I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 78 together.
The Government is firmly committed to keeping public water services 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 April 2017 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, which supported a referendum while recommending that the status of group water schemes and private wells remain unchanged.
In consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, my Department has engaged in detailed examination of the proposals for a referendum contained in the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016, the Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins which is currently on Committee Stage. The examination has highlighted a number of unacceptable risks which I have shared with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers has separately advised the committee on the risks inherent in the Bill. Officials from my Department have also engaged in detail with Deputy Collins and her advisers on the Bill, as I have myself on several occasions. In response to these concerns I have undertaken to bring forward appropriate amendments to the Bill. In that regard, the Government has decided to proceed on the basis of drafting amendments which will focus on keeping the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership.
Progress on a proposal for revised wording continues to be made by the Office of the Attorney General in conjunction with my Department but it is not a simple matter. In a letter to the committee in July 2019 I advised that I was working towards concluding a proposal for revised wording, subject to Government agreement and the advice of the Attorney General. This work is not yet complete. Deputy Collins is aware of the challenges and the various tests for any wording and her own legal team has not yet reverted to my Department following the last engagement that took place. As with any Bill introducing an amendment to the Constitution it is essential that there is agreement, first, on the intent of the proposed amendment and, second, on the actual wording of the amendment to give effect to that intent. This is necessary in order to smooth the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas and to ensure clarity for the electorate on the proposal that is being put to it. It is with these concerns in mind, rather than seeking to delay the Bill unnecessarily, that the Government has been giving this matter, which the Deputy knows is complex, the time and very careful consideration it requires.