I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.
Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage
I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Second Stage of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 to the Seanad. The Bill provides for a number of important legislative amendments, corrections and updates to a range of policy areas across the broad environmental field. The Bill is also important in that it introduces a series of new streamlined procedures that will help to reduce the administrative burden on enforcing authorities as well as companies and individuals, and also provides for a more responsive system of changing environmental pressures and priorities.
These new provisions include provision for fixed payment notices - on-the-spot fines - for certain alleged offences under existing environmental regulations. Fixed payment notices have proved an effective deterrent against breaches of environmental regulation by providing local authorities with an additional enforcement tool that is less costly and resource intensive than prosecutions in the Circuit and District Courts, especially for relatively small-scale offences.
The Bill includes important changes to the Waste Management Act to reform comprehensively our system of household waste collection. These changes give effect to policy commitments set out in the Government's 2012 national waste policy framework, A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland, particularly regarding stronger enforcement powers for local authorities, improved environmental and customer service standards to be adhered to by collectors and encouraging more responsible behaviour by households.
This new regulatory framework for household waste collection respects the waste hierarchy and the polluter pays principle, provides a mechanism for tackling below-cost selling, provides clear incentives and obligations for households and collectors, gives more teeth to regulatory bodies such as the national waste collection permit to tackle poor performance by waste collectors, provides a level playing field across all collection types, helps to support job creation in the sector by addressing feed stocks from various waste streams, for example, food waste for composting facilities, simplifies pricing structures and enables customers to compare the cost of different household waste collection services more easily, and provides an effective means of enforcing those obligations.
The Bill also addresses a number of measures relating to water charges and the Government's interlinked announcements in recent months with a view to making the system of water charges clearer and more affordable. Of particular note is the Government's introduction of a cap on the level of charges such that a household with one adult will pay a maximum of €160 per annum and other households a maximum of €260 per annum. To provide further support to households in reducing their consumption, the Government has also introduced a water conservation grant of €100 per annum for households meeting eligibility criteria.
In addition to these measures, the Government has also signalled that further legislative measures will be introduced to address the non-payment of water charges. The Bill addresses a number of these measures, including providing for a new obligation on the owners of dwellings to provide details of the occupiers for Irish Water, the insertion of a deemed obligation to pay for water charges in all new lease or tenancy agreements, and a requirement for the payment of water charges on the sale or transfer of a dwelling.
These provisions are a balanced and considered package of measures aimed squarely at those who choose not to pay their water bills. The Government is unwilling to leave compliant households subsidising the services for those who do not pay, as opposed to those who may not be in a position to pay.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of a nationwide database of water services to facilitate the payment of the water conservation grant from 2016, while a measure is also included to provide for the payment of the water conservation grant to approved housing bodies in certain circumstances.
The Bill will specifically provide for the following: the transfer of powers and functions under the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in effect transferring ownership of the core part of Killarney National Park; the reinstatement of existing fixed payment notices, FPNs, for certain offences relating to the marketing, sale and distribution of solid fuel; the extension of FPNs to a range of other existing offences in the areas of air quality and waste management, in particular relating to waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, waste packaging and end-of-life vehicles; extending the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency to impose licensing fees for new and expanding areas; extending the deadline for the making of a declaration of non-use in the case of registration of a new vehicle and on change of ownership of a vehicle; amendment of some minor typographical errors in existing primary legislation; reform of the regulatory regime which applies to waste collection, in particular household waste collection and facilities which accept household waste directly from householders; amendments to water services legislation to provide for a requirement for the owners of dwellings receiving services from Irish Water to register details of the occupier with Irish Water, a deemed obligation to pay water charges to be inserted into all new lease or tenancy agreements, provision for the payment of water charges upon the sale or transfer of a property, the establishment of a database of water services to facilitate the payment of the water conservation grant from 2016 onwards, and provision for the water conservation grant to be paid to an approved housing body, on behalf of the tenant, in certain circumstances; and provide for a mechanism to make the required payment from the local government fund to the Exchequer in 2015, as envisaged in the 2015 Revised Estimates Volume.
There are 51 sections in the Bill as passed by the Dail and I will now go through the structure of the Bill, which is divided into ten Parts. Part 1 is a general Part and contains two sections. Section 1 sets the Short Title of the Bill on enactment and also provides for commencement dates and collective citations. Section 2 defines the use of key terms and phrases upon enactment.
Part 2 deals with the transfer of functions under the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act 1932 from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. As part of this, it provides specifically for the transfer of ownership of the property forming the core of the national park in Killarney. Section 3 defines key terms specific to Part 2. Section 4 provides that the functions identified in it will, on commencement of Part 2, transfer in its entirety from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Section 5 clarifies that references to any Minister or the Commissioners of Public Works will mean the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Section 6 provides that all the property currently vested in the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government under the 1932 Act will transfer to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Section 7 provides for the transfer of rights and liabilities arising from the exercise of the transferred functions and also for the continuation of leases, licences and permissions granted under the transferred functions. Section 8 clarifies that, following the transfer of functions, a claim for loss or injury arising will lie against the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Section 9 contains a number of miscellaneous provisions intended to ensure continuity in the management of the park following the transfer of functions. Section 10 inserts a requirement that expenses incurred in the administration of the Act be sanctioned by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as per current standard procedure. Section 11 amends section 11 of the 1932 Act to remove the requirement that management and control of the park be carried out in accordance with the general directions of the Minister as management of the park is now a ministerial function. Section 12 amends section 12 of the 1932 Act by deleting reference to ministerial sanction in respect of aspects of the management of the park, such management now being a ministerial function. Section 13 amends section 13 of the 1932 Act by deleting requirements for ministerial approval and sanction in respect of appointments as these are now a ministerial function. Section 14 amends section 14 of the 1932 Act by deleting the requirement for ministerial approval of park by-laws, as the making of such by-laws is now a ministerial function. Section 15 amends section 21 of the 1932 Act by deleting requirements for ministerial sanction in respect of aspects of the management of the chattels as this is now also a ministerial function. Section 16 repeals section 20 of the 1932 Act relating to the management of the chattels acquired. This is redundant as such management is now a ministerial function.
Part 3 concerns the amendment of the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952. Section 17 provides for two changes to motor tax legislation. The first change is to section 1 of the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 and provides that clarification in respect of the construction and use requirements for eligibility to any motor tax class and the supporting documentation that may be required with a tax application will henceforth be provided for in secondary legislation rather than by way of circular, giving a clear legislative basis underpinning instructions to motor tax offices. The second change is an amendment of the definition of a motor caravan and provides for the construction criteria for eligibility to the motor caravan rate to be provided for in secondary legislation.
Part 4 deals with amendments to the Air Pollution Act 1987. Section 18 inserts a new definition for the Environmental Protection Agency, which was established in 1992, some five years after the Air Pollution Act was given effect. The agency now has an integral role in air quality monitoring and air pollution prevention and control as well as enforcement. Definitions are also inserted in this section relating to fuels registers and activities. Section 19 amends the penalties provision in the Act with regard to fixed payment notices, or on-the-spot fines, in respect of alleged breaches of certain designated offences. This amendment will remove the option for indictable prosecutions against fixed payment notice offences. Section 20 sets out fixed payment notice offences for alleged breaches of the Air Pollution Act (Marketing, Sale, Distribution and Burning of Specified Fuels) Regulations 2012, SI 326 of 2012. These regulations provide for the ban on the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of bituminous coal, or the smoky coal ban as it is more commonly known, inside certain designated areas. It is important to note that this Bill does not provide for any further extension to the smoky coal ban areas. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will review the extent of the ban areas when the current study being undertaken under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council into emissions from residential solid fuels throughout the island has been completed. The fixed payment notice offences reintroduced by this section were previously provided for under section 10 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. The regulations have since been consolidated, however, and this requires that references to the fixed payment notice offences are updated accordingly. It is important to note that no new fixed payment notice offences relating to solid fuel are being introduced. However, fixed payment notices have proven to be resource efficient enforcement tools as well as effective deterrents. As such, the EPA has recommended extending fixed payment notices to other areas relating to the wider protection of air quality.
Section 21 introduces two new fixed payment notice offences under the European Union (Paints, Varnishes, Vehicle Refinishing Products and Activities) Regulations 2012, SI 564 of 2012. The first offence concerns the sale or supply of prohibited paint products and the amount of the fixed payment notice is €1,000. The second offence concerns the operation of an uncertified vehicle refinishing installation and the amount of the fixed payment notice is €500.
Section 22 introduces a new fixed payment notice for a designated offence under the European Union (Installations and Activities Using Organic Solvents) Regulations 2012, SI 565 of 2012. The offence concerns the operation of an uncertified solvents installation and the amount of the fixed payment notice is €500.
Section 23 amends the powers of authorised persons under the Air Pollution Act. As certain activities regulated under the Act, such as the distribution of solid fuel, are carried out from vehicles, the powers of authorised persons are being strengthened to allow for the stopping and searching of such vehicles.
Section 24 introduces a new Part 1A to the Act that provides a legal basis for the EPA to establish and maintain a fuels register. The persons and activities required to register with the agency will be set out separately by way of regulation. It is the Minister's intention that regulations will specify the practical aspects of the register and will, inter alia, provide for a distinction between persons involved in full-time commercial fuel activity and those engaged in more casual activity. The provisions in this Bill will strengthen and clarify existing provisions relating to registration, in particular the circumstances in which the agency can refuse or revoke registration as well as provide for an appeals procedure relating to such decisions.
Section 25 will replace An Bord Pleanála with the EPA as the appeals body for decisions made by local authorities in respect of the licensing of certain small-scale industrial activities under the Act, given the agency's particular expertise in this area. This will give effect to a recommendation of the independent review of the EPA carried out in 2011.
Section 26 amends and clarifies the scope of the regulation making powers of the Minister under section 53 of the Act. This will allow for the regulation of the storage of fuel alongside the existing powers to regulate for the placing on the market, distribution or sale of fuel.
Part 5 amends the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. The EPA currently provides a number of licensing services without charge, as it does not have the statutory authority to levy an appropriate fee. In many cases, work to assess and license these activities can be resource and time consuming and costly. These costs are often borne by other revenue generating activities carried out by the agency, which is inappropriate. The proposed amendment of section 99A of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 will extend the powers of the Minister to make fee regulations in respect of these EPA services. Such regulations will also require the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
The Bill also proposes to make some minor technical amendments to the Environmental Protection Agency Act, as required, following transposition of the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU. Section 27 proposes to extend the definition of an integrated pollution control activity to include the industrial processes involved in certain wood-based production services.
Section 28 proposes to extend the application of section 82A(5)(e) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act to independently operated wastewater treatment activities, in compliance with the terms of the industrial emissions directive.
Section 29 proposes to amend section 99A of the Environmental Protection Agency Act which empowers the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make regulations providing for the payment of fees in respect of a range of environmental licensing services. The consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be required before such regulations can be made.
Section 30 refines certain definitions to ensure full compliance with the terms of the industrial emissions directive.
Part 6 of the Bill, sections 31 and 32, contains two amendments to the Finance (No. 2) Act 1992 which provides for the making of a declaration of non-use of a motor vehicle. Owners currently have ten days from change of ownership or registration to make a declaration of non-use if it is not intended that the vehicle will be in immediate use. This has proved to be quite a tight deadline, particularly on change of ownership of a vehicle. Accordingly, it is proposed to extend the ten-day deadline to 21 days. While delays are not proving problematic on registration of a new vehicle, it is proposed, for consistency of approach, to apply the same time 21-day deadline. These are both very minor technical changes intended to provide additional time to allow owners of newly purchased vehicles to comply with the legislation.
In Part 7 section 33 provides that an authorised person for the purposes of the new section 10A of the Act of 1996 is distinct from the broader definition of an authorised person elsewhere in the Waste Management Act.
Section 34 provides for the amendment of section 10 of the Waste Management Act 1996 to bring it into accordance with the Fines Act 2010. It also designates proposed offences by collectors, punishable by a fixed payment notice, and an offence of providing misleading or false information as non-indictable offences.
Section 35 inserts a new section 10A into the Waste Management Act to provide for the introduction of a range of fixed payment notices, ranging from €100 to €2,000, in respect of specified offences under regulations concerning producer responsibility initiatives, PRIs. PRIs are based on the producer pays principle and have been developed for a range of waste streams, including waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, packaging and end-of-life vehicles.
Section 36 provides for the insertion of a new section 10B into the Waste Management Act to provide for the introduction of a number of fixed payment notices, FPNs, or on-the-spot fines for household waste collectors where they commit certain offences that constitute a breach of specified conditions of a permit. Examples of permit breaches that will attract the new FPN include a failure to carry a copy of the relevant waste collection permit in a waste collection truck, a failure to display a permit number on a collection truck and deposition of waste at a facility other than the facility named on the collection permit. The FPN is to be set at €500.
Section 37 significantly amends existing section 34 of the Waste Management Act 1996. It provides for the introduction of the core new permit conditions for collectors of household waste in line with the commitments outlined in A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland to support improved environmental and customer service standards. The key new requirements are: the obligation to charge on a pay-by-weight basis; the requirement to provide a three-bin service; the requirement to maintain a database of customers; and a mandatory customer charter.
Section 38 provides for the introduction of a new section 34A into the Waste Management Act introducing a formal new process for the review of a waste collection permit.
Section 39 provides for the insertion of three further new sections, 34B, 34C and 34D, into the 1996 Act. Section 34B sets out the process for the transfer of a waste collection permit from one operator to another. Where an existing operator intends to transfer the collection permit to another person, the two parties are required to make a joint application to the local authority.
Section 34C sets out the collectors' obligations to maintain a database of their customers. It provides that local authorities may seek information from collectors in order that local authorities, in turn, can build a register of households that have signed up for collection services.
Section 34D provides a statutory footing for a "fit and proper person test" and the criteria against which a person is to be assessed for the purposes of meeting the fit and proper person test. Anyone who fails the fit and proper person test is ineligible to hold a waste collection permit.
Whereas the amendments to section 34 of the Waste Management Act provide for the application of the core new requirements for kerbside waste collectors in terms of mandated levels of service, charging on a pay-by-weight basis and maintaining a customer charter, section 40 applies corresponding rules to waste facility sites permitted by local authorities. This is to ensure a level playing field between waste collection facilities to which waste is brought. Section 41 provides for the application of these conditions and obligations to licensed facilities accepting waste directly from households - local authority operated civic amenity sites and landfills - by way of amendment to section 41 of the Waste Management Act 1996.
Section 42 provides for the amendment of section 50 of the Waste Management Act regarding fees. As the Act stands, a local authority may only charge a fee for an application for the grant of a waste collection permit. The amended section will allow a local authority to charge an applicant in respect of an application for a review or transfer of a collection permit, as well as an initial application for a grant of permit.
Section 43 inserts a new transitional and savings section 77 into the 1996 Act to provide that applications for waste collection permits, authorisations or licences that are made but not determined before commencement of the new arrangements will be dealt with under the existing framework.
In Part 8 section 44 amends the Local Government Act 1998 to enable the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make the required payment from the local government fund to the Exchequer, as envisaged in the Revised Estimates Volume, in 2015. The amendment allows for a payment of up to €540 million to be made to the Exchequer in 2015. This reflects a budgetary decision agreed to and published as part of the Estimates process. This provision is simply giving legal underpinning to that decision.
In Part 9 section 45 amends the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 by making three minor typographical corrections to existing provisions and clarifying one existing provision. No new or changed policies are introduced as a result of the proposed changes which are intended to clarify what is required under the 2010 Act and forestall any potential technical defence if an unregistered dog breeding establishment was being pursued in a court action.
Section 46 amends the Control of Dogs Act 1986 to ensure establishments which are registered as dog breeding establishments but which are exempt from dog breeding establishment registration fees do not also have an exemption from paying a general dog licence fee.
Part 10 of the Bill addresses a number of amendments to the Water Services Acts, 2007 to 2014. Section 47 provides for an amendment to the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 by inserting a new section, requiring the owner of a dwelling to provide details of the occupier for Irish Water.
This will allow Irish Water to identify the person responsible for paying water charges in respect of the dwelling. Any future changes in occupation would also be required to be notified to Irish Water. This section also provides that any future leases or agreements to occupy a dwelling are deemed to include an agreement to pay any water charges. This would apply to all dwellings covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. However, it is important to note that it does not place any new obligations on tenants.
Section 48 provides for the payment of water charges on the sale or transfer of the property. It requires the owner of a dwelling to pay any charges due to Irish Water before the completion of the sale or transfer and to provide evidence to his or her solicitor of the payment of the charges. Where the charges have not been paid, provision is made for the vendor's solicitor to deduct any unpaid charges from the proceeds of the sale. The section also provides that a tenant of a local authority dwelling who wishes to purchase the dwelling shall be required to pay any water charges before the sale of the property can be completed by the local authority.
Section 49 is a provision to allow an approved housing body to obtain the water conservation grant on behalf of a tenant. This would apply where the body is liable for the water charges to the dwelling and is in receipt of funding from the Health Service Executive under an arrangement under section 38 or 39 of the Health Act 2004. Section 50 provides for the establishment of a database of water services provided to dwellings by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The database is necessary to facilitate the payment of the water conservation grant to eligible households after 2015. The section specifies the information to be contained in the database and provides for data transfer between parties holding the data. It also allows the Minister to request the Local Government Management Agency or Irish Water to establish and maintain the database on the Minister's behalf.
Section 51 is a technical amendment. It provides for the amendment of section 9 and section 10 of the Water Services Act 2007 relating to the prosecution of offences, to take account of the offence provisions introduced by amendment No. 43, which deals with the requirement to register with Irish Water.
This is an important Bill with provisions ranging across a wide and diverse range of issues, from the transfer of certain State owned assets through policy reforms of waste management and water services, to measures which will serve to streamline administrative procedures and enhance the protection of the environment. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State. This is comprehensive legislation, however, like the election candidate on the night of the election count who, unsure of the outcome, carries two speeches, one of acceptance and one of concession, I have two documents that relate to the Bill. The first is a briefing note relating to the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 which I received last week, before this legislation was introduced into the other House. It said Fianna Fáil supported the Bill and that the introduction of fixed payment notices to deal with air and chemical pollution offences is a more reasonable and cost-effective means of enforcement and deterrence than dealing with offences in the courts. We also welcomed the increased functions and powers that were to be given to local authorities and the EPA to enforce the smoky coal ban in restricted areas, although we raised the point that it is questionable how enforceable the ban is.
The recent extension of the ban on smoky coal outside the major cities to other urban areas has sparked concerns that the ban would be virtually impossible to enforce, for example, in the extended smokeless coal zone around Cork city. Earlier this year, the then Minister, Phil Hogan, said he envisaged a nationwide ban on the use of smoky coal within the next three years, which would be the way to go. People can source coal from Northern Ireland, where lower environmental standards on solid fuel apply. It is questionable how enforceable the ban on smoky coal in the restricted areas is and will be in the future, given that people can buy fuel outside the zones. It would be far better to move rapidly to a national ban. I am not sure what the North-South relationship is on the issue. We should move towards a 26-county ban and look forward to entering a relationship with the Northern Ireland Executive on extending the ban across the North. Perhaps the Minister of State could comment on it in her reply.
That was the good news. The bad news is that we will oppose the amendments to the legislation, notwithstanding what I said about the generality of the Bill and the very plausible and acceptable elements in it. The Government has decided to use this otherwise innocuous Bill as a Trojan horse to implement further water charges legislation. The Government's sweeping amendments will create a new water customer database, make housing associations liable for charges, extract unpaid water charges from the proceeds of a house sale and place the burden of water charges on tenants rather than landlords. Instead of openly debating the issues in the main debate on the Bill in the Dáil, the Government has attempted to put them through under the radar. Despite the fiasco that surrounded the introduction of Irish Water, the Water Services Bill and all the legislation surrounding it, which has led to protests on the streets of our towns and cities, the Government is going ahead with the amendments without proper consultation and debate.
We believe this has contravened Dáil Standing Orders but that is a matter for the Dáil. When the Minister of State took the Bill on Committee Stage in the Dáil she said some amendments would be forthcoming but, when asked about their substance, said she was not in a position to say. This also raises concerns among Deputies and Senators. We cannot understand why the Minister has taken a Bill about air and chemical pollution and decided to amend it at the latest possible stage with a series of changes to the Water Services Act. It illustrates a lack of transparency the Government has taken in its approach to water charges from the outset, such as when it rammed through the original Water Services Bill, although, as I have said before, I exclude in this the Leader of the House. While the Bill was guillotined in the Dáil, considerable time was devoted to it in this House. The Leader ensured the debate on the Bill was not guillotined, notwithstanding the conflict that has arisen since and the controversy arising from it. We have concerns about Standing Orders 131, 136 and 141.
Amendment No. 21 places an obligation on the owner of a dwelling that is in receipt of service from Irish Water to register and provide details to Irish Water regarding the occupier of the dwelling. Amendment No. 22 provides that any water charges owing to Irish Water are paid on the sale of the dwelling. Amendment No. 23 provides for an amendment to eligibility for the water conservation grant. Amendment No. 24 provides for the establishment by the Minister of a database of water services provided to dwellings. Amendment No. 25 relates to the prosecution of offences provisions set out in sections 9 and 10 of the Water Services Act 2007.
I am curious to know about Part 8, section 44. According to the Minister of State's detailed speech, it amends section 6 of the Local Government Act 1998:
[T]to enable the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make the required payment from the local government fund to the Exchequer, as envisaged in the Revised Estimates Volume, in 2015. The amendment allows for a payment of up to €540 million to be made to the Exchequer in 2015. This reflects a budgetary decision agreed to and published as part of the Estimates process. This provision is simply giving legal underpinning to that decision.
The payment would come out of the local government fund, which is generated by motor tax. I was in the House when the then Minister, Martin Cullen, made it clear that he was ring-fencing the money that would be generated through motor tax for use by local authorities. It was going to be a substantial and significant amount of extra income that would accrue to local authorities and it was going to be ring-fenced.
Am I right in suggesting that the allocation of €540 million has been raided and it will go back into the black hole of the Exchequer? All this is being done at a time when local authorities are crying out for more resources. It is a time when there is not a council in the country that is not passing motions, in advance of the budget, for increased and improved allocations of money for roads, regional, local and national, in their various administrative areas. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would clarify whether the €540 million will come out of the fund that was originally provided for this purpose.
The Senator has one minute left.
I am glad that the Acting Chairman has reminded me because I want to finish with a flourish. It is always good to finish with a flourish. I have carried out some research on the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act. The Acting Chairman will be familiar with the legislation because it relates to Muckross, County Kerry. What is extraordinary about the matter is that Arthur Rose Vincent was an Irish politician and barrister who served in this House.
That is right.
Mr. Vincent had a distinguished career under the British colonial system which unfortunately I cannot go into. He refused a judgeship in the British courts because of the executions of the 1916 leaders. He was an Independent Member of this House from 1931 to 1934 having been elected in a by-election. He took the seat vacated by the death of the then Senator Patrick Kenny. Mr. Vincent was re-elected in 1931 for nine years but resigned in 1934 due to reasons of ill health. He was succeeded by Senator Patrick Lynch who had opposed Eamon de Valera at the famous west Clare or Clare by-election that elected Eamon de Valera to the first Dáil. Subsequently, Mr. Lynch took the anti-Treaty side, then he won the election during the period that Fianna Fáil was in government with the support of the Labour Party and was subsequently appointed Attorney General. That is the extraordinary background to the legislation I mentioned.
The reason the Minister is repealing the legislation is that in 1932, finding the management and expense of the Muckross estate too difficult and expensive, Vincent and his parents-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn, donated Muckross House and its estate of 11,000 acres to the Irish State as a memorial to Maud Bourn Vincent. The estate now forms part of the Killarney National Park. In 1937, the former Senator and gentleman that I am talking about left Ireland for Monaco where he lived for the rest of his life. He is now buried near Muckross House. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
That is right.
It is an extraordinary story. History will be made here by the repeal of the legislation.
I knew his son well. The legislation to which the Senator refers is the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act 1932.
In eight minutes I will not touch on all I want to say. As the Minister of State has said, the legislation is wide and diverse. I welcome her to the House to take this Bill. This legislation covers parks, water, waste, finance, air pollution, dogs, landlords and housing, and I will not comment on them all. The outstanding issues had to be dealt with and they were flagged by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government back in May. The Minister of State also flagged them in a speech in the Dáil but I know she did not have the detail at that time.
The legislation gives effect to measures designed to recover unpaid water charges relating to domestic property, including privately owned accommodation, occupied private rented accommodation, local authority rented accommodation, and housing authority and housing agency accommodation. The Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill will be brought to the House shortly. It will provide a legislative basis for those measures by implementing a number of the reforms that were recommended by the Law Reform Commission. One does not set up a commission and just ignore it. Many of the recommendations on fine collection were recommended by the Law Reform Commission. In terms of enforcement and recovery of debt, when one decides to implement laws, one needs to have the wherewithal to ensure they are implemented. If one thinks locking people up in prison for not paying a fine is the way to go about it, that is not good and is not a good policy. There is a revolving door syndrome in prisons which everybody in this House has criticised. I worry that if everybody who has not paid a fine is locked up, serious criminals will be left to walk the streets. The Government is changing the current situation and is making space in prisons for the people who should be incarcerated and not for the people who should not be incarcerated.
In terms of registration with Irish Water, there will be a mandatory requirement that will make deductions for unpaid water charges. I will not go into all the details of the Minister of State's presentation. An amendment of the Waste Management Act 1996 will provide for a change in the legislation. Throughout this country we have seen how waste legislation has been flouted by various bodies. In Part 7 of the Bill there is an amendment to the Waste Management Act 1996. The new proposals will emphasise the polluter pays principle. They will also provide clear incentives and obligations for households and waste collectors. The proposals will strengthen the regulatory bodies such as the National Waste Collection Permit Office to tackle very poor performance by waste collectors. We have all spoken about poor performance in different areas in order that people should realise we must find a way to tackle it. Every day we hear people ask for measures to tackle poor performance and they also ask us how we will ensure certain things do not happen. The new provision will be of major benefit to the consumer. It will simplify pricing structures and will enable customers to compare and contrast more easily the cost of different waste lorries, waste companies and household waste collection services. Most important, it will provide an effective means of enforcing those obligations.
The Bill will also set up a database. Councils will have more information on who is dumping what, where, when and how, which will leave household collectors more responsible as a result. We also seek a sustainable environment and want to keep the environment clean for our children and future generations. There is no point in saying we are in favour of environmental preservation if we close our eyes to the dumping that is taking place in the countryside and we do not know what is dumped where, when or how. We need to know who is recycling, availing of bring banks and who is composting. We are great in Ireland for making laws but this Bill is one of the ways to ensure we implement the laws also.
Section 23A, inserted by section 47 of the Bill, refers to the mandatory obligation on the owner of a dwelling to provide details of who is registered as a customer of Irish Water. One of the previous speakers said every landlord should pay the water charge for every person renting. Such an initiative would not reflect the polluter pays principle. It would mean the landlord would be responsible for everything but the polluter would be responsible for nothing. Deducting charges from the proceeds of the sale of a dwelling, as the case may be, is another way. One can get at landlords in this way and ensure they fulfil their responsibility that whoever they have in their houses are responsible and environmentally friendly people. This is a small ask. The landlord must maintain his roof and everything else.
The water conservation grant database will make people responsible and accountable. When one gives a grant, it is like throwing money up in the air and hoping somebody will catch it. One simply would not know who would receive the grant. The Bill provides for the establishment of a nationwide database of water services to dwellings from 2016 onwards.
Domestic water usage per capita in Ireland is among the highest in Europe. All European countries have water charges. As well as making economic sense, the driving force behind the introduction of water charges is the legal obligation to recover the cost of all water services under article 9(1) of the EU water framework directive. Since 2000, Ireland is under a legal obligation to implement properly cost recovery measures for a wide range of water services and uses, including domestic water services. The real issue is one the Bill is addressing - how to collect water and the introduction of the polluter pays principle. The EU directive requires cost recovery on a polluter pays basis. It is all very well linking it to motor tax but in terms of the polluter pays principle, while the car is a polluter in itself, one must distinguish between types of pollution, and financing is one aspect in this regard.
I am my party's spokesperson on the environment but we are all here today to discuss the environment. The public has a right to a good environment and a safe and reliable supply of drinking water. Last week alone, 11,000 people in Roscommon had clean water for the first time in years. They paid for and bought more expensive bottled water. As many as 21,000 people in Roscommon now have clean water. It involves people paying. In the countryside there are people who have paid for water all their lives and I say that as a country person.
In terms of septic tanks, the water harvesting grant will help people to ensure they invest in water conservation measures. It will help people who have contaminated water to get clean water, be it through investing in water harvesting devices or devices that use ultraviolet rays to get rid of bacteria. All those devices are available to people. We have to help people whom we have not helped before. Many people who live in the cities say we have clean water but I am afraid that there are many people who do not have clean water. We have to also ensure there is water conservation and cleanliness.
Leaks are another issue that has been well discussed in this debate. The Minister has stated time and again that the charge will distinguish between those who are willing to pay and those who cannot pay, as opposed to just people who refuse to pay. It was important for the Minister to say this.
There is the potential to avail of easy option pay plans which are being availed of.
I will skip the part on the Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill and could say a good deal more about waste, but I will leave the matter of the transfer of finance to the Minister of State.
There is scaremongering on the issue of public versus private ownership. The Government has consistently stated the body with responsibility for the supply of water will remain in public ownership. This is provided for in legislation and will not be changed. It cannot be changed without a plebiscite of the people. Therefore, I do not want to hear the issue being mentioned again. Let us be honest and say it has been legislated for. Certain policies and philosophies are being pursued by many, but we need to think about the environment.
I do not have time to go into all of the details on the Environmental Protection Agency. It is, however, an important issue which I hope we will get to debate on another day.
I wish to share my time with Senator Mary Ann O'Brien.
I thank the officials of the Department for the briefing they provided at my request. It was useful to go through some of the issues I have with the Bill. On Committee Stage we can explore in more detail certain aspects of it such as waste management, air quality, paints and solvents, about which I have learned a good deal, motor vehicles, the EPA and Killarney National Park.
I will jump straight to section 47 and associated sections. I made it clear when we were debating what is now the Water Services Act 2014 in December last year that I had serious misgivings about the way Irish Water had been established, the arrogance of its leadership and the completely misjudged manner in which the process had been communicated to the public. While not a panacea, the Water Services Bill addressed and provided remedies for a number of significant concerns. I do not intend to get into how the section was dealt with in the Lower House, but I certainly have misgivings about the way it was handled.
I am very pleased that the idea of landlords retaining tenant deposits where there is an outstanding or unpaid bill has been put on hold until a tenancy deposit protection scheme is introduced under the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012. Deposit retention is a major source of disputes in the private rental sector. I was seriously concerned that we were considering the addition of another clause on retention before a method through which deposits could be held by a third party was in place. I was also concerned that landlords would deem it necessary to secure two or three-month deposits from tenants to cover unpaid water bills. That would be near impossible for the majority of tenants who are already struggling with spiralling rents. The rate of increase in rents is 8.2% nationally and already 10% this year in Dublin. We will deal with this and a number of other pressing issues in the private rental sector when the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is brought before the Seanad.
I had concerns about how we would deal with Irish Water as compared to other utilities such as those in the electricity sector. I appreciate that the Government does not intend to cut off supply by Irish Water, something that was provided for in the Water Services Bill 2014. Therefore, this Bill is an attempt to find a consistent approach to deal with the matter. The reality is that one in five families lives in private rented accommodation. Therefore, the Bill will affect quite a number of families. A tenant's liability in respect of the payment of Irish Water charges will be deemed to be implied in his or her tenancy agreement, unless the landlord and the tenant expressly agree otherwise. Obviously, the legislation will not be retrospective, but we will explore the issue in more detail on Committee Stage.
I welcome section 49 on approved housing bodies which will not have to name their tenants. This is a good arrangement. I welcome what the Department has done in this regard.
I am open to looking at all amendments proposed on Committee Stage. The Government has tried to take a consistent approach to other utility bills, given the nature of Irish Water.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I also thank her officials for the briefing provided earlier today. As the Minister of State noted, it took her half an hour to present the Bill to us.
Part of the Bill concerns the role of the Environmental Protection Agency. It seems there is a tidying up of loose ends to endeavour to comply with EU directions. I will offer some thoughts for the consideration of the Minister of State.
I have in mind section 31 and amendments to the 1992 Environmental Protection Agency Act. A very good public consultation process was undertaken by the EPA in 2010, out of which review came 58 recommendations. I commend the EPA for its work because action has been taken on 43 of these recommendations to date. However, one serious recommendation highlighted the fact that the EPA enjoyed absolute immunity in respect of a failure to discharge its statutory functions. Section 15 of the EPA Act provides that no action or other proceedings shall lie or be maintainable against the agency. I will not read the entire section because I do not have time to do so, but the review group noted that doubts had been expressed about the constitutionality of the EPA's immunity and whether it was compatible with obligations arising under the European Convention on Human Rights. The review group concluded that absolute immunity was difficult to justify in a modern legislative scheme and that the matter should be revised, as appropriate, when the opportunity arose. I took the view that it was appropriate to mention it. In 2011 the then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, proposed that he would consider the issue as set out in the implementation plan. He said it was likely that primary legislation would be required and that the matter should be progressed in the latter half of 2013. Two important sections in the 1992 Act should be examined. We have all been reading and studying the review and all know that the job the EPA has to do is vast, but its absolute immunity does not help it in dealing with big business and the public.
Reference has been made to the smokey coal issue, on which the Asthma Society of Ireland has made a submission today. Smokey coal causes considerable air pollution problems for asthmatics, of whom there are 500,000 in the country and of whom one dies every week. Every 26 minutes an asthmatic presents in an accident and emergency department. However, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, the legislation the Department intends to bring forward is welcome. The representatives of the Minister of State told us today that small businesses buying or cutting timber or young people who were trying to be entrepreneurial would not be affected because the burning of timber did not affect air quality. I thank the Minister of State for listening to me.
I welcome the Minister of State. Accusations were laid at her door in the Lower House about the way the Bill had been presented. I compliment her on all 29 pages of her presentation.
This is probably the most wide-ranging Bill I have seen come through in my time in this House. It seeks to amend the Waste Management Act 1996, the Air Pollution Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Water Services Acts, 2007 and 2014. As other Senators said, on Second Stage one takes a broad view of a Bill. I wish, therefore, to focus on a number of areas.
I am keen to deal with the issues of waste and illegal dumping and the parts of the Bill that tackle them, which I fully support. The country has been blighted by illegal dumping. I have several questions to raise and trust the Minister of State will be willing to respond to them.
Approximately 25% of houses do not have access to a waste bin collection service. It was reported in last Sunday's newspapers that houses which are not listed as using a waste bin collection service may be liable for fines of up to €3,000. As somebody who has practised recycling, composting and waste management at the domestic level for the last 25 years, I could live without a bin collection service. I ask for clarification on the notion that people could be liable for fines of €3,000 if they cannot prove to their local authority that they do not require their bins to be collected because I have been contacted by a number of people who have concerns about it. We have made great strides on waste management and we are currently responsible for 367 kg of waste per year, compared to an EU average of 438 kg. We have come a long way in this regard.
The Bill also deals with the issue of air pollution and enforcement. I have raised concerns about the EPA on a number of occasions. The previous speaker was more polite than I intend to be. The EPA is charged with controlling air pollution but in 2013 it only brought 11 prosecutions in the entire country, all of which were against local authorities. It did not pursue a single prosecution against an industry. I have previously outlined in great detail my concerns about the role of the EPA in respect of a number of cases. One of the cases involves Enva Ireland, which has polluted the environment of the two counties in which it is based, Laois and Clare, and is responsible for particularly severe pollution in the centre of Portlaoise. I was given a commitment by the previous Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that a report was forthcoming from the EPA on Enva's activities. I am still waiting for that report. The EPA must act to deal with these issues under the Environmental Protection Act 1992, which tasks it with monitoring industry and local authorities. Nobody monitors the EPA, however. That is not acceptable and I hope this legislation will address the matter.
We have had numerous debates on water charges in this House. Water charges have been put on the same footing as other utilities, such as gas and electricity. People who comply and register will get a conservation grant towards their water charges. They will not get a grant from the ESB or the gas utilities. There is at last a recognition that supplying water in rural Ireland requires a different approach than in the cities, with rural dwellers now being categorised into those who use septic tanks and those who rely on the public wastewater systems.
Many of the provisions of the Bill aim to tidy up areas of the law. I welcome the provisions on Muckross House in Killarney, which is an iconic building. I also welcome that the registration system for fuel suppliers is being tightened to close off the loopholes which previously prevented prosecutions. The changes to the regulations for dog breeding are also important in light of past cases involving puppy farming and cruelty against dogs. I look forward to discussing these provisions further on Committee Stage and thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take the Bill.
This Bill is a classic example of a Trojan horse. The Government drafted a Bill containing provisions for the Bourn Vincent memorial park, which nobody could oppose, and then added several cynical provisions relating to Irish Water in order to take the last few quid from people who cannot afford it. How did the Labour Party move from opposing water charges with the slogan "Every little hurts" to having one of their Members, the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, come to the Seanad to ram this legislation through? The Minister, Deputy alan Kelly, abused Dáil procedures to force this secret legislation through that House in the last few weeks of the session. Opposition to water charges was the main element of the Labour Party's campaign during the last week of the general election but it is now driving the charges. It is not even leaving Fine Gael to do the dirty work.
It is a good idea.
The Senator has already done great damage to the Seanad with the ridiculous comments she made earlier.
That is appalling.
They will have to be addressed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
There is nonsense on the Order of Business every day, and there is more nonsense in the way in which we deal with environmental legislation. We oppose this Bill because it is utterly ludicrous. The Government made a hames of water charges over many years. This is the fourth or fifth Bill dealing with Irish Water, and there were many changes in the meantime. This legislation will create a new customer database, make housing associations liable for charges, allow unpaid bills to be taken from the proceeds of house sales and place the burden for charges on tenants rather than landlords. Instead of allowing an open debate on these provisions in the Dáil, they were squeezed into a Report Stage debate before being sent to the Seanad. While the Seanad plays a crucial part of the legislative process, the Dáil is the House of elected representatives of the people. That House is where the substantive debate on Second Stage of this Bill should have taken place. That in itself is a reason to oppose the Bill. We should be jealous of our parliamentary system and protective of our democracy at all costs rather than abuse it in the manner adopted by the Government.
Irish Water was misconceived from the start. It was a Fine Gael idea which the Labour Party took on board with relish. The transformation of that formerly important party is an extraordinary sight to behold. A party that once had its own distinctive voice has become merely the implementer of ideas it previously regarded as anathema. I will be opposing this Bill and I am glad that my party and other colleagues will also oppose it.
I cannot welcome this Bill and will not be supporting it. There is no doubt that it represents a sleight of hand on the part of the Government. Rather than bring forward legislation in the correct manner, once again it is abusing the parliamentary process for its own ends. It should have introduced a stand-alone Bill to deal with water charges. This legislation, which the Government brought before us with its tail between its legs, is essentially the water services Bill mark IV. Despite multiple attempts by the Government to correct its water policy, the entire process has been a disaster from the outset. However, the Government is not prepared to acknowledge that it made a mistake on the issue of water charges.
The Minister of State and her party have simply implemented Fine Gael policies. The Government does not even have the ability to bring forward legislation in the most appropriate manner. It has castrated this Bill by putting in a whole series of amendments to make it something it should never have been in the first place and it is doing it because it lacks courage. It is doing it because it has tried to pull a fast one. It has tried to pull a stroke. Here we are again with more stroke politics from the Government.
This Government is developing a very interesting narrative, which will be the stake driven right through the heart of the Labour Party. The damage the Minister of State and her colleagues have done to the Labour Party is absolutely irreversible.
Can I make a point of order?
There is no point of order. We are entitled to make our political charges.
It is provided for in the Standing Orders. There are no stroke politics.
As a previous Senator has stated, the Government has caused enough damage to the Seanad already this week. We are entitled to make whatever challenges we want in this House and it is about time Senators on the Government side of the House accepted the democratic right of people to have their say. If they do not like it, they should leave the Chamber. I am entitled to have my say and I will have it. The Labour Party's narrative and the Government's narrative has been one of cronyism. There has been one rule for the elites and something else for ordinary householders.
The Minister of State has no difficulty in walking into this House and introducing legislation which essentially pickpockets ordinary citizens who cannot afford to pay their water charges. When the extra money being given to former politicians and Ministers in their pensions is put to the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, the reply is the Government cannot do anything about it and that its hands are tied. What of NAMA and what goes on when people call for more scrutiny and accountability? The Government says it cannot do anything about it. What about the tactical insolvency we saw in Clerys and see over and over again? It is a denial of workers' rights. Workers are being treated with contempt by employers but when we demand legislation to deal with it, it cannot be done and it is too complex. However, when it comes to emptying people's pockets and bringing in cuts for lone parents or cutting the respite care grant or public services, that can be done, but it cannot be done for the elites, the wealthy or those who are really being represented by this Government. This narrative will bring about the end of the Labour Party in this State. We will see it at the next election and it will be entirely of the party's own doing.
Like the civil debt Bill, this is another sneaky Bill which the Government is using to desperately push through its water charges policy. The reality is the Government has lost the hearts and minds of citizens. It will not even tell us how many people have signed up to or registered with Irish Water or how many people have paid. Some of this might be uncomfortable for Senator Landy and his party-----
I was not speaking about the Senator at all. There are others-----
I understand this is very difficult for the Senator and his party but those are the choices it made.
The Senator could at least write his own speech if no one uses Deputy Brian Stanley's.
His party made those choices and the people will make their choice in the next election, which I am sure they will, and I very much look forward to having that discussion over the next number of months, but today is about the sneaky, underhanded attempt by the Government, this Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government - a Labour Party Minister - to bring forward this Bill in this manner. It is absolutely appalling and shocking that the Labour Party is the party in government driving this agenda and it will pay a big electoral price for it.
I welcome the Minister of State. My colleague, Senator Denis Landy, has covered the broader aspects of the Bill so I will restrict my comments to the particular section of the Bill which deals with the landlord-tenant relationship and their obligations. It is my view and that of Threshold, a housing charity which deals with in the region of 20,000 tenants and 3,000 landlords per annum, that the proposed measures, as set out in the legislation, will not achieve the intended goal and will, in fact, add to the difficulties in the private rental sector. This sector is already experiencing supply and affordability issues, not to put too fine a tooth in it. We are concerned the proposals outlined in the Bill will put tenants in a vulnerable position with regard to their relationship with landlords. In summary, by making landlords responsible for their tenants' water charges, it will make it more difficult for low income tenants, in particular, to access housing. It will lead to demands for higher security deposits and increase the number of deposit retention cases, thus undermining the forthcoming deposit protection scheme the Minister intends to introduce shortly. It will increase the number of tenancy terminations and will generate a much higher workload for the dispute resolution service of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB.
The Minister has indicated in a number of interviews that he is determined to ensure this legislation does not undermine the position of tenants. I will use this opportunity to outline some of the reasons we believe this will not be the case. The normal position in the rental sector is that utility accounts such as gas and electricity are in the tenant's name and not that of the landlord. In other words, it is the tenant's responsibility to pay and only in rare situations, where the landlord keeps responsibility for the utilities and retains the bill in his or her name, does the landlord have any call whatsoever on the tenant's deposit. Utility arrears in the tenant's name are, therefore, not deductible from the tenant's deposit.
The provisions being proposed under this legislation makes the landlord accountable for the payment of the tenant's water bill. Where the landlord is not the occupier of the property, he or she must inform Irish Water of the identity of the tenant. Unlike other speakers, I do not have a difficulty with that obligation. There is already an obligation on landlords to register tenancies and both landlords and tenants are obliged to comply with the law as it currently stands. However, the proposed amendment states that where a tenant fails to register or pay, the landlord is liable to pay the water charge. This is completely different from current practice where a landlord has no responsibility for a tenant's electricity or gas bills. In order to protect themselves against these situations, landlords will seek to increase the amount of a deposit required at the start of a tenancy. As I have stated, this will make it more difficult for low income tenants to secure tenancies. Given the extreme difficulty low income tenants have securing accommodation, particularly tenants in receipt of rent supplement, it is inevitable that tenants will be the victims of any situation which tries to make landlords responsible for arrears in water charges.
The non-payment of a water charge will be a ground for terminating a tenancy under the proposed legislation. We have not yet come across a case where a tenancy was terminated due to the non-payment of a utility bill but we believe the proposed amendment makes the non-payment of a water charge grounds for terminating a tenancy. Tenants who have not paid their water charges face the prospect of eviction. We have serious concerns about this particular measure. If landlords are permitted to terminate tenancies in this way, it will lead to greater homelessness and a higher number of disputes, as I have said, coming before the PRTB. Disputes relating to Irish Water are not currently dealt with by the PRTB and this will be an unnecessary addition to what is an already overburdened workload.
Our recommendation is that there should be no change to the current system, which operates effectively. In other words, utility bills are a matter for the tenant and not the landlord. Non-payment of water charges should not be a ground for ending a fixed-term or Part 4 tenancy. As a water charge is payable by the tenant, it should not be deductible from a security deposit. In our view, this is unworkable because a landlord will not know if a tenant is in arrears in their water charges. They would have to have a right to require information from Irish Water, which I believe would infringe data protection legislation. Before this legislation proceeds to Committee and Report Stages, I ask the Minister of State to consider seriously the situation. As already pointed out, one fifth of the Irish population live in rented housing. If we do not safeguard tenants, in particular those on low incomes, we may regret it.
Cuirim m'urraim leis an méid atá ráite ag go leor de mo chuid chomhghleacaithe i dtaca leis an mBille seo. Is dócha an chéad rud ná fáilte a chur roimh an Minister of State to the House again today. This Bill started out as one which everybody would probably have welcomed. It was making general alterations to environmental legislation and providing for the transfer of assets from one Department to another.
The Bill proposes amendments to the Air Pollution Act and to the EPA Act. It contains regulations relating to harmful chemicals, to vehicle respraying, the regulation of dry-cleaning solvents, powers to grant air pollution licences, regulations on the non-use of motor vehicles and regulations on producer responsibility initiatives. Then suddenly, Irish Water became embroiled in the legislation for one reason or another.
While I fully appreciate the Minister of State is not the Minister responsible, and while ultimately between Committee Stage and Report Stage in the other House, alterations were introduced to this legislation which deserve broad support, as we say as Gaeilge, an eireaball a chuir sibh leis, the tail the Government put to the legislation in the form of amendments to the Irish Water legislation, means it is not possible for this side of the House to support the Bill. Senator Landy is correct that it is a utility company, but it will now become a utility company with more legal protection than any other utility company in the State. No other utility in the State is being given protection with regard to, for example, consumer databases, payments of charges or charges fixed against properties, and which protection is being enshrined in legislation. Irish Water is being given those powers. This will cause fundamental problems in the execution of wills, in the conveyance of property and in general property transactions, whether for sale or being handed on as inheritance or gifts. The Leas-Chathaoirleach is a solicitor and will have more experience in this area than me, but I can foresee problems down the line. This will take the same route as the septic tank charge and the other charges such as the property tax introduced by the Government. This will be another charge on a property which will make legal transactions more complicated. Solicitors will need to exercise more thorough due diligence.
Why give such sweeping powers to a utility company? It certainly makes Irish Water more financially attractive on the open market because of the database, the protections and the legal obligations. This is wrong. Whether we agree or disagree with charging people for water is a separate issue. On balance, I think that people should pay for a service. The difficulty I have with the establishment of Irish Water is that the powers, charges and collection rights are being handed to a utility company established by the State. We are told that European regulations stipulate that it is at arm's length but that company is being set up to be sold later. It is similar to what happened in England and the same prototype is being set up here as happened with Thames Water and Yorkshire Water. Those companies were off balance sheet and sold. The Labour Government in 1997 was returned under Tony Blair and tried to recover those companies but was unsuccessful. The privatisation of water in England has resulted in increases of 200% in charges over an eight-year period. That is where we are going. On the face of it and going into an election, the conservation grant of €100 per household sounds great and there will be no major charge this year. However, those charges and the charging model are only in place until 2017 or 2018.
The Senator's party was going to charge €700.
We know what is going to happen with the sunset clause. If the people on the Government side of the House were honest about it, they would say they know exactly what is going to happen. If those in Fine Gael and the Labour Party are in opposition in a few years time, they may be criticising Sinn Féin, the Independents or Fianna Fáil - whoever is in government - if the charges are increased. They should remember that they are setting the template not only to increase the charges but to sell a very profitable company with a massive database and a massive collection facility which is enshrined in law. It is ludicrous. We can return to this discussion on Committee Stage but I think it is wrong to piggyback on what is credible legislation and to muddy the waters of that credible legislation with this nonsense around Irish Water. I think the Minister of State has been sold a pig in a poke. I do not blame her for it but this amendment of the legislation is not right.
Senator Aideen Hayden raised some very credible points and I agree with everything she said. She speaks with authority and she is right in her view about the landlord and tenant issue. I know this is an issue in Dublin. I have friends in Dublin who are facing significant difficulties with landlord-tenant relations. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his latitude.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill has highlighted the elephant in the room with regard to Irish Water. This legislation seems to be set up to make the company more profitable and more interesting to speculators in the open market. I remember at Christmas when the original Bill was introduced we were told that all kinds of safeguards would be included to ensure Irish Water would remain in public ownership. The Government has side-stepped and forgotten to include any kind of clause that would put this issue to the people by way of referendum. This is regrettable, to say the least.
I have difficulties with this legislation, some of which difficulties have been articulated by previous speakers. The idea that Irish Water and water can be considered the same type of utility as a gas or electricity network is a load of rubbish. I can live without gas and electricity but I cannot live without water. It is as simple as that.
In a cave.
Water is a human right that should be available to all. I am an environmentalist and I am in favour of the conservation of water. I regard water as a very important natural resource that we should not squander in any shape or form and I support the metering of water. However, the way the situation has evolved creates more questions than answers. Given the whiff of corruption surrounding the sale of Siteserv and while that sale is still under investigation, it would not be right and proper for me to recommend payment to Irish Water. The idea of a boycott of the payment of water charges while those issues remain outstanding is quite commendable. I do not think people have confidence in the way that sale took place. Serious issues and question marks have been raised. It is somewhat heavy-handed and is a strong-arm tactic to oblige the owners of dwellings to provide the details of their tenants to Irish Water. As that kind of information is not given to any other utility company, why should Irish Water be different? It is an infringement of people's rights and I am sure it is an infringement of data protection legislation in some form. I do not know if it would stack up.
Part 4 of the legislation extends the scope of the EPA to impose licensing fees for new and expanding areas. I have raised the issue of the EPA on a number of occasions with the Minister of State and with other Ministers. The agency is protected by an immunity clause to protect it from any kind of prosecution. I refer to cases where the EPA has granted a licence in the knowledge that the person is a known polluter. I have an example in my own constituency of this. I do not know what the EPA is afraid of. If the agency is doing its job correctly and monitoring emissions correctly, there is no reason it should have immunity. I refer to Senator Denis Landy's contribution.
A total of 11 prosecutions have been brought forward by the EPA. We know how the EPA operates given the public statements made by its director general. Not one prosecution has been taken against industry. I find this bizarre to say the least. Senator Denis Landy mentioned Enva. Cadence EnviroPower is trying to build a gasification plant in my neck of the woods. This company does not have a great history by any stretch of the imagination. As long as the issue of immunity is still enshrined in legislation, it will not instill confidence in the EPA. This should be looked at and resolved in this legislation. Perhaps we will see on the next Stage.
I will not go back over the same ground that most of my colleagues have covered. The Government had the essence of a good Bill and then somebody somewhere took the smart move to throw Irish Water and everything about it into the middle of it. As such, I do not believe anybody on this side of the House will support it, although I have no doubt that if we produce 100 amendments, it will be accepted anyway just like the original Bill was accepted here before Christmas. Everything that was said fell on deaf ears. I am still baffled that decent people like Senator Sean D. Barrett who brought amendments into this House - credible amendments by a noted international economist - were turned down and their arguments fell on deaf ears.
Everything about Irish Water from its inception through to where we are today has been flawed, wrong and questionable. Meetings with a Minister took place where no notes were taken, no records were kept and nobody knows what was said. Contracts were awarded to companies that did not exist at the time they were awarded. We are fitting meters in every house in the country that will be not be required until 2019 at the earliest and will be obsolete by the time they are required. When will the Government learn that enough is enough? It is flogging a dead horse. It will not be the same as a gas or an electricity utility, as my colleague said a few moments ago. Everything about it is protected by law. We were told earlier on that it will not be privatised without some sort of a plebiscite. Does the Government think that we are all fools? Does it think the people of Ireland are total and utter idiots?
This Bill is a Trojan horse. It is here to protect a company that has been flawed from the outset. The Government is giving out grants to households. This is a conservation grant where I do not have to prove that I did anything for it. We do not know what the cost of administering that grant is but my understanding is that it is about €650,000. This is to administer the payment of a grant for doing nothing.
Where in the world would one get it? I have written to the European Commission about the issue being transferred to Irish Water through the Department of Social Protection. It is a transfer of capital to a private utility company and is wrong in every sense of the word. I agree with what Senator Aideen Hayden had to say. I see nothing but problems when we try to deal with the issue of tenants.
I will oppose every single step of this Bill. I will submit what amendments I can and support any amendments that are brought forward. I will sit here and watch the other side be marched in like sheep to vote for this Bill to pass into law. I will not get party political about it because I do not care who forms the next Government but politicians on all sides will pay a high price for the sleight of hand the Government is pulling with this Bill because that is what it is. It is a sleight of hand and an insult to the people of Ireland.
Someone said a while ago that we have not been told how many people have paid their water charges. We have not been told for one very good reason. Very few people are paying them. I did not register for Irish Water and I do not want €100 for doing nothing. If the Government is going to give me a grant, it should at least ask me to do something for it. It is an outrage. For the remainder of this session, the Government will ram through as much legislation as it can, come out with a sweet little budget in October, call an election and think it has fooled the people of Ireland. We are not fools. Certainly, the people outside here are not fools. A few clowns last week outside the gates of the Dáil let down the water protest people by being thugs but the Government should bear in mind that the people who are genuinely against Irish Water are not the thugs that were out there last week. They are the ordinary, decent working people of Ireland.
Senator Paschal Mooney gave us a history lesson but I will give another. Fianna Fáil won a landslide victory in the general election in 1977. Martin O'Donoghue was Minister for Economic Planning and Development at the time when the Government abolished rates. I do not know if the Minister of State is old enough to remember this. The Taoiseach who appointed him, Jack Lynch, who had a proud history, recorded the largest deficit ever seen in this country at 17.8%. When we did that, we wiped out our source of income to run our services. That is over 40 years ago.
I do not mind taking hits and shots. In response to Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, I have never voted like a sheep. I have always voted with the knowledge that we need to pay for what we get and that if we do not contribute, we are not going to get it. The Sinn Féin team in here then tells us about all the wonderful stuff we can have for free but they have little Greece up in Northern Ireland where they get £14.5 billion every year to run their services. What Sinn Féin does not tell the House is that the average townhouse in Northern Ireland pays £1,000 per year in household charges. At the end of the day, someone has to pay and someone has to contribute a little. This is all that is being asked for across the economy. I have always paid for water both in business and in my home. I will always continue to pay for the services but I do not see why others should not pay.
I think there is a lot more to this Bill than Irish Water. Senator Denis Landy raised the issue of Enva in my town and our faith in the EPA. I have no faith in the EPA and have said so here previously, given the kind of carry-on in which it engages. The Senator said the EPA took cases against 11 local authorities, but it never took cases against some of the companies it should have taken cases against.
When we talk about history, we can pick out all the nice parts but there are bad bits as well. The bad bits are the bits that made us the way we are today. That is a fact. The destruction of this economy began in 1977 and, unfortunately, it continued until it eventually fell over. Now that we are in recovery, we will work with Fianna Fáil and anybody else to try and put it back on its feet but when we talk, we must be honest. My colleagues and I got walloped here a while ago by the Sinn Féin Senators for making comments. They can come here and not be truthful and describe what it is like on all parts of this island where people 100 miles from here pay the majority of these charges. It does not matter who is here next year. People will still have to pay here because somebody has to pay for these services. If not, we are suggesting that the ordinary householder or those on lower incomes should not have to pay and that it should be transferred to the taxpayer. We will then have the 2 million people in work in Ireland paying to carry the rest. I am not prepared to accept that in any way, shape or form. I believe everyone should contribute a little and that this is the way we should go forward.
On a point of clarification-----
The Senator has already spoken.
I did not want to interrupt Senator Tony Mulcahy-----
What is the point of order?
Fine Gael was the first party to advocate the abolition of rates in its 1976 manifesto. We just followed them.
That is not a point of order. I thought the Senator had an important point to make.
It is very important.
I thank Members for their contributions. I look forward to dealing with the specific points raised on Committee and Report Stages. Reports in the newspapers stating households could be liable to pay a fine of €3,000 are incorrect.
It is not the household but the company that is involved in the waste management. It is important this message gets out in order that households do not receive the incorrect idea that a fine of €3,000 can be imposed on them.
Householders are not compelled to be customers of waste management companies but must be in a position to satisfy, if requested, an environmental enforcement officer as to how they are dealing with their household waste. Senator Denis Landy and I have listened to debates in county councils about people who are paying for their waste collection, notice that their neighbours never put out bins and wonder what they are doing. This has been an issue for a long time, and the legislation will address it. I agree with the Senator that everybody must pay a little. When schools educate our children about how to be clean, tidy and deal with litter, they should also educate them about how to pay their taxes. Ireland has a very good society and everybody pays for the privilege of living in a particular area. It is very important that children are taught in school that they pay their taxes to the State for good public services.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Whelan, John.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Heffernan, James.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- Power, Averil.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Zappone, Katherine.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?