Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (1507)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

1507. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if an exemption from state aid rules has been sought from the EU for Irish Water and its assets; the reason he has not sought a referendum for the public ownership of Irish Water to be held in May 2019; the annual income of Irish Water; the loans Irish Water entered into; and the annual cost of servicing these loans. [18690/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

State aid refers to forms of public assistance, using taxpayer-funded resources, given to undertakings on a discretionary basis, which may have the potential to distort competition and affect trade between Member States. Ireland has not notified the European Commission of any State aid exemption in the case of Irish Water as the conditions for seeking such an exemption do not arise.

The Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025. This position is consistent with the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services (April 2017) which supported the concept of a referendum, while recommending that the status of group water schemes and private wells remain unchanged.

Provisions for a referendum are contained in the Private Member's Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins, currently at Dáil Committee Stage. Detailed examination of the Bill, undertaken in consultation with the Attorney General, has highlighted a number of unacceptable risks which I have shared with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser has separately advised the Committee in relation to the Bill.

My response has been to seek to bring forward appropriate amendments to the Bill. On 11 November last, I received Government approval for the priority drafting of proposed amendments which will focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership.

Reflecting this position, and the work that needs to be completed, the referendum was not included amongst those identified by Government to be held in May 2019. The development of the wording is currently being given priority attention by the Office of the Attorney General. I will continue to keep the Joint Oireachtas Committee updated on progress in the matter.

Irish Water's Annual Reports and Financial Statements are laid before each House of the Oireachtas. The 2017 Annual Report outlines revenue of €1,012,880,000 (on page 90), borrowings of €824,802,000 (on page 88) and interest and finance costs of €17,132,000 (on page 84).