Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 37:
In page 13, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(b) taking account of the ability to pay principle; and".
(Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill)

Does Senator Ó Domhnaill wish to begin?

Bhí duine éigin eile ag caint.

Yes, I reported progress. Bhí daoine eile ag iarraidh caint ar seo freisin. There may have been other contributors. We were waiting for the Minister to respond to amendment No. 37 which relates to the water charging policy because we are not sure what the water charge will be and, therefore, we want built into the legislation an ability to pay clause. In other words, where people struggle to pay, their ability to pay will be taken into account.

The point I was making during the course of the debate on Tuesday was that the ability of individuals, based on their income, has to be taken into consideration. For example, a different percentage of the household income would be taken into account for a person on a high income of more than €100,000 compared to a person on a low social welfare income of, say, €15,000, that is, a father, mother and children. It would cost more as a percentage of their income to flush their toilet or to fill the kettle. It goes back to the amendment tabled by Senator Barrett in respect of a water allowance where I think he proposed 100 litres per person per day. Obviously a distinction has to be made between those who can pay and will not do so, and those who simply cannot afford to pay.

I suggested on Tuesday that the Department allow for an appeals process whereby an individual who cannot afford to pay would write to the water section of the county council, building in a process where local councillors could represent individuals to demonstrate a case where they simply cannot afford to pay and that the county council would make the case to Irish Water on the person's behalf. Often when an ordinary citizen is dealing with a semi-State organisation, a bank or the ESB, it can be very difficult for that citizen and before one knows it the ESB or the semi-State organisation has employed the service of solicitors.

That should be cut out and the county council should represent the case for the individual, the individual having demonstrated, through a prescribed form or otherwise, that he or she cannot afford to pay.

There are two elements to the amendment and I hope the Minister of State will accept it for the sake of society. If the amendment is not accepted, the consequences will be that we will have a semi-State organisation that is out of the hands of public representatives and away from the scrutiny of the Oireachtas. While it may be answerable to the Minister, it will not be answerable to the Houses or any local authority in regard to determining who will be entitled to a write-off because this is not built into the legislation. Therefore, the body will have exclusive power not only to charge and set charges, but to go after those charges. Presumably, this will involve the services of debt collectors and solicitors, just as it does in the case of the ESB or Airtricity.

This organisation is being established using the same template as those companies. We all know that where an individual has a dispute with a utility supplier, even if it only involves a couple of hundred euro or less, a debt collection agency or the services of a legal firm tend to be employed and before we know it, the individual consumer has very few rights. I would hate to see that kind of situation emerge in this case. It would be bad for society, because water is so important for life. It would also be very bad for the institutions of democratic politics if this was allowed to happen.

I hope the Minister of State has reflected on this and that he is willing to accept the amendment or an alternative form of it. If the provision I seek is not built into the legislation, I have no option but to press the amendment, because I believe that those who genuinely cannot pay will be forced into a corner and their situation will become even darker once debt collectors or legal practitioners are called in to try to obtain the moneys for the massive organisation of Irish Water or Uisce Éireann.

Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh an Aire Stáit. Bhí cuid mhaith daoine ag éisteacht leis an díospóireacht an lá faoi dheireadh agus ní tharlaíonn sin ró-mhinic ó thaobh ábhair a bhíonn á plé againn anseo. Cuireann an leasú áirithe seo atá molta cuid mhaith imní ar dhaoine i gcomhthéacs cuid de na ráitis.

Many people were listening to the debate the other day and picked up on some of the points made, particularly points made in regard to this specific amendment on the ability to pay principle. The Minister of State said that the people who can pay, will pay. Will he clarify which legislation will be used to enforce that? In the case of the household charge, there was a serious issue when the county councils tried to collect the moneys for the household charge and subsequently the property tax was handed over for collection to the Revenue Commissioners. In this scenario, what mechanism will be used to take the moneys from those people who do not pay their Bills, notwithstanding whether they have the ability to pay or not? Will the Government use powers to allow payments be made from State payments, such as social welfare payments or REPS payments?

With the property tax, the Government has given the Revenue Commissioners the powers to allow them take moneys directly from people's bank accounts. If people are not in a position to pay their water bill to Uisce Éireann, what power will be given to Uisce Éireann or what mechanism can it use and how far can it go to take that money from people? The Minister of State has said that people will not be criminalised or sent to prison. However, taking money from people who are already stretched means they will not have that money to spend on other essentials and is almost as bad as criminalising them. Will the Minister of State clarify the position for us?

I support Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment. The ability to pay should be taken into account and is taken into account in the billions of euro of tax money that goes from households into the system. People have a tax free allowance and there was a 20% rate charged on medium incomes and a top rate. The principle enunciated by Senator Ó Domhnaill is a good one.

People know there is no role for the National Consumer Agency in this as that has been ruled out of order. There is no role for the Competition Authority either and we do not know the price people will be charged, because the Minister has not told us. We do not know how much of a free allowance will be given. I suggested it should be 100 litres, but that was rejected. It would be a surprise if it would be more than 100 litres a day and as the 100 litres has been rejected, we can presume what it is intended to award is less than that. The consumer is completely unprotected in this Bill and by the Minister of State's presentation of it. We need some protection for consumers because there has been too much secrecy, obfuscation, concealment and unwillingness to allow any consumer element into the legislation at all. That is unsatisfactory. Senator Ó Domhnaill is to be commended for trying to open up some principles here, because what has been happening up to now is unsatisfactory.

I ask the Minister of State to correct the record of the House. Senator Barrett said the National Consumer Agency is debarred from this, but it is not. Any citizen in the country can take up an issue with regard to water, whether it concerns the provision of water, the type of water or whatever, with the National Consumer Agency, just as he or she can with any other consumer goods. Therefore, the consumer is protected under this Bill, just as in any other sphere in regard to an item that is consumed. Water is included in this. Therefore, I ask the Minister of State to clarify that, because it would be an important element of the Bill if it was to suggest the consumer had no rights at all.

The last evening we were here, we discussed two of these amendments and I understood they had been dealt with and that amendment No. 40 was next. Notwithstanding that, the picture painted here by some of the Senators on the other side of the House is wrong and misleading and does not stand up to scrutiny.

If we accepted the point of view of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, we would believe that the country is filled with solicitors writing letters to millions of customers, that people are knocking on customers' doors and customers are being dragged before the courts. That is rubbish. It does not happen with any other utility and certainly will not happen with Irish Water. In regard to people sticking their noses into bank accounts, there is no issue in regard to the powers of Uisce Éireann. It will not have the power to do that and the Revenue will not be assisting it. However, Uisce Éireann will expect Senator Ó Clochartaigh and me to pay our bills. If the Senator can, like me, afford to pay, that is what he should do.

I accept and acknowledge Senator Barrett's knowledge and integrity, but I am disappointed with his comments because he says the consumer is not protected. The reason regulators are in place is to protect consumers. Look, for example, at the CER and the process through which it works. The CER makes it clear from its perspective as regulator that there will be due process in what it is doing. It has already had initial consultation on what will be taken into account and has advised the Government on what it thinks of what Senator Barrett and I have said on the issue as members of the public and will now go through a due, fair, transparent and accountable process.

As a Minister, I am not a member of an Oireachtas committee, but the Senators here are members of committees and have the powers to insist on Irish Water coming before a committee or to invite a regulator to come in or a Minister or Department to clarify these issues. There is nothing to hide in this regard. Nothing is hidden and the whole process will be transparent and accountable. The point I wish to make clear is that there is nothing here that is different. There are no legions of solicitors and lawyers involved at all. I have been a public representative for many years and I deal with people who have financial difficulties all the time. We all do. I know from my experience with energy companies that a Member can, in the presence of a constituent, make a phone call to the utility and articulate the case and ensure that any issues are dealt with.

I must say that any time I have spoken to people in the power companies such as Bord Gáis, they have always listened and they will always do their very best. That has been my experience and I will stand over it. I know the country will stand over it because, notwithstanding the fact that there are exceptions which do not work out, it is wrong to paint these utilities as the monsters the Senator is making them out to be. The Senator thinks it is a political point, but I do not think it is. I would much prefer the Senator would go through the detail and the facts. The facts are on how water charges will be approved and how they will be analysed. That is very clear.

The commission will consider the water charges plan submitted by Irish Water. In consideration of the costs of Irish Water, the commission will obtain a high level of detail on Irish Water's costs. It will be subject to detailed analysis by the financial, economic and technical consultants within the commission. This analysis will include an examination of the historic and forecast operation expenditure of the company, the value of the asset base - the network - and the appropriate cost of capital for the investment plans. Only after the public consultation process will the CER then consider all matters raised in that process. At all times, the CER will only allow reasonable and appropriate efficiency costs for the provision of water services by Irish Water. The overriding objective is to ensure that only reasonable and appropriate costs for the provision of water services by Irish Water are charged to customers.

The Bill provides that Irish Water will be required to prepare codes of practice on the very issues the Senator has raised. These codes of practice will cover various matters, including complaints procedures, billing methods, payment of bills, the provision of information to customers. All codes of practice prepared by Irish Water will be subject to the approval of the commission. The commission has the power to direct Irish Water to prepare a code of practice in any area where it is in the interests of the customers of Irish Water. For any code of practice published in accordance with the Bill, the commission has the power to direct Irish Water to comply with any aspect of the code of practice which Irish Water is legally obliged to do with such a direction.

The Water Services Act provides the commission with a role to consult on matters relevant to the regulation of water services. I do not see this world that the Senators are talking about. It does not exist. We are talking about a more efficient, effective model that is transparent and accountable, and the Senators' powers over this, as Members of the Oireachtas, are very strong, notwithstanding anything I might say here. Members should bring those concerned before their committee and put them through the mill, because committees are there so that their members can have satisfaction of the issues that they wish to raise. I absolutely reject what Senators are saying here. We have to get real about this.

The EPA report into water quality in Ireland, published yesterday makes for profound and important reading. It shows how well we are doing in many areas, but it also points out difficulties with water supply, with boiling of water and E. coli contamination in some areas. Notwithstanding all the changes that have occurred, there are further significant improvements to be made. Where is the money going to come from to do that? Who is going to improve the infrastructure? It is not going to fall out of the sky. We will have to raise the money in the different ways that I said the last day, namely, through tariffs on commercial companies, the borrowings that Irish Water will make, the other capital investors they attract and from the charges that they levy.

At any stage in the process, the Minister of the Environment, Community and Local Government has the power to issue a direction to Irish Water. To say that Irish Water has untrammeled power and can run through the bank accounts of the people of this country is rubbish, as it is to say that there will not be understanding of affordability issues and that needs will not be met. When we are talking about affordability, it will not work if we do not take into account the ability of people to pay. It is certain that there will be a free allowance for people. There are also questions about health issues and high users of water for other reasons and on low income. All of those issues will have to be dealt with in a transparent, accountable way. There is nothing hidden here, so I ask the Senator to think again before making the type of comments he is making. The reality is entirely different.

The Minister of State has attacked us on this side of the House for standing up for the ordinary citizen.

On a point of order, that is not true. I replied to you.

Speak through the Chair please.

I do not think I or any other Member antagonised anybody during our contribution. We simply stated the facts on the line and I stand over my facts. Like the Minister of State, I have dealt with utility companies such as Eircom, ESB, Bord Gáis, and I have not found them willing to write off any bills for those who cannot pay. They have entered into long-term repayment plans for those who cannot pay, with the back-up of legal proceedings if people do not comply.

I was never aware of threats in my 40 years' experience.

I can show the Senator proof.

Never, in 40 years' experience.

Senator Ó Domhnaill, without interruption.

If we speak to any constituent across the country, including the many in Donegal to whom I have spoken, we know that it is happening on a weekly basis. I took a telephone call from an elderly woman today who has received a legal letter from the ESB, even though she has paid the bill and she has proof, but the ESB will not accept it.

That is rubbish, in the-----

I am only stating the facts. The Senator can defend the Minister of State, as that is his job, but he should hear considered debate.

Ciunas. Senator Ó Domhnaill, without interruption please.

What is happening here is very simple. The Government is ramming through this Bill. I must praise the Leader, Senator Cummins, for allowing this debate to continue until next Monday. However, all Stages of the Bill are being rammed through the Dáil next Wednesday. Why is that?

What Bill are we talking about?

If this is so transparent, open and good for the Irish people, then why not allow debate in both Houses? Why have it on the days running up to Christmas when we hope that the media and Deputies are busy elsewhere with other things going on? Why is that the case if this Bill is so excellent?

We have a water charging plan. The Minister of State talks about Oireachtas committee members, but only so much can be done through committees. The committee to which the Minister of State refers does not have the statutory to oblige the CEO and other executives of Irish Water to come before us. We do not have that power. The only way that can be done is through the Committee of Public Accounts, which may have specific powers.

On a point of information, CER officials are on record as saying they are happy to meet people.

Happy is not in the legislation.

No, it is in their------

I do not accept that.

There is a difference of opinion between the Minister of State and the Senator. We might move beyond that.

I have already stated on the record that I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in the CER. How can anyone have faith in the CER when everyone's income is going down, yet it allowed the ESB to increase its electricity charges by 15% year-on-year over the last three years? That happened at a time when the average wage was reduced by around 35%. That is a crazy situation, yet we are giving the CER the blessing to decide on the charge consumers should pay for their water. It is flabbergasting.

Of course we can write to the National Consumer Agency and make a complaint but the simple answer will be that the agency cannot make a determination based on the manner in which the Irish Water legislation is written, the manner in which the company is established, and the manner in which the charging policy is established. In reality we are giving huge powers to a company that has not proven itself, but which has been established by this Government. It will be a massive quango operation to decide on the price of the water, to consult with the CER and to decide in what manner it sees fit to collect that money, irrespective of ability to pay.

All of this is being done in the ten days before Christmas when we hope Oireachtas Members are busy finishing constituency or other commitments. Members of the Dáil should be given an opportunity to debate this issue over a period of time. They represent the people

What happens in the other House is of no concern to us, unfortunately.

I know it is an issue of major concern for Members of the other House who also happen to be our constituents because they vote for Members of Seanad Éireann. I am only reflecting the concerns expressed to me by Members of the Dáil, including Fianna Fáil's environment spokesperson, Deputy Barry Cowen, who is deeply annoyed at the manner in which this legislation is being rammed through the Dáil, as I am sure are the other Opposition spokespersons.

As the Minister of State rightly points out, there are issues with the quality of our drinking water. That is absolutely certain. There are issues about the need to improve the infrastructure for our water supply. That is why until now tax was collected. There is a need to charge for water and I can see the point of it. There is also a need to make sure that those who cannot afford to meet the charge will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they cannot pay it. There is a lack of compassion being shown in respect of this amendment and the absence of any form of appeals mechanism.

No Member of this or the other House will have an opportunity to decide on the charge. We discussed the level of the charge here. A few days ago the Minister of State mentioned a flat in London. I was reading up on charges in London. They are below the European average. The average charge for water in Europe, if applied in Ireland, would come in at approximately €360 per household. If we were to move on the basis of what is charged in London, it would be in the region of €300 per household. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service and Senator Sean D. Barrett have investigated the real cost and it will be approximately €740.

There has been another cosy deal whereby under local government legislation up to €600 million has been transferred from the local government fund and which I understand will go into Irish Water. Will the Minister of State clarify whether that is going to happen and whether the money will be transferred to Irish Water? How will councillors meet the shortfall of €600 million which is being taken from the local government fund to fund semi-State organisations that are beyond democratic accountability? They are accountable to the committees, but they are beyond democratic accountability in respect of how they set charges and collect money. I have major concerns about what will happen.

People will be able to approach their public representatives after they receive their bills and Irish Water has retained the services of debt collectors or solicitors. Will the Minister of State confirm that Irish Water will not retain the services of debt collectors or solicitors to recover moneys due? Perhaps that is not the case and I am reading this wrong and it will not go down that road. Perhaps it will assume people genuinely cannot pay. There should be criteria set down in legislation to protect those who cannot pay from those who do not want to pay. There will be people who are well off and can afford to pay but who will decide not to do so. That has to be laid down in legislation to protect against misuse but also to protect those who cannot afford to pay. I am disappointed by the Minister of State’s response. We had a very good discussion a couple of days ago, but so far today I am disappointed that it appears that the thrust of the amendment will not be accepted. If that is the case, I will press the amendment. That is unfortunate because we are here to be constructive. We are trying to protect the interests of those who will find it difficult to protect themselves against the beast that will be Uisce Éireann or Irish Water.

In fairness to the Minister of State, he came out for the second half like a Kerry full forward playing in an all-Ireland final.

I am only starting.

There was a lot more bravado than fact in what the Minister of State said. He paints a picture of a very benevolent-----

Kerry full forward.

As my father was a Kerryman, I claim to have Kerry blood.

I knew that; that is why I mentioned it.

Is ón áit sin a tháinig mo chuid Gaeilge.

It is important to outline some facts. The Minister of State paints a very benevolent picture of utility companies which, unfortunately, is not recognisable in reality. In March this year the ESB announced that its profit before taxation had risen to €327.6 million in 2012, up from €78.8 million in the previous year. The figures published by the Commission for Energy Regulation, about which the Minister of State also spoke, showed that in that year, when it made a massive profit, this benevolent company, as the Minister of State describes it, had cut off the electricity supply to 12,854 households in the first three quarters of 2012. It disconnected almost 17,800 customers during 2011. The gas supply of 2,479 domestic customers was cut off between July and September 2012. In the past two years, prior to last March, gas and electricity prices rose by an average of 30%. What the Minister of State says about the ESB and other utility companies lending a friendly ear and listening carefully to people’s cases is not borne out on the ground.

They do listen.

The Minister of State should tell that to the almost 13,000 whose supply was cut off.

We will not cut off anybody’s water supply.

I did not interrupt the Minister of State. What he has said is not borne out on the ground. That is the genuine concern. People find it very difficult to pay their bills. Perhaps some of these 13,000 customers are also the people who will find it very difficult to pay their water bills.

The Minister of State did not answer my question. He talked about people who could pay. I asked about those who could not pay, the subject of the amendment proposed. Who will adjudicate on that issue? Will it be Uisce Éireann? If so, why should we think it will be any more understanding than the ESB, Bord Gáis Energy, or any other utility company? We have been told that no water supply will be cut off. What will happen? What measures will Uisce Éireann take to ensure it receives payment of the money from those it thinks can pay? What is its measure of ability to pay? I take it that it will not have the powers the Revenue Commissioners have of checking somebody’s income, how much tax they pay and how many dependants they have. Who will adjudicate? This is ill thought out.

Seanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill’s amendment is fair and one we have to take on board. It is not just about politics. This is about people on the ground who are being put to the pin of their collar now and who will have to pay an extra utility bill as part of their weekly expenses. Will the Minister of State clarify what measures Uisce Éireann will be able to take? How will it effect payment? What powers will it have? Will it use standing orders? How can it go after people? If people do not hand over the cash, what will it do? Will it cut the water supply to a trickle? It might not be cut off completely. If it is, what will be the consequences for the households affected?

In my experience - believe it or not, I have been in public life for almost 40 years - I have never met a customer of the ESB who was not looked after through an arrangement with the company. The ESB was always able to meet people’s needs by helping them go to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS. I appreciate and understand people get into debt. The MABS is a fantastic agency which helps people in the first instance. I have never known of a person who was cut off. Sometimes the ESB will give a person a special card to enable him or her to prepay. It might contain a portion of the bill the person owes, plus current electricity usage. If people can pay, they should. That is the point.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to water poverty. If after dealing with housing and other costs, the water charge is greater than 3% of net income, one is deemed to be in what is termed water poverty. This is a significant issue that must be addressed and I assure the House it will be. The protocols will need to be in place. The regulator will be responsible for overseeing the complaints procedure, the billing and payment methods and the provision of information and assistance for customers. There is no ogre. I profoundly disagree with the description of Irish Water by other speakers. Oireachtas committees have real power in that they may question outside bodies. I suggest this could be done in January in order to clarify issues to the satisfaction of Members. I am confident that the Government's decision on the free allowance and the arrangements for those in genuine difficulty will deal with these concerns.

The Minister of State referred to the regulator. The figures I quoted were provided by the energy regulator; therefore, they are not fiction.

The Minister of State may not have met people who have been disconnected, but 13,000 is a very significant number.

I have a huge client base.

Perhaps they are not calling to the Minister of State's constituency office, but they are certainly out there. He is suggesting people go to the MABS and that is what they do because they have no other choice. However, we should not be forcing them into a situation where they have to do so, which is why the amendment is a good one. The Minister of State has still not told me what Uisce Éireann will do when people cannot pay.

This argument seems to be going around in circles. The Minister of State has made his point and Members on the opposite side of the House will not accept it. Is Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill pressing the amendment?

Yes. I have not heard anything to suggest I should not press it.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 23.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Thomas Byrne and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden..
Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

We engaged in a lengthy debate on charges and we have just discussed an amendment designed to include an ability-to-pay clause in the Bill. It is disappointing that the Government voted down that amendment, which was an attempt by those of us who oppose the charges in the first instance to try to bring some element of fairness to the process. People have different views as to whether water charges are justified, particularly in the current economic climate. As I informed the Minister of State previously, they have already been hit with a raft of other charges and cuts by this Government and that which preceded it. The very least anyone would have sought would be for the Government to protect families on the lowest incomes and ensure an element of progressiveness in respect of the charge in order that high-income families will not end up paying the same amount as their low-income counterparts.

We are going down a very dangerous road in the context of the charges being introduced by the Government. I accept that we discussed this matter earlier in our deliberations but I reiterate that the same thing happened in respect of the household charge. That charge - or the property tax, as it is now known - is neither fair nor progressive and it is not linked to people's ability to pay. It is a case of "Here we go again" in respect of water charges. More families are going to be obliged to live in poverty if we continue to move away from progressive taxes by means of which people can be taxed directly on their income and towards a situation whereby an increasing number of indirect, unfair and regressive taxes will be introduced. When the Ministers for Finance, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation or the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister of State currently before the House seek to sell these types of taxes and charges, they state that they are necessary because of the need to bring in more revenue.

They also state that what we do not want to do is tax jobs because taxing income is taxing jobs.

If new charges are imposed, the money comes out of people's pockets in their wages through direct taxes or through indirect charges. That is the reality. Rather than moving to increase taxes for the wealthy and the top earners in our society, the Minister of State has moved to bring in these regressive charges which are not fair. I have no doubt that as people learn more about what is being proposed in respect of water charges they will be very angry about it. I imagine over the course of the next few days the Government will make a great deal of our coming out of the bailout programme and the improved economic situation as its members see it, but there are many families who will not be celebrating with the Minister of State and who will not be looking forward to the prospect of water charges coming on top of all of the other charges that have been foisted upon them during the past few years. They will be even angrier again when they find out that there is no level of progressiveness to it in that there is no ability to pay element to it. Any attempt by the Opposition to introduce an ability to pay element to the charge was knocked back. Essentially, that is the core argument I have with the Minister of State and the Government's approach to this issue. It is a bit like all of the other charges the Government has brought it. The Minister of State just wants us to buy a pig in a poke. He will not tell us exactly or give any indication as to how this will work out, how much it will cost, how it will be calculated or how low-income families will be protected.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: That is not true.

If it is not true, the Minister of State might give us that information even at this stage as we have debated it for hours. Senator Ó Clochartaigh mainly took this issue for my party but I was here for some of the debate.

With respect, I read out all the things that we are doing but the Senator was not here.

I listened to a good deal of the debate.

The Senator was absent from the House.

I put questions on this. The Minister of State is a bit cranky today for some reason-----

No, I am not cranky at all. Actually, I am in very good humour.

-----but that is a matter for himself.

Hypocrisy is enough to make anyone angry.

We are on section 17.

I have read out all the things-----

With respect, the Minister of State has not and I have listened to the debate.

I have read it all out.

Just because Members are not in the Chamber does not mean that they do not hear what is being said in this House, no more than the Minister of State does not know what is being said in the Dáil in his absence.

Who is cranky now?

Let us cut out that nonsense.

On the section, please.

I assume the Minister of State is in the Dáil for every debate. Is that what he is telling me?

On the section, please, Senator.

No, I am not going to listen to that guff from the Minister of State. We do not have to be in the Chamber for every part of a debate.

Senator, we are dealing with section 17.

I am speaking to the section. I put it to the Minister of State that he has not given us any indication of the level of charge that will be imposed on people. Families have no idea how much this will cost them. Senator Barrett in a previous debate today mentioned the figure of €750. The Minister of State said it would not be anything like that figure, therefore, he should give us some indication as to what it will be like and then explain to us again in detail how it will be calculated in a fair and progressive way and how low income families will be protected. He should at least give families some idea of the bill they will be expected to pay on top of the property tax next year. I have not heard the answer to that question up to now. We have heard broad discussions about how he will do his best to protect low-income families and broad strokes but we have heard no detail. For him to say he has given us detail is a nonsense. I give the Minister of State the opportunity again to set the record straight and to explain the position to families who, when they learn more about this, will be asking all of us how much this will cost them out of their pockets. However, I am not in a position to tell them because we have not been given that information by the Minister of State.

I call the Minister but I note Senator Ó Domhnaill is indicating.

Tá brón orm. I thought I had indicated that I want to speak but I had not.

Section 17 relates to a water charges plan and it is a very important part of the Bill. It sets out the criteria and the manner in which the charging can take place. It sets out where Irish Water can consult with the Commission for Energy Regulation. It states that a charges plan shall apply in respect of such period as the commission shall direct. We are giving the commission the power to direct the length of time those charges should apply, whether it be one year, two years or five years. The commission has the authority to determine, under section 17, the length of time in which the charging plan shall last. It also has the power to specify the manner and method by which the charges, under section 16, can be calculated. This goes back to the fundamental question of the competency of the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Power is being removed from Members of the Oireachtas to have an input, through both Houses, into the level of the water charge and, in addition to that, there is the question of the inability to pay element. I very much regret that the amendment on the ability to pay principle has been rejected. That is a grave mistake. The spirit of this amendment is that those who genuinely cannot pay the charge should have an opportunity to state their case and explain why they cannot pay it and that should be taken into consideration. Unfortunately we are leaving that in the hands of the gods or those who may be less compassionate than the gods. In other words, we are leaving that to Irish Water, which will be a massive organisation.

Similar organisations have been established by various Governments in the past and have proven, over time, not to be the most effective, efficient or compassionate. We are establishing another similar type of organisation and entrusting it to be effective, efficient and compassionate when all the similar organisations that have been established meet none of those criteria. We are now establishing another one and giving it massive powers under this legislation to set whatever price it sees fit based on whatever plans it draws up for whatever infrastructure it sees fit to invest money in. The Minister of State can rest assured that its bottom line objective will be to make money, not to lose money, and it will make money at all costs because it is compelled to do so and that is the reason it is being established.

The other question referred to in the section is the water discharged from premises, which will be charged for as well. What happens in the case of people with individual septic tanks? Surely they cannot be charged for water. They would have spent money in putting in place a Pure Flow treatment system or a septic tank and that system would treat their effluent. They can be charged for the cost of public drinking water but they cannot be charged for the discharge of wastewater.

The basis of this measure is that the charge will be based on water in and the same amount of water out but if the water out is going into a private contained sewerage system, as is the case in respect of many systems in rural Ireland, it would be very unfair for the Government to charge people for a service that they are not obtaining. That aspect needs to be clarified as it is not clearly set out on line 4 of section 17 on page 13. This is a fundamental section. It sets out the powers we will give Irish Water, in consultation with the Commission for Energy Regulation, to determine whatever price it sees fit to charge for public drinking water and for the discharge of that water, and it removes that power from Members of the Oireachtas.

Irrespective of whether Members of the Houses of Oireachtas are in opposition or in government, at least they are in constant touch with the people. We hear from the people the difficulties they are experiencing on any given day or week through our clinics. We are better placed to determine what that level should be rather than some quango or the Commission for Energy Regulation which, thus far, has been the administrating authority for the provision of energy to Irish consumers, bearing in mind that Irish consumers are among the highest paying consumers across Europe for the provision of energy by utilities to their homes with the cost of such provision increasing substantially year on year.

How could one trust that type of organisation to employ or allow a fair charging policy? It is all wrong. I fundamentally disagree with the system. It is wrong to remove powers from democratically elected people - irrespective of which side of the House they are on - in these Houses, or from councillors across the country.

Councillors are being railroaded out of existence in terms of their function on water service provision. I accept they are being consulted but I could consult anyone. I could consult with the Irish football management team of Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill but they will not take on board what I have to say. I would not expect them to because they have no obligation to do so. Our role is to impose an obligation on Irish Water to at least listen to public representatives in Seanad Éireann, Dáil Éireann and local authorities. Irish Water is not compelled to do so and that is fundamentally wrong.

I though Senator Ó Domhnaill would welcome the section because it provides a facility for persons who are not satisfied with the charge set out in the water charges plan. The Bill clearly sets out that there is a method of calculation of charges in section 16 in respect of a customer to whom the approved water charges apply. Therefore, the section recognises that not everybody will come under the same category. Not everybody will have the same means and not everybody will use the same amount of water. Different households can have different needs.

Is Senator Keane saying it will be income based?

Senator Keane should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Keane should be allowed to speak without interruption.

This section does exactly what the Senators sought.

Not everybody will come under the same category. Not everybody will be charged the same and this section provides for that. We dealt with the issue in section 16 of how Irish Water will decide what it will do if someone does not pay. It states clearly that when a customer fails to pay a charge under the section it shall be recoverable as a simple contract debt in any court or competent jurisdiction. If a person cannot afford to pay then free legal aid is available if a person wants to go down that route but, as the Minister of State said, the system is totally transparent.

Does Senator Keane want to clog up the courts system?

The water-----

People will be criminalised.

Senator Keane should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Ó Domhnaill has been repeating himself since he came to the House. I have only spoken twice. The water authority must give a reason for the charge, the basis for the fairness of the charge and how it came to make the decision. That is a fact. If people are not satisfied with that the matter can then be referred to the courts.

Is it a case of let them go and suck diesel?

That is why I thought Senator Ó Domhnaill would have welcomed the section. I could not believe it when I read that different charges were to be made available for different people.

We must get real about what we are doing and what we are talking about. I reject the point Fianna Fáil has made that Irish Water is a profit-making company and that Irish Water's purpose is to make money for itself. That is silly. It does not add up. I would not expect to see that even in a Fianna Fáil manifesto.

I refer Senator Ó Domhnaill to the EPA report. It is exceptionally clear on the issues that must be addressed by Irish Water. There were approximately 339 individual supplies in 2008, in which the EPA found a deficiency with public water supplies when conducting a risk-based assessment, either in terms of the infrastructure or operational practice. It set up a remedial action list, RAL. Of the original 339, a total of 237 have now been removed. However, remedial works will be completed on a further 47 of the original supplies by the end of 2013. Much work must be carried out to improve the service in various counties.

I am not sure whether Senator Ó Domhnaill is from Donegal but according to the EPA report Donegal County Council has not provided a completion date for seven supplies in his county. Seven supplies in County Donegal are on the remedial action list and need to be updated.

We have been waiting for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to approve tenders for the past year or two.

The Minister of State should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I did not interrupt the Senator or shout at him.

I ask him to abide by the civilised rules of this House whatever about other places. The fact is that there are problems with seven different water supplies in County Donegal and a date has not been given for when they will be addressed. Interestingly, the EPA has issued legally binding directions in respect of the majority of supplies where no dates have been submitted. I urge Senator Ó Domhnaill to examine the issue and bring it to our attention on Tuesday and we will try to ensure the issues are addressed.

A total of 147 supplies remain on the RAL as of September 2013. Serious issues arise in Senator Ó Domhnaill's county, in my county and in every county that must be addressed by the operation of a fair, transparent charging system. I refer again to the capacity of Irish Water to borrow money, the State subvention and the free allowance to every household. I accept that Senator Cullinane was not present when I referred to all the issues relating to affordability.

How much will it cost people?

Senator Cullinane asked me to read the details again but I will ask him to look at the Official Report as I read it just before he came into the Chamber.

How much will it cost the householder?

I did not shout-----

The Minister of State is trying to reply to the questions asked. Senator Cullinane is not the only one who asked a question.

I will ask it again.

In terms of the other responsibilities of Irish Water, it has to implement water safety plans for public water supplies with larger supplies being prioritised. It has compiled the remedial action list. Improvement works and schemes with boiled water notices must be prioritised. If one lives in a town where one has to boil the water because it is contaminated and it is not fit for human consumption without being boiled then Irish Water has to deal with that. There is a requirement for cryptosporidium barriers where surface water at source is critical. We must deal with that as well. Irish Water must take action where there are lead distribution mains to be replaced. We must have regard to the new lead parameters which means the matter must be addressed as a matter of urgency. We also have to detect pesticide exceedence in public water supplies. Many other issues also arise.

At the heart of everything the Opposition has said is an attack on the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. Members have said the CER is not transparent or accountable and that it will not be held accountable. I pointed out to Members already that the Oireachtas is the primary source of accountability. I am accountable to the House today and the Oireachtas will be accountable for Irish Water tomorrow and for the CER. The CER is committed to regulating in a fair, transparent and consistent manner. Fairness means that it will regulate the water industry in an even handed and balanced way, treating all stakeholders without bias. The CER will be transparent, which is a point made by Senator Keane. Transparency means that it will conduct its activities in an open manner so that those who are affected by its decisions can clearly see how it came to those decisions in the first place. Consistency means that the CER will regulate the water industry with steady continuity by adhering to those values.

The CER will act with integrity and respect. They are two very important words. Integrity means that it will act in an honest and ethical fashion when regulating the water industry. It will value the opinion and viewpoints of all stakeholders, both those who agree and those who do not agree. When regulating the water industry the CER will always respect the right of all stakeholders to their own viewpoint and to communicate their viewpoint to the CER.

The CER intends that there will be proper consultation with stakeholders and customers. That means it will engage meaningfully with those who are affected by our decisions. It will come in the form of talking to people, being accessible to people, meeting them, listening to them and being proactive in the sense of communications. Proper consultation seeks advice and information from people that will help to promote confidence in them that the CER is regulating the water industry effectively. The CER will be most credible when it listens and shows that it is listening to those affected by its decisions. The report contains much information for Senator Cullinane to think about.

Fianna Fáil proposed that county councillors would decide what the charge would be. That is the whole problem. The charge fixed by county councils differs. If one lives in County Kildare one’s charge for water is half what it is in County Wicklow. This is because the supplies are controlled individually by 34 local authorities. Irish Water is doing away with that difference and introducing a fair system. The same charge will be levied no matter where one lives, what one’s job is or what industry one is in.

Second, if one lives in a county that does not have the capacity to meet its water needs or to improve its possibly inadequate water systems, it is by all the country working together and pooling all the resources into a single authority that one will have a plan. There will be a development plan from Irish Water, extending over a period of years, which will be clear, transparent, accountable and funded in order that everyone will get the potable water he or she deserves and industries, no matter where they are located, will have the water they require to keep going. Most importantly, Ireland will be the most effective country for water-intensive industries to locate in because we do not have a shortage of water. While everyone knows that, it is also the case that we do not have adequate water supply in the greater Dublin area. Members should cast their minds back to three weeks ago, when there was a problem with water in Dublin. At the time, we were faced with water supplies being shut down during the night, so that people could not use the water system. There is a serious deficiency to be met and this is what Irish Water is about. It is not on the level of the county council and one cannot think in county council terms any more, because that is just not big enough thinking for the country. This is the reason this development is happening and is the reason things must change.

Moreover, Senator Ó Domhnaill is absolutely wrong about councillors. Councillors will be consulted and Irish Water is committed to having in every county council-----

I did not shout at the Senator.

The Minister of State without interruption.

The Senator should listen to me and should listen to the facts. The fact is that there will be an official in the county council of the Senator's home county who will be responsible to the elected members for all issues in respect of water and water infrastructure plans. Second, notwithstanding the provision of a hotline nationally for everyone, there also will be a dedicated line for public representatives that the Senator or I or anyone else who is a public representative can ring up. Such public representatives can ring to report a serious problem has arisen, that they are getting calls from such and such a place and can ask what is going on. There will be accountability from Irish Water, as well as the possibility of sending text messages if issues arise in one's locality. There will be joined-up thinking in respect of what a councillor knows. I am familiar with this myself, because it was not too long ago that the entire water supply in the whole country closed down over Christmas because pipes had not been laid at the right depth in many estates. The Government is building an infrastructure for the future in order that Ireland will be a country that can stand over all the inward investment in industries such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals and, obviously, the information and communications technology sector. We will be the best in class in Europe in this regard and that is what the Government is about. I ask the Senator to broaden his mind and to open up to some of these ideas, because this is what is happening. Ireland must be in that position and by building up Uisce Éireann, that is what the Government is doing.

The points the Senator has repeated endlessly here ultimately do not add up to a tin of beans. The Senator should listen and should think again. He should work with us to get this right. The regulator, Irish Water, the Minister and everyone should be brought in, as this is what is happening in Ireland. This is the reason we are recovering from this economic recession. The Government has plans, Ireland has a future and Irish Water is a core part of that future.

We have had seven amendments on this section and there have been several speakers on it. The Minister of State has given comprehensive replies to many-----

He has not been comprehensive.

----- of the issues.

That is for Members to judge, not the Cathaoirleach.

As many Members have indicated that they wish to make a further contribution, if they have anything to say, it must be on the section. I call Senator Cullinane.

Yes, it is on the section, but, with respect, it is for Members to judge whether the Minister of State has answered the questions, not the Cathaoirleach.

Senator Cullinane, it is for me to judge if it is relevant to the section-----

Yes; Members are asking the questions.

I am asking the Senator to stick to the section.

Members are asking the questions of the Minister of State, not the Cathaoirleach, and it is for Members to judge whether the questions were responded to.

I am not before the ard chomhairle of Sinn Féin here. This is a democratic assembly.

It is for me to say whether the Senator is going outside the scope of the section. Senator Cullinane, on the section.

I know exactly where I am and do not need to be reminded of it by the Minister of State.

I have answered the question.

Senator, on the section.

The Minister of State should listen to Members for a second and actually answer the questions he has been asked.

Senator Cullinane, on the section.

I am getting to it. Members have asked the Minister of State a number of questions but he has refused to answer them.

Possibly, it is because he does not have the information himself. The first question I asked him is what people are likely to pay in water charges - that is, what are the likely water charges - and he has not given an answer. Members of neither this democratically elected Chamber nor the Dáil can tell people out in the communities what they will be paying. The Minister of State is asking Members to support this Bill without knowing precisely how the charge will be put in place or what people will pay. The Minister of State cannot even tell Members how much the Government intends to collect in water charges. He cannot even provide them with a figure in this regard. He has been asked several times, by Senators Barrett, Ó Domhnaill and Ó Clochartaigh and me, how much the Government intends to take in in water charges but he has not given an answer. As the Minister of State is not in a position to give an answer, how are Members supposed to support the Bill? The Minister of State spoke of openness, of working with him and of accountability. He wants Members to buy a pig in a poke and then tell people in the communities that while they supported the Bill, they have no idea whatsoever how it will affect people.

(Interruptions).

Senator Cullinane without interruption.

Members have no idea how much people will be obliged to pay. They certainly know it will not be linked to ability to pay, because there will be a vote on that later and I am sure it will be voted down by the Government Members.

On the question of ability to pay and in regard to this section in general, I note that in her response, Senator Keane tried to pretend that all the answers were contained in the Bill. The simple answer is either this will be linked to income or it will not. This is another simple question for the Minister of State. Will the charge be linked to the income of a household? If not, we will be reverting to the Thatcherite notion that the house itself is where the income is earned. However, it is the people who live in the house who earn money and consequently, the charge should be on the money coming into the house, not simply the number of people living therein. The road down which the Minister is travelling is the same road Margaret Thatcher took in the 1980s - that is, a move away from the notion of direct and progressive taxation. It is to get people to pay for everything separately, whereby the millionaire pays exactly the same as someone who earns €10,000, €20,000 or €30,000. This is the Fine Gael ideology that is behind all this and that is what is driving it. However, the Minister of State is not in a position to say otherwise because it is either linked to ability to pay and to income or it is not. The Minister should at least give Members a straight answer to a straight question. Will income be taken into account in the calculation of this charge? The answer is either "Yes" or "No". I ask for the fifth time, because the Minister of State has accused Members of asking-----

Senator, you are being repetitive.

-----the same question repeatedly. However, it is very frustrating for Members to put such questions to him when he is not in a position to respond. He seeks Members' support for the Bill and wants them to vote for it, to state it is a good Bill, that everything is great and to work with him but they do not even have the information with which they can go back to the people outside this Chamber. The Minister should give Members the facts and then they will make up their minds as to whether they believe this is fair or otherwise.

I might make a short contribution to be helpful towards Senator Cullinane with regard to linking this measure with ability to pay. One could consider other infrastructural items to ascertain whether any analogies could be drawn. One probably would be correct to state that water is a natural resource, in the same way as electricity, yet payment for the latter is not linked to ability to pay. It requires infrastructure to bring electricity to a house and the household pays for the electricity according to its use of it. In the same way, infrastructure is required to bring water to a household, which will pay according to its use thereof. This is very clear, as the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, will set the rates in this regard.

It also might be helpful to try to find an analogy in other jurisdictions as to what happens with regard to ability to pay. I will try to choose a jurisdiction at random that has a rates system or a water paying system, encompassing water in, water out and sewerage. For instance, I will pick Northern Ireland at random. A few seconds ago, I consulted the website nidirect.gov.uk on my mobile phone.

There are no water charges in the North.

Senator Gilroy without interruption.

The aforementioned website might disagree with Senator Cullinane, because it specifically refers to water and sewerage. If water and sewerage do not constitute water, I am not sure what does. The website states that if one is having difficulty paying rates, water charges or the household charge - all are linked together - one should contact the Land & Property Services, LPS, which will help one out. I do not like paying bills - no one does - but the necessity of this legislation is self-evident. The point is, in a jurisdiction close to here, a party whose members have been shouting and roaring abuse at the Minister of State for trying to bring through this legislation is actually in power and could do something, but it has done nothing. If Senator Cullinane has suggested to the Minister of State that he is cranky, I would hardly blame him, because hypocrisy is one of the main sources of crankiness in my book.

I will restrict my remarks to the people of this jurisdiction because they are the people we were put here to represent.

I listened carefully to what the Minister of State had to say. Perhaps most of his answer was given in what he did not say. He did not give us any of the information we sought. Out of the blue, he picked Donegal - I wonder why.

With respect, it is in the report.

Senator Ó Domhnaill without interruption.

I refer to seven schemes in Donegal. I am not sure whether they are drinking water schemes or sewerage schemes,-----

-----but I can advise the Minister of State that Donegal County Council has made applications for funding to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, some of the approvals have been issued, but the vast majority of approvals to go to tender has not been issued despite a number of announcements. Often, I blame the local authority as much as anybody else. However, in a number of schemes that are awaiting construction, it is the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that is dragging its heels and changing the goalposts in relation to those schemes.

That is really irrelevant because the picture which the Minister of State depicted during the course of his contribution was that Irish Water is a white knight riding in to improve the infrastructure. As for who will pay for it, the consumer will. The transfer of assets, from the balance sheet of the State to Irish Water, will occur. The ability to raise €2 billion on the financial markets will occur. The €500 million or €600 million, about which the Minister of State has failed to answer thus far, is being removed from the Local Government Fund, where councillors have control of it and decide how it is spent, and will be transferred across to Irish Water. The charge that €500 million of that money would go to Irish Water was not denied by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, when he was questioned last week at the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht meeting when he confirmed that the money was being transferred across. When questioned, Deputy Hogan did not dispel the fact.

That is not relevant to this section.

It is. It relates to Irish Water.

It is not relevant to the section. Senator Ó Domhnaill is moving away from the section.

Okay. The charging plan, which will affect every citizen in the country, does relate to this section. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, has failed categorically to spell out in any reasonable fashion a ballpark figure for what consumers can expect to pay for water. If he is in control of this brief for the transfer to Irish Water of all of these powers, surely it would be reasonable for a consumer listening in on the Internet tonight to hear a ballpark figure from a Minister of State or are we correct in saying that he does not know, he does not want to know and he wants to give all of that power to the unelected and unaccountable staff of Irish Water and the Commission for Energy Regulation because that is what he is saying if he is not willing to give us a ballpark figure?

The second issue, which was not answered either, relates to waste water discharged into private sewers. Will those consumers pay for the water in and the water out, even though the discharges are going into private sewers, and how will that be calculated because it is not clear here? The Bill, in subsection 17(10), states, "For the purposes of calculating a charge under section 16, the amount of waste water discharged from a premises is deemed to be equal to the amount of water supplied to that premises, unless Irish Water and the customer agree otherwise." What process will be established to allow the customer to agree otherwise? Must every customer with the septic tank suddenly go measure the amount of waste water going into his or her septic tank? What will be the system? Will this be simple or will every house with a septic tank - it can be shown through planning permission - pay only for water in? Does that mean that such a house will pay 50% of what a similar house connected to a public sewerage system will pay? We need clarification on this. Let us take the analogy of someone living in Dunshaughlin village connected to the public sewerage infrastructure paying, for argument's sake, the €360 annual fee for water, that is, half for water in and half for water out. A mile out the road in a rural area of Dunshaughlin, would a consumer living on a farm who has a private septic tank pay half of what the consumer in the town pays? If Irish Water will not charge for discharged water, that would have to be the case because anything else would not be fair. Can we get clarification on that point? I ask the Minister of State to be specific in his reply.

I welcome the further chance to speak.

I have read the EPA report. I read it last year and the year before as well and I share the Minister of State's concerns on the quality of water. He noted a number of counties. In my county of Galway, there are problems in: Oughterard, Ballinasloe, Carraroe, Inis Oírr, Kinvara, Ballinasloe No. 1 - two different schemes for different issues, fluoride, lead and trihalomethanes - Ballyconneely, Portumna and Leenane. The people in those areas are extremely concerned about the quality of the water and I have seen it at first hand. The issue there is that Uisce Éireann will not come in and sort out the problem immediately. I noted that the people of Roscommon, for example, have been on boil-water notice for a long time. There are 15,443 persons dependent on the water supply there and there are 30 supplies across the country on boil-water notices or restrictions. I would contend, as has been alluded to, that the issue there has been a lack of capital investment over the past number of years. It is important to note that the capital investment in water has been cut, from almost €435 million in 2011 to €331 million in 2012.

We are dealing with the water charges plan, section 17.

It relates to the Minister of State's talk of the figures not adding up. I go back to the charges and the money being brought in and the money going out. We have had the €1.2 billion figure that it costs to provide water. The Minister of State needs to clarify how much the Government expects to collect in water charges and how much of that will be spent on capital investment to fix places such as Oughterard, Carraroe, Inis Oírr, Kinvara, Ballinasloe and Ballyconneely. We as a rural community are well used to dealing with national organisations. For example, when it comes to roads, we are always left on the hind teat when it comes to getting stuff in the most peripheral rural areas. It is bad enough with the local authorities trying to get things done in rural areas. Once we will be working with a national organisation such as Uisce Éireann, how can we be confident that we will see the necessary investment?

On the figures given by Senator Barrett, there is a €1 billion shortfall. How much of that will be collected through the water charge? How much of the shortfall will be divided over the households that can pay for it?

Another important issue has been brought up again by Senator Gilroy and it is important to nail this. In May 2007, devolution was restored to the Assembly in the North and we in Sinn Féin succeeded in reversing the British direct rule proposal to introduce double the household water charges and the privatisation of water and sewerage services when the Assembly supported the appointment of Mr. Conor Murphy MP.

(Interruptions).

The rates alluded to by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and Senator Gilroy cover a significant area, including school books, school transport, septic tank desludging, local healthcare, libraries, recreation, waste collection, water supply and the fire service.

It covers water supply.

(Interruptions).

Senator Ó Clochartaigh without interruption.

It is included in the rate. It is important to state that there are two rates - the regional rate and the Assembly rate. It is important to note that the Assembly, because of my party's insistence, has been frozen for the past number of years. Senator Gilroy will be aware that local authorities on which the SDLP has a majority, for example in Derry, have the highest rates in water because they do not have Sinn Féin ruling those particular local authorities.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh spent too long at the Christmas party last night.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh without interruption.

Therefore, there is no comparison with what the Minister of State is introducing, namely, double taxation, because people are already paying this tax from their general taxation. The Minister of State is now adding an unknown extra tax – he will not state how much – for a service in respect of which we do not know what we will get. We are not sure what investment will be made in the infrastructure.

The couple of hundred million euro being spent on water meters would be much better spent on installing the systems that need to be installed to fix the problems highlighted in the EPA reports year on year and to sort out the 34% leakage across the State. I am not confident that Uisce Éireann will solve those problems. The Minister has not instilled confidence in this regard during the debate. What he has given us is an awful lot of bluster. He needs to give us much more detail if he wants any of us to support this Bill.

That is the Northern issue put to bed.

I do not expect that the wisdom coming from this side of the House will be absorbed by those on the other side. I have outlined what we have been saying. The key is that the Senator has gone to the core of the issue, that is, the question of solving water problems where they exist. He mentioned the significant number in his constituency.

Right around the country, all the county councils have plans stipulating where they envisage improvements, what they would like to do, the planning and the development commitments and the plans of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. All the agencies will feed into Irish Water. It is exactly as the Senator describes. I refer to consultation with local authorities, regional bodies and all agencies to ensure a plan is in place for the development and improvement of the water system.

It is the capital projects about which the Senator is talking. There must be capital projects and current expenditure. The liabilities and assets of each county council must be transferred to Irish Water. When they are all accounted for and measured, Irish Water will submit its plans to the CER. Then all the sums will be done and we will know what the plan will be. We will know whether it covers two years, five years or 25 years. Thus, there will be a plan for the whole country.

Paying for the plan is achieved in different ways, namely, through the actual charge, the commercial charge, the raising of funds, and, perhaps, companies investing in water infrastructure. All these are put together in the plan. When all I have described is done, there will be transparency in the decision-making. It will be known what the CER proposes to do as a regulator and its reasons will be known. The plan will be transparent and debated in the Dáil and Seanad. At that stage, there will be total transparency. I believe I have addressed all the points.

How much money does the Minister of State intend to raise?

The Bill provides for the water-in, water-out principle. It is not intended that householders with septic tanks will be charged for wastewater services. The Bill provides for this in section 17(10). People with private wells will not be charged for water supply. The Bill also provides for that.

There was another question.

The Minister of State gently passed over one of the obvious questions, namely, the question as to the likely cost of the charge.

I have told the Senator.

How much money does the Government intend to raise?

I have told the Senator.

The Minister of State does not know the answers.

Nobody will know the answer until the sums are actually done. As I stated, there will be consultation around the counties to determine what exactly the authorities want to, need to and must do. The strands must be put together. When this is done, there will be a clear plan. The CER will put it out for consultation. If I were the Senator, I would be asking the relevant authorities to appear before the committee to explain this line by line. That is what they are prepared to do. They are prepared to consult, listen and be proactive. That is the position. If this occurs, we will all gain an understanding and be in a position to judge. That answers the question.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Thomas Byrne and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.