Water Services Bill 2013: Committee and Remaining Stages

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.

SECTION 1

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Cullinane, Reilly and Ó Clochartaigh has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, subsection (2), line 22, after "Act" to insert "other than section 24 ".

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and express my disappointment that amendment No. 1 and some other amendments we tabled have been ruled out of order. The reason given is that they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill, but it is still our right to table amendments. If we do not agree with the principle of the Bill, I contend it is our right to seek to change the legislation to bring it into line with what we see as the correct principles which should underpin the provision of water services in this State. However, I have to accept the ruling of the Chair.

In dealing with amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6, the Minister of State might remember that we had a very similar debate when he brought forward the household charge. We had a very interesting debate on poverty proofing policy decisions in the State. During that debate we made the point that the household charge would have an impact on many low income families, that there would be a level of resistance to the household charge and that people were sick and tired of a whole raft of new taxes, stealth charges and regressive charges coming at working families at a time when the State was in a very difficult financial situation. We made the point again that much of what the Government was doing was having a damaging effect on the domestic economy but, more crucially in the context of the amendment we tabled then and which we table now, we were concerned about the issue of poverty.

The Minister of State will have heard the term "fuel poverty" on many occasions and will know that many people in the State suffer from fuel poverty. As a consequence of what the Minister is going to do here, namely, setting up a Uisce Éireann and introducing water charges, we may well see water poverty as we do not know what waivers will be in place and how it will impact on low-income families or people on welfare. That would be an appalling situation in which to find ourselves.

The amendment specifically would delay the coming into operation of the section and empower the Commission for Energy Regulation to make functions to bring about water charges. That is essentially what the Government wants to do. We seek to delay that until a poverty impact analysis has been carried out.

Far too many people in the State are on low pay and social welfare payments because jobs are simply not available. Far too many people live in poverty and live just above the poverty line. When one looks at all the new taxes and charges coming into being, all of that will have very negative impact on families. Let us just remind ourselves of what those families are looking at. Last year they were faced with a flat rate household charge of €100. They will now be faced with this family home tax, because it most certainly is not a property tax, of on average between €300 and €500, depending of the value of their home. We will see an increase in the carbon level of €5 per tonne. We saw a reduction in the fuel allowance from 32 weeks to 26 weeks and a 2% VAT increase, which disproportionately impacts on low-income families and households. There is a projected increase of approximately 1.9% in inflation. There was an increase in fares for public transport, an increase in the drug payment scheme threshold and an increase in school transport costs. In addition to all of this, we will now ask those same families to pay water charges. It is getting to a stage where people are asking themselves what they paying all these charges for. If they are paying income tax, PRSI, the universal social charge and more taxes than ever, why is it that they are now being asked to pay water charges and property tax in addition to all of this?

There is also an issue of how much all of this will cost the State and the fact that money could be better spent elsewhere. The Government claims that installing the water meters will cost €500 million and that money will be borrowed on the strength of this. What will happen if it costs more than €500 million? Who will bear that cost? Will the cost in any way be borne by the householder? The local authorities' professional officers have said the true cost of installing water meters will be €1.2 billion. Would it not be better to spend the money on improving the water infrastructure in this State rather than use taxpayers' money to put meters outside people's doors which the Government can use as some sort of tap to get more taxes from them? At the same time, the Government will not introduce any new taxes for higher earners or will not look at the concept of a wealth tax. It has no difficulty putting a tap outside people's houses which will measure the water going into the house, for which the Government will charge them as a new form of taxation, but it has still not spelled out exactly how that will be done and whether it will be a flat rate or based on usage. All of these issues need to be dealt with.

There are other amendments to which I will get but, obviously, I do not agree with water charges. There are some services which should be provided on the basis of need and on the basis we pay taxes. I do not have a difficulty with water conservation. There are many things the Government could do to improve water conservation - for example, education, water harvesting, dual flush toilets and so on which could be tackled at the planning stage. There are many measures people could take. I would not have a difficulty with enforcement where householders waste water and ensuring people have to pay for what is essentially wastage, but what I cannot support is the principle of people having to pay for water. It is a precious commodity and costs money to get into people's houses, but people pay for this through their taxes.

Will the Minister ensure that when he brings forward policies such as this, sits at the Cabinet table and looks at introducing new taxes and charges, he does so in the context of equality and poverty proofing many of these measures? I have no doubt whatsoever that when these charges are brought in, more people in the State will be living in poverty, which would be regressive.

It is interesting that Fianna Fáil has not tabled a single amendment to this Bill, but it is not surprising, given that the genesis of the water charges lies in that party.

On a point of order, are we speaking to the amendments or are we having a party political broadcast?

We are on the amendments.

What is the relevance of school transport to the Water Services Bill 2013? How can one be against water charges but for taxes?

We are discussing the group of amendments, Nos. 2, 3 and 6.

I see no relevance in the contribution from Senator Cullinane. What he has said has no connection to the amendments and I would like, with respect, that the Chairman would keep order in order that the Senator will address the amendments rather than going off on a party political broadcast, with Sinn Féin being all in favour of services but against paying for anything.

Senator Cullinane, we are on amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6.

We have just had a party political broadcast from the previous speaker, but he might be unaware of the fact that the amendments are allied to poverty-proofing policy. While the Senator was very vocal about the budget and the impact it would have on working families-----

Will the Senator, please, speak to the amendments?

The very families about whom he spoke will be very conscious of all of the charges they are being asked to pay and of the fact that they are being asked to make a further sacrifice by paying water charges. While the Senator might not grasp the reality of this, I can assure him that his constituents who have suffered enough and who have taken huge pain in the course of six austerity budgets do. I make no apology for spelling out again all of the increased taxes, the additional charges and the cuts in services which have impacted on those families, the cumulative effect of which is that more people are living in poverty. When this water charge is added, more people will be pushed into poverty. The Senator might not get this, but he can rest assured that his constituents do.

I again ask the Senator to speak to the appropriate section of the Bill.

There is a very real connection between what I am saying and the reality for people who have to pay these charges. I also remind the Senator that people pay income tax and they pay it for services. They are paying more taxes than ever before, which is the point we are making and that is why we want this to be poverty-proofed. Almost everyone now pays the universal social charge and only those on very small incomes are exempt from that charge. There are many people who should not be paying the USC. The essential point we are making is that at a time when people are paying more taxes than ever before, it is unfair to ask them to also pay all of these indirect taxes also.

The final point I wish to make before the Minister responds is that all of this is damaging to the very principle of taxation. I have no difficulty in paying taxes and believe the principle of taxation is good. We should pay taxes and should encourage others to pay them, as long as they are fair and progressive. There are many people now wondering why they are paying taxes because they are seeing a drift away from progressive taxes towards indirect taxes, where wealthy people pay the same as those earning only €200 or €300 per week. They do not see this as fair. It is doing enormous damage to the whole principle of taxation and it is wrong. The Government must go back to the drawing board and make sure that when it introduces measures such as water charges that it properly equality-proofs and poverty-proofs them.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, to the House. These are difficult days for the Minister and the people of County Louth as a result of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. I offer my condolences to the Minister, the people of his county and the family of Detective Garda Donohoe in County Cavan, where he hailed from originally.

I wish to clarify the situation regarding amendments to the Bill. Senator Cullinane has rightly stated that on the list of amendments tabled there is none from Fianna Fáil, but I wish to make it clear that Fianna Fáil submitted 18 amendments. However, because of a technical difficulty, they were not submitted on time. We could have pursued the issue, but we understand that the Bills Office is very busy and that we will be given an opportunity to raise our amendments on Report Stage. I will make no further comment now but will speak to various sections of the Bill later.

I apologise to the House for my absence earlier and thank Members for enabling me to go to the Dáil, where tributes were paid to Garda Adrian Donohoe. I thank Senators from both sides for agreeing to this because it was important for me, as a Member of the Oireachtas for County Louth, to be there.

At the heart of all of this - notwithstanding Senator Cullinane's point about poverty proofing, which I agree must happen - is the fact that if the amendment were to succeed, it would affect another section of the Bill, whereby the regulator would not be able to do anything at all. The effect of what Senator Cullinane is suggesting would be that nothing at all would happen until the poverty-proofing and affordability issues were addressed. The Bill could only commence then, which means Irish Water or Uisce Éireann would have no legal authority to do any other work in the interim.

What goes to the heart of what we are doing here is that the water charges will have to be fair and will have to be seen to be fair. As I said last week, during the consultations we have had so far, we have met people who are champions of those on lower incomes, including Fr. Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and other similar organisations. There is a process in place that involves consultation not just with those who advocate on behalf of the poor but also with other Departments, most particularly the Department of Social Protection. All of these issues will be dealt with and will be properly considered. In that context, I ask Senator Cullinane to consider withdrawing his amendment because nothing could be done if it were passed. It would effectively mean that the regulator could not deal with any of the other issues involved here. I ask him to withdraw it although I accept that he has the right to put it to a vote. I also accept that at the heart of the amendment is the point made by the Senator about affordability and fairness. It is my job and that of the Government to be accountable to the Oireachtas in that regard. I am happy to discuss this further in an Oireachtas committee and to go through all of the issues when the time comes and the charges are decided by the regulator and the Government.

Notwithstanding everything said by Senator Cullinane, a householder who happens to live north of the Border, in County Armagh or in Belfast, for example, pays, on average, the equivalent of €1,000 per annum for all of the services he or she receives. Those service charges are decided by the Executive in Northern Ireland and the local councils. All parties which sit on the Executive and the local councils contribute to that decision-making process. This year, a proposal was agreed by Belfast City Council that those charges would increase. I believe the vote was unanimous and all parties, including Sinn Féin, supported an increase of 2%. I wish to insert reality into the debate and make that point to the Senator.

Senator Cullinane also made a point about water conservation and he is correct that a significant amount of money will have to be spent on the rehabilitation of the water mains network. As we all know, over 40% of water, on average, is lost or unaccounted for, which is a scandal that we must not allow to continue. A significant portion of the moneys raised from water charges will be spent on fixing the leaks. The regulator must insist that Uisce Éireann draws up a year-by-year plan for reducing the amount of unaccounted-for water. There are different rates of water loss in different counties. In Dublin the rate is approximately 23% or 24%, but other counties are losing more than 50% of their treated water. There are significant issues to be addressed in this regard.

I ask Senator Cullinane to reconsider his amendment.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and concur with his views on water conservation. We should take whatever measures are necessary to encourage people to conserve water because there is an enormous cost to the State in making sure that people have good quality water. We must ensure that any mistreatment or misuse of water is dealt with properly. At the same time, we must also accept that most of the waste is caused by the system itself. If the average leakage, on a county by county basis, is 36% then that is where the real problem lies and that is one of the fundamental points being made by my party.

We want to ensure there is enough investment in water infrastructure to deal with that isue. The amount provided for in the capital programme for 2012 in respect of water infrastructure was reduced by €100 million.

While the amendments are broad ranging, they do not cover this aspect.

The Minister of State raised the issue. On the amendment, Sinn Féin makes no apologies for seeking to delay the introduction of the commission powers to introduce water charges, which is essentially what we are trying to do. We also make no apologies for wanting to ensure a proper analysis-study is undertaken. The Minister of State said this has been done.

It is being done.

Perhaps the Minister of State might work with us and demonstrate how it has been done. I would like to know the formula and methodologies used. I do not know how these functions are performed on behalf of the Government. I do not believe these analyses-studies take account of the issues raised by organisations such as Social Justice Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and many others.

In considering the introduction of water charges, funding of local government and poverty proofing we must look to what is happening in other jurisdictions. The North of Ireland is a good place to look in this regard. As I have said on numerous occasions in this House, I have no difficulty in principle with the introduction of a rate, which is different to each individual service applying local charges. In the context of reform of our overall tax system, we must ensure that, where possible, higher earners pay more, including through the introduction of a wealth tax. We must also ensure that the rate is based on ability to pay. In other words, there is a progressive element to it. While the principle of collecting taxes is a good one because we must ensure people receive services, what is wrong is that we are moving away from progressive and direct taxation to indirect taxation, which is having a disproportionate affect on many low-income families and putting them into poverty.

People in the North of Ireland receive many services, including free school books, free school transport, bin collection and de-sludging services, for what they pay. I do not believe people in this state-----

It costs £140 to have one's septic tank serviced.

-----would have a difficulty paying if they received similar services. I would welcome that type of debate. Perhaps the Minister of State might return to the House for a discussion on the issue of funding local government.

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6.

We must be conscious when making big decisions like this, that they will impact on some families more than others. Some people can afford to pay a little more and as such the water charges will not be a huge deal for them. However, too many families have been asked to pay too many charges. We are told every time we come into this House to debate the introduction of a new charge that it is only €4 or €5 per week, as was the case in respect of the household and septic tank charges and the cuts in social welfare payments. However, account is not taken of the cumulative effect in this regard, which was studied by the ESRI.

The Senator is making a Second Stage speech.

With respect, I am not.

The Senator must stick to the specifics of the amendments.

The ESRI stated that the most recent two budgets and decisions made therein were the most unequal of the past six budgets and have resulted in people at the bottom end of the scale, including on those on low pay and in receipt of social welfare payments, being disproportionately affected. The Government is not properly poverty-proofing decisions which it is making. I propose to press the amendment.

I reiterate that all issues in relation to low-income households, poverty-proofing and the many other important matters raised by Senator Cullinane, will be taken into consideration in terms of this process. In addition, there will be transparency in that regard. The charges when decided on and announced will be open to full debate. This will only work if it is fair and seen to be fair. There will be nothing hidden in the context of how the decisions are arrived at. The process will be open and transparent.

As I stated, acceptance of this amendment would result in the regulator not being able to do any further work, with which I disagree. I do not accept that the Senator's amendment has value at this time as the issues raised by him will be dealt with in the process, which will be transparent and will be accountable to the Oireachtas.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 24.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Kathryn Reilly; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) Section 24 of this Act shall come into operation after the 1st of January 2014, or following a review of that section under section 24(4), whichever date is the later.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 1 agreed to.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4

Amendment No. 4 in the name of Senator Cullinane has been ruled out of order-----

(Interruptions).
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Cullinane has indicated that he will oppose section 4.

Yes. We tabled a number of amendments that have been ruled out of order, but I will speak to the section on our proposed alternative to Irish Water, namely, a national water sector framework team. The essence of our proposal was to ensure that we had local democratic responsibility for the provision of water, which is important, that water was delivered in the best way and that there was a collaborative approach between local government and the Department.

We are opposed to the centralisation of this function and would prefer to see it preserved within local government. I am a former councillor and many of us need to win support from within the local government system to enter this House.

Many of us who came through that system would have spoken on many occasions about the lack of powers in local government. As there was a good and healthy debate only last week on the issue of local government reform, I will not rehash all of it. Many Senators from all sides spoke about the need to empower local government and councils, reversing a loss of power in local authorities. They argued that we must ensure local authorities have very real powers and functions and that is why we want to find the mechanisms that will keep provision within the local governance system and under the supervision of democratically elected local councillors. Local control and accountability is important.

I also share the concerns of SIPTU about the proposal to move 3,000 workers from their current positions in local authorities into a new utility. There will be negotiations and discussions between the trade unions and the Government on the matter, but the issue is related to the weakening of local government by taking staff out of local councils. The staff, which could be doing other work, will be put into a new body, further weakening the ability of authorities to provide services that people need. We also share SIPTU's view that such a move would have serious implications for the future of local government, as I mentioned, and its ability to respond to emergencies at a local level.

Local authorities are accountable to communities and if we agree with the principle of subsidiarity, we should agree that we should, as much as possible, ensure that local authorities have as much power as they can handle and they can meet the basic needs of people. It is a little peculiar that at a time when the Government is introducing a property tax or family home charge, with people being told this comes from a need to provide services, one of the core services provided by local government is being taken from the equation. Not only are people being asked to pay the charge, but there will also be water charges, despite the fact that water will no longer come under the remit of local government or councillors. It is a genuine and progressive view.

I understand that managing water is complicated, as there are health considerations, environmental concerns, consumer views, engineering issues and EU requirements. We must ensure there is long-term investment in water and the best way to achieve this is through local government, with an assurance that local government has the tools to carry out the task. I have more to say, but I know other Senators from Fianna Fáil wish to speak to the section. I also want to hear the Minister's thoughts. I may return to make some of the points I cannot make now, but I imagine the Minister of State has the gist of what I am saying. This is about democracy, democratic accountability and ensuring that local government keeps as many powers and functions as possible. I will not be part of weakening the system of local governance as it would not be good for local democracy or the citizens of the State.

We oppose this section because of the manner in which the tender was awarded to Bord Gáis. There should have been a public tender and we do not see what the rush was for except to divert awkward questions from the Taoiseach, the relevant Minister and the Government as a whole to Bord Gáis. We object to the company being formed on the basis that there should have been a public tender. Quite a few other companies would have been interested and they could have run it just as well as Bord Gáis.

We are also concerned about the job losses that may come about as a result of the formation of this company. I find myself in almost total agreement with Senator Cullinane's comments on the section. On Second Stage I alluded to the fact that the report from PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that when the move to a new structure is complete, as a result of synergies, the number of people employed in providing local water and wastewater services will be significantly lower than the 4,278 people employed today. I also pointed out that the experience in Northern Ireland, when an equivalent experiment was launched in 2007, led to over 1,000 jobs being lost. If the same synergies were used here, we could lose up to 1,600 or 1,700 jobs.

We are very concerned, although I accept the Minister of State is equally concerned, about potential major job losses in this regard. The process should have received a public tender and the haste seems to have been meant to divert attention from awkward questions that could be put to the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government as a whole.

I support the views expressed on this side of the House relating to the concerns about the setting up of Irish Water. The Government has not yet passed the Construction Contracts Bill which would secure subcontractors' rights to ensure they would fully benefit from the stimulus that will occur from installing water meters. I assume one will follow the other, but will the Minister of State comment on that issue?

What will be the relationship between the local authorities and the new board between 2014 and 2017? Will there be a secondment of staff from local government? That would be unfortunate as everything the Minister attempts to do when he comes before this House to speak about reform of local government is about handing more power to local authorities, with more democratic accountability of local councillors and integration of services into the local authority umbrella. Nevertheless, we are taking away a particularly important aspect of local government and there seems to be a general view towards establishing outside bodies. Will the Minister of State reassure the House that although there is an inevitability about this process, there will be some accountability and an opportunity for local public representatives to have as much of an input as national representatives? It should not be like the HSE, which only has an e-mail or phone number as a point of contact.

I have much respect for colleagues on the other side, but I disagree with them on this issue. For every litre of water that is purified in this country, another litre is lost. That means that anything between 40% and 50% of water which costs a fortune to cleanse goes to waste. We must operate in a different and better manner and should act bravely. This project will define us as a nation because water is a scarce resource throughout the world. There are many countries, particularly on the African continent, that would love to have our levels of water but much of this is wasted. It is a sinful waste in that context.

This new system may not be perfect, but it will be a damn sight better than what is being done. That is not the fault of the thousands of employees in the various local authorities and the problem is that there is no joined-up thinking. When an emergency arises, people must deal with scores of local authorities rather than one centralised body that can strategically think, plan and react. In that regard, the concept is good. Bord Gáis has been awarded the contract and the company can speak for itself; it has been remarkably successful in its work to date and the projects in which it has engaged.

I would prefer that the contract be given to a tried and tested organisation that has proven credibility than to put it out to tender and have to put it up on the EU tenders database from which process the contract may be given to a company from abroad, about which we know a little, purely on the basis of price. The right decision was made to give it to a tried, tested and proven indigenous company.

I thank the Senators for their contributions. To cut to the heart of this matter, this job is too difficult for individual local authorities to deal with it. The rate of unaccounted for water in different counties, taking the examples of Fingal and the greater Dublin area, is approximately 23% to 24%. In counties Roscommon, Kerry, Cork and other such counties the rate is in the high 50% bracket. Some counties do not have the capacity in their local base to do the work that needs to be done. New synergies among all the counties are needed to have one water authority which can deal universally, right across the board, with the issues of unaccounted for water.

In terms of charging for water and commercial water rates, the rate in County Kildare is €1.52 per 1,000 litres of water. One pays €1.52 for 1,000 litres of water. However, one pays double that rate, more than €3 for 1,000 litres of water, in the adjoining county of Wicklow. Therefore, there are significant differences between counties. We believe, as I believe does everybody to whom I have spoken on this, that what is needed is one universal commercial charge for the whole country with the same charge applying to all domestic consumers, irrespective of whether they live in Cork, Dublin or elsewhere, similar to the charge applied by any other energy entity such as the ESB. The ESB charge is the same, regardless of where in the country one lives. When one puts on a switch, one pays the same rate as other customers for doing that. In terms of areas which have poor electricity infrastructure, the rest of the country pays for that. Similarly, in terms of areas which need investment in water infrastructure, the rest of us will pay to upgrade the water supply in those areas. That is constructive solution to that problem.

I wish to deal with the issue of job losses. I wish to categorically state that there will be no job losses. Everybody employed in local authorities in the water services area will remain in his or her job. If people wish to move or to be seconded to Irish Water or Uisce Éireann, they can do that if they have the required skills and the knowledge and if there is a vacancy. People can transfer to this body if they want to and if they have the necessary skills. If people do not want to transfer to it, they will remain working in the local authority. There will be no involuntary redundancies. Nobody will lose his or her job. There is a new synergy between local government and Irish Water. A body which deals with all these issues, which is chaired by an independent chairperson, Kevin Foley, and Uisce Éireann and the four unions involved are represented on it. Therefore, there is accountability at that body and issues are being dealt with. There is a commitment that this is the way it will be, with service level agreements which will run to 2017, about which there is no issue.

On the question of the importance of local authorities and those working in this area to Irish Water, let us consider who got the job as the chief executive of Irish Water. The former county manager in Dublin, Mr. John Tierney, is the new chief executive and he has worked in county councils throughout the country in a career in the public service spanning 35 years. He has done a fantastic job in Dublin. He has worked day and night with his staff and with councillors.

A good Tipperary man.

He is a good Tipperary man.

He is a north Tipperary man.

The Members have a Tipperary-born Minister before them for his sins. I had no control over that and cannot get any votes down there. There is a real tangible connection with what is happening in Irish Water directly back down through local government. If the chief executive of Irish Water has worked body and soul in local government, his appointment is a perfect choice and will provide for an excellent transition.

The issue of the local councillor's access to Irish Water was raised. The local councillor currently has access to the local engineer and he or she will continue to have such access. There is no reason local authority members should be worried about this. I was a member of a local authority for 27 years and any time a serious water issue arose in a community area I was able to telephone the engineer to have the issue addressed. Local councillors are agents of their community and they will not be excluded from contact, accessibility or securing information. Irish Water needs local government elected members to work with it and advise it of issues, and that will happen. The next Bill on this area that will be introduced before the summer recess will outline the connectivity and accountability of Irish Water to local councillors. The water infrastructure will be based on the water basin districts. There is no reason regional assemblies should not deal with many of these issues.

Another important issue for local councillors is the drawing up of development plans and decisions on what will happen in an electoral area, of which water supply and planning will form a critical part. We have to set up provision for tangible practical relationships between the planning authority and Irish Water, which will be the case, and that will come under a second Bill on this area that will come before the House. Nobody is being disenfranchised. There will be better water infrastructure and a one-stop-shop nationally for all of that, but locally councillors will have the ability to communicate, get the facts and obtain results, as will Maggie Murphy, James Maguire or whoever lives next door to them.

One of the good aspects of Bord Gáis is that its customer service is second to none. In this body we will create between 350 and 400 jobs in a national customer service location. If a person has a problem, he or she can telephone the customer service section of the body and in that way there will be accountability. I have seen how an equivalent service operates in the United Kingdom and perhaps the Oireachtas committee or Members of the Seanad might go and examine such a service which involves a call centre. One can see when the calls are made the way they are logged in real time, the way they are followed up, the action to be taken on them, whether it is coded red, yellow or green, they are followed through and at the end of every day they are examined and account is taken of what happened, what is being done and the reason an issue has not been resolved. There will be a hands-on approach to issues and accountability back to the consumer.

I dealt with the issue raised by Senator Wilson last week, but I wish to respond to what he said. If one sets up a new entity, it will not materialise out of the air - there is no magic wand. The best thing to do is to ensure that it is a publicly owned entity. It must be a public utility. It cannot be a private one and on that we all agree. What better than to offer all the public utilities the job of taking on the running of Uisce Éireann. There were three major players who could have done it - the ESB, Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna. There was no tender as such, no money or benefit in kind given to Bord Gáis for doing this. Obviously, its costs will have to be covered but there is no extra money sitting on its table for doing this. It was not about competition but about the ability of an organisation such as Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis or whichever entity to submit an application on how it would run the organisation, the issues it could deal with, its track record, how efficient it is and how it could do this. I want to stress that was the process and I hope I have got across those points to Members.

We are very concerned to ensure that the next Bill will clarify all these issues. I will come to the House before the summer recess and hope I will answer all the Members' questions to their satisfaction as best I can to make sure that the structures are in place. This will not be a HSE on wheels. This will be Uisce Éireann which will be accountable and transparent and provide for a wonderful natural resource which we have to protect and enhance. We are doing it the right way. I understand the Members' concerns and hope to be able to address them in the next Bill.

The Minister of State will forgive us for not wanting to take a leap of faith with him. I would much rather see what he spoke about now when we are making decision on the establishment of this body.

The qualifications of the new CEO are not the issue. We all fully support what the Minister of State said regarding the new appointee. Many staff members of Waterford city and county council have good qualifications and are excellent public servants. I have only heard of one director of services on Waterford City Council who is a friend of mine taking up a position in Uisce Éireann. However, the issue is the breaking of the link between local authorities and the provision of water. The Minister of State cannot, on the one hand, have, as he put it, "those tangible connections" while, on the other, breaking them by taking the provision of water out of local government. I do not see how that stacks up.

There is an opportunity through the new local government structures - I disagree with the regional structures - to examine this issue. For example, Sinn Féin does not prefer the option of domestic water metering. International best practice demonstrates that district metering is a much better option to measure the quality of water, water usage and so on. The Government did not examine these options because this is about collecting taxes and taking in more money, not water conservation. One of the Minister of State's party colleagues in the House referred to the waste of water. I could not agree more that lots of water is wasted. In some instances, this is the responsibility of householders but the vast majority of waste is caused by the system itself. The Senator mentioned the word "sinful". Surely we have to then agree that if it is sinful that so much water is wasted and if 38% of every litre produced of the quality necessary to go into people's homes is lost in the system and only a small percentage is lost through waste by the householder, why is the Government penalising the householder and asking him or her to pay the cost? We are not fixing the problem, but the Minister of State will not concede this. The legislation represents an opportunity to charge citizens more money and raise taxes in a regressive way and in the most indirect way.

The Minister of State mentioned public services. Once the concept of a charge is introduced, as sure as night follows day, it will be much easier to privatise Uisce Éireann in time. This is one of the reasons the Government is opting for a single authority. That will happen, even though the Minister of State is shaking his head.

The Senator should read the Bill. It is clear.

The Bill can say what it likes. If the Minister of State is saying it is cast in stone that the service can never be privatised, I do not believe him. Many services have been privatised during the years. Once the concept of charging is introduced for a service, it will inevitably be privatised. The same happened with waste collection charges. When they were introduced, we were told it was about making sure people would pay as they use and reducing waste and not about privatising waste collection services. Only a small number of local authorities now provide such services. The principle of a charge was adopted and all the services were privatised. The same happened with water services in the United Kingdom and it will happen here because the Government is following that model.

I do not care what the Bill states. The logic of this process is that in time, because of what is happening, water services will inevitably be privatised. That is wrong. The fundamental issue is whether it is good or bad to establish a single utility. It is not the best or most cost-effective way to manage the service, staff and the assets, unless the Government intends to privatise it. A new national water governance framework such as that proposed by my party should be developed in partnership with government and local authorities to ensure the delivery of water and the commitment of all involved to ensure water conservation and comply with EU regulations. That would be the best model. I understand where the Government is coming from on this, even though I do not agree with it. I will oppose the section.

With regard to privatisation, it is my understanding the Government has decided to sell off a division of Bord Gáis and Irish Water will be a subsidiary.

An independent subsidiary.

But a subsidiary nonetheless. There is genuine concern among the public that it will be next for privatisation. Would it not be wise, therefore, to reverse the decision to sell this division of Bord Gáis to allay these fears?

The Minister of State referred to two other semi-State companies - the ESB and Bord na Móna - that could have taken on Irish Water. Were they invited to examine the proposals?

I agree with the Minister of State wholeheartedly. I must go back to my friends in Northern Ireland and tell them how great a country they live in because I did not realise until I listened to Senator Cullinane's contribution how perfect a system they have compared to us. I did not know people in the North paid so little tax for so great a service. Sinn Féin's history in the context of the water board there is bleak. A total of 23,000 water meters were installed costing £1.5 million and then the party said they would not be used. God forbid that Sinn Féin would be in charge of water services here because of the way the party treated them in their own jurisdiction where one of its Ministers was proven to be using the board as a club for the boys in appointing someone. An employment tribunal found him guilty of religious discrimination. A Minister in the Oireachtas would be asked to resign immediately if that was proved, but the Northern Ireland Minister dismissed it and said the tribunal was not credible.

The Senator should confine his remarks to the legislation.

This relates to the setting up of Irish Water. I am glad it is transparent and accountable and no one has been accused of discrimination. Perhaps Senator Cullinane will acknowledge the actions of his own Minister in Northern Ireland. The setting up of a water service is important to rural and urban areas in County Donegal where water is an essential component. Sinn Féin wishes that we do not pay for anything. Senator Cullinane has said we must encourage people to pay tax, while he is telling millionaires in Blackrock not to pay the property tax and let someone else pay it. He should be honest with the electorate and not come in here as usual with a print out from Stormont.

I will reply to Senator Harte in a few minutes.

There is no intention to privatise water services. The investment in this sector is key to our strategic interests and the legislation restates the existing prohibition on the privatisation of water assets. Legislation provides that one cannot own a public water asset. Internationally, publicly owned utilities are the norm in the water sector. Revenue generated by Irish Water will be reinvested in infrastructure, as there is a significant requirement for investment and providing new infrastructure over the coming decade.

I have examined the issue of district metering to which Senator Cullinane referred. Every local authority uses district metering to monitor water usage. If the amouint of water being consumed is greater than they expect, they close parts of the system to find the leak. Everybody can see a major leak when the main pipe bursts and water floods out, but the biggest problem is we never see the small or medium-sized leaks which could be going on forever.

The problem is that on the public side there is leakage and unaccounted for water that is wasted but also on the private side. In the Senator's house or in my house, between the tap and the connection there can be significant leakage. Subject to correction that leakage can be as high as 20% or 30% in some cases. Private side leakage, that is, from the kerb into one's home, is another important reason for metering. It enables one to check whether there is leakage and wastage. District metering plays an important role, but it is not the answer. Therefore, I suggest the Senator withdraw his opposition to the section as it does not stand up to scrutiny. The only thing that makes sense is to cut back on water wastage. That is why on the private side metering is required as it is the only way of addressing the issue.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 12.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 5
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

On a related matter, this section deals with the share capital. Are there provisions to ensure the corporate governance systems within this new company will not replicate the laissez-faire approach of Bord Gáis Energy? I am sure the Minister of State is aware that Bord Gáis Energy is one of the easiest companies in which to work and is very employee friendly on issues such as absenteeism, bonuses and things like that. I know people who were employed by the company and the management of ensuring that the company operated efficiently and effectively in accordance with good corporate governance was certainly lacking. My concern is that if that kind of ethos is applied to the new water company, unfortunate householders will be forced to put up with the inefficiencies within the company. The Government is moving it from the local authorities to a private company. It should operate on clear commercial lines of good business practice in the interest of ensuring that the consumer has a cost-effective service. From the contacts I have within the company, I know that Bord Gáis Energy is not a company that applies that ethos to any extent.

I welcome the Minister of State. I have not yet spoken on this Stage of the Bill because I did not want to repeat exactly what was said the last time. I thank the Minister of State for giving the same answers today with regard to poverty proofing as he gave when the questions were raised by most Senators on Second Stage. That people who cannot afford to pay will not pay is an important issue. I thank him for repeating it again today, which is why I have not spoken on it today.

Section 5(1) states: "The subsidiary shall be known, in the Irish language, as Uisce Éireann and, in the English language, as Irish Water." I compliment the Minister of State on continually referring to it today as Uisce Éireann and not referring to it as Irish Water. An article in today's Irish Independent did not refer to Uisce Éireann, which may be because the Bill has yet to be passed and it is becoming commonly known as Irish Water. It is under the auspices of Bord Gáis Energy, which is an Irish language name. Given that the Bill states: "The subsidiary shall be known, in the Irish language, as Uisce Éireann and, in the English language, as Irish Water" and presuming that stays as it is, it will only be when writing in Irish that one would use "Uisce Éireann" and when writing in English one would use "Irish Water".

I ask the Minister of State to change this section to ensure that the name of the company will be Uisce Éireann - it has nothing to do with the Irish language. If the section stays this way Uisce Éireann would only be used when the Irish language is used. It is an important differentiation to make. I have pointed out that "Uisce Éireann" is not being used in today's newspaper. It is important to get it straight: the name of the company is Uisce Éireann. It has been agreed that it will be known as Uisce Éireann. If the company wants to, it may put Irish Water in small print under it on its headed notepaper for people who do not understand, but that is the name of the company as has been agreed.

I congratulate the Minister of State and Bord Gáis energy on the appointment of Dr. John Tierney. He has a BA and an MA in public management and a doctorate in governance. We could not get a man better qualified for the job, not alone for his academic qualifications, which I would regard as secondary to his practical experience. A man with such on-the-job experience is a very valuable asset. We are talking about local authorities and this man knows local authorities inside out.

While I know the Senator is saying complimentary things, we should not mention in this House somebody who is not here.

He was mentioned as being the chief executive.

Yes, but the Senator is passing comment now.

I am passing comment on the public - not private - management aspect of Uisce Éireann.

This is one of the key sections of the Bill. I know many of the comments were made on the previous sections, but it is important for me to restate our opposition to the establishment of Irish Water. I will not go back into the issues we have raised, to which the Minister of State has responded in the best way he can.

Essentially, if section 5 was to be passed, any attempt to oppose sections 6 to 17, inclusive, would be futile because section 5 is the main body of the Bill.

I must highlight again two issues that are of concern. Much of the data which my party has seen shows that district metering is better than domestic metering. That is the information available to us which I must restate.

Senator Cullinane raised that point on the previous section.

I am speaking to the section. This is the section which establishes the water services. Regardless of what was said previously, I could go on for a while, but I will not.

Senator Cullinane is repeating himself and I will not allow him to do so.

Under any section, one can repeat arguments already made. With respect, I am speaking to the section. As I stated, if the Acting Chairman was listening, I will not repeat the arguments. I am simply stating my party's core opposition to it.

I must refer to some of the accusations made about a former Minister in the Assembly, Mr. Connor Murphy, MP, MLA. The person who was in the House is now not here. I am sure Mr. Murphy is well able to speak for himself, but what I can say is that, as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, will be aware, there were serious issues in regard to the board that was set up in the North by that Minister and then disbanded by him for very good reasons. The Minister of State will also be aware that what my party did in the North, collectively, with other political parties, was to prevent the introduction of water charges. That will continue to be my party's position in the North in order that people do not have to pay water charges.

When Senators on the other side of the House speak of what is the reality in the North, they should at least check their facts and know exactly what is the position. The position is, because of efforts made by my party, there are no water charges in the North.

I repeat, district metering is already in place. If Senator Cullinane wishes to give me some correspondence on the point he makes, I would be happy to read it.

The Government has approved the Bill containing both names. Absolutely nothing would prevent the company from using the Irish title. I concur with the Senator's view. We speak not of "board horse" but of Bord na gCapall, not of "board welcome" but of Bord Fáilte and not of "board turf" but of Bord na Móna. I know where I stand on this one and I know where the Senator stands. I would be happy to discuss it further with the new CEO and everybody else.

I am not quite clear about the issue with Bord Gáis the Senator from Wexford made. If he has a point about it, he should make it to them. It is not germane to this Bill in the context of whatever the issues are.

What is germane is that the company is accountable. It will be a dynamic organisation. There is no question but that the regulator is in place to police what will be the costs. I stress that the regulator will fix the price. Bord Uisce Éireann can propose whatever cost increases it wants, but they will have to be gone through in detail by the regulator, the regulator will have to make a finding, then, I presume, that finding will go out for public consultation and that decision will certainly be debated and discussed. There is no way there will be any operational inefficiencies which are brought to the attention of the regulator that any company that it regulators will get away with - that is the purpose of the regulator. I hope that assures the Senator in that context.

I am afraid it does not reassure me at all. All we need to is look at the regulator in other spheres in this country. It would be fair criticism to state that regulators do not act in the interests of the consumer. There are many who would argue that the regulators are adding to the consumers' costs because of the manner in which they administer. I was previously a member of the relevant joint committee and we brought some of these regulators before us. I would say they were among some of the most unimpressive persons to come before us during my last term in this House and it concerns me.

The Minister of State is setting up a monopoly and all he has to depend on is the regulator. He dismissed what I stated about Bord Gáis.

I did not dismiss it.

Maybe the Minister of State did not. In this section he is taking shares - the State will own the majority of the shares - but there are no voting shares. Therefore, his impact on the operations of the company are almost nil. I can understand reasons behind this. All I am saying is there is a culture in Bord Gáis and the Minister of State might consider getting in very good quality consultants to evaluate the system of operation there. I reckon that considerable sums of money could be saved-----

I must intervene. The Senator spoke earlier on-----

With respect to the Acting Chairman, I am entitled to speak on the section.

The Senator is acting on hearsay. He has no proof to be brought before the House.

It does not matter. It is a fair criticism.

No. There is no relevance.

The Minister of State or anybody else-----

It is nothing to do with the name in the Water Services Bill.

It has. The controlling share for the operation of this new company is held by Bord Gáis. Am I correct?

That is what the Bill states.

Therefore, like any subsidiary of any company, the parent company's ethos can filter into the operations of this company.

I am merely ruling that the Senator is making allegations against the parent company about inefficiencies on which he has not brought proof to this House.

It is open to any Member of this House to criticise any public body and if the Acting Chairman is getting to the stage where he will close down reasonable debate on public bodies, which are set up in the interests of State and which are not meeting the best commercial practices that should be applied to them, it is open to any Member to highlight that fact. I am inviting the Minister of State to not take my word for it - I would not ask him to do that - but have it evaluated to see how effective that company is operating from an efficiency and cost-effectiveness point of view. No doubt there could be considerable savings. My concern is that if that is transferred into this new company, Uisce Éireann, it will have a significant impact on the charges that will be applied.

I am not happy with the structure. I would much prefer it was left with the local authorities. Having said that, the Government has taken this route. We owe it to the people who will be paying water charges. They will also be paying for the overheads. It concerns me.

This is not a scientific operation. The company will take over the infrastructure which is already in place. It will supply water to houses. People will have no alternative, if they want water, but to deal with this company. It is for the chairman or the Minister of State not to be taken in absolutely. This is the time to act, not when the genie is out of the bottle down the line and consumers are getting bills for €500, €600, €700 or €800 - whatever it will be in time - when, perhaps, half of that figure, if the company was operated effectively, would be appropriate. I am looking to see the disciplines that are within the Bill that can achieve this. What I see is that the State is taking a share-holding, opting out and leaving it to a company, the performance of which from the point of view of best practice is highly questionable. That is dangerous.

I am looking to the Minister of State to respond to me on what other factors he can introduce to ensure that the customers are not ripped off and get the best value for money. That is not easy when there is a State, or even a private, monopoly. Once there is a monopoly in this area, it is difficult. I cannot see how there can be other than a private monopoly, but I would prefer a system whereby Bord Gáis, or whoever, could apply to operate the infrastructure and charge the customers for a licensed period. At the end of the licensed period an evaluation could be undertaken to see if value for money was being achieved and it would be open to the Government to decide whether to put it out to tender. No doubt there are many private companies which could take on this job and, perhaps, do it much better.

The Minister of State clarified that issue.

I ask the Minister of State to look at these options. It strikes me, from the structure he has set up, that he will not have that option down the line. That is my concern. This is the section that deals with it because it is the section that contains the shareholding and it is the shareholding that will determine what happens. It looks as if the State will be a spectator at this game and I am merely concerned from the point of view of the consumer.

I am not laying this at the doorstep of the Minister of State, but as a state we have not been particularly good over a long period of time at getting best value in a range of areas. Look at what lawyers and the medical profession charge. The State has done nothing about it, although Competition Authority reports have been sitting on desks for decades and more. It will be a very strong bone of political contention when these people get going and efficiencies within the company will be highlighted because people will be charged for water and will know inefficiencies in the overheads will be part of the charge. Will the Minister of State examine this and take it seriously? I am not raising this issue just to harangue Bord Gáis but genuinely from evidence I have had from a number of people who worked in the company. It leaves much to be desired.

I must apologise for not being here having asked a brief question some days ago. Perhaps the Minister of State can confirm the answer for me. He has probably already answered it. I am deeply concerned about what will happen when people, through no fault of their own, are unable to pay the charges. I am thinking of my previous alma mater and the question of disconnecting electricity and houses being without it. It was a last resort to disconnect people. As people had an opportunity to use gas or a fire, they were never as stuck as I imagine a house would be if it were without water for a day, never mind a week or a fortnight.

Many of the points made by Senator Walsh are about a company which he is entitled to bring before the Oireachtas committee dealing with energy and interrogate it on the issues about which he is concerned. It is not my job to accept or reject what he says. He needs to make his points to Bord Gáis. I am happy to ensure he meets the company to discuss the points he has raised, have them dealt with and see whether they stand up. We are not discussing Bord Gáis. We are speaking about Uisce Éireann, Irish Water, which will be an independent subsidiary of Bord Gáis; therefore, it will not be a part of it and none of the operational costs of Bord Gáis will be part of Irish Water.

We have all been critical of regulators, which is why it is so important to have transparency and accountability about everything the regulator will do. I have already stated it must be the case that the regulator will deal with all of the issues and advise the Government on many of them. I must stress there is no way inefficiencies in Uisce Éireann will be allowed. The regulator will not do this. It will have to strip out any other cost.

To answer Senator Brennan, it is incumbent on us as a Government to explain the affordability of the water and how these issues will be dealt with. We have met the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Fr. Healy and others and are happy to listen to what they have to say, as I told Senator Cullinane. I cannot foresee a case where people will be cut off. I can see cases where people who were not paying but could pay would be pursued vigorously. If one can afford to pay one must pay and that is it. There will be no hiding place. The Departments of Social Protection, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Commission for Energy Regulation are all discussing these very important issues. As with electricity, it will be possible to have an easy payment programme. It will be important to put in place strategies to deal with individual cases. This is the only way it can be done.

I welcome the clarification by the Minister of State on the fact that Uisce Éireann will be a subsidiary of Bord Gáis and that inefficiencies in the existing structure will not be subsidised by this entity. I support the call of the Minister of State to Senator Walsh to raise these issues with Bord Gáis. I regard it as one of the more efficient semi-State organisations, but if he is aware of issues and inefficiencies, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure they are addressed and corrected. The success of any organisation depends very much on the strength of the CEO and I very much welcome the appointment of John Tierney as the CEO of Uisce Éireann. He has vast experience in the local authority system.

This is not relevant to the section.

The success of this operation depends on the CEO and the fact he honed many of his skills in my county of Galway over his long career in local government certainly adds to his suitability for the position.

This is not relevant to the section.

We are discussing the establishment, efficiency or otherwise and the potential for success of this organisation.

We are discussing the name and the share capital.

I very much welcome the clarification the Minister of State has given on this section.

Although I have no difficulty in meeting the company, I do not consider it to be my job, or that of any other Member, to meet and tell a company how it should function. It is our job where State companies do not perform. Many State companies do not perform and I have been a big critic of our public service for a long period. As a consequence, people in dire financial difficulties pay well above what they should in many areas, electricity being one and gas being another. These are necessary expenditures for people and we must hone in on them. I take the point made by the Minister of State that it will be an independent subsidiary. As I read it - correct me if I am wrong - there will be only one voting share which will be held by Bord Gáis. I presume Bord Gáis will appoint directors who will exercise this controlling vote. Is it stipulated whether these directors will be executives of the company or people with external commercial and business experience? Who will be the chairman? They will have much influence on the company. I agree with Senator Mullins that the CEO of any company, private or public, has a huge influence on how companies are run, which is why they are paid so well. I was surprised because I would have thought the manager of the city of Dublin who has a diversity of functions-----

We are not discussing the manager of this entity.

I know. I am not either and I ask the Cathaoirleach to bear with me. The diversity of functions and responsibilities would be in excess of this position. Therefore, it surprises me that somebody would come from that to what I would expect to be a lower salary as a CEO of Uisce Éireann.

We are not discussing that issue at all.

If it is not a lower salary-----

We are on section 5 which deals with the share capital.

-----I would be concerned we are already beginning to incorporate excessive pay levels into the system of Uisce Éireann which will have a knock-on effect for customers and consumers.

The Senator is not speaking to the section.

Now is the time for us to stand up for these people, not when the event has passed us by and we find people are lumbered with excessive costs which they should not have. I hope all Members share this point.

It is very important that we get it right and I accept it is the view of the Senator that we must get it right and avoid the pitfalls and traps which can arise in State agencies and private companies. I will be happy to come back to him on Report State with the details on the questions he has raised. He is entitled to know the salary of the chief executive officer.

With all due respect we are not discussing this issue on the section.

That is fine, but the question was raised and I shall not avoid giving an answer. The House is entitled to know the facts and I shall be back with them. I stand over transparency and accountability and I am sure the Cathaoirleach does also, but let us get it right. We must get this matter right. The measure will not work if we do not cross all of the t's and dot all of the i's and foremost among these are transparency and accountability.

In terms of the points made about Bord Gáis by Senator Walsh, there is no reason he should not tell the company. I have always found Bord Gáis to be professional and available at all times to deal immediately with all the issues I brought to its attention. I am sure that the Senator will have the same experience if he contacts the board.

Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 10.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7

I am opposing this section.

Question put and declared carried.
Section 8 agreed to.
Question, "That section 9 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 10 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 11 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 12
Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

As we are being told by Ministers that the country is broke, from where do they expect to borrow the money? The section states: "The Board may, for the purposes of this Act ... borrow money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) from such persons as it considers appropriate, whether by means of the issue of debentures (or other debt security) or otherwise." Where is it proposed to borrow this money? Will it add to the national debt? Is there a particular reason the money will be borrowed? Bills are sometimes self-financing or otherwise not a burden on the Exchequer. I am not trying to be flippant but am raising the question in the context of why it would be necessary to borrow the money and what will be done with it.

Any moneys borrowed will be off the State balance sheet. Therefore, the borrowing, which will be a maximum of €500 million at any time, will be off the Government balance sheet and will not be on the State bill, as such.

As regards different currencies, it means that when one is doing the sum as to whether the figure is under €500 million, one will use whatever the exchange rates are at the time. If one is borrowing in dollars, it has to be converted back into euro. The money is used for infrastructure or for whatever purposes the company wishes to borrow. Obviously, it will have to go to the market for this. It is important that it is as unencumbered as possible when it goes to the market to borrow significant sums of money for its operations and for improving infrastructure. If we were to have the money we need to keep our capital investment going, we would need €600 million per year. As we do not have anything near this, that is why the money is being borrowed.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his reply. What prompted the question is that in recent weeks, the European Investment Bank has provided significant sums of money for upgrading infrastructure, including water pipes. I assume that would also be part of the borrowing. If there was a borrowing requirement, would it come from the EIB or is that in a different context? Would the EIB provide the money or would one have to go to the markets to obtain it?

I can get the answer to that question before Report Stage. I presume the company will go to the markets, but if somebody will lend them money, that is fine. I do not have the answer to that question, but I will get it for the Senator.

Question put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 13 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 14 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 15 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 16 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 17 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 18

Amendment No. 5 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to raise with the Minister of State the issue of district metering.

In an earlier response based on information from one of his officials, the Minister of State stated there are district metering systems in the State. He is right as this is the case. While such metering does not extend across all local authorities, we do have such a system in place. As I stated previously, it is the most effective way to measure wastage and usage in the system and I would much prefer to see that than to see the introduction of domestic meters. One authority that has this system in place is Laois County Council. That model has proved itself to be a much better way to do this. Spikes in usage can be observed and can then be better rectified. This allows for the pinpointing of leaks across the system, which is important if one is trying to reduce waste in the system.

Essentially, whatever view one might have about water charges or even the setting up of Uisce Éireann, all Members desire the most efficient management of the water system. Whatever about Members' views on the charges, they all desire to have the best use made of our water, as well as water conservation. However, in respect of management, the pinpointing of leaks and ensuring the huge amount of leakage within the system is dealt with in the best way possible, I believe district metering to be better than domestic metering. Sometimes, debates like this are false because while the Minister might assert that domestic is better and I might respond by suggesting district metering was better, we often lack the requisite reports and analysis to enable us to share equally, discuss and debate the matter in the context of bringing forward this legislation. Perhaps it is a weakness within the legislative system that so doing is not part of it and that such assessments are not carried out when sought by legislators to inform them when making the decisions. Best practice should be considered, where possible, and based on the research my party and I have done and on foot of information we have received from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, my understanding is that district metering is a very good system. I already have cited the example of Laois County Council. I will not labour the point because Members wish to deal with all the Bill's sections and amendments. In fairness, the Minister of State has been very good in responding to them. I expect the Minister of State has taken on board my comments, even if he does not agree.

If it is helpful to the Senator, I have seen a local authority training manual in which reference is made to training staff for metering, including district metering. I understand the local authorities have a training centre where all this is done. If it is helpful, I would be happy to observe what is happening in Laois County Council. I have visited Galway and have observed what happens there. Were every seat in this Chamber to represent a house that was on a district meter, the local authority would know there was water leakage somewhere in here but would not know precisely where. Consequently, while the district meter enables it to ascertain the total area as to where the loss might be, to find the individual leak, it would be obliged to test down each row. One often sees the workers concerned at different intersections where they are turning water on and off. Consequently, I do not believe there is any contradiction or issue about district metering being effective and important. While district metering will tell one where the totality of the loss is, it will not identify the actual location either by street or by house. That is the point. It is the same in the case of electricity, if that is helpful.

Question put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 19 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 20 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 21 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 22 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 23 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 24

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 12, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following subsection:

“(4) (a) This section shall not be commenced until such point as the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection have carried out a poverty impact analysis study.

(b) Such a study will have regard to—

(i) whether the impact of the imposition of charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would have any significant impact on the income levels within lower and medium income groups,

(ii) whether the impact of such charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would be likely to cause deprivation,

(iii) whether the effect of the charge would be such as would cause people to be deprived of two or more of the items identified in the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) as indicators of poverty.

(c) The Minister shall have regard to such a study before commencing this section, and shall take appropriate measures to amend this legislation pursuant to such a study.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Question proposed: "That section 24 stand part of the Bill."

While amendment No. 6 has already been discussed, I wish to restate my position. I acknowledge that in the discussion on poverty proofing, the Minister of State agreed with the principle of doing it. However, he might recall the last discussion by Members on the issue during a debate on the household charge. I believe Senator Norris also participated in that debate. At the time, Members considered the criteria that were set down in respect of the indicators of poverty, whereby people are deemed to be deprived if they lack two or more items that were set out. Although some of the items included incited some amusement, at the time it was a genuine attempt by the Combat Poverty Agency to try to establish the real indicators of poverty. I wish to restate the position. When Members make such decisions, they must make sure they are conscious of the impact of that decision on families who are struggling and, in particular, on families which are either in poverty already or above the poverty line. I understand the Minister of State has indicated the Government may consider how low-income families will be supported and so on in the context of this measure but Members again are being asked to take a leap of faith.

I do not know what, if any, supports will be put in place to help those who may be unable to pay. I do not know what, if any, supports will be put in place for low-income families or for those who are in receipt of social welfare payments. However, I do know there will be a charge, which will be in addition to the property tax and that many families simply will be unable to pay it. Whatever about the position in which ordinary families on middle incomes will find themselves, it is fair to state that many lower middle income and low-income families will find this to be disproportionately tougher. I wish to restate that point as it is one of Sinn Féin's core arguments against the Bill. I again remind the Minister of State that if such poverty-proofing analysis has been carried out, such information might be provided for Members. When Members table such amendments in advance and if such analysis has been carried out, the Government could provide them with the methodology used to so do.

If it is helpful to the Senator, the next legislative item to be introduced will deal with a lot more information than is available in this regard. However, I undertake to revert to the Senator with greater clarity in respect of what is happening and on what will be the principles. In order not to mislead the Senator, I refer to the issues that must be examined. For example, as the Senator noted, the issue of family size will be very important because five people would use a lot more water them would two. Consequently, a significant issue would arise in respect of a family with low income and high numbers. While many issues must be gone through in this regard, in so far as it is possible I undertake to revert to the Senator as soon as possible to go through all those issues with him and to assure them that inasmuch as they can be, they all will be as transparent as I can make them.

Question put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 25 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 26 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 13, before section 27, to insert the following new section:

“27.—Section 12 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1997 is amended by the insertion of a new subsection (3):

“(3) Section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsections for subsection (1):

‘(1) Section 2 of this Act shall not apply to the following categories of persons—

(a) residents of a building vested in a Minister of the Government, a housing authority (within the meaning of the Act of 1992) or the Health Service Executive,

(b) persons who, in the year in which the liability falls, if on that date he or she is in receipt of any of the following payments from the Department of Social Protection:

(i) jobseekers’ allowance,

(ii) jobseekers’ benefit,

(iii) supplementary welfare allowance,

(iv) family income supplement,

(v) farm assist,

(vi) old age non-contributory pension, provided the recipient is not also in receipt of an occupational pension,

(vii) disability allowance,

(viii) disablement benefit, or

(ix) blind pension,

(c) persons who, in the years 2013, 2014, and 2015, are able to satisfy the relevant local authority that he or she has not been able to pay more than 75 per cent of his or her mortgage repayments in the preceding year on their residential property.’.”.”.

Again, this goes back to the issue that has just been debated. While I acknowledge the Minister of State intends to introduce separate legislation to deal with this matter, Sinn Féin has set out what it would wish the Minister of State to do in this regard. While Sinn Féin disagrees with the charge in principle and across the board, if the Government intends to pursue it and push ahead with domestic water charges, Sinn Féin wishes to ensure that as well as possible, low-income families, people in receipt of social welfare and lower middle income families are safeguarded and protected. The latter group has been squeezed as a consequence of the last six budgets. All Members will accept this, regardless of what positions they might have taken on them.

This amendment takes into consideration those who are on jobseeker's allowance, jobseeker's benefit, supplementary welfare allowance, family income support, farm assist, the old age non-contributory pension, disability allowance, disablement benefit or the blind pension. They should be exempt from the charge. I appreciate the Minister of State indicating that he will come back to us with more detail and perhaps we might discuss that in the House. As public representatives we hold clinics and know the pressure people are under and while we in the Opposition are aware of the difficult choices Governments must make, we must deal with those families who come to our clinics in real distress because of their financial circumstances and any charges that make it more difficult for them. It is time for us to say that these people simply cannot afford these charges and the Government must look at this. That is what we have tried to do in this amendment. We are being prescriptive in what we want to see. Clearly the Government has its own position. I am grateful, however, for the Minister of State's indication that he will speak to us in more detail about the Government's intentions.

I welcome the Senator's comments and will return to these issues.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That section 27 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 28 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 29
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

I note the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government may give a direction in writing to the board on the performance by the board or the subsidiary and that he may, by direction in writing, amend or revoke a direction under this section. The Bill then goes on to say in subsection (3) that the Minister shall not give a direction under this section without first obtaining the approval of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Is there a potential conflict in that regard? Under what circumstances would the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government issue a direction that would acquire the approval of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources? Is it because the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources would have an over-arching role as the line Minister responsible for Bord Gáis and the fact this is a subsidiary of Bord Gáis? Is that the sequence of events? It is unusual for a Minister to be unable to give a direction about an area under his mandate without first seeking the approval of a Cabinet colleague.

This Bill enables us to establish Uisce Éireann and it is not envisaged this will be in the full Bill when it is set up. It is to ensure that the board is required to comply with such policies of the Government as are specified in the direction. It is a prudent measure inserted at this stage to ensure Government policy is adhered to as we progress and the company is set up. The requirement to consult the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is purely because Bord Gáis is technically his responsibility. That is purely temporary and to ensure the policies are what we want them to be at this stage. It is not intended the Minister will direct the company in the later phases after the next Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 8 not moved.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 9.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 9.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.