Water Services Bill 2013: Committee Stage
As we have a quorum of three members we will commence the meeting. Is that agreed? Agreed. I remind members to turn off their mobile telephones. This meeting will be conducted in public.
The meeting has been convened for the purpose of the consideration by the select sub-committee of the Water Services Bill 2013. The select sub-committee will consider this Bill from now until 7 p.m. If our consideration is not completed by this evening we will resume at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for the NewERA project, and the officials from his Department, Mr. Ivan Grimes and Mr. David Kelly. I thank the gentlemen for their attendance.
Amendment No. 1 is ruled out of order because it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.
Amendment No. 1 not moved.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, subsection (2), line 22, after “Act” to insert “other than section 24”.
Section 24 sets out how water will be charged for and regulated. I propose that we insert a new section. This amendment proposes that we insert "other than section 24" because it is obviously in conflict with that new section. Amendment No. 3 proposes between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection: "(3) Section 24 of this Act shall come in to operation after the 1st of January 2014, or following a review of that section under section 24(4), whichever date is the later.". This is a reference to the subsection proposed to be inserted by a later amendment.
This amendment proposes that section 4, which deals with the performance of functions by the Commission for Energy Regulation, will not come into operation until after January 2014. We feel that these amendments are not appropriate in that the purpose of section 24 is to provide the commission with the necessary powers to prepare for the performance of regulatory functions and to advise the Government on the development of policy regarding the regulation of water services. It is very important that this work commences as soon as possible. Therefore we do not accept the amendment.
We want the Bill to be poverty-proofed. We believe that water charges will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest, particularly households with low incomes where there are several people living in the house, such as large families, or people living on a disability allowance where there may be only one or two people living in the house. We firmly believe that it should be poverty-proofed and I have asked about this several times when this came up in the Dáil and at committee meetings over the past year or so. We believe that should be the case.
We will be debating Government amendments later this afternoon that deal with the specific issue of poverty-proofing. I would be happy to address them at the appropriate time.
If there were adequate free allowances, this issue could be put in a different context. Should this whole section be moved into another? If this section is passed, then revisiting the matter later on is based on good faith.
There will be amendments this afternoon that will deal with those specific issues. This amendment concerns the date the regulator will commence work from January 2014. However, the regulator has to commence work as soon as possible because he or she must advise on many other issues. If this amendment were accepted, then the regulator would be delayed in commencing work on time. I am happy to debate the issues the Deputy raised later this afternoon.
Amendment put and declared lost.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:
“(3) Section 24 of this Act shall come in to operation after the 1st of January 2014, or following a review of that section under section 24(4), whichever date is the later.”.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 1 agreed to.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed.
Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."
Amendments in my name were tabled on behalf of other Members of the Technical Group. Several of these were tabled by Deputy Boyd Barrett.
We wanted to have a new section inserted to establish a national water framework team that would have overall responsibility of water provision but the operation of the services would remain with local authorities. We make the comparison with what is happening in the North in that there has to be a joined-up approach to river basin management. We believe such a team is necessary to ensure co-ordination between the local authorities and the provision of an efficient service.
There is a commitment in the programme for Government that arises from the memorandum of understanding between the previous Government and the troika. We are establishing Irish Water as a separate, independent, State-owned public water utility. We believe this will be more authoritative and definitive in terms of structures, meeting the different challenges and having clearly defined roles. The Sinn Féin proposed framework team would not have the capacity or competence to sort out specific issues.
Local authorities and their members communicating their views to Irish Water will be very important. In the next phase of legislation, we hope to establish opportunities for such communication channels.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."
We are opposing this section.
I am opposing this on behalf of Deputy Boyd Barrett.
There have been extensive consultations between the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Public Expenditure and Reform. The objective of this section is to ensure the full economic interest in Irish Water remains in the State and, as such, the shares are invested in the Ministers for Finance and the Environment, Community and Local Government. However, for the purposes of borrowing from financial markets, it is important that Bord Gáis Éireann can demonstrate it controls the subsidiary. Under this structure, Bord Gáis Éireann will retain one share which will have a nominal value but which will have full voting rights such that the board will have full operational control of the subsidiary.
Ten years ago, no one would have anticipated State assets would have to be put up for sale such as Coillte. I have been examining how Coillte has been structured and is packaged in a way to sell it off. Given the role of the troika, we have not been the masters of our destiny. One of my key concerns is that we will not be the masters of the ownership of Irish Water, irrespective of where the shares are held. I accept the point about raising finance. However, it is important ownership is retained in the State and there is a free supply of water.
It had been agreed to have some of the moneys raised from the originally agreed sale of State assets to be re-invested in job creation initiatives. As we are in such a precarious economic state, however, how valuable is such an assurance, given the way it has transpired with the sale of other State assets in the past?
Given the fact Irish Water will be a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann and that company is earmarked for privatisation under NewERA, it puts Irish Water in a precarious position. While I accept the Minister's claim it is not the Government's intention to put Uisce Éireann at risk of privatisation, events move on. If one had asked a Minister in 1983 when Telecom Éireann was set up if it would be privatised down the line, he would have said it was not his intention for that to happen to the company. We have seen the difficulties caused by water privatisation across the water in England. Water companies there charge astronomical water bills, metering has not been completed in some areas and the executives of some of them are earning astronomical salaries and bonuses.
Householders in parts of England are paying vast water fees. There is a genuine concern that in several years’ time the Minister of State or someone else in government may be unable to make changes. Events may overtake the Government of the day and because the company is out and under the umbrella of a company that will be substantially privatised, events could put the Government in a position whereby it may be unable to stop any adverse events.
My concerns are similar to what has been aired before. The main reasoning behind the appointment of Bord Gáis Éireann as the company under which Irish Water would be formed was supposedly based on its expertise and billing systems. Is this not the same section of Bord Gáis that is to be sold? If this is the case, how long will the so-called expertise remain in the ownership of Irish Water?
I do not wish to delve beyond the section, save to say we opposed the Bill in the Dáil by virtue of the fact that we had no definitive specifications on costs associated with the Bill. The absence of an audit, which had been promised, on the amount of repairs and reinstatement to the national network required is a factor. It needed to be put on the table. The exact costs associated with metering needed to be put on the table. The exact costs of the Dublin water solution needed to be put on the table. Only at that stage could we get an indication of the overall costs and how they could be capitalised over time. That would give an indication of what Government subvention, if any, would be appropriate. Only then could a free allowance be adjudicated on.
In the absence of all of this I find it rather difficult to make specific recommendations on the various sections. Given the good faith with which many of the amendments are put forward, especially in this area, we all share the fear that further down the road this may lead to privatisation. If that were to be the case there may be difficulties for those who do not find themselves in a population cluster deemed to be feasible or profitable. I am conscious of rural group water schemes which will not be the want of any private investor and will be left behind. We fear for them. That is the background to our support for the intentions of those who have moved amendments in this regard.
I thank the Deputies for their comments. The Deputies are expressing concerns which many people have. However, the Bill is to amend existing legislation, which contains a definitive, authoritative statement that no water infrastructure can be owned privately. We are amending that Act. It is not appropriate at this stage to include this as an issue because it is already in the Act.
There is a second stage to this debate. More legislation will be introduced before the end of the year dealing with this issue and I hope to be able to clarify at that stage the issues and provide the assurance which Deputies accept from me, but they will want see it in the next Bill and I have no issue with that.
If it is helpful I will clarify some points raised by Deputies. What we are doing is giving Irish Water or Uisce Éireann the power to go ahead and carry out certain works which perhaps local authorities currently do, including installing meters, as well as empowering the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, to commence some work relating to the preparation it must do with regard to issues raised by the Deputies.
This is the first stage which will involve two Bills. While I acknowledge and appreciate the points made by Deputies about privatisation, there is no intention on the part of the Government to do that. It is not included specifically in the programme for Government. We have not sold and we are not selling any networks. We are not selling Bord Gáis, ESB or local authority networks. We are setting up a company which is owned by the State. Bord Gáis is a State-owned company. There was an alternative. We could have gone for a stand-alone company or we could have set one up. However, as Deputy Cowen rightly pointed out, it was done in this way because of the skills, knowledge and experience that Bord Gáis brought to the table, as did Bord na Móna in terms of the competition between the two companies. There is no private involvement and there is no private interest. The shareholders are ourselves, essentially, working through Bord Gáis, the two Departments and the committee passing the legislation.
A comment was made about the costs. The overall charges for water at the moment, including capital and current costs, amount to approximately €1.2 billion per annum. I understand the subsidy this year is approximately €300 million. We get in €200 million-----
That is in the present. There was a commitment given at the time of the setting up of Irish Water that it would provide an audit of the current network and systems throughout the country with a view to laying the cards on the table about the reinstatement and repairs required and the associated costs. That had to go on top of the €1.2 billion and many other costs. Only then can we begin to capitalise the costs over 20 years if it is the case that we will pay back part of the costs to the National Pensions Reserve Fund. Only then will we get an indication of what the annual cost to each household will be. Only then can the level of subvention be agreed thereafter in the form of a free allowance and only then will we know what the appropriate charge will be.
The regulator, the CER, will have to examine all the plans of Irish Water, which will have the collective wisdom of all the local authorities and their disparate proposals. All these will have to go to Irish Water and be examined. It will have to consider a capital programme, as Deputy Cowen rightly pointed out, and add to it what needs to be done in five or ten years or whatever. All of this will then go to the regulator which will calculate the sums on what exactly is allowable, as Deputy Cowen remarked. In the United Kingdom the regulator plans today for five years hence. I presume the regulator in Ireland will do exactly the same. There must be transparency about what the regulator does. It will have to publish its intention and allow people the opportunity to comment on it before a price is fixed. In other words, it will have to be transparent, accountable and open to full scrutiny and it will be. There is no intention of not getting everything done. Clearly we need to take into account the Shannon scheme, which has been referred to, and the timescale for it and how things fit into different financial frameworks. There is no issue about hiding any costs with this project.
Reference was made to full scrutiny. Will Irish Water report to the relevant Minister in the same way that the HSE reports to the Minister for Health? It will be a separate company. Deputy Cowen made some points about the need for full information in advance to calculate what is required. Only then can we see how the numbers pan out in terms of the number of households and what is possible. In terms of the information available, once the body is set up it will not be as directly responsible to us and it will not have to provide the same degree of information. That becomes an issue in its own right. Will the Minister of State describe how he envisages this will play out?
This legislation serves to give Irish Water the power to be incorporated as a company and to do the work of metering. All the other issues raised are important and one of those issues is in the Bill. There will be an annual report laid before the Oireachtas and it will be a matter for debate here.
I agree with the points made on how significant water policy is and will continue to be. I expect that by the time the second Bill comes before the Houses we will be laying out the other necessary measures of accountability there should be through the Oireachtas, local councils, regional water authorities or whatever. We must have a structure and have clearly defined roles. Importantly, there must be areas where councillors and councils have development plans. Clearly the development plan of a given council will have an impact on water policy in that area.
We will need joined-up thinking between the local authority, Irish Water and the Government. Clear lines of communication and decision processes will be called for to resolve the problems that will arise. I expect these issues will be addressed in the next phase. At this stage Irish Water will not own anything. It is not being given any assets which, as Deputy Cowen rightly noted, have to be assessed. There is no transfer of assets in this respect. All of that is to come, including the articles of association for the company, and we will have an opportunity to discuss them fully in the second phase. The points raised will be taken on board in that context.
The Minister of State indicated that further legislation will be required and we know there will be a transfer of assets. Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna are semi-State companies. The refuse collection company, AES, is a subsidiary of Bord na Móna. Irish Water will become a subsidiary of Bord Gáis. I am a customer of AES and I will have the same relationship, both as a customer and a Deputy, with Irish Water. I put a cheque in the post and make a telephone call to the company once a year. I can make a complaint but it does not have to listen to me because there is no direct line of accountability through county councillors or anyone else. It will be a stand-alone subsidiary of Bord Gáis.
In regard to the regulator and the finances, there will be €300 million in subsidies. If the estimated cost of €1.2 billion is divided by 1.5 million households, it works out at approximately €750 per house.
Approximately €200 million will come from commercial water rates.
If we subtract that figure we are still looking at a cost of €700 per household on a commercial basis. Irrespective of the subsidy offered by the State, the company and its customers are heading towards a bill of €650 to €700 per annum.
That is the point I made when we discussed the Bill in the Dáil. The Government wants us to open the door to metering in the absence of details, costings or projections. It is only later that we will have an idea of what this will cost per household. Deputy Stanley is correct. Ongoing maintenance costs in counties Offaly, Laois and Westmeath, for example, amount to approximately €12 million per annum for 20,000 houses. This works out at €600 per household even before we add the cost of metering, reinstatements and repairs. Many people think the existing system is inefficient. They cannot be expected to pay for an inefficient system even though €600 comes out of their taxes already. This is why I find it difficult to support an interim Bill in the absence of the facts. We were promised that a full audit would be made available. Bord Gáis was successful in winning this new role largely on the basis of its billing and auditing capacity. Metering is to be completed by the end of 2014. Is the billing system within Bord Gáis part of the ongoing negotiations for the sale of parts of the company? How far behind the initial schedule is the delivery of Irish Water and subsequent charging of households, having made the system fit for practice? Are we one year or two years behind or are we on schedule?
Bord Gáis is under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I will ask that Department to issue a reply to Deputy Cowen's question on the sale of parts of the company. The plan for the future of water and the water services investment programme, which is available to the Oireachtas as a document, sets out the future needs so we can compute a costed programme. There is no question of lack of transparency in that regard.
The PwC report dealt with the issue of weaknesses and inefficiencies in the system, as did the value for money report on the effectiveness of the water services programme nationally. There are numerous pages of detailed information on problems which need to be ironed out. It will not cost anywhere near the €600 or €700 that Deputy Stanley suggests. A value-for-money assessment of the cost of meters and related matters has been conducted and this will be published after they have been purchased. There will be transparency on costs. We believe the plan offers value for money and will create a more efficient and better system with new synergies. In most countries there are reductions of at least 10% to 12% in overall consumption of water. That would have a knock-on effect on the capital investment programme. By becoming more efficient and wasting less - 42% of the water treated and pumped never reaches the tap for human consumption - we can achieve massive synergies. I expect significant cost reductions. Scotland reduced the cost of water services by more than 40% over a five year period. New efficiencies will clearly be achievable.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."
Section 6 is opposed by Deputies Stanley and Catherine Murphy.
We oppose the establishment of Uisce Éireann. If it is established it makes sense to draw up memorandums and articles of association but we are fundamentally opposed to the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."
I oppose the section.
Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."
The Minister of State indicated that he expects costs to decrease. Section 12 provides for borrowing by the board and the subsidiary. The estimated cost of installing the meters varies from €350 million to €1.2 billion, to be borrowed from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The most commonly quoted figure is €500 million. That money will have to be paid back in addition to the €1.2 billion it currently costs to operate the system.
Operational cost is approximately €900 million and capital investment each year will be approximately €300 million. The investment in metering is a further capital investment which will have to be repaid. The Minister of State pointed out that we are wasting 42% of our water and that this water does not even get to the taps. That is correct. It does not get to the taps because the mains system leaks. Surely the first thing that needs to be done is to fix the leaks. One can keep mopping up the floor for as long as one likes, but if the leaking pipe is not fixed one will be mopping up the floor all day and tomorrow as well. The first sign of madness is to keep doing the same thing, but to expect a different outcome. We must do something that will give us a different outcome. The first thing we must do is stop the leaks at district level.
District metering has been shown to be effective and has been proven on the ground. I already provided information on where it works. It saves huge amounts of water and local authorities that have used it wisely have found it very efficient. In the context of section 12, the installation of meters will heap more borrowing onto householders, but will not save water. This is the truth. The Minister of State has outlined the fact that 42% of water does not even reach the taps. That is what must be changed. That is the issue and the elephant in the room here.
The legislation is the legal framework for the installation of meters. However, we read in the newspapers about the practical difficulties in regard to the contractors responsible for this work. A number of high profile articles have appeared in the media over the past week or so indicating the significant amounts of money contractors would be required to have in terms of turnover before they can be in a position to qualify as contractors for this work. This is very worrying. One can easily foresee these contracts being sub-contracted out and the sub-contractors being badly burned.
This is happening in advance of the establishment of Irish Water and I am concerned about how the situation is being handled. It could come back and bite us. I accept the point made regarding metering and in principle I am not opposed to metering, but we must find out where the leaky pipes are. Many households are thrifty with water. Therefore, if the Minister allocated a usage allowance, it should be possible for these households not to be faced with a bill if they stay within the allocated allowance. That should be the aim. This should be about changing behaviour. However, it is hard to see how metering will stack up in the context of the amount of money that must be invested. I accept the point made that the savings will produce a dividend, but will that dividend be sufficient to allow households to operate within an environment where they can have a nil bill?
As I said earlier, I oppose the Bill in its entirety, not because I disagree with the concept of water charges, but because of the lack of information pertaining to the financial costs associated with this. Ultimately, this lack of information bars us from making a judgment with regard to free allowances and so on and so forth.
On the specific issue, section 12(1)(c) says the aggregate borrowings of the board and its subsidiary under this subsection shall not exceed €500 million. This interim Bill is being introduced in order to allow Irish Water commence metering. Therefore, does this limit on borrowing suggest that the cost of metering will not exceed €500 million? If that is the case, surely the Minister of State can indicate how this will be capitalised and what it means for houseowners with regard to how they will pay. How is this money to be repaid to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, if that is where it is borrowed from? Is it the case that this being an interim measure to give Irish Water the authority and wherewithal to commence metering, the next Bill the Department brings forward will also contain other powers allowing Irish Water to borrow? Having completed the audit, will it cap those borrowings against the cost of upgrade of the system? Will it cap the borrowings to provide resolution to the situation in Dublin? Will it provide annual maintenance cost borrowings into the future and for how long? If this subsection in part measures the cost, will the next Bill have these costs maximising the amount of borrowings which are required within such a subsection? How is the money to be repaid to the National Pensions Reserve Fund? This being the case, it gives us an indication of what each household will be charged for this element, the metering costs.
I ask the Minister of State to clarify the situation regarding the installation of water meters. My understanding, having met with Bord Gáis and having raised this issue with it, is that regional contractors will be appointed and that in turn, those regional contractors will appoint local people, through the county councils, to install water meters. There appears to be some misinformation going on in this regard, though not on the part of my colleagues on the right. However, Deputy Mattie McGrath made a public statement recently saying that no local people would be able to afford to get the contract, because a company would require a minimum turnover of €400,000. I believe the Deputy is confused in that regard and he is mixing this requirement up with that for the regional contractors. Will the Minister of State clarify the situation? Will local tradespeople get the opportunity to install water meters?
There are number of issues to be addressed, but I will deal first with the issue raised by Deputy Stanley. He is quite right that the solution to the appalling waste of resources, with 42% of water wasted, is to deal with that. The best way to deal with it is to improve the mains network where possible. On the customer side, we must also ensure there are no leaks between the mains and the premises where the tap is located.
The evidence from group water schemes so far, such as those in Cavan-Monaghan, is that these schemes have saved as much as 80% of water. I am aware that some of those schemes involved farms. Significant savings will result following the installation of meters, because meters will track usage. District meters will track a housing estate, but the individual meter will track the individual household. If there is a leak between the public supply and the private house, Irish Water will repair the first leak for free. In other words, there will be an uninterrupted, metered supply between the public supply and the private house. This will protect resources significantly.
On the question of sub-contractors and regional contractors, I understand there are eight different regions for the country and that there could be up to eight regional contractors. Then, approximately 220 companies will be pre-qualified as competent SMEs to do the work. Every regional contractor will have to insist that 10% of the people working on the metering programme are drawn from SMEs, 10% from the unemployed register and 5% are apprentices, graduates or school leavers. This is the minimum required. The more the contracts are broken down, the better the opportunity there will be for smaller SMEs to get the work. However, it is a competitive process. Therefore, the regional contractor will seek tenders and the person tendering must meet the criteria in terms of the percentages. The idea is to ensure, as well as possible, that as many local people as possible are employed in the work.
Can I come back in on that point?
Very briefly. We need to move on.
Is it true that the level set in the criteria for regional contractors is €400,000 and that the level for local contractors is €100,000? If so, I am concerned that it will disqualify smaller contractors who could be subcontracting.
I would like the Minister of State to address the questions I asked about the amount mentioned in the section with regard to borrowings. That question may be answered by reference to what is being inserted in section 13.
Deputy Murphy is right when she suggests that an SME is being defined as a company with a turnover of up to €400,000. That is the category into which one of these companies must fit. The whole idea is to make sure of the quality of workmanship actually done by the company that will be doing it. We want to ensure they are not cowboys, they are competent, they have a track record and they can prove they have a sustainable business with the capacity to do the work. Clearly, as I said earlier, people coming off the unemployment register, along with apprentices, graduates and school leavers, will be very much a part of this. Notwithstanding the Deputy's concerns, I have no doubt that a significant number of people who are as local as possible will be involved in this work. There is a direct link on the Bord Gáis website that can be used by people who wish to be employed by the company. If an unemployed plumber called John Murphy wants to work in this area, he can contact the company, which will ensure his data goes to all of the successful contractors. I was also asked about the costs. I think the idea is that the maximum at any one time will be €500 million.
That is the maximum associated with this Bill, which simply provides for the authority to commence metering. The €500 million is purely for metering.
It would be inappropriate to release an estimate of the cost of the metering itself in advance of the competitive procurement process.
Okay. The maximum figure is €500 million. The Minister of State cannot tell me at this point if the actual figure will be €400 million or €300 million.
No, but that is the most-----
That is the most which will be spent.
No, that is the most the company will actually borrow.
That is what I am saying. It is the most it will spend on metering.
It does not mean it will all be spent on meters. There is a great deal of other work to be done as well, obviously.
There will not be a whole lot left over.
Can I pursue the point I made about the-----
I apologise. The cost-benefit analysis will be published after the event.
I understand that. I asked another question. I had to delve into this Bill to see that water metering will cost no more than €500 million. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to include in the next Bill a similar section that will tell me how much it will cost to ensure the network is fit for practice? At the moment, it is not fit for purpose.
I will try to make the point more clearly. We know that the current cost of water services is €1.2 billion. We know what the water service investment programme is for the future. We know what the costs are going to be.
We do not have the figure.
The WSIP is a published document.
I do not have the figure with me, but I am sure I can get it.
I have been guessing the figures up to now. If the figures are there, all the better.
We will be able to make a fair stab at the cost for each household at that stage.
It is a transparent published document.
I have already told the Minister of State what we did not get. Irish Water gave a commitment to produce an audit that would give exact details of how much needs to be spent to make it fit for purpose.
There will be total clarity on all of that.
There is no clarity at present. We have to give authorisation to the Minister of State to proceed in the absence of clarity.
If it is helpful, Irish Water has not been set up. At the moment, Bord Gáis is doing that work. When the company is incorporated as a company, Irish Water will be set up. I repeat, for the purposes of clarity, that all of the costs relating to the charging of consumers will be transparent and will be known. The procurement process for the metering is like the procurement process for any other State activity. If the figures were placed in the public domain, it could increase the costs we would actually be paying.
The figure of €500 million is there now.
I will allow Deputy Murphy to make a final point before I put the question on this section.
I would like to clarify the point on the contractors. There will be a regional contractor and there will be local contractors.
Will subcontractors come into the equation as well as people who are directly employed?
I would like to ask a question along the same lines. We have received a briefing from Bord Gáis about what is happening. I think it has already advertised for regional and local contractors. The two categories are different and are distinguished by turnover. Like my colleagues, I think it is important for local contractors to have an opportunity to get involved in this business. Can the Minister of State clarify what the €100,000 figure applies to and what the €400,000 figure applies to?
My understanding is that the €400,000 figure applies to regional contractors.
I think it is about €25 million, is it?
I think it is €7 million.
I think it is higher than that. I think it is €25 million.
What is the limit for local contractors?
It is €25 million to be a regional contractor. In other words, each of the eight regional contractors would want to have a turnover of at least €25 million to reach that benchmark. As I understand it, the €400,000 figure is the amount that local contractors must have-----
The Minister of State, without interruption.
No problem. Deputy Murphy has made an important point about subcontracting further. Each of the 220 local contractors, for want of a better term, can contract some of that work to other people locally as long as - this is the key point - the legal accountability will continue to rest with the local contractor. In other words, there will be a legal relationship between the regional contractor and the local contractor. They will be liable and accountable for the production of that. If John Murphy or John Maguire supplies a service to a local contractor, but is not a direct employee of that contractor, the local contractor will be accountable for the work that is done by virtue of the nature of the contract that will exist.
I want to restate my concern that subcontractors are at the end of the food chain.
The Deputy's point is noted.
I absolutely want that to be taken into account.
The Deputy should take cognisance of the fact that the Minister of State referred to a contractor called John Murphy. I will allow Deputies Cowen and McLoughlin in before I put the question on this section.
I am seeking a final clarification. Local contractors will be appointed at the behest of the regional contractors.
The list will be compiled with the assistance of Bord Gáis or Irish Water.
That will not constitute a guarantee of work, so to speak.
That is fine. Will the subcontractors Bill be brought into force to protect anybody who wins a contract from a regional contractor to carry out some work?
As I understand it, all bonds that are necessary and all legal liabilities will attach fully and clearly. If it is helpful, I can get the specific documentation relating to that for the Deputy in advance of Report Stage. It is critical that there are no cowboys here. If there are, the system whereby liability will attach to that must be clear.
I thank the Minister of State for coming in and outlining some of the issues. I have a couple of queries in relation to contracting. What guarantees are there that the regional contractors will consider employing small subcontractors in local areas? Like many of my colleagues, I have been contacted by smaller contractors who have worked on group water schemes over the years. They are anxious to get involved in this project. Have guarantees been received from the regional contractors that these people will be employed? Will the local authorities have any role in the recruitment process?
The local authorities will have service level agreements with Irish Water regarding the services they will provide. The actual physical metering, which is what the Deputy is talking about, will be done by pre-qualified local contractors. The 25% minimum requirement that I mentioned earlier comprises the minimum of 10% who must come from the SME sector, the minimum of 10% who must come from the unemployment register and the minimum of 5% who must be apprentices, graduates or school leavers. We cannot legally insist that they must be local people, but we can insist and we are insisting that a minimum of 25% of the workforce comes from these categories.
That is part of the tendering process and the documentation.
Question put and declared carried.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, before section 13, to insert the following new section:
"13.—(1) The Minister for Finance may, after consultation with the Minister, guarantee, in such form and manner and in such money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) and on such terms and conditions as he or she thinks fit, the due repayment by the Board of the principal of any money borrowed by the Board under section 12 or the due payment of instalments or other amounts of money owed by the Board under a contract entered into by the Board or the payment of interest on any money, instalment or amount or both the repayment of principal or payment of such instalments or amounts, as the case may be, and payment of the interest, and any such guarantee may include a guarantee of payment of commission and incidental expenses arising in connection with such borrowings or such contract.
(2) The Minister for Finance may, after consultation with the Minister, guarantee, in such form and manner and in such money (including money in a currency other than the currency of the State) and on such terms and conditions as he or she thinks fit, the due repayment by the subsidiary of the principal of any money borrowed by the subsidiary under section 12 or the due payment of instalments or other amounts of money owed by the subsidiary under a contract entered into by the subsidiary or the payment of interest on any money, instalment or amount or both the repayment of principal or payment of such instalments or amounts, as the case may be, and payment of the interest, and any such guarantee may include a guarantee of payment of commission and incidental expenses arising in connection with such borrowings or such contract.".
The amendment provides that the Minister for Finance may guarantee the borrowings made by Irish Water or Bord Gáis for the purposes of the Bill. The amendment has been proposed to provide that the Minister may provide a guarantee. The provision of a guarantee of the borrowings of a semi-State company is a common provision included in legislation when we established many other State bodies. The provision provides that the Minister for Finance may after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government provide a guarantee of the borrowings of Bord Gáis Éireann or Irish Water for borrowings made for the purposes of the Bill.
Question, "That section 16 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, "That section 13 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 14 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 15 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 6 has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill.
On a point of order, Chairman, amendment No. 6 seeks to deal with one of the key issues.
The Deputy cannot speak on amendment No. 6 but she can speak on the section. For the purposes of the record, amendment No. 6 proposes to delete section 17 and replace it with a new section which provides for the establishment of daily allowances of water for consumption by a household. While the Bill provides for the establishment of a national domestic water metering programme, the details of the limits and allowances are not provided for in the current Bill. This amendment must be ruled out of order as it is not relevant to the provisions of the current Bill in accordance with Standing Order 131. Deputy Murphy cannot speak on the amendment but she can speak on the section.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill."
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
One of the key issues for me is that people will have availability of water without necessarily having to pay for it. Obviously, there would be a limit on that, which is what I was attempting to do. It is difficult to deal with these two pieces of legislation separately because one is judging one piece without having the detail of the other. This has been mentioned by others here today. That is a deficiency in the process here. Clearly, that is why this amendment has been ruled out of order.
The thrust of the amendment is a free allowance being part of any water policy once this Bill and the other are introduced. Can the Minister comment on the Government's intention in this regard and what sort of percentage of subvention will the Government pursue once this process enters completion stage?
It is in the programme for Government but the decision and amount have not been fixed as yet. Deputy Murphy made a point about those on low incomes and how one deals with water poverty. We are in contact with the Department of Social Protection with regard to those issues and poverty proofing. All those issues are very important.
I am not talking about poverty proofing but about changing a culture. Clearly, I would be concerned about low-income families. We keep taking money out of the pockets of a lot of these families. This is an environmental issue. It is about changing a culture and people being very careful about their water usage. This is not about poverty proofing. The idea of a free allowance is to allow people to live within that allowance and not end up with a bill because they have done exactly what the Government wants them to do, which is not waste water.
I will call Deputies Stanley and Cowen. Section 17 deals with the installation of meters but the definition of the section is that the metering authority stands part of Bord Gáis Éireann.
People have had their gas and electricity turned off in recent years and have been left without both in some cases. The concern here relates to when a household cannot afford to pay the bill. We do not need to go over the matter but we know there are people out there who are absolutely crucified-----
Does the Deputy have a question about disconnection?
I have heard two different answers to this question. The Taoiseach indicated in the Dáil last year, if I heard him correctly, that water would be turned off. Will water be turned off completely if a household cannot pay, rather than refuses to pay, regardless of the circumstances of that household? Will it have no supply? That is a key issue that is not just environmental. It is a health issue for the household and family.
I understand that there is a no disconnections policy.
I accept what the Minister said about low-income families. It goes without saying that there would be an allowance there but it is what happens over and above that which is the issue, as Deputy Murphy noted. Is the polluter pays principle at work here in the sense that an allowance will be calculated per the number of people in the household and anything beyond that refers to a charge? Has the Government agreed that concept? If so, can the Minister give some indication of what that percentage might be? We are in the dark again in this regard.
Again, no decision has been made on what the level of charge will be or on the free allowance. However, it is stated in the programme for Government that there will be a free allowance. Deputy Murphy is correct in that it is about changing people's behaviour. One issue I have seen in the UK and elsewhere is that if there is charging for water, there must be significant attempts by the water companies to reduce use. I know that in the UK if people want to put something into the cistern, they are given a special container that brings the volume of water up and displaces water in the cistern so they flush less. There are many things one can do to ensure that one reduces the volume of water and to encourage people to do that. Hand-in-hand with charging for water is the issue of how one encourages people to use less apart from the cost of the same and to protect the resource. This must be very much a part of it. There will be ongoing education and information programmes relating to all these matters.
A major campaign on the conservation of water will be similar to the Race Against Waste campaign. This is a significant issue which will be addressed properly at national level by means of a sustained and effective campaign.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 7 has been ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."
Has my amendment been ruled out of order?
The Deputy may discuss the section if he wishes.
It was not listed as being ruled out of order.
For the purposes of the record of the meeting, amendment No. 7 provides that each local authority shall endeavour to put in place district metering systems for water management and to identify faults, leaks or other deficiencies in water distribution. It also provides that a metering authority, defined in the Bill to mean the national water utility, may carry out water metering functions but only where they concern district metering and in co-operation with the national water framework.
On section 18, the point has been about water loss. I would not want water lost between the meter outside my house and the tap at the kitchen sink. There is no evidence to show that this is happening. If it is happening it will show up very quickly in the household. During my time as a public representative I have only come across a few houses where that has happened. It becomes evident very quickly because water appears in the house, in the back yard or at the side of the house, wherever the pipe is leaking. The householder will not want that to happen. New pipework will show up a leak very quickly without the need for a meter outside the gate. Water loss is an issue of concern to me. I have asked engineers and water-keepers working with county councils where most water is lost. They will always say that the vast majority of loss occurs through the mains before it gets to the stop-cock on the footpath at the front gate.
The evidence I have been given as recently as last week shows very significant water loss on the household side, beyond the stop-cock. A survey established that upwards of 60% of the unaccounted water is lost on the consumer side rather than on the public supply side.
Who carried out the survey?
It is an analytical survey. I will provide the Deputy with a copy.
I would question those findings. That is not what the engineers say.
The biggest water leak is the one that is visible to everyone when a pipe bursts and water pours into the street. The Deputy is correct that if the water is leaking out at the back of a house, then the consumer will deal with it because it is visible. However, the vast majority of leaks are not visible. They are small but continuous and they may not be noticed for years.
I met a person who was told that a significant portion of the foundations of his house was being destroyed because of leakage over a number of years that nobody ever saw. It was a leak that ran down before it ran out. The key benefit of a meter is that leaks are significantly reduced. All the studies show that metering of the domestic water supply reduces waste. There is no doubt about this finding.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 19 stand part of the Bill."
I refer to the relationship between the roads authority and Irish Water when it is established. I ask whether licences will be required and the arrangements for the restoration of road surfaces. Other costs will be incurred if the work is not carried out correctly, as well as great frustrations.
That is a very important point which goes to the heart of the quality of work and workmanship. The Department, Irish Water, the National Roads Authority and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, are all engaged on this aspect. The Deputy is correct that it must be a foolproof system to ensure proper and full restoration of the roads. Senator Norris lives in a Georgian house and the footpaths on his street are very old. The restoration must be competent and be in keeping with the original. I agree with the Deputy that there must be certainty about the quality of the work. I hope to have those protocols available to show the Deputy by Report Stage.
The National Roads Authority will not make the final decision; that will be a decision for the local authorities with regard to most of the roads. Houses will not generally be constructed along national primary routes. This will be an additional oversight responsibility for local authorities which may result in a resourcing issue. In many cases because of the recruitment embargo there is a deficiency of local authority staff numbers to provide oversight. I expect that short cuts will be taken when oversight is not in place. It should not be a case of relying on the public to make complaints. The sub-contracting of services is also an issue.
Bord Gáis is very experienced in carrying out public works such as the repair of footpaths. The work is carried out to a very high standard. However, I agree with the Deputy and I fully support her point which is a key point in the operation. I hope to convince the Deputy that the protocols and the discussions between the NRA and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will be rigorous in ensuring a high quality of work.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 20 and 21 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."
Question put and declared carried.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 10, before section 23, to insert the following new section:
23.—(1) The Board may, upon the commencement of this section, do all such things as may be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the performance by it of water services functions under any enactment passed after the passing of this Act.
(2) The subsidiary may, upon the commencement of this section, do all such things as may be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the performance by it of water services functions under any enactment passed after the passing of this Act.
(3) The Board shall not perform a function under this section if the Minister gives a direction in writing to the Board requiring it not to perform the function.
(4) The subsidiary shall not perform a function under this section if the Minister gives a direction in writing to the subsidiary requiring it not to perform the function.
(5) In this section “water services functions” means functions that are the same as or similar to the functions of a water services authority under the Act of 2007.”.
The purpose of this amendment is to provide the board with powers to undertake preparatory works pending the assignment of full water service powers by future legislation. It clarifies the range of preparatory functions that the subsidiary of the board may carry out pending the provision of full utility powers. This will allow the board in Irish Water to carry out the necessary activities as it prepares for the assignment of full water service powers.
I ask for clarification of the amendment. The Minister of State refers to subsidiary and the board. Will local authority staff be employed?
I do not think so.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 23, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, subsection (1), line 5, to delete “as are” and substitute “as may be”.
This is a grammatical amendment which does not change the purpose or meaning of subsection (1) of section 24.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 12, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following subsection:
“(4) (a) This section shall not be commenced until such point as the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection have carried out a poverty impact analysis study.
(b) Such a study will have regard to—
(i) whether the impact of the imposition of charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would have any significant impact on the income levels within lower and medium income groups,
(ii) whether the impact of such charges referred to in subsection (3)(a) would be likely to cause deprivation,
(iii) whether the effect of the charge would be such as would cause people to be deprived of two or more of the items identified in the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) as indicators of poverty.
(c) The Minister shall have regard to such a study before commencing this section, and shall take appropriate measures to amend this legislation pursuant to such a study.”.
This amendment is self-explanatory in the context of what we are setting out to have changed.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Question, "That section 24, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 11 not moved.
I would just like to indicate that Deputy Tom Fleming tabled amendment No. 11 in my name.
Question proposed: "That section 25 stand part of the Bill."
I presume the new authority will be responsible for policing group water schemes following the enactment of the legislation.
The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, will be responsible for assessing the quality of water.
Is the Minister of State satisfied that the group schemes to which I refer currently comply with the various regulations and directives?
The EPA compiles a report in respect of the quality of water on an annual basis. The most recent report indicated that approximately 12% of schemes have issues in the context of the quality of water. Compared to previous years, however, the figure in this regard has reduced to a significant degree. There is no doubt that issues arise in respect of some schemes.
When responsibility is transferred to Irish Water from the local authorities, will it be the case that the maintenance directives will be enforced? Will it also be the case that if these are enforced, many schemes will be found not to be in compliance? If that is the case, will they be forcibly taken over? In the event that those responsible want the new authority to take a particular scheme in charge, will it be able to do so?
As I understand it, group schemes work very closely with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government - through the national group water schemes - on all issues. The relationship in this regard is very successful. The question of water quality is separate. If water is not up to standard, then it is not fit for human consumption. Issues arise with regard to the pollution of water sources, cryptosporidium and the use of infra-red barriers. Obviously, health issues must come first. That is the case regardless of who provides the water. Local authority provision of water nationally is as good as anywhere in the world.
I have not come across situations where local authorities have failed to take in charge group water schemes in circumstances where those responsible for such schemes wanted this to happen. I am conscious of the cumbersome directives which may come into place in the future in respect of the maintenance and management of group schemes. It could be that complying with such directives could prove too costly for existing schemes. If the eventuality to which I refer arises, will the taking in charge of schemes by the new authority be as seamless as has been the case heretofore?
I cannot predict what will happen in the future. However, I presume the Deputy is referring to the issue of water quality in the context of people's health.
I have no problem in that regard. What we are discussing is my main concern with regard to group water schemes and the concept of a new water authority. I fear that if - despite the guarantees given to the Minister of State - said authority were sold off in the future, the high maintenance cost attaching to the group schemes might lead to them being seen as unprofitable by those who wish to buy into this area. I am seeking a commitment to the effect that the new authority will not be able to object to its being obliged to take existing group water schemes in charge.
Again, I cannot provide a guarantee in that regard. However, I am in a position to assure the Deputy that the relationship between the Department and the group water schemes nationally is top class. Those schemes constitute one of the biggest advocates for change nationally in respect of water policy. I do not know if that would happen in the case of individual schemes. If it is of assistance and in order that there will be clarity, I will return to the Deputy with an answer on Report Stage.
I support Deputy Cowen in respect of what he said on this matter. Let us consider the position of unprofitable group water schemes. Only two people are required in order for a group water scheme to be established. In such circumstances, a person could be a member of a group water scheme which would not be remotely financially attractive in the context of a takeover. Unless a mechanism is put in place to oblige it to take particular schemes in charge, the new authority will engage in cherry-picking. It will only take on group water schemes which have 60, 70 or 80 members. Those with three, four or six members that are located in awkward or inaccessible locations will be abandoned. If the authority does decide to take such schemes in charge, it will impose a financial cost on those involved.
The Minister of State indicated that the necessary mechanisms are not in place. However, he has ministerial responsibility in this area and now is the time to copper-fasten the position by putting in place a mechanism by means of which the new authority could be obliged to take schemes with two or three members in charge in the same way as it will be happy to take in charge those with 103 members.
I visited one of the winners of the national group water schemes in Mayo last week. That organisation is completely voluntary in nature and was formed by the joining of three separate entities into one larger unit. The scheme in question employs a full-time professional administrator. It is so well organised that young children in the local primary schools have all been given badges which proclaim them to be "water deputies". Schemes in rural areas are ideally suited for community support and involvement. This is because they can supply services, in either a voluntary or cost-recovery capacity, which no one else can provide. Group schemes succeed because - with some State support - they are able to lay the many miles of pipe necessary to carry water to particular communities. There is no proposal or intention to interfere in any way with existing group water schemes. The legislation does not contain any measures which will affect such schemes. As I understand it, in certain circumstances group water schemes can opt to become part of the public water supply network. However, that is a decision for such schemes to make. In the context of its service level agreements with local authorities, I presume this issue will be a priority for Irish Water.
On a point of clarification, the Minister of State indicated that the legislation does not contain any provisions which would allow Irish Water to do anything detrimental to group water schemes. We are not concerned about that matter. We are referring to small, financially unattractive schemes which want to be taken in charge. Will the Minister of State put something in place which would ensure that Irish Water will be obliged to take such schemes in charge?
I cannot do that. I am not that familiar with what happens at present but, as I understand it, a scheme which wants to be taken in charge must approach the local authority and then all of the various cost issues are discussed. Thereafter, the scheme will either be taken in charge or it will not. In the context of health, the quality of water is the key issue. If water is polluted or if it is unsafe to drink, that is a serious matter from an environmental point of view.
I repeat that the voluntary input I have experienced from talking to people on group water schemes is extremely important. It is the only way it works, and it is the partnership that works. I am not aware of the specific schemes to which the Deputy is referring. He may want to give the Department a list of the issues but in terms of what is happening at the moment, there is no change.
Section 25 deals with the removal of the prohibition on charging in previous legislation. That is the concern. We are turning a corner here. After a long campaign domestic water charges were abolished in the early 1990s on the basis that the charge for them was already incorporated in existing taxation. Nothing has changed since then. In fact, there have been many new methods of taxation and increased taxation, particularly value added tax, other stealth charges and local authority charges. It is regrettable that if this legislation sails through, so to speak, this section will supersede the legislation introduced in the early 1990s.
Almost half of commercial water rates are not paid. We gladly pay commercial water rates in our house because it is for a business. The business uses water for profitable purposes and the water should be paid for. We pay for water in and water out. It is the polluter pays principle, with which I agree, but 48% of commercial water rates remain uncollected.
Can the people on group water schemes get grant aid from the Department into the future?
There is no proposal to change any of the existing financial arrangements for group water schemes. It is not part of this Bill, and there is no intention to do that.
The capital funding will remain the source by Government through local authorities for distribution to group schemes.
I have no doubt that is the case. There is no intention to change any of that.
In the event of future directives leaving them unsustainable as regards maintenance, a barrier will not be put in their place for them to be taken in charge by the new authority.
Whatever is working now is what has to work into the future. I live in an urban area, but I am aware that the community meets the cost of group water schemes that would not otherwise be met. They provide water where it would not otherwise be provided if they did not give their commitment to the arrangement. There is no reference to group water schemes in this Bill, and there is no intention to change any existing arrangement. I presume that whatever protocols apply currently between the group water schemes and the Department will continue.
Some group schemes have a public supply and some have a private supply.
For those that have a public supply there would be a knock-effect from this measure. I am part of a group scheme and if it is the case that an EU directive or otherwise makes it unsustainable for our contributions to maintain that into the future, we would hope that we could apply to an authority for that authority to take it in charge, in the same way as that authority takes in charge the public supply to the Minister in his urban area, or anybody else, and that we are no different from anybody else in that regard. We will contribute accordingly, but I need a commitment that that facility remains open and available to group schemes as it does by enforcement to urban schemes.
I repeat there is nothing in the Bill about that but by the time the next Bill is brought forward, which will be later this year, all of those points will be dealt with.
Whoever has the phone they might turn it off.
It is the Minister's phone. It is not mine.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 26 stand part of the Bill."
On the section, the 1983 Act introduced water services; it was the service charges. The 1997 Act discontinued those charges. Is that correct?
Section 26 provides for the amendment of section 4 of the 1983 Act, as amended by the 1997 Act. It arises from that.
In terms of what it did, the 1983 Act introduced service charges as a water and bin collection charge.
The 1997 Act abolished those.
If we agree with this measure, therefore, we are-----
This is to allow charging for water.
The 1997 Act amended the previous Act.
Question put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 12 was discussed earlier.
The Deputy cannot speak on the amendment because it was discussed earlier. I will allow him to speak on the section but I have to put the amendment to a vote.
The amendment is to allow exemptions in the event of charges being brought in. It is to protect low income families. That is all I will say on it because I know the Chairman is-----
We can discuss amendment No. 12 if the Deputy moves the amendment.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 13, before section 27, to insert the following new section:
“27.—Section 12 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1997 is amended by the insertion of a new subsection (3):
“(3) Section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act 1983, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):
‘(1) Section 2 of this Act shall not apply to the following categories of persons—
(a) residents of a building vested in a Minister of the Government, a housing authority (within the meaning of the Act of 1992) or the Health Service Executive,
(b) persons who, in the year in which the liability falls, if on that date he or she is in receipt of any of the following payments from the Department of Social Protection:
(i) jobseekers’ allowance,
(ii) jobseekers’ benefit,
(iii) supplementary welfare allowance,
(iv) family income supplement,
(v) farm assist,
(vi) old age non-contributory pension, provided the recipient is not also in receipt of an occupational pension,
(vii) disability allowance,
(viii) disablement benefit, or
(ix) blind pension,
(c) persons who, in the years 2013, 2014, and 2015, is able to satisfy the relevant local authority that he or she has not been able to pay more than 75 per cent of his or her mortgage repayments in the preceding year on their residential property.’.”
Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 27 stand part of the Bill."
We are seeking to change section 27 to make it fairer for people, particularly those who are disabled or on supplementary benefit, jobseeker's allowance or farm assist, and disabled people who lost money today under the mobility allowance. It is to allow those groups some relief in this matter because they will not be able to pay this on top of the other charges they must pay. Last year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul saw hundreds of thousands of people. If this charge comes in, it will have a significant impact on those houses and on the working poor. We meet many people who are in jobs but with the cost of travel to work and all of the other charges they have to pay including health insurance and so on, they are at breaking point. Some of them are beyond that point, and this will add to the pain they are suffering. I oppose section 27.
The Government must clarify the sections of society that will have a greater free allowance, so to speak, than others in this regard. I hope that decision is taken in the short term. Can the Minister confirm that the regulator will be given that responsibility or what direction will it be given in that regard?
The decision for Government is to deal with the issue of affordability, water poverty and issues relating to that. The regulator will not take that decision but it might advise us of its view. The Department is in regular contact with the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Finance, and we have asked the Economic and Social Research Institute to examine this issue and give us an independent perspective on all of these issues, which is important. I agree with Deputy Stanley. These are key issues that require clarity before the charging process commences, but it is a decision the Government will take. Obviously, it will be open to full debate.
An individualised allowance would be quite important. I agree with the thrust of what is being proposed by Deputy Stanley but there will be situations in which there is an exceptional need for water supply - for example, for people on kidney dialysis and for children with disabilities. It cannot be about people going around scrounging for extra water supply. As was said earlier, we are really operating blind in terms of not having the information. We are being asked to act in good faith but it is very difficult to do that when we cannot get the detail we need to give us the kind of assurance we need.
This Bill is about water metering. All of the issues the Deputy has raised will be in the next Bill. There is no is question about that. The transparency of and accountability for the system and all of the issues will have to be clarified for Members of both Houses. I want to give the Deputy an absolute assurance. Clearly, if somebody has a significant medical issue and requires volumes of water in excess of whatever a normal amount is deemed to be, I presume there will be a registration system where the individual's doctor would inform the competent authority. There will not be an issue with that at all. If people have a medical need, it will be fully met without any problem whatsoever. I do not believe there will be any issue with that.
Question put and declared carried.
Sections 28 and 29 agreed to.
Deputy Stanley has tabled an amendment to the Title but it has been ruled out of order because it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.
Bill reported with amendments.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.
Question, "That the Title be the Title to the Bill", put and declared carried.