Irish Water: Statements

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

I am pleased to be here again today to discuss this very important issue. I acknowledge that we had a very important debate over a number of days here in the Seanad and I believe many of the issues were dealt with there. I thank the Members for their views and I hope the replies to their questions provided transparency.

Water charges have arisen from an agreement with the troika done by the previous Government. In December 2010 they agreed that in advance of the introduction of water charges, the Government would undertake an independent assessment of transfer of responsibilities for water service provision from local authorities to a water utility and prepare proposals for implementation as appropriate with a view to starting to charge in 2012.

When we came into government we negotiated that and, unlike the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government of the day, we ensured that the charging would commence from 2015, retrospective to the last quarter of this year. I am grateful for this opportunity to address the House on the issue of the costs associated with the establishment of the company.

When the legislation was debated in both Houses last year I outlined the accountability of Irish Water or Uisce Éireann to the Oireachtas, as set out in the legislation. I highlighted the scope of Members to use the committee structures to the fullest extent to reinforce this accountability. Furthermore, on the last evening of the debate, on Wednesday, 18 December, I read into the record the comments of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who had stated that the Freedom of Information Act would apply to Irish Water. I repeated this in my comments on the day - they are on the record - about transparency in terms of freedom of information.

The other question that arose was the fact that the annual report would come before the Oireachtas every year and there would be an opportunity for all Members to debate it. There would also be an opportunity for the Oireachtas to debate fully all aspects of the water services investment programme. In other words, what was and was not planned and what was in and what was not in would be a matter for discussion in the Oireachtas. I also said that representatives from Irish Water could be brought in to any Oireachtas committee at the drop of a hat - I believe they were the words I used - to ensure accountability and transparency at every stage of its involvement.

Critical to all of this is the fact that the company is an important public utility. This is the first time a utility of its size and importance has been set up within 18 months. The establishment of Irish Water is a long-term investment that will deliver the necessary water service infrastructure and quality of service required to meet legal compliance, demographic and industry needs. Managing our water resource effectively will provide us with a key competitive advantage in investment. As I have said repeatedly, that is critical to meet the needs of population and economic growth. For example, water is particularly important to the information and communications technology, pharmaceutical and food industries. We have had a debate in the House on the situation in the greater Dublin area, the potential shortage of water from 2020 onwards and how it is critical to ensure a proper water supply in this region.

We need to address long-standing compliance issues as well. In 2011 some 36% of our wastewater treatment plants did not meet effluent quality standards. Indeed, the European Commission has initiated pilot infringement proceedings against Ireland.

Last week, John Tierney attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Committee of Public Accounts to outline the total budget for the establishment of Uisce Éireann, which had been submitted to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in September 2012. Mr. Tierney also detailed the processes by which the Department, in consultation with others, exercised control over the programme expenditure. He outlined that a key Uisce Éireann objective was the achievement of significant operational and capital efficiencies of €1.1 billion in the period 2015-21.

The total budget for the establishment of Uisce Éireann is €180 million, which includes a contingency of €30 million. The budget is being funded by a commercial loan from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The overall budget was outlined as part of the funding issues considered by the water reform sub-committee of the Cabinet sub-committee on economic infrastructure.

The budget has also been examined by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The CER is the authority that regulates all costs. Any expenditure that Irish Water or Uisce Éireann may make on any issue must be proofed and agreed to by the energy regulator. If that is not the case and if all the funds or moneys that the company spends are not deemed to be reasonable and appropriate, then they cannot and will not apply to any consumer. The commissioner was asked for his opinion. The opinion he gave was that most of the proposed establishment costs appeared to be reasonable and could be expected to result in value for money from a customer perspective. The commission has also advised that the activities undertaken by Uisce Éireann are core to delivering the objective of a national integrated water service provider with all its associated benefits. The commission will be conducting a more in-depth view of all the costs during 2014 because now it has the legal authority and statutory powers to do so. The Department has put in place arrangements to ensure that commitments made in 2014 will meet the tests of cost reasonableness and value for money for consumers. NewERA, the CER and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are involved in these processes.

Bord Gáis Éireann tendered at European Union level for external provider services to support the delivery of Uisce Éireann and water services reforms. Following its establishment, Uisce Éireann entered into several fixed price contracts arising from the tender processes undertaken by Bord Gáis Éireann. The main contracts are as follows: IBM has three separate contracts totalling €44.8 million for customer and asset management systems; Accenture has three contracts totalling €17.2 million for the development of business and operational systems; Ernst & Young has one contract totalling €4.6 million for services relating to finance, governance and regulation; and KPMG has two contracts totalling €2.2 million for quality assurance services. In addition, there are contracts for legal services with A&L Goodbody and McCann FitzGerald totalling €3 million. The total budget for all the service contracts is approximately €85 million.

The Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government also addressed the Committee of Public Accounts last week and was able to clarify that no Exchequer funds were provided to either Bord Gáis Éireann or Uisce Éireann in 2012 or 2013. The Department has worked closely with NewERA, Bord Gáis Éireann and Uisce Éireann to ensure that the costs arising in putting the company and its systems in place will be far outweighed by the benefits over time to consumers, the economy and the environment. The Department has recognised from the outset the need for independent scrutiny of the position by the Commission for Energy Regulation and has ensured that the oversight arrangements put in place have been designed to feed in to this process and ensure, ultimately, that the costs arising must provide value for money for the consumer. Again, I thank the House for the opportunity to address Members and I look forward to hearing the contributions during the debate.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad chun an ábhar seo a phlé. Ón uair dheireanach a bhí sé anseo roimh an Nollaig, tá go leor díospóireachta faoi cheist Uisce Éireann - an tionchar a bheidh ag an gcomhlacht agus na híocaíochtaí atá déanta ag lucht Uisce Éireann as airgead cáiníocóirí na tíre seo - curtha chun cinn i measc an phobail agus anseo san Oireachtas. Much has been said about Irish Water in recent days and weeks. The establishment of Irish Water was something we questioned in the House prior to Christmas and before it was rammed through Dáil Éireann on the last or second-last sitting day before the Christmas recess.

We asked questions about the establishment costs of Irish Water. My party colleagues in this House and the other House asked those questions but the answers were not forthcoming. It was only when the now chief executive of Irish Water was being questioned on a radio programme that the answers proved to be forthcoming. Perhaps people in government may say that he dropped the ball, in other words, he told the truth or provided the information showing that the set-up of Irish Water has cost €180 million to date.

The Minister of State might clarify the figures given yesterday at the Oireachtas environment committee. These amounted to in excess of €180 million and an additional €15 million. The Minister of State might clarify where that €15 million is being spent. They were the figures given to our environment spokesperson, Deputy Barry Cowen, at an environment committee meeting in the House this week.

The Minister of State might provide information on that.

The Minister of State can blame whoever he likes for the establishment of Irish Water, but when Fine Gael was in opposition, it stated in its manifesto at the time that a new utility company would be established. It was not determined by the troika, and it certainly was not the policy of Fianna Fáil, because we did not want to see a new utility company established, or a new structure like Bord Gáis put in place. There was a structure for charging at local authority level, through the local councils and the local councillors but of course that was not good enough and a new structure had to be put in place. We see that now as a runaway train with huge costs and an organisation with almost 300 employees. Before it takes in one single cent, it is paying bonuses of 10% on average to each of those employees.

It is a shame. I asked one question of the Minister of State during the debate, and I recall dwelling on it to the point where I felt I was being over repetitive. However, that question remains today. Have any of the staff coming into Irish Water having received lump sum payments and bonuses from either councils, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, or any other organisation? The Taoiseach failed to answer that question in the Dáil when questioned by our party leader, Deputy Martin. The matter needs to be clarified.

It is my understanding that there was approximately €2 million in bonus payments. If it is the case that people received lump sum payments, are now employed by Irish Water and are in receipt of €2 million of bonus payments, it is must be the only organisation in the world where staff are receiving bonus payments before a single cent is transacted. I have never heard of an organisation anywhere in the world where that is allowed. That is allowed under the watch of this Government because it has given the scope to organise, under legislation and under the aegis of Bord Gáis, and to do whatever it wants. The Government has given a quango the power to do whatever it wants. It is a runaway train. The Government has no control over it. We said it here during the debates but the Ministers did not listen. It was rammed through this House and through the Dáil.

There is no public scrutiny. The Minister of State can talk about coming before committees, but the information being provided is selective. At the moment, Irish Water is not subject to freedom of information. The Minister of State may contend that it will be subject to freedom of information, but that is currently not the case. It is currently not subject to parliamentary questions, either written or oral, and is not subject to questioning at Leaders' Questions in the Dáil. That is a disgrace, a shame and after spending €200 million of taxpayers' money, we still do not know what has been achieved, but we know it has gone to cosy consultants who are employed and who are given massive amounts of taxpayers' money.

This is not a new structure. Bord Gáis was chosen, according to the Government, because it already has the expertise and structures in place, but why then has it cost us almost €200 million to establish?

Tá an t-am istigh.

It is disgraceful. It is the disgrace of our time.

There are nine speakers and if everybody goes one minute over time, there will be two or three disappointed people. This debate concludes at 1 p.m. That is not my fault, it is ordered that way. I call on Senator Keane and I ask everybody to please respect the five minute slot.

I welcome the Minister of State and I welcome the opportunity to discuss Uisce Éireann and the setting up of a large new board. I listened to the last speaker expound about what is bad about it, but I have not heard anything as to how it should be done better. It was agreed by the troika and by the last Government that it would be done. We will take away from the negativity.

Uisce Éireann is the new body and it has been tasked with bringing the 34 local authorities together. This is no mean feat to bring 34 authorities together with the aim of reducing costs, generating economies of scale and most importantly, bringing efficiencies to an inefficient service that is not working. There is a 40% leakage of water at the moment. Irish Water has been in the spotlight over the last week, and rightly so. Media and government attention when new bodies are set up is very welcome. Accountability has been shown by the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Hogan, in answering valuable questions before the finance committee and before the environment committee. Before these committees asked those questions, it was stated in this House by the Minister of State that it would come under the Freedom of Information Act. That information was given here in the Seanad and it did not take any Oireachtas committee to find that out.

On 18 December.

Thank you.

Our water supplies are one of our most important national resources. While Ireland has an abundance of water, it is expensive and it costs €1.2 billion per year to run the system. The current service is inefficient. Even at this cost to the taxpayer, the water network has suffered from severe under-investment by previous Administrations. The creation of a national water utility company has many benefits. Most importantly, this new approach will facilitate the doubling of capital investment in the system, resulting in better quality water services and more jobs.

The Minister of State has welcomed the full disclosure by Irish Water of its detailed establishment costs. When we look at figures, they are huge numbers, but I will compare it later with other bodies that have been set up and that cost a lot more. The energy regulator has already deemed most of the projected costs to be reasonable, and it is undertaking to do a more detailed review. I look forward to that more detailed review, and only efficient costs will be allowed in the water budget. Any inefficient costs will have to be clawed back in future from Irish Water, and the regulator will see to that.

The €150 million spent to establish a modern, well run utility, providing water through a single national utility, will yield €2 billion in savings by 2021. I have not heard that mentioned too often. The €150 million investment to set up Irish Water represents just 1% of the cost of providing the water service in the next decade. Alternatively, are we going to keep spending €1 billion in an inefficient way of providing services through the 34 authorities? Colm McCarthy has been very critical on some stages, but he said last week in the Irish Independent that "the suggestion that the Minister for the Environment should resign having failed to 'micro-manage' the new water company is, on a moment's solitary reflection, simply ludicrous". Asking a Minister to micro-manage a system, when accountability is------

Níl ach nóiméad amháin fágtha agat.

The Senator should have supported the amendment to the Order of Business.

The Department, led by the Minister and the Minister of State, are seeking to ensure that the cost incurred will deliver the benefits, ensuring the energy regulator has the wherewithal, the staff and the expertise to ensure that when services are costed properly, and that people will be responsible for any actions they may take.

Establishing Irish Water through Bord Gáis has yielded savings of about €90 million in establishment costs. I welcome the fact that the debate took place last week, and periodical disclosure of this kind should be the norm, as it is statutory. The officials must also appear before committees and I welcome that. We must focus on what we can do with this new body. Some 40% of the current water supply is leaking. There is also the very important matter of the creation of jobs.

We have 80 waste water treatment plants at the moment that are non-compliant. Harvesting rain technology is not off the agenda. We are one of only three countries in Europe that has that option and I want the Minister of State to keep it in mind. Irish Water must ensure that it is charged with responsibility for looking at that as well. With respect to the Chair, I will conclude on that point.

I welcome the Minister of State, who is the only attractive feature of this situation. He is always welcome in this House and his courtesy and friendship towards Members is widely admired.

I do not think anybody called for his retirement either.

Indeed. I propose his time be extended in honour of that.

I am disappointed this body has not been put under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General which would mean a report to the Committee of Public Accounts. It needs to be accountable but it is not. As the Minister of State said, it was considered by the water reform sub-committee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Infrastructure. Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, said it did not receive full Cabinet approval. We put down scores of amendments that would have improved the Bill, a point on which we are ad idem at this stage. We wanted National Consumer Agency representation, we wanted the Competition Authority to look at it, we wanted full Cabinet responsibility, we wanted the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to look at its investment programmes and we wanted local authority scrutiny of it, but none of those proposals were accepted.

Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, admitted the treatment of parliamentary questions by the Department was a mistake. He mentioned commercial sensitives but I do not know what they are. This is a monopoly with the power to tax people on the basis of their consumption of water. Why is the Commission on Energy Regulation involved? Senator Keane quoted from an article by Colm McCarthy entitled, "Watergate scandal without leaked tapes is just a pantomime". He stated:

But if the CER [Commission for Energy Regulation] adopts the indulgent formula used to date for the state-owned energy monopolies, the public could discover that this number has been magicked upwards to €20bn or more. There was no discussion of this critical issue, namely the tolerance for cost-plus regulation of state monopolies, at the Kildare Street panto.

If Senator Keane interprets that as Colm McCarthy being in favour of what is being done, it stretches the use of the English language.

It is about Ministers micromanaging and devolving responsibility.

If the Senator read the full article, she would understand it better.

Why was the Commission for Energy Regulation chosen? It knows nothing about water. It is an extremely inefficient regulator of electricity in that we pay 42% above the European average. Was it because Bord Gáis already had it under its thumb and we would be giving water to an already compliant regulator?

Why is Irish Water considering bonuses when it has hardly started up? Why did the people in Bord Gáis Éireann not read the CVs? Why did it spend millions of euro hiring consultants who advised banks which wrecked this country in 2008? That is a bizarre way to spend public money.

We are now talking about €150 million for start-up, €539 million for meters and €85 million for consultants. Without improving the water of Ireland by one jot, we have probably spent the best part of €800 million. No cost-benefit analysis was done, which we suggested. Belatedly, Irish Water, at the Committee of Public Accounts, referred to a cost-benefit analysis.

The Department has been utterly economical with the truth in the way it has treated this House and the other one and that is why we need this body to be brought under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. We need Cabinet responsibility and we need this body to report to the Committee of Public Accounts. It has been a shambles all the way through. We still do not know why the Commission for Energy Regulation is regulating water. We still do not know what the price of water will be. After all the debates we have had, I think people would actually welcome the Cabinet deciding the price. We still do not know what the so-called generous free allowances will be.

A letter to the editor of The Irish Times stated that this project has turned water into gravy. It is a gravy train and it is a shameful exercise. In my time in the House, I have never had a single letter from a constituent about water, so I do not know what problem the Government was trying to solve.

Mr. Tierney said at the Oireachtas committee that the Government is setting up a new organisation but it is not. My supplier is transferring from Kildare County Council to a new body which is already looking for headquarters and employs 400 in a building apparently rented from a close friend of the Taoiseach. This is a scandal and it could have been prevented if parliamentary control had been allowed, if parliamentary questions had been answered properly in the Dáil and by having a proper debate in the Seanad and by listening to the amendments we tabled.

However, I am afraid we are dealing with social welfare for engineers on a vast scale, with a non-problem and spending a load of money and not doing so in an accountable way. It really turns on its head what every one of us came in here to do in 2011, namely, to reform this country. This is old-style non-accountable waste of public money. It is an inner circle of lawyers, accountants, advisers and so on doing nothing which benefits the citizens of this country. It is a shameful episode.

Irish Water must be placed under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which should have been done at the outset because to date, we have wasted so much money to no effect.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this issue. Unlike some of the previous speakers, I actually spent last Tuesday afternoon at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht at which the chief executive of-----

Are you a member of the committee?

Through the chair, Senator O'Brien.

Allow Senator Landy to contribute, without interruption.

I was asking him if he was a member of the committee.

Senator Landy has only five minutes and the clock is ticking. It is very unfair.

That somebody should compliment himself or herself for going to a committee of which he or she is a member-----

Senator O'Brien can ask those questions during his five minutes.

Senator Landy, without interruption.

Without realising it, Senator O'Brien is paying me a compliment.

During that session, many of the issues raised today were raised and many were answered by the representatives of Irish Water and by Bord Gáis. The word "scandal" was used today and articles in newspapers were referred to. I generally form my opinions based on the people I meet in my everyday life as opposed to journalists or people who write for various publications on a weekly basis.

The scoping document was referred to during the meeting last week. That document outlines on what the particular amounts of money, such as the €44 million to IBM, were spent and whether value for money was achieved. Without that information, it is very difficult for any of us to say whether it is a scandal or otherwise. The committee was told by representatives of Bord Gáis that we would get that document. To answer Deputy O'Brien's question, I am a member of that committee and I am still awaiting that document so that I can analyse whether there was value for money or blatant misuse of money. I respectfully ask the Minister of State to try to ensure that it is provided by Irish Water to the members of the committee and that is made available to Members of both Houses because without that document, we are all speaking in a vacuum, or are blowing hot air.

The word "consultant" drives members of the public daft. They were not driven daft by the misuse of consultants, or by what they do, by this Administration but by the previous Administration's waste of public money on consultants. That should be borne in mind by those pretending to be horrified and who are talking about runaway trains and all types of vehicles.

I questioned the representatives of Irish Water last week on water quality but did not get a satisfactory answer. We were told it would depend on the quality of water as to whether people would be charged. For example, in County Roscommon where 20,000 people have been issued with a boil notice-----

If one is boiling water, one should not be paying for it.

The difficulty is that we do not have clarity on what the level of quality is in that people may experience poor water quality periodically. My water is discoloured for a week after a couple of days rain. In the middle of the summer when there is no rain, I could not say my water is poor quality but I could certainly could say it is in the winter. We need clarity on that issue.

I asked about the supply of water and Mr. Tierney referred me to the next meeting on 11 February but that is not good enough. Last year we saw the damage water shortages in Leinster and the Dublin region had on the tourism industry and the economy of this city.

The Garryhinch project in Portarlington which Bord na Móna is undertaking to provide a water supply for Leinster and Dublin seems to be stalled. There is no progress. Will it be included in the capital investment programme for this year, to be announced in the next couple of weeks? What progress will be made to ensure that the supply of water will be upgraded and guaranteed for the people of Dublin and the Leinster region?

I thank the Senator. His timing was spot on. I call Senator Darragh O’Brien. I will take a half minute from him for his interruption. He has four and a half minutes.

I suppose that is fair. At least I now know that Senator Landy is on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

I welcome the Minister of State. I will cut to the chase. In the perception of the public the establishment of Irish Water has been a mess and the Minister of State needs to fix it. We need to recognise that mistakes have been made. I will not rehash the debate we have had. As we are talking about previous Governments and where they stood, the Labour Party, in its manifesto in 2011, was trenchantly opposed to water charges.

The Senator’s party is great at reading everybody else’s manifesto but it fails to realise what it did.

That does not surprise me because the Labour Party has pretty much broken every commitment in its manifesto already.

People want to know how much they will be charged. The Minister of State needs to get that information out very quickly but the Government is waiting until after the local elections on 23 May. It will not let people know how much they will have to pay. People want to know what their free water allowance will be and how it will be structured. The Minister of State says the decision has not been made but he has a fair idea.

I have a large degree of sympathy for the Minister of State because he is the one who marshalled this Bill through both Houses. We had a very extensive debate here. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, took the Bill from the Minister of State after he had brought it through the Oireachtas. When the proverbial hit the fan the Minister of State was thrown forward to defend the indefensible. That shows how the Minister operates. People want to know how much it will cost, what is the free allowance and why the meters are of a type that customers cannot read. If we want people to conserve water why can they not read their own water usage very clearly?

In respect of the composition of Uisce Éireann, does the Minister of State have any idea how many retired public and civil servants from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or local authorities are employed by Uisce Éireann? Those who have retired from the public service are drawing down a pension and a large lump sum and now have a great well-paid job in Uisce Éireann. What is the average pay of employees in Uisce Éireann? What are their pension entitlements? I raised this during the previous debate on this subject. The Government has brought in public sector defined-benefit style pension arrangements. Will employees of Irish Water be subject to the public service pension levy? I know the answer but this is important.

In respect of the €2 billion that the Government proposes to save, we all agree that there can be efficiencies. Does the Minister of State have a breakdown of this? Does the Minister, Deputy Hogan, have a breakdown? A total of 4,000 staff will be brought in. What is the Government's position on the average bonus of €7,000 per staff member? The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, and others, said it would not be paid but the Taoiseach back-tracked and said that it is a matter for Irish Water. It is not a matter for Irish Water. It is absurd to say that people will get bonuses before they do any work, and the way Irish Water is being established suggests that very few will deserve a bonus. People are concerned about these matters.

Any local authority that did not sign tender documents for projects approved by 31 December will have to wait for Irish Water to decide which projects proceed. This affects every local authority, including that in the Minister of State’s area, County Louth. I am aware of three in the Fingal area. The local authorities were ready to proceed with several of these urgent projects, which were funded. How long will it take Uisce Éireann to decide which capital projects proceed? What oversight interaction will the Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government undertake in deciding what projects go ahead?

My final suggestion is one that I have made before to the Minister of State in an Adjournment debate, namely, scrap the greater Dublin drainage scheme. It was planned to spend over €1 billion on the scheme. Is the greater Dublin drainage scheme now under the control of Uisce Éireann? A total of €19 million has already been spent on a project to create an orbital sewer. Does that now fall under the remit of Uisce Éireann? It probably does. If Uisce Éireann is to assess all these projects it should stop the planning process for that project immediately, as it has stopped the extension to the reservoir in Malahide and the sewerage schemes in Stockhole Lane and Portmarnock, in my own area. Against the best advice, the Government has established Uisce Éireann by hooking it up with Bord Gáis and now we have to live with that. It has to be open when people ask how much they have to pay, what is their free allowance and how will this improve our water infrastructure. What interaction will Ministers and Members have with Uisce Éireann in deciding which projects will proceed and which not? That is not at all clear to me.

I am not a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht but I followed some of the debate last week, and the debate following the establishment of Irish Water. Until last December there were 34 local authorities across the country, which were not connected or co-ordinated on delivery of water services and water treatment. Senator Barrett said that nobody had ever been in touch with him about water. I was a member of a local authority and have been a public representative since 1997. I have a large file of requests from people contacting me about water services, lack of water services and poor provision in their area, specifically about leakages. The water mains rehabilitation programme seems to have been on the shelf in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for 20 years without progressing. That is the legacy this Government inherited, and that is just one problem. It wants to deliver a modern, efficient, reliable water supply. That is what this country needs if it is to move forward.

The horrendous floods in Cork in 2009 showed a stark contrast between the city and the county. There was no interconnection between Cork city and Cork county for water provision. As a result, some areas of the city were left without water for up to three weeks. That is the appalling vista that people live with day-to-day. It is a small insight into what Irish Water will have to deal with. I strongly supported establishing one system to amalgamate all water facilities, to ensure that we have a secure, efficient, reliable supply across the country and Irish Water is the way to do that.

It is important to use Bord Gáis, with its network experience and experience of dealing with customers. Irish Water will have approximately 1.8 million customers, 1.6 million of whom will be domestic users. That will be a challenge for it but it has and will have the expertise to deal with that. The debate we have had over the past two weeks has been very valuable. It has given everybody an insight into how Irish Water operates. Tendering for consultants on the open market was the right route to take. We need to establish exactly where we are in respect of infrastructure and what is needed in order to deliver the system. Whether they represented value for money we do not know but the contracts were awarded through an open tendering process. We have to respect that. There is more to come in this debate. The Commission for Energy Regulation has stated that the costs seem to be appropriate. It will look further into that, this year, 2014.

There will be openness and transparency in this process. Indeed, the Government has given an undertaking that Uisce Éireann will be subject to the freedom of information provisions. We all need to look forward with a view to ensuring our investment in this public utility succeeds in delivering the efficient water system that is so badly needed. A situation where 40% of our costly water supply is leaking into the ground is an absolute disgrace. There have been many years of under-investment in water infrastructure. In fact, we should be grateful to the EU for dragging us, kicking and screaming, to provide some level of investment, particularly in terms of water treatment. In general, however, this is an area that has been totally neglected because it was not visible. There is a great deal of pressure on public representatives to deliver visible improvements, such as investment in road resurfacing, recreational facilities and so on. Investment in water infrastructure has never been high on the agenda.

The establishment of Irish Water is a major achievement. We must offer it our support and work together to ensure it operates efficiently and transparently. It must deliver a water system that is reliable for both domestic users and those who invest in and do business in this country. The availability of a clean water supply should not be an issue for anybody.

Before calling Senator Mullen, I again ask Members to remain within their allocated time in order to accommodate everybody who has indicated. The debate must conclude at 1 p.m.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. There is a sense of outrage among the public in the wake of recent events, as articulated by colleagues. As I mentioned earlier, it is like those in power have learned nothing from all that has gone on in this country in recent years. In fact, the culture of excess and unnecessary spending apparently continues. It is almost as though people did not join the dots between unnecessary spending of public moneys and the sacrifices ordinary people are having to make in order to keep the State going. It is not credible to argue that the Department has put no money into the establishment of Irish Water. After all, the €180 million allocated for that purpose is coming by way of a loan from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. What is that only public money? Moreover, the diminution of the fund will come at a cost to the public.

Many families are wondering whether they will have to pay for exorbitant and unnecessary spending undertaken by Irish Water. What we have here is an expensive monopoly already engaging in waste and lavish overspending, to the disgust of ordinary people. Every overpaid consultant in this situation has been sponsored by families, older people and those struggling to make ends meet. I call on the Government to publish the annual water cost to Irish families immediately. People want to be able to plan ahead in terms of their household budgets. That information will be highly relevant, in particular, to people who are considering buying a house, people who may or may not have access to wells they might wish to repair and avail of in order to save on long-term consumption costs, and prospective home purchasers who might have access to group water schemes.

It is proposed that the charging structures will be designed in such a way as to make large users in agriculture and industry pay and encourage people not to waste water, as we would all agree should be the case. Surely, however, the corollary of this is that people should not have to pay for low-quality water. If consumers are experiencing poor water pressure or poor-quality water, will that be reflected in the costs they will have to bear? Fairness would demand that it ought to be. I understand the first charges will be introduced within 12 months and certainly in time for the new school year and as the planning for Christmas begins. Families deserve transparency in respect of the costs they will face in advance of their being introduced at what is a very expensive time of year. Of course, the local and European elections will be well over at that stage. Will the Minister of State address this question of water quality? Specifically, will consumers who are experiencing a substandard water supply still have to pay the full cost per unit? There needs to be a public consultation, which we have not had to date, regarding water quality, pressure and so on. People need to know whether the watchdog is on their side.

I have heard reports that millions of euro were spent on the services of branding consultants for Irish Water. Will the Minister of State clarify the situation in that regard? A figure of €4 million was mentioned. I cannot understand how a company that will have a monopoly would need to incur any expense in respect of branding costs. I am not claiming the figure I cited is correct. Rather, I am asking the Minister of State to tell us how much Irish Water has spent on branding and, in particular, whether any significant sum has been expended on branding or consultancy around corporate identity. I do not see how such expenditure could be justified in a situation where the company will enjoy a monopoly. I will be very grateful for the Minister of State's reply in this regard and any other information he can supply to address the concerns I have raised.

The Irish Water consultative group strategy document is replete with references to accountability and transparency as between the new utility, its auditors and the Department. It is surely not acceptable to any Member of this or the other House, of any party, that the head of Irish Water should see fit to answer questions on establishment costs on the national airwaves while Members have to wait 18 months for that information.

Everybody would accept that it is not feasible to answer specific questions in regard to the costs in the middle of a tendering process. There is a reasonable concern in regard to commercially sensitive information. The reality, however, is that this whole debacle could have been avoided if there had been some straight talking at the outset. The establishment costs are justifiable, but they should, at the outset, have been published in an itemised fashion and defended. When we are spending public moneys on the establishment of a public utility, there must be full transparency on all associated matters.

Irish Water has my full support for the role it will fulfil. Members will recall the episode of cryptosporidium contamination in the Galway water supply, which had huge effects throughout the city and wider area. Irish Water will be in a position, separate to Government, to source funding to improve water infrastructure throughout the county, similar to the way in which ESB operates in regard to electricity infrastructure. Colleagues may have heard the feature yesterday morning on Sean O'Rourke's radio programme about the lack of water infrastructure in the east Galway village of Kilreekil. Members have referred to other locations throughout the country where people are obliged to boil water. That is not acceptable in this day and age and is indicative of the significant investment that is required. Reference was also made to the 40% level of leakage from the water supply. We have serious issues to deal with and Irish Water is the correct vehicle to address them.

There has been much critical comment, particularly from the Opposition benches, regarding the moneys involved in establishing Irish Water. It is useful to consider the costs involved in establishing other public utilities. In the case of the all-island single electricity market, SEM, which was initiated in 2005, the establishment costs were €256 million. That initiative has led to reduced prices for consumers. The Committee of Public Accounts and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of which I am a member, will continue to pursue these matters and to ensure there is full accountability and transparency with regard to Irish Water. That is our job. The debate that has taken place in recent weeks has been useful in bringing to the fore the need for transparency and accountability. I refer here to both Irish Water and the Department. It is critical that the public is fully informed in regard to the spending of public moneys.

It is symptomatic of the Irish Water debacle that only one hour has been allocated today to discuss the many issues of concern to us. Senators have scope to make only very short contributions.

The House made the decision in that regard, not me.

It was not my decision, I voted against it.

The Senator is eating into the time allocated for his contribution.

I am entitled to use my time in whatever way I wish.

The Senator is allowed to make his point.

My point is that we are not being given the opportunity to properly tease out the various issues. We have been treated to rushed statements from both Government and Opposition Senators. That is symptomatic of the way the Government has dealt with this issue.

With respect, I want to be very clear on this.

The Seanad spent 19 hours-----

On a point of order, the time allocations in respect of debates in this House are decided by it and not by the Government.

Yes, but we were informed the time constraints were to do with the Minister of State's availability.

The Senator should not tar me with that brush.

In any event, the House spent 19 hours debating what became the Water Services Act 2013. I spent the vast majority of that time asking the Minister of State questions. He might remember that I was scolded by Government Senators for asking the same questions over and over again. Those questions related to the transfer of assets from local authorities to Irish Water. In the context of the set-up costs relating to Irish Water, I asked specific questions in respect of salaries, top-up payments and bonuses and I was informed that there would not be any top-up payments or bonuses.

I also asked questions on the cost of water and in respect of what people will be obliged to pay. I did not receive the information I requested and I stated at the time that I would not buy a pig in a poke. I am glad I made that comment because I was in the right. I also stated that I was proud of the fact that I had placed the same questions on the record over and over again, even if I was not receiving answers in respect of them. I also stated that we would be obliged to come back to this matter. I did not think it would be necessary for us to return to it so quickly and that the Minister of State would have to come before the House again in order to answer questions on Irish Water.

It is a scandal that the amount of money involved has been spent on consultants, particularly when we were informed that Irish Water was being established to save money. The company is actually costing us money, particularly when one considers the amount that is, in my view, being wasted on consultants. We were informed that Bord Gáis would oversee matters because it had the expertise necessary to do so. Irish Water has, however, bought in the expertise of consultants, some of which were responsible - as Senator Barrett stated - for bringing down certain banks. People are just scandalised by the waste of money involved and by the fact that in Irish Water we have established a new quango. Consultants have already been paid and bonuses are going to be paid but we still do not know how much the bloody water is going to cost people. The Government still will not provide that information. It is just scandalous that the Government is behaving in this way and that it will not give the people of this State - who know how much money has been wasted - the information they require.

I genuinely believe the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should resign, particularly as he has presided over too many debacles. I am aware that he may well end up being a member of the EU Commission at some point but I am of the view that he should go now because what has happened in this instance is a scandal. While the House engaged in a good debate on the legislation, it was rushed through the Dáil. The Opposition in the Lower House walked out as a result of the amount of time allocated for the debate on it there. The questions we have asked have not been answered to our satisfaction. We have stated as much on numerous occasions and we have been proven right. It is the same old story today. One hour has been allocated for this debate - I know that is not the Minister of State's fault - and, as a result, we have not been given sufficient time to again pose the questions to which I refer. That is another mistake on the Government's part.

In the five minutes available to him, I do not expect the Minister of State to be in a position to answer all of the questions that have been posed. He will not be able to do so. That again proves my point, namely, that we are not giving this issue the time it merits, particularly in light of the debacle which has occurred and the furore among members of the public as a result of the way in which Irish Water was established and the way money has been wasted on consultants.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am concerned about the impact inflation may have on the cost of water in the future. The price of water in Canada has increased by 58% since it made the move we are making. In Denmark, between 1993 and 2004 the price increased by 54%. Is there any guarantee that the same sort of thing will not happen here? I am fully in favour of the concept of charging for water. Anything which comes free of charge tends to be wasted and the danger of water being wasted is very high. The real danger, however, is that the Government will treat water charges as another form of taxation and will use them as a way to extract more money from businesses and members of the public.

Is there an understanding with regard to the costs that obtain in this area? Siemens offered to invest €800 million in a public private partnership relating to installing 1.8 million water meters in Irish homes. The Government turned down that offer and I do not understand why. Perhaps the Minister of State will indicate why it did so. He might also indicate how we can protect citizens from the impact of inflation on water charges, particularly as such an impact has been felt in the UK, the United States, Canada and Denmark. The figures relating to these countries are quite horrific. Those are my concerns and I would like the Minister of State to respond to them.

My officials have indicated that the proposal from Siemens was never actually-----

On a point of order, would it be possible to extend the time for this debate in order to allow the Minister of State to answer the discrete and specific issues raised during the debate?

Given that there is due to be a sos at 1 p.m., I can allow some latitude.

Go raibh maith agat.

I thank Senators for their comments and for the views they have expressed. Most of those currently in the Chamber were present for the debates on the two items of legislation relating to water. I am on record as stating that the best debates on said legislation took place in this House and that the most questions in respect of the various matters under discussion have been raised here. I am happy to come before this House at any time in order to answer questions.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government delegated me to steer both of the items of legislation to which I refer through this and the Lower House. I was also given responsibility for steering through the legislation relating to the household charge. I had no knowledge of or function in respect of the day-to-day issues which are the subject of this debate. When the transcript of this debate is published, I will ask the officials in the Department to send it to Irish Water in order that it might reply directly in respect of all of the questions Senators have posed.

My record in public life, in terms of accountability, transparency and use of the Freedom of Information Act, speaks for itself. I was never shy of using the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. I wish to reiterate something I stated on Wednesday, 19 November last, namely, that the Freedom of Information Act makes any Government Minister, Department or agency wholly accountable in the context of transparency. I also said that I expected the Freedom of Information Act to apply to every aspect of Irish Water from 1 January last. Regardless of whether they are posed by Government or Opposition Members, all questions put to Irish Water must be answered honestly, transparently and openly. Anyone who makes statements to the contrary is completely wrong.

I know it can sometimes be difficult to proceed with freedom of information requests in light of the appeals process, etc. However, it was always our intention - and I always held a strong view in this regard - that Irish Water would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, that its operations would be transparent and that it would be accountable. In that context, I ask Senators to read the speeches I made in respect of the two items of legislation dealing with water. I have always used the words "transparency" and "accountability" in my discussions with the Department and in all of the debates on this matter. Those two concepts provide the answers to Senators' questions. If they do not receive those answers, then the necessary transparency and accountability are not there.

I was given the responsibility of ensuring that there would absolutely be transparency and accountability. My constituents have asked me how they will be able to afford to pay for water, for what they will be charged and whether Irish Water is accountable or whether it is a runaway train. I reiterate that the nub of this debate relates to accountability in respect of charges. I have always been of the view that freedom of information would apply and, therefore, that - despite the fact that people might not immediately obtain direct answers - nothing could be hidden.

I thank Senators for their comments and for the views they have expressed. Most of those currently in the Chamber were present for the debates on the two items of legislation relating to water. I am on record as stating that the best debates on said legislation took place in this House and that the most questions in respect of the various matters under discussion have been raised here. I am happy to come before this House at any time in order to answer questions.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government delegated me to steer both of the items of legislation to which I refer through this and the Lower House. I was also given responsibility for steering through the legislation relating to the household charge. I had no knowledge of or function in respect of the day-to-day issues which are the subject of this debate. When the transcript of this debate is published, I will ask the officials in the Department to send it to Irish Water in order that it might reply directly in respect of all of the questions Senators have posed.

My record in public life, in terms of accountability, transparency and use of the Freedom of Information Act, speaks for itself. I was never shy of using the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. I wish to reiterate something I stated on Wednesday, 19 November last, namely, that the Freedom of Information Act makes any Government Minister, Department or agency wholly accountable in the context of transparency. I also said that I expected the Freedom of Information Act to apply to every aspect of Irish Water from 1 January last. Regardless of whether they are posed by Government or Opposition Members, all questions put to Irish Water must be answered honestly, transparently and openly. Anyone who makes statements to the contrary is completely wrong.

I know it can sometimes be difficult to proceed with freedom of information requests in light of the appeals process, etc. However, it was always our intention - and I always held a strong view in this regard - that Irish Water would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, that its operations would be transparent and that it would be accountable. In that context, I ask Senators to read the speeches I made in respect of the two items of legislation dealing with water. I have always used the words "transparency" and "accountability" in my discussions with the Department and in all of the debates on this matter. Those two concepts provide the answers to Senators' questions. If they do not receive those answers, then the necessary transparency and accountability are not there.

I was given the responsibility of ensuring that there would absolutely be transparency and accountability. My constituents have asked me how they will be able to afford to pay for water, for what they will be charged and whether Irish Water is accountable or whether it is a runaway train. I reiterate that the nub of this debate relates to accountability in respect of charges. I have always been of the view that freedom of information would apply and, therefore, that - despite the fact that people might not immediately obtain direct answers - nothing could be hidden.

Further, irrespective of how much Irish Water spends, whether €200 million or €2 billion, it is my view that all of its costs must be included in the submission to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

I appreciate Senator Barrett's point and his view on the Commission for Energy Regulation being given an oversight role in respect of Irish Water. I also understand that he is not arguing against a regulator being given a regulatory function in this regard. I believe his point is that the regulator should not be the Commission for Energy Regulation. The regulator is responsible for doing due diligence on each and every cost incurred by Irish Water, all of which must be proofed and found to be germane to the issue and fair. Under no circumstances could Irish Water be described as a runaway train in the context of accountability because the Commission for Energy Regulation will hold it accountable.

The issue of the regulator arose in our previous debate. Before that debate had concluded, I requested a meeting with the Commission for Energy Regulation and that office will be able to tell Senators what issues I raised at the meeting. I brought to the attention of the regulator all the concerns raised in the House by Members from all sides and asked how it would be accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of the charges it will allow for water. I asked whether the office was prepared to appear before a committee of the Oireachtas at any time, which is a critical issue, and I was assured that it is willing to come before the Oireachtas before any decision is made to discuss what is or is not an allowable expense. That is the principle governing the way in which the Commission for Energy Regulation will operate. The heart of the matter is that if a regulator is given an oversight role, it must act in a transparent and accountable manner and set out the reasons it proposes to allow certain charges to be levied. While the Government will not interfere with the commission's decisions, it must be accountable in respect of the manner in which it takes decisions.

The Commission for Energy Regulation will publish its proposal on charges. As I stated in a previous debate, its proposal will then be debated in both Houses and Members of all parties and none will be able to express their views on it. The regulator is not required to agree with Members' views but it must listen to them. I reiterate that there will be transparency and accountability through due process. That is an issue I have been concerned about throughout.

Senator Barrett asked what is the problem with Irish Water and why we cannot continue as at present. I am putting words in the Senator's mouth in saying he effectively asked what is wrong with what is currently in place. Today, 18,000 homes are affected by boil water notices and other restrictions. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that remedial action is required on supplies where there are risks and cover almost 1 million people. As such, there are risks to the water supply of 1 million people or 16% of supplies. These must be improved and they include some of the large supplies, including parts of the water supply to Dublin, specifically Callow Hill tunnel in Vartry, the Stillorgan reservoir, and the Cork city water supply. A Senator from Galway spoke about the risks to the supply in that county which were addressed in the past. There are significant supply constraints in Dublin where daily demand amounts to 96% of available supply. The margin in Dublin is, therefore, 4% when it should be at least 15%. We must address that issue.

Nationally, 40% of water is unaccounted for, which means that 40% of the water treated, stored and pumped does not reach end users. This is because the pipes cannot carry the water or it is wasted. Irish Water is being established for these reasons.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

I want to ask him about the €4 million spent on branding and corporate identity.

I have given considerable latitude.

I am in the Acting Chairman's hands. If she wants me to sit down, I will do so.

The Minister of State may briefly respond.

I am in the business of accountability. My job is to be responsible to the Dáil and Seanad but I am to be shut up, that is fine, although I am not about to shut up. I want to make three further points because it is very important to send out these messages.

It is not that I want the Minister of State to shut up but that I must impose the rules of the House.

First, 36% of wastewater plants did not meet effluent standards in 2011. An EPA analysis shows that 570 incidents on licensed plants were reported in 2012. These are significant operational issues which must be addressed.

We know about the problems; it is the solutions we are worried about.

I did not interrupt the Senator. I wish to make one final point. The European Commission has launched a pilot infringement in respect of eight wastewater plants. Let us be clear-----

I would like to hear the Minister of State's view on the €4 million paid to Ernst & Young.

May I finish, please? I believe in transparency and accountability. It was my responsibility to bring the legislation establishing Irish Water through both Houses, although I was not responsible for the timetables. The legislation will ensure accountability and transparency and the Freedom of Information Act will apply to Irish Water. I will ask that all questions raised by Senators in this debate be sent to Irish Water for a specific response.

Does the Minister of State have an opinion on the €4 million paid to Ernst & Young for branding? That is a simple question.

On the point the Senator raises, I will outline what I believe should happen. Those who spent the sum in question are accountable. Mr. John Tierney must come before the committees, as he has done, and go through every single item of expenditure.

Is €4 million too much or too little?

I did not interrupt Senator Mullen.

Is it right or wrong? Was it justified?

Members should go through every item of expenditure by Irish Water.

I thank the Minister of State. He has indicated he is prepared to remain for longer and endeavoured to answer as many questions as possible in the short time available to him.

I am enforcing the rules the House voted on this morning.

It is terribly unfortunate that the Minister of State is not being afforded sufficient time to answer specific questions.

I propose that the debate be extended until 1.20 p.m. to allow the Minister of State to conclude.

I am happy to impose any agreement reached in the House. Is the proposal agreed? Agreed.

On a point of order, if the scoping document which provided the basis for Irish Water commissioning consultants and details all of the expenditure-----

That is not a point of order.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure that document is made available to us.

Please allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption.

All the questions Senators have raised, specifically those raised by Senator Mullen with regard to expenditure, will be answered in the Oireachtas. There can be nothing hidden and full transparency must apply in respect of all of these costs. The Freedom of Information Act should apply to each and every cost from the moment the first penny was spent.

The national water supply system is significantly and seriously challenged. The establishment of Irish Water is the way to address this challenge. I stress again, notwithstanding all the difficulties Senators have with Irish Water, that there is transparency and there will be accountability. That is my only interest in this regard. Accountability must apply to all expenditure of Irish Water and under the legislation Members are entitled to and will be provided with all relevant information. I have spent a great deal of time on the legislation because I want it to be right. I will not stand over something that is not transparent or accountable.

Two questions were asked in the Dáil in November, one by Deputy Barry Cowen and another by Deputy Kevin Humphreys.

Both Deputies asked specifically about the set-up costs of Irish Water. I said in my answer that I had asked the Department to forward those questions to Irish Water for direct reply. If those questions had been answered by Irish Water, in line with the instruction I gave the Department, we would not have had this problem at all. I received a letter yesterday from the Secretary General apologising for the Department's oversight.

That was contradicted in the committee.

The Senator can contradict whatever she likes. Whatever she thinks is fine. I am telling her what was in the e-mail I received yesterday. She can contradict what she likes, but she cannot contradict the fact that this is what happened. Deputies Cowen and Kevin Humphreys were telephoned to explain that this should not have happened. The question of how parliamentary questions are answered is a separate issue. I might point to what the answer says will happen but that does not necessarily mean it will happen. That issue has to be addressed. Ultimately, I just want people to be happy that there is transparency and accountability regarding the charges and that they are seen to be fair. I assure the House that there will be a free allowance and that all the other issues - medical issues have been brought to my attention by many people - will be dealt with. At every stage of this process, everybody here will have an opportunity to talk about it and ask questions. I am happy to do my job, which is to be accountable. I am hiding from nothing because I have nothing to hide. I am happy that this debate has been important. I thank the House for providing extra time because it was important.

How will the capital projects work into the future?

The Senator referred to the orbital sewer.

I am asking about that project and other projects.

The Senator specifically mentioned the Dublin outer sewer. One of the big problems in Dublin is the outer orbital sewer.

That is where all the money went.

I understand that this wastewater proposal, with which I am not entirely au fait, was made by Dublin City Council and the other local authorities in the relevant area. All of those issues transferred to Irish Water on the appointed day, which was 1 January last. The personnel in Irish Water would have to answer the questions about that project. The Senator also asked about contracts. If a contract was not signed before 1 January, there is no contract because the local authority does not have that responsibility any more.

I thank the Minister of State.

Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.05 p.m.