Establishment of Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services: Motion

I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders—

(a) a Special Committee (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Committee’) is hereby appointed, to be joined with a Special Committee to be appointed by Seanad Éireann, to form the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. The Joint Committee shall consider the report of the Expert Commission on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, and report thereon, with recommendations, to both Houses of the Oireachtas, in accordance with paragraph (h);

(b) the Expert Commission shall, as soon as is practicable after it adopts its report, forward the report to the Clerks of both Houses, who shall arrange for the report to be laid in the Parliamentary Library, whereupon the report shall stand referred to the Joint Committee;

(c) the number of members of the Committee shall not exceed 16, and the members shall be appointed as follows:

(i) five members appointed by the Government,

(ii) four members appointed by Fianna Fáil,

(iii) two members appointed by Sinn Féin, and

(iv) one member each appointed by the Labour Party, the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit (AAA-PBP), Independents 4 Change, the Rural Independent Group, and the Social Democrats– Green Party Group;

(d) the Ceann Comhairle shall announce the names of the members appointed under paragraph (c) for the information of the Dáil on the first sitting day following their appointment;

(e) the quorum of the Joint Committee shall be eight, at least one of whom shall be a member of the Dáil, and one a member of the Seanad;

(f) the Chairman of the Joint Committee shall be Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh;

(g) the Joint Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 85(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (7), (8) and (9); and

(h) the Joint Committee shall report to both Houses of the Oireachtas by 28th February, 2017, or within three months of its first public meeting, whichever is the later.”

How much time do I have to speak?

I ask the Minister to be very brief because we have only 15 minutes for the entire process.

I will do my best to take 14.

I take it every party will have a minute or two.

Everyone who offers.

I do not think the setting up of the committee should come as a surprise to anybody. I have spoken to many Members in this House informally in the build-up to this to try to get a consensus on what parties could live with. I know that there are deep divisions in the House on how we should fund domestic water services and so on. I accept that this is a very political and difficult issue with which to deal. However, the setting up of the committee was aimed at ensuring every group represented in the House would have representation on it. I personally insisted on this to ensure nobody would feel left out of the debate on the detail of the expert committee's report, recommendations and so on, and in the putting together of the recommendations to come from the special committee when set up. We had discussions with various Members. Obviously, I could not speak to everybody in every group. This is an attempt to try to ensure every grouping in the Oireachtas will be represented.

A point was made about Seanad representation. It is proposed that one of the four Senators on the committee come from the Civil Engagement group because that is the only group in either House that does not have an automatic right to nominate somebody to the committee.

All right, Minister.

Let me finish the point.

We only have 15 minutes.

I am the Minister proposing the motion-----

-----and I have not even spoken for two minutes yet. We are trying to ensure everybody can have his or her say on the substance of the issue.

On the appointment of the Chairman, no Chairman has yet been appointed. We are putting it in the motion for a democratic decision in this and the other House that Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh be supported by a majority of this House to be Chairman of what will be a difficult committee to manage and chair. The only motivation is to try to have a neutral person who will be respected by the vast majority of the members of the committee - I hope by all of its members - to try to move towards compromise and consensus on what is a difficult issue.

It is the only motivation here and we are bringing it for a democratic decision this morning, which has been flagged all week by me and by the Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty. I do not understand why people are kicking back against this as if they have just seen it for the first time this morning.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete subsection (f) the Chairman of the Joint Committee shall be Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh;

This amendment proposes to remove subsection (f) from the motion. I do not dispute the majority of what the Minister said. He spoke to many of us by telephone last Wednesday when he outlined the overall composition of the committee. We accepted him on his word and we had no objection to it. The first we heard about the appointment of the Senator to the position of chairman of the committee was on the front pages of the Sunday Independent. That was not discussed or mentioned to any of us. I made two points earlier in Leaders' Questions and I will make them again now. The first is that this is a breach of ordinary procedure for committees in electing their own chairmen. It is also an attempt by Government - supported by Fianna Fáil - to determine one of the four Seanad nominees separately from the Seanad. Those are the issues of contention. All the Minister has to do is accept the Sinn Féin amendment and allow the ordinary procedures to prevail, remove subsection (f) and we will support this and move on.

I have no objection to the committee per se although this is a continuation of the balancing act the Government has been involved in since the establishment of this Dáil. There is an in-built predetermined majority within the proposed committee, with or without the independent chairman. It is an issue. I hope that everyone would go in to the committee with an open mind to hear clear argument but when people announce in advance that this is what is to be done it undermines the principle of listening to the clear arguments to be made.

I support the amendment put forward by Sinn Féin. There is a principle that a committee selects its own Chairman. It is not a good precedent for the Government to do so as the whole idea is that Parliament is separate from Government in determining who should chair any committee. The committee itself should make that determination. In general terms, once this precedent is established it would be a bad augury for future committees and the primacy of this House to make its own decisions on its own business.

I spoke with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, last week when he telephoned me. In that call the Minister suggested the outline of the committee, on the basis that there would be fair representation of all the Dáil groups and that there would be one Fianna Fáil and one Fine Gael representative from the Seanad and two others. On that basis I said that I would have to take the proposal back to our group but that it seemed reasonable. We would have to consider whether we would engage with this committee at all because, as the Minister knows, it was our opinion that the committee was not necessary and the Dáil should have decided the issue on the back of the election.

However, given that the committee is happening, we want to participate in it and the Minister's proposal, as outlined on the telephone, seemed reasonable. Then, however, something else happened. It turned out that the Seanad would not decide the two other positions beyond the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives, it would be Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who would decide those positions - and the balance of the committee - in some sort of back room negotiations that Fine Gael was obviously having with Fianna Fáil. That is when things began to go off the rails as far as we are concerned. Let us be clear that this means the Seanad representation on it changes the balance of the committee in favour of those who have associations with one of the two major parties. This is against the likely representation, if the Seanad itself had decided, of a choice of at least one of those other representatives to be from the camp who are opposed to water charges. This is why we think it looks like a stitch-up.

The Seanad can do that. It is up to the Seanad to choose.

Minister, please.

That begs the question if it is a stitch-up. We want an open debate. We want this committee to decide its own plan of action, its own terms of reference and it should be selecting its own Chairman. The position holder should not be selected in a backroom deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and it should not override the proper proportionality of representation that should come from the Seanad with regard to that committee. That is the point. On that basis I agree with Deputy Ó Broin's amendment. The Minister should accept that our arguments are reasonable and he should accept the amendment. Then we can get on with the business, which is what we all want to do, of setting up the committee, addressing the issues around water and moving on.

I have no issues with it at all. The Minister did consult the Rural Independent Alliance and we are satisfied with the process to date. The Government Chief Whip has, as she has said, dealt with this in a forthright manner all the time on the Business Committee. I am on that committee. Some people seem to have difficulty in understanding what their role is, or change their minds often. We would not be in this mess if the water issue had been dealt with after the election instead of kicking it down the road. It is there now and in the case of the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil it appears there is a bit of a rupture in the water main and air has got into the supply.

The confidence is not great either.

There are jumps and jitters. The Labour Party Deputy should have dealt with it when his party was in government, but he did not.

Or they have abandoned ship.

What is the Deputy talking about? His ship sank at sea a long time ago.

The purpose of the committee, which the Government is establishing in this motion, is to discuss the commission's recommendations that there should be water charges on the basis of usage. Even this is a row-back of the Government's concessions, under the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, that came about because of the movement against water charges.

On a point of order-----

I have had enough of points of order.

-----we do not know what the commission will say.

I know it is very hard for the Minister to listen but I recommend that he does.

It is very hard to listen when the Deputy has misled the House.

The chairman or chairwoman of this proposed joint committee will have a crucial influence on what is brought back to the Dáil, which we keep hearing will have the final say. What is likely to come back is presumably what was recommended by the commission and therefore, who the Chairman is and the make-up of the committee matters. From what we can see, the committee is made up of a majority of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and those who are sympathetic to either of those parties and to the idea of water charges. In other words the committee is already stuffed full of an in-built majority.

No matter what the Minister does with this committee, even if he does not agree with the amendment, which I support, people will not pay the water charges and the Minister is flogging a dead horse. Continue on if he will, but people cannot rely on the Dáil to actually carry out the mandate it was given in the election by a majority of the people. Fianna Fáil's election manifesto, on page 38, says that it would abolish water charges. This committee and these machinations look like an attempt to row back on that and this is why we are challenging it. We would not even be having this discussion or debate if we had not challenged it. People can see though what the Government is doing.

To be clear about what has been going on in the Chamber this morning, we have a name for the chairmanship of the committee, which has been brokered by a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backroom deal. The fact that it would be a Senator chosen by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael queers the pitch with regard to the make-up of the representation by Senators on the committee, reducing it in effect from four to three committee members elected by the Seanad. We have a motion being debated in the House and I suspect a significant number of Deputies are not even fully aware that it is being debated this morning. We also have context because when the Government was establishing the expert commission on water charges it chose a chairman who said that his task was to add a little sugar to help the water charges go down better with the population. Do I withdraw the charge that there was an attempt at a stich-up here and an attempt to pull a sly one? Absolutely not; I call things by their right name and I stand by every word I said.

I will try to be helpful here. When we were looking at proposals on how a committee would be established, as I said earlier we wanted to ensure that every group that wanted to be part of the committee and the debate could be. There were many proposals to use d'Hondt systems, which would have excluded some of the groups in the House. I rejected these because I wanted to bring forward a motion that would at least recognise that everyone in the Chamber, in terms of their group, would be represented on the committee. With regard to mandate and representation, from a percentage point of view the smaller groups have higher representation than the larger groups. Is it undemocratic that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined, the two largest parties which have a majority in terms of mandate, would have a majority on any committee? I do not think this is undemocratic. This is not a Government decision. It is a proposal on which Parliament, the Dáil and the Seanad, will make a determination, through a democratic vote today. What we are proposing here today is a motion on the 16 Members of the Dáil who will be on the committee. I take Deputy Ó Broin's point that his concern relates to the unusual step of naming a Chairman in the motion. There are other committees where there are agreements on who the chairperson will be. Take the Committee of Public Accounts, for example, whereby it is agreed-----

Not the temporary committees.

Let me make a point. What we are trying to do here is to propose a name that would be as neutral as we can make him or her-----

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh has no connections with Fine Gael of which I am aware.

Who appointed him to the Seanad?

His appointment to the Seanad-----

The Minister does not have to answer those questions. They are not valid in the circumstances.

He is an Independent Senator. We saw in the lifetime of the previous Government that the Taoiseach's independent nominees to the Seanad voted in all sorts of ways and often did not back the Government. We have also seen that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not share the same view on the issue of water. What we are trying to do with the committee is get the input of experts, and they are genuine experts, who will report next week. To respond to Deputy Coppinger, we do not know what they will say. I am happy to wait until they report. Their report will not come to me, it will go directly to the committee which we are establishing to consider it fairly and in detail. We will then have a process for three months or so when the committee will do its work and make recommendations for another democratic decision. The only motivation behind naming the Chairman was to try to get somebody who would not be that controversial. A lot of thought went into who that person might be, so everybody could have the type of relationship with the Chairman that will be needed if the committee is to be constructive and functional.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 39; Staon, 0; Níl, 92.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Aengus Ó Snodaigh; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 93; Staon, 0; Níl, 39.

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin; Níl, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared carried.