to Deputies on Committee Stage. The Minister then comes back on Report Stage having reflected on what has been said, as did the Deputies concerned.

The Government seems to have made a clear decision that if it were to do that in this instance the process would be too drawn out, allowing that there is meant to be a fortnight gap between the various Stages and it would result in too much debate. In other words, the Minister could not stand the heat in the kitchen and he decided not to do this the proper way.

The Minister stated: "... the water-related amendments mentioned here were announced by my Department on 6 May, all of nine weeks ago at this stage". First, it is eight weeks ago today, so the Minister should get his speech corrected. Second, Committee Stage of the Bill, that was and not as is, was held on 26 May 2015, 20 days after the Minister's so-called announcement. The Committee Stage lasted all of half an hour. Deputy Stanley was there that day and he had the only amendment tabled on that Bill.

During the Committee Stage, the Minister of State, who took the Bill on the Minister's behalf, said:

I want to point out to the committee that while the Government is not presenting any amendments to the Bill at this stage in the process, it intends to propose a number of amendments on Report Stage in the Dáil. This will require a motion to be tabled to amend the Long Title and scope of the Bill. These amendments will cover a range of issues, including further amendments to waste legislation and provisions relating to water services legislation. While I am not in a position to go into more detail about the amendments at this stage, they will be published in good time ahead of Report Stage so that Deputies will have time to consider them in advance of the debate on the floor of the House. I refer to the debate on the amendments on Report Stage.

Deputy Catherine Murphy, a lady we all have to credit with great sharpness and understanding of procedure, then said:

We have been told that this is a technical Bill. I am often watching for Bills to which I can table amendments ... I would like to ask about the amendments that are coming to us. I have to tell the Minister of State that I do not like stuff coming to us on Report Stage. I know it can happen when things are worked on late in the day. It is nice to see the totality of what we are doing on Second Stage [well said]. The Minister of State has said that a motion will come before us. What is the nature of that motion? Will it be debated in the Dáil? If so, will that debate precede the Report Stage debate? I am aware that a certain system applies if a quite substantial change is being made to legislation. I remember that a legal services Bill introduced by a former Minister, Michael McDowell, had increased in size by two thirds by the time it got to Report Stage. The Minister of State might tell us about the nature of the changes she is proposing in this regard, with specific reference to the nature of the motion that will come before the Dáil.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, replied:

The motion that is to be tabled will amend the Long Title and scope of the Bill. The amendments will be introduced thereafter. I am not in a position to give any details of the amendments at this stage [even though the Minister has said they were announced 20 days earlier], other than to say they will be made available at an early stage so that the Deputies will have plenty of time to look at them.

Deputy Catherine Murphy asked:

Are we looking at technical amendments to existing waste legislation? The legislation in question is pretty significant in its own right. Indeed, anything to do with water services legislation tends to be controversial.

The Minister of State replied:

This Bill is quite technical. There are some typographical issues. It will really be a question of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. The scope of the Bill does not allow for the Bill to be changed in any huge way. The Bill itself is very technical. We will be proposing amendments. The Deputies will have plenty of time to consider them.

Deputy Catherine Murphy asked: "Is the Minister of State telling us that these changes are essentially technical and that the Bill is not going to be amended significantly?" The Minister of State replied:

The Bill itself is a technical one. We intend to make further amendments to waste legislation and to include provisions relating to water services legislation.

That is in the Official Report of a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Does the Minister think that reflects what is included in these amendments? Does he think committee members were properly informed that amendments that would be more substantial than the Bill were going to be made on Report Stage? He has given no reason for doing his business in this way. I have no doubt that he was advised by his public servants that it would be handy to put it through in this way, to get it done quickly, take a cold shower and get it over with. It would equally have been easy for him to take all of these amendments and publish a new 2015 Bill and bring it through the House in the normal way. There would have been no extra work involved beyond adding amendments. Had he done this the downside would have been that the proper Oireachtas scrutiny that should happen in this House would have taken place. There would have been debates on Second, Committee and Report Stage. Surely, that is what we are elected to do and that is the purpose of the Legislature. Surely every Bill should be scrutinised in that way unless there is an emergency need when we would all understand the Minister had to take a shortcut.

When the Government came to power, particularly when the Labour Party entered government, we were told there was going to be a democratic revolution, that the shortcuts of the past would not be taken and that power in the Dáil would not be misused to rush legislation through. Those of us with experience of being in government realise that when a Government rushes legislation through, in the long term it is the one who rushed, the proposer of the legislation, who finds that it has created a boomerang. The longer I was Minister the more I realised thorough scrutiny by the Oireachtas benefited the Government and the Opposition equally. Between now and 4 p.m. this evening the Minister should reflect on the very serious mistake he has made in trying to rush through changes that it would have been more appropriate to include in a totally separate Bill and in respect of which there is no need for the urgency he seems to think there is.

We are in the last three weeks of this Dáil term, if it is not extended beyond the proposed date. There will, of course, be late sittings, Bills that will be rushed and mistakes. I thought part of the changes that were going to be made and part of the Haddington Road and Croke Park agreements was that we would avoid what always seemed to happen – I know that it happened when we were in government and it annoyed me – that a Minister would suddenly be presented with all sorts of proposal coming up to the end of term and told they were very urgent. There is nothing urgent about this Bill. The Minister has an opportunity between now and 4 p.m. to reflect on what is a big mistake and not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor in rushing legislation through unnecessarily, to withdraw the amendments, to ask the Whip to postpone the debate on the parts of the Bill agreed to on Committee Stage, without amendment, and to recommit the Bill on Report Stage, with the parts included in the original Bill, and to publish a separate Bill to be brought before the House. The Minister will, however, be advised not to do this. He will be given all sorts of reason, none of which will fit any logic. There are times in life when the courageous and right thing to do is to say: “I should not have done this; I made a mistake. I was wrong. I tried to take a shortcut. I realise it was a bad decision. I realise I have to be my own man and make my own decisions as a politician. I have to answer for the political consequences." The Minister has an opportunity between now and 4 p.m. to respect this House, the Oireachtas and all those of us elected equally to this House, irrespective of which side we are on and to enhance his record by facing up to the fact that he made a mistake. We will all recognise that it takes a big person to recognise he has made a mistake. The Minister should do that today rather than try to bulldoze through, with a compliant backbench population, amendments that would be better debated in a stand-alone Bill.

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.

I ask the Deputy to withdraw the remark regarding Commissioner Hogan.

The next speaker is Deputy Clare Daly, who is sharing time with Deputies Boyd Barrett, Paul Murphy, Mick Wallace and Catherine Murphy.

It is a great privilege to be here taking part in this democratic revolution, except that it does not feel like one. The whole fiasco reminds me of the phrase, "Those who can do, and those who can't bully." That is exactly what we have here. This is a desperate measure, a de facto admission that the Minister has failed to win the hearts and minds of citizens as to the worthiness of his Irish Water proposal. It has been exposed that the amount of money he plans to collect is roughly equal to the amount it will cost to collect it. Rather than stand back and admit he has got it wrong and rather than listen to the will of the people and abandon this lunacy, the Minister has decided to plough on. I honestly believe that will be the rock he will perish on.

I was going to say that one could not make this up, but it could be and has been made up. It is very much the scene from "Yes Minister" where the Minister is being shown around the new hospital by the civil servants and they pass the gleaming canteen, the hundreds of typists, the car park, the communications department and so on, and they go to the big empty rooms down the back and the Minister asks: "Oh, what is this?" and the response is: "They are the wards, but we haven't got the money to open them." That is what Irish Water is. It is hundreds of millions of euro spent on meters, tens of millions of euro spent on consultants and hundreds of thousands spent on advertising and hundreds of workers in a call centre. It is money for nothing, when what the Government should have been doing was fixing the leaks and encouraging people to conserve water.

The people have seen through the Minister and that is why we are here today. The Government has lost the argument. People know we have paid for water. We have paid for it through taxation and public services and we are not going to pay for a big monstrosity of a quango that soaks up money. I put it to the Minister that this Bill is a monument to his failure. In being here today, he is admitting he has failed to convince the people with the carrot of the reduced bills, because they all know they will increase again, and the €100 giveaway. Now he must resort to the stick. Being honest, it is a pathetic stick and I do not believe anybody will tremble before it, because despite the Minister's allusions to it today, this is not legislation to take money from tenant's deposits, which would be completely unworkable. The landlords of Ireland are not going to operate as the Minister's debt collectors. He is not able to take the money from people's wages and has clearly not won them to paying it voluntarily. He is on a loser on this. The people have seen through him. They are off their knees. They are not going to be conned. They were not conned by the carrot, and they certainly not going to be conned by the Minister's pathetic stick.

The Minister deserves a medal from the political school of cute hoorism when it comes to how he has tried to manipulate, in the most cynical way, the democratic process in order to ram through measures to do with water charges in a Bill that ostensibly had nothing whatsoever to do with them when it was introduced in the Dáil.

It is disappointing that much of the media have not shown any outrage at this cynical manipulation of the political process. It seems as if this sort of carry-on is just par for the course in this Chamber, because that is what Governments do. They manipulate, get around and circumvent proper democratic procedure and political oversight of important legislation that affect citizens. Perhaps there is a feeling in government and media circles that the people do not really care about these issues and do not care about democratic procedure, but they are wrong. People are very awake to this. They are aware that in this country and now across Europe, as we see in Greece, there is a war on democracy. Democracy is becoming the major casualty of the ruthless and relentless efforts of the European Union and governments like ours to inflict austerity and to do so using the most foul means, undermining the democratic process.

Europe is showing itself aghast at the prospect that the Greek people might be allowed to vote on the blackmail being deployed by the European Union in terms of further vicious austerity measures being imposed on a people who are utterly crushed. The idea that they should have a referendum is considered with shock. It is denounced and vilified by the European Union and by our Government, because the people might decide. In the same vein here, the Minister has done everything to make sure the people have no view or oversight of legislation to deal with an austerity measure that he is trying to coerce and enforce on people. This sort of cynicism is sickening.

People are waking up to the Minister however. He will see thousands of people outside the Dáil tonight expressing their disgust at what he has done and showing their solidarity with the people of Greece. He will see this again on the streets on Saturday. Of course, the reason the Minister has manipulated this process is that he is terrified of the protests, the popular rebellion and the growing resistance to austerity and the attack on democracy that he and his mate, Angela Merkel, are inflicting on people in this country and across Europe.

Debate adjourned.