That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for its total disregard
— for the welfare of rural communities, and,
— for the principle of equity for all our citizens
in their handling of the water charges issue, and calls on the Government to take immediate action to assuage the deep resentment felt throughout the country.
On 19 December the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, unveiled what he billed as a brave new departure in local government. This initiative came after a long process of study by a review group. The Minister assured us that what he was unveiling was the cumulation of a long process of deliberation and study.
On that day he announced that local government was to be financed through motor taxation. The Minister's announcement stated: "charges for domestic water supply and sewerage facilities are either flat charges or related to broad valuation bands but never to usage. Therefore, charges for domestic water supply and sewerage facilities will be abolished with effect from 1 January 1997". The Minister's claim that his plans were comprehensive and the product of study — reiterated in his amendment to the motion — is a nonsense. It is self-evident the plans were not comprehensive or the product of any great study or consultation and, further, were intrinsically anti-rural and inequitable.
I wish to deal with the Minister's claim that his proposals were the product of study. The Minister initiated a study on the subject of local government finances which was carried out by KPMG and published last year. It contained a list of 26 possible options for local government finance, not one of which referred to towing local government behind the family car. The creative process behind the Minister's proposal to hitch local government to motor tax was entirely his own. He ignored every single option outlined in the KPMG report. The political reality in relation to the study by the Minister and the reform of local government is that he has set up a plethora of groups to compile a conundrum of reports, each of which he has ignored.
The function of study, under this Minister, has been to delay. By announcing the setting up of report groups and their subsequent completion the Minister has cynically sought to confuse the contemplative with the active. Nothing happened until 19 December. The announcement on 19 December owed nothing to what had gone before. This particular paper trail was an end in itself. That announcement was a knee jerk reaction by the Minister to the increasingly acute electoral pressures on the Labour Party in Dublin. The result has been the creation of a serious inequity on householders in rural Ireland.
By throwing out the principle of equity the Minister has brought the political process into disrepute. He has deepened an existing sense of disillusionment with the political system and his unseemingly squirming in the interim has been as unedifying as it has been ineffective.
Faced with the political crisis of his own making, the Minister tried to square the circle on 21 January. He succeeded only in exacerbating the situation even more. He had already deeply angered rural dwellers by leaving them out completely. He twisted the knife by playing favourites among those who had been spurned. In announcing that local authorities would take over private group water schemes he presumed that was what these groups wanted but, often, it is not what they want. It completely overlooks the equally pressing case of those who, through their own initiative and frequently through their own money, had private wells or group water schemes on private sources. The announcement on 21 January, far from squaring the circle, inflamed the situation further.
We have come full circle in relation to the Minister's handling of local government reform. Careful reading of his amendment gives an indication of his modus operandi. The Minister's amendment after a gem-like reference to a new buoyant funding system ends with a commitment to “undertake a full examination of a range of issues arising in relation to group water supplies within the framework of a planned approach to the organisation and management of water supplies in rural areas and to report to the Government thereon”. The Minister is back to where he started, with a study. I have observed this Minister at close quarters for the past two and a half years and for two years——