Water Services Bill 2017: Report Stage

All Members can speak twice on each amendment or group of amendments. The first contribution shall not exceed seven minutes and the second shall not exceed two minutes. Of course, the Member who moved the amendment has the right to reply, which shall not exceed two minutes.

Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Eoin Ó Broin. He is aware from correspondence from the Ceann Comhairle that it is out of order.

The subsequent amendments Nos. 2 to 14, inclusive, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, not moved.

I want to make a brief point about amendment Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive.

Do you want to make a point on all of them?

It is a brief general point.

We are at amendment No. 14 now, but of course the Deputy may make his point. To which amendment does it relate?

I want to make the point that 30 amendments to the Water Services Bill have been ruled out of order. It seems that a crude approach has been taken in ruling out amendments to this Bill. For example, my group submitted an amendment which would say that rather than the Dáil having the power to reduce the threshold for the so-called excessive use charge in five years, as proposed in the legislation, and is in our view an attempt to introduce water charges through the back door, that the Dáil would not be allowed to do that for 999 years. That has been ruled out of order. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle or the Minister explain to me and to the House why that amendment and so many others which have been put down by the left and Sinn Féin - I notice that Fianna Fáil has not tabled a single amendment to this Bill, which is very instructive - have been ruled out of order in such a crude fashion in order to defend this Bill?

The Ceann Comhairle did not rule them out in a crude fashion. He considered all the amendments in detail. Many of the amendments which were ruled out had been ruled out already on Committee Stage. If there is a query over any amendment in particular, I will give an explanation.

We are now at amendment -----

I want to ask a question about my two amendments in that group -----

----- which are amendments Nos. 4 and 9. They were specifically in relation to not commencing sections of the Bill until such a time as there is a date for a referendum on the maintaining the water infrastructure in public ownership. They were ruled out of order on the basis that they represented a cost to the Exchequer and on the basis that they were not pertinent to the Bill. However, the Bill specifically says that it is to implement recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services and the very first recommendation of that committee was that a referendum should be held on public ownership. I cannot understand why my amendments are not pertinent to the Bill. Furthermore, considering there will be seven or eight referendums in the next couple of years, I cannot see why this one would be a cost to the Exchequer if it was held on the same day as some of the others. I have an issue with why it is being ruled out of order, particularly when it was the first recommendation on which we all agreed. We did not agree on many things in that committee but we were all agreed that there should be a referendum on maintaining the infrastructure in public ownership.

When the Ceann Comhairle ruled these amendments out of order, a letter was sent to each Member to explain why. On amendments Nos. 4 and 9, although we have moved on and will be dealing with amendment No. 15 in a moment, while they are relevant to the subject matter of the Bill they are not relevant to the provisions of the Bill and could impose a cost on the Exchequer. Therefore they have to be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Orders 154(1) and 179(3).

I do not accept the reason but I cannot do anything about it.

We are at amendment No. 15 to be moved by Deputy Bríd Smith or Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Before that, I want to say something on the amendments being ruled out of order. I do not understand and I say so genuinely. Amendments Nos. 16 and 18 tabled by Deputies Coppinger, Barry and Paul Murphy have been allowed and we will be allowed to debate them, and rightly so. They regard the preparation of reports on swimming pools and large water features in private residences. They related to water conservation and the need, following the passing of this Bill, for the Government to prepare reports on water conservation issues, which is right and proper, yet oddly, a whole series of other amendments also dealing with matters of water conservation, which similarly call for reports to be produced on water conservation measures, water infrastructure improvement measures, and indeed, swimming pools, has been ruled out of order. I cannot understand that. How can one series of amendments dealing with those topics be allowed and a whole raft of others dealing with precisely the same topics not be?

I wish to make a point of order.

What is the point of order?

It relates to the amendments being ruled out of order. Three of my amendments were ruled out of order. I do not understand why. I got a letter from the Ceann Comhairle on the matter but it does not explain why they were ruled out of order.

I will explain to the Deputy.

I do not accept that they are out of order. The whole Dáil has accepted that there should be a referendum to put water and water infrastructure into the Constitution to ensure that it remains in public ownership. To rule that out of order is unacceptable and is a slight on the House. It should be part and parcel of this legislation.

I put down an amendment to abolish Irish Water. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will recall that the majority of Deputies in this House were elected at the 2016 general election on the basis that they wanted to see the abolition of Irish Water. It is a toxic entity and one which has no way of communicating with the public. In my view and in that of the majority of Deputies elected in the last general election, it should and must be abolished.

On amendment No. 32 -----

We did not get that far.

-----that amendment says that the excessive charge will be -----

We will deal with amendment No. 32 when we reach it but we must have some order.

This is total inorder or unorder or whatever the Leas-Cheann Comhairle wants to call it.

We will deal with amendment No. 32 when we reach it.

These are real issues. These are the issues on which Deputies in this House were elected at the last election and we are being stopped from discussing them.

We will deal with amendment No. 32 when we reach it. I call Deputy Joan Collins.

I want to speak to Part 1 of the Short Title, collective citation and commencement and the amendments being ruled out of order on that part of the legislation.

Which amendment is this?

No, it relates to the first section of the Bill.

We are just on the amendments.

I believe nine of the amendments which have been ruled out of order relate to section 1 of the Bill. I cannot understand how some amendments dealing with a request for a report conservation grants, swimming pools and a campaign in schools and so on, can be ruled out of order on one hand and on the other be in order.

In the amendments on a referendum, they provide that one would take place six months after the enactment of this Bill. It was a very important part of the debate at the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services and I am very surprised -----

Deputy Collins must hold on one minute.

I will finish on this point, because it is very important.

Deputy O'Sullivan spoke on the referendum. It was the main point of principle. Fianna Fáil supported it; everybody supported it.

We even have pictures of Deputy Barry Cowen signing the referendum charter for SIPTU-----

We are not debating that amendment.

-----indicating that he would support a referendum on public ownership of our water.

There has to be-----

It is really important that we register this part of the contribution.

There must be some order in this debate. First of all, let me say very clearly that the Ceann Comhairle would not do anything that would be a sleight on this House. Let me make that clear. Let us move on from there. I will go through any of the amendments which have been ruled out of order. It is not the first time that many of these amendments have been ruled out of order. Many were ruled out of order on Committee Stage and have been retabled.

They should not have been ruled out of order.

I will give an explanation on any amendments which are being ruled out of order, including those to which the Deputy is referring, when we come to them. We are now at amendment No.15. It is in the name of Deputies Bríd Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny and arises out of committee proceedings. Will Deputy Boyd Barrett move the amendment?

On a point of order-----

I genuinely do not want to carry on this for no purpose.

On a point of order-----

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has said he would explain why amendments are out of order. We have gone past amendment No. 12.

Wait a minute. When I put it to the House that the amendment was out of order, the House agreed. No one raised an objection.

No one raised the question of the referendum or the existence of Irish Water.

Hold on. When I went through amendments Nos. 1 to 14, I said they were out of order and no one raised the issue. We are at amendment No. 15 now.

(Interruptions).

There was a general question.

I objected to them all.

There was a general question. The Deputies can check the record. The next amendment we are dealing with is amendment No. 15. I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett to move the amendment.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I will move it in a second but genuinely, at the first opportunity I had to get up and speak, I objected to the amendments prior to amendment No. 15, which include amendments which I tabled, being ruled out of order. I asked a very specific question.

On which amendment?

On amendment No. 7. I asked why it had been ruled out of order when other amendments of exactly the same character and content-----

Amendment No. 7. Why was it ruled out of order when other amendments such as Nos. 16 and 18, which deal with precisely the same subjects, are allowed? I just do not understand it. It is inexplicable.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 seek to provide that the Minister shall, within six months of the Act, provide for a referendum, report on the establishment of a conservation grant, report on altering building regulations to incorporate conservation measures, report on plans to upgrade the water infrastructure, report on the number of private residences with swimming pools and propose a levy on these pools. Such extensive reporting is outside the scope of the Bill and therefore the amendments must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 154(1). That is the ruling.

That is precisely my question.

Well that is the answer.

It does not answer the second part of my question, which is, if that amendment is out of order, why is it that other amendments which deal with exactly the same issues have, rightly, not been deemed out of order?

They were ruled out of order as well.

There is an inconsistency. I do not see how a Standing Order which rules out some amendments on a given basis, does not apply to others on the same basis. It just does not add up.

The amendments are being butchered.

That is the ruling.

It is not an explanation however.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle said he would give an explanation.

It is not an explanation and it shows an inconsistency and incoherence to the-----

To the Bill itself.

-----way in which amendments are being dealt with.

I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett to move amendment No. 15.

The explanatory memorandum for the Bill talks about what is in the Bill. The third paragraph clearly mentions a "number of related issues". Surely, a referendum to keep water services in public ownership is a related issue. Surely, the abolition of Irish Water, a toxic entity which has brought us to where we are tonight-----

We are not going to have a debate tonight.

-----is a related issue. These issues should be allowed in the Bill.

I have made the ruling and the amendments have been ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 154(1). If there are other issues as we go along we will deal with them. I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett to move amendment No. 15.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 30.

This is really the only opportunity we will have to shoehorn in all the other issues. It should not be like that. It does, in my opinion, curtail a debate on the issues that-----

My apologies to the Deputy, can I just say that amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 18 are related and will be discussed together?

Interestingly, the Government, through this Bill, seeks to allow, in the section which my amendment deals with, monitoring of water usage in dwellings. That is allowed and is deemed relevant to the Bill and yet a whole series of amendments which seek to deal with water conservation and water usage more generally, and particularly wasteful water usage, have been ruled out of order and deemed not relevant to the Bill. To my mind that is a very political decision. One type of monitoring of usage is legitimate - monitoring which opens the door to charges being levied against individuals and households. That kind of monitoring is allowed and we can have it in the Bill. Monitoring which seeks to address excessive usage by super wealthy people with swimming pools is apparently not relevant. Monitoring which looks at water conservation in the mains, where the real leakage happens, is not relevant to the Bill. A referendum which seeks to keep water services in public ownership so that private vultures do not pillage our water system for profit, which in places such as Britain has led to a disastrous collapse in investment in water infrastructure and leak prevention, is not deemed relevant and is ruled out of order. It is okay however to monitor the individual. Do not monitor the corporations or the Government's failure to deal with the massive leaks in the system, but monitor the individual - the one area in which the expert commission said there was no wastage. Why does the Minister need this reference, which I do not fully understand, to a distinction between households of four as opposed to individuals? Why does he need the averaging of 2.75 people per household? If the charges are levied on that basis, what happens if a third or fourth person is in the house? The Minister shakes his head at that but that is how the legislation seems to read.

No, it does not read like that.

Why then does the Minister include these interesting distinctions? He can try to explain them but, to my mind, it indicates that he is trying to leave that back door open through this sort of mechanism. Then he will be able to vary what he considers excessive usage and levy charges, as soon as he thinks it is politically expedient or possible to do so. I take some comfort in the fact that it will not be politically possible for him to do it any time soon because he would suffer an absolutely extraordinary political backlash. It is the people's resistance which has forced the Minister to back-pedal as far as he has. This kind of measure is about leaving the back door open and trying to establish the principle of a threshold, above which people will pay. The Minister will then begin to move that threshold based on the monitoring of individuals' usage and new definitions of what excessive usage is, which he can introduce over time. That has been always the Minister's agenda. It was never ever about water conservation for him or for Fine Gael. It was always about getting a bridgehead in respect of charging individuals which would allow bills to be sent and a revenue stream to be generated from water services which, at some time, will allow for the privatisation of water services.

That, of course, is also why the Government does not want to hold a referendum. It does not state it directly, but it cites the legal difficulties and constitutional complexities of defining public ownership. However, all of that is mar dhea because it actually wants to leave the door open for the reintroduction of water charges at some point.

A point we do not emphasise enough in this debate is that there have been three successive attempts by the political establishment to introduce water charges. It is not new. An attempt was made in the 1980s and another in the 1990s. There is also an attempt now. Therefore, it was not the troika that was responsible. The Government was not pushed into doing this. The decision predates environmental concerns. It was the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil agenda from the word go, but they were not able to implement it because of popular anger and resistance. The logic of the amendment is to delete the problematic provisions in the Bill which are, at best, ambiguous and essentially leave the door open for the monitoring of usage by individuals, paving the way for the reintroduction of charges for usage below what the Government has defined as excessive.

One reason we just had the argument about the amendments that had been ruled out of order is the deficiencies in the Bill. I wish to put my comments on the three amendments into context.

A number of us in the Chamber spent a very long period as members of the special water committee. We did so to go through a range of issues concerning the future funding of domestic water services. Some of us did not support the final report, but we did support many of its individual recommendations. What we were led to believe by the Government at the time was that legislation would be brought before the House to deal with the broad range of issues recommended to be addressed in the report. We were told legislation would be published in June. In fact, the former Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, told us on two occasions when he was responsible that promised legislation would be published in June. It was then to be delayed until July because of the Fine Gael leadership election and it was further delayed for reasons of which none of us was made aware until the very end of September - 26 September. It was introduced in the Dáil in October during budget week. What is most frustrating for most of us, however, is that many of the issues that attracted unanimous support in the water committee were not addressed in the legislation. Some colleagues have mentioned the referendum. The issue on which the largest number of submissions was received by the expert group on the future of water services - the single biggest issue of public concern, apart from water charges - was not included in the legislation and we are still disputing it.

The Oireachtas committee report referred to funding certainty. It also referred to ensuring water services would be subject to funding certainty beyond year-to-year budgets. That is not included in the legislation. We talked about equality for group water schemes and ensuring that, if people in the public system would not have to pay an annual standing charge, those involved in group water schemes would not have to either. It was stated there would be changes to the grant assistance available for maintaining these schemes, but that is not included in the legislation either.

There was quite extensive discussion and there are very good recommendations in the report on conservation measures, including a commitment to review planning legislation to ensure our desired approach would be taken in all new Bills, and on trying to introduce some new schemes for the retrofitting of existing buildings to conserve more water, but none of this is included in the legislation. Therefore, crucial measures that had cross-party support, in addition to public backing, are not included in the Bill. That is why there is such frustration among Deputies present.

With regard to the Bill and the amendment, all that is dealt with is the charge for so-called excessive use and refunds. We still have not got to the bottom of some of the crucial questions on how the system will operate. I agree absolutely with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett that one of the main concerns which pertains to the amendment is that while the deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may see a charge applied only to a small number of households at the outset, perhaps 8%, the infrastructure for metered domestic water charges remains in place and can, at the decision of a future Government or the current one and its confidence and supply agreement partner, be extended to more households. That is our big fear.

Many of us now understand the way in which the so-called excess charge will be calculated, but there could be circumstances in which a household of five would end up using proportionately less water in excess of the threshold than a household of one but have to pay. There are still anomalies in how the charge is being calculated that simply do not make a lot of sense if, as the Government claims, the intention is to limit excessive use. It seems, in fact, that the provision in question is an incentive for one and two-person households to use water excessively, while punishing families of five or six, thus preventing them from using an appropriate amount of water according to their needs. This, of course, begs the question as to whether it has anything whatsoever to do with excessive use.

It is still not clear whether it is a volumetric charge. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the position. Will there be a charge for every cubic metre of water used above the threshold? If so, what will happen to the 46% of households with no meter? These are questions that were not answered on Committee Stage and we still do not have answers today.

On the question of refunds, Deputy Barry Cowen and the Taoiseach were communicating furtively with newspapers last week on who was responsible for the delays. The very large number of Sinn Féin voters who had read the Daily Mail were banging down my door demanding to know why I was delaying the payment of refunds. The truth is that the people responsible for the delay with this legislation are the members of the Government. It was in June that the Bill was meant to be before the House and then it was meant to be before it in July. It was only brought forward in the week before the budget. Apparently, Deputy Barry Cowen said I had tabled too many amendments. I acknowledge that he has a difficulty with scrutinising legislation, particularly Bills such as this, which include such significant U-turns by his party. Our job, however, is to scrutinise legislation introduced by the Government in order that it will not contain mistakes or have unintended consequences. Not only did I not submit too many amendments but we got ours through in a full committee meeting. It was good to see Deputy Barry Cowen present for a full committee meeting for a change; he does not do so often when we are dealing with detailed amendments. Nobody should have to justify doing his job and scrutinising legislation that the two parties on either side of us have concocted and that will end up hurting households. Certainly, if anybody wants to know why his or her payment will not be made by Christmas, he or she should note that it has nothing to do with Sinn Féin or the other Opposition Right2Water Deputies. Rather, responsibility rests with the two parties which are responsible for this legislation.

My concern is that I still do not understand how the charge will reduce so-called excessive use and how it will be applied fairly and ensure any level of conservation. Despite the answers we have received so far from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who at least is willing to talk about the Bill, unlike Deputy Barry Cowen, I still do not understand how it will do what is being said.

We are talking about it for 18 months and getting a result. That is more than Sinn Féin ever got.

We will see about that.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin to continue, without interruption. Every Member will have a chance to contribute.

If Deputy Barry Cowen spent more time scrutinising-----

(Interruptions).

All Deputies should speak through the Chair.

I am trying to speak through the Chair.

If the Deputy is trying to bait me, he is doing a good job.

If the Deputy spent more time doing what he is paid to do - scrutinising legislation - than spreading untruths to journalists about delays in passing legislation, perhaps he might know what we are talking about.

We are dealing with the amendment, not individuals.

I do not see that in the Deputy's amendment.

All of my amendments have been ruled out of order, as the Deputy well knows.

The Deputy should speak to the one to which he is supposed to be speaking instead of trying to take swipes at me.

I believe it is the job of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to tell me to what I should speak, not the Deputy's.

We had a general debate at the start about what had been ruled out of order. I have explained it all.

I am more than happy to support the amendments. I will talk about the other groups of amendments when they are under discussion.

The way in which the Bill has been framed gives us a clue about how exactly this will play out. I do not believe anybody in the Chamber is opposed to water conservation. How one achieves it and how one invests public funds are important. The legislation suggests there is a requirement to have every household metered. If that is the case, it is to find excessive use. An awful lot of public money will go into putting meters into the ground.

It is not just about putting meters into the ground, however. It is about taking readings from them, the administration that goes into that and maintaining a call centre. It strikes me that a lot of money is being used without achieving the greatest degree of conservation, that is, investing the scarce resources into dealing with the old Victorian pipes that are leaking and where we can calculate the loss incurred.

There is also very good telemetry available from some councils, which was well used in advance of Irish Water. There was a degree of controlled metering within estates that could pinpoint very large leaks. Essentially, when resources are scarce it comes down to a choice. If the approach is for there to be a continuation of the metering programme, that cannot happen without a decent cost-benefit analysis. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say in that regard. The danger is that we could use up very scarce resources and get no return in terms of conservation. There are other ways of doing it. There is a clue in how the legislation is framed. When we starts counting individuals in households, then we are getting into an extension of the mass metering programme involving maintenance, readings and administration. I would like to hear an estimate of how much that will cost or if a cost-benefit analysis has been done in terms of the return on the investment in terms of the 8% that are likely to find themselves getting a bill due to excess use.

I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 16 and 18. It is very clear that there are alternative sources of income that could be considered rather than levying water charges in the first place. I wish to comment on what has been included and excluded from the Bill. There has been a big panic in the media to get repayments into the pockets of people before Christmas. It seems to be something the Government is using to attack the Opposition which is raising serious questions about the Bill. No amount of repayments back in the pockets of people before Christmas and the creation of a feel-good factor is going to save votes or anything else in terms of water charges. It is not justified to rush through bad legislation in order to do that. The Minister could have introduced a separate Bill to repay the charges if that was so important.

While it is all very quiet tonight, it is quite momentous because this legislation is, on the one hand, a victory and recognition of the massive movement that took place three years ago against the water charges. At the time this country was in a serious political crisis as a result of the mobilisation of people and the boycott that took place. The Government of the day had to rush through new legislation and here we are again with another piece of legislation. The potential is still there to reintroduce water charges in the future through the excessive usage policy by gradually lowering the limits and we object to that. The Government should recognise defeat.

It is a bit bizarre to rule out a referendum in the Bill, in addition to conservation measures. Even though it is a water services Bill, we are not allowed to propose conservation measures. Does that not suggest that it was never about conservation in the first place?

Amendment No. 16 calls on the Minister to report to the Dáil within six months of the enactment of the Bill on the number of private domestic swimming pools and large water features that exist. The wasters of water that we heard about for the past three years are not ordinary households, but there are very wealthy people who are profligate in their use of water. I visited some picket lines of Irish Rail workers today. The issue is very pertinent to taxation and the proposed charges. One of the key issues that was raised was the strike but the second key issue was the Paradise Papers. There is a very high level of awareness among working-class people about the extent of tax evasion and tax avoidance that is going on. I will refer to some of the kinds of measures that could have been incorporated into the Bill. If we stopped opposing the European Commission's pursuit of Apple for back taxes, we would raise at least €17 billion. That is just one multinational that we found out about in the Paradise Papers but there are many more. A 2% millionaire’s tax on wealth could bring in €2.7 billion. Depending on the rate, a financial transactions tax could bring in anything up to €1 billion. The enforcement of the headline rate of corporation tax as the effective minimum rate could bring in €2 billion. A 10% increase in tax paid by the top 10% would bring in €2.7 billion. A host of measures could be taken to avoid the introduction of a tax that would have led to water poverty among other issues. We won on water charges and hopefully we can now go on to win on those other issues as well.

This is a water services Bill and it should be dealing with conservation and the leakages we know are happening from pipes. A finding of the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services was astounding. Most people thought Ireland would have a higher rate of water consumption than other countries but, surprisingly, average domestic consumption in this country is 123 litres per capita compared to 140 litres per capita in the UK. In another way, that is not surprising as Irish people are aware of water usage. The problem is the 48% of water that is leaking into the ground through faulty pipes.

Amendment No. 16 attempts to introduce a conservation measure. When I was a member of Dublin City Council, Mr. Dermot Lacey of the Labour Party went on about all the water wasters with their swimming pools. The simple way to deal with that is to introduce VAT on the installation of swimming pools and then to have an annual tax on the amount of water they use. A Trojan Horse was used to justify the introduction of water charges to every single domestic household in the country.

It is a shame that so many amendments relating to conservation have been ruled out of order. Conservation is a very important part of a water services Bill. The retrofitting of housing stock is also important. I would love to get a grant, not a €100 grant as was given out as part of the previous Bill, but a real grant to be able to retrofit my home in order to assist me with the conservation of water. It is also regrettable that the Bill is silent on the need for new houses to incorporate conservation measures. I am very surprised and angry considering the fact that all of the debate in the committee was about conservation and the future funding of water services. Slovenia introduced a change to its constitution last year to maintain water in public ownership not because there was any urgency to do that as there was no debate about the privatisation of water or the introduction of charges for water, but because they felt it was the proper thing to do to protect future generations against privatisation and the fat cats who are waiting to buy up water all over the world.

We know this is the new blue oil. This is where capitalism is trying to grab water and make major profits. We have seen in Britain how it has been used in this way.

These amendments should be taken on board and the Minister should reconsider the amendments ruled out of order. Perhaps the Minister could examine the related issues and bring them to the relevant committee in the context of how we introduce legislation to deal with these issues.

The question of putting a figure on a family was raised. Originally, the so-called excessive water charge was supposed to be a penalty or a fine. Now, it is being brought in as a payment. This is the fundamental change that people on the street have been expressing concern about. They know this is a Trojan Horse for the future to try to bring the multiplier down after five years. Under another amendment, the Minister can review it and bring it down.

We should applaud our citizenry for practically the lowest consumption of water in Europe. We should applaud the people for playing such a key role. We should invest in fixing the leaks. The leakages are not in households, but in the public space. That is where we should invest our money to deal with these issues.

Deputy Barry is next. We are discussing amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 18. Please focus on the content of the amendments.

I will start by focusing on amendment No. 18, which states:

In page 9, line 26, to delete “State.”.” and substitute the following:

“State.

(6) The Minister shall report to Dáil Éireann within six months of this Act coming into effect on the feasibility of implementing a public information campaign, and education campaign in schools and third level institutions on the preservation of water.”.”.

We know, and the majority of the people know, that the real agenda behind the water charges was the agenda of privatisation. The Government denies this and maintains it is all about conservation. Is the Government serious about conservation? If the Government is serious about conservation, it could not possibly oppose the idea of an education programme on conservation issues aimed in particular at young people. We rejected the water charges, and we reject water charges through the back door in the form of the excessive use charge. We are for conservation and the amendment is a practical conservation measure. We put it up to the Government. Is the Government prepared to support it?

Earlier in the discussion a particular point was raised about the amendments. A large number of amendments have been proposed and many have been ruled out of order. Others are being debated tonight. The point was made that the Fianna Fáil Deputies were not involved as much as some other Deputies believed they could or should have been on Committee Stage in putting down amendments. The reason is that the Fianna Fáil amendments were put down behind closed doors. This legislation is the result of a deal that has been hammered out by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It is a joint production in that sense. The two Civil War parties are joined together tonight in supporting legislation that leaves a door open for water charges.

The legislation amounts to water charges through the back door. The excessive use charge is set at 1.7 times the average usage and will catch 8% of households. However, in five years' time the Dáil can lower the 1.7 multiplier catching more and more households in that net and in that way introduce water charges through the back door.

I know that the Fianna Fáil Deputies have been a little sensitive in the debate tonight about the criticism.

It was the personal nature of the comments from the Deputy across the Chamber.

Deputy Barry, I suggest that you do not invite interruption.

We know that the real negotiations were done behind closed doors and that there is a deal involving Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together. They understand that they have to retreat on water charges because of the mass movement, but they are keeping the back door open. That is the reason we have no Fianna Fáil amendments tonight.

I welcome the opportunity to take Report Stage this evening and to speak to the amendments put forward by Deputies.

Amendment No. 15 is the first in the group. Essentially, if we were to accept the amendment, we would remove one of the key elements or purposes of the Bill. Therefore, the Government cannot accept the amendment. The provision in the relevant section is for the payment for the excessive use of water. It has been drafted in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

People have spoken about the 1.7 figure relating to the calculation of the excessive use beyond average household use. That cannot be changed for five years. As Deputy Barry pointed out, it will be a decision of the Dáil rather than the Government. It will be a decision of the elected representatives of the people in respect of what exactly should happen at that point.

The allowance will cover eight people based on the average consumption patterns presented to the Oireachtas committee. If there are additional people above four, they can apply for an additional allowance per person. If there is a medical need, a person can apply for what will be in effect a waiver from any charge.

I am confused about amendment No. 16. It refers to swimming pools and water features. On the one hand, the Deputies who have put down this amendment claim this is water charges through the back door, that is, people in their houses will have to pay this charge. At the same time, they claim it does not capture the amount of water usage that would include a swimming pool and a water feature. There is complete inconsistency in the approach to the amendments and the arguments made in the Chamber this evening.

Legislation on a referendum on public ownership is already progressing through the House by way of the Bill sponsored by Deputy Joan Collins. That will be discussed by the committee on 12 November, as I understand it.

Not all the recommendations made in the Oireachtas joint committee report require legislation. Further measures may come forward on conservation. They will be recommended to the Government and the Oireachtas by the water forum and the advisory body to be set up under this Bill.

This legislation is in essence a conservation Bill and measure - we all know that. There are no anomalies in how the figures will be calculated. Additional individuals above four can apply for an additional allowance per person. The allowance for four is generous enough, taking into account the excessive usage levy multiplier of 1.7, to accommodate on average eight people in a household.

The commission for the regulation of utilities will decide on the payment for excessive use in consultation. It is likely to be a metric charge for metered houses. For houses not metered, the commission may look at a range. Again, that will be a decision for the commission to make and it will do so in consultation over the course of next year.

Reference was made to the refunds process. There was more than enough time from an administrative point of view to allow all refunds to be made in advance of December were the legislation to have completed passage through both Houses by the middle of October. Much work was done over the course of June, July and August to ensure the refunds could be made if the legislation was enacted by both Houses by the middle of October. I made that clear to the relevant Deputies on the opposite side. My understanding was that I had agreement to do that.

Nothing is being rushed in this legislation. It has been debated in full in terms of what the special joint Oireachtas committee wanted to see by way of that legislation. The Bill comprehensively addresses the issues that are required in legislation, apart from the one issue being progressed through the House by means of separate legislation.

I welcome the comments from Deputy Coppinger. She sees this as a victory. I look forward to her support for the Bill.

The final amendment in the group, amendment No. 18, relates to an education campaign. Members will be aware of the significant number of education campaigns under way, including the Green Schools programme, which operates in 90% of primary and secondary schools. Other initiatives include the work being done by such bodies as An Taisce and Irish Water with over 200,000 students in schools throughout the country to increase their awareness of water conservation issues and what needs to be done. Further initiatives include surveys of schools awarded the green flag for water themes and the work done around water conservation in these schools as well as by Tidy Towns and Irish Water with the Value Water award. Irish Water also supports the EPA Live Green campaign. Finally, the water forum and the water advisory body will be in place to propose any additional measures that may be needed over the years as this new system beds down.

The thing that I do not understand is the failure to acknowledge the glaring hypocrisy and contradiction in the Government position.

This contradiction which was evident from the beginning continues and persists even now that the mass movement against water charges has forced it to retreat on the levying of domestic water charges on most people. I refer to the Government's consistent and dishonest attempts to justify its support for water charges by referring to the need for water conservation to deal with the water infrastructure problem and incentivise and encourage people to engage in water conservation measures. We never believed the Government; we always knew that the agenda was privatisation and getting a revenue stream because it had made several attempts before. If it is not going to stand up and admit it was lying to people, will the Minister please explain why he will not accept amendments which attempt to deal with water conservation and the big areas of water wastage? Most leaks are from water mains, with only 7% of water leaks in the system coming from individual households and the remainder coming from water mains. It was Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil before it, which during the austerity period slashed the investment programme to deal with water mains. It was their fault that the water infrastructure got worse. It had nothing to do with opposition to water charges and everything to do with their decision to cut capital investment in water infrastructure.

Ironically, People Before Profit and Solidarity are the only parties to put forward in their budgets a real water conservation grant linked with implementing domestic water conservation measures. Why does the Government not support our proposal? Given that the Minister did not address this issue in his first reply, it seems that the Government has never been interested in water conservation, and that it is only interested in a back door to domestic water charges.

I ask the Deputy to withdraw the allegation that the Minister was lying.

I said the Government was lying about its concern for-----

I am only concerned about what the Deputy said, not what he was thinking of saying.

In that case, can I say the Government was lying?

No. Can I take it the Deputy is withdrawing the allegation?

I withdraw any personal reference to the Minister, but the Government was lying.

The allegation is withdrawn.

I would like the Minister to respond to my question about a cost-benefit analysis. If the Government is to introduce a system such as this, install additional water meters and impose a charge per household, how much will it cost to administer the system, read and service meters and operate a call centre and what will be the return? It is important that Deputies have this information.

As no other Deputies are offering, the Minister may make a final contribution on this group of amendments.

We will now hear from the Minister who always tells the truth.

I thank the Deputy; I want his comment noted. The Government did not lie to anyone. The agenda is not privatisation which essentially will become impossible following the enactment of the Bill, if that is the decision of both Houses. I did not rule any amendment out of order as that is not my job as a Minister. I believe in water charges, but the Bill does not provide for them. It is the intention of the Bill that there will not be any additional funding stream from the excessive use charge. We want to tackle the 8% of users who are responsible for 30% of water use. That is the purpose of the Bill. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett stated the Bill did not include conservation measures, when it is, in essence, a conservation measure. We are trying to achieve certainty for consumers of water and ensure we will have a modern and robust water infrastructure for citizens.

To address Deputy Catherine Murphy's question, the metering will be done in line with the recommendations of the joint committee. In terms of cost-effectiveness, how this will operate and the cost recovery model, all of these matters will be examined by the new Commission for Energy Regulation, namely, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. Its role will be to make sure the system is in line with the Irish Water business plan following the policy statement from my office. That work will commence once the Bill has been enacted.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 9, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“(4A) The Minister shall report to Dáil Éireann within six months of this Act coming into effect on the number of domestic swimming pools and large water features in private residences in the state for the purpose of levying a charge on such pools and water features.”.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 78; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mick Barry and Richard Boyd Barrett; Níl, Deputies Joe McHugh and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 17 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 17 not moved.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 9, line 26, to delete “State.”.” and substitute the following:

“State.

(6) The Minister shall report to Dáil Éireann within six months of this Act coming into effect on the feasibility of implementing a public information campaign, and education campaign in schools and third level institutions on the preservation of water.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 19 has been ruled out of order on the basis that it is not relevant to the provisions of the Bill and represents a potential charge on the Exchequer.

It is very relevant.

I did not make this declaration. I am reading what is in front of me. I do not have any authority to change it, I am sorry to say. I would love to oblige the Deputy but I cannot.

Amendment No. 19 not moved.

Amendment No. 20 has also been ruled out of order.

The Acting Chairman is only prolonging our pain.

This is something I learned many years ago, when I brought forward what I thought were very useful and progressive amendments and I was very disappointed to find that if they put a charge on the Exchequer, they were out of order.

Is the Acting Chairman saying that he feels our pain?

In actual fact, I am paining along with the Deputies.

Amendment No. 20 not moved.

Amendment No. 21 has been ruled out of order on the basis of a potential charge on the Exchequer.

I have a question on that. The amendment provides that rather than the Dáil having the power to lower the threshold for the so-called excessive use charge in five years' time, thereby bringing more and more people into the excessive use charge net and implementing de facto water charges through the back door, the Dáil shall not have that power in five years' time and shall not have it for a period not less than 999 years. I am querying the precise grounds upon which the amendment has been ruled out of order.

It has been ruled out of order because it impacts on the time in which legislation might be introduced or postponed which, in turn, would have an impact on revenue. I am sorry to say-----

That is a big admission.

I want to be helpful to the Deputy and I do not want him to be out of order for too long.

I want to be helpful to the Acting Chairman.

The Deputy might resume his seat so that we can move on to the next amendment. He can be out of order for a minute on the next one as well.

I propose that I would resume my seat in less than 60 seconds but-----

No, in actual fact I would prefer the Deputy to resume his seat now. I will entertain him further later on. He is entertaining already but he is still out of order. I know the Deputy wants to be helpful and he is about to be even more helpful by resuming his seat-----

I am going to be very helpful-----

-----which he can do with very little effort.

-----by making-----

I am so sorry. It really hurts me to say this but the Deputy is going to have to resume his seat.

It hurts me too.

I know it hurts him; I can see the hurt in his face.

I would just make the observation-----

The Deputy has made the observation already and it is still out of order.

The observation is that if the Acting Chairman feels that this amendment might impact on the financial position of the State, that is an indication that the State might be looking at the idea of reducing the threshold in order to increase its income from the hard-pressed householders of this country.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat now. His imagination knows no bounds.

It is a bit of a giveaway, a bit of a reveal.

The amendment is out of order, sadly.

Amendment No. 21 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 32, inclusive, have also been ruled out of order.

On what basis has amendment No. 32 been ruled out of order?

On the basis that it involves a potential charge to the Exchequer.

I ask the Acting Chairman to explain that to me. How can changing the name from a "charge" to a "fine" and making that payable to the local authority be a charge on the State?

I will do my best to explain it again.

Explain that to me please because this is a complete and absolute charade.

Obviously my explanation has not been adequate to date but-----

No, it has not. It is quite clear that this is just blackguardism of the highest order.

I did not make the ruling but I have a long history of putting down amendments to Bills. Once one wanders into the territory of -----

I want to know specifically why amendment No. 32 is out of order because-----

-----reducing a period within which legislation will be introduced-----

-----any normal reading of the English language would show that the amendment is in order.

-----one is automatically impacting on revenue and one is also out of order. I am sorry to have to say that but the Deputy knows it himself.

I am very sorry too but the Acting Chairman has still not explained to me how this amendment could be out of order.

How could a charge arise?

If the Deputy resumes his seat, I will explain it.

I am very sorry but I want to know how, in practice, this could be out of order. All it does, as the Chair is aware, is change the name from a charge to a levy, a fine or a penalty, and it makes that payable to the local authority. How is that out of order?

If the Deputy resumes his seat, I will explain it.

I will resume my seat until I hear what the Chair has to say.

Any time that a Member makes a proposal by way of an amendment that impacts in any way on the finances of the State or on revenue, incoming or outgoing, that is out of order.

This does not impinge on the revenue of the State in any way.

The Deputy is a very nice guy and I love listening to him but, sadly, he is now well out of order and he is going further out of order.

This is blackguardism of the highest order.

It is here in black and white. Will the Deputy resume his seat?

If there is a penalty or a fine of €10, and someone calls it a charge and I call it a fine or a penalty, and it is payable to the State through the local authority, how is that out of order?

It impacts on revenue. Anything that impacts on revenue is out of order.

How does that affect the revenue of the State? It does not affect the revenue of the State and the Chair knows it bloody well.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 32, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 33, which is in the names of Deputies Bríd Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruth Coppinger, Mick Barry and Paul Murphy, imposes a potential charge on revenue and is out of order.

Amendment No. 33 not moved.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 17, lines 32 and 33, to delete “section 22.”.” and substitute the following:

“section 22.

(7) Recognising that Irish Water is a fully State funded entity, Irish Water shall be required to report, as required, to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to be amenable to all reporting guidelines and inspection and audit powers of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General as provided for in the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993.”.”.

When Irish Water was set up, it was a full cost recovery model and it was intended to be a commercial semi-State company that was going to be able to raise funds off-balance sheet. That is now very different, on foot of a very big public campaign and, essentially, it is fully publicly funded. This year, 2017, the amount that was provided to Irish Water is estimated to be €753 million and it is very important that we have proper oversight when such a large amount of money is at stake. We know there are issues that require scrutiny, for example, procurement. A very large number of people transferred from the local authorities to Irish Water, which means there will be pay and pensions issues. We know that some 70% of the amount that was allocated will be spent by Ervia and a significant amount of money will be transferred between both elements of Irish Water. Ervia is currently hiring consultants and there were headlines earlier this year when there was a €70 million spend on consultants. While that may be money well spent, we do not know. What we require is the scrutiny to ensure the money is well spent.

This issue has arisen on a couple of occasions to date in the Committee of Public Accounts, where we looked to see that there was the kind of oversight one would expect to be in place. If this company was constructed from scratch, there would have been a full role for the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is essential, when such large amounts of public money are at stake, that we do not end up in a year's time asking why did we not have this oversight and scrutiny. We can do this now in a proactive way so that we end up with the kind of oversight and regulation that should be in place. I ask for the support of the Chamber to make sure this happens.

I strongly support this amendment. One of the shocking examples of the waste of money in this whole debacle of Irish Water was the installation of household meters. Anybody looking objectively and impartially at value for money for the public would have said this was madness. The amount of money that was spent on putting in these household meters was to capture what Irish Water itself said was only 7% of the leaks in the system, that is, only 7% of the water leaking out of the system leaked from households to the mains whereas 93% of it was leaking beyond that, and the meters which have cost us close to €1 billion will not capture that. If that €1 billion had instead gone into ramping up the capital investment programme to deal with upgrading the mains infrastructure and dealing with the leaks, we would be in a much better place now.

On a point that is not highlighted enough, it was those who claimed that water charges were about water conservation - Fine Gael and, before it, Fianna Fáil - who slashed the capital investment programme in the austerity years by hundreds of millions of euro. When they got up time and again to justify household water charges, they would ask us to look at all the water that is leaking from the system, and look at how decrepit the water system is, while failing to mention that it was decisions made first by Fianna Fáil and then by Fine Gael to slash hundreds of millions from the capital investment programme in the austerity years that had worsened an already bad situation in that regard. That was then compounded by saying that, with the money available, we were going to pay Denis O'Brien to put in household meters which will not deal with any of that problem and will not compensate for the years of under-investment that they had worsened. I think the Comptroller and Auditor General would look at that and say it is not good value for money, and it might also raise questions about how Denis O'Brien got the contract, because that is also the kind of thing the Comptroller and Auditor General looks into.

When we think about the enormous expenditures beyond that to consultants, shocking money was spent on billing and administration and, of course, on obscene salaries, hourly rates and what-not for these consultants, who were brought in by Irish Water to set up the systems, there was enormous wastage. The public were horrified in so far as they were made aware of this. Indeed, what helped sink the already sinking ship of the water charges were the revelations about the extent of expenditures for the metering programme and on consultants. I think the Comptroller and Auditor General might have called a stop, or at least would have put question marks over all that expenditure and whether it represented good value for money. It is imperative, given the absolutely rotten record of Irish Water to date and its enormous wastage of money, that there be proper oversight and accountability for its expenditures of money. Obviously, the far better solution would be just to abolish it, full stop, but seeing the Government is not willing to do that, at the very least it could accept Deputy Murphy's amendment.

I strongly support Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment. When we see how toxic Irish Water has become, to my mind, it has been a huge waste of money. Advertising expenditure totals €2.85 million to date, with €717,000 going to RTÉ alone. A total of €574 million was spent on water metering, although it is a fact that only €473 million was spent and the other money is being put back into other aspects of Irish Water. Maintaining the meters was potentially going to cost €54 million a year.

Some €70 million was spent on consultants and €25 million per year was spent on billing. This was all a significant waste of money.

I met some Irish Water workers who told me of how when there was a maintenance problem with certain parts of the water structure, Irish Water contacted a company that would have charged €25 per hour. Suddenly, that arrangement changed and the work was given to a better known company, which demanded €139 per hour but got the company that had been charging €25 to do the work anyway. The better known company was making money on the project in that way. We know of consultants who have got €80,000 to bring in engineers only to pay those engineers €65,000 or €70,000. Much is happening with money that should be going straight into fixing our water pipes and addressing the issues at treatment plants. A check like the one in this amendment is important, as it would look into these matters, ensure that money was spent where it should be and highlight issues like the ones raised with me by those Irish Water workers.

For a strange reason, I will support this amendment. I opposed the Irish Water setup might and main from its first day. It was a big dream in the sunrise or sunset clause - I do not know which to call it - of the former Minister, big Phil the enforcer, the then Deputy Hogan.

There will be no "big Phils". Everyone has to be addressed by his or her position.

Yes. He is now Commissioner Hogan, with his pension in Europe for the devastation that he wreaked on the Irish people not only through this, but also through the abolition of local democracy. He thought that he could walk on water. That is why he called it "Irish Water", I suppose. He thought that it was his water and he could walk on it, but he found out quickly that he could not. A mess has been left behind.

I am not opposed to meters. Every house should have one. Indeed, a meter should be somewhere accessible inside a house so that it can be read and monitored. The majority of people accept that water is a valuable resource and needs to be used sparingly. This is especially so for treated water. We should be using untreated water for many other functions in schools and houses and there should be grant schemes for that. Meters should be accessible so that people can see what they are using.

I do not agree with the notion that only 7% is being lost beneath houses. Lots more is being lost. There are leaks, including under old houses, through old lead pipes, etc. There are many reasons for leaks. Nearly 50% of water in Dublin is leaking out, but the Government wants to bring water from Tipperary up to Dublin so that it can leak out here. It does not make sense.

The cost of the water metering contract was outrageous. I had issue with three or four villages in Tipperary. Deputy Healy, who is present and will speak later, and I fought for years to get money for rehabilitation schemes in those villages. I could name them. We had just installed new meters underneath the footpaths and outside all of the households when, six to eight months later, the contractor came along - it had the contract, so I do not blame it - and dug them all up, threw them into a lorry and carried them to a scrapyard in Clonmel. They were near meters and had only been installed a year beforehand. The wanton waste that went on was a shambles.

People in every town in Tipperary are suffering with sewerage systems. The council always maintained the systems. I salute the council workers involved in every area. If an old woman of 90, 95, 80 or whatever years has sewage rising in her backyard or back porch now, Irish Water will not touch it. Somewhere in the transfer of services, reservoirs, treatment plants, sewage plants and other infrastructure from county councils to Irish Water, some clever boyo - this did not happen by accident - failed to hand over the quasi-communal pipes. That is what they are. They are behind people's council-built houses, with sewerage pipes running up the back. These got blocked regularly, especially as they grew older. Some have had extensions built over them after planning permission was sought from and given by the relevant council. Irish Water has disowned these pipes, which has left people in perilous situations in all kinds of weather, especially heat, with sewage in their backyards that no one will go near. Council workers want to do the job as they always did, but they are not allowed to do so on behalf of Irish Water. That did not happen by accident. The same happened in England, but its legislation was amended to make people take the pipes over again. They are a part of the infrastructure that was developed in conjunction with water schemes. They were cleverly left behind, allowing people to sink in their own you-know-what. It is disgraceful. All Deputies have received representations, especially from older towns. If they have not, something is wrong and they know that this issue exists. It should have been sorted out instead of fighting over other issues.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the pioneers who developed their own water schemes and the private householders who sank their own wells and must maintain them with their electricity supplies and treatment commodities. If their pumps go, they must replace them. The grant funding to Tipperary for supporting semi-private group water schemes has been diminished by over 60% in recent years in conjunction with the waste in Irish Water. The Acting Chairman knows this to be the case, as does everyone else present, given that we have all met people. Those schemes are being left out to dry.

I backed a recent amendment on private householders' swimming pools because something like that should be paid for, but the water charge on every hairdresser, undertaker, shop, hotel, farmer, stonemason and other type of business has been doubled. There are double charges if people have taps on different pieces of land, yet we now have this nonsensical fallacy of debating paying back money. It is unfair on rural dwellers who must supply their own water or maintain their group schemes.

Irish Water tried to take over some of those schemes, but the people resisted, and rightly so. Significant effort was made during the storm. Everyone, including council workers, were out fixing water supplies and doing their best, but the information flow from Irish Water was archaic and disgusting. I am not blaming the people on the desks. The storm was on a Monday, but Irish Water turned off the helpline for Oireachtas Members on Friday evening. People everywhere were without water. We were getting misinformation, disinformation and careless information about the situation. There is a disconnect from the ordinary people on the ground and they have been left behind on a number of issues.

There is no conservation now, or at least little incentive to do so even though there should be. A magical component was fitted to the meters to allow for drive-by readings. The batteries in those are the same as the ones in our watches and will die after three, four, five, six, seven or eight years, rendering them useless. Three years have passed already, so they will all be useless in a short number of years. That is a con job. What happens when the meters cannot be read with drive-by electronic equipment?

For years, caretakers in the water schemes and county councils watched over our water services, monitored leaks and dealt with and listened to the public. If members of the public approach them about leaks now, they cannot do a thing. The leaks must first be logged with Irish Water regardless of what happens. If the sky falls in, there must be a log and a number. We cannot get any meaningful communication.

There is much wrong in the setup of Irish Water, and if a house is built on shaky foundations, it certainly will fall.

While I strongly support this amendment, I want to see the abolition of Irish Water. I tabled an amendment to effect that, so I object to it being ruled out of order. It is not out of order. In light of the explanatory memorandum, it is centrally related to the Bill and should have been allowed to be debated.

There is no doubt in my mind that Irish Water has been a toxic entity from day one. There was a considerable waste of public money through large payments to consultants when setting it up. The €50 million rose to something like €100 million. The installation of water meters was also a significant waste of public money. The operation of Irish Water on the ground leaves everything to be desired.

There is absolutely no contact with local people, communities and individuals. There are no Irish Water staff or offices on the ground. There are major problems in contacting Irish Water. There have been major problems since the transfer of water and sewerage services from local authorities to Irish Water. Irish Water should be abolished and the services handed back to local authorities. That is what I had in my amendment, which was in order and should not have been ruled out of order. I support this amendment. If not in this Bill, I hope we will get to a situation whereby Irish Water will be abolished.

I remind Members that we are on amendment No. 34, in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy. It arises out of committee proceedings. The amendment is quite clear. It proposes to replace a section with another section. I remind Members to stick to the subject matter of the amendment.

I will stick to the amendment. I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for tabling the amendment. I sit on the Committee of Public Accounts, as she does, and I realise the invaluable work the Comptroller and Auditor General and his small team do. If the Government is seriously interested in restoring any faith in it, its handling of the water crisis and Irish Water, this is the most basic step it could take in restoring confidence.

I can see no reason the Government would refuse to allow Irish Water to come under the scrutiny of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I look forward to the Minister's reply and to hearing whether he agrees with this. I would be delighted if he does. If he does not, I am anxious to hear what reason he might give for not having public scrutiny of a body, in particular when, as the Taoiseach has repeatedly confirmed, there is no intention of privatising our water service. It is a basic human right. I once again thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for tabling the amendment.

Amendment No. 34, in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy, was one of the better and more obvious amendments. I supported it on Committee Stage, but withheld my support on foot of the commitment of the Minister to refer to Government with a view to elaborating on the contention that, for this to be the case, it would require an amendment to the Comptroller and Auditor General Act rather than what was contained within the Water Services Bill.

At that time, he committed to referring back to the committee and its Chair, having, as I said, consulted with the Government and legal advisers. He gave a commitment on their part to ensure that Irish Water would be held accountable under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General in respect of how it disburses public funds, notwithstanding that its Vote would be part of the Department Vote, into which the committee would have an input as is normal. I ask that the Minister respond to this forum, as he intends to respond to the committee Chair.

I beg the indulgence of the Acting Chairman in respect of some comments made by Deputy Ó Broin. I had difficulties with many of the amendments he and his party tabled. That was personified by the first one, which stated, "In page 5, line 22, after “Services” to insert “(Water Charges by the Back Door)”." This demonstrates the type of rubbish the Deputy was bringing forward and the games he was playing in an effort to appease his supporters.

This was despite the fact that he could not comprehend that when his party took a ten-week holiday after the last election, other parties took it upon themselves to ensure the country and electorate got a Government which might be able to bring some stability to the economy and country. In order for that to have any chance of success, it was obvious this issue had to be dealt with. If the Deputy's party had its way, it would not have allowed the Government to proceed for another month because it would have played on people's fears in respect of this issue. It would not be the first time the Deputy or anybody belonging to his party compromised the stability of the country or the economy.

On matters of a personal nature, the Deputy referred to my attendance at committee meetings. Fianna Fáil has been represented at every committee meeting to which the Deputy referred, as was the case with Sinn Féin. Any time the Deputy was not present, I am sure somebody deputised on his behalf. I will not have him lecturing me about my attendance, irrespective of the fact that my party was well represented at all times and reflected the opinions and policy of my party, as it was elected and given the right to do.

On who pays me, how they pay me and what they pay me for, the electorate of Laois-Offaly will decide that, as is their right and will, and I will accept that, as I always have done. I accept the democratic will of the majority, something the Deputy cannot stand over in terms of his party's history.

I never sought to personalise this issue in the manner in which the Deputy has done. I take great offence to it, and it will not be forgotten. He played his game and raised the bait, as he wished to do in order to generate a response such as this. He has succeeded. For what it is worth, I do not know. I and my party committed to resolve this issue and to put a process in place which will allow the Dáil to be in a much more informed position to be able to make a decision than it was previously.

Democracy and the rules and processes associated with it have been upheld at all times. I will not stand in the way of the Deputy's silly amendments. It is not my right, and I cannot nor should I be able to so do. I will recognise them for what they are. All he is doing is playing silly games. It appears he wants to make sure that people do not get their refunds before Christmas, as is committed to in the Bill because, for some reason or other, he feels that will create a feel-good factor for those who will receive them. That is far from the case. We are reflecting the will of those who supported us and gave us a vote. We gave some value to that vote by putting in place this process to ensure it was taken off the table so that we can deal with much more pressing items, as he knows but will not admit.

Deputy Cowen captured accurately my intention regarding this amendment. We discussed this on Committee Stage. I too sat on the Committee of Public Accounts and have worked with the Comptroller and Auditor General. I know the excellent work that committee does. The Deputy is accurate when he says this would not be the appropriate place to make such an amendment, rather, the Comptroller and Auditor General Act would be the appropriate place to do it, and that is something I want to do.

I brought this matter to the Government at a Cabinet meeting today and have responded to the committee Chair. It is a lengthy letter, but I will read out the last paragraph so that people can be clear. It states:

To restate my position for clarity, it would be my intention, once there is a further understanding on what needs to be done, to see Irish Water come within the remit of the C&AG. I have today brought proposals to Government to initiate the necessary work in this regard. I hope this work will be completed in the shortest timeframe, given its priority, and that, with all-party support, agreement can be reached on the appropriate role for the C&AG with respect to Irish Water as soon as is practicably possible.

I therefore cannot accept the amendment.

I would have thought that if a national, rather than a commercial body, was established and was named Irish Water that within that there would be a role for oversight. I do not understand why this has to be separate and why it cannot be contained in the Bill. The provision is immediate. We would not have to wait any length of time.

In a reply from the Minister in September, I was told: "State funding to Irish Water in respect of domestic water services, as determined through the regulatory process being channelled in future through my Department's Vote... [means that] the future funding for Irish Water in respect of domestic water services will therefore be from general taxation." There is no doubt that the money is coming from general taxation.

The idea that this is something that has to be pushed off into the future is of significant concern because a number of issues have already arisen at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts, which we know we cannot deal with because the Comptroller and Auditor General does not have legal responsibility for this area.

I honestly do not understand why it cannot be embedded in this legislation. It would be entirely appropriate, given it relates to the same matter, the oversight of Irish Water by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Too often we hear that we must bring different pieces of legislation forward, but that takes ages. In six months or a year, we could find ourselves in a position where if we had provided this oversight, we would not have ended up there. This is about ensuring there is value for money and proper oversight in the most expeditious way. For that reason I will most certainly press this amendment.

I ask the Deputy to accept my bona fides on this. I brought it to the Government this morning, together with an earlier signature motion for the Irish Water Bill when it passes the Houses. This would allow us to commence the process of refunds as quickly as possible, getting as many refunds to people as we can before Christmas. Regrettably, we will not get them all because of the time it has taken for the Bill to pass through the Houses.

This amendment would not delay that.

I know but I am making the point about what I also brought to the Cabinet this morning when I raised the issue in the Deputy's amendment. We discussed this on Committee Stage and I was quite clear on what I would like to do. I am the Minister responsible and I am telling the Deputy it is my intention to do that. The advice I received and on which I am going to act is that this is not the appropriate legislation in which to deem what the Comptroller and Auditor would or would not audit. We must also be mindful of the manner in which Irish Water has been established. It has a separate auditing process now because it comes under companies legislation. I want to move it to the position we all want in this House with regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General. I cannot just allow the amendment to fall into the Bill as I have been told it is not the correct way in which to do this. I must consult further with the Attorney General as a priority to see how quickly we can get to the right mechanism whereby we can have a role for the Comptroller and Auditor General when it comes to Irish Water. That is as I expressed on Committee Stage, at Cabinet this morning and I have just expressed to the Deputy again here in the Dáil this evening.

We are pushing something to the future that we can deal with now. I see no reason not to press the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 42; Níl, 73; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall; Níl, Deputies Joe McHugh and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 17, lines 32 and 33, to delete “section 22.”.” and substitute the following:

“section 22.

(7) Within six months of this Act coming into effect the Minister shall—

(a) commission a report on the upgrading of the water infrastructure and the volume of unaccounted water, and

(b) commission a report on the changes to building regulations required to ensure there are water conservation measures in all newly built properties.”.”.

Amendment No. 35 provides that the Minister should report back in six months on the volume of unaccounted water and the cost of infrastructure upgrading, that is, pipes, and should report back on new building regulations that are required for water conservation in newly built houses.

Amendment No. 36 provides that the Minister will report to the Dáil within six months on establishing a water conservation grant. I will comment briefly on them because they more or less speak for themselves. The biggest waster of water is the State. Some 48% of treated water is unaccounted for. We are looking here at leaks which are not the responsibility of households, but the responsibility of the local authority on its side of the stopcock. An incredible amount of treated water is being wasted. We have argued consistently that the money that has been wasted on installing individual meters outside households should instead have been ploughed into fixing those leaks and bringing the level down from 48%. That should be done now and we are seeking to provide that the Minister should bring a full report on that to the House in six months.

The proposal to establish a water conservation grant speaks for itself.

With regard to the leakage of water, unless there are district flow meters one will never find where the leak is occurring. As anybody who understands water supply knows, one must use loggers from one district flow meter to another. One also needs to have meters in the different areas because a large amount of water is leaked and finding the leak is the problem. All of these things cost money.

I agree wholeheartedly with a conservation grant. Years ago in rural Ireland, before water was brought into houses, every householder had a tank beside the house. The tank was used for many different purposes. We must ensure we give incentives for tanks or other measures to be put in place. It could be an intermediate bulk container tank given the amount of water that runs off gutters and so forth. However, one must ensure there is a filtering system. Incentives must be put in place for that.

Ultimately, however, there is the issue of pipes, especially in Dublin. I worked on this in Dublin. There are pipes around Dublin that have been in place for a long time and they will have to be replaced. There must be district flow meters, loggers and meters to find out where the problems are. The one thing required for all of that is money.

Many points have been made but it is worth underlining that if one talks to people in the local authorities, and this is true with regard to both housing and water, they always know what needs to be done. The problem has been that they were not resourced to do it. There are not enough people employed in the local authorities because we have run down the staffing numbers, particularly of outdoor workers directly employed to do work such as identifying leaks and fixing them. The capital investment programme was chronically deficient and, as I mentioned earlier, it was slashed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael successively in the aftermath of 2008. The slashing of the capital investment programme to upgrade the water infrastructure, which is Victorian and decrepit, and running down the number of directly employed outdoor workers in water departments in local authorities are the problems. That is why we have a problem. If the Government was serious about dealing with the water infrastructure, which it never was, it would be employing lots of people to fix the water mains. They would be directly employed by the local authorities, where the expertise is.

The SLAs between Irish Water and the local authorities proved all of this. It was a complete joke. We set up this quango, paid millions of euro to Denis O'Brien to install meters and paid tens of millions of euro to consultants for billing and their big salaries. It was all a waste. What we needed to do, as Irish Water ultimately did, was go to the local authorities and ask them to do the work. However, it is now more inefficient because there is another layer, a quango called Irish Water, leaching money out of the system but handing the work back to the local authorities anyway. It is just laughable. It is another proof, as it were, that Irish Water was never about dealing with those problems, because they could and should be dealt with directly via the local authorities being resourced and staffed, but was always about something else, which was setting up a company that could get revenue from water charging and ultimately move towards privatisation. A proper audit of what must be done to deal with the massive amount of unaccounted for water and putting the resources into the local authorities to do that work is the way to deal with the problem.

On the conservation grant, I wish to underline that Solidarity-People Before Profit is the only party that has included an allocation of €100 million for a water conservation grant in its pre-budget submissions for the last three years. No other party has done so. The Government introduced a water conservation grant which was not linked to water conservation measures. It was nothing but a bribe. It gave the money to try to soften the bitter pill of domestic water charges. We have proposed a water conservation grant which would be given to households that carry out water conservation measures such as retrofitting their houses and so forth to put in systems that would reduce their usage of treated water. If the Government is to be believed, and whatever I might think about Deputy Eoghan Murphy's bona fides, I do not credit the Government's bona fides on this matter at all. To use less colourful language than I used earlier, where is the conservation grant if it cares about this? It is not there; it is not even in the Government's head. If it was serious about this stuff it would support the introduction of a genuine conservation grant linked to and supporting householders who are trying to install water conservation measures.

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are being discussed together. Amendment No. 36 requests two reports on two issues: upgrading the water infrastructure, and changes to the building regulations to ensure there are water conservation measures in all newly-built properties. I do not believe that additional requirement is required in primary legislation. Irish Water's business plan sets out an ambitious capital investment programme of €5.5 billion to 2021. Some €4 billion of this will be invested during the 2016-21 capital investment plan. This investment is vital for upgrading our drinking water treatment and wastewater infrastructure, improving water quality and reducing leakage. That business plan tells us about the infrastructure upgrades that must take place over those years. Under the provisions of the Bill, the proposed water advisory body will be tasked with advising the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and reporting on a quarterly basis to the Oireachtas housing committee on Irish Water’s implementation of its business plan. That will give Members all the oversight they need in that regard. That refers to the first report being proposed.

With regard to the second report, Part G of the building regulations, relating to hygiene, currently provides for measures around toilet facilities, conservation and flushing. Part H of the regulations refers to drainage and wastewater disposal and allows for rainwater harvesting and grey water reuse. With regard to a report, and this is of interest because we are working on the housing issue as well, a study on the indicative cost associated with building a three-bedroom semi-detached house found that the figure for incorporating rainwater harvesting technologies amounted to €4,250 per house. That figure would be likely to be much higher for larger, more complex buildings.

In so far as the water conservation grant is concerned, the first fix free scheme will continue and will assist in fixing leaks and ensuring households do not use water above the threshold set for domestic use which, as the Deputy noted, is very generous.

The legislative provisions in the Water Services Act 2014 relating to the water conservation grant are not being repealed. This means that it will be open in the future to reintroduce a grant scheme as resources allow and if it is deemed necessary. The water forum which is being established in this Bill will also play a key role regarding water conservation. One of its principal functions will be to advise the Minister on Government water policy, taking account of water conservation. The fundamental purpose of this Bill is water conservation, so that runs throughout it. On that basis, I cannot accept the amendments.

In so far as the Minister claims that this Bill is geared towards water conservation, it is not directed at the majority of people but at a very small group which is identified as excessive users. We do not accept that is the main motive and we have expressed the view that it is a means of keeping a foot in on domestic charging so that over time the thresholds will be lowered bringing more people into the charging net. If the Minister was serious and this was actually a water conservation Bill and the matter is as urgent as he says it is - which it is - he would do something about this now. Rather than wait for some stage in the future when resources allow, he would support people, through grants, who are trying to reduce treated water usage. These can be for things such as flushing toilets which can be very substantially reduced with a little investment but is something that many people cannot afford. People want to do the right thing by the environment and conserve our water resources. They never accepted that the Government's water charges were designed to do that, seeing them as designed to punish them on top of all the other financial punishments they suffered. We are proposing a positive incentive to people, so that where people install water-harvesting measures or measures that will reduce their treated water usage, the State will support them by providing them with a grant. If it is important it should happen now, not at some distant point in the future.

I do not accept the Deputy's interpretation of why we proposed the introduction of domestic water charges but that is a debate that has finished and we are discussing the Bill which is before us.

To put aside the 1.7 and the excessive use charge, the essence of this Bill is conservation. Every investment we make in our infrastructure will help us in that. There are already a number of measures underway, some of which I have mentioned, which relate to conservation and further safeguards have been put in place in this Bill in relation to the forum and the advisory body to advise the Government but also report back to the House on how that plan is being implemented and if further conservation measures were deemed necessary in the future, what they might be. Therefore I cannot accept the two amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 18, line 3, to delete “dwelling.”,” and substitute the following:

“dwelling.

(1B) Within six months of this Act coming into effect the Minister shall report to Dáil Éireann on the establishment of a grant to domestic households for the purposes of water conservation.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 22, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“(4) When prescribing the regulations under subsection (3) the Minister shall ensure one third of the membership of the Forum consists of trade union representatives and one third consists of local community representatives.”.

The essence of this amendment is that the composition of the water forum should include one third of trade union representatives and one third community representatives. The essence of amendment No. 38 is that the water advisory body should include a trade union representative, which would mean one of five of its members.

I will not speak at any length on these proposals, they speak for themselves. There is an issue here of democracy and accountability and having genuine representation on these bodies from both the workforce and the community.

Does Deputy Boyd Barrett wish to speak?

If everyone is very co-operative we can finish the Bill tonight. It will take a little imagination.

We will not get it finished tonight.

The Deputy should not be fatalistic.

One would not want to rush it.

It will be through in the morning.

This is quite an important amendment. It speaks to how seriously we take the question of conservation and who we think can help inform a policy or a conscientious approach towards the management, conservation and protection of our water resources.

I made the point already that the first answer to that question lies with those who work in water services in the local authorities. These are the people who know and they need to be very strongly represented. It is worth pointing out that year in, year out, the workers in local authority water departments told elected councillors in local authorities that they needed more investment in water infrastructure. It was political decisions by councils, dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, not to put investment into water infrastructure. It was a political failure by the very same political parties who wanted to introduce water charges. It was not the fault of the workers.

If we had listened to the workers and the directors of services and so on, in the local authorities, the investment would have happened. It was not regarded as politically useful or expedient or a priority for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and when the time came to cut things in 2008, that is where they started and we are suffering a bitter price as a result. Having workers and trade union representatives in substantial numbers to represent those workers on the water forum is a good idea.

The other part is to have local community representatives. If one wants real buy-in from the community on how we manage, protect and conserve our water resources, then one will facilitate significant representation from communities in a water forum which will overlook things such as seeing if we are implementing EU water directives, as this Bill says this forum is supposed to do. Are the customers being looked after? I hate the phraseology of "customers". The corporate-speak gives away what Irish Water is really about, rather than referring to citizens who have rights. However, that is the wording in the legislation. We should have real community involvement in the management, oversight and protection of our water resources. These are very reasonable, sensible amendments.

On the advisory body, it is critical that we have representatives of the trade unions because they will be dealing with issues relating to industrial relations such as pay and conditions of those working in water services. It is particularly important since another impact of the setting up of Irish Water in the longer term will be an attempt to undermine the conditions of those working in water services as we move to a more privatised, commercially focused model in Irish Water. It is the other side of the coin; the running down of staff numbers in proper pensionable jobs.

Debate adjourned.