Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014

Vol. 826 No. 1

Irish Water: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:


— the critical role water plays in our social and economic infrastructure and the right of all citizens to access a safe, clean and sustainable water supply;

— the need for a comprehensive national water investment programme to improve, protect and maintain supplies to homes and industry throughout the country;

— that investment should specifically target ongoing leakage issues and the quality of water supplied to homes; and

— the vital part that a strong water infrastructure plays in attracting investment and promoting economic growth;


— the scandalous overspend in the €100 million it has cost for the creation of Irish Water to date, in particular the €50 million going to consultancy fees;

— the complete lack of transparency in the establishment of Irish Water, as it does not currently fall under freedom of information legislation;

— the fact that Irish Water places a new layer of bureaucracy on top of the existing water services system with excessive spending on recruitment and consultancy fees which duplicate existing expertise;

— the financial pressures that democratically accountable local authorities face in being stripped of their water assets while being burdened with pension bills;

— the fact that home owners will face water charges from January 2015 despite the lack of a national audit of the water infrastructure and investment programme to ensure people are paying for a service that delivers; and

— the Government’s decision to rush Irish Water legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas without proper oversight or scrutiny;

rejects any moves towards the privatisation of Irish Water;

calls on the Government:

— to conduct an immediate value for money review to clarify the spending levels of Irish Water on consultancy fees; and

— to end the duplication of resources between Irish Water and local authority staff; and


— for the immediate extension of freedom of information legislation to cover Irish Water including its establishment period; and

— for a complete national audit of the water system and the roll out of a comprehensive water investment program to bring the service up to standard.

This motion is tabled in response to the ongoing failure of the Government to be accountable about Irish Water, its failure to be open and transparent, and its absolute and deliberate shrouding in secrecy of the spiralling and out-of-control costs and spending in the establishment of Irish Water. Let there be doubt that if it were not for John Tierney's slip-up on Sean O'Rourke's radio programme last week, the public, the taxpayers and every Member of the Oireachtas would remain in the dark about the tsunami of spending endemic in Irish Water.

The setting up of Irish Water was a concept of the Fine Gael Party when it was in the Opposition; I believe it is on page 10 of the NewERA document which was produced in 2010. In Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party proceeded to put this super quango in place as quickly as possible. They appointed Bord Gáis, seemingly due to all its internal expertise, central billing system, customer care base and customer base throughout the country. These major internal components were seemingly far superior to what might now be termed the "duked" Bord na Móna. Bord Gáis was used as the launch pad, against the advice of the PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, report sought by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, which advised the opposite. The Minister was well able to micromanage that report, which cost €180,000, into the bin in his office.

What has ensued could be described as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. We are in GUBU territory here. This body was handed €11 billion worth of taxpayers' assets on 1 January. Preceding that, it was handed €1.1 billion in taxpayers' cash. There was €500 million for water metering, €180 million for set-up costs and €400 million was supposedly committed by Deputy Phil Hogan to the local authorities, but it was taken from them at the end of last year when the rug was pulled from under them. Then one wonders why Donegal was faced with such a dilemma last week in trying to strike a rate and set a budget to provide the type of services, commitments and goods that a local authority is expected to provide to those whom it serves.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, says he should not be expected to micromanage €180 million. It is not as if we asking Phil the price of the new gym in the headquarters of Irish Water. We are talking about €85 million, almost 50% of the set-up cost of €180 million. The Minister and his Government want us to believe that he asked only one question, "How much do you want lads?" When they said, "Can we have €180 million?", he replied, "Sure you can. Collect it on the way out".

Phil's cheque book.

Then we are led to believe that he went to the Cabinet to agree a budget for 2014. There were some heavy hitters facing him there, including Deputies Noonan, Howlin, Coveney, Varadkar, Burton and Bruton. They had only one question to ask of him, "Have you enough in €180 million, Phil?" Last week on Carlow radio, Phil feigned surprise at the €50 million figure, saying it was excessive, high and should not be the case. He said he would check it out and call in the people concerned to find out what was happening. The other Ministers, Deputies Coveney, Varadkar, Burton and Bruton also feigned surprise, because they remembered they did not ask any questions when it was before the Cabinet. The Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, said, "Oh, that is a very high price. That is a lot of money. We will have to check that out". He was not thinking that when Phil came to the Cabinet seeking €180 million to set up the biggest super quango we ever had.

If the Minister says now that he knew and did not tell us, that is bad enough. If the Cabinet and the Taoiseach knew and did not tell us and the Taoiseach did not answer questions, that is also bad enough. However, if they did not know and did not ask any questions, that is twice as bad. It is not only twice as bad for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, but it is twice as bad for everybody who sits at the Cabinet table with him.

There has been a litany of unanswered questions since the Taoiseach announced this Government decision. All the questions remained unanswered because the Government made sure there was a freedom of information ban in place in regard to this project. Unanswered questions lead to bad decisions, which are compounded further as time passes. The bad decisions in this case by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, the Cabinet, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Bord Gáis and Irish Water have contributed to what is undoubtedly a runaway train. The Government, despite its promise of a democratic revolution, has allowed the train that is Irish Water to career towards what will be a calamitous crash, and the carnage that will ensue will be borne by none other than the taxpayer when the first bills start to arrive next January. There has been one delay in the rush to get this quango in place, and that is the delay in charging. The Government had to make sure it happened after the local elections, like the guidelines on wind energy and the pylons decision. The attitude is to ensure they are after the local elections. The Government will take the hit, whatever it may be, in the meantime, because others might be associated with it too.

Of course, one hears the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and others, and even the Taoiseach earlier today say there will be a saving of €1.1 billion over the next seven years as a result of what is being done here. They tried to console us with a figure of €2 billion earlier in the week. Yesterday, when we met Irish Water executives, we heard the €2 billion figure as well. That bluster is nothing short of a graduation cap from the David Drumm school of economics. I fear and shudder to think of from where the figures are plucked.

Next January, taxpayers will not be paying for facilities, networks and systems that have been repaired, for replaced water mains in Dublin, whose water supply is and has been in crisis, or for a network that has upgraded mains or new supply. They will be paying the exorbitant costs of metering, the exorbitant cost of setting up Irish Water, the exorbitant cost of procurement in Irish Water, the exorbitant cost of IT in Irish Water, the exorbitant cost of the central billing system we heard so much about in Irish Water, the exorbitant cost of customer care and, of course, the unnecessary and unmicromanaged consultancy fees in Irish Water. Fat chance that they will be paying for a system that is fit for purpose or that at least has a detailed, costed and funded roadmap towards a system that will be fit for purpose and for which people will feel obliged to pay, safe in the knowledge that work or advancement is being carried out where it is necessary.

I have a question for Members and for those who are in their offices and did not bother to come to the House. What does the Minister for Finance have to say about this tsunami of spending? Before the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and his colleagues in the Labour Party and Fine Gael voted for this guillotined legislation in December, the Minister said that the ban on freedom of information would be lifted when it was practicable, which would be when this entity becomes a commercial entity and is charging Members and the taxpayer for what they are getting.

Did one ever hear the like of it? He said there could be commercial sensitivities concerning the release of information about a State company, even though it has no competitors. He has come to some reason in recent days when he said it is to be done in this session.

The Taoiseach said today that it will be done soon. It could be done next week if the Government wished to do so. A Bill accompanying this motion seeks to lift the freedom of information ban. It would also give the Comptroller and Auditor General authority to examine the books and spending that has become synonymous with Irish Water.

I have asked questions in this House on numerous occasions, as the Minister of State well knows. Questions have been asked during Leaders' Questions, Priority Questions and other parliamentary questions. The Taoiseach spoke earlier about the openness and transparency that exists, but where was he when questions were asked of him and his Cabinet on this issue? He did say he believed the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has apologised for not answering questions and not dealing with taxpayers' fears and concerns. We asked questions on behalf of those taxpayers but I have received no communication from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to that effect and neither have my colleagues who asked similar questions.

I got no communication from the CEO or anybody else associated with Irish Water, although the Department said they would be in touch with me and others to address the very issues that are now in the public domain because of a slip up last Thursday. It is incumbent on somebody to take control of this matter and be accountable for it. They should explain what happens when a question is put by a Member of this House for the taxpayers who allowed that person the privilege of putting that question on their behalf.

The kernel of this matter is the abdication of responsibility by this Government and its representatives. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach almost to give the impression that nothing has gone wrong in this process. I hold him and his Cabinet colleagues as culpable for this sorry mess as the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. He asked one question: "How much do you want?" They asked of him: "Is it enough, Phil?" That is what we are supposed to believe, but I do not buy it and neither do the taxpayers. The Government went down this road at a pace and with a disregard for everybody who saw fit to ask a few questions. The Government now finds that Irish Water is an entity holding €11 billion worth of assets belonging to the taxpayer, but the taxpayer has lost confidence in that system. The taxpayer has also lost confidence in Irish Water's ability to carry out its duties due to the Government's lack of leadership.

There is no need for the Minister of State's colleagues to show surprise, as they did over the last week, about €50 million having been spent since last March. Not alone were they silent and complicit in that decision at Cabinet, they also marched their colleagues through the lobbies three times under the Whip with separate pieces of legislation pertaining to Irish Water. On the third occasion, the Government showed the worst contempt by rushing through legislation to satisfy the Minister, Deputy Hogan, Irish Water and anybody else associated with it. A commitment was made to hand over those assets on 1 January, but those are the people's assets.

In the heads of the Bill published last year there were at least some safeguards for the public. This model is similar to what happened in England where public water utilities were put together for privatisation down the road. Where were those safeguards when the legislation arrived here at the end of the last sitting just before Christmas? It came on the back of the Government's decision regarding the troika, which was billed as a victory. Where was the Government then? The Government marched its people through, hoodwinked them and duped them. They are the ones now shedding crocodile tears, and saying "This is wrong. It's not right." I have heard that from Deputy Humphreys, Deputy McNamara and Deputy Charles Flanagan in my constituency, but it is not on because they were all complicit in that bloody process. They will have to admit it quickly.

If they really mean what they have been saying with the tears they have been shedding since the cat got out of the bag last week, they should support this motion. They should also support the freedom of information Bill, which will give authority to the Comptroller and Auditor General to question on behalf of the taxpayer every cent that is being spent by Irish Water. Maybe then the Government can begin the process of winning back public trust for this project.

I call Deputy Keaveney who will be followed by Deputy Ó Cuív, Deputy Niall Collins and myself.

I am informed that I have two additional minutes from Deputy Ó Cuív, with your permission a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

For most of my adult life I have paid for water, so I value it as a resource. I have no objection to the principle of paying for water, but I am opposed to the Irish Water model that the Government has imposed on this country by legislation. It was rammed through the House at the latter end of the previous session.

I also believe in the importance of local democracy and the principle of subsidiarity, so I am opposed to stripping this function from local authorities. This action in itself has created an issue of accountability for the public. It has certainly damaged the perception of the acceptance of water charges across the country. As the Minister of State responsible for the NewERA project, I am sure that Deputy O'Dowd will agree with what I am going to say. In any venture of this kind, trust in the fairness of how it was established is essential for securing public support. However, recent events have damaged public confidence in Irish Water.

I have multiple concerns about this legislation and its implications. I wish to focus on the tendering process for the treatment of waste water. My concerns arise as a consequence of disturbing representations that were made to my office during the winter holidays. Contractors who have contacted me were too nervous to contact Government Deputies about their concerns with respect to the success of the tendering process. They raised matters with me that they felt they were unable to raise with the Department or with local Government Deputies.

The Minister of State may be aware of the multiple supplier framework provision of waste water management. It specifically laid out the conditions that would have to be met by contractors who wished to tender to provide services. Those tendering services were clearly set out by the environmental impairment liability insurance scheme, and a motor insurance scheme to a maximum indemnity of €6.5 million.

The Minister of State also knows that an online question and answer section existed, and that the only means by which an applicant was permitted to submit a query was online. All tenderers later had it clarified that the insurance would have to be in place first, prior to the tender being considered and the application being submitted.

It is a fact that we can verify with documentation. Applicants had to incur considerable expense in putting in place the insurance. Up to €60,000 was required from financial institutions prior to Christmas to meet the upfront cost of meeting the tender requirements. It is important for the Minister of State to note that many contractors were put off applying because of this upfront cost.

The Minister of State will be aware that the deadline for submission of tenders was 29 November. Two weeks later, contractors received correspondence confirming that the insurance requirements had to be in place and that they had to revalidate that affirmation. On 18 December, a communication was issued that indicated that the requirement for the environmental impairment liability insurance was to be dropped. Furthermore, the maximum indemnity limit for the motor insurance was to be reduced from €6.5 million to €1.3 million. Four days later, a communication indicating the successful tenders to be designated for consideration was issued. I find this timeline curious and have a number of questions for the Minister of State with respect to the decisions made. Why were the changes made? The Minister of State will have heard the Latin phrase Cui bono? Who benefited from those changes to the tender process? What company, which failed the original criteria, was successful following the changes that were made in Irish Water? How many potential tenderers decided not to participate because of the onerous insurance requirements set out on 18 December? How many of them decided not to proceed with the tender process because they could not secure the capital to secure the insurance premiums?

I cannot answer the foregoing questions but I am sure that the likely beneficiaries of any changes were companies that relied entirely on subcontractors to provide their services and who failed to satisfy the original criteria of the tender. Oddly, there is only one company that fulfils the nature of that characteristic. Coincidentally, one of its former managers is now responsible in Ernst & Young for the tender process we are now discussing. There has been much talk about the critical importance of securing public trust. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would comment tonight on the oddity that a consultant that has been provided for from the €50 million being bandied about is formerly an operator who is uniquely in a position to fulfil the criteria that were amended within the timeline set out and is now in fact the consultant who works in Ernst & Young and makes the decisions on these contracts.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil deis agam cúpla focal a rá faoin gceist seo. The statement of the week is that of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, when he said he only looks at the policy issues, not the detail of spending €50 million. I recall that when Members on that side of the House were over here they wanted us to account every day in this House for every patient in every hospital throughout the country. Day-in and day-out they wanted to know from us every detail, not of the big policy issues or issues reflecting €50 million, but of everything done by every semi-State body. We are now told by a Minister of this Government that he does not deal with issues relating to the spending of €50 million or €100 million and that he only lays down policy. That is incredible.

I accept that the Government backbenchers did not know that the Minister of State and Minister knew the position all along and that when they were voting blindly for what the Government was rushing through the Dáil they did so based on trust. However, they now know the truth. I expect that when a vote is called on this motion they will call on the Minister of State and Minister to account for this debacle.

I recall also that when the Health Service Executive was being established, the stated purpose of which was to address the inefficiency of having health boards across the country, the argument put forward by the then Opposition was that the HSE was a monster in terms of senior and middle management. As a member of that Government, I can assure the House that was never the intention. The intention was to bring together the health boards and to create a standard across the country, thus eliminating duplication, which is the same argument being put forward by the current Government in respect of Irish Water. When one is trying something out for the first time unforeseen issues can arise. However, this Government had the advantage of knowing what might happen. It knew there was a danger that when water services throughout the country were amalgamated what happened in the HSE might happen again. The Government was forewarned by the experience of the previous Government with the establishment of the Health Service Executive. As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".

I cannot understand how we have ended up in a situation whereby water services will in future be provided by the original staff plus an additional 500 new staff despite what we have been told by Government that the idea behind a national service is the elimination of duplication, resulting in savings. I predict that within three years from now a generous voluntary severance scheme will be introduced in order to reduce the number of staff to the number in place prior to the commencement of this fiasco. This will result in millions more euro having to be paid by people.

Perhaps the Minister of State will indicate the cost of one water meter. Is it €600? As I understand it, as there are approximately 1.6 million houses in the country the total cost of water metering is approximately €1 billion. The Government in spending €100 million on setting up Irish Water has added an additional €50 to people's bills. They will also have to meet the cost of any future redundancy scheme, which I am sure the Minister of State will say tonight will not happen. All of this cost is to be met by the domestic water users in this country before they even get as much as 1 one litre of water from a tap.

I would like to make another prediction as a result of the arrangement which the Government has put in place. I see the advantage over time in building an integrated network of mains water across the country. The cryptosporidium outbreak in Galway would not have happened if we had already had such a network in place because we could have back-fed clean water in immediately. There is an argument to be made for an integrated mains system, similar to that in place for electricity. However, I predict that the part of this system that will not work is the domestic two, four and six inch pipes in rural Ireland and that, just as happens when problems arise with the telephone system, when something goes wrong with the water services they will be the longest waiting for a service. During the recent storms, the people in rural Ireland whose telephones were out of service had to wait more than a month for service to be restored.

They are still waiting.

I know of someone who lives in a valley with no mobile service and who has not had a telephone since 12 December, over one month ago. The same thing is going to happen under the system the Government has put in place, because when there is a centralised system we can be certain that investment in the parts furthest out and in the hardest terrain will be the last to get the service.

I was dealing with this issue until the Government pulled the plug on the scheme. There was a scheme under the CLÁR programme. We were bringing water to people in the last houses in the country. They have been dependent on wells but want water, like everyone else has it, through a pipe from mains with a proper treatment system. We were doing it. At little expense to the State we were finishing this problem off once and for all because I believe water is a basic right.

I seem to remember a certain Mr. Gilmore, whom the Minister of State may have heard of - he may have met him on his travels around Government Buildings - said he was against water charges because water was a necessity. He said he always believed essential services such as water should be delivered as a public service. However, the Government has refused to give that basic public service to people in the remaining houses in the country who are dependent on wells of variable quality or on streams from hills for a supply. Often, they suffer from the problem of bad quality water and an intermittent supply if they get a drought.

There is no doubt that this issue, as it has played out in the public airwaves and in the hearts and minds of the public in recent weeks and days, has done major damage to the confidence and trust in the political systems or what remains of them among the public. This is singularly damaging and it reflects badly on the Government. People are asking why their public representatives are being denied the opportunity to ask questions and hold the Government to account. Why is it that a brick wall has been put up, that the curtain has been pulled and that we have had this silence all along? It is simply not good enough.

With respect to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, I am unsure whether he has been fully in the loop about all that has happened all along. The Minister of State has been sent in to the House to front up for the Government tonight. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, should make himself available tonight to try to clear up some of the questions. The public are deeply unhappy.

We have had the turn of the year and many of the measures in the budget have kicked in. Last week, we saw elderly people being discriminated against - that is the only way I can describe it. This relates to the housing aid for elderly people and the way the grant criteria have been re-engineered to discriminate against some people.

People have a fundamental distrust of this Government when it comes to accountability. We saw this as recently as the Seanad referendum. What was the message the people sent to the political establishment? They have no wish to see power centralised in a small number of hands. They want to see more accountability. They want to see the Taoiseach in the House answering questions like he should be doing, instead of narrowing the opportunity to be held to account and to hold the Government to account. They have no wish to see the Cabinet being run by the four-member Economic Management Council, which is accountable to no one. We have no idea what they discuss or what decisions they arrive at. We hear other Ministers saying they are excluded from discussions and decisions that are being taken by the Economic Management Council.

The whole system of accountability, holding the Government open to scrutiny and allowing us to question in the public interest is being fundamentally attacked by the Government. This was clearly demonstrated before Christmas with the freedom of information legislation. Members on this side of the House, including ourselves, put forward some perfectly reasonable amendments to open up Irish Water to scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act. All the people, including Government backbenchers and Ministers, who now want to have accountability for Irish Water and who expressed surprise at the costs, voted against the proposal before Christmas. Now, they want to open it up. When we sought documents under the freedom of information legislation, the document I have before me is what we got. It has been entirely redacted and we cannot make any sense out of it.

When the Minister of State is responding on behalf of the Government, he should address several issues for us. The PricewaterhouseCoopers Government-commissioned report, which cost a good deal of money, recommended a new entity be established. Why was that not accepted? What rationale did the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the Government come up with to reject the recommendations in that report? People want to know. Can the Minister of State tell us why funds from the local property tax are being channelled into Irish Water? The people were told that the local property tax was to go towards the provision of local services through our local authorities, but that is not happening. Can the Minister of State tell us why the service level agreements between Irish Water were not discussed, debated or presented to local government members throughout the country as part of the estimates process before Christmas? They only arrived during the Christmas period and local authority managers signed off on them at that stage. There was no public debate, scrutiny or discussion around the matter. These service level agreements will feed into issues such as water quality, which was discussed in the House before Christmas, and other issues, including the free allowance and the standing charge.

I commend Deputy Barry Cowen on tabling this motion. People have been taken aback since Mr. John Tierney revealed the cost of setting up Irish Water and the €50 million mentioned in payments to consultants, which is now increasing further to €86 million. I had hoped that the Government and the Minister of State would have upgraded the network and brought it up to a certain standard. There are already leaks and home owners are unhappy with the service they have. There should be a better service; that is where we should start.

Payments are being made but fears are growing about delays in the roll-out of the water programme. There are also fears that Irish Water will charge more per unit for water if demand is not as high as anticipated. People who conserve water and do the responsible thing could end up facing higher charges as a result.

I cannot understand why there is a complete lack of transparency regarding the establishment of Irish Water. Up to now it has not fallen under the freedom of information legislation. The Taoiseach referred to the matter today. Deputy Cowen has a Bill which will deal with that. We should extend the freedom of information legislation to cover Irish Water, including the establishment period.

I regret that Irish Water is now presenting a new layer of bureaucracy on top of the existing water services system. I put it to the Minister of State that the costs involved contrast with the updating of rural water schemes. Group water schemes have been improved at a relatively low cost. I hope the Minister of State will clear up many of the issues that remain uncertain, especially the matter of the lack of information on the water allowance. Galway County Council has considered a 50,000 gallon maximum allowance based on a policy introduced in 1999. Instead, there is financial pressure on democratically-elected local authorities, which are being stripped of their water assets and burdened with pension bills. Home owners will face water charges from January 2015 despite the lack of a national audit of the water infrastructure and investment programme. Surely it is time for the Government to clear up exactly what is involved for the people who deal with group water schemes. If it is true that as few as 80,000 homes have been metered, then it looks as if a vast number of houses throughout the country will receive a flat charge, probably from next October. The Government should clarify whether subventions and subsidies will continue for domestic dwellings under group water schemes.

It is important to provide funding to local authorities from Irish Water to allow any group water schemes to be taken in charge, where those involved in the schemes wish them to be taken in charge, and become part of a public network. I hope the block grant will be announced early to fast-track new schemes and upgrade existing water and sewerage schemes.

The current situation is one of uncertainty and a lack of clarity, including, for example, in regard to the metering of apartments. The revelations regarding consultancy fees come in the wake of similar events relating to the Poolbeg incinerator project, the studies examining the provision of integrated ticketing for public transport in Dublin and the proposed siting of a national children's hospital at the Mater hospital, the latter involving an outlay of €32 million for design and procurement. The Minister must examine all of the issues, particularly in respect of rural areas where there is great uncertainty and where people have gone to the bother of making a significant investment in water schemes while continuing to pay water charges for group water schemes. These people deserve an answer.

The European Union water directive requires member states to ensure that water pricing policies provide adequate incentives to use water resources efficiently and ensure the recovery of the true cost of water services in an equitable manner. As it stands, however, we are faced with a lack of investment, disruption of supplies and threats to public health in Galway and elsewhere with the imposition of boil water notices. All citizens have a right to access a safe, clean and sustainable water supply. In addition, water infrastructure plays an important part in attracting investment and promoting economic growth. Indeed, it is a vital element of our social and economic infrastructure.

That is agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

"To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

- notes the critical importance of water services to the social and economic well-being of the State and it citizens, and the vital part that a strong water services system plays in attracting investment and promoting economic growth;

- welcomes the establishment of Irish Water as one of the largest elements of public sector reform under way in the State and acknowledges the fact that the creation of the utility will bring:

- more investment in the water infrastructure, to address leakages, improve resilience and water quality and expand to meet economic need - doubling the present level of investment within a number of years; and

- a more efficient operation, through use of consolidated asset management systems, IT systems, standard operating practices and availing of economies of scale;

- welcomes the provisions of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 which precludes the privatisation of Irish Water and will ensure that water services infrastructure remains in public ownership;

- notes that the creation of the national water utility company has many benefits and welcomes the fact that this new approach will facilitate the doubling of capital investment, resulting in better quality water services and more jobs;

- recognises that a key underpinning of the major programme of water sector reform is the utilisation of expertise within the State sector to the maximum degree possible through leveraging Bord Gáis skills and systems and seconding staff from local authorities and the Department;

- acknowledges that the benefits accruing from the initial set-up costs will far outweigh the costs and provide long-term value for money for customers - the Minister has sought the advice of the Commission for Energy Regulation on this matter to validate the position;

- notes the commission's initial view that many of the costs presented to it are likely to be legitimate and will ultimately yield benefits and lower costs for consumers but that the commission is examining this matter further in the context of a fuller review of all of Irish Water's costs over the coming months - in accordance with best regulatory practice, the commission has indicated that it will consult fully on these issues and consider all responses before coming to a conclusion;

- welcomes the extensive efforts made by all stakeholders to ensure that Irish Water was operational from 1 January 2014 and notes in this context:

- the progress on the roll-out of the domestic metering programme being delivered by Irish Water, with some 85,000 meters installed to date;

- the provisions in the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, which provide a mechanism for funding the past pension service of local authority employees recruited or transferred to Irish Water; and

- the ongoing commitment of local authorities and their employees to ensuring the delivery of quality water services following the making of service level agreements with Irish Water, and notes that these agreements underpin a collaborative arrangement between Irish Water and the local government sector to transform water services in Ireland;

- recognises the need for transparency and accountability from Irish Water in respect of governance and budgets and welcomes the commitment by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to provide that Irish Water will be subject to freedom of information legislation as soon as is practicable."


When will that be done?

I did not interrupt Deputies opposite and I ask that they afford me the same courtesy. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, gave that commitment in November last year, an undertaking I reiterated during the debate in the Seanad. In addition, the Taoiseach indicated today that not only would the freedom of information provisions apply to Irish Water but they would be retrospective to the very first day on which money was laid out.

Ireland has a valuable natural resource in the level and quality of fresh water available to us. This resource must be protected and valued. A high quality water supply is critical to the health and well-being of our citizens, the environment and the economy. The programme for Government includes commitments to introduce a fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water, establish a new State-owned utility to take responsibility for water infrastructure and implement a charging system based on usage above a free allowance. Moreover, in the programme of assistance agreed between the previous Government and the EU-ECB-IMF, commitments were also made to introduce domestic water charges and establish a single national water company.

The provision of water services is expensive, costing in excess of €1 billion per annum. However, under the previous funding arrangements prior to the enactment of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, only approximately 15% of the costs were directly paid by the users of the services. Indeed, the independent assessment on establishing a public water utility, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found that the dependence on the Exchequer for capital funding had in the past constrained investment in the sector. That report was written on the assumption of annual investment levels of €600 million per annum.

If we are to deliver the water services our citizens deserve and attract industry to provide jobs, we must increase the investment in infrastructure. The introduction of a new, more sustainable funding model will help to secure the level of investment required to upgrade, repair and expand our public water and wastewater infrastructure. In addition to the environmental benefits, this will provide significant opportunities for job creation. The establishment of Uisce Éireann is an important step for Ireland as we modernise the way we deliver services.

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, which came into effect on 1 January 2014, provides for the transfer of water services functions from 34 water services authorities to Irish Water. The new utility company was established in July 2013 as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann.

These were two important milestones for the programme of reform of water services in Ireland. The reform programme offers opportunities to achieve significant efficiencies in the way water services are delivered, including providing a co-ordinated national approach to the delivery of water services, achieving economies of scale in service delivery, achieving cost savings through centralised procurement, reducing the unacceptable level of water that is unaccounted for, reducing operational expenditure for water services, and improving the collection levels of water charges in the non-domestic sector.

The move towards the utility model will deliver significant benefits for Ireland. From an economic perspective, a greater security of supply will help make the economy more competitive and attractive to companies that operate in the ICT, pharma-chemical and agrifood industries, which are water-intensive in nature, to invest here. In addition, an increased focus on water management should encourage innovation in this area, thereby providing indigenous Irish businesses with opportunities to tap into a growing global water sector which, it is predicted, will be worth €1 trillion by 2020. There will also be significant benefits to the environment through reduced consumption and this, in turn, will lead to reduced costs of treatment and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The establishment of Uisce Éireann within the Bord Gáis Energy, BGE, group allowed it to leverage the core expertise of BGE in operating a successful and efficient utility. From the outset, BGE was in a position to put in place a programme to establish Irish Water and utilise internal expertise across a range of areas, including ICT, procurement, asset and financial management, customer operations and corporate governance. The establishment of Uisce Éireann involves costs and, as outlined by representatives from the company at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, a significant level of expenditure was required to get Uisce Éireann operational within a very short period. The overall budget for the establishment of Irish water is €180 million, which includes a contingency of €30 million. The budget is being funded by a commercial loan which Irish Water has arranged with the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF. There has been a suggestion that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, deliberately withheld details of the establishment costs of Irish Water from Deputies. This is simply not the case. The total budget for the establishment of Uisce Éireann is €180 million, which includes the contingency of €30 million to which I refer. While the overall budget was outlined to the Economic Management Council and the water reform sub-committee of the Cabinet committee on economic infrastructure, no Exchequer funds have been provided to date to Bord Gáis or Irish Water in respect of these establishment costs.

Who owes the money?

Irish Water is a commercial State body within the BGE group and all the normal governance and accountability rules which apply to commercial bodies - such as requirements for ministerial consent to enter into capital commitments and raise borrowing and requirements on the provision of annual reports and accounts - also apply to it.

The legislation under which Irish Water was established also provides for conditions to be attached to any grants from central funds by the Minister for Finance or in respect of grants from departmental funds by the Minister. However, the establishment costs are not voted Department expenditure. Rather, they are being funded by means of a commercial loan from the NPRF. It is not appropriate, therefore, to include details of those costs in replies to parliamentary questions.

The Taoiseach said the opposite earlier on.

That said, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has asked that the Department put in place an appropriate arrangement to provide a mechanism for Deputies to obtain details of the establishment costs of Irish Water in future.

In the context of the programme budget for the establishment of Uisce Éireann, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, sought the advice of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, under section 27 of Water Services Act 2013. In particular, advice was sought on the benefits which would be expected to accrue and the time period over which they would reasonably be expected to accrue from the Uisce Éireann programme expenditure to ensure the investment is expected to result in value for money from a customer perspective, whether the proposed expenditure was justified, and, assuming the economic regulatory model will include a regulated asset base, confirmation that the establishment costs efficiently incurred by Uisce Éireann will be included in the opening regulated asset base. In response to the Minister's request, the CER conducted a short review of the costs and provided an initial view on the matter. In that context, it advised that most of the proposed establishment costs appear to be reasonable and can be expected to result in value for money from a customer perspective. The in-depth review of costs by the CER will be critical in validating this view in respect of the full costs. The advice from the CER also noted that all the activities undertaken by BGE and Uisce Éireann are core to delivering the objective of a national integrated water service provider, with associated benefits to customers and other stakeholders in Ireland, and that Uisce Éireann has drawn heavily on BGE personnel and processes. It further noted that the latter is the most effective and efficient manner in which to establish Irish Water.

The CER advice to the Minister also noted that the establishment of Uisce Éireann as a separate business unit within the BGE group and the roll-out of the national metering programme have, to date, been significant undertakings. Following on from this advice, the Department has put in place appropriate procedures to seek to ensure that any proposed expenditure commitments which need to be made in advance of full regulatory review will be justified and of long-term value to the customer. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that the primary role of the CER is to protect the interests of the water services customer. Setting revenues at a level which only includes expenditure efficiently expended will be central to fulfilling that role.

There have been suggestions that the establishment of Uisce Éireann is a prelude to either privatisation or the introduction of competition in the water services market. I wish to state emphatically that this is not the case. We have consistently stated that the supply of water and wastewater services will remain in public ownership. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 specifically provides that Irish Water cannot be privatised and will remain in public ownership.

Substantial progress has been made in delivering on the Government's reform process. The Water Services Act (No. 2) 2013 came into effect on 1 January last and Uisce Éireann has assumed statutory responsibility for the delivery of water services from the 34 water services authorities. The service level agreements between local authorities and Uisce Éireann, which commenced on 1 January, will involve the continued involvement of local authority staff in service delivery at local level for the next 12 years. This will ensure that local expertise in asset management and operations, combined with considerable network and utility management experience, will be available to Uisce Éireann. I am very confident that this will prove to be a positive collaborative arrangement. Where it is decided not to enter into a subsequent agreement, the legislation provides for the transfer of staff involved in the delivery of services from local authorities to Uisce Éireann. The legislation also provides for the protection of the interests of staff who are transferred.

During the consideration of the legislation last year, I made it clear that Uisce Éireann should be fully accountable for the way in which it discharges its functions. The two Water Services Acts passed in 2013 provide that Uisce Éireann must provide annual reports on its performance of its functions each year. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is required to arrange for copies of the company's annual report to be laid before the Oireachtas immediately after receiving it. Uisce Éireann must also keep accounts in a form to be approved by the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, of all moneys received or spent by it in the performance of its functions.

Uisce Éireann will be accountable to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which is responsible for the environmental regulation of Irish Water. As such, the EPA will be responsible for monitoring the quality of drinking water supplied by Uisce Éireann and also for monitoring discharges from wastewater treatment plants to ensure they meet the necessary standards. In addition, the wastewater treatment plants which are transferring to Uisce Éireann will be required to comply with licences granted by the EPA. The agency will have powers of direction and enforcement in these areas. The EPA has a proven track record of transparency in fulfilling its functions and details of its activities are published annually. Uisce Éireann will also be accountable to the CER, which will be responsible for the economic regulation of Irish Water.

The commission will also have powers to set standards of customer care and to direct Irish Water to comply with any aspect of a code of practice prepared in accordance with the Act.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has given a commitment that Irish Water will also be brought under the freedom of information legislation as soon as is practicable. The Minister made this commitment during the select committee hearing of the Freedom of Information Bill last November. During the debates in both Houses last year on the two Water Services Acts there was strong support on all sides for the extension of the remit of freedom of information legislation to include Irish Water.

I wish to take the opportunity to clarify an unfortunate misunderstanding in relation to replies to recent parliamentary questions which sought details of expenditure relating to Irish Water. In reply to Deputy Kevin Humphreys I indicated that I had requested Irish Water to respond directly to him. Unfortunately, the Department did not transmit the request at the time. The Secretary General of the Department has been in touch with the Deputy today in that regard and has apologised for that oversight.

I wish to address a couple of issues before I conclude.

Sorry, Minister, you have only one minute remaining.

On a point of order.

There is no point of order.

The statement made by Deputy Keaveney, formerly of the Labour Party, relates to a very serious issue. I wish to assure the Deputy and the House that the transcript of his statement will be brought to the attention of the Minister and the Secretary General and all other appropriate persons. It is very serious and must be dealt with immediately.

The establishment of Irish Water as a fully operational utility in the time involved has been a major achievement. Irish Water will introduce a more efficient and effective model of service delivery for water services in Ireland. The benefits of this will be wide-ranging and will be an important element in the protection of our most valuable natural resource as well as supporting our continued economic recovery.

I call Deputy Tom Barry to be followed by Deputy Michelle Mulherin. I ask them to begin quickly. They have four minutes each. We are running out of time.

We will do our best to keep to time.

I welcome this debate on Irish Water. There has been much scare-mongering on this topic and it is hoped that this debate will help to allay fears and establish the facts. The provision of water costs money which must be accounted for. I agree there needs to be a domestic allowance but people cannot expect to get unlimited quantities of water free of charge. Most rural dwellers currently pay for water through local water schemes, submersible home pumps and wells and metered supply. Businesses also pay for water usage.

The moneys raised over the past decades have contributed to the existing system. It is a nonsense to suggest that home owners should not pay for water until the infrastructure is up to world-class standards. This motion does not take into account that people like myself pay for the water we use and we are very reliant on its supply. We pay for the water we use and we work with the supply we have. This is not an ideal situation at times, with the result that people will often pay extra for storage facilities and pumping systems, depending on the topography of the land on which they live. I live in a limestone area and the necessary water softeners, associated equipment and servicing, costs money. Other areas contain high iron levels which may be more difficult than dealing with limestone. Water is not homogenous and its extraction depends on the base rock from which it comes.

I cannot allow county councils to be condemned for their water services. The staff of the water services division of Cork County Council have always striven to provide a better service even in difficult financial times. The current water delivery situation is not acceptable by any means. In Cork we pay for water by the cubic metre, which is approximately €2.35. Operational costs account for €2.06, leaving only 29 cent for loan repayment and infrastructural development. An extra 17 cent per cu m at a minimum is required in order to provide the service.

I refer to the new term, "unaccounted for water", UFW. Approximately 140,000 cu. m of water is consumed daily in the combined areas of north, south and west Cork. This is a great logistical and organisational workload which is replicated across the country. This is what is facing Irish Water.

The scientific analysis required to continually test potable water is significant. It is necessary to test for coliforms, taste, colour, Ph levels, conductivity, phosphates, nitrates, for example. A centralised testing body would standardise this work and be more efficient.

It is wrong to ask a small subset of people to pay for critical infrastructure. The national approach by Irish Water is correct and a proper pricing structure is necessary. The advantages of scale should allow the necessary moneys to be raised independently and value to be achieved. We cannot afford to have drinkable water becoming a limiting factor when we are doubling our milk production. The demand for drinkable water is set to increase sharply over the next few years. While I agree that transparency is necessary, we cannot lose sight of the objective of the creation of a world-class water delivery organisation. The scale of delivering an efficient and working organisation is huge. I am pleased that Irish companies are involved in setting up Irish Water because these companies are delivering necessary jobs in communities.

We recognise the need for a world class and world standard water infrastructure and supply for households and business. People in rural Ireland already pay for their water and this is being acknowledged by those living in urban Ireland. Now that people will have to pay for the water coming though their taps, it is important that a system is set up which will deliver water to consumers as efficiently as possible and which will give value for money. It must also be able to address the identified shortcomings such as the lack of uniformity of water quality and sewage treatment, the need for investment in infrastructure, the fixing of leaks and other issues which present as a result of the ad hoc delivery of water services in this country.

It is very important to have transparency so that people can be assured that there is accountability. Irish Water will be a very large State company with €11 billion of capital assets. The company will take on the assets and liabilities of local authorities and it will potentially service 1.4 million customers. The public must be assured that there is fairness and that waste and incompetence will be avoided in the spending of taxpayers' money when Irish Water is being established. At yesterday's meeting of the joint committee on the environment, Mr. John Tierney, the chief executive officer of Irish Water and other representatives, provided clarification on the company's authorisation, budgets and procurement procedures. They presented a plausible case that they are doing their business as authorised to do so.

I seek assurances from the Minister of State on how Irish Water will be run because these were not given yesterday. It will be run on a commercial basis but I am concerned that projects and infrastructural projects might only be funded on a commercial basis. What safeguards are in place to ensure equitable investment of capital by Irish Water in rural areas in order to avoid a return on investment being the over-riding consideration for the company? What public service obligations will be imposed? Rural areas have suffered from a lack of infrastructural investment. Mayo County Council could not come up with its contribution to match the Department's contribution with the result that water and sewerage schemes were not provided in some rural areas.

In some cases, they were in danger of being fined by Europe for breaching regulations on water standards. There must be a dimension to this that looks at these areas which do not have the money and perhaps cannot make the best commercial case and that we do not find ourselves in a situation where they are always at the bottom of the pile of priorities for the spending of money by Irish Water.

What input have local authorities into the water service capital investment programme? Local authorities have local knowledge and have an excellent track record in terms of the resources they have had. Can councils set priorities for their areas? They are best placed to know what local needs are rather than a remote organisation in Dublin deciding. Councils are also in a position to be very responsive.

We are setting this out as a situation where we will improve water quality for all, but many of those serviced by what we term "rural water" do not come within the auspices of this. What will happen in regard to water harvesting? Is Irish Water being directed to pursue that side of conservation also? I look forward to hearing the answers to my concerns.

I was flabbergasted by Deputy Mulherin's contribution. She wanted to know what role local authorities will have. Local authorities will be like subbies - subcontractors - with service level agreements. It will fulfil them for 12 years and they can be reviewed every two years. They will have little or no say and will be reduced to the role of subbies. As for the guarantees in regard to accountability, the time for them was when the legislation was going through the Chamber. Does Deputy Mulherin remember that she came in and voted for it? That was the time we were trying to get through 76 amendments to ensure there was some protection. The boat has been missed on that.

The more I hear about the establishment of Uisce Éireann, the more murky the water gets - pardon the pun. Having fobbed off questions from myself and others on the costs involved in setting up the company and denying he knew any of the financial details involved, it now turns out that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, was well aware of them, as was the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. Not only does it transpire, as was confirmed at the meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht yesterday, that the Minister was aware for months of the costs and the overall budget, he was aware of the large sums to be dispensed to consultancy firms. He was also being presented with monthly accounts, months before I asked the Minister of State that question which he refused to answer. The Minister refused to answer several questions we asked in that regard. We got no answers from the Minister or the Minister of State. Why did they withhold that information from us and from the Dáil? I asked the Minister of State very straight questions, including how much it would cost to establish Irish Water, including wages. I asked how much it would cost for the contracting out of services. The Minister and the Minister of State had those figures, which are in this document. The date they got them is set out in the document but they would not tell me. Why was that?

I am an elected representative for Laoighis-Offaly and spokesperson for an Opposition party. Other spokespersons also demanded that information. Why did the Minister or the Minister of State not answer those straight questions? Last Sunday, the Minister of State said he had no knowledge of the €50 million spent on outside consultants. It turns out now that he had the knowledge all along, as did the officials. The Minister was notified of it and Mr. John Tierney confirmed that yesterday at the committee meeting.

Whatever about the Minister's lack of interest in the millions of euro of taxpayers' money on the basis that he does not micromanage such trivialities as €180 million, what about Joe and Mary Soap who will be asked to pay for something they have already paid for through general taxation, commercial water rates and the local government fund by way of car tax money? We know now that the charges will, in large part, pay for the consultants, without whom it appears Government Departments would not be able to find their way to work.

We are also entitled to answers in regard to the Government's claim that Uisce Éireann will result in annual savings of €2 billion. Is it €2 billion or €1.1 billion because the figure has changed three or four times in the past couple of days, depending on whether it is coming from Mr. John Tierney or the Minister? The Minister said €2 billion, the Taoiseach said €1.1 billion and Mr. John Tierney said €2 billion. It keeps changing. How can these savings be achieved given the massive structure the Minister is creating and the outlay of €180 million with not one pipe or one leak being fixed? More than €80 million of the €180 million will go to consultants. How will a macro-structure with an extra 510 staff to pad out a corporate entity, including setting up a massive call centre, be cheaper? Please tell me how because I cannot figure it out and I have asked the Minister.

My party's position all along has been that we do not need this new entity. We need reformed local authorities. Water should be retained under the democratic control of local authorities where local councillors, along with engineers, can make local water services plans and not just be told about them but be actively involved in making them. We accept the need to modernise the water supply and to tackle the issues of wastage and leaks and the need for water conservation and water harvesting but we do not accept the need for Uisce Éireann.

We are mindful of what happened to Bord Gáis when similarly established as a public company. Now it is being sold off and that is why I tabled amendments seeking to change the Bill to copperfasten it so this could not be sold off.

I would like to ask Fianna Fáil about its position because I am confused about it. However, there is no confusion that Fianna Fáil in its four year programme clearly set out that it would charge for water in 2012-13. It said that the Government would undertake an independent assessment of the transfer of responsibilities for water services provision from local authorities to a water utility and prepare proposals for implementation of this, as appropriate, with a view to start charging in 2012-13. The previous Government was in favour of a separate utility and charging in 2012-13. It was going to beat this Government to it. Those are the facts. We need to stop the madness.

There is a Facebook page which highlights people's election material. Election material is now coming back to haunt those who made promises. The Ceann Comhairle will be aware of Dún Laoghaire, Rathdown and that area. The Tánaiste produced a newsletter in 1997 which stated that he always opposed water charges. Following the abolition of water charges in 1997, he stated that water rates were a form of double taxation on PAYE workers. How times have changed. He also stated at the time that the abolition of water charges were part of a package to improve local government. What a difference a couple of decades make considering that not only has this Government abolished some local authorities but it has taken powers, including powers over water, from local authorities. This Government, along with previous Governments, have been responsible of starving local authorities of money they could invest in a proper infrastructure.

Think of what the €180 million wasted on set-up costs and consultants could have done if it was invested in the infrastructure which has been leaking for many generations. It could have gone a long way towards addressing those leaks and saving money rather than being spent on large and small multinational companies advising and creaming money from this Government and previous Governments in terms of the contracts given to deliver consultancy and so on, all of which would not be required if water was left in the charge of local authorities and if there had been increased investment in the infrastructure and the delivery of water in our State.

All this is moving towards a plan to privatise water and make people pay more. One of the issues which came to the fore during the week was the fact that if citizens - Irish citizens are quite good at this - did their duty, conserved water at a greater rate than they have in the past and did not use the level of water predicted, because a penalty would be imposed on them through a charge, Mr. John Tierney said they would have to look at increasing the price of a litre of water.

We have been told this is all about conserving water, but if one is good at that, one will find that is not what this is all about. One will be punished in such circumstances because Irish Water has to make a profit, or at the very least break even. It cannot break even now because €180 million has already been spent before it has even started. This is a farce from start to finish. It is time to call a halt before any more money is pumped into the hole that is Irish Water. Local authorities should be allowed to retain the responsibility they had in this regard for many years. They were very good at fulfilling that responsibility when they were properly funded. It is time to reverse the decision. We have been told that people should have faith in the Commission for Energy Regulation. I suggest that the commission's decision to sanction hikes in ESB and gas charges at a time when people are struggling says a great deal about where our faith should be.

Roddy Doyle wrote an amusing but scarily realistic characterisation of what a consultant is, and why the Government uses consultants, and shared it on a well-known social network today. If I can paraphrase it to avoid the expletives, it suggested that "a consultant", in the case of Irish Water, is just a nice way of describing someone brazen enough to charge €50 million for the masterstroke of suggesting that an Irish company selling water should be called Irish Water. I am sure other advice was garnered for that €50 million. As Roddy Doyle wrote, consultants are used as a tool by politicians who lack "the guts or the brains to make their own decisions" or to stand over those decisions. This tool allows politicians to sit back and say the decisions have nothing to do with them. Is that not what Irish Water is all about? Is that not what Fine Gael is all about? This is another example of a body being created in order to take responsibility away from democratic institutions. This approach allows Ministers to pass the buck endlessly. It ensures that the process of asking parliamentary questions makes ministerial offices seem like glorified post offices, as questions are passed on to the chief executive of one body or another. Of course, the chief executive in each case is unable to deal with the politics of the issue or engage in real debate.

This whole stroke, like the privatisation of bus routes and the continued removal of the role of the State in social housing, is all about serving up basic public need to the foaming profit-mad mouth of capitalism. It is based, or at least sold, on the idea that the State cannot provide good services and that the private market is more efficient. It is further strengthened by the continued refusal - it really is a matter of refusal - of right-wing Governments like this one to deliver good public services. This is not a question of incompetence, as a focused effort is being made to undermine the State's role in service provision and to build the argument for privatisation. Fine Gael, with the Labour Party in tow, is wrapping the Irish water system in a nice big bow so that it is ready to be sold off. If this is not the case - if Irish Water is genuinely a public body - we would have real accountability. Instead, we are promised accountability as an afterthought when the Government realises that despite its guillotines and late sessions, it cannot sneak this one through unchanged.

I would like to raise a number of issues regarding the process of installing these meters. JobBridge, or "ScamBridge" as it should be known, is being used to source workers to carry out the serious work of installation. While we oppose metering, we believe that if the Government is to force this into being, it should do so as responsibly as possible. Skilled workers should be used to ensure damage is not done and to avoid service problems in the long run. If these workers are skilled, they should be paid a decent wage rather than a dole supplement. The Government thinks its consultants are worth millions, so what does it say when it is not willing to pay installers the minimum wage?

Council officials have brought my attention to their concerns about what will happen to the valuable scrap metal that is being removed during these installations. I am told that entire stopcocks, which weigh several pounds and could fetch a good price, are being removed. Metal shores are also being removed. Up to a metre of lead or copper piping is being cut out to facilitate the installation of each meter. These bits and pieces add up. A plan should have been put in place to collect any valuable scrap salvaged during these works. Given that some 1.3 million metres of piping is being put in place, we can estimate that some €6.5 million could be recouped by Irish Water if the scrap value of the material being removed is €5 per metre. If the value of this scrap is €20 per metre, we would be talking about €26 million. People are now profiting from the failure to realise, on the basis of these numbers, that this material should be stored up and sold on.

I would like to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The lack of transparency and accountability in this case is the issue that is most annoying the people. I heard the Taoiseach tell the House today that where there is an issue of public ownership, there should be no secrecy. I remind the House that 41 public bodies will be exempt from the new freedom of information legislation. A further 24 public bodies will be partially exempt. I suggest that has nothing to do with transparency or accountability. It is very annoying to people that mad sums of money are being paid to private consultants. I admit that it is nothing new. It has been part of the State's history. The previous Government paid Merrill Lynch €7 million for 14 pages of work, most of which was lies, in 2008. It is not long since Arthur Cox got €27 million for three years of legal work.

The idea of value for money is an important one. It is all very well to say that a certain company got one amount and another company got another amount. Where is the breakdown? If I build a wall for someone, I will be asked to account for material and labour. I have to explain where the entire bill came from. These people are not doing that. I will give an example. One of the main tasks for which Accenture received €17.2 million was dealing with work processes. In actual fact, it tried to reinvent the wheel in an impractical way. The same company is pretty famous for overcharging and for over-analysing a client's problems. It is an offspring of Andersen Consulting, which did not have a wonderful reputation. The stuff the consultants produced was not practical. The local authorities rejected it and told the consultants to start again. They did it again, step by step, with the help of the local authorities.

All of this cost millions of euro. Where was the value for money? Can anyone tell us why it cost so much? Can we get a breakdown of all the consultants' costs and an explanation of where they came from? It does not stack up that they were allowed to get away with this. I am sure John Tierney is a decent man. I challenged his appointment in this House a couple of months ago. Why was an engineer not appointed? Is this man out of his depth as he tries to accomplish the task he faces? Who actually made the decision to appoint him?

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, said on television last night that the committee was told in advance - when representatives of Bord Gáis came before it on 6 November 2012 - that consultants were to be appointed. I would like to remind the House of what the committee was told on that occasion:

With regard to resources, Bord Gáis Energy is being sold. The billing system we use in Bord Gáis Energy is already being adapted for Irish Water and the design for the Irish Water billing system is in progress. The billing system will be ready by 1 January 2014 and we have already seconded resources from our energy retail business into Irish Water, transferring those who are proficient in the establishment of billing and customer service. Therefore, this expertise will not be lost with the privatisation.

That is what we were told. Why would we have even asked whether consultants were being appointed? Every indication was given that this was being done in-house. Some of these very sizeable contracts were awarded after that. Just because €180 million has been earmarked for the establishment of Irish Water does not mean it has to be spent.

The purpose of partnering with Bord Gáis Energy was to make savings because we were supposed to be leveraging spare capacity in that company.

The second issue relating to parliamentary questions is crucial. We received a document yesterday that outlined month by month what the Department knew. Why were parliamentary questions not answered? We need a clear answer from the Minister on the matter because this cannot be allowed to happen again.

In a radio interview today, the Minister said he was not micro-managing this. Is €180 million micro-managing? At the very least he should have understood that high level information was coming in, outlining how things were happening. In some cases the Department even queried some of the contracts. There is a very significant gap between this and what the Minister is saying publicly. He claims to be appalled at the level of consultancy fees while at the same time there was very significant information within the Department disputing what he is saying. He must account for that.

Debate adjourned.