Water Charges: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation.”

Here we are again. It is a little like Groundhog Day. A majority of voters want water charges scrapped. A majority of Deputies in this House also want water charges scrapped and yet the Government's discredited water charges regime continues to limp on. What is it about the 32nd Dáil that it cannot seem to make any real decisions? Is this the face of the new politics that everyone keeps talking about?

Two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people marched through Dublin under the Right2Water banner. The demonstration was a timely reminder to the Government that the issue of water charges has not gone away. The Minister, Deputy Coveney’s desperate attempt to take the heat out of the issue clearly has not worked. How could it have? Contrary to the fine words in the Minister's countermotion, there is no deliberative process on the future of water charges. Last July the Minister, Deputy Coveney, told the Dáil that he wanted to have a reasoned and mature debate on the issue. Unfortunately, what he has given us is a carefully choreographed charade. The terms of reference of the so-called independent commission are restrictive and leading. They exclude any significant examination of the structure and ownership of water services. Neither is the commission tasked to consider substantively issues of water poverty and sustainability.

Constructive proposals from my office to broaden the terms of reference were rejected by the Minister. I was told that as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had already agreed to the terms of reference, they could not be changed. Then came the Joe O'Toole debacle. The former chairperson of the commission let the cat out of the bag. He told us that the commission was a “political exercise”. He said, “People voted a certain way, Leinster House is not prepared to grasp that particular nettle, so we have to find a solution that will have enough sugar on it to make the medicine go down easily.” In return for telling people that the outcome of the commission was pre-determined, he was shown the door, although not by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but by his effective co-Minister in these matters, Deputy Cowen. To add insult to injury, the commission quietly launched its call for submissions at the height of the holiday season, giving people only four short weeks to make submissions. Was it hoping that the response would be underwhelming? The commission also abandoned an earlier promise to hold public hearings. One wonders whether the commission is scared of what the public might tell it.

This is not a deliberative process. It is a rigged commission, with no real public input, working to a pre-determined outcome. How is that reasoned and mature? The commission will now do its work and forward its recommendations to the Government. A special Oireachtas committee will be formed to consider the recommendations and at some stage early next year the Dáil will be asked to vote on the recommendation of the committee. What an incredible waste of time and money.

We have been debating these issues since the introduction of water charges in 1994 and their abolition in 1997. We have been debating them since the Fianna Fáil Water Services Bill in 2003, the Water Services Act in 2008 and the Fianna Fáil and Green Party programme for Government in 2007 to 2008. We have spent an enormous amount of time debating the issue since 2010. All of the political parties have clear, stated positions on the issue. They are on the record. Let us stop pretending that there is a need for further debate. Let us put an end to the circus, grasp the nettle and scrap this unjust tax for good.

The Right2Water demonstration of two weeks ago was also a reminder to Fianna Fáil that people want that party to put its words into action, to honour its election pledges and to vote for scrapping this unjust charge. Only one Fianna Fáil Deputy is present in the Chamber but Fianna Fáil Deputies have their chance this week. If they want people to trust that their latest position on water charges is the final one, then they should support our motion. I appreciate that many Fianna Fáil backbenchers may be a little confused with their own party’s position on the matter. That is understandable given the somersaults they have had to perform recently. After all, Fianna Fáil has been trying to introduce water charges since 2003. It was a Fianna Fáil Government that signed up to water charges in 2010. Deputy Micheál Martin was in the Government that sought to introduce a charge of up to €500 a year. A few years later it was the same Fianna Fáil which said that it now wanted water charges to be suspended, not abolished mind you, just deferred for a few years, presumably until the heat was taken out of the issue and Fianna Fáil was back in government. Now, under enormous pressure from the Right2Water movement on the streets and in this Dáil, Fianna Fáil has finally come around to our way of thinking. The party now wants the outright abolition of the charge. I say to Deputy Cowen that I am glad he has finally seen the error of his ways. I have his Right2Water membership form here for him to sign. He is more than welcome to march shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us at the next Right2Water demonstration. All he needs to do is to put his promises into action and vote with the Right2Water Deputies on this motion. If he does not, how can anybody trust Deputy Cowen on water? If people cannot trust him on water then how can they trust him on anything else? The problem is that he cannot vote for the motion because Deputy Micheál Martin will not let him.

Apparently, tabling a Private Members' motion to pressurise the Government into action is nothing short of a political stunt. Was the Fianna Fáil motion on motor car insurance a stunt? What about the motion on funding for the arts or last night’s motion on pharmacy fees? The purpose of the Opposition tabling motions such as the one before the House is to put the Government under pressure, to force it to act and to make it respect the democratic will of the people. However, we all know the truth. Fianna Fáil’s refusal to support our motion is for one reason and one reason only - to keep the party's options open. Deputy Micheál Martin's grubby little deal that put the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, back in office is not about new politics. It is not about stability. It is all about buying time until the moment is right to bring down the Government.

It is old-school, dishonest and cynical Fianna Fáil politics at its very worst, and I have no doubt that people will see through this and judge it accordingly.

The cause of the crisis in our water system is not the absence of water charges but the unwillingness of successive Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to commit significant long-term investment to the upgrading of our water and sanitation system. Delaying a decision on abolition of water charges prolongs this crisis, so here is the alternative: let us scrap the charges, let us bring water services fully into public ownership and let us commit to a ten-year plan of capital investment through general taxation to bring our water and sanitation system into the 21st century. That is what a majority of the electorate wants and that is what a majority of Deputies in this House says it wants. Let us get on and do it.

There are four other speakers from Sinn Féin to contribute. The next listed is Deputy Peadar Tóibín. He is not here. I call Deputy Denise Mitchell. I remind Deputies that between them they have slightly less than 12 minutes.

Some Members of this House need reminding that the people have marched in their tens of thousands against water charges and have resisted the installation of water meters outside their homes and on their streets and that most Members of this House were elected by the people on the back of manifestos calling for the abolition of water charges. The Right2Water movement demonstrates the widespread resistance to water charges. It is still there and is as strong as ever. Its demands are clear and are representative of the people. Sinn Féin has made our position clear. We have called for the abolition of water charges. However, other Members in this House should adhere to the will of the people and the promises they made and make their position clear.

It would, at this point, take some research to track the wild turning in Fianna Fáil's position on water charges. It certainly has been a journey for the party. First, when in Government it committed to introducing water charges. Prior to the last general election it said it would abolish the charges but then we had suspension. Yet Fianna Fáil made a submission to the expert commission calling for the abolition of the charges. However, now - wait for it - Fianna Fáil does not rule out supporting the reintroduction of domestic water charges in the future. Credit where it is due, at least the party is consistent in its manoeuvring and flip-flopping on the issue. The authority rests with this House to act now, listen to the people and abolish domestic water charges.

In July of this year I was contacted by a constituent of mine in Wicklow who resides in east Carlow about a water leak outside her home. This lady had reported the leak to Irish Water on 8 June. It was then referred to the county council, which subsequently referred it to Irish Water, which referred it back to the council, which then referred it to Irish Water again for it to be put on a list. Yesterday marked the 16th week since the leak was reported. Finally, Irish Water wrote to say that the leak has been investigated and that it now needs a road opening licence to deal with it. It only took Irish Water 16 weeks to investigate this one leak. This certainly was not the case when local authorities had the responsibility over our water services. A conservative estimate would show that two litres of water have been leaking every single minute, which equates to over 200,000 litres of water leaked, which would fill over five swimming pools. That is what was being lost over the course of those 16 weeks. Irish Water employs approximately 4,000 staff. Maybe it was not able to deal with this due to staff shortages, but I question that. Therefore, not only is the Government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil standing over a utility that is wasting money with huge consultancy fees and the installation of water meters, but it is also responsible for wasting water, something that Irish Water was allegedly set up to save. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are coming together to prolong the tenure of a utility that, in Fianna Fáil's own words, "has been a complete failure" and "a quango that simply is not working".

Fianna Fáil has misled the electorate. It is for water charges then it is against them. It calls for their abolition then their suspension. It is opposed to them but now it is preparing to vote with the Government to oppose this motion. It is a complete farce. Fianna Fáil is a complete farce. The only thing that is clear in the Fianna Fáil water charges debacle is that it was dishonest with the electorate when seeking votes in the last election, a very cynical manoeuvre. We have only to read its election manifesto to see this. Instead of spending the millions of euro on setting up Irish Water along with the almost €100 million spent on consultancy fees, this money could and should have gone to investment in the betterment and improvement of our water infrastructure and water quality for people.

Water charges and Irish Water have been universally discredited and rejected by the electorate. It is time now to stop wasting water and money. It is time to abolish Irish Water and water charges. I call on Fianna Fáil Deputies to do the right thing and the honourable thing, if it understands the meaning of that word, to vote for this motion and to abolish the charges once and for all.

Deputy Cowen should cross the floor and thank Teachta Ó Broin for giving him the opportunity to clarify Fianna Fáil's position because it has had more positions than the Kama Sutra on this issue. We are in dire need of clarification, and happily, Sinn Féin is in a position this evening to provide Fianna Fáil with an opportunity to send a clear message to people who voted to oppose water charges. In case Teachta Cowen is under any illusions, people can tell the difference between abolition and suspension. They want water charges gone but they also want to see a commitment from Fianna Fáil in this regard. They want to see that it will stand with them, with the tens and hundreds of thousands of people who have protested, because Irish people do not now support water charges. They will never support water charges and not when Fianna Fáil feels the time is right. They will not support water charges, so why does Teachta Cowen not stand with the people this evening and encourage his colleagues to do likewise?

I commend Teachta Louise O'Reilly for that line. I am sorry I did not think of it myself. Fianna Fáil and the Kama Sutra - the mind boggles.

I hope Deputy Adams's teddy bear is ruled out of it.

We know who our partners are.

My teddy bears are-----

There is still passion in politics.

My teddy bears are virgins, a Chathaoirligh.

Tá mé buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an rún atá os comhair na Dála um thrathnóna. Tugaim mo chuid tacaíochta dó. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an 34 Teachta eile atá tar éis an rún a shíniú. Unlike - I suppose this will become a mantra here - Fianna Fáil's ever-shifting policy positions, this motion is very straightforward. It calls on the Government to accept the fact that the farce of household water charging is over and to fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation. As a result of its latest policy U-turn a fortnight ago, Fianna Fáil is now supposedly in favour of such a position.

An Teachta Cowen should clarify its position once and for all. It is also now supposedly in favour of establishing a statutory investigation into the sale of NAMA's Project Eagle. It is a case of a U-turn a day keeps the voters at bay.

This evening, despite its position, it has somehow concocted a rationale that says, "We're in favour of abolishing water charges but we're also in favour of Enda Kenny and Fine Gael in government because we haven't enough votes ourselves to be in government, so we won't vote to end water charges, especially if the motion is a Sinn Féin motion."

Of course it is not the first time Fianna Fáil has done this in the past six months since concocting an arrangement with Fine Gael. It has voted against its own stated policy and election manifesto positions. It can be called political manoeuvring or double speak but it should not be called new politics. It is vintage Fianna Fáil politics and cute-hoorism. It is all about the Soldiers of Destiny, the party and the lust for power. Water charges were Fianna Fáil's child from the beginning. We all know that, as does Deputy Micheál Martin, which is why he has moved to the Sinn Féin position on this and on other issues.

The fact is that there is a necessity to scrap water charges without delay. That is the only way to end this debacle and the only way that Irish Water will be dealt with. That fact must be accepted.

Tá mé buíoch as an seans caint faoi seo inniu. Molaim an rún agus iarraim ar achan Teachta, go háirithe Teachtaí Fhianna Fáil, tacú leis.

Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an rún seo os comhair na Dála inniu toisc na hathruithe atá tar éis teacht ar an staid a ghlac Fianna Fáil go dtí seo maidir le táillí uisce. Tá daoine eile tar éis é sin a lua cheana féin. Ní hamháin go bhfuilimid ag lorg fáil réidh leis na táillí uisce; táimid ag lorg go mbeadh ar aon Rialtas amach anseo infheistiú ceart a dhéanamh ionas go mbeadh córas uisce agus córas séarachais ceart againn. Sin córas nua-aimseartha ar a féidir linn brath air. Níl sé sin ag tarlú faoi láthair. Níor tharla sé faoi na Rialtais a bhí againn le tamall maith de bhlianta agus ó fuair Fianna Fáil réidh leis na rátaí in 1977. Sin an uair a thosaigh an fhadhb mhór i gcúrsaí airgeadais nó maoinithe na n-údarás áitiúil. Caithfidh muid bheith dáiríre faoi seo. Caithfimid ní hamháin fáil réidh le táillí uisce; caithfimid na húdaráis áitiúla a mhaoiniú chomh maith.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:


— the comprehensive deliberative process currently underway following the recent Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-led Government which includes:

— the ongoing work of the Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services, including its recent public consultation, with a view to producing recommendations by the end of November 2016;

— future consideration of the recommendations of the Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services by a special Oireachtas Committee, which will endeavour to make its own recommendations by the end of February 2017; and

— a decision of the Oireachtas on the future funding model for the delivery of domestic water and wastewater services by Irish Water by the end of March 2017; and

— the establishment on a statutory basis of an expert advisory body, as provided for in the Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-led Government, to improve public confidence in Irish Water by advising on measures to improve the transparency and accountability of the utility, and to give quarterly reports to an Oireachtas Committee on its performance in relation to its 2014-2021 business plan.”

I thank Deputy O'Reilly for not bringing Fine Gael into the Kama Sutra analogy.

Whatever about Fianna Fáil, if she had included Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in that analogy, it might have been a bit disturbing.

There is plenty of time yet.

On the subject of flip-flopping, the Sinn Féin position has not exactly been consistent on water charges either until it got exposed from its left flank and decided to change its position. That is the reality.

We have opposed the water charges.

When my party and Fianna Fáil published our agreement on facilitating a minority Fine Gael-led Government, we made clear our commitment to providing the space for a comprehensive nine-month deliberative process to be undertaken on how we will fund domestic water services into the future. We are now three months into this deliberative process and I welcome the opportunity Sinn Féin and others have provided this House to contribute further to the debate. On numerous occasions I have stated my commitment and that of my Government colleagues to having a calm, considered and rational debate, where experts' considered views are put before the Oireachtas. That will be completed over the next six months or so.

On 29 June, I announced details of an expert commission to examine the future funding of domestic water services. It comprises international and national experts in the areas of environmental policy; water utility consumer affairs; utility regulation; group water schemes; environmental law; and water sustainability. Headed by a former chairperson of the Labour Court, Kevin Duffy, its remit is to produce recommendations on the future funding of domestic water and wastewater services and improvements in water quality. It will take into account: proposals on how the national utility, Irish Water, would be able to borrow to invest in infrastructure; the need to encourage water conservation; Ireland’s domestic and international environmental standards and obligations; the role of the regulator; and submissions from interested parties.

The commission placed a call for public submissions between 5 August and 9 September. I thank all those who used the opportunity to put their views and positions to the commission during this period. To ensure the commission’s complete independence from Government, the Institute of Public Administration is providing the secretariat for the expert group.

The commission is due to produce its recommendations by the end of November, at which point the Oireachtas will have established a special Oireachtas committee on the funding of domestic water services. It will debate the commission’s recommendations and endeavour to make its own recommendations. The committee’s work is expected to take no more than three months to complete.

After that period, both Houses of the Oireachtas will, within a one-month period, consider and vote on the Oireachtas committee’s recommendations. I expect the Oireachtas, therefore, to make a final decision on water charges by the end of March. Irrespective of that decision, it will be a collective Oireachtas decision, based on the knowledge that all pertinent issues have been examined fully and deliberated on during the nine-month process. Throughout this deliberative period, which should conclude by the end of March, domestic water charges remain suspended, as was agreed.

We will have a serious choice to make at that point. Funding of water and wastewater infrastructure and day-to-day operation of our public water services can be achieved in one of three ways: it can be funded directly and fully by the users of such water services and infrastructure; it can be funded through a mixture of contributions from service users and central taxation; or it can be funded completely through the Exchequer and general taxation.

I do not want to pre-empt the expert commission’s recommendations. However, I reiterate my belief in the user-pays principle. Those who use water services and infrastructure should make a direct contribution to funding the cost of those services. That makes sense on many levels. Without such a contribution we end the link between usage and funding. In consequence the 15% to 20% of the population who pay for water services directly, be they owners of private wells or members of group water schemes, end up paying a disproportionate amount of the cost of others’ services.

The Sinn Féin motion before us this evening calls for infrastructure to be funded through progressive taxation. What is progressive about making those with private wells or in group water schemes pay twice - once for their own water and once for somebody else's? What is progressive about removing the link between water usage and paying for it, or indeed removing the incentive to conserve water and treat it as the valuable natural resource that it is? A progressive approach can be maintained by protecting lower-income households against a disproportionate burden from water charges but eliminating any direct contribution to funding water services will not progress our public water system in terms of conservation or responsible use. Many of those on the other side of the House understand that and accept there are points that need to be teased out in that area.

Last October, Irish Water published its business plan, which outlined its plan to invest €5.5 billion in infrastructure between 2014 and 2021. This funding is required to achieve key objectives such as: eliminating the risk of drinking water contamination for the 846,000 people on 117 deficient public water supplies currently; lifting all current boil water notices which affect over 20,000 people on 19 supplies as I speak; ending the discharge of untreated wastewater into rivers, lakes and coasts at over 40 urban locations, thus threatening public health and the environment; reducing leakage from 49% to 38% so that Irish Water can save 180 million litres of water every day, an issue already raised by one of the Opposition Deputies; and significantly increasing water and wastewater capacity to support social and economic development, including the 15% spare capacity needed in this city.

In making our decision early next year on the future funding of domestic water services we will need to consider whether central taxation can address the legacy issues that abound in the public water infrastructure and improve services for a growing population and economy. This model has failed in the past. That is the reality. The model to which Sinn Féin wants to return did not work. That is the reason we are trying to change it and a new funding model and utility were established under the previous Government. The decision we will make cannot be one that will work only in times of fiscal recovery; it must continue to deliver and enable us to invest in water services in times of difficulty also. We will be voting on a long-term funding model. Members must be cognisant that if we are to fund water infrastructure and services through central taxation, the delivery of new major water and wastewater plants such as those in the eastern and midlands region and the lower Cork Harbour projects will be contingent on their relative preference over other essential projects in health, education, transport, policing and other areas. I do not think that would provide the certainty we need in water supply into the future.

I could not be any clearer on the importance and the implications of the decision we will make next year. It should not be rushed. Our hand should not be forced by political opportunism similar to what is happening by way of this motion. I ask the House to afford the expert commission and the special Oireachtas committee the further six months required to put the facts before the Oireachtas prior to a final decision being taken by all of us. That decision will impact on the provision of secure, clean water supplies for a growing population for generations to come. It will have a major bearing on the water supply capacity in a growing economy which is sustaining well over 200,000 jobs in water-intensive industries such as ICT, bio-tech and agrifood. These are the growth sectors that are looking to Ireland as a water secure economy in a world in which water is scarce. When I was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it was made crystal clear to me at conference after conference that few countries in the world did not have predicted water security issues. Ireland is top of the list. What we are planning for is a system based on how we pay for domestic water supplies, water treatment and wastewater management. I do not think we should do this in the context of a political opportunity to try to embarrass or undermine another political party's position. We should do it with all of the facts available to us. We should listen to experts who know what they are talking about.

The next speaker is Deputy Barry Cowen who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív.

On the U-turn and Kama Sutra references made by a Sinn Féin contributor, I recall Deputy Eoin Ó Broin recommending the establishment of a commission to examine the issue of water charges. Now that we have such a commission, Sinn Féin wants it to be abolished. I also recall that the view of Sinn Féin was that there be no refund for those who had paid water charges under the failed regime introduced by the previous Government. Now that there is no possibility that they will be refunded, it wants them to be refunded. When the same failed regime was brought into force by the previous Government, Sinn Féin members individually said they would pay their water charges. They are now saying they will not pay them. I refer the Deputy who referred to U-turns and the Kama Sutra to Houdini and contortionists in considering Sinn Féin's stance on this issue.

I acknowledge, as any democrat in the House would, the right of Sinn Féin to table motions. It is its prerogative to decide what form such motions might take or how its aims might be met in bringing forward such motions. I do not want to go over old ground in considering how and why we find ourselves at this juncture and the juncture at which we found ourselves following the general election in February and had to consider the people's verdict on the failed water regime introduced by the previous Government, although many other things contributed to that result. Suffice it to say the general election produced an inconclusive result in so far as there was no clear majority or preference by the people of a particular Taoiseach or Government. Some of us in this House took our responsibilities thereafter quite seriously, while others did not. Having failed to achieve the requisite number of Members elected by the people to allow Deputy Micheál Martin to lead the Government, Fianna Fáil sought on three occasions to have him elected as leader of the Government but without success. As republicans and democrats, we recognise that decision. As I said, Fianna Fáil took its responsibilities seriously and sought to give credit to the electorate by allowing a Government to be formed on the basis of the result of the general election. As inconclusive or convoluted as it might have been, it was important that the decision of the people be respected.

Having failed to achieve its objective to lead the Government, Fianna Fáil saw fit to facilitate the formation of a Government which would have to deal with many pressing issues, some of which were more pressing than the issue about which we are speaking, including housing, health, education, regional development, job creation in the regions, policing and so on. As I said, others saw fit not to entertain the prospect of entering that process, rather they would have foisted another election on the people. Perhaps that is what they want to do now. I am firmly of the view, as I was then, that the people do not want another election. They want a Government and to see results in dealing with various issues. That requires us to be focus driven, interested in seeking resolutions and results and achieving particular aims, thereby giving value to the votes cast in our favour and that of others. To allow that process to reach a conclusion, it was obvious from Fianna Fáil's perspective that it had to negotiate and compromise with Fine Gael which had a completely opposing view to that of Fianna Fáil on water services. We had to allow a pathway to be put in place to deal with that issue in order that a Government and the Dáil would be able to deal with other pressing issues such as the fairer delivery of public services and having a two to one split in favour of public services in the context of taxation cuts, despite what the outgoing Government had sought to do in its efforts to seek the approval of the electorate. One cannot engage in a negotiating process and expect to reach a conclusion and still have the same position at the end of it. God knows, Sinn Féin, above everybody else, should know this, given the pathway it has travelled in another jurisdiction on the island.

Fianna Fáil's supports the Government's amendment to the motion as proposed by the previous speaker, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, which seeks the support of the Dáil for the ongoing work of the expert commission on domestic public water services, including its recent public consultation process, with a view to producing recommendations by the end of November. Nothing has changed in that regard. Fianna Fáil also supports the future consideration of the recommendations of the expert commission on domestic water charges by a special Oireachtas committee which will endeavour to make its own recommendations by the end of February. We continue to support and honour our commitment in that regard also. Ultimately, a decision of the Oireachtas on the future funding model for the delivery of domestic water and wastewater services will be made by the end of March 2017.

Fine Gael, as leader of the Government, has committed to sponsoring the legislation agreed to by the Oireachtas after it goes through a full and thorough process that will analyse all options and ask the Dáil to make a decision.

That is how the issue will be dealt with. As I stated, parallel to this we can move forward with a Government that can make recommendations to deal with the housing crisis and in the upcoming budget for how public services should be funded in the forthcoming year, with a different direction and shape and in a different manner from the way in which they were dealt with by the previous Administration. This is the commitment we gave and to which we signed up. This is the value we gave to the votes of those who voted in our favour. We want to honour and continue to honour this commitment.

I will vote against Sinn Féin's motion which has no legal basis, just as I voted against a previous motion immediately after the general election. If we had not entered into the negotiations and allowed ourselves to be in a position to seek the support of the rest of the parliamentary party to facilitate the formation of a Government, there is no doubt that Sinn Féin and others would still have brought forward these motions, but a Government would not have been able to function and we would have had to go to the country again. Perhaps we might be in the same position as Spain, having gone through a process in the past nine or ten months without a government. That is not what the people wanted.

Perhaps not, but I assure the Deputy that, if he checks with them, the public do not want an election at this stage.

They do not want you.

I stand over the commitment given to the people. I recognise the decision they made, convoluted as it was. As well as we did, we did not win the election. Nobody won it. There was no clear majority, but the House made a decision thereafter to put in place a Government to deal with many issues, including water service provision.

You made the decision to put the Government in place.

My party and I stand over this. That is the commitment we gave to the public and we will stand before them again and ask for their deliberation and to accept the consequences, irrespective of what they may be. We will have achieved some result and given value to their votes, something Sinn Féin cannot say about the motion it has put before the House today.


I ask Deputies to, please, allow Deputy Barry Cowen to speak without interruption.

He is encouraging us.

I come back to the point I made. It is the prerogative of Sinn Féin to bring forward whatever motion it sees fit, based on the support it has received, the commitment it has made or its understanding of how the democratic process works in this House. It has come back out from under its rock because it went under a rock when a Government needed to be formed and there were real decisions to be made and a real interpretation of the result the people handed to the Dáil. It is now back out from under that rock and more luck to it. It can play its games, have its time in the sun and perform stunts.

You came out of the Galway tent.

We will clear the stage for it, no problem. It can strut its stuff and flatter to deceive because that is all it has ever done. I have never seen anything else and would expect nothing less from it.

The Deputy could get a job in the circus as an acrobat.

I thank my colleagues, in particular Deputy Barry Cowen for his thoughtful discussion of the matter. When the Government was formed, it was complex and took many hours of negotiations. A process was put in place to deal with Irish Water. We can have motion upon motion, but we must wait for the outcome of the deliberations of the groups appointed to be brought back to the floor of the Dáil and the Oireachtas committee to discuss the matter.

In all of the debates about it a matter that has been raised constantly with regard to the provision of a water supply for each house is that of communities connected to a public water supply that is not fit for human consumption. We must be very clear on the water supply being provided. The vast quantity is top class, but there are communities which do not have access to a quality water supply. This is an issue in Ballydesmond on the Cork and Kerry border. It has been raised on numerous occasions and I recently attended a public meeting about it. There is a commitment to try to have it connected to a proper water supply. Somebody building a house in the region is sent an enormous bill to have it connected to a water supply which is not fit for human consumption. When the local authorities had responsibility for providing a connection to public water supplies, we could debate issues with them. The bills Irish Water sends to people building one-off houses are obscene and must be challenged. They are expected to pay €14,000, €15,000 or perhaps more to connect to a water supply. If they are connecting to a supply that is not adequate or appropriate, they should not be charged. Ballydesmond in north Cork is a case in point. This is an issue for discussion in any debate on the future of Irish Water. It must be ensured the company cannot produce a product that is not fit for human consumption and expect people to pay an enormous fee to connect their houses to the system.

I have no doubt that we need time to see what the expert commission will state and consider what will be brought before the Oireachtas committee. We will then need time to bring forward proposals and debate them in the House. We can have motion after motion in the House every week, but a process is in place and we must let the commission report before we move forward.

Whether it is Groundhog day or the Kama Sutra, it has none of the excitement of the Kama Sutra.

I will take the Deputy's word for it.

It has more of the absurdity of a Samuel Beckett play than anything else. It is "Waiting for Godot" and we are all taking the same positions in part two. We had exactly the same debate on 23 May on a motion tabled by more or less the same people. On that occasion there was an amendment tabled by Fianna Fáil and in this case there is an amendment tabled by the Government. Everyone is taking exactly the same position, apart from Fianna Fáil which has moved a little in its place on the stage. It is a total waste of time. We were elected to conduct business, but we do not even have an audience. The media are not even present to listen to what we have to say because we are all saying the same thing as we said on 23 May.

The Labour Party-----

We are saying the same thing.

We gave you a chance.

Obviously, the Minister was not going to change his position. Sinn Féin stated it was in the House to put pressure on the Government, but the Minister has made his position clear.

He is part of the Government.

He is passing everything to a commission with the support of Fianna Fáil. It is all contrived and has been deferred to some time next March. Everybody is playing the same game and it is getting us nowhere. We could have used the time much more effectively in the debate. I will say pretty much what I said the last time. There is one difference in this debate - the wording of the Sinn Féin motion which calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation. That means the taxpayer.

Taxpayers are already paying for it twice.

The people involved are on the average industrial wage and include nurses and bus drivers, as well as those who already pay for water from their own wells or group supplies. I address this to Fianna Fáil also. These are the people Sinn Féin is asking to pay for the excessive use of water by the rich and careless. It does not matter how much water someone uses, it will be paid for through progressive taxation by income taxpayers. This is not a left-wing position to take, although Sinn Féin describes itself as a left-wing party.

Progressive taxation means that the rich pay more.

The rich pay for everything.

I ask Members to, please, show respect to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

I say the same to AAA-PBP Members. It is not a left-wing position to take that everything should be paid for through income tax-----

It was Labour Party policy in 2009.

-----by the person who gets up and does a day's work and is part of a progressive taxation system. People start paying at the high rate of tax on a relatively low income. They are the ones Sinn Féin is asking to pay for the excessive use of water. I reiterate our position. Whether it is popular - we lost a lot of seats in the general election - it is our position-----

Does that not tell the Deputy anything?

We believe there should be a reasonable allowance to meet every household's needs, taking into account the needs of someone such a person with a disability or children.

Above that, people should pay for the excessive use of water. I will stand up and say this again if Sinn Féin tables another motion in a few months.

The Minister is correct that there is a desperate need to invest in our water infrastructure. I was at a meeting recently at which social progress indicators were discussed. Ireland does well in respect of such indicators in a variety of areas but our water infrastructure and the fact that our rivers and lakes are being polluted and there are leaks all over the place is pulling us down. I also had an interesting experience recently on my own estate when Irish Water came in to replace lead connections on shared services. The local Sinn Féin councillor came along and asked the workers also to replace the connections that were not for shared services and I agreed with him. There was a recognition that Irish Water is taking positive action, particularly in Limerick where lead is being removed from pipes.

That was being done before Irish Water.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan without interruption.

That is positive.

We should recognise that positive things are being done because we have a desperate water infrastructure. That needs to be addressed and we need to be honest about it.

It is becoming clearer that Sinn Féin and the Anti-Austerity Alliance want general income taxpayers to pay for water. At least they are acknowledging that it has to be paid for one way or the other. If it is paid for that way, water services will be in competition with the construction of houses for people who are homeless, the education system, child care and everything else that needs to be paid for.

The Deputy should read our pre-budget submission to see how we will manage that.

It is the same as motor tax.

They are currently.

Let us have a little honesty about this issue. Water is not free. It falls out of the sky free but it is not free by the time it reaches people's taps and is ready to drink. That needs to be acknowledged.

We will oppose the Government amendment and we will oppose the motion if it comes to a vote but I presume it will not because the amendment will win with Fianna Fáil supporting the Government. We do not believe in playing games. Shoving the issue off into the middle distance is not the way to address something about which we need to have an honest debate. I have put our position but I would have much preferred if the scarce time available after a long break was spent on issues on which we can make a difference. No one has said anything that I was unable to predict before I came into the Chamber and I have no doubt those who will contribute after me will say exactly what I expect them to say as well. I do not welcome this debate but I welcome the opportunity to put my party's position.

I wish to share time with Deputy Bríd Smith.

Mass movements are very powerful things. The impact of the huge demonstrations and the 73% non-payment is reflected in the Chamber. It is reflected in the hokey cokey of Fianna Fáil - for water charges, for suspension, for abolition, for suspension again and for abolition again, but it is going to vote against abolition. The bluster from Fianna Fáil today did not address that basic contradiction that people will see through. This can also be seen in Sinn Féin's position. Two years ago, this was not a red line issue, then it was a red line issue but leading Deputies were paying. Then they were not paying but not calling for non-payment. I welcome that at the last demonstration the Sinn Féin speaker seemed to call for non-payment. There are no bills now but those changes are welcome and they reflect the fact that movements drive change. It is precisely for that reason that movements strike fear into the 1% and the political establishment. It is not just that we have had a mass movement of civil disobedience against water charges; we have had a successful mass movement of civil disobedience against water charges because it shows that the 1% can be beaten and it gives people confidence.

That fear is the reason for the political policing and the repression that we have seen to cut across the right of people to protest and to say to them, "This far and no further". Over 200 people have been arrested for anti-water meter protests. Four people were jailed for three weeks for going within 20 metres of water meter installation. A spying operation against anti-water charges activists was run, called Operation Mizen, led by the Garda Commissioner's husband. However, right now, there is the most serious attack on the right to protest yet - a vindictive prosecution of a 17 year old young man over the protests at Jobstown two years ago, an attempt to redefine peaceful protest as false imprisonment. Let us be clear. There is no allegation whatsoever of violence against him. There are no public order charges levelled against him. He is only charged with false imprisonment.

A Chathaoirligh, on a point of order-----

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, I asked the other Members not to interrupt. Deputy Paul Murphy has the floor.

There is a separation - this matter is before the courts. The Chair needs to be aware of that.

I will not speak about anything that has not been reported in the media.

The allegations against him, as reported in the media, are the following: that he may have said into a megaphone at one stage, "Joanie in your ivory tower, this is called people power"; that he walked around; that he sat down and encouraged others to sit down-----

This is not in order.

-----that he waved his arms-----

Deputy Murphy, will you please address the amendment?

I will of course. That he filmed Deputy Joan Burton and said, "Talk to us, Joan". That is it. He was protesting, not kidnapping.

You are now going out of the bounds-----

I am not; I am speaking about the water charges protest.

I ask you to resume your seat and I will call Deputy Bríd Smith.

I am not going to resume my seat. What is being attempted here was described by a barrister yesterday as "a recipe for totalitarianism".

I am asking you to respect------

No, no, I am not going beyond the bounds. We are clearly talking about water charges and the mass movement against water charges and the vindictive prosecution of a 17 year old young man-----

You are now bringing other issues into the debate.

-----for exercising his right to protest. This is absolutely in order. Deputy Cowen spent his time talking about the programme for Government and about how Fianna Fáil had to form a Government, which had nothing to do with water charges.

Deputy Murphy, resume your seat.

I will continue to speak.

I am telling you now to resume your seat.

I am going to continue to speak. I am talking about the water charges.

I am calling you for the last time to resume your seat if you are not going to stick to the debate, otherwise I will suspend the House.

I will stick to the debate.

Well then stick to the debate or I will call Deputy Bríd Smith.

What is happening as a result of the massive movement against water charges is an attempt to criminalise protest. In general terms, if sitting down or slow marching is false imprisonment, then striking workers who stop strike breaking vehicles are guilty of false imprisonment-----

The Deputy is entirely out of order.

-----so too are anti-war protestors who stage a sit-down protests, so too are pro-choice protestors who have a slow march. It is, as a barrister said yesterday, "a recipe for totalitarianism".

The young man in question had someone give a moving speech for him a few weeks ago. He finished with a quote from Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".

I am not standing for this. The Chair must control the Chamber.

Injustice against anyone is a threat to justice for everyone. People need to take a stand against it.

Deputy Murphy, in future I ask you to respect the House. I do not think you have respected the House today, or showed any respect for other Members. Deputy Smith has three minutes.

I do not intend to disrespect the House at all.

In my colleague's defence, he did not say anything that is not in today's media. People can read it or hear it from somebody directly involved. I am happy with what he said.

I remind the Deputy that Members are expected to stick to the motion.

Indeed they are and I am going to stick to the motion.

The issue raised by Deputy Murphy is not part of the motion or the amendment. Deputy Smith's time is moving on.

I will take 30 seconds back from the Chair.

The question of democracy goes to the heart of the debate. I reiterate what has been said in the House many times. More than 90 Members were elected on the promise of the abolition of water charges. To my left - physically but not politically - is the party that did the biggest S-turn in history. It is against water charges, then it is for water charges. I refer back to the late Brian Lenihan's final budget speech in which he announced that there would be a full recovery of cost provision for water services through water charges and he intended to prepare proposals for implementation as appropriate with a view to starting the charge in 2012-13. Then the party announced in its election manifesto in February of this year that it was prepared to scrap water charges. They then announced they were prepared to delay the charges before going with the Government to suspend them. The word, "suspension", never appeared in any of their manifestos, speeches or other documents.

I want to address some of my comments to the Labour Party. We all held think tanks before we returned to the Dáil and there were various sessions. The Labour Party session was among the most interesting because both councillor Rebecca Moynihan and Deputy Brendan Howlin, the leader of the party, admitted that they had made a mistake on water. I see that Deputy Jan O'Sullivan has left the Chamber. If the Labour Party made a mistake on water, are its Members going to rectify that today in the eyes of the public by supporting this motion for the abolition of water charges? The mistake they made was to bring in the principle of charging for it.

To my left and right, physically and politically, a sham of democracy is taking place. Both Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party are dancing around this issue and it is about time they lived up to what democracy entails. At the moment they are doing a Pat Rabbitte, in promising what they want the electorate to hear but then, when they get into power, reversing that promise. Pat Rabbittism will go down in history for that and today we have Fianna Fáilism and Labourism, which is literally lying to the people and then implementing strategies and spending money on legal cases and on policing in communities to the point of oppression. That has to end and this is an opportunity for both those parties to own up and tell the truth to people. Otherwise the meaning of this House, and of democracy, will be lost in the pile of crap that is being bandied around in connection with what is a most unpopular move. They should take the Apple tax and take tax from the rich. Then they would not have the problem of having to tax nurses and teachers further.

I remind Members that the debate should be relevant to the terms of the motion and any amendments.

That is relevant.

Before coming to the Chair this evening, I contemplated asking Members to respect one another in this debate and I do so now. Members should not cross-talk but should give others the time allocated to them. I call on Deputies Joan Collins, Thomas Pringle and Catherine Connolly, who have a total of eight minutes.

I support this simple Private Members' motion that clearly reads, "That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation." It is signed by myself, by Sinn Féin Members and by Independents 4 Change Members so it is a broad motion. Fianna Fáil's role in this issue has to be put on the record. In 2010, Fianna Fáil agreed charges as part of the troika deal. At the recent election in February, its election material clearly stated that it would abolish Irish Water and water charges. It did not promise suspension with loads of sugar on it in the form of a commission. Its submission proposes to abolish water charges but with a provision whereby Irish Water could be brought back again in the future, along with water charges. It states that Irish water can fix problems in the meantime.

Where is Fianna Fáil on this? It is typical of supporting the Government on one hand while, on the other, leading in opposition. There is nothing new in its politics of being all things to all people. It tries to rob the clothes of the left but has no problems discarding them as soon as it deems it necessary to show its true colours as the party of the elite and the establishment. Fianna Fáil states it will not support the motion because it means nothing and that its Members will vote on the issue when it comes through the commission and the committee process as there will be legislation at that point. However, they could support it to indicate the party's intent.

I hope the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil will support a Bill which will be introduced to the Dáil in the next couple of weeks. The Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016 is to amend Article 28 of the Constitution to make the Government collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system and to ensure, in the public interest, that this resource remains in public ownership. All Members of the House have said they support keeping water in public ownership so I assume they will all vote for the legislation when it comes to the Dáil.

I fully support the motion and I signed it. We could do the country a service and save a lot of money by ending the work of the so-called "expert group" right now if Fianna Fáil Members were to vote the way they say they intend to vote to abolish water charges once and for all. We all know what the expert group is going to say. It will say that water charges should be maintained. It will be interesting, then, to see the twisting and turning by Fianna Fáil over that debate. I imagine the debate on the commission's report will be delayed and delayed, possibly until after the next general election. Fianna Fáil will avoid making the decision until it is in government and then it will do another U-turn to bring water charges back in again.

We have got to this stage because of a mass boycott of payment of water charges, not because of mass opposition to water charges. The boycott has made Irish Water unworkable and the Right2Water campaign has shown that there is huge opposition to it, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets on more than eight occasions. Fianna Fáil will have set up its focus groups, done its surveys and will have seen that opposition to water charges is still there and that is why it has made a submission calling for charges to be abolished. The campaign is as strong as it has ever been when one looks at the crowds that took to the streets in Dublin last Saturday week to keep the pressure on for the abolition of charges. However, we need more than that. It is reported in the newspapers today that the Greek Government voted last night to privatise water in Greece and ultimately the aim of Fine Gael, of Fianna Fáil and of the European Commission is to ensure water and public utilities are privatised in the future. That is why a hugely expensive investment and metering programme is taking place across the country through Irish Water.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said earlier on that Irish Water came in to replace shared services in her estate that had lead connections but it only replaced the shared services. Why was that? It was because it could not charge or bill people on shared services. Irish Water did not care about the people with lead connections who had individual services because it can bill them.

The Deputy is eating into Deputy Catherine Connolly's time.

I fully support this motion but we need a referendum to be held and the relevant Bill to come through this House to make sure water stays in public ownership because that is the only thing that will ultimately protect the citizens of this country.

I recently saw "Waiting for Godot" and I do not remember such excitement.

This is on the motion. I certainly do not remember such a dramatic exit of a member from the stage and certainly not one with the words, "I am leaving now because I did not hear what I was expecting to hear." This is notwithstanding the fact that the Deputy in question knew exactly what we were all going to say, so it is dramatic on every level.

I welcome this motion and I proudly put my name to it. It is not just a Sinn Féin motion but is the motion of a number of Deputies in the Chamber and it reflects the will of the electorate that put us in here on the promise that we would abolish water charges. This is not because we do not want to conserve water. The Minister has left the Chamber - I know he is busy - but he has repeatedly made the point that we need to pay to conserve water. I fundamentally reject that, not just from an ideological position but from my experience in Galway city. I have said before in the Chamber that Galway led the country on recycling rates and showed everybody how it was done. However, the mantra that the people have to pay was repeated to us by various city managers and by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. We proved what a fallacy that was and in a pilot project, we reached 70% recycling rates over a six-week period.

I am proudly green and proudly on the left. I believe in conserving water but I also believe in the goodness of people who want to conserve. These people do not need to be punished in order for them to do that. I also believe we pay taxes proudly and when I was knocking on doors, I was not asked once to reduce taxes. The people asked for services instead and I promised nobody that I would be a voice for reducing taxes. The basis of any civilised society are essential services and water is the first of those. We must pay for water and we pay for it, through our taxes. The next service is health and then housing and education.

I take exception to the level of debate from Deputy Cowen - unfortunately, he is not here at present - when he spoke of the convoluted decision of the people. It was not convoluted. They did not believe Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and gave neither party a majority. That is why they put a selection of people in the Dáil to stand proudly for them and say, "Yes, we want to pay taxes and we want basic services in return". I proudly support this motion and also the motion that will be tabled by Independents 4 Change to amend the Constitution to prevent any privatisation of our basic services.

The water charges issue has been debated more often than any other issue since the Thirty-second Dáil met on 10 March and it has generated the most passion, this evening being no exception. This is because it has been identified as a fault line between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil's change in its position since the election from suspension to abolition of charges is encouraging this fault line. This change, if it is the decision of the Dáil next year, means that there is no incentive to conserve water, which is an important and essential natural resource.

This resource must be respected. We are blessed that we do not have a shortage of water. It must be treated and delivered to our tap or our toilet. There is a cost in producing safe water and upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure. We must use water wisely and seriously and we must stop using it as a political football. We must look at this issue as an essential service and decide if it has a value. The UN says that water is a human right and that we should all have access to water. We must balance this human right with the cost. A compromise must be reached. We should give everybody an adequate supply of water free of charge. We should meter water usage so it can be measured and we should charge for excessive use. Undoubtedly, this will encourage conservation.

We must also encourage water collection for non-essential use. In the construction of new housing, and there will be a great deal of construction in the next number of years, we must incorporate water conservation or water harvesting infrastructure in houses so the householders can collect the water that comes from the sky and use it for non-essential use. That is how to conserve water.

Irish Water was not established properly and it did not have a positive public relations promotion. Mistakes were made but that should not mean we throw the baby out with the bath water. We should be debating health, waiting lists and trolley queues. I believe people who are homeless would give their right arm to have a house and pay water charges rather than languish in a hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation or sleep on the street. Clean water delivered to one's home should be respected and conserved and paid for if excessively used. It should remain in public ownership.

This is a very contentious issue. Like everybody else, I would love to have free water and for everyone to have free water. However, it appears that this motion is designed to give one section of the people free water. What concessions will be given to people in rural Ireland who have their own water pumps and septic tanks and to farmers and business people who have been paying for water for years? They have been paying to get public water. What will happen to them? Will they get free water?

There is a cost to providing water. I should have said at the outset that people could construe that I have a conflict interest on this matter because my father, uncle, myself and my son have been repairing water pipes at different times for the past 60 years or so. If everybody is going to receive free water, that is fine. The question is how it will be paid for. People in rural Ireland who have septic tanks had to jump a high bar to be allowed to install the septic tank and then they had to pay up to €14,000 or €15,000 to install it. They must also keep it maintained. It is fine to say that we must clear up the sewage on Dalkey strand when somebody is not paying for it. As I speak, there are inspectors from Kerry County Council inspecting septic tanks to ensure they are in order. That happens in every county. The people who own the tanks will have to repair them if they are not in order. Will those people get assistance to maintain their septic tanks? Will people whose home will not be attached to a public sewerage scheme get money to install a free septic tank?

We must be fair about it. People in rural Ireland will have to be looked after as well. These are people who have paid to install water pumps. They must keep them going even though they give a lot of trouble. Perhaps they can avail of gravity flow but that costs money as well. These people provide water for themselves but they must pay for it. It is galling to think that those people, in some way under the name of taxation, will have to pay for another section of the community to have free water and free sewerage. I cannot see that as fair. Furthermore, what about all the young fellows who are working and have no house, water or septic tank? They are paying rent and paying for other things but they do not have a house or property of their own. These are hard working people. Are they going to be taxed more to fund free water? That question must be answered.

Regardless of the party involved, and the parties are fighting among themselves about words, the fact is that it costs money to provide water. If it is not going to be paid by some people who are using it, who will pay for it and how much extra will they have to pay to ensure that other people will have free water? I want free water as much as anybody else. I would take it as well. I use a great deal of water. In fact, I am robbed by water. Any Members who are farmers will know what happens with water troughs. They leak and one might not see it because one was not down in that field. In the meantime, a fortune in water has gone down the drain unused and we still must pay for it.

There is much talk about abolishing water charges. What should and must be done is to provide a waiver system for people who just cannot pay. There should be a system in place for those people to ensure they are not put under duress and tormented by bills if they cannot pay. They might be disabled people or people who do not have the wherewithal, even if they are not getting social welfare. I urge Members to consider what I have said because it is a very serious matter. The water does not come from the sky into the pipes. It costs money to replace and extend pipes and to treat the water. Where will the money come from? Members talk about general taxation and progressive taxation. That is money out of the pocket of some fellow who is working. The working people will take no more. The working man is paying enough and if Members try to shove it on him, he will have parties here in Dublin that they will not forget.

I am sure that the irony that we are once again discussing domestic water charges has not escaped us. This issue has a long history and it is worthwhile to remind ourselves of it. A former Deputy, Dick Spring, introduced water charges in 1983. The then Minister for the Environment in the rainbow coalition Government, Deputy Brendan Howlin, abolished those charges in 1996. At the time, Deputy Howlin pointed to a KPMG report he had commissioned which stated that the installation of water meters would be unproductive, inefficient and simply not worthwhile given that the revenue to be generated would be unlikely to cover the costs of metering. Indeed, in 1996, Deputy Howlin introduced a new regime which would see local authorities retaining all proceeds from the motor tax fund, which would go into the local government fund and would allow the local authorities to manage and maintain water infrastructure and other services.

When people took to the streets and said "No" on this occasion, there was a myriad of reasons. One was that they felt they had paid for this service already through the fund that was designated for local authorities. However, there was more. From the outset, it was clear to anyone who cared to listen that the resistance to water charges was not simply about paying for water. It was really the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for people who had already endured the property tax, pension levy, universal social charge and wage cuts. They had absorbed the banking debt and had seen bondholders paid. They were seeing the companies that got the metering contracts gain at their expense. Essentially, that is where the Siteserv controversy intersected. People were rightly concerned about the awarding of those metering contracts. They became aware that the local government fund had been wiped out, with a considerable amount of it going to Irish Water and the rest going into the Government coffers. They were being taken for fools in all this. This has always been about more than water. The Government and Fianna Fáil need to understand that it was always about more than water.

The position of the Green Party on water has been clear and consistent over the years. First, we believe there is a right to water, and that is paramount above everything else. Water is not a commercial product; it is vital for life. We recommend a referendum to ensure the water supply is forever within public, rather than private, ownership, recognising the right to water. We believe we should go further and provide a basic allowance to ensure every citizen has access to water for his or her basic needs, including washing, care and food. There should be a charge for usage above the basic amount because we believe in the very simple principle that monitoring and measuring water usage and putting a price on it not only raises revenue that helps to create the water services we need but also, and more important, stops us wasting what is a precious resource. In the end, that will save more money. It is a more intelligent economic system. Not having any price means there is a real risk of wasting water, as we do in this country. We must not waste water anymore because, as we know, Dublin is very close to a shortage. Across the country in our polluted water and wastewater systems, especially where the water and wastewater plants are integrated, there is a fundamental problem that requires massive investment. While we can pay for some of this through general taxation, relying exclusively on general taxation would mean we would lose out on the savings we would make from pushing conservation.

We believe that if we are to value something, we must measure it. We do not believe it would make sense to throw away the metering system we have installed. It would be a waste of money. We require a fundamental change with regard to the environment and our use of natural resources. We must measure and monitor consumption and take it seriously.

Last but not least, we need to move towards a river-based management system whereby we manage our use of natural resources with an eye to nature and how it works. That system, whereby we go right from the mountaintop to the sea, must account for flood management. We must consider this system because of the carbon and climate change effects. We must start engaging in land management and using our natural resources in a clever way involving long-term thinking. Part of this involves putting a price on water so it will not be wasted and so we will know what is happening to our entire system. That has been our position from the very start and one we presented in detail to the commission last week in our submission. We look forward to talking to other parties, with their various views, about what should be done next.

I will be supporting this motion, indeed, I have signed it. People power strikes fear into the heart of the establishment. That is what has been happening over recent years through the Right2Water and Right2Change protests. Hundreds of thousands of people have protested locally and nationally over two years. They have brought about circumstances in which three out of every four people are refusing to pay water charges. Water charges are an austerity tax and represent double taxation.

At every hands turn, the establishment was expecting the movement would go away. It has not gone away. Last Saturday week, the marching of tens of thousands of people in Dublin sent a very strong message to the establishment, the Government and Fianna Fáil that we want abolition, not suspension. We want Irish Water abolished and a referendum to enshrine public ownership of water into the Constitution. Privatisation is the objective of the Government, as it was of the previous Government. It is the objective of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party and it has to be stopped. The agenda has been driven nationally and from Europe. We are now in a position in which a majority in this House is for the abolition of water charges. We should abolish them now, and do so through this motion this evening.

As I stated, the water tax is an austerity tax and is double taxation. It is particularly difficult for ordinary people, those on low incomes and those on social welfare payments. The majority who say they are opposed to water charges have an opportunity to vote in favour of this motion, which has been tabled by Sinn Féin and many Independent Deputies.

I am sharing my time with Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Dessie Ellis.

I listened last week to Deputy Barry Cowen's party leader on local radio in Cork. The only reason he gave for not supporting the motion was that it was a stunt. He could not come up with any other reason for not supporting it. This is amazing because, as my colleague Deputy Eoin Ó Broin pointed out, the very purpose of Private Members' time is putting forward Private Members' business. The vast majority of the business is in the form of motions and some is in the form of legislation. We voted on those motions for one purpose, and one purpose only, namely, to express the will of this House. None of us is naive enough to believe that by passing this motion, it will be the end of the matter. However, it certainly sent out a very clear message to people outside this Chamber, the tens of thousands who marched two weeks ago in opposition to water charges, that Members are listening to them and can be trusted on this issue.

The reality, however, is that Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted on this issue. If Deputy Barry Cowen disagrees with that and is telling us his position for the commission is now the final position of Fianna Fáil, there is no reason he cannot support the motion before us tonight. This is because it is in line with his party's own stated position. I do not know how he will explain this to people when he decides to vote against it tomorrow. What is the reason for voting against it? Fianna Fáil's party leader having said on local radio in Cork that the motion is a political stunt will not wash with the people. The party has a very easy decision to make: it must either support its own stated position, as articulated to the commission, or not. If not, it cannot blame people for not trusting it on this issue.

On 17 September, it was estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people, or up to tens of thousands, gathered in Dublin for the Right2Water demonstration. It was a very impressive mobilisation. People took a stand by their attendance, a stand I believe will help ensure an end to this ill thought-out effort to impose a tax on a basic human right, the right to water. Aside from the numerous public demonstrations held across the country, the recent election saw a majority of Deputies elected who ran on a platform in opposition to water charges.

This has sent a clear message to this Government that people are not accepting the introduction of water charges. The democratically expressed will of the people must be respected.

Regarding some earlier comments, let me make one thing absolutely clear. I am the longest serving member of my party in this Chamber and, as an elected representative, in this State, let me say that Sinn Féin has been a consistent voice in opposition to water charges through all my years of political activism. Never ever did it falter.

The flip-flopping of Fianna Fáil on this issue must be embarrassing for some of its number. One week it says it supports the abolition of domestic water charges but the next week it votes against a motion calling on water charges to be abolished. In recent weeks, Fianna Fáil has announced a policy of permanently abolishing water charges and funding Ireland's water system from general taxation again. What exactly is its policy?

It is not so much about me and my colleagues posing this question during this debate. It is a real question among vast swathes of public opinion today. Today, Fianna Fáil has an opportunity to clarify its position on this matter. It should vote in favour of the motion and show its support for the abolition of water charges. If it votes against the motion, it will show its uncertainty on this issue and the possibility of its continuing to support its retention.

I appeal to Fianna Fáil to end the mixed messages and ask that there be no more confusion. Today, all Members have an opportunity to vote against this hated tax and I urge all Deputies who are genuinely opposed to water charges to vote in favour of the proposition. To do otherwise would be to continue the disgraceful politics of speaking out of both sides of one's mouth on a given issue. Let us have clarity and be sure where every Deputy stands on this issue. The electorate deserves to know.

This Private Members' debate is a chance for a good proportion of elected representatives in the House to vote on whether to fulfil one of their election promises. This motion could be the last chance to abolish water charges before Fianna Fáil decides it has spent enough time swinging on the fence and brings down the Government. This motion echoes the call from the majority of our constituents. It calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation, as has always been the case. This is an issue that brought tens of thousands of people out onto the streets in protest. The large crowds of people on the streets over the past two years have one clear and loud demand, namely, to abolish this unjust tax and not kick it down the road with the commission.

The fact is that an expert water commission agreed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will not deliver on this issue. The commission's outcome has already been determined. The Government should stop this pretence of democracy and the show trials, where a 15 year old boy has been dragged before the courts on trumped up and spurious charges. Today, the Government must accept that last February, the majority of people voted to scrap water charges and abolish Irish Water. It is time to honour that decision.

The privatisation agenda that drove the setting up of Irish Water has only succeeded in placing an extra financial burden on working people, families and pensioners. They have endured bin chargers, the household tax, the increasing cost of house and car insurance, the high price of rent on homes and, on top of all that, water charges. This is about more than having to pay for a utility. Rather, it is about allowing people to survive in their daily lives. This charge was conceived by Fianna Fáil and brought to life amid quangos and incompetence by the Labour Party and Fine Gael Government.

The response to these charges has been one of mass protest and resistance. Fianna Fáil is, as usual, trying to position itself on both sides of the issue. If I was a cynical man, I would say it is biding time and postponing any decision until it can contrive to bring down the Government. We are in the position today where Fianna Fáil supports the abolition of water charges but will not support the motion to abolish them. What hypocrisy.

We are having the same discussion over and over again but we will have to repeat the same points for a few more months until we have a final vote on this issue for once and for all. I have heard umpteen times that people voted to abolish water charges. That is not factually true. I cannot say that they did not but those in opposition cannot keep saying it because it is not true.

That is because-----

I deal in facts. There is no point in kidding ourselves. People did not say "No" to Irish Water. Rather, they raised many issues on the doors and voted for Sinn Féin for many reasons - I am not sure what they were but they did vote. Let us call a spade a spade. There is no point in saying Irish Water is the main issue.

It is important that we have another discussion. Many of the issues around water have been rehashed again today and we are debating the same issues, whether they are true or false. Most important is that we all agree on the importance of funding our public water services. Everyone talks about the right to water, free water and everything else but the discussion is about treated water. This is not water that falls from the sky or comes from elsewhere but rather treated water that costs the guts of €1 billion a year to treat and pump to everyone's house. This is also about waste water and sewage, treatment of which incurs a high cost.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred to people living in rural Ireland. They face high costs in terms of installing wells, biocycles and septic tanks at the start of the planning process, maintaining them and so on. They pay those costs over a long period. If we are going to have a discussion, we need to address that issue. People facing high costs would love to be able to pay a couple of hundred euro per year to have everything dealt with and not worry about water. They do not have that choice but they, like everybody else, pay tax. If we are to be fair, we need to address that issue in debates. As I have said before, I accept that people have different issues regarding water and that is fair enough. However, let us have a factual debate and tease out all of the different bits and pieces.

Deputy Catherine Murphy touched on the core of the issue when she said this was never really just about water. She is probably right. The timing of the introduction of water charges coincided with many other issues. One could not have chosen a worse time to introduce any kind of water charges, no matter where one stood on the issue. Everyone was under pressure and had bills and concerns. There was a genuine fear on the part of many people who went on protests and campaigned against water charges that bills would increase and perhaps would be €1,000. I totally accept that there were genuine fears. If water charges are to be implemented, there will have to be caps. Others went on protest marches for different reasons. There was a lot more to it than water. In the process that was set out over the past couple of months and which will continue until March 2017, we will have a conversation about water.

In this motion, Sinn Féin is focusing on water but the overall debate should now involve a conversation about the provision of water. We need to discuss whether we charge, how much we charge and so on. We should make an informed decision in the House on that topic alone next March, April or whenever the issue comes up for debate. We should not bring in all of the other reasons people in the House campaigned against Irish Water. Those reasons involved politics as opposed to ideology.

I accept that some in Sinn Féin have a genuine belief, as opposed to a seeing it as a political issue, but many others in the House have used this issue for political purposes. That is wrong. At the end of the debate, next March or April, every person in the House should make an informed decision on water, including conservation, delivery and wastewater, and vote on that. It is so important and we have a duty to vote for the right reasons and focus the debate on the core issue.

We all want greater investment in modern water infrastructure and an improved public treated water system. Everyone acknowledges there are problems with the lack of a joined-up approach under the old local authority management system, some of which only came to light since Irish Water has taken over. All sides of the House want public ownership of our water services and the infrastructure through which it is delivered. It was said again today that we need to have a referendum on the privatisation of water. It cannot be privatised without the Irish public having a vote on the issue. It is not an issue. It is factually wrong to say water can be privatised or sold off tomorrow. It cannot be.

If any future Government wanted to privatise water, such a proposal would have to go through the Seanad and the Dáil and to the Irish people for a vote. That is the law. If we need to go further in clarifying that, that is fair enough. People should not be telling lies. Irish Water cannot be privatised tomorrow unless the Government goes to the public and they vote for it.

I again ask Sinn Féin to deal in facts. I have acknowledged that Sinn Féin Deputies have opinions but I ask them to deal with facts.

What the Minister of State has said is not factual.

It is also not factual when the Deputy said that it can be privatised. It cannot be privatised without the Irish public deciding it that way. It is written in law, it is there. As I said in the previous debate on this issue, let us focus on the goals that we do agree with and work constructively to chart a path towards an efficient and effective provision and funding for water services.

We believe the Sinn Féin motion is premature because we have a process in place and this debate will happen in the months ahead also. In fairness the party does speak about having to fund water services from taxation, so it is not hiding the fact that the money has to come from somewhere. However, I would like Sinn Féin to outline where the money would come from and what services would not be funded instead. Sinn Féin could let us know if it wants to fund a school, a hospital or footpaths and it should let us know its thinking in that regard.

That is fine, I am asking where it wants to take the money from. If it is not too much trouble, maybe it will point it out at some stage. Or it may want to wait two weeks until the budget. It might outline its thoughts on that as well.

I will send the Minister of State an e-mail.

Good, thank you, I will make sure I get it.

There will be no exchanges across the floor of the House.

It is much more fun when we have a discussion.


All countries, including Ireland, need to act sustainably in managing, protecting and providing this fundamental natural resource. We all agree on that. We need to be fully cognisant of these challenges as part of the debate on future water services funding. This is why we need to focus the debate purely on water in the months ahead and not people's own personal agendas. Behind the concept of water charges is the principle of establishing a link between the use of an environmentally precious resource and funding the environmental and economic cost of accessing and supplying it to our businesses, our communities and our homes. Without a link between use and funding through user charges, many citizens' awareness of incurring these costs is greatly diminished, not all citizens but certainly some. If one speaks to people in schools, they do not realise that it is costing almost €1 billion per year to treat and provide water. They do not always realise that. When one walks around housing estates, one can see people washing their cars with water that is as expensive as Ballygowan. They do not fully realise the connection there and that is why a link to a charge of some sort, allowing for plenty of free use and so on, will show there is a consequence to wasting water. It must be understood that not everyone else has as much water as we do in Ireland and that this is a problem in many other countries. There is an economic desire to save water also because we must spend a lot of money in order to develop the capacity to treat the water. If we can stop the leakage and wastage of water, we would need spend a lot less to treat it in the first place. That is an important point because apart from doing the right thing, public money could be saved.

In parallel to the deliberative process outlined by my colleague the Minister, Deputy Coveney, the Government recognises that public confidence in Irish Water needs to increase, which is putting it mildly. I think we can all agree on that. This will take time. During the Seanad debate I said, and I will say it again - I know I am not talking to the audience who do not want to listen to me on this point - that in the months ahead, when we are going to make a decision about Irish Water and vote on this, members of the public or those in this House actually read the business case behind the concept and have an opinion on what we are trying to do here. Not everyone here has done that. I accept that some Members may have read it but not all have done so. There was always going to be an initial cost for the first seven or eight years but over time it was going to pay back its costs. Look at the business case and look at the reports on how Irish Water is doing its job and ask if it is making a success of it. I accept that people do not like it. I am not asking that people like it or love it but I am asking them to look at the facts and the business case to see if it adds up before they make a final decision on this in the months ahead. I know Members have decided how they are going to vote tonight but I am referring to the months ahead.

It will take time to get people to accept Irish Water but in my view, it will be done, not only through the utility’s work, but also through regular public information, analysis and scrutiny of the utility’s performance and reports on its work. In this context, the Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil contains a commitment to improving the transparency and accountability of Irish Water. Once established, the advisory body, which is mentioned in our amendment to the motion, will publish advice to the Government and give quarterly reports to an Oireachtas committee on Irish Water’s performance in implementing its business plan for 2014-21. The advice will pay particular regard to cost reduction and efficiency improvements; procurement, remuneration and staffing policies; infrastructure delivery and leakage reductions; improvements in water quality, including the elimination of boil water notices; and responsiveness to the needs of communities and enterprise.

As I have said before in response to questions from colleagues in this House and in the Seanad, Irish Water has to engage with Members, regardless of political background. If Members have questions or concerns on local or national issues, the information should come forward. If I am being told in debates that local authorities are waiting for information or guidance then that should not happen and it is not on. Everybody has to up their game around information on Irish Water. The work of the external advisory body will, I believe, contribute to raising awareness of Irish Water’s significant progress to date in improving and upgrading the deficient public treated water system. Last year the utility ensured that some 22,000 people saw an end to their long-term boil water notices. It removed the threat of contamination from four drinking water supplies that supply 220,000 people and replaced over 500 km of leaking pipeline. Irish Water continued to increase the spare water supply capacity in Dublin, from the low base of 2% which it inherited to almost 10%, closer to the standard in European capital cities of 15%. This also puts the city in a better place to win and create more jobs in the future and to sustain our tourism market. The utility also notified customers with probable lead piping, identified through the domestic metering programme of the dangers, with 34,000 households notified to date. The €408 million it invested last year in core infrastructure is a 19% increase on 2014 and contributed to the delivery of new water and wastewater treatment plants, all of which will help make water supplies more secure and increase our capacity in terms of wastewater treatment.

I must ask the Minister of State to conclude.

I was going to talk about the leakage again-----

I am obliged to call the speaker at ten minutes before the end of the debate so I want to give an opportunity to the Members.

I have only about ten seconds left.

The Minister of State's time is up.

Just when Deputy English was in full flow.

There are four Members wishing to contribute. I understand that Deputies Quinlivan, Cullinane, Munster and McDonald are sharing time. I ask the Deputies to ensure they do not exceed the eight minutes allowed to allow Deputy Ó Broin the opportunity to come in ten minutes before the end.

I will not speak at the end of the debate.

Okay. We will start with Deputy Quinlivan.

It is unbelievable to think that almost six months into the current Government we are still debating this issue. Once again the political system and its ruling elite continue to blatantly ignore the fact that ordinary people are absolutely opposed to the introduction of water charges and that they intend to fight them to the very end. It is not good enough for Fianna Fáil to come into the House today to abstain or vote against this motion. There is absolutely no reason why water charges have not been abolished before now other than by political game playing and attempts by Fianna Fáil to capture the issue for its own selfish motives.

The bottom line is that Fianna Fáil want to get as much political capital out of this issue as possible. Its sly approach to the issue is there for all to see. For example, on 13 September, its submission to the expert commission backed the abolition of water charges. However, on 19 September, the party announced it would not back the Sinn Féin motion to scrap water charges. By 21 September, Fianna Fáil said it would not rule out supporting the reintroduction of domestic water charges. This series of dizzying U-turns is classic Fianna Fail politicking - say everything but do nothing and all at the same time. The fact is that Fianna Fáil does not have a position on water charges and it is playing to all sides on the issue. It acknowledged as much in its submission to the commission, which the party described as not its permanent position. All of this floundering back and forth also shows that Fianna Fáil has no clear policy position on this issue and that the function of policy is, above all else, to gain party political advantage at the expense of everything else. Questions to do with what type of society we want, issues of inequality, public service provision, etc., are all subordinate to the task of getting Fianna Fáil back into power. Surely this is straight out of the Haughey-Bertie Ahern school of politics, where Deputy Micheál Martin learned his craft.

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have a lot in common, as we know. They have more in common than what divides them. One of the things they have in common is an uncanny ability to sow confusion when in fact the issue is very clear. The Minister of State said earlier that we cannot say with certainty that a majority of people in the last election voted for the abolition of water charges-----

However, what can be said for certain is that a majority of Deputies who were elected to this Chamber, to the Thirty-second Dáil, were voted in on the basis of a clear policy position to scrap water charges or abolish them. A minority, including the party of the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Labour Party, did not receive a majority because of their views on water charges and a range of other issues. That much is clear. The Minister of State says he accepts the sincerity of Sinn Féin on the issue and he knows and understands that at least we are honest about our position that we are opposed to water charges.

The Minister of State says some people use this for political gain or reasons of political expediency. He is right, but he is talking about his coalition partners in Fianna Fáil. Its Deputies are the very ones who have used this for political gain. It is the party that has done more U-turns on this issue than every other party in the State. That is what it has done.

We need to understand what all of this was about in the first place, why we are at the point we are at and Fianna Fáil cannot bring itself, not once but twice, to support a motion which agrees with its so-called publicly stated policy. When Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were trying to tie the knot a number of months ago and held meetings in Trinity College Dublin, one of the stumbling blocks was water charges. In an attempt to make sure there would be no pre-nuptial agreement, they agreed to set up a commission to get both parties off the hook. Everybody can see that, as it is both clear and transparent. That was the gap between the two parties, if there was a gap. We know that Fine Gael is absolutely supportive of water charges and absolutely against them being scrapped. What we do not know for certain is Fianna Fáil's position. My view is that it was looking for cover for its position on water charges which conveniently was provided by the commission. That is what this is about. If Fianna Fáil is honest, wants to stick to its public conviction and position that it is absolutely opposed to water charges, if it has finally come around to Sinn Féin's view and done a 180-degree turn that water charges should be abolished and that water should be paid for through general taxation, what is stopping it from supporting the motion? It states the only thing that is stopping it is the commission, which proves the point I made. Fianna Fáil is waiting for the commission to give it the out it is looking for. That is what this is about.

The people expect us to deliver and do what we were elected to do. Those who put their X and the numbers 1 and 2 on ballot papers to vote "Yes" on range of issues, including this one, expect us to implement the will of the people. It is very clear that, on this issue, their will is that water charges should go. When are they going to go? The people could be given a clear signal today that water charges will go if the majority of those who say they are opposed to them support the motion. That is what I appeal to Fianna Fáil to do.

Here we are again, being presented with another opportunity to do what we promised the people we would do: abolish water charges. We know where Fine Gael stands on the issue; it is in favour of water charges. We also know where the Labour Party stands. It, too, is in favour of forcing people to pay for water. What we do not know is where Fianna Fáil stands on the issue. We thought we knew where it stood on it for the simple reason that on page 38 of its election manifesto it clearly stated in black and white that it would abolish water charges. It was as clear as day. However, it keeps changing its mind, or does it? I would like to say it is flip-flopping, but I believe it is something far more cynical. Fianna Fáil continuously insults the intelligence of the people in the most blatant way. It thinks it can take them for fools. Its cynical doublespeak in the past few weeks brings politics to a new low.

Just a few weeks ago, Fianna Fáil submitted a submission to the commission stating it backed the abolition of water charges. A couple of days later, it stated it would not support a Sinn Féin motion for the abolition of water charges, a motion that was calling for precisely what it had stated it would do. A couple of days later it stated it would not rule out the reintroduction of domestic water charges. I could call on its leader to hang his head in shame but the reality is that he has no shame. We are giving Fianna Fáil an opportunity to try to redeem itself, if possible, and prove me wrong. I call on it to end its cynical doublespeak, stop taking the people for fools and support the motion to abolish water charges because that is what it promised the people it would do. Tonight it can redeem itself by supporting the motion and doing the right thing because that is what it stated it would do. In the name of God, it must stop conning the people because it is fooling nobody.

I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. She has seven minutes.

I thought for one second that I only had one minute and nine seconds. I would have had to speak very quickly.

I could give the Deputy lessons.

From listening to the debate, this path has been well trodden. We have heard all of the arguments why it is unacceptable to the majority that people should pay for domestic water supplies a second time. The Minister of State is right that nothing is free. Yes, things have to be paid for. Those of us in elected office need to identify from where the moneys will come. That is entirely reasonable and it has been said 100 times. As has been reflected on, people have come out onto the streets repeatedly in their tens of thousands to make it clear that charging for domestic water supplies is a bridge too far. Sometimes people talk about those who will not pay. There are many people who, as a matter of principle, will not pay water charges. However, there is a far bigger proportion who simply cannot pay. I know them, as must the Minister of State, because they live in our communities and constituencies.

Today there is very much a sense of dejà vu. The Government is holding fast to the position of Fine Gael of imposing domestic water charges. One presumes the Independents in government go along with this line. Despite conceding the fact that Irish Water and domestic water charges were an unholy mess and a disaster, it seems the Labour Party, too, is sticking to its position of imposing domestic water charges. Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, flip flops. The question has been asked: where does it stand? What is its policy? I believe its position is actually very clear. It has a policy of prevarication, delay and deception. That is where it stands on the issue. For anyone who was in any doubt before today, let there be no doubt now. The motion is very straightforward. It simply states Dáil Éireann resolves to abolish domestic water charges and fund water and sanitation services through progressive general taxation. There is nothing ambiguous or unclear about it; it is as clear as water.

Yet those on the Fianna Fáil benches pursue their policy of prevarication, delay and, ultimately, deception. I do not believe they intend to see through on their promise to abolish water charges. Those on the Government and Fianna Fáil benches need to understand that those who proposed the introduction of domestic water charges have lost the argument. I heard Deputy Barry Cowen, in a volcano of bluster, talk about why the people had voted one way or the other in the general election and the outcome of that contest. What is absolutely clear is that a majority of those elected to the Dáil were elected on a platform of abolition of water charges. The question is whether they will actually make good that promise. That is what this debate is all about. It is about whether those of us who said to the tens of thousands of people and more that we would see to it that these unfair charges, a form of double taxation, would be lifted are as good as our word.

Sinn Féin, in tabling this motion, is demonstrating categorically its commitment to this policy. We said to the people that we would see to it that water charges were abolished and this motion is about making that happen. Similarly, the other Deputies who signed the motion are being true to the commitment they gave. When called out on its promise, the Fianna Fáil Party had done what it always does, namely, prevaricate, delay and attempt to deceive. Perhaps it will remember that this is not a game and that when its members knocked on doors and gave a commitment on water charges, people took it at its word. That may not mean much to Fianna Fáil but I suggest it should. It certainly meant something to people when they went to the polling stations and, more important, it means a great deal to people as they plan their households budgets and water services and consider how they will get by from day to day.

I heard the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, waxing lyrical earlier about his desire to create a water secure economy. I did not hear him refer to a water secure society. I never hear any of the Government Deputies speak about old age pensioners for whom the water debate is about the water to boil a kettle, have a bath or cook dinner. That is where this debate is and it is what they all miss.

Those who advanced a case for water charges lost the argument. It is now time they accepted that and while they may not like to do so, that is their problem because the democratic wishes of the people have been expressed and the democratic promises of elected representatives have been made. This evening's debate will divide those who are as good as their word from those for whom their word means nothing. It will divide those of us who listen to people and are in touch with their everyday experiences from those who live in ivory towers. It is as simple as that.

Anyone who opposes domestic water charges has the opportunity to express that opposition democratically and through a vote. Anyone who does not support the motion does not support the abolition of water charges. That is what this debate boils down to.

I congratulate everybody who has held firm on this issue against all the odds and in the face of the great and good, the experts and the naysayers. The ordinary people said, "You are not doing this". The Government will abolish water charges now or later. It should be clear that this must mean abolition and not suspension.

Amendment put.

The division is postponed until the weekly division time tomorrow, Thursday, 21 July, in accordance with Standing Order 70(2).