Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Instruction to Committee (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, on Wednesday, 1 July 2015:
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.

Nine minutes are left in this slot. I understand Deputy Paul Murphy is sharing time with Deputy Catherine Murphy and Deputy Mick Wallace.

Yes. The Government approach to this Bill, which should have been a new water services Bill but instead has been introduced in the form of amendments to entirely unrelated and irrelevant legislation, makes a joke of basic procedures of parliamentary democracy. It makes a joke of the rules of this House in respect of how things are meant to be debated on Committee Stage and then on Report Stage. It makes a joke of basic democratic rules.

Should we be surprised that this has been the Government's approach? No, because we can point to its previous approach on this issue, which has been to guillotine the debate on the Bill first time out and refuse on six different occasions to give us the basic figures and information we need about how many people have paid the water charges. Moreover, it is in line with the disgusting abuse of the media to create the impression that some major scaremongering legislation was coming down the line which would enable Irish Water to take water charges directly off people. That was never the case and it has proved not to be the case now either.

It is also in line with the approach of the Government's friends in the European Commission, European Central Bank and the German Government and the approach of its party allies across Europe. It is a line with what is happening in Greece. It is a pale echo of what is happening in Greece, which is an attempted regime change by the 1% in Europe. This is happening in contradiction to the results of elections recently held and in fear of a referendum due to happen on Sunday. Why are these events happening? They are happening because the Government is scared. It is scared of people, democracy, these ideas and of a discussion on these ideas taking place. It is believed that if people see what is contained in this legislation, on foot of proper debate, it will expose the scare-mongering for what it is and give people confidence.

The legislation being amended had nothing to do with water charges. It relates to smoky fuel, some typing errors and a park in Kerry. In the debate on Committee Stage, the relevant Minister simply said there were a few small technical changes to be made. Therefore, it is an absolute abuse of the democratic process to make these amendments.

The Minister, Deputy Kelly, mentioned today on this motion the idea of deposits being taken from tenants if they do not pay their water charges. Let us be 100% clear: that is more bluster. It is not proposed in the legislation in front of us today in the form of amendments. It was threatened time and again but the provision does not exist. It is not in the legislation for a definite reason, and tenants should not be scared. Admittedly, there is an obligation on their landlord to hand over their names. If the legislation is passed — it should not be if there is anything right in this Parliament - it will be an implied part of the tenancy agreements in the future but there is no incentive for the landlord to enforce it. Therefore, people should stick to the boycott and should not be scared about any of the Minister's scare-mongering tactics or completely undemocratic procedures.

This is the third Bill related to water services that has been through a very flawed process. The first, introduced in February 2013, was introduced on the same day as the promissory note deal, if one wants to call it a deal. It was so heavily guillotined that only one amendment was debated. With regard to the second Bill, introduced in December of that year, only three hours were allowed for Second, Committee and Report Stages. The debate was restricted to three hours. It was such an abuse of the process that the entire Opposition walked out. Here we are again taking more liberties with the process.

Up to now, the Bill was the miscellaneous provisions legislation. Among the items it dealt with were a park in Kerry, dog-breeding penalties and expanded monitoring by the EPA of air quality. Deputy Ó Cuív read into the record some of what was said to me at the committee. I will focus on one area. Minister of State Deputy Ann Phelan said the Bill is quite technical and that there are some typographical issues. She said it was really a question of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. She said the scope of the Bill is such that it does not allow for it to be changed in any huge way. She also said the Bill was very technical and stressed there would be plenty of time to consider the amendments. The amendments were available to us only at the deadline. Therefore, the concept of having plenty of time can be called into question.

This Dáil was misled, either by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister of State because there is a paradox. Both sides cannot be right when two different things are being said. We are being told little is being changed, yet a large number of amendments on waste collection merit consideration in their own right. The Bill introduces mandatory registration for Irish Water for everyone. It establishes a lien on people's property so it cannot be sold without the water charges being paid. It establishes that approved housing bodies are to be regarded as occupiers of the dwellings for the purpose of the water charges. It establishes a new database of information on water services supplied to each dwelling in the State. It is not clear whether PPS numbers or other unique identifiers are being talked about. The Bill is so vague that we do not even know what the Minister is talking about.

This House has become an inconvenience for the Government. What is occurring is an absolute show of contempt for this Parliament and the parliamentary process. I refer to the manner in which what is being done is being done. If the Minister is showing contempt for the Opposition, he is showing contempt for the people. Given that the House has been so misled on this, and that the Government is proceeding in such a flawed way, one must really question whether the Government has the authority to hold office. It just regards this House as an inconvenience. It is believed that the legislation can be got through quicker if it is done in a way that avoids the kinds of processes that are absolutely critical in a parliamentary democracy.

The Government has made it very clear that the neoliberal imperative to maximise economic competitiveness guides all its policies, no matter what the cost to the people. Even any discussion of the minimum wage must be subordinate to meeting the needs of international market ideology, rather than the needs of the low paid in Ireland, as was established here last week.

This morning, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, stated his Department, in accordance with the polluter-pays principle, wants household waste to be charged for by the kilogram. He said this is part of a drive towards environmental protection and customer service. It is difficult to listen to the Minister utter the words "environmental protection" while keeping a straight face. This is the Minister whose Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill had no reference to the word "pollution", let alone the polluter-pays principle. That legislation makes no reference to the principle of climate justice or to any national carbon emission reduction targets whatsoever. Therefore, we can take it for granted that when the Minister mentions the phrase "polluter pays", he means that the majority, not the elite few, will pay. I would love to know what the Department is doing to ensure the biggest polluters in the country are being subjected to the polluter-pays principle.

The truth is that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has continuously and consistently demonstrated that it could not care less about the environment, especially when caring might impose a short-term cost on the Exchequer, infringe on the profits of corporations or damage so-called Irish competitiveness.

What steps are being taken to challenge the packaging companies? What about the introduction of a universal beer bottle that could be recycled and reused by any brewery in the country? Why do we not ban the excessive use of plastics and cardboard in consumer packaging? We are paying to send rubbish to Norway to be burned. Why do we not go after those who produce excessive amounts of rubbish at source rather than calling the citizen the polluter and individualising the waste problem? Doing so would be in violation of the neoliberal doctrine of the Labour Party and Fine Gael. It would interfere with the long-standing and ongoing transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy that this Government is so intent on seeing to the bitter end. The really big businesses in Ireland barely have to pay any tax, let alone face any kind of social or environmental responsibility measures. The polluter-pays principle would have dictated that those who created the toxic debt during the boom would have taken responsibility for it rather than passing private losses on to the public.

I have asked a number of questions in the House on the water issue and no one ever answered them. Irish Water has taken over the supply of water and waste treatment. No one has ever told me who will look after pollution. Who will look after storm water? Who is looking after surface water in Dublin city? There is a combined pipe in the city and Irish Water is going to take control of it. Will it charge the State sector for the use of it? The State sector is still responsible for storm water and surface water. Alternatively, will the State build a new, independent line that it will own? Given many of the workers who currently deal with water in the local authorities will be moved to Irish Water and that some will not be working in the sector anymore, all the people who once worked for the local authorities on storm water and pollution will not be in place. Who will do the work? What will happen is that we will privatise the system. Can the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, check for me who will install the new surface water pipework in Dublin city? It will not be done for less than €2 billion. I would love to know who will pay for it. Irish Water will not be paying for it because it has washed its hands of it. Pollution and storm water are unpredictable. Therefore, Irish Water does not want responsibility for them.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 38.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Paul Murphy and Mick Wallace.
Question declared carried.

On a point of order, under Standing Order 134(1) I wish to move a motion to recommit the Bill in its entirety to Committee Stage. There was a procedural error on Committee Stage because we were not informed at the beginning of Committee Stage that there would be a substantial change to the Bill. It was only at the tail end of Committee Stage that we were informed. I believe there was a procedural flaw and for that reason to proceed would be on fairly shaky ground. Therefore, I seek a recommittal of the Bill to Committee Stage.

I am informed that this can be done only on Report Stage. We must first have agreement on taking Report Stage. The Deputy may move the motion after that.