Water Services: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:


- the roll-out of 530,000 water meters across the country to date with an additional 500,000 meters due to be installed by 2016;

- two thirds of water bills will be for meters which will remain unused until 2019; and

- the overall costs of €540 million borrowed from the National Pension Reserve Fund, NPRF, to finance the implementation of water metering;

further noting:

- the impending charges of €25 million due on the outstanding loan to the NPRF in September 2015 and ongoing repayments on the loan; and

- that water meters will be redundant for the first five years of their 15 year average life span;


- the confused series of U-turns on water policy by the Government that will leave water meters unused until 2019 at the earliest;

calls on the Government:

- to clarify impending legislation on water services promised in the legislative programme for the spring-summer session in 2015; and

- to set out its plan and investment details for the renewal of the water meter network from the late 2020s when the current system becomes obsolete.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this issue. There are two reasons for tabling the motion. First, a water services Bill is listed on the legislative programme. We are very anxious to know what possible U-turn this Bill will hold for us considering the previous ten. Then there are the substantial reports in recent months in terms of the obsolete nature of the water meters in time. As the Minister of State will be aware, my position and that of my party is that we are opposed to water charges. Since we have established this, we have had the ten U-turns and the various forms of adjustments that the previous Minister, the current Minister and the Minister of State have made to the debacle which are our water charges, despite the fact that we have outlined many times in the House that people cannot afford an additional charge at this time and the many arguments put forward by all sides of the House to have the Government cease plans in this regard.

We have spent €540 million on installing meters in the ground which it has been indicated will be obsolete and will cost €60 to bring up to date within a 15-year period. That makes debacles of the past such as electronic voting machines worth €50 million pale into insignificance when one considers this kind of waste. The other amount mentioned was €170 million between the set-up costs and the consultants' fees which were hidden when the former Minister misled the other House when questioned by Deputy Barry Cowen who asked what the cost would be and was told it would be around €10 million. We now know that the cost is €170 million. In total, the expenditure of Government amounts to about €710 million.

The managing director, Mr. Tierney, considers that €2.3 billion is required for investment in the water infrastructure throughout the country in the next six or seven years. If we had used our existing structure, that is, the local authorities throughout the entire country, and employed no extra expensive consultants and no new multinational figurehead company to employ all the people from other sectors who are on pensions and so on and who are coming in to the work for the private sector, 30% of the work would have been delivered already. Given that we would have had €700 million to spend, we would have delivered throughout the country by means of the roll-out of local authority water services plans, as was done in the context of water upgrades in Sligo town, for example, which was done by the local authority during the period. Instead we wasted the €700 million, which has been admitted to by the Government with all the U-turns and with the reports that €540 million has been wasted on meters that will not be fit for purpose within a 15 years and another €60 per meter will be required.

In the meantime we have had other reports by the Environmental Protection Agency which state that of the 856 water treatment plants throughout the country, 530 are in need of upgrade. Instead of doing that through a local authority structure which was working in the context of upgrading infrastructure, albeit at a less than desired pace and number, we have wasted all this money. The question is when we are going to have any of the upgrades that have been slated throughout the country? I can only give examples in County Sligo where we have had the necessary upgrade to the sewage treatment plants in Grange, Tubbercurry and Strandhill. Tubbercurry, which is the second county town, Strandhill, a large urban area of more than 1,400 people, and Rosses Point, with a somewhat smaller population, are all under the authority of Irish Water, the quango that has cost €700 million.

They are now going to have no money to invest because we have wasted it all on employing them and putting useless meters in the ground that are not going to be used until 2019, after which time they will have very little lifespan left.

When are these projects, for example those three in Sligo, going to proceed? I know what is going to happen. If I write to the Minister of State or to the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, in a couple of weeks, I will get back what we have all been getting for years. It will be like those parrot-like responses from the HSE in the context of health, that "Under the 2004 Health Act" - which was a disgrace - "the CEO of the HSE is now responsible for that issue, so I have sent your request to him for consideration." That is what we will be sent when it comes to the Granges, Tubbercurrys and Strandhills of the whole country. The Minister will be saying, "As the Deputy is aware, under the 2013 Water Services Act, the Minister has no responsibility in this area" any more - because we abdicated that, threw the money away - "so we are going to pass on your request."

I am not quite sure to whom the request will be passed on because there are now three organisations. We have the board of the overall company and then we have the board of Irish Water and the board of Bord Gáis and everybody else. The Government is going to pass the buck. It is going to do a Pontius Pilate and say, "Send it on to Irish Water and they will let you know." Irish Water will write back and say:

Sorry, we do not have the money because the Government did not make it. We are paying ourselves big salaries and spent €700 million on consultants and water meters to throw into the ground and we have no money to upgrade.

The people of Tubbercurry, Strandhill and Grange can sing for it because the then Minister, former Deputy Hogan, was in such a rush to get out to Brussels that he did not give it the appropriate thought and consideration. He did not listen to anybody in his own party, in the Dáil or in the Seanad and set up a system that, according to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, yesterday, left the Labour Party trying to clean up the Fine Gael messes of the past year.

There is collective responsibility. The whole coalition is responsible. There is €700 million down the drain. The poor people of Sligo. I just gave three examples in my county, I am sure we all have three, four, five or six examples in other counties. Places like Roscommon are on boil notices, I saw a programme about it during the week, it is not acceptable. It has been going on for years. I saw a lady in Boyle, County Roscommon, on the news the other evening, or was it "Prime Time", saying it seems to be going on forever. She cannot brush her teeth or do anything.

No doubt the Minister of State will say this is why we have to charge for water. I put it to him that this is not why we have to charge for water. This is what we have to do because we threw €700 million down the drain. As is so often the case, we did not apply the necessary thought and did not use the infrastructure we had in place. We had to go off, and despite the then Minister, former Deputy Hogan, telling us at the time he was going to spend €10 million on consultants, we had to spend €170 million on the set-up costs for Irish Water to find out how to do things. We did it all back to front and upside down and wasted €700 million or €800 million of the people's money. What are we going to do about it? By John Tierney's own admission as managing director of Irish Water, we need to invest €2.3 billion in our network throughout the country and so say all of us. As I said, of the 856 water treatment plants, 530 are below standard. How many of them could have been brought up to standard by the €800 million and by the directors of service, the area engineers and the water services employees in each local authority in the country? Quite a few, I would put to the Minister of State.

I notice that there is a Sinn Féin amendment to our motion which advocates the abolition of Irish Water. During the course of the debate we will consider whether we would support that. This is the Fianna Fáil position. Sinn Féin has changed its position, obviously, but we welcome the fact that it is now in that camp also. Fianna Fáil believes in abolishing this charge at this time. We believe in putting a new delivery model in place which takes advantage of the one that was working, although not in every instance, the one that was working nationally, the template that we had. We want to use those professionals, those people with the local knowledge, those engineers who knew where the problems were in Waterford, Kilkenny, Cavan, Wexford and all the other counties, and give them additional assistance if they need it. We want to suspend water charges. We are not in a position to afford water charges at this time. They are even not worth paying, considering the EPA warnings, not least in terms of the water treatment plants but also in terms of the amount of lead----

What we need is water infrastructure for the 21st century, but instead we threw €800 million of the people's money down the drain in setting up an unnecessary quango. Frankly, whoever is responsible for advocating spending €540 million of the people's money on putting meters in the ground that are going to be obsolete in 15 years, should not be employed by this State. It is a damning indictment of the ineptitude and incompetence of those overseeing Irish Water and the Government and those associated with it should be ashamed.

By next September, a further €25 million bill will accrue to the people in terms of the loan that has to be repaid. At this very late stage, the Government should admit failure, say how much we have gotten this wrong and move to abolish the water charges and the metering programme. It should revert immediately to a new delivery model to take advantage of the local authorities throughout the country. The Government should begin to resource them to do the work they know how to do instead of spending the €800 million we have wasted in the past 12 to 18 months. That money could have paid for 30% of the work that Dr. Tierney has rightly pointed out is needed in terms of investing in infrastructure.

I second the motion. During his contribution, Senator Marc MacSharry outlined the debacle which has transpired from the fallout of Irish Water. He identified the money which has been spent and effectively wasted, and which will be wasted over the next four years. If the Government were to step back from where it is at the moment with a clean sheet, I do not think it would do what it has done. The establishment of Irish Water was structurally wrong and it was wrong from strategic, economic, fairness, equality and governance points of view. The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, could do the State some service today by acknowledging this. Whatever way this is dressed up or justified, the structural manner in which Irish Water was established - on an ad hoc basis with various U-turns as are identified in the motion - showed a complete lack of strategic planning by the Government and by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It is a failed entity and a failed piece of work and it is a bad day in office for the Government which will haunt this country and the generations to come long into the future.

The OECD maintains that if meters are installed, for every 1% increase in price there is a 0.4% saving on water consumption. What the Government has done is an unholy mess. First, it went forward with a plan to install meters, spending €540 million as Senator Marc MacSharry has said. The meters will cost an additional €60 million to upgrade in future years. Then the Government decided it was not going to actually use the meters until at least 2019; what, therefore, is the purpose behind an expenditure of €540 million up-front? This investment plan has 500,000 meters installed with a contract to install an additional 500,000 meters using Siteserv, a company that was awarded the contract by the then Minister, former Deputy Phil Hogan. What is the purpose of that investment? By 2019, taking the 500,000 meters that are currently in the ground, a third of those meters' lifespan will be expended but they will not have served any purpose. Can the Minister of State outline how that represents value for money to the taxpayer? Who, in his view, is going to pay for it? We know that the National Pensions Reserve Fund is paying for it, but that is borrowed money.

Who is paying for it? The Minister is not paying for it, Fine Gael is not paying for it and the Labour Party is not paying for it but they have asked the citizens to pay for it. Bad economic planning and bad strategy by the Government have resulted in the consumer having to pay money just to fund the installation of meters that will not be used until 2019. How does that fulfil criteria for water conservation and water pricing? It does not fulfil either of those basic criteria.

The basic rules of value for money within the public service have been thrown out the window. Value for money is determined by using efficiency, effectiveness and economy of scale in the public sector. It is difficult to examine and measure but in this case value for money was simply thrown out the window. There is no value for money. It is an unholy mess to spend €750 million of taxpayers' money on a quango which will deliver nothing, and on pipes that will rust in the ground until such time as Government policy is changed to allow them to be used. That is not strategic planning or good governance. If a school board of management operated in such a manner the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister for Education and Skills would step in and take control. Perhaps it is time someone else took control of the mess the Government has created in regards to Irish Water. It is an absolute disgrace that future generations are expected to pay for the mess made by the Department and Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The expenditure of €2.3 billion identified by Senator marc MacSharry has not been addressed because no extra money is being expended on infrastructure. In fact, since the Government took office in 2011, over €400 million has been spent on the improvement of water network infrastructure. In 2014, €296 million was expended on infrastructural improvements of the water network. How is that progress? It is not progress.

Serious questions must be answered. I appreciate that changes have been made but they have not gone far enough. Irish Water needs to be disbanded as it is not fit for purpose. The money has been squandered so one must cut one's losses. The project established is an absolute disgrace and fulfils no economic value for money as defined in any textbook that I am aware of.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after ‘That Seanad Éireann’ and substitute the following:


- the establishment of Irish Water as a long-term strategic investment project to deliver the necessary water services infrastructure and quality of services required to meet statutory compliance and demographic needs; and

- the view that metered charging is the fairest form of water charging with benefits in proper management of this vital resource;


- that the Programme for Government provides for the introduction of a fair funding model to deliver a clean and reliable water supply which will involve the installation of water meters in all households;


- the enactment of the Water Services Act 2014 which provides clarity and certainty and ensures that water charges are affordable for customers;

- the fact that metered usage under the charging regime can lead to a lower charge when compared to the relevant capped charge;

- the fact that the installation of meters is helping to find leaks, thereby improving water conservation;

- the progress with the roll-out of the domestic metering programme being delivered by Irish Water with over 540,000 meters installed to date, supporting some 1,300 jobs;

- the fact that Irish Water maximised the delivery of the domestic metering programme in 2014 which resulted in an increase in meter installations of 35% over and above the end-2014 target of 400,000 indicated to the Commission for Energy Regulation; and

- the indications that progress remains on track for the installation of 1.1 million meters by end 2016.”

I welcome the Minister. Prior to Christmas we had lengthy debates on water; I thought, therefore, that something new and imaginative would come from the Opposition side today, but all I have heard is more of the same. I expected something new, but I did not get it.

A bit like the people after the general election.

I did not interrupt the Senator. The Government is continuing with this progressive water programme. It outlines how the Government will ensure, as a priority, that we have safe, clean and adequate water supply that will serve the country's needs for years to come. It should have been done during the years of the Celtic tiger, but instead people have boil water notices and must buy water.

Uisce Éireann was established to merge 34 local authorities together into one national service provider with the aim of reducing cost, generating economies of scale and increasing efficiency. I acknowledge that we tried to do too much too fast in the beginning. It took the Scottish authorities ten years to do what we did in ten months. That is where a big problem arose but that has now been corrected.

A single utility will yield a saving of €1.1 billion in operating costs in the next seven years. Everything that needs to be done cannot be done in a day. For example, it was originally projected in local authority estimates that the Ringsend treatment plant in Dublin would cost €350 million, but Irish Water has stated, and it has been agreed, that the upgrade will cost €180 million which includes over €70 million for retrofitting. That means Irish Water will save us €170 million on that one upgrade of the Ringsend treatment plant and thus provides value for money. Such a saving should be acknowledged since Irish Water was established.

To ensure there is a customer-centred focus going forward the Government has committed to establishing a public forum on a statutory basis to ensure everybody can make an input on water provision. I ask the Minister to ensure that the measure is worked on straightaway and that it is established.

The Government could not invest money in the bad situation we found ourselves in and it had to provide €600 million off balance sheet for water.

The Government created a quango that cost €800 million.

I have heard lots of people say we should not charge for this and that, but I have not heard one person say how we will provide the €800 million that this country needs to borrow every month for health, education and every other service. In order to keep matters off balance sheet, investment was important. Do we want the troika back? Perhaps Opposition Senators do but we do not.

It would do a better job of it.

Plus €170 million was spent on consultants.

That is one way of inviting them back in.

The original number of meters to be installed was 450,000 but now 552,000 meters have been installed. That means Irish Water has surpassed the projected estimate for meters. Let us remember that installation staff had to work in very difficult circumstances. They were stopped on occasion though not very often. I congratulate Irish Water on installing so many meters. It did not do everything right, but it is getting things right now.

I will now discuss lead in water. Last night I watched a television programme and heard people from Tullamore, Birr and Roscommon complain about lead in water.

Lead in water was an issue when I was a member of South Dublin County Council. The problem should have been corrected ages ago.

Affordability is the most important issue. The Minister has ensured improvements will be made in every statement he has made. The Government has listened and now the €100 conservation grant will help people to conserve water. There is also a €160 charge which means it will cost just €1.15 per week or €3 for a couple. Charges will be capped at €1.85 per 1,000 litres of water supplied and €3.70 for 1,000 litres of water and wastewater removed.

That will not cover the half of it.

There was uncertainty but now people know where they stand. I agree that they should not have been left in an uncertain position but now there is certainty.

As many as 800,000 households, or 60% of the population, have registered with Irish Water and I encourage everybody to register. If one does not register, whether one is a customer of Irish Water, but has a well or septic tank, one will receive €100. Affordability is an issue. With the tax cut announced in the budget it means people will be €236 better off now than they were this time last year.

The next issue I shall discuss is leaks. Meters are good because they detect leaks.


Irish Water uses meters to ensure it can correct leakage. As much as 49% of water in Ireland goes down the Suwannee and water meters will help to correct the situation. Meters also help people to conserve water.

It will plug the hole at a cost of €540 million.

Responsible citizens can undercut the cap because one can save money by looking at one's meter. I encourage people who have meters-----

One cannot save money on a fixed charge.

Yes, one can undercut the cap.

As regards the lifespan of meters, it is pie in the sky and I do not know from where the idea came. There is a guarantee given with every bit of software and hardware that is created. The company that supplies the meters will guarantee it if it goes out of action in a certain amount of time.

There are meters in England that had a 15-year guarantee, but they are 25 to 30 years in existence. Households here do not have to pay the charge. The budget for the maintenance of meters exists or it will do. Every type of meter must be replaced at some stage. That has been budgeted for and it will be done.

There will be no charge on the household, but Senator Marc MacSharry loves to stir it.

I am only asking the question.

He will not whitewash the people on this isue because when they know their meter will be fixed if it goes out of action, they will say it is good. If one's washing machine goes out of action, one must buy a new one. It is not guaranteed for life.

If one has a washing machine.

One will get a new meter if it goes out of action.

Quite apart from the waste of money of installing meters which are not required and will not be required for at least five years, by which time they will probably be obsolete, I dispute the fact they will tell us whether there are leaks. It is a load of rubbish.

I am informed that the people installing these meters are not qualified plumbers. It is a serious issue if we have people working on utilities who are not qualified. I have for the Minister of State's inspection photographs of what is happening during the installation of Irish Water meters. I would like the Minister of State to tell me, because the Department is responsible for the Health and Safety Authority, whether the contractors have carried out risk assessments on all sites on which they are working. Have they prepared and implemented a safety statement, as required by law in all workplaces? Is there effective safety consultation with employees and members of the public with respect to work sites where water meters are being installed? Is a safety representative on site, as is required at all sites where work is taking place on water meters? Is a form AF2, which is required under health and safety legislation, at each work site? Is a process in place to warn the public in each work area of the danger associated with scald risks due to water works? Some of us may have experienced having a shower when a washing machine cuts in and suddenly the water goes from lukewarm to scalding. Is a process in place to inform members of the public that it is likely the water will be cut off outside their door and that it may affect a second property on the same site? Are arrangements in place for pedestrian access in all work locations? If the Minister of State looks at the photographs which I will give him before he goes-----

The Senator cannot display documents in the House.

The Senator can present them to the Minister of State afterwards.

I will present them to him afterwards, because in them we can see that absolutely no provision is made for pedestrian access at these work sites. Front doors of houses are blocked. I have photographs of fences erected across the front door of a house because a water meter is being installed. This is ridiculous.

I have witnessed works taking place in estates throughout the country where no traffic management is in place but large trucks with mixed concrete, sand and various other materials are at the work site. Are all work sites fully compliant with respect to workplace signposting? If the Minister of State drove around the parts of this city where water meters are being installed, he would find the signage is very poor. As it has not been secured, it is available and obvious all of the time. With regard to public access and facilities for disabled people, the photographs I will produce for the Minister of State will show him that ramps installed outside houses for public access are highly unsafe. I am required to have a ramp at my house for one of my relations and I have seen what goes wrong if a ramp is not properly installed and not secured.

My next question may not be for the Department but it will probably finish up there. This country is notorious for liability with regard to public accidents. If somebody is injured, who will pick up the tab for it? I have photographs for the Minister of State of situations where entire footpaths are blocked and there is no access for pedestrians along the road and no provision for access along the roads.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Marc MacSharry, on putting in, at a massive cost to the Exchequer, meters which will not be required for another five years. I appreciate what the Government is trying to do. The Minister of State and I have communicated - I appreciate he is genuine in what he is trying to do - but I am deeply concerned that the work practices engaged in by the cowboy operators - I am afraid that is all I can call them - working on behalf of Irish Water and the State are highly questionable.

They are fellow trade unionists. That is disgraceful.

I am sorry, but take a look at the photographs. I have sent the Senator the photographs and he has seen them. Coming from his background, Senator Denis Landy is aware of work practices. I am sorry he finds it disgraceful but at the end of the day the practices do not comply with the Health and Safety Authority's rules. If one cannot comply with the rules, one should tidy up the operation. Somebody somewhere will be liable and I ask the Minister of State to look into it. Where the Health and Safety Authority guidelines are not observed to the letter of the law, all works should be ceased until they are observed.

I formally second the amendment to the motion.

It does not need to be seconded.

I bow to the Acting Chairman's knowledge.

In an interview, Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice of Fianna Fáil stated he does not have a problem paying a reasonable amount of money for water; that the amount being charged is very fair as it is quite a low amount of money; and that as the money must come from somewhere, the idea some people have that we can have every service and pay for nothing is not reasonable. The councillor is well known to some of my colleagues on the other side of the House. His views are very reasonable, considering that in his area of Roscommon up to 10,000 people were on boil water notices. This is being resolved by the Government and the actions of Irish Water.

The water meters being installed, contrary to what the motion states, are robust and will last for up to 25 years. They will last in excess of meters installed by the gas company or the ESB. More than 500,000 meters have already been installed and much play has been made in the motion about the cost of replacing them after 15 years, which is incorrect, as it will be between 20 and 25 years. The maintenance cost based on the running of the company will be 0.1% of the annual budget. For any utility company, 0.1% is not, as has been stated, an excessive figure or too much. It is a very reasonable figure if one looks at similar utilities in this country and throughout Europe.

The Irish Water legislation which went through the House on 21 December did not address U-turns by the Government, as outlined in the motion, but rather concerns expressed by the public day to day to people such as me, the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, who lives quite close to me, and other Oireachtas Members based in urban parts of the country. It set about reducing the costs, which we were told by our Fianna Fáil colleagues would be approximately €700 per household. It also set about dealing with the issue of PPS numbers, and at 4.45 p.m., at a briefing which I noted was not attended by any of our colleagues who tabled the motion, I was informed by Irish Water that by the end of February all the PPS numbers in written format would be destroyed by the regulator.

All voice messages received will be dealt with in the subsequent month. The method of payment, which was a major concern for the people, was addressed in the Bill we dealt with before Christmas. A conservation grant is being introduced to assist households to reduce the use of water by installing water butts, etc. I have been informed by Irish Water that more work on this is in the pipeline. Quite clearly the public confusion, stirred up in many cases by the Opposition, has been removed by the Bill we put through the House in December. I have listened to the contributions from the Opposition. I forgave some of them when they spoke on the Bill at 3 a.m. in December, but to be making a similar contribution at 5 p.m. today is a bit hard to swallow.

The truth is always the truth no matter what time it is.

The details of the investment by Irish Water have already been explained ad nauseam at this stage. The problems that were outlined were brought to the attention of Irish Water and were dealt with in an open and transparent way by the assets manager of Irish Water, Mr. Jerry Grant, on radio this week. Some 120 plants need to be upgraded, including the plant in Roscommon, which I mentioned. Priority will be given to the plants in areas that are on boil water notices and some 20 water supplies must be upgraded. Some €2.3 billion is necessary to build up the network between now and 2021. We currently have 978 sources of water and that number has to be reduced to avail of economies of scale. As of 4.50 p.m. today, more than 1 million people have registered with Irish Water. Clearly that is indicative of the views of the people. People are registering in their thousands on a daily basis. They have got the clarity they needed from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and his Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, in this House during the debate of more than 20 hours. They are satisfied in the main and will register and qualify for grant assistance for conservation. They will pay their bills.

However, a number of issues must be clarified, namely, the relationship between tenants and landlords and I ask the Minister of State to comment on that in his response. The other issue is housing estates that have not been taken in charge by the local authority and effectively remain as private property. Many of these estates are entangled with cowboy developers who have gone to Australia and other places or are in NAMA. We are in a situation where the people living in these housing estates are living in private property. In some cases these householders are fed up to the teeth with the way the estate has been left and they do not want meters installed. This issue must be clarified. With respect, I ask the Minister to address this issue today.

People were frightened by the Fianna Fáil Party's assertion that they would be paying €700 per household in water charges. We have dealt with the issues.

The Government has not dealt with it.

In the main, as I said, most people are satisfied with the outcome. There always will be people who will complain.

I reject the allegation of cowboy operators. As far as I am concerned, the people doing this work are qualified to do it. If there were issues with health and safety, that is the role of the Health and Safety Authority and these issues should be reported to it and, if needed, investigations should be conducted. Standing up in this Chamber, showing photographs of people and situations is only looking for media attention.

Come on, Senator, spare me.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey. The Fianna Fáil Party's position on Irish Water from day 1 has been vindicated. The Government has introduced ten U-turns since charges came into effect on 1 October 2014. The Government is making up water policy as it goes along as shown by the fact that this legislation was removed bizarrely from Deputies' post boxes only two days before this debate due to last minute changes. The expenditure of €540 million on water meters will be wasted for another five years, while another €25 million in further interest payments and maintenance fees on the loan is due by September 2015. This is money down the drain. Meters cost €450 per household. For a family home this means the first three years of charges will be spent on paying off the cost of the meter. For a single adult household, it will take seven years to pay it off. The new regime is cooking the books to meet the EUROSTAT test. Some €60 million of Irish Water spending has now been shifted onto the local government fund, effectively robbing county councils of funding. This is one of the main reasons Irish Water was set up.

The original principles of water conservation put forward in the debate have now been completely abandoned. A flat charge will apply until at least 2019. Irish Water will not invest an extra cent in infrastructure. More than €530 million has been spent on water meters that will only last 15 years and will rust in the ground before costing at least €60 million to be replaced. Almost 500,000 meters have been installed to date with another 500,000 meters contracted to be installed. These water meters will not be used until 2019 at the earliest and judging by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan's, comments possibly later.

Ministers who fell over themselves explaining the need for water conservation investment have now forgotten about these ideas. In a further blow to the already tattered reputation of Irish Water, revelations around the €100 million increase in the estimated cost of water meters raises further questions. The entire set up of Irish Water should be subjected to an examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Much of the €172 million start up costs for Irish Water has also been completely misspent with water meter reading and billing apparatus now rendered useless.

At a time of financial hardship with a major housing crisis and creaking water infrastructure, the Government chose to invest more than €500 million on a metering system that will not be used now for at least another five years. This is one of the most scandalous examples of waste of money in the history of the State. Having once emphasised the importance of water metering, the Government is rowing back on the stated goals of its policy in a desperate attempt to keep public anger at bay. The tragedy of the situation is the complete lack of political understanding of managing a project. They showed their lack of experience by having a very short timeline for its delivery. As the former Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has admitted, the Government responded to EU pressure to deliver the project quickly. It takes time and patience to drill down into the management of the plan to make for its successful delivery.

Fianna Fáil policy is to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges pending a full review of the policy. This latest U-turn underlines the complete mess this Government has made of our most important natural resource. Unlike the economics of Sinn Féin policy or a complete lack of alternatives by the anti-austerity grouping, Fianna Fáil believes in a clear route to a renewed water policy. As I said before, we believe in a partnership between the local authorities and a new Irish Water authority to manage the water resource, similar to the way Fianna Fáil delivered the fabulous motorway infrastructure.

We have a fabulous national road network due to the partnership between the National Roads Authority and the local county councils.

I am pleased to attend the Seanad and to have the opportunity to outline and clarify some of the important points about the national metering programme that is currently under way. Senators will know that meters are being installed in homes throughout the country in a programme unparalleled anywhere else in terms of the speed or scale of the installations. On average, a meter is being installed somewhere in the country every 30 seconds.

In the context of the debate, it is important to remember why Irish Water was established and why we need water metering. I refer to the legacy of the substandard water networks which the Government and the country must now deal with. Boil water notices are commonplace in many counties, raw sewage is allowed to flow into water courses and there are unacceptable levels of leakage of treated water. Therefore, there is an obvious urgent requirement for investment in the water networks and an urgent need for renewal of those networks. Senators have outlined the problems, but the Government's focus is on finding and presenting solutions to allow for required investment.

I remind the House why the Government asked Irish Water to implement this programme. In the view of many who accept the need for domestic water charges, metering is the fairest form of domestic charging. This view is supported by the OECD, an international organisation that has conducted significant research into water charging and policy. The reason metering is fair is that it links people's use of water services to their contribution to funding the water system.

I will address the point about health and safety as raised by Senators. Irish Water, as the national utility, is the responsible authority for all aspects of health and safety in the delivery of the metering programme. I am confident that Irish Water is fully compliant with all health and safety legislation. The Health and Safety Authority is an independent government agency with oversight in this regard. If Senators have any specific issues of concern, I urge them to contact either Irish Water or the Health and Safety Authority, which will investigate any issues of concern to Senators or members of the public. I wish to disassociate myself from comments about cowboy operators. We should give due respect to workers who are going out to do a day's work. There is a better way to address the problem of non-compliance, if that is the case. I suspect it is not the case, but if it is, I have outlined ways in which Senators can raise those concerns.

It was stated by some Senators that people are paying for the mess created by the Government. I remind Senators that the Government has for the past four years been working to clean up the mess. This is another legacy of under-investment and a lack of management with regard to the water networks, which has resulted in substandard systems that will not meet the needs of society. This must be addressed.

It is timely to recall that the previous Government also supported a domestic water metering programme. I remind Fianna Fáil Senators that in 2010 the national recovery plan committed to introducing water charges for domestic customers and that customer billing would be made on the basis of metered charges. The plan also stated that the NPRF had agreed in principle to fund the metering programme to the tune of €550 million. Therefore, there is a contradiction between the motion proposed by Fianna Fáil Senators and what the same party adopted as a national recovery plan in 2010.

The Government's revised water charging system reflects the need to provide clarity and simplicity for households. For this reason, households know the charge they will pay until the end of 2018. However, there is the incentive to conserve water under the new water charging regime, which commenced on 1 January. Households whose metered usage is less than the relevant usage under the capped charge, be it a single adult household or a multi-adult household, will pay less than the capped charge. In other words, they will pay only for what they use. If, after a meter is installed, a household's usage for the first year is less than the relevant capped charge, the household will be due a once-off rebate of the difference between the metered usage charge and the capped charge. This incentive is vital in encouraging people to use water more responsibly, to reduce their leakage and to view water as a precious, expensive resource from the outset.

I refer to queries raised by Senator Denis Landy about non-payment by tenants of properties. I assure the Senator that clarity and detail will be provided in forthcoming legislation which will ensure that the system will be fair and will provide ample opportunity for people to participate in a fair payment plan before any penalties apply. I refer to a query about the taking in charge of estates and the role of Irish Water and the local authority. A protocol has been developed by my Department and circulated to both Irish Water and local authorities. I am happy to correspond with the Senator and to provide further details.

The €100 water conservation grant will be paid to eligible households that register with Irish Water. It will also help households to adopt conservation measures. This issue was debated extensively before Christmas. I remind Senators that expenditure of €100 on minor water conservation interventions can make a significant difference to the use of water in households. My Department, Irish Water and others, will provide information on how small investments in water-saving devices or leak fixing can make a big difference to water usage levels. If this Government were not to take any action, our water systems and water capacity would not meet the demands of our citizens, of society, of business or of agriculture. Therefore, doing nothing is not an option. Future generations would not thank us if we did not intervene now to ensure adequate investment in the water utility.

Good planning, high-quality meters and quality control define the metering programme. Most meters are expected to last considerably longer than the manufacturer's 15-year design life for the product. Experience in the United Kingdom has shown that meters installed there over 20 years ago are still operational. Indeed, since the time such meters were installed, technology, materials and manufacturing have improved. Irish Water has implemented a rigorous testing regime both at the point of meter manufacture and in service, so that it can monitor performance throughout a meter's lifetime. Information from these tests will enable the utility to better determine its maintenance and meter replacement strategy. Contrary to some inaccurate suggestions, there will be no need for a wholesale programme to replace the meters. The devices will be maintained and replaced over a much longer period of time than that of the life design of the meters and at a substantially reduced cost.

The €539 million cost of phase one of the metering programme represents a significant capital investment which covers all the domestic customers of Irish Water whose dwellings can be readily metered. It is important that there is clarity around the €539 million cost of the current programme. The vast majority of the cost of phase one of the programme relates to the construction work in advance of the installation of boundary boxes and meters. This work will not need to be repeated when meters are replaced; therefore replacement costs will be substantially lower than those of the current programme. Maintenance of meters will involve some cost. It is estimated by Irish Water that this will amount to some €5 million per annum, to be funded from its operational budget. To put this in context, Irish Water's current operational budget is approximately €800 million a year - a budget set and examined by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The regulator has demanded a 7% year-on-year reduction in operational spending. Only efficiently incurred costs are being passed on to the customers. I reassure Senators on this point.

Irish Water commissioned a study on possible approaches to metering properties which were not included in the phase one programme, including apartments and properties with shared connections. On the basis of this report, it has been agreed in principle that some 48,000 apartments identified in the report as being easily metered should be included in phase one. The advancement of any future phases will be a matter for consideration by the CER, based on proposals from Irish Water.

It is important to remember that domestic water meters will be as resilient and as high-quality as those used for electricity or gas. As with other utilities, any deficient meters will be detected and replaced under ongoing maintenance programmes; maintenance budgets will be low by overall budgetary levels. Meters will generally be replaced after a long period of use. We need meters to develop a public water system that is defined by conservation and low leakage. That is what the Government is seeking to deliver for the public.

The benefits from meters are already evident. One of the main deficiencies in the public water system is the unacceptably high level of leakage, which I have mentioned, with the national level of unaccounted-for water currently at up to 49% of all water produced. High leakage means higher water production and treatment costs than are necessary, which, in turn, means accelerated capital investment in treatment plants. Some 10% of national leakage is on the customer side - that is, within the boundary of a household's property. These leaks can often go undetected as they occur within pipes below a house or between the boundary of a property and a dwelling itself. Without meters neither Irish Water nor the household would know about many customer-side leaks and a significant proportion of national leakage, which all sides of this House and the Dáil agree is unacceptable, would remain untackled. Consider the fact that metering has helped to identify 22 houses that are using over 1 million litres of water a day through leakage under driveways. This is a fact. That volume of water is enough to serve the daily needs of a medium-sized town such as Gorey or Dungarvan.

Consider the fact that Irish Water has identified 78 households in one area of Dublin whose combined usage is 1 million litres of water per day, when that many houses should normally have a combined usage of about 30,000 litres per day. This is purely factual evidence of the amount of leakage that has been occurring and it must be tackled without further delay. Would we be better off with a water charging regime without meters in which such a huge waste of water would go unnoticed? I do not think so and the evidence proves otherwise. That is why these meters are important.

Irish Water has been identifying these customer-side leaks as part of the domestic metering campaign, and the proposed first fix free scheme that Irish Water will implement will help households to address these leaks and conserve water. This Government-funded scheme, which will shortly be piloted before being rolled out nationally, is evidence of the Government's and Irish Water's commitment to supporting households in managing water usage and reducing leakage.

With over 552,000 meters having been installed so far under the metering programme, approximately 1,300 jobs are being sustained and providing much needed economic stimulus throughout the country. In February 2013, the Government announced as a target that 25% of these jobs would go to people from one of three social inclusion categories: those on the live register, those working for SMEs, and apprentices, graduates or school leavers. Today, that target has been well exceeded, with about 84% of those contracted to install meters coming from one of these categories. Some of these workers have experienced horrendous violence in the course of their work. In addition, they have experienced abuse and injury, which is unacceptable. In one case, meter installers were held in a van for more than 12 hours without access to food, water or toilet facilities. I am sure all Senators will agree that that is totally unacceptable. Installers and their families have also experienced cyber-bullying and intimidation through social media.

These incidents have been inflicted by a minority of protestors, but every act should be condemned by all. While people have every right to protest peacefully, these workers have the right to a safe working environment. They are simply doing their jobs. I acknowledge the difficulties these workers have faced and commend them for their dignity through these testing times.

Not only has the social inclusion target been exceeded, but also the original 2014 metering target provided to the CER of installing 400,000 meters. More than 540,000 meters were installed by the end of 2014, which is about 140,000 more than initially planned. The programme remains on track to see 1.1 million meters installed by the end of 2016. Completion will then pave the way for further phases of the programme, which will focus on installing meters in dwellings that are more technically difficult to meter, with the costs involved to be approved by the CER as part of the consideration of the capital investment plans for the next regulatory cycle.

The Government's water sector reform programme has many parts. It has involved the establishment of a major national utility, as well as the introduction of a new funding model for water services, including the introduction of domestic water charges. It has seen the introduction of independent economic regulation of the sector. Yesterday saw another milestone, with the transfer of ownership of the underground water network from local authorities to Irish Water. In less than two weeks, households will face the date by which they will need to register with Irish Water in order to ensure an accurate first bill.

The domestic metering programme has been a key component of these reforms. The programme that will help to ensure conservation and reduced leakage is at the heart of a reformed public water system. The meters are high-quality and Irish Water has ensured the necessary quality controls are in place. The ambitious programme of installing meters throughout the country is a one-off major capital programme which will not need to be repeated in the future.

We must never lose sight of the fact that these water sector reforms are aimed at addressing the deficiencies within our water system and the legacy of the sub-standard water networks in our country. As I have outlined, these deficiencies include high leakage, poor water quality, inadequate waste water treatment, raw sewage flowing out into water courses, and insufficient water supply capacity, especially in major urban centres. We are working to create a sustainable world-class water system. We want to ensure that all who use these water services receive a quality of service that protects public health and the environment and facilitates a developing and dynamic economy. Metering is a key component of these reforms, the merits of which will far outweigh the costs.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Deputy Paudie Coffey spent a lot of time here before the Christmas recess and I have a funny feeling he will be spending a lot of time here talking about water this year also. Nevertheless, I do welcome him back.

Fianna Fáil's legacy was the HSE, but this particular Administration's legacy will be Irish Water. It seems to be a nightmare that keeps going on with new instalments every week. We can now see more legislation coming down the tracks from the Government to try to fix the sinking ship.

I support the general thrust of this Private Members' motion, but we have sought to amend it in order to express our overall opposition to water charges and metering. They were initially proposed by Fianna Fáil, which has tabled the motion before the House. The motion refers to the costs involved. By this stage, any argument that Irish Water represents a saving to the taxpayer has been well and truly dismantled. Irish Water estimated last year that €1.77 billion will be required to deliver on the objectives of its 2014-16 capital investment plan. That included €1.2 billion which had already been made available in 2014, with an additional €200 million voted through supplementary Estimates before Christmas.

Irish Water is proposing to spend €150 million to accelerate leakage reduction. However, as questions from my colleague Deputy Brian Stanley to the Minister revealed, that only matches the total spend on mains rehabilitation over the four-year period up to 2013. Surely the money spent on establishing the monstrosity that is Irish Water might have been better spent addressing that, especially given that the level of waste has risen to just over 50%. The disruption and leaks caused by the metering programme have not helped in that respect either.

It is also worthwhile reminding ourselves that €85 million has gone to consultancy firms, with another €5 million or thereabouts going to legal firms. Further hidden costs include repairs to leaks, which have fallen on local authorities. One might question who picked the consultants concerned, as they must surely be amongst the most incompetent available if Irish Water has been following their advice. Perhaps they should be asked for a refund.

It is estimated that metering will cost €540 million over three years. Some of this will come from the €240 million given by the Exchequer for capital works. Irish Water also received a €540 million loan from the National Pension Reserve Fund. All of this is taxpayers' money which could have been used for other purposes. That is best illustrated by the fact that Irish Water has received subventions of €490 million from local government funds. In effect, the entire proceeds of the local property tax, which went into the local government fund, were handed over to Irish Water. When the local property tax was introduced, it was justified on the basis that it was needed, to quote the former Minister, Phil Hogan, to pay for parks, libraries and public lighting. Instead, however, it is being used to install badly designed water meters which will be used to charge people for a service they have already paid for through general taxation.

In effect, households are being penalised twice. First, the water charges must be paid, and second, local services are being run down in order that Irish Water can have the means to install meters. In the light of all that and the fact that almost €2 billion has so far been spent on the corporate monster that is Irish Water, surely the Government ought to cut its losses, abandon the metering programme, scrap water charges and invest whatever money remains towards the proper rehabilitation and reorganisation of a properly run public water service.

We were all gobsmacked to hear yesterday that not only is the monster unwieldy but we now have three boards governing its operation. It is important that we not go any further with this. Unfortunately, yesterday's drinking water remedial action list from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, did not surprise us. In County Galway, for example, we have not seen any major improvement in our water systems and if one were to ask the people of Ballinasloe, Ballyconneely, Carraroe, Glenamaddy, Inis Oírr, Kilkerrin-Moylough, Leenane, mid-Galway, Portumna and Williamstown if they were happy with Irish Water supplies, I do not believe they would be.

There is a new one in Clifden.

Those I mentioned appeared on yesterday's list from the EPA detailing issues with cryptosporidium, turbidity, trihalomethanes, etc. The people of Connemara, in particular, who were expecting the regional water scheme would be very thankful to the Government for bringing Irish Water on board, because that scheme has been scrapped. We are still drinking water that may contain cryptosporidium in our area, which is a disgrace.

The Minister of State has indicated that we need a metering system to identify where the leaks are. When we debated the three Water Services Bills in this House, we put forward other suggestions that have not been followed up. For example, there is the possibility of using district metering and following water pipes to see where the leaks are. Other options were available to the Government. There is a number of anomalies; I came across one over Christmas which the Minister of State might investigate. A number of estates in County Galway have fallen into NAMA or have seen developers renege on promises to manage estates where all of the houses have not been built. A couple of tenants in such estates are left footing the Bill for the water and sewerage charges for those estates. I was called to an estate over Christmas where sewage was being pumped on to a road. When we contacted Irish Water, we were told it had nothing to do with them because the estate was overseen by a developer and might well be in NAMA. Irish Water had no responsibility, but as there is not a full group of occupants in the estate, the current occupiers cannot afford the cost of getting the treatment plant in the estate sorted out. There are major anomalies such as this in the provision of water and sewage services.

We are supporting the substantive motion, but we have also put forward an amendment calling on the Government to abolish water charges and stop the metering programme with immediate effect. That is what Conor Murphy did when he came into office in the North and my party blocked the imposition of water charges. Tá súil agam go dtógfaidh an tAire Stáit ar bord na moltaí atá déanta againn.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for taking the time to discuss this very important issue of water metering. The Water Services (No. 2) Act received lengthy debate both in this and the Lower House prior to Christmas and provided for the necessary implementation of water charges. These are necessary to ensure we can provide the best quality water system for citizens.

As my colleagues have pointed out, most meters are expected to be fit for purpose for much longer than 15 years. Rigorous testing by Irish Water will ensure the performance of meters is monitored to a guaranteed efficiency. Metering is, undoubtedly, the fairest way to determine charges for domestic water supply. It helps household to monitor water usage and it helps Irish Water measure how much water is used, thus lowering consumption and water charges in the long run. Metering also helps Irish Water to identify consumer-side leakage, which accounts for approximately a tenth of the national leakage rate, which is up to 49% of all water treated, as has already been noted. These leaks are being identified during the meter installation programme, and once meters were installed and long before charging commenced, people were more conscious of water usage. The process is already working and it will continue to do so.

Metering has sustained approximately 1,300 jobs, 84% of which are held by people in one of the social inclusion categories - that is, those on the live register, small and medium enterprises, and graduates, apprentices and school leavers. I gave an example from County Sligo in the debate before Christmas. Over the next five years, water engineers have estimated that the cost of dealing with projects identified throughout the county will be €70 million. We must recognise the good work that Sligo and Leitrim have done in the past, and they have no real problem with water services or the quality of water. Irish Water will cover the entire cost in future - meaning there is no cost to the council - and there will be hundreds of jobs in the county for construction workers, engineers and so on. This represents real employment for young graduates from the likes of the Institute of Technology, Sligo. They will provide a vital utility through our county that will add to growth while at the same time protecting the environment.

We must question why Sinn Féin is not stopping water metering in Northern Ireland.

There is a serious problem, as many people in Northern Ireland do not have water because of strikes, etc. In order to see what a publicly owned water utility can deliver, we only have to look at Scottish Water. We must support the progress that has been made in setting up the best water utility in the country. I take issue with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell in this respect. A family member travelled to work this morning under very difficult conditions to install water mains and meters, and that company adheres to all health and safety regulations. On the way to work here one morning, I saw a protester sitting on top of a mechanical digger arm; health and safety regulations were certainly being breached in that case. It is very important that we give the people out there who are trying to do their work every chance. In the long term it will be proven that this is the right way to go.

Senator Mary White spoke about the quality of water and said that her business needs clean running water all the time. There are distilleries popping up around the country, including one planned in my neighbouring county of Sligo, which will also need a clean water supply. It is very important that we continue to support Irish Water into the future.

On a point of order, I fully agree with Senator Michael Comiskey that a breach of health and safety on either side is wrong.

That is not a point of order.

The Minister of State has not addressed who is responsible when there is lead in the water.

That is not a point of order.

I support the motion primarily because of the Government's history of ineptitude in setting up Irish Water, the concept of water charges and how it has gone about conservation. Many good points could have been sold to an increasingly sceptical public, but that opportunity has been lost in the past 12 months because of the sheer incompetence of this Government in how it addressed this issue. It is not as if it is a new issue; it has been around for a long time. The concept of water charges was not discussed only under the previous Fianna Fáil Administration; it goes back even further to the rainbow coalition. One could be amazed by the spin the Government has put on the argument, as its members are arguing about what Fianna Fáil might or might not have done. There is inaccuracy in many of the statements coming from the Government, and even today people have argued there was a lack of infrastructure.

It was somewhat instructive to hear Senator Michael Comiskey talking about water quality in Sligo and Leitrim. Perhaps he was going in a different direction, but I suggest the main reason for this water quality is the very specific and significant investment by Fianna Fáil Administrations in upgrading water services, particularly in much of rural Ireland.

There is an argument and a spin, which came up again today as well as in the debate before Christmas, that somehow this Government has been like a knight in shining armour which suddenly arrived on the landscape and said that those dastardly people in Fianna Fáil did nothing about water or water infrastructure in all the time they were in government and that it will fix the problem.

Now Fine Gael wants to be in government with us and to abandon the Labour Party. It is disgraceful.

For those who did not pick up on that, this question of whether Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should go into an alliance-----

Will the Senator speak to the motion?

I will but seeing as it was raised, all I will say is that we, in Fianna Fáil, will not dig Fine Gael out of its troubles. I can tell it that. It should not rely on us to do it whatever about getting the Shinners to do it.

Fianna Fáil could not dig itself out. It is not going to dig us out.

That is one of the great non-events of all time. It is interesting that it is coming from Ministers. They must be getting very nervous in their constituencies when they start spoofing about the possibility of an alliance-----

You are eating into your own time.

In the context of this motion, our main concern has been a wastage of public money that started last year when Mr. John Tierney went on national radio and said €50 million had been spent not on water conservation, on metering or on improving the infrastructure but on blooming consultants, if one does not mind. I am still waiting to hear how that money-----

Fianna Fáil would not do that.

Do not suggest for one moment that Sinn Féin would not use consultants because that is definitely taking a spin too far.

Fianna Fáil did plenty of it in government.

I hope the people are not codded by it.

What I am saying is that the €50 million spent is very questionable and I do not believe it has been fully accounted for in terms of where it was spent and how the procurement process was undertaken.

It is on the website.

The Minister of State would be one of the first to admit to me that one of the great bugbears in Irish society on an ongoing basis is the use of consultants and the amount of public money spent on same.

I want to reiterate what has been said by my colleagues because it is important to do so. Irrespective of what might have happened, what might have been proposed to happen or what might have been predicted to happen five years ago, the current Fianna Fáil policy is to abolish Irish Water in its present construction because it is not fit for purpose. That is precisely what our policy is and I do not want to hear any more talk about what it might have been, what it was to be or what the predictions were because that is far back in the public mind. The Government is being called to count in regard to how it managed Irish Water.

The abolition of Irish Water should happen primarily because it is not fit for purpose. That is not to say there should not be some form of public utility, with which even Sinn Féin agrees, to manage the water system. I agree with what Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said that there has been no clarification on the question of contamination from lead piping. My understanding is that under the "first fix free" lead piping will not come into it at all and that it will be left to the household to figure out what it will do about poisonous lead piping.

I think everybody has come around to the view that water is a human right. A friend of mine said to me six months ago when this question first came up that he did not understand why any Government would want to introduce water charges on an island where we have a surplus of water. This is an island nation surrounded by water and we have more lakes per square mile than any other part of Europe. We have an immense amount of water coming from the skies on a regular basis. Why, in the name of goodness, would any Government want to introduce a water charge, because we have an abundance of water? Having said that, I will admit that I am conflicted, to a degree, by the view that there should be some form of metering, as the Minister of State quite correctly said, to identify leaks in the system. I am not against the concept of it.

I remember when the newly-elected Deputy for Roscommon-South Leitrim, or Roscommon-East Galway as it will be, was asked that question when he went on RTE. Much to the surprise of many he said he was not against water metering because, coming from rural Ireland like many of us, he was well used to water metering on group water schemes. I pay tribute to the various water schemes throughout the country which manage their water systems in such an efficient manner. As they are metered, I am conflicted to a degree. However, what I am not conflicted about is the extraordinary amount of money that has gone into Irish Water in 12 months alone. What is being talked about now is that in the next four or five years, several more million euro will be spent on the provision of water meters which will not be used at least until 2019. They are the issues that are of concern to us in Fianna Fáil.

There is a need for a brand new policy and there should be a review of all that has happened in the past 12 months. Suspend the water metering system and get rid of Irish Water and let us start to use the money that is being squandered to ensure there is water conservation.

I think Senator Denis Landy said it was wonderful that members of the general public were responding and were registering in vast numbers. I suggest one of the reasons they are doing so is that if they do not, according to the Government's proposals, it will cost them €100 more to pay for the water at the end of next year. Why would they not register to save themselves €100 in these straitened times?

I am flabbergasted listening to members of Fianna Fáil and their hypocrisy. It really is the dig out party. Privately, I believe Fianna Fáil supports water charges. Was it not going to introduce them to a greater extent than the Government has done? That was espoused by Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice on Newstalk the other day. He said what the Government was introducing was fair; therefore, I think Fianna Fáil is all over the shop and is only playing politics on this issue. It is like a blind mongrel that thinks its smells blood and is going for the jugular.

Fianna Fáil is using words like "debacle". There were problems with the establishment of Irish Water but the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, have dealt in a fair way with all of those issues. Senator Cáit Keane said she listened to people being interviewed on RTE yesterday, including people from Boyle in my county, and not one of them mentioned meters and charges but all they mentioned was water quality. As I have said in the House previously, if people get good quality water from their taps, they will be quite prepared to pay for it because they are paying through the nose for water in supermarkets.

We hear Fianna Fáil say money is being wasted. If one goes to Roscommon, one will see that money is not being wasted. Never before has there been investment to deal with our water quality as there is now in towns like Castlerea, Boyle, Ardcarn, Killeglan and in many more areas in County Roscommon. It never happened before. One can say one already pays for one's water in our taxes but we have always paid for a broken water system in our taxes. Now we need investment. We saw the EPA report yesterday about the lead piping and the hundreds of millions of euro required to fix that issue alone. We cannot keep going back to the taxpayer. Everybody has to contribute something to solve this problem.

As was said, 35% of the people in this country already pay for water and they have no issue with that. We see Fianna Fáil being critical of the establishment of Irish Water, but I did not hear it being critical of the monster it created, namely, the HSE, and about its waste of money on e-voting machines which never saw the light of day.

I have been told meters are being put into unfinished housing estates which have not been taken over by the local authorities. Can I have clarity on that matter because it would not be fair? The last thing that the local authorities should be doing is installing meters in unfinished housing estate, seeing as they cannot turn on lights and finish footpaths. It is unfair that they should be putting in water meters.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey. I despair when this item comes up for discussion. We, in this House, tried to improve the whole water business but neither the previous two Ministers nor the current two would accept any of the amendments which would have improved the legislation.

The charge of €260 per household is a poll tax, straight from the Mrs. Thatcher school of taxation. This was always financed through direct taxation. As pointed out, at €100,000, one would pay 14 times more tax for a family of four than at €15,000. A sixfold increase in income leads to 14 times more tax.

That is progressive taxation. It is way better than the poll tax the House was asked to agree. We used to pay for it through our taxation in a progressive way. That refutes the first fallacy in the Government's approach.

The second fallacy is the idea that we were all wasting water. We found out as this debate went on that 94% of it was wasted by the engineers and 6% of it was wasted by households. What did we do? We hired all the engineers and more to work by transferring them from the local authorities to Irish Water. Despite the evidence of the McLoughlin report, which found that local government in Ireland is seriously over-managed by a factor of between one quarter and one third, a cynical decision was made to shunt all of these staff over to Irish Water. The well-known economist, Dr. John FitzGerald, who is not the most radical man in Irish economics, says that the company has started out with 4,300 people doing the work of 2,400 people. That is why people are so resentful of what has happened.

This way of financing water off the balance sheet is so mysterious that EUROSTAT has not yet agreed to it. The banking committee is investing off-balance sheet transactions. If someone offers to sell one a used car off the balance sheet, one should not enter into the deal. I do not know who persuaded the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that doing things off the balance sheet has particular merits. It does not have such merits.

The meters were financed from the pension fund. We will not use the meters because there is to be a flat charge of €260. Some €550 million has been taken from people's pensions for no purpose, unless the Government intends after the next general election to switch on the meters and start charging people. The meters perform no function. As Senator Paschal Mooney said, putting a stop to metering is the least that should be done. There is no point to the metering element of this measure now that the Government has chosen to levy a charge of €260 per household.

I suggest the €100 conservation grant will be the least deserving payment to come from the Tánaiste's budget in the Department of Social Protection. It has nothing to do with conservation. One will be able to spend the €100 on bottled water. There will be no restriction on it. One will not have to do anything that is related to conservation. It will be paid to people regardless of income. We will compound the imposition of a charge of €260 per household by indiscriminately giving €100 to anybody who signs up for it.

We were told that the new board would change everything. It was disappointing to see in today's newspapers that eight of the oldies are to be retained. There will be just four new people on the board. We voted on this section of the Bill the last day. We expected a new broom. This must be one of the most unpopular companies in the history of this country. It is remarkable that eight members of the board have been retained in one capacity or another.

We were told that the establishment of a single big organisation would lead to economies of scale. The numbers in the McLoughlin report indicate no such thing. Some small water authorities, like that in County Leitrim, had a relatively low rate of wastage. Some large authorities had a relatively high rate of wastage. If we had not chosen to establish a big monopoly like Irish Water, we would be able to compare the efficiency of the good water authorities with the inefficiency of the bad water authorities. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government must be unique in proposing a monopoly as a solution for any way to produce any commodity.

I regret that the Government is somehow in thrall to the water industry, just as the last Government impaled itself on the banking industry. Not many boards are reappointed after drawing 250,000 people onto the streets of this country. I suspect that the cost of this to the Government will be borne at the ballot box. This is a hugely unpopular measure. It came at the end of year after year of austerity. I saw the anti-water charges march in Maynooth. It seemed to me that the vast bulk of the people were on their uppers. They do not have the €260 that will be required to pay for this upfront.

When the water charge is combined with the universal social charge - once one goes over €12,000, this charge is imposed on every penny of income - it is clear that a measure of regressiveness and unfairness has been added to the charging system for public services in Ireland. This was not the case when those services were paid for through income tax, which is much more progressive.

The whole episode has been an exercise in how not to establish a quango. It is a blot on politics and public administration in this country that this company keeps on going, regardless of how much criticism it receives from this House, the other House or hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. It seems to have a captive hold over the Government. The Government is continuing to promote it even though it is one of the most unpopular things we have had for many hundreds of years here.

I thank the Fianna Fáil Senators for tabling this motion. I am amazed that they did so, given that they committed in 2010 to the introduction of domestic water charges on a metered basis.

The Senator should move on. That was a lifetime ago.

He should say something innovative or creative for a change.

Senator Michael Mullins to continue, without interruption.

He should not bore the people by talking about what happened many years ago.

We will not forget it.

They planned to spend €550 million on water meters.

Senator Denis Landy's party said they were totally unworkable.

That was back when child benefit was not going to be cut.

Senator Michael Mullins to continue, without interruption.

When Fianna Fáil left office-----

That is a poor start.

-----it promised responsible opposition.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is worn out from cleaning up after Fine Gael.

Its leader said he would not oppose for opposition's sake and would act in the national interest.

We are not going into coalition with the Senator's party.

I am calling on Fianna Fáil to put this into practice by supporting the new Irish Water utility, which will need to raise finance to invest in providing good clean water for all our people and for business and to attract inward investment. It is in all our interests for Irish Water to succeed in order that the water needs of the country can be met into the future. Much rubbish has been written in recent days about the lifespan of water meters. I am sure these meters are like many of the meters we have in our homes. I have had an ESB meter in my house for over 30 years and it has not needed to be replaced.

I am sure that will be the case with many of the water meters that will be installed in houses. I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett on many things, but I disagree with him when he says water meters are not a good way to go. I think water metering is the fairest way of charging for domestic water.

There will be a fixed charge.

It is recognised in many countries and by the OECD. Metering also helps to identify leaks. The Minister of State has given a number of examples today of leaks that have already been identified, resulting in significant savings. The Environmental Protection Agency's 2013 report on drinking water highlights the need for major investment in our water infrastructure. I am pleased to inform Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that there will be good news for the people of Ballinasloe in the near future.

It was not on the list I read.

Work will commence in the next two months on improving the water system in the town. There will be a major investment. I am delighted that most people in my new constituency of Roscommon-Galway will come off the boil water notices within the next couple of months. Previous administrations failed to provide for this badly needed investment for several decades.

The people of Roscommon will have a water system they will be proud of.

They will be able to make tea for the Senator when he is canvassing.

Will he be able to drink the tea?

I want to speak positively about the issues raised by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. I urge the Minister to impress on Irish Water the need to ensure all contractors are operating to the very highest standards of work, workmanship and safety. We all know that many contractors can take short cuts on occasions. I want to make sure no person is injured or discommoded as a result of any contractor taking short cuts during the installation of these water meters.

We have many deficiencies in water systems throughout the country. In 42 urban areas, sewage is discharged into rivers and bathing waters, thereby putting them at risk of pollution.

We need significant investment. I hope that the considerable increase in the number of people who have registered with Irish Water in recent days will continue. Irish Water needs to succeed. It needs to raise finance so as to invest in water infrastructure. Every town and village is entitled to an adequate water supply. The charge of €260 per household and the conservation grant of €100 accruing to each registered household have addressed many people's aggravations.

Just as I would condemn poor workmanship, I condemn in the strongest possible way the level of intimidation and abuse that some Irish Water employees have endured while installing meters. It is unacceptable. I ask those involved in organising protests of and opposition to the water charges to desist from any involvement in the intimidation of employees who are just going about the work for which their employers have been contracted.

I appeal to every Senator to get behind the new utility. The time for politics on this issue is over. The football has been sufficiently kicked around the place. We all need to ensure that Irish Water succeeds. We should encourage people to register in order that they do not lose out on the conservation grant or, most importantly, incur penalties. People who were advised not to register for septic tank charges found themselves paying ten times as much as they would have had they not listened to poor advice. I hope that those responsible for that poor advice will not continue giving it out in this instance.

I call Senator Terry Brennan. I am sorry. Senator Diarmuid Wilson is next.

I will give way to Senator Terry Brennan.

Not at all. The Senator knows more about meters than I ever will.

I thank the Senator and apologise for any confusion caused. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to familiar surroundings. We hope that they will not be his again in the near future.

He might be glad of them.

I commend the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, for trying to sort out this unmitigated disaster that they inherited in recent months. It all started when the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, the now Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, was tasked by the Taoiseach and the Labour Party-Fine Gael coalition Government to get Irish Water established as quickly as possible before people realised what was happening. I have no doubt that the Commissioner was promised he would be in Europe when any difficulty arose. Difficulties began arising before he went, but the Minister of State and the current Minister have been left holding this unmitigated disaster. They have tried their best to sort it out, but the only way to do so is to abolish Irish Water and stop wasting taxpayers' money.

The former Minister, Commissioner Hogan, gave the contract for establishing Irish Water to Bord Gáis Éireann without putting it out for public tender or consultation. He did not even have the courtesy to communicate with the Oireachtas joint committee responsible for the environment. This is a fact. Perhaps if he had not been in such a rush to hoodwink people, we would not be in this mess.

In all of the House's debates on Irish Water, the then Minister received good advice from all sides. He did not get any from the Lower House because it did not have the time. It only had three hours to deal with the establishment of Irish Water. Excellent ideas were put forward from all sides of this House. If the Minister had listened to some of that advice, perhaps we would not be in so great a mess.

Rather than go over everything that has been said in the various debates, I will ask a few questions. Households will pay between €160 and €260 this year. I note from the new legislative programme that was published by the Chief Whip last week that the Government intends to publish a further water services Bill this session. The Minister of State did not mention what that Bill would entail. Perhaps he will enlighten the House. The Taoiseach certainly did not seem to know when questioned about it in the Lower House last week.

According to the Minister of State, the €100 water conservation grant will be paid to eligible households that register with Irish Water and will help them to adopt conservation measures in their homes. As it is a grant using taxpayers' money, will the Minister of State outline what auditing process is in place to ensure it is used for the purposes for which it is allegedly intended? How much will administering the so-called conservation grant cost the Department of Social Protection? We have asked this question time and again but we have not received satisfactory answers. Why is it necessary to continue installing meters that will not be used until at least 2020?

We in Fianna Fáil believe Irish Water should be immediately disbanded and all of its responsibilities should be transferred back to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Given the promise of there being just one company to administer the system, why are three now in place? My colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, raised serious health and safety issues. I do not agree with him that the people involved in the installation of water meters are gangsters. They are far from that, being ordinary, decent people going about their daily lives and trying to earn a living for themselves and their families. However, the Senator has highlighted what appears to me as a lay person, albeit one with some involvement in workplace health and safety matters, a hazard. He should not be rubbished for raising the issue in the House or anywhere else. He has a legitimate concern in that regard.

I thank the Minister of State once again and welcome him back to the House. I hope he will not be back here as a Senator in the near future.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire ar ais go dtí an Seanad. Regarding metering, the lifespan of meters and why it is important to have them installed, most meters are expected to last considerably longer than the manufacturer's 15-year design life rating for the product. Experience in the United Kingdom has shown that meters installed more than 20 years ago are still operating. I could take the Minister of State to meters that had been installed more than 40 years ago.

I could take him to ten or 15 houses tomorrow where the installed meters are still recording. The only changes that were required were in households that wanted a bigger input of electricity. It will be the same with water metering. It is by far the fairest approach.

I am concerned over the budget for the maintenance of meters, which I read recently will amount to €5 million per annum out of a total operational budget of €800 million per annum. The maintenance budget is not a significant amount. A national school in my home town, Carlingford, is seeking grant aid of €15,000 to do a specific job. From my experience in the ESB, for which the Minister of State worked for a significant period, I will not say maintenance was a licence to print money but I know what was involved in the maintenance of meters and how often they became faulty or needed to be changed. Irrespective of the cause, the repair was free of charge to the customer. I hope that will be the case with any meters that become faulty under the new water metering system. It is the fairest form of domestic water charging. This has already been said by Senator Michael Mullins and it is recognised by many, including the OECD.

Metering helps householders to monitor their water usage and Irish Water to measure how much water is used. Metering also helps Irish Water to identify customer side leakage, which accounts for approximately one tenth of the national leakage rate. Some 49% of all water in the system is leaked. The leaks are being identified daily. If we are doing nothing with metering in the interim, we are identifying leaks on a daily basis.

The metering programme is most ambitious in terms of its speed and scale, with almost 700,000 meters having been installed by the end of 2014. We should not forget metering is sustaining approximately 1,300 jobs, as stated by other Senators. The Government has established a single national utility to deliver water services and upgrade the water and wastewater networks, an approach that is more effective than having 31 local authorities providing the same service. With Government subvention, revenue from domestic and non-domestic water charges and an ability to borrow from international capital markets, Irish Water will be able to make the necessary increase in investment. This was done in the company that the Minister of State worked for, the ESB, in the early 1990s when it took on a significant maintenance programme that was required for networks that had been erected 40 or 50 years previously. One can make an analogy between the water system and the electricity system. After 40 or 50 years, major investment is required, and this should be stated. Investment is needed urgently to upgrade the water and wastewater network.

The Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water report 2013, published recently, underlines the need for increased investment in the public water system. The report states that more than 23,000 people, on 20 public supplies, are subject to boil water notices. This is totally unacceptable in 2015. It has been mentioned that 121 supplies out of approximately 1,000 on the Environmental Protection Agency's remedial action list are at risk, affecting almost 950,000 people. My goodness.

There is a need for improvements in the disinfection of water, and there is a need for better management of water treatment and further water quality improvements due to more stringent requirements relating to lead. There is a need for Irish Water to remove the present boil water notices and implement a national lead strategy immediately. Other deficiencies in the water and wastewater system show why we need to increase investment. The deficiencies include inadequate wastewater treatment. The Minister of State will be aware that there are many treatment plants that have never been maintained. No money was ever allocated to maintain the plants in many local authority areas. This is unbelievable and unacceptable in 2015. Without action, an unacceptable number of people will have a water supply at risk from falling standards and the country will continue to have inadequate water supply capacity. Towns and villages will continue to have inadequate wastewater capacity, thus polluting rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The economy needs improved water services and greater security of water supply.

The town I come from, Carlingford, once had a mediaeval sewerage system, with sewage flowing daily into the town's natural harbour. I am thankful that has ceased. The benefits accruing, such as tourism and water sports in the same harbour, are to be commended. I am absolutely delighted with this. This is as it should be in all harbours and river estuaries throughout the country.

I apologise for not having been here for the Minister of State's address as I had to attend to a matter, but I was watching it on the monitor and have been able to check the script.

Certain Senators made very specific reference to Senators on this side of the House. Nobody on this side of the House is bound to repeat or support the mistakes of the past. All I can say is that it takes a particular class of person, having noted the mistakes of the past, to repeat them yet again.

Senator John Kelly, in particular, mentioned electronic voting machines. In my opening statement, I mentioned the shocking debacle associated with the electronic voting machines, but the water meter debacle makes that pale into insignificance. I mentioned the HSE in my opening address and the problems with which that organisation is associated. Not having learned from the mistakes made in setting up a super-quango such as the HSE says more about the current Administration than anybody in the past. The people adjudicated on the performance of the previous Government and took a decision accordingly. The current Government is now in power and it is the job of the people on this side of the House to hold it to account, regardless of what happened in the past - end of story.

The Minister referred to boil water notices and the need to lift them. Lough Gara in Roscommon is the lake from which the contaminated water is taken. There is cryptosporidium in the water, as we saw on "Prime Time", and people cannot brush their teeth with it or make tea. Nothing that has been done by the Government over the past 18 months has helped in this regard. If the Government had given to Roscommon County Council a fraction of the €540 million spent on meters or the €170 million spent on consultants, etc., there would be no boil water notices in that part of the country. There would be no boil water notices in other parts of the country if that approach had been taken and if we used the template we had, based on local authorities nationwide staffed by hard-working engineers and with local expertise. Some €700 million has been spent on Irish Water. Based on its own figures, we would have already finished 30% of the national infrastructure upgrade required had we not decided to say that when all the borrowed money is paid back, we may have circumstances in which Irish Water can pay for itself.

If I was buying a machine I expected to work, I would not be happy with a 15-year lifespan.

The Minister of State said, "Contrary to the inaccurate suggestions of some of the Opposition, there will be no need for a wholesale programme" except, of course, for the ones that no longer work. Who spends €500 million on something which has only a 15-year lifespan? There must be others on the market, and, if there are not, surely we would have been better off spending €540 million on the necessary infrastructure upgrade throughout the country in order that the sewerage to which Senator Terry Brennan referred is not being pumped into harbours all over the country?

I want to know the situation regarding the proposed legislation later in the year. What is in the legislative programme? In my opening remarks, I asked what that was for and I still do not know. Will it address the possibility that the European Union will tell Ireland the level of taxpayer subvention the Government is using is not allowed and, as a result, will we need a supplementary budget to run the quango and pay the large salaries for the three boards which will be set up to administer the biggest joke since the establishment of the HSE? I say this in a personal capacity.

Unfortunately, the questions raised at the beginning still remain. Why have we wasted €700 million? When will we see upgrades? I used local examples, such as Tubbercurry, Strandhill and Grange - there are examples in every county, including that of the Minister of State. He is not in a position to answer any of those questions. In fact, he did not answer any of them. He simply said, "We are great. Look at the mess we cleaned up after Big Phil went to Brussels. It cost us €700 million. It is all going to be good. There is a good few leaks around the country. We have no money to sort them out, but maybe that is what the legislation is for later in the year." We had the usual plethora of anti-Fianna Fáil jibes about Governments of the past. Sadly, it seems as though we will have to have another debate about this to find out what the legislation is about, how long the meters will last and from where the money will come for upgrades.

I raised a very serious issue. Before we are six months older, I will be able to wave a letter in the Chamber from the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, saying, "I am sorry. I am not able to comment on the proposed upgrade to sewerage treatment plant X. That is now a matter under the Water Services Act for one of the people down in the quango in Cork, so I have asked them to reply to you directly. Yours sincerely, Minister Whoever." I bet that will happen, just like it has with the HSE and the unacceptable way Governments in the past and the current Government have subcontracted the people's services and money to third party organisations which are answerable and responsible to nobody.

Is amendment No. 2 agreed to?

It is not agreed to.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 22 January 2015.