Water Services Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I was explaining what I consider to be one of the lessons of the battle against water charges, which is that Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted. I will go into more detail now to illustrate how this Bill, which Deputy Cowen - who sounded more like "Minister" Cowen last night - was at such pains to defend, shows that Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted. At the conclusion of the deliberations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, by means of a backroom deal, managed to stitch in a back door to water charges in the future. What the Government, clearly with Fianna Fáil's acquiescence, has done with this Bill is to try to widen the back door already before it even comes into place.

I will deal first with the question of excessive usage, which is a red herring. It was clear from the hearings of the committee that it is a red herring. It was clear from the expert report that it is a red herring because average usage in Ireland is not high, but low. According to the expert commission, it is 125 l per person per day compared with 140 l per person per day in Britain, where there are water charges. We do not have widespread excessive usage of water and where it exists, it is overwhelmingly due to the fact that there are leaks. The leaks should be fixed; not only should a first fix be free but any leaks that are there should be fixed. It is clearly only there as a back door for returning to water charges in the future.

The general point we made in the aftermath of the committee and its report has been confirmed in dramatic terms by the Government's Bill. Why else include a provision in section 9 to reduce the threshold of 1.7 times the average usage above which one will pay? There is no other explanation but that the Government and Fianna Fáil, looking at being in government in future, wants at least the possibility of, over time, reducing the threshold and thereby increasing the number of people who would be brought into the charging net. Anticipating that argument, Deputy Cowen said it needs a majority of the Dáil and asked what we were complaining about because it is a democratic process. Relying on the fact there will not be a majority in the Dáil that is really in favour of water charges is again asking people who mobilised against water charges to trust that Fianna Fáil is not for water charges. We have the experience of Fianna Fáil being for water charges and originally signing the country up for water charges. It is incredible and the only reason it is there is to use it as a back door for water charges in the future.

The point was made by Deputy Cowen that the only people who will be paying water charges will be water wasters. That is not true because of the way the household average is being worked out. It is not being worked out on the basis of the number of individuals in a house and the amount of water each individual is likely to use based on an average and multiplying it by 1.7; it is simply doing it up to four people in a house on the basis of one average. A one-person household will have exactly the same allowance as a four-person household. In a society where average occupancy in households is increasing because of a crisis which has led to many children being unable to leave home until they are in their 30s, an increasing number of households are made up of four adults. There is an average household size of 2.75 but if there are four adults in a house and they use even slightly more than average - they are not water wasters - they will face charges from July 2019. That is what Fianna Fáil and the Government have signed people up for. It was something explicitly discussed in the committee when talking about individual usage. An individual usage figure was something Fianna Fáil argued for but here we have an overall household figure. I did the sums on it. If we say that the average is 133 l per person, the average household allowance will be 622 l for a household. However, four adults using an average amount each will use almost 540 l between them. It only requires them to use less than 20% extra water per person to face charges. It is not the 70% extra the Government and Fianna Fáil suggest.

I have a question. I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The timeframe for this is very suspicious and the fact it will not come in until July 2019 shows the reality. The Government has the figures for consumption. It could introduce this tomorrow. It does not want to do so because it knows water charges are politically toxic. In July 2019, they will still be politically toxic, there will still be mass opposition and there will still be 40% of homes not metered. In those circumstances, I have a question as to whether the Government will seriously go for this in another year and a half. If the Government and Fianna Fáil do, they should have no fear, they will be beaten again by a movement that has experienced the fact that it can win. That movement will beat the Government again by using the same tactics and strategies it employed previously.

I will most definitely seek to amend the Water Services Bill 2017 and, as it stands, I will oppose it. If there are amendments, I will have to look at them. This is a Bill which, while seeming to abolish water services and replace them with direct funding from general taxation, is also seeking to insert loopholes that will allow for their reintroduction in the future. The legislation is a response to the massive movement of people power, a movement of which I was very proud to be part. I was very proud - along with the local community - to play a role in stopping water meters coming into my area. It was a movement which launched the "No way, we won't pay" demand on the streets and 56% of households refused to pay. Others were forced to pay when they sold their homes or out of fear. Some agreed with water charges. This movement of people power derailed the latest attempt to commodify water and prepare for privatisation. I have no doubt that any future attempt will be met with similar mass resistance. This must be the third time the establishment has attempted to bring in water charges with the goal of privatising our water in the future. The point was made last night that water is the new oil. Large companies see they can make big profits through it. While they are making their big profits, the system creaks because there is no investment being made to fix pipes and no attempts to deal with the issue.

On section 8 and the issue of the average consumption of water, we are being asked to vote through something when we do not know what the regulator will determine to be average consumption. Is it to be by household or by individual? Is Fianna Fáil's eye being wiped here or is it in agreement with the Government on this? We do not know at what level the Minister will set the threshold over which there will be an excessive usage payment. Deputy Cowen kept referring to a fine when it is actually a payment. I ask him whether Fianna Fáil's eye is being wiped or whether it is, through its confidence-and-supply arrangement, in tacit agreement with the Government. This is very different from the idea of a fine for deliberate excessive waste as was posited at the committee. Irish Water has been given the right to charge for water usage above a level which we can only guess at this point. How will it be implemented when we do not have mass meters in the ground? If people are told that they have over-usage of water yet do not have a meter, how will Irish Water measure and cost that? It does not make sense.

Section 9 allows for a 1.7 multiplier to be reduced but not for five years. This is a loophole for the future. The threshold can be changed and lowered to bring more households into payment for water services. It is the Government preparing to bring back water charges through the backdoor, not like the last time when it took the establishment nearly 20 years, but perhaps to bring them back over five or so years. The five-year stipulation is a recognition of political reality. Water charges are off the agenda for a period but the backdoor is being left open.

I want to deal with two issues which were not on the remit of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, but were taken on board by the committee. First is the question of having a referendum to enshrine public water services in public ownership and management as per the Bill I introduced with the support of Members of this Dáil and which passed Second Stage without opposition. While it was not in the Oireachtas committee's remit, it stated it was in favour of a referendum because such a referendum was called for in the majority of submissions received by the commission and the Oireachtas committee. The commission on water charges also supported a referendum based on the number of submissions it received indicating that people supported a referendum on the public ownership of our water.

The Bill passed Second Stage almost a year ago. The current and former Ministers have both said they favour a referendum but are awaiting advice from the Attorney General as to the wording of the amendment. A red herring has been created around the issue of group schemes and private wells. My Bill refers specifically to the public water system. The public water system is the public water system and does not include private schemes or private wells. Given that a back door has been left open to attempt to commodify water to charges at some point in the future, a referendum to rule out privatisation is still a priority for the Right2Water movement and is still a priority for this Dáil in reflection of the mood and demand of the people. It is vital to copper-fasten the right to public water.

I wish to refer to the future of Irish Water as an entity. This is a key issue that the Government - and now it appears Fianna Fáil - want to keep off the agenda. I wish to know why this is so. I believe this was contained in the Fianna Fáil manifesto. Probably one of the reasons it got the extra votes it did in the last general election was that it supported abolishing Irish Water and water charges. Irish Water is seen as a toxic entity by the mass of the people. It is seen as a cash cow for consultants and private companies contracted to install meters and provide other services.

I recently met local authority workers who are working on water services under the service level agreement, SLA, with Irish Water. These workers have many concerns about how Irish Water operates. One concern highlighted to me related to a company which provided specialist services and could be called in to deal with a specific problem. It had a standard charge of €45. This company is no longer used and instead another well-known private company is used, which has a charge of €139 and which then subcontracts the work to the previous company anyway, allowing it to make a profit of €94 per job. This is outrageous. It is why the people hate Irish Water and why it is so toxic. There is no transparency. I have also been advised of engineers who had been recruited by consultants who are paid €85,000 and then they pay the engineer €65,000 and pocket the €20,000. This is outrageous. We need a body that is transparent in order that people can see what is going on. According to these workers, the only thing Irish Water is good is spin. The real problems in the system are not being addressed because of a lack of funds. Major necessary work, such as the replacement of ancient pipes is not being undertaken and repairs are carried out instead. Fixing a leak in the system means increased water pressure which immediately leads to other leaks.

Irish Water is pushing to be set up as a stand-alone public utility with sole responsibility for all areas of the public water system. Today the Irish Water consultative group is meeting where the CEO will present the proposal regarding a stand-alone public utility to that group, and has already consulted with the Minister. This raises important issues for in excess of 3,000 local authority workers operating under the service-level agreement with Irish Water, which is due to be reviewed in 2021.

It is extremely important that Deputies give careful consideration to the concerns of these workers in the coming period. These workers are the experts and not those in Irish Water. These workers have experience and knowledge gained over the years. They know what is wrong, what needs to be fixed and how to do it. They need a national water authority to ensure they get the necessary investment to get on with the job of providing high-quality public water services. Every cent that goes into the water services should be put directly into fixing the pipes and supporting the network and not channelling money to consultants and groups without delivering properly.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on the Water Services Bill 2017. From the outset I was opposed to the Fine Gael Ervia project, including Irish Water, whose aim was always to privatise Ireland's domestic water supply.

I always advocated that all the necessary capital funding for expanding water supplies and the maintenance of water systems around the country should be a core part of the annual and multi-annual capital budgets. For about eight years I was chair of the Dublin City Council general purposes committee, which among many other matters looked after the water supply for much of the Dublin region. I saw at first hand how the city council, which organised and provided this water, was denied resources by successive Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to carry out critical maintenance for new pipework and to expand Dublin water supply resources. When we were trying to get the Leixlip works refurbished and developed, we had a great struggle to get funding from the Fianna Fáil-led Government.

The supplies for our capital city and the mid-Leinster region were always on a knife edge while Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael gave huge tax concessions to their big businesses and big farming backers to the tune of €5.5 billion in 2014. At yesterday's meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, we heard how this tax expenditure could be underestimated by up to €15 billion. When Dublin city is compared with other European capitals we find that Paris, for example, has a 10% reserve of water for emergencies and any kind of natural disasters. We never had that luxury. I place responsibility directly with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which always discriminated against urban areas and particularly against Dublin.

I always promoted publicly owned regional water structures, as led in our case by Dublin City Council. The huge waste of tens of millions of euro on the failed Irish Water project is a stark indictment of this Government and the previous Administration. Last night Deputy Boyd Barrett recalled the huge marches through our city and the other marches throughout the country in the massive Right2Water campaign over recent years and down to the general election in 2016. I pay tribute to the valiant men and women in my constituency who went out quietly and peacefully and stood there in silent opposition to the installation of meters. Their courage and bravery enabled us to ensure that hopefully, water will continue to remain as a public good.

It is very striking that the British Labour Party is determined to renationalise Britain's water supplies. This is based on the outrageous profits taken by private water companies. They have taken billions of pounds out of the system while at the same time they have failed to maintain the network or deliver the expansion and renewal of the massive UK water networks. Of course, Irish Water posted net profit of €54 million in 2016.

The Bill provides for the refund of domestic water charges paid during the period from January 2015 and March 2016. Obviously, I welcome those refunds. It also provides the legislative framework for the introduction of the majority of the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services report, which was published on 12 April. While the report contained some welcome recommendations, it continued to make reference to excessive use and sanctions for that excessive use.

As a result of that and for other reasons, I and 47 other Deputies voted against the report, yet the cosy coalition we have at present between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ensured the approval of the report in the House.

I welcome that citizens who paid their domestic water charges are to receive refunds before the end of the year, which will cost the Exchequer €179 million. Yesterday, we heard in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight that this vast amount of money, which never should have been charged in the first place, has diminished the amount of fiscal space the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will have in a couple of weeks' time when he announces the budget.

I have always had concerns about the efficacy of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, because I did not feel it ever regulated the energy sector that well. Part 2, section 6, amends section 6 of the Water Services Act 2007. Section 53A of the Bill allows for the Commission for Energy Regulation - to be renamed the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, from next week, 2 October - to carry out reviews on the demand for water services over a 12 month period.

Section 53A(5) and (6) cause me great concern. Subsection (6) states: "Where the Minister after consideration of a subsequent report furnished to him or her under section 53A amends, at any time after the expiration of the period of 5 years commencing on the coming into operation of this section, an order made under subsection 1(a) or 4(a), he or she shall calculate the threshold amount by multiplying the average rate specified in the subsequent report concerned by a multiplier not exceeding 1.7." That means the Minister of the day could say the multiplier must be reduced at any stage as a water conservation measure. It is a clear attempt to bring back domestic water charges through the back door.

The Right2Water and anti-water charge campaigners always supported improved infrastructure or water conservation and their campaign was built on opposition to the establishment of a massive new quango, Irish Water, and the unnecessary metering projects which benefited Mr. Denis O'Brien and his company, and the fact that general taxation measures including income tax, motor tax and high excise, were already supposed to be funding water provision around the country. The campaign fought for the fundamental principle that as perhaps the most important public good, the water network would be funded from general taxation.

The experience in the constituency of Dublin Bay North with Irish Water is not promising. We have a bureaucratic rigmarole of contacting two councils, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, plus contacting Irish Water in relation to every water leak or other water problem. Council staff seem to be carrying out most of the maintenance work, as they always did. As my colleague said, they know the system and the network and their obvious expertise for developing and planning the Dublin and Fingal water networks seems to be wasted. Is it the case that Irish Water has developed into a sort of ESB or Gas Networks Ireland company and is just in charge of capital development while in the case of my area the two local authorities carry out the essential maintenance and renewal of the water system? If that is Irish Water's role, surely that could be better carried out on a regional basis under the direction of those two and perhaps the other two Dublin councils? Why is a costly and totally unnecessary quango being inserted into the water supply system, given that the parties which proposed that were devastated in the 2016 election?

I am also concerned about sections 12 and 13, which provide for allowances for household size and medical need, respectively. Section 12 inserts a new section 53E into the 2007 Act setting the household number that is eligible for an allowance as more than four individuals. The household will then have a new threshold amount and it is stated that it will only be charged if the amount is exceeded. That will be a significant issue because of the current housing, homelessness and rental crisis around the country. We have generations of families often living in the same household because they either cannot afford to rent somewhere, cannot find somewhere to rent, have lost their home, or are unable to buy their own home.

In my constituency of Dublin Bay North, I have met constituents who are in situations where more than ten people are living in one house. Therefore, the provisions are of concern. On this side of the House, we fear the provisions could be used as a Trojan Horse to maintain, and in the future reintroduce, water charges.

It was a recommendation from the joint committee that the remit of the public water forum would be extended to include engagement with Irish Water. We have a number of bodies now in addition to that such as the water policy advisory committee and Irish Water itself. Again, it seems we have set up a bureaucratic quagmire instead of what should be a relatively simple delivery system.

It was deplorable that the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, listed up to eight matters for decision by the people in a referendum in 2018 and 2019 but the promised referendum on retaining Irish Water and the water supply in public ownership was not included. The failure of the privatisation of the water supply in the UK and many other jurisdictions should make this referendum a priority.

I stood in the general election as a Right2Change Independent candidate and I have been opposed to domestic water charges from the outset. I believe the very high level of property tax levied across Dublin Bay North and then transmitted by Revenue to Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council should fund household water, drainage, public lighting and all other local services. I will conclude by again calling for the abolition of Irish Water and for dedicated resources in our capital budget programme to improve water infrastructure around the country. The ten-year capital investment plan from 2020 should prioritise public water and public transport services.

I am also delighted to be able to speak on this legislation. I always described Deputy O'Dowd, who is in the Chamber, as the saner and more tame implementer of Irish Water under the towering figure of-----

-----Big Phil, the former Minister. We called him the enforcer. He left a mess behind. He is on his fat pension now in the EU and he comes back an odd time to the ploughing match and other events and tells us what he is doing for Ireland. It is a whole unmitigated mess. I opposed the setting up of Irish Water with might and main because there was no need for it in the first place. I saluted the county councils throughout the country, the group water schemes, the group scheme providers and the private individuals who had wells for all the infrastructure they had. One would swear that when Irish Water came along there was not a pipe, reservoir, stopcock or tap but we are all going to the well to draw water with buckets and barrels and herding the cows into the river. Insulting language was used at the time to denigrate what the councils had not done. Every county councillor was insulted, as was every council official. I worked with many good officials in my own county. All the pioneers of the group schemes were also insulted. All and sundry were insulted. A mighty instruction was given.

The board was set up with former county managers who had retired on pensions and retired departmental officials on pensions. We did not have any of the group scheme co-ordinators or the people from rural water schemes. It was a cosy cartel. It was manna from heaven for the serial board members and the serial organisers who organised complete chaos. That is why there was so much resistance from the public. I do not say I supported any of the resistance that took place whereby working people were intimidated, bullied, threatened and spat at by so-called Right2Water campaigners who bullied and threatened them in their homes while the Garda was in the middle trying to keep the peace. There is no place for that in a modern democracy. What happened the former Minister, Deputy Burton, in Jobstown should not have happened. It has no place in a democracy but it is still promoted by some of the parties present. We see tonight a group of women who had abortions, whom we met today-----

It is still here. Freedom of speech and bullying-----

Deputy McGrath is dealing with water services. He is not dealing with-----

I am dealing with free speech-----

-----and freedom to work, and the right to work and the right to a fair day's pay for a day's work. I am just saying that people have to meet tonight in a yard of a hotel because two hotels have denied them entry because they are being bullied by members of a party that are here who took down 32 posters the other night.

I call Deputy Mattie McGrath-----

The youth branch from Trinity College took down the posters and put it up on Facebook.

Will Deputy McGrath continue to talk over me?

I am not. You are the Acting Chairman. I believe in free speech.

The Deputy should please respect the Chair.

It is acknowledged that I am fair to all Members.

You are, so let me continue please.

I am asking Deputy McGrath, like all other Members here, to deal with the issue.

Yes, and I am talking about the right to exercise freedom of speech. We live in a democracy, thankfully.

Will Deputy McGrath allow me to finish?

I am, but you are taking my time.

That is Deputy McGrath's own fault.

No, it is not. You are talking.

I ask Deputy McGrath to stick to the agenda.

I will do my best.

Like other Members. I will respect that. I am the Acting Chairman.

Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall. The Acting Chairman might give me a bit of extra time. We need the right to protest and the right to free speech. We need to hear all sides.

In this debate, we could not hear from all sides. We never heard anything from the private well owners who have to pick up the tab. We are told now that the Bill makes provision for an ombudsman through a commission for regulation of utilities in respect of dispute resolution for customers. I am glad the Government has come around to this idea, given how remarkably similar it is to what I suggested in my Private Members' Bill on this issue, the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2014. Back then they would not hear of it and it could not be countenanced. On Second Stage of that Bill, I explicitly made the point that I wished to see the appointment of a dedicated water ombudsman.

We heard from Deputy Barry Cowen last night and he assures me that a working group is now going to be set up to ensure fairness for rural dwellers. I welcome that effort but I hate the mention of working groups. I know it is in the Bill. Working groups are another quango. They are there to do what? The Government should just give some semblance of fair play to the people and some respect for those who own wells and what they pay and how they pay.

Three years ago, the need for a completely separate and independent water services oversight officer was starkly highlighted by the then Ombudsman with respect to public services. The number of complaints to the Ombudsman about public services rose by 11% to 3,500 in 2014. When he launched his annual report in 2015, the Ombudsman stated that the increase was due to the additional 200 public bodies that came within his jurisdiction for a full year for the first time in 2014, which is very telling. Through public bodies, public service is supposed to be given to the people. Where is the service? These included bodies in the education sector such as the State Examinations Commission and Student Universal Support Ireland. My concern at the time, which this Bill seems to address, was how the Ombudsman's office could deal with the inevitable flood of complaints regarding Uisce Éireann. I have always said that the only good part of the whole situation was the ainm - Uisce Éireann. There is nothing else. We need a separate ombudsman or customer dispute process so we do not completely undermine and overload the current system. That should be glaringly obvious when 200 bodies went under the ombudsman's remit in 2014.

There is also the issue of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. It has failed miserably to control energy costs with increases in gas, electricity and everything else. It is just another quango. It is people on boards again, getting paid and doing nothing. The do-nothing brigade we can call them. Before Irish Water was set up, the CER recommended that an economic regulatory framework for public water services in Ireland should be put in place, as it was for the electricity and gas sectors, based on four principles. The ESB model should have been considered, admired and copied because it is a good model. The four principles were stability, predictability, sustainability and cost-efficiency.

I know how stable the confidence and supply arrangement is with the Government in the current situation. We saw how the water committee dragged out its deliberations for so long. In the end, it came up with a mended pipe done by a bad joiner with faulty fittings. It is just waiting to rupture again the next time the pressure comes on. There will be another burst further down the line. That is what we are operating on. We have seen absolutely nothing of these things with respect to Irish Water and Government policy generally as it has lurched faster and faster from one crisis to another. That is my honest belief. I cannot support it now and did not support it then.

There is no mention in this Bill at all of the workers in the county councils who now are very concerned. Some of them have been transferred and more are about to be transferred. They are in limbo. When there is a break like the one we saw up in the north east, in Deputy Fergus O'Dowd's constituency, they had not even the parts and could not get them. The knowledge the water caretakers had of every pipe and every main going through fields and under buildings and wherever else, is all lost. There is a lack of goodwill as well because they have been mistreated.

The public now will come up to a water caretaker or water worker and say there is a leak in such-and-such a place, which is good civic duty. They will be told they cannot do anything about it. They are told they must ring Irish Water and log in and complain and get a complaint number. Such farcical baloney - I have never seen the like of it in my life. It adds two or three days of a delay. I have elderly women and younger people with water leaks undermining their houses, in some cases for months and months. I am not talking about a small leak but huge flows of water. They cannot be fixed because Irish Water cannot get around to it. Irish Water can tell a person what county he is in, what parish, what the residence number is and everything else. It is pure crazy, nothing short of it.

It has just added another layer of bureaucracy between the people who do the work and the men above who give the orders. There are many of them there, paper pushers as I said, and there are all the county managers. Some of them have now left the scene again, including the former Dublin county manager and the one from my county. I do not know what they contributed and look at all the pensions they went off with. It is disgusting. That is why people are so angry about the water. As I said, they have a right to be angry. Many of those people went out, had public meetings, got together and met politicians long before my time, 50 or 60 years ago. They did group schemes themselves and laid the pipes with their bare hands. In recent years there was some funding for grants which was then diminished and attacked alongside the establishment of Irish Water.

I want to put some figures on the record. Funding for the 2017 grant allocations to local authorities for group water and group sewerage schemes is a drop in the ocean in comparison to the cuts imposed on the schemes over the last number of years. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, confirmed that an additional €3.676 million will be paid under the 2017 rural water programme on top of the €11.6 million announced in June. While an increase of €3.6 million for the coming year is of course better than a cut, we need to remember that it was a Fine Gael-led Government that slashed almost €50 million from the group water scheme from 2011 to 2016. The information provided to me in a reply to a parliamentary question shows that in 2011 the Department funded all local authorities to administer the rural water programme to the tune of €70 million. By 2016 that amount had dropped to €20 million. All the while they were spending massive millions - €590 million - on a metering programme and providing all the money for offices, consultants and all the now retired county managers and public officials brought in on boards and advisory groups. It is a pure stinking quango.

That €50 million was taken away from the people and now we are saying we are going to set up a working group to look after them and make sure they are cherished equally. It is an insult and a downright attack on the rights of rural people. I am not saying everyone affected is living in the country: they are in villages too and in towns, and there are people in the cities who have a septic tank. We had the septic tanks then, and Phil the Enforcer. What does the Government plan to do there? It is a cop-out and a con job of the highest order. It was fiver Friday; Phil Hogan dropped it down from €50 to a fiver one day under pressure. He ran with his tail between his legs and we see him fleetingly at Carlow matches and other events but he is not welcome even back in his home county of Kilkenny. The Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, knows that as well as I do.

That is not fair.

It is amazing to see Deputy McGuinness backing him up but I know he does so in jest. Returning to my figures, that is an astonishing gap of almost €50 million which has still not been explained by any Minister. It has been taken out of the supports for the rural water schemes, the private well owners and private sewerage schemes. In Tipperary alone during the same period of 2011 to 2016, there was a reduction in payments under the rural water programme from €1.953 million in 2011 to €718,558 in 2016. It was halved, and now they give lip service saying they are setting up a working group. These are the people who do the work. They sank the pipes. They sank the wells. They repaired the pipes. They monitored and they metered. If there is leaks, they fix them. There is no messing going on there. Now we are setting up a working group. The Government insults them. It says we are going to look at the situation. It should give them back the money and give them some bit of respect for what they did and the pioneering way they worked. It should respect the way they look after the water schemes. They do not go ringing up the council or the local politician if they have a burst pipe. They get the JCB hire themselves, pay for it themselves, go down in the drains and fix the pipes and they are well able to do it. We should salute them. That is a shocking indictment and a con-job in respect of this Bill.

I have a reply to a recent parliamentary question. There has been a cut of €1.2 million to Tipperary alone for those schemes and services. While the €415,000 that will be given to Tipperary County Council - the whole county, not just south Tipperary - is welcome, it remains a pittance in comparison with what was taken. We can also see from the data provided that between 2015 and 2016, the amount paid to private well operators in Tipperary was down from €92,905 to €71,407. That was another €20,000 knocked off. Sure, they do not matter. We can prune them. They do not care. They will not go protesting. They will not go up to Dublin and lock Joan Burton in anything.

They are good, decent, upright and civic-minded citizens who provide the water for themselves and do not mind providing it. They are not anarchists who do not allow free speech and prevent everyone else from doing things any way other than their own way. There is nothing worse than liberals who cannot get their way. They are very demanding, badgering, insulting to other people and bullying. There is nothing worse than them. We hear them here every day of the week. There is nothing worse than it.

Stark figures that have been provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government prove that over the last five years, more and more responsibility was put on the operators of the group water schemes, who got less and less support from the Department. I do not know how the Minister of State is going to wish that away. He cannot do so. The people out there are not fools. They are waiting in the long grass. They are fixing the pipes in the trenches and the drains. They are not going to be kicked around or booted around like some African or Indian cult, or wild Indians that can just be dismissed. They all vote too. They are right to vote. They are angry. They are right to be cross.

This wasteful Government established Irish Water, put the fat cats in place and wasted money on consultants. It spent €590 million putting in meters. What is the problem now? In my constituency - I cannot speak for anywhere else - the meters that are leaking outside many houses are damaging properties and entrances. We cannot fix them. The council is not allowed to fix them. When we contacted Irish Water, it told us that the company which installed the meters has gone bust. That is some public service. That is some answer to give people, including me and many other politicians. There is no one to fix the meters because the company has gone bust. The council is not allowed to fix them. It is a real "dog in the manger" job. The water is flowing down the road. Where is the wastage? Where is the monitoring of waste? Where is the fairness in that?

The driveways of certain households have been completely destroyed by traffic because the council has lay-bys but the water leaks cannot be fixed. We have been told that the company that installed the meters has gone into liquidation. The county council's plumbers, caretakers and plumbers' helpers want to fix the leaks. They are meeting people every day of the week. They cannot bear driving past water leaks. Their job is to make sure we have a supply. They are denied the right to fix the leaks to which I refer. It would not happen in a kindergarten of children of two or three years of age. The departmental officials, the Government and the board of Irish Water are standing over that.

We have no investment now. We are short €179 million as a result of the farcical repayments to almost 1 million people who paid their water charges. It is a farce that this money is going to be given back. We are going to give it back to them because of an agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. People do not want it back. They paid it. I would not say they were happy to pay it. Upright and civic-minded citizens who always pay their way wanted to pay, but now they are getting their money back. I am aware that when we were administering a repayment scheme here before, the then Department of Social Welfare had to hire an extra 100 staff. It wanted an extra €20 million to administer the scheme. This money will not be repaid by October or November. People will be waiting for Santa Claus for a long time. If he is here by April Fools' Day, he will be welcome, but that will not happen.

It has been suggested that this will cost €179 million, but I know it will be a lot more. There is supposed to be €400 million or €500 million in fiscal space, to use a dreaded term, but this will be taken out of it. People are waiting for orthodontic treatment and for all kinds of operations, including cataract operations. There are waiting lists for this, that and the other. Schoolchildren cannot get into the National Educational Psychological Service programme. We cannot get home help services because of cutbacks. This kind of farce is going on in parallel. This place up here has become a bit of a zoo. I say that in light of the kind of disdain with which the public is being treated. A working group has been set up to ensure there is fair play for rural people. The rural people have awoken. They are awake and they know what is going on. They are not being fooled any more.

I have referred to the €496 million that was spent on the metering programme. It was a waste. I said it at the time. I brought a meter into this Chamber and displayed it to the former Minister, Deputy Hogan, or "Big Phil" as I used to call him. We heard that all the older meters which had been installed in certain places had to be taken out. In some places, they had only been in for six months. We were told they were defunct. When we asked what was defunct about them, it was explained to us that an electrical device was necessary to facilitate drive-by registers. That could have been fitted onto the existing meters using a small ready-made application. The old meters have been taken up and thrown into the scrap truck. In my area, they have been brought to the scrapyard in Clonmel. All the steel meter covers that were put down to stop the lorries that go up on the footpaths from breaking them were also sold to the scrapyards. What went on was a scandal. All the meters that have been in place for three or four years have batteries with a maximum life of six, seven, eight, nine or ten years. Another big expense will be put on top of the people when they are asked to pay for replacement batteries.

People on group schemes mind their wells and treat them with respect. They cover them at times of frost. They look after the wells and ensure they are repaired when they fail. When necessary, they get in plumbers to replace pumps, sometimes at a cost of €3,000. Those people are getting a working group, which is an insulting term, to look at their problems, which could take six or eight years. A similar point can be made about the pipe to Dublin. Approximately 45% of the water in Dublin is going to waste. The Government will not fix the leaks. It wants to sabotage water from Tipperary. It wants to take over our water like Cromwell tried to take over Clonmel. We resisted him, but we could not resist Big Phil when he diminished our local democracy. He destroyed it completely.

The people are waiting. This saga is not finished. The pipe to Dublin is another farce. The plan is to pump the water up so that it can leak around the streets of Dublin city. Have we ever heard anything to beat it? The pipeline will be bigger than I am so that people will be able to stand into it and walk down it. Compulsory purchase orders are to be used as a bully tactic to bring this pipeline through people's land to Dublin. I do not deny the people of Dublin water, but they should fix and mind what they have. I am not saying the residents should do this, but I am saying they should take some responsibility. There should be a meter on every house so that people can monitor and check their water use. Perhaps it could be somewhere near the ESB meter or under the sink. Water is a valuable resource and should not be wasted.

The Deputy is against meters.

I am not against meters. I have just said that I am against the waste that means water is not used. I am not against meters. I have had a meter for 30 years. I have fitted many meters. I am saying that meters should be readily available to people so that they can see how much water they are using, just as they can do in the case of electricity. There could be a pay-as-you-go system. I have never refused to pay for water. I paid my own water rates. I have been told that those moneys are going to come back to me. I will be able to have a bit of a party. I have a new grandchild since last week. Maybe we will have a bit of a celebration for her first birthday, although it might be her second birthday by the time we are repaid. My time is nearly gone. It is probable that the Chair will not give me any extra time to make up for the interruptions.

The jobs of the workers in the water services sections of the county councils, who were the pioneers, are now in limbo. Some of them were transferred and more of them do not know where they are. They are being bullied, threatened and intimidated. I do not hear their union saying an awful lot about this. The foot soldiers who fix the leaks in all kinds of conditions, thereby ensuring hospitals and industries etc. have water supplies, need to be protected, supported and treated with respect and dignity. They need to be given some certainty. They do not need a working group. The Government might set up another working group for the workers. There will be plenty of working groups but no one will be doing anything.

I thank the Chair for his forbearance. I think this is a farcical situation. I certainly will not be voting for this sham of a Bill. I wish the Government had accepted my Bill when I proposed it on Second Stage here. Of course it has been buried like everything else. The confidence and supply agreement is going to gush back and forwards. Some day it will gush up on top of the Government and drown half of its members.

The Deputy was given 20 minutes and 40 seconds.

The Chair took 60 seconds off me.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Water Services Bill 2017. I want to begin by saluting the Right2Water campaign and the hundreds of thousands of people across this country who marched in every county as part of that campaign. They marched in our capital city of Dublin on many occasions. They stood up to Irish Water and to a Government that wanted to impose huge austerity on them through water charges and they won. I was proud to be part of that campaign. I was proud of the people who prevented Irish Water from installing meters on their estates. They stood up for their neighbours. They stood on meter boxes to ensure meters would not be installed. They stopped the attempt to install meters and force water charges on people who were already significantly affected by austerity. Water charges were toxic, are toxic and will be toxic in the future. I have no doubt that any future attempt to reintroduce water charges by the back door this year, in 2019 or five years down the road will be defeated again by those who are absolutely committed to ensuring they are treated properly.

People should not be forced to pay water charges because they are an unfair form of double taxation, especially at a time when very wealthy people in this country are treated differently from the ordinary man and woman in the street. During the recent years of the economic crash and the so-called "recovery" we are having at present, very wealthy people have increased their assets by more than €35 billion by comparison with the assets they had at the height of the boom. They pay absolutely no tax on that wealth.

We heard recently that this country has 850 millionaires. I was told by a former Minister for Finance that 20,000 people are earning €495,000 per annum. We have a situation where the gap between rich and poor is continuing to widen. This so-called recovery is exacerbating that divide and there is no doubt but that recent budgets, and the policy of this Government and the previous Government, have contributed to that and have resulted in ordinary people - social welfare recipients, PAYE workers, people on low incomes and poor people generally - being treated despicably but they treated very wealthy people with kid gloves and ensured they made huge fortunes in recent years. I salute all those people who came out and stood up for themselves and their neighbours and defeated Irish Water, defeated the Government and defeated these water charges.

There should be no need for this legislation because when Members returned to this Dáil after the 2016 election, 90 Deputies were committed to the abolition of Irish Water and water charges. We should have gone ahead and done what those 90 Deputies had promised the public in that general election. However, the Government wanted to be in a position to impose water charges, if not immediately then down the road. Unfortunately, Fianna Fáil, whose manifesto stated it would abolish Irish Water and water charges, let the Government off the hook and then joined it in a situation where it is now attempting to bring in water charges by the back door. There is no need for it and if we were a proper democracy and if this House had any respect for itself, it would have abolished water charges over 12 months ago when we came back after the last general election.

As a company, Irish Water is toxic. It was toxic from day one, especially when we heard the managing director of Irish Water tell the entire country on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" that it spent €50 million setting up the company by way of payments to consultants, and it has continued as it started. There is no transparency in Irish Water. It has no local offices and no local contacts. Local people who have a problem with water or wastewater services have to telephone what is effectively a receptionist who is not able to give them any information and does not know the geography of the country. Nobody, not even public representatives, can talk directly to somebody who knows the situation on the ground. That is hugely frustrating for people, particularly for those who have difficulties whether it be a leak, a sewage problem or whatever. In my experience, Irish Water has no regard for people who have to deal with it and has no regard for public representatives.

I believe Irish Water should be abolished and that its abolition should be provided for in this Bill. The abolition of Irish Water is essential for the development of water and wastewater services because it is toxic and will always be toxic. Responsibility for providing those services should be returned to local authorities, as was the case in the past, and that local authorities should be funded properly to deliver those services. Local authorities were starved of funding over recent years and that was used as a stick with which to beat them. We heard that they did not do this, that and the other. How could they do anything when they were not funded by successive Governments? Even in the good times they were not funded properly by the Government of the day.

I pay tribute to and thank the local authority staff who are effectively carrying out the work of Irish Water on the ground. Only for those staff, the situation would be much worse, and people's frustration and anger would be much worse. Unfortunately, some local authority workers have to deal with anger and frustration from people who are clients of Irish Water and who need work to be done by Irish Water. I am aware that in Tipperary, and I am sure it is the case across the country as I have heard it from other Deputies, were it not for the local authority staff who are now under contract to Irish Water, the situation in local areas would be much more difficult. Irish Water should be abolished and responsibility for the services provided by Irish Water returned to local authorities.

This Bill has no reference whatsoever to the question of a referendum to put water in public ownership. This is something to which, supposedly, every Member of this House has agreed. The Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services of which I was a member unanimously agreed on the question of a referendum to put water services in public ownership. Second Stage of a Bill was passed in the House for the same purpose but that seems like years ago now. It is certainly a long time ago and it is probably sitting on a shelf in some Department. There is certainly no urgency about it. It is clear from the discussions in Cabinet in the past week or ten days that a referendum on water is not on this Government's agenda. I will table an amendment on this issue to propose a new section which will state:

Within six months of the passage of this Act by the Oireachtas, the Government shall propose that the following clause be inserted in Bunreacht na hÉireann and a referendum shall be held on the proposal: "The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system. The Government shall ensure in the public interest that this resource remains in public ownership and management."

Accordingly, all water services currently provided by the State through Irish Water, local authorities and State agencies shall remain in public ownership in perpetuity. Such services shall not be carried out by any privately owned company under contract to the above agencies.

The nub of the question is what Fianna Fáil will do about a referendum. Will it let the Fine Gael-led Government off the hook, demand that a referendum take place or join with the Government in refusing a referendum? Every Member in this House, including Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Members, has agreed that a referendum should take place but a referendum will only take place if Fianna Fáil states it seeks a referendum. It has to make that decision. Will it cave in the way it caved in on the charges at the committee?

I will be opposing the Bill because it is perfectly clear that its purpose is to allow for the phasing in of water charges over time, probably after the next general election.

This so-called excessive use charge is in fact a Trojan Horse and, as I said, a back door to phasing water charges back in over time, probably after the next election.

The Bill is the outcome of bizarre developments at the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, at which Fianna Fáil caved in to Fine Gael, voted against several of its own amendments and reneged on its election manifesto in respect of the abolition of Irish Water and water charges. It is quite clear that Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted on this issue, which is why I raise the question of the referendum. Can Fianna Fáil be trusted on the referendum issue? Will we have a referendum? Will Fianna Fáil demand, through the supply-and-confidence arrangement it has with the Government, a referendum to enshrine public ownership of the water network in the Constitution? Fianna Fáil certainly needs to step up to the plate on this. At the committee, as I said, a series of bizarre events occurred. Fianna Fáil voted against several amendments it put forward itself and, of course, all the roll-back amendments at the committee and in the report were supported by the Greens and the Labour Party. Cynically enough, the Labour Party and the Greens, which are hardline supporters of charging households for water, having supported all the roll-back amendments, then voted against the report.

It is important to recognise that significant gains have been made by the anti-water charge campaigners. For example, there will be no immediate return to general water charges. Those who did not pay will not be pursued and those who did pay will receive refunds, and that is only right. The metering of additional existing and unrefurbished dwellings remains halted. The anti-water charges campaign has also achieved an increase in allowances - this is in the report as well - for group water schemes. However, this Bill is the outcome of the U-turns on the amendments at the committee. This Bill and the committee's report make domestic water services a tradeable commodity under EU law. Payments for excessive use to Irish Water commodifies water, and this facilitates the phasing back in of water charges over time. As provided for in the Bill, the Government can reduce the free allowance, thus making increasing amounts of water chargeable to more and more households. This may also be used to prevent the holding of an anti-privatisation referendum, to which I have already referred, or any attempt to do so, or to change its wording as new private suppliers of water are entitled to enter the market under EU competition law. It is, therefore, very important that the referendum is agreed and brought forward rapidly.

In my view, and as accepted right across the country, this excessive use charge is really a backdoor to the reintroduction of water charges. The term "excessive use" is simply not correct. All the evidence shows that Irish people use less water than most, if not all, other countries - certainly most: 123 l per person per day here as against 146 l in Britain. Figures for other countries could be cited.

There is also the question of the unmetered properties. Thankfully, the metering has stopped; the Right2Water campaign forced it to stop. It is now proposed to discriminate against people whose properties are metered. They can be charged for excessive use under this Bill whereas people whose properties are not metered cannot. The key fact in this is that the Government of the day, no matter its hue, can change the rules, reduce the multiplier, reduce the threshold for excessive use and, in this way, over time, effectively introduce water charges on a much wider scale across the community by the backdoor.

As I said, the purpose of this Bill is quite clear: to allow the phasing in of water charges by the backdoor over time, probably after the next election. This issue will not go away, whether it is brought forward again in one, two, five or ten years. Water charges are toxic and any Government that brings in these charges and any Opposition that allows it to do so will pay the price at the ballot box.

This is a very important debate. People have different positions on the matter but neither one side nor the other can avoid the facts. While the setting up of Irish Water was a necessary and good thing, it is failing particularly in its duty of care to the people. While we have been sitting here, I have got a freedom of information request back from Irish Water. It has been with Irish Water for two months but a response has just come in now. It contains the facts of what happened when the pipes in Staleen near Donore in Drogheda, County Louth, burst last year and the year before, what Irish Water did and, more importantly, what it did not do. It shows why we need an organisation such as Irish Water working efficiently and effectively with a proper, thought-through plan and in co-operation with all the other statutory and voluntary agencies in order to ensure we have a proper water supply in our country. Irish Water was set up because our water supply needs proper funding, which it does not have. Irish Water was set up because local authorities did not have the capacity or the professional engineering skills, depending on the part of the country or the county in which one lived, to supply the proper and necessary infrastructure, to design that infrastructure or to co-operate with other local authorities. It was, therefore, a very good idea to set it up. Irish Water was set up after due consideration by me in my capacity as a Minister of State at that time, and there are people in this Chamber who know exactly what I said and advised and what happened and what did not.

We must deal with what we have; we must deal with the facts. When the water supply failed in Staleen in 2016, Irish Water found what it called a highly unusual and very rare pipe. Irish Water knew it was 50 years old a year before the pipe burst again, knew it was highly unusual and knew there were no spare fittings for it. What did Irish Water do about that? Absolutely nothing. It had a pipe that was vulnerable, that could not be replaced and that was likely to burst again left metres deep in the ground. What happened when it burst the second time, on Thursday, 20 July, in the evening? For Friday, 21 July, Saturday, 22 July, Sunday, 23 July, and Monday, 24 July, there are no records that have been delivered to me of Irish Water taking any action at all or knowing anything about this. We then find, thankfully, that at 11 a.m. on 24 July - five days into the incident - an incident management team was set up. Irish Water is guilty of not being effective, not doing the job it was set up to do and not being aware or involved in this regard. While up to 60,000 people were without a proper and adequate water supply, at least according to the figures Irish Water has supplied to me, nobody in the company kept a record of anything that was happening up to that time.

On 26 July, six days later, in the middle of a huge water crisis, the HSE contacted the Irish Water incident team to say that the company should have been using the available HSE emergency services. I emphasise the latter because it means Irish Water had not contacted the HSE. The next day, 27 July, seven days after the incident, the great and good in Irish Water were "looking at the previous incident", which had happened a year earlier, to see if there were any lessons they could learn from it. Unfortunately, that is the damning indictment of Irish Water that I am uncovering right now. There is a lot of other stuff in the reply. I do not have time to read all of the information supplied now but I will do so in the future.

What we have here is a body that was properly set up, that was given the resources it needed - or so we thought at the time - that had joined-up thinking, that would bring to the table a professionalism and a skill set at the highest level and that could deal with what it was set up to deal with, namely, to look at where supplies were vulnerable and discover how they could be maintained and improved. If I was to give a mark out of ten or out of 100 to Irish Water in respect of its emergency planning, structure and capacity to react, I would give it zero if I was to give it a mark at all. There are huge issues with Irish Water. I am shocked by the information to which I refer.

Where does this leave us? We hear the argument, almost like theology or a religion, that there should be no charges under any circumstances. The alternative that some people argue for is the free market. What we need is something in between, which is what I thought we were setting up but which has not proven to be the case. While I disagree with many previous speakers, I think Deputy Mattie McGrath was right when he talked about the way people were treated by Irish Water, the arrogance of the company in the way it went about its business, its insistence on using consultants and its lack of proper organisation.

One of the key points I made while the company was being set up was that it needed a proper, professional communications strategy but it did not have that. I warned Irish Water, the Department and the Minister of day, Mr. Hogan, who is now European Commissioner. I told Mr. Hogan that it would be an unmitigated disaster in light of the way matters were proceeding. Needless to say, I was not listened to and hubris and arrogance won out over logic and concern for ordinary people. That is a fact. I am on the back benches today maybe because of that or maybe not. However, I can tell the House one thing, namely, I and others worked very hard to set up this organisation properly in order to ensure that our infrastructure was improved, that it was properly and fairly funded, that people would have a free allowance, and, in particular, that vulnerable people and those who were sick would be looked after. If people wasted water, they would pay for it but they would have adequate water to live an ordinary life. I believe that the volume we were talking about at the time was two bath loads for every person in a house per day, which was to be free and, after that, people would pay. If they had medical problems or other issues, they would be dealt with honestly and sympathetically. Instead, look at what we got.

One of the things I argued in respect of - although, again, the hubris and arrogance won out - related to how Irish Water would function. This goes to the heart of the argument about privatisation. At the time, we believed Bord Gáis had the capacity to bring extra skills into play because it had managed the gas network and, so, should have been able to manage a water network. It also had a very good customer service support system and it had all the professional skills we thought were needed. At the heart of the principle of setting up Irish Water was that it would be an absolutely stand-alone organisation, supported by Bord Gáis while it was being set up, but completely separated as soon as reasonably possible, which at the time was thought to be a year or, at the very most, two years. It would be separate, so people could see what it was, and it would be transparent and accountable. Instead, the decision was made to incorporate it into this other group of companies called Ervia. People might say that is a moot point but it is not; it is a key point. The belief I had in setting it up was that if it was transparent, accountable, stand-alone and separate, everybody could see what it was, everyone would know what was going on and the people could and would trust it. That did not happen. One of the reasons for this was that the games that were going on were power plays between different organisations as to who would be the lead, who would be the manager and who would be the overall director or controller, and all that cant and hypocrisy. All the while, needless to say, the people were losing confidence in the organisation.

I always believed, and believe today, that the question of privatisation was a key issue and that Irish Water must never be privatised. Yet, although it was agreed that would be the case in the discussions I had, it never appeared in the legislation. The day I was handed the Bill in the Seanad, it did not contain what was promised. Imagine that. I know there are others who were Ministers of State and who left without necessarily wanting to go. Was Deputy McGuinness sacked like me or did he just leave?

The Deputy should have read the book.

When someone is told that a Bill will have this but then they are in the ante room of the Seanad and it is not there, what do they say or do? They would say, "What the hell is going on here? What is happening?" Eventually, in fairness, the former Minister, Mr. Hogan, insisted it would change. However, I agree and accept that Irish Water should be totally separated from Ervia. Then, we would never have all that rubbish about people getting extra pay because it was linked to pay in some other organisation and all the stuff that went on, which was a disgrace. None of that would have happened. The point now is that we have to ensure that what is left of the organisation, bad and all as it is, changes. The legislation before us is worthwhile and important. However, it is also important that we win back the confidence of the people, which the organisation does not have.

I want to make a couple of points that relate to the setting up of the organisation. I sat where the current Minister of State sits and, at the time, I was made a promise, which I was told would be honoured, that people in this House would have the phone numbers of their local contractor for Irish Water. If anybody here has them, they might put up their hands because I do not have them. Does anybody have them? No, they do not and they will never bloody get them because those contractors do not want anyone to have them. They do not want people to contact them or to know who they are. In fairness, when I phone or email Irish Water, as I often do, there is a very good phone service and it will reply to me. The situation with the contractors is very poor and is not acceptable. There was to be an accountable manager, an individual in each county who people could ring and who would come back to them on all those issues. That has not happened and it needs to happen now.

While I want to compliment Irish Water on many of the significant things it has done in my constituency, I remain disgusted that there has been no response some six months after I wrote to it on behalf of the Dee and Glyde Fishing Development Association. We all know inland fishermen are good, committed, community people. The association had a proposal to improve the riverbed and the fishing capacity relating to the river, and letters have been going over and back for six months between Irish Water and an organisation called Louth County Council. I gave a list to the Dee and Glyde Fishing Development Association of 16 emails we have written. The association will meet again tomorrow night to see what the hell is happening with its very fine proposal to use a vacant space beside a water treatment plant in order that people might park safely there and fish. This would obviously add to the quality of life of these very fine people. Nobody has contacted them so they keep ringing me. I keep writing the letters but without result. That has to change. I discussed with the representatives of the association what I would say in the House because I think it is important that it is said here.

There is an awful lot of work to do. At the heart and soul of it is a lack of commitment within Irish Water to public representatives. There is arrogance still at the heart of Irish Water. In my view there is despair. There are some 40 or 50 pages here about what it did and did not do and I have just picked out some of the key points such as lack of organisation, no plan, no communication, no involvement with the emergency HSE service and no corporate memory. The pipe collapsed one year ago which was a rare, unusual and special incident. Another bit of this pipe could not be had and Irish Water did nothing. I know that I am repeating myself. Irish Water did nothing but expects us to swallow all the crap it gives us. We survived. The Members here are all politicians like me. We in Drogheda survived that but it was very difficult, especially for people who are vulnerable. It was difficult on all the public representatives because we did not have proper communications. It is exceptionally clear that there is a lack of joined-up thinking between Irish Water and local authorities. The lack of communication between Irish Water and the council, evidently lacking in the documents I have here, shows that they were asleep, were afraid to ring or were afraid to make contact. I challenge them now to come forward and own up and to put in place a rational plan that works for the future and for Drogheda, where there is a pipe that is 50 years old and which could go again. I know that Irish Water has committed to investing €2.5 million for putting a new pipe in place there but all around the country, in Members' constituencies and in mine, somewhere there is an underground pipe - just like the one in Staleen - that will burst. There is no money to fix it and there is no pipe to fix it either. That is where we are.

In properly funding Irish Water, which is what I was about and am still about, changes must take place within the organisation around transparency, accountability, responsibility, communication and capacity to listen. The biggest problem that Irish Water has is that it does not want to listen and it does not want to know.

I stand over what the Government is doing and I stand over everything I did. I stand over everything I believe because I know that what I was saying and doing was true. If it had happened - but it did not - then Irish Water could have been an organisation we were all proud of instead of the exact inverse and opposite. It is, however, never too late to learn. Other people have sat in the seat where I now sit. I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and urban development, Deputy Damien English, who lives in the same county as Staleen where the pipe is. His constituents get the same water supply as my constituents. It could happen again, it could happen tomorrow and it could happen to all of us. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for his help and his communications to me during that time. I also thank the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for his immediate and urgent responses to any requests I made at that time.

I believe the system can and must change, but we must also face the reality and accept the ultimate, absolute truth that the water supply can only be improved if the money is there to fix it. Relying on direct taxation as we do now is not the best way of doing it. It is not sustainable in the long run if the people who use the most water pay the least. This happens. I was in Brussels last week and in a railway station, I saw an advertisement that said nearly 58% of the water wasted in Belgium is wasted by some 8.9% of the people. There is a lot of abuse and wastage. If we tackle that waste issue, which is the Government's intention with this legislation, and if we bring people onto our side I still believe it could happen, notwithstanding those who say it is never going to happen. It must happen but until it does happen people must accept that there have to be changes.

I do not wish to put words into Deputy Broughan's mouth but when he spoke earlier - I will check the Official Record and I have no doubt he will also - I believe he said that water should be paid for from the property tax. If this is what he said then he is really saying that there has to be another form of taxation other than direct taxation for water.

If we look at those issues, if people think it is fair and if they can see why it has to be done, then I believe we can still win them over to our side. There is no point in telling people lies or telling them it is going to be right tomorrow when it is not right today, because it will not be. All the Deputies who are in the Chamber and those who are not might, when their pipes burst, remember what I am saying to them.

Just do not call Irish Water.

If Deputies had listened to me they would be grand. This is a hugely important debate. From the privilege of the back bench I can say I was right was I not. The water issue, however, is not right and will not be right until we sort this out. I will be supporting the legislation.

Deputy O'Dowd can say what he likes about the back benches but he must look at the freedom he has to speak today. I invite Deputy Mary Butler but I may have to call for an adjournment of the debate.

I thank the Acting Chairman, I am sure he will advise me at the time.

The Water Services Bill is very far from being the single most important issue facing the State when we consider the housing and homelessness crisis, problems in health services and the result of the vote in the UK to exit the EU with the trade repercussions this will have here at home. It is important, nevertheless, and the handling of it in recent years represents a dramatic public policy fiasco.

It is also one of the few areas where there was a substantial policy debate during the last general election with the decisive result in favour of ending current policy. The people, some more boisterous than others, engaged with politicians but the message was loud and clear: Irish Water was a fiasco. People were told their taps would be turned down to a trickle by the then Minister, Phil Hogan, but the scare mongering did not work. Every single claim made by Irish Water has failed.

The EUROSTAT test failed as Irish Water could not and did not raise major funding for investment. It created a national organisation dedicated to billing rather than service provision. The previous Government’s policy was to allow Irish Water massive commercial freedom even though it would be funded primarily by direct state subvention and would take many years to bring services to the level they themselves define as acceptable.

Had Irish Water been a State agency the uncontrolled expansion of management, the bonus culture, the waste, the secrecy, the massive and rising payments for lobbying and many other practices would not have been possible. Equally, the disdain for democratic accountability would never have been allowed.

We needed to end this failed regime and move on from this issue once and for all. Water charges have failed miserably. In 2015 only 53% of bills were paid with annual revenue of €144 million on this basis. Some €100 million was spent on the water grant. Where else in the world could one leave a tap on all night and be rewarded with a €100 conservation grant? It did not add up and I often wonder how many people claimed the grant who did not pay any charges at all. The charge hit those least able to pay and was deeply regressive. Abolishing the last unfair water charging regime was a key Fianna Fáil policy. We engaged, we debated and we gave value for our vote. We represented the voters in making sure that water charges would be resigned to the scrap heap.

I must ask the Deputy to adjourn.

I have one more line.

We will give the Deputy the line.

More importantly, Irish Water will remain in public ownership.

Debate adjourned.