Water Services Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt go bhfuil difríocht mhór ann idir téarmaí an Bhille atá os ár gcomhair amach inniu agus na téarmaí a bhí sa Bhille an bhliain seo caite. There are major differences between what is before us now and what was before us this time last year. Regardless of what one thinks of water charges, that has to be acknowledged. The Government had to listen, such was the extent of the protest and the difficulties that were caused. The major lesson learned was how not to do something.

Leaving aside the principle held by many people who believe in the right to free water, Irish Water has been a debacle. What was most disturbing was the presumption that what was previously proposed would be acceptable. There is no realisation of the extent of the effect of the austerity measures on ordinary people, and the disconnect between this ivory tower in here and the real world outside has been highlighted. Bhí sé dochreidte nach raibh níos mó eolais, tuisceana agus léargais ag an Rialtas seo.

Last week I introduced a Private Members' motion on the importance of a human-rights-based analysis of budgets and the need for social impact analysis and gender-proofing. If that principle was applied to any proposed legislation or policy, the mistakes made with Irish Water would not have been made. That type of analysis and approach would have shown that after the universal social charge, which was supposed to be temporary but now appears to be a permanent fixture, property tax and the numerous increases in household bills, not to mention difficulties with mortgages and rents, a future tax, especially on a service like water, which resonates in a very personal and emotional way with people, would have been a major problem for many people and a bridge too far.

If a social impact analysis had been done, the Government would have realised that not enough credit is available to many families to cover the proposed charge. We could have learned other lessons from tribunals and past Governments, and this Government would have realised the distaste that citizens have for wasting public funds, the allocation of bonuses and the consultation and solicitors' fees associated with the foundation of Irish water. We know it was an unacceptable farce. Irish Water was doomed to fail before even one meter was installed.

If a proper social impact analysis had been done and advice had been taken from other institutions, things would have been different. Research done by Coyne Research showed that two-thirds of Irish households were borrowing to pay existing bills. How could they cope with another bill? It also found that approximately 50% of households were turning to credit cards and overdrafts in 2013, an increase from 43% in 2012. Its findings were published when the water Bill was initially introduced.

It is unbelievable that the Government could get things so wrong that it would think another charge could be imposed. A social impact analysis would have shown that a policy of rushing through the water Bill, and setting up the quango that is Irish Water and the bonus culture, was not part of the new politics we were promised.

The Minister set out the problems with water and sewerage in his speech yesterday. There are boil-water notices, leaks, poor and useless pipes and insufficient supply. Not all of our beautiful beaches have blue flags, but they should have. There are also environmental aspects due to climate change. We know the aging water infrastructure is in dire need of investment and improvement, which makes it all the more important to get it right. I am reminded of the Irish proverb: "Tosnú maith leath na hoibre." It was a dire and disastrous start, rather than a good one. It is difficult to see how the Government can recover from this.

We all realise that the protests next Wednesday are about more than water. Water is the uniting factor, but it will be a reflection of the real public sentiment, plain and simple, that people cannot take any more. What is being presented in the Bill is much less than what was originally proposed, but there is a principle involved - that is, enough is enough. I acknowledge that over 900,000 people have registered, but there are others who will not be satisfied until there are no charges.

We know there are signs of recovery, but people are protesting. They are saying that all of us, rather than particular groups in society, want to share in the recovery and feel its benefits. We have seen a widening in inequality. We know the statistics show that the wealthiest people have seen their wealth increase. The normal middle earner cannot afford the charge.

I want to take issue with the manner in which the Government calculated rates which did not take the bigger picture into account. Research done by Professor Tom McDonnell of NERI presented a different model for charges which would have addressed inequality, something the Government failed to do. In his analysis, he proposed a system whereby those who could afford to pay would do so, and lower earners would have been exempt, which is equality, plain and simple. The Government applied a different system, developed by highly paid consultants and external agents, which had no recognition of people in other income brackets.

Let us consider the positive aspects of the Bill. Steps have been taken to keep Irish Water in public ownership, a point to which I will return. Other positive elements include the water conservation grant, the establishment of the public water forum, the abolition of the PPS number requirement, the customer dispute resolution process and the potential to allay fears about water being cut off for non-payers, as happened in Detroit and Bolivia. I cannot understand how anybody could have dreamed up a system whereby people's water supply would be cut off if they did not pay. It was an appalling proposal.

There is a very genuine fear that what the Government has said about ownership is not to be trusted and that at some point Irish Water could be sold off, like other assets and resources.

In his speech the Minister said that a resolution from both Houses of the Oireachtas would be required, but if such a resolution were going through the House today, the Government has the majority, so it would be passed. I am interested in that aspect of the issue.

I have been looking back at our history leading up to the 1937 Constitution. From 1916, we have had the idea that sovereignty of the Irish people could not exist unless the people owned the land and all the resources within it. For example, the 1916 Proclamation states: "We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible." The idea that was at the forefront of the democratic programme passed by the first Dáil was that sovereignty extends not only to the men and women but to all material possessions, the nation's soil and its resources. At the heart of the 1922 Constitution was the idea that the sovereignty of the people extends over the natural resources of Saorstát Éireann. Therefore, I believe the 1937 Constitution got it wrong, and we need to go back to the Constitution of 1922. We must restore the fundamental right of Irish people to our natural resources and impose a duty of trusteeship on the State. The referendum being proposed in this regard does not go far enough.

The community and voluntary pillar made a submission and presented their observations. They made a point about the rush to establish Irish Water and called for a formal period of transition and the monitoring and review of progress. They proposed that data be collected and that this be followed by reflection and analysis. There should also be continuous social impact analysis. The Constitutional Convention voted in January to recommend to the Oireachtas the holding of a referendum on the strengthening of economic, social and cultural rights. This is the type of referendum we need.

Personally, I do not object to metering, but I want the meter to be of practical use. It should be a meter that will help identify leaks, promote conservation and help me measure the amount of water I use. The cart came before the horse in this case and it was appalling to ask people to pay high amounts, as was proposed this time last year, for a broken system. Councils have vast experience and knowledge, but no account seems to have been taken of that. More account needs to be taken of the types of group scheme that are working in rural Ireland. We should have had more analysis of that system and how and why it works, and we should have applied that to the new proposals. There is not enough done in the area of rainwater harvesting, but it is not too late for that.

This issue has been disastrous for the Garda Síochána and public feeling towards gardaí, because they have put in situations they should not have put in on the issue of meters. There is an issue of public trust now and we have yet to see whether the Government can come back from the disastrous mistakes that have been made. I heard on radio this morning that 48% of people agree with water charges, but a large number remain not in agreement. Wednesday may tell a different tale.

I take this opportunity to speak on the Water Services Bill 2014, but it is with no pleasure that we are here discussing this. As everybody knows, earlier last year we had the Water Services Act 2013. The Government came in here full of gusto determined to charge water rates and to set up a new State quango, having spent the previous year saying it would abolish quangos. However, it went on to establish the biggest quango since the setting up of the ESB, something many of those on the Government side of the House now boast about.

This time last year, the Government came back with the Water Services (No. 2) Bill, through which it introduced the charges. Clearly, the Government did not know the charging mechanism when it brought in the Water Services Act 2013. We are now back with a third initiation of legislation, the Water Services Bill 2014, but before we even got it through Second Stage in the House, the Minister went on "Morning Ireland" this morning saying there will be another Bill in the new year because he has not worked out some of the details. He does not know what is to happen with rented property and must consult landlords and tenants. The Minister is introducing legislation here today, but an hour ago he said on our national airwaves that it was inadequate and did not deal with the issues.

A few weeks ago I heard the Minister speak about his legacy. His legacy has not lasted two weeks. The legacy he outlined that day in regard to the changes that would need to be made through this legislation has already been changed. The Minister has already scuppered his legacy. He has dropped sections from this legislation that were part of his press release. He knew there was a furore about making landlords collect unpaid bills. He had not thought the issue through or discussed the idea, but it was part of his legacy statement here. I watched him in the Chamber, and people around and behind him were skitting at him. A few months in the job and he was talking about his legacy. His legacy is three weeks old since that statement, but it is already in tatters, torn up by himself.

The Minister is now saying we will have more legislation next year on these issues. At the rate the Government is changing its position, there will more legislation again. We are just talking about another piece of the ongoing shambles created by the Government when it comes to water services. No proposal in this legislation has been properly thought through. Proposals have been thought up on the hoof. The Minister made his legacy statement, published the legislation and then went on "Morning Ireland" and said that this was not his full legacy and that he had more legacy issues to introduce next year. We can be sure that the Bill he introduces next spring will require further changes, because it will be inadequate even then.

How could anybody have any confidence in anything the Government proposes in regard to water services when it does not know what it is doing itself? The Minister makes his legacy statement, but two weeks later the legacy is torn up by the Government itself. We ask why people are fed up with what goes on in this Chamber and with politics. This is the reason. It is the cynical approach taken by Members of the Government. That is the reason people are furious and infuriated by the political system. Ministers make these statements and then they sneak off and come back after a couple of weeks with some amendments. Then they introduce new legislation after thinking through their legacy statements. It is no wonder the people are cynical. The way the Government is going about this does a disservice to the Irish political system. It promised to abolish quangos, but it set up the biggest quango in the history of the State. We are on the third round of legislation and the Minister has said it is not adequate yet. When we are on the fourth round, he will be promising more. I do not know how long this debacle will continue.

I could talk about the bonus culture, the super-quango and the waste of money, but I will deal instead with the legislation before us today. I have serious concerns in regard to a number of issues. The explanatory note on the legislation, published by the Department, states that the original Act provided that Irish Water should charge its customers for water services, subject to the approval of the regulator established by the water services within the Commission of Energy Regulation. Then the Government comes on and says that the Minister's legacy statement on 19 November will impact on certain provisions of the water charges approved by the CER. What is the commission there for? The Government has now undermined and made a joke of the commission. It has turned it into a little Mickey Mouse in-house consumer dispute resolution operation. That is what the commission has been relegated to in this legislation.

Section 8 of the Bill says the commission will deal with disputes between customers and Irish Water. If that is the Government's ambition for the regulator, it is making a joke of the regulator. Therefore, the Government should do the decent thing and abolish the regulator's role in this regard, because it is a farce. We have a regulator, but the Minister says his legacy statement of 19 November will have an impact on certain provisions and he must change the law. Therefore, any time the commission makes a decision the Minister does not like, he will do something that impacts on that decision and change the law. The commission does not even have a rubber stamp; it is just a waste of a stamp. I mean no disrespect to the individuals there, but the Minister has utterly undermined the function of the regulator in this area.

There should be a facility in any company for a proper dispute resolution mechanism. Somebody like the Ombudsman is more qualified to deal with people, as that office deals with people every day of the week across all public services. Dispute resolution, even if administered by Irish Water, cuts across the Department of Social Protection, which is in charge of administering the conservation grant. It also cuts across the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which will technically administer the grant, but will probably ask the Department of Social Protection to provide the technical backup to do it. It will cut across the delivery and interaction between public service and local authority staff under the service level agreements for local authorities, and people will also have to deal with Irish Water over the telephone or by whatever other mechanism they can use to make contact.

To think the job of the energy regulator is to offer a disputes resolution process as a part of it is a joke. The Office of the Ombudsman was established to deal with issues such as this and that is the procedure which should be used to deal with these issues.

The Government should withdraw the legislation. When it knows what it is doing, although we might still not agree with it, it should come back and tell us about it. It has stated it does not know what it is doing about several relevant aspects of the Bill and that it will have to bring forward more legislation next year. It should have the decency to withdraw this Bill and refer back to the House when it knows what it is doing. Otherwise, we will be dealing with water services legislation Mark 5, 6 and 7 before the organisation even collects a red cent. The Government fatally damaged the Irish Water project through its mismanagement of the process. It is nobody's fault but the Government's.

I feel sorry for the Labour Party because it is opposed to this measure. It is a Fine Gael invention that was cooked up many years ago in Cork with Bord Gáis, long before there was a general election. It was one of Fine Gael's red line issues and perhaps the Labour Party had to accept it as part of the price for getting into government. However, the Government cannot blame anybody else for this. It was a Fine Gael policy from beginning to end. The NewERA document even named the utility years before the last general election. It is a Fine Gael invention and it should be told to go away with it. Cleverly, however, it has handed the problem over to a Labour Party Minister. Watch Irish Water do the same damage to that Minister as it did to the Fine Gael Minister when he held that office.

As I have only 11 minutes left, I will have to be brief in dealing with the next aspect of the briefing note, although I could discuss the topic of financial implications for much longer. I do not believe these changes will only lead to a reduction of €21 million in 2015 and €56 million in 2016. The Minister says there will be cost savings as a result of the approach to the treatment of water infrastructure. I do not buy this at all. He will refer to the project in Ringsend, but whatever negotiations took place on that plant would and should have happened. I give zero credit to Irish Water for any of it. There are competent city managers in Dublin whose job was to deliver these changes. That did not happen just because Irish Water had arrived on the scene.

The issue of commercial rates is a complete joke. It is either a utility paying its way and its rates like any other commercial utility or it is not. This will be one of the tests it will face. I have written to EUROSTAT to check on these matters and whether this is valid. This is a State subvention for what is supposed to be an independent commercial organisation. I do not buy the idea that it should be treated in this way. If the Minister believes it is a commercial organisation, it should not be given this subsidy. EUROSTAT will also have so assess whether the €100 conservation grant for eligible households amounts to state aid. I will not go into further detail on it.

I will turn to the sections in the legislation. Section 2, which deals with the issue of a plebiscite on the ownership of Irish Water, is the biggest con ever in this House. It is a joke and a farce. There is one page of nonsense stating that if changes are proposed, they will be voted on in the Dáil and the Seanad and that they will be put to the people. However, the Government provided a trapdoor for itself to avoid all of this. The Bill provides that any change in the ownership of Irish Water will be subject to this provision, other than the changing of shares held by the Minister for Finance or that have been issued to Ervia for Irish Water "where it is proposed to transfer that share to either the Minister or the Minister for Finance". I presume the Minister concerned is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

To avoid a plebiscite under the legislation, all the Government need do is transfer the share back to the Minister for Finance who can dispose of it in any way he or she likes through a privatisation mechanism. This section does nothing. It is a fig leaf and a con job, as the officials and the Minister know. There is no protection in the legislation to ensure Irish Water cannot be sold without it being subject to a plebiscite. That is what the section provides, but the additional line that allows the transfer of the share from Ervia to the Minister for Finance means that the Minister is off the hook because the Minister for Finance can do what he or she chooses with it after this. The matter must be clarified because the Minister has caused further confusion in that regard.

Section 4 refers to the late payments mechanism. Irish Water will charge a late payment fee for each year the charges remain unpaid. How much is the fee? Will there be interest and penalties? Who will collect the fee? Does Irish Water have a legal right to charge interest which is a financial transaction? In addition to supplying water, will Irish Water now be in the business of providing credit and charging interest like a commercial organisation? Does it have the legal authority to charge interest? As that is a financial issue, does the legislation to establish Irish Water allow it to charge interest and penalties? The legislation before us is incomplete because the Minister has not yet given us the details of the late payment fee. The legislation should be withdrawn because the Minister has included sections in it in which he has not included specific details.

Section 5 refers to the water conservation grant. The Minister says he is removing the requirement for people to provide their personal public service, PPS, number for Irish Water. That was a blunder in the previous legislation and the Government has copped on after listening to the people's views on it. Now, however, there is a double mechanism. The legislation provides that people will have to register with Irish Water and also have to provide any necessary information required by the Minister for Social Protection to process the payment. Two forms will have to be completed. One is for Irish Water to register as a household or relevant property. Second, the legislation provides that a person will have to provide information directly for the Department of Social Protection. The Minister is duplicating the work involved in order that people can receive this grant.

Let us imagine the costs involved. Everybody must complete one form for Irish Water and another for the Department, with any necessary information required by the Minister for Social Protection. Let us imagine the cost of setting up a new information technology, IT, system to deal with every household and dwelling in the country, process two separate information or application processes and then issue the cheque. People will probably have to prove they have paid the account also. Given the amount of information that will have to be provided, not only will each grant cost €100 of taxpayers' money, it will also cost the Government the same amount again to process the system. I wish to see a cost for these duplicate applications that people will have to provide.

I have already said the issue of disputes resolution should be dealt with by the Ombudsman.

Section 9 tidies up the superannuation provision. Again, it must be included in this legislation because the Minister did not get it right on the first occasion. Why is it included in this third legislative measure? The Minister wishes to ensure there will be no doubt that a separate scheme will be established to cover the past service of employees who are transferring to Ervia. Why was that issue not adequately dealt with in the previous legislation? It should have been. It was a phenomenal omission by a Minister.

With regard to section 10, I tabled a number of parliamentary questions before the summer on the liabilities of Irish Water. I tabled them to the Minister for Finance because he was a shareholder and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. I received the same replies from both, that a due diligence study was being conducted of the transfer of assets. My questions were about the associated loans taken out by local authorities to fund these assets. These loans are on the books of the local authorities. Some of them are public private partnership, PPP, arrangements relating to projects in Ringsend, Portlaoise and several other towns where the relevant local authority has an ongoing bill of €1 million to pay in respect of the PPP. These liabilities must be taken into account, but 11 months after Irish Water became legally responsible for them, it does not owe them because they have not yet been transferred. The reason they have not been transferred is that the Government does not know the figure.

I question the governance of Ervia. How can the board of Ervia hold a meeting today and not know the assets and liabilities of the company? It is a breach of every corporate governance rule that was ever in place. It does not know its assets or its liabilities, but it is legally responsible. It should be closed down immediately in respect of its Irish Water activities.

Irish Water should be closed down and dismantled. Eleven months on, it does not know its assets and liabilities. This section is very bad legislation and is very bad for local government. The section says the Government will transfer the assets of local authorities to Irish Water, but the financial loans associated with the property are not automatically transferred. The Government is taking assets from the local authorities but leaving the debts associated with the assets. The Government will transfer the assets - raid the local authorities of assets - and, having engaged in asset-stripping, send these assets to Irish Water while leaving the liabilities and associated loans with the local authorities. Some of them might transfer at a future date but the Government does not know the liabilities. It has specifically included provision that the liabilities do not automatically transfer. The Government has further weakened the role of elected members on local authorities on this issue. One of the basic functions that local authority elected members have is to approve the disposal of assets of any local authority. It must be an agenda item. As anyone who was ever a Member of this House, or anyone in the Department knows, even if they are selling off 100 sq. ft. of land at the back of a garden, it is an agenda item. A local authority cannot dispose of its assets without a resolution of the members. Everyone in local government knows this. But what is the Government doing? It is going to ensure that does not happen. It will make sure the assets are transferred under legislation. The Government is taking more powers from elected members. These are assets that were borrowed for by local authorities and developed by them - water and sewage treatment plants, reservoirs and so on - and there is no automatic provision for the liabilities to transfer. I accept the Government intends to transfer them, but it should not be doing so until it knows what it is doing.

Before we finish the debate on the legislation, can the Minister tell me the exact value of the liabilities being transferred from local authorities to Irish Water and the exact value of the assets that are being transferred? When we have the figure, we will respond to it. My colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, tabled a similar parliamentary question on the same topic. The information is not available and, when we do not have the information available on the assets and liabilities of a company being set up, the Government should not be going ahead with it until it knows what it is doing.

With regard to the rates issue, I do not believe it will stand the EUROSTAT test. It will be seen as a State subsidy to what is allegedly a commercial organisation. Who will value these assets? Do Members know how long it takes the Valuation Office to get around to valuing office property? Valuing every local authority asset will close down the Valuation Office for the next five years. They have not been valued up to now, and doing so will take the office years. No other organisation will be able to get its property valued. What are the implications for the Valuation Office?

I have only touched on some of the topics. This is the third version of flawed legislation. The fourth has been promised in January and it will also be flawed. The Government does not know what it is doing and it should go back to the drawing board.

We have been told the key principles of the Bill are certainty, simplicity and affordability. There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of many people that this is spin the Government has put on the latest attempt to quell public anger about the Irish Water fiasco. The Government's announcement has failed to address the key complaint of thousands of water protestors about whether every consumer will have clear and clean water. This will not be the case for a long time.

An example of what I am talking about is the area of Ferrybank, which borders my constituency. I have visited many homes there where people have been forced to replace kettles and washing machines because of lime in the water. On that issue, people all over the country have not been convinced and will not be convinced that they will be guaranteed a supply of clean water by paying a charge. I do not think that will be the case.

Before attempting to appease voters with the proposed cuts, the Government should have instructed councils everywhere to take on the responsibility of improving the old water networks and providing high-quality interconnected water reservoirs with foolproof treatment. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a hydrologist who has worked for the UN in Somalia and Sudan and now works for a private company in Scotland. He was completely shocked and says we are a laughing stock. He found it incomprehensible that we would make available €539 million to install a metering system on pipes that will eventually have to be replaced. I live in an old part of Waterford city and, if meters are installed, they will be connected to an old lead pipe system. The whole area has old lead pipes that will not be replaced. That would not happen in a Third World country, where the hydrologist says the old clay pipes would be immediately replaced with plastic fittings. In a modernised country in 2014, we will make hundreds of millions of euro available to connect meters to old pipes that will eventually have to be replaced if they are not repaired in the immediate future. It does not make any economic sense.

The hydrologist told me that when new water systems are being put in across Europe, the first thing that is checked is whether the piping is competent and the system that will bring water directly to people's doors is in good order. One of the reasons we have leakage of 48% is the existence of old and lead pipes. It is incredible to think that we allocated all this money instead of holding on for a year or two and making money available to councils to replace old systems. The hydrologist says we are a laughing stock and that this would not happen anywhere else. I have spoken to plumbers and engineers who say that attempting to connect meters to old lead piping can do moderate damage to the piping. People will be faced with huge bills to repair pipes in the foreseeable future. Why did we not do what must be done in this country to bring in proper supplies into every house? This involves replacing pipes that are dangerous.

The whole thing is laughable. In Cheekpoint in Waterford, a notice went out from Waterford City Council saying it accepted that the water coming in through lead pipes was not very suitable. The council proposed that people get up in the morning and fill the sink two or three times, leave the water running let it run out through the system. Could we imagine putting meters in for those families? Where is the conservation? Who the hell thought of this? The hydrologist I spoke to asked me whether we had brought in specialists or hydrologists - people who know about water - to look at the system and decide the best way of dealing with the process. The Government probably did not do that. Instead, it brought in incompetence in Irish Water to deal with the system - total incompetence, which has been proven. It appears that all those in Irish Water want to do is see how much money - how many hundreds of millions of euro - they can grab, how many bonuses can they get out of it - bonuses for their cars, top-ups on their transport - and how they can use all this money for their own benefit without using it for the benefit of the people.

This is one of the reasons 50% of people will not pay the water charges. Even those who pay will do so only under protest and the Government will pay a heavy price when those people remind the Government of their objection to the charges at the next election. The Government has made a mess of this issue and is forcing people to pay and all of this leads me to believe there is an inevitability about Irish Water.

Irish Water will be privatised at some point as a future Government will have no choice in a few years but to do so. The company will lose money hand over fist and someone will seek a better way for it to be run. When poorly performing semi-State companies cannot be wound down they tend to be privatised and this is what happened to water services in England and Scotland. In a period of six to eight years the cost of water in England and Scotland rose by a staggering 64%. People do not believe that Irish Water will not be privatised as the company must be subsidised for the next two years and possibly the next three years. Where will this money come from? It is inevitable that people will give up on Irish Water and it will be privatised. To make a profit or even break even very high prices will be imposed on households and the Government does not understand that many people know this will happen.

I addressed a march in Waterford of around 7,000 people and one in Portlaw of around 800 people. Contrary to the myths that have been spread that the left has organised all the militants in Ireland to come out and march, the vast majority of attendees were ordinary, everyday people. There were families, Labour Party supporters, Fine Gael supporters and Fianna Fáil supporters and they all said they have had enough. I spoke to a businessman who was at a march with his daughters. He employs 24 people and he said he can easily afford to pay the charges but he has had enough of broken promises, the weakened economy, cronyism and the fact that nothing has changed in five years. This is why he marched. It is a damning indictment of the Government that people who ordinarily would not protest took to the streets. The Government will find that this is the case when people march again on 10 December.

I was strolling on Grafton Street yesterday and met two people from Waterford. They said "Hello John, see you next Wednesday". I do not know who they were and I think the Government will be surprised by the number of people who come to Dublin to march. People will march against Irish Water and the incompetent manner in which it was set up but they will march for other reasons too. The Government has shown audacity to back a company that, before anything else, ensured it had a bonus structure. Forgive the pun but none of this has washed away - people know it was only because 150,000 of them took to the streets that changes were considered. If nobody had marched the changes would not have been made. The point is, many people have had enough. We are all human and we all make mistakes in our personal lives, on committees and generally but sometimes people must own up and admit they made a mess. The Government should do this and start from the beginning because many people would be forgiving. If this had been done right from the beginning, if the truth had been told and if all this was not part of the rip-off culture we have experienced in Ireland for the past 20 years people probably would have paid water charges. People would have been willing to pay a few bob for clear drinking water, though I think they should not pay the charges as they have already done so through taxation. The Government has driven away many people who might have paid had this been done properly and they will not come back.

The surveys suggest 35% of people will not pay the charges and 40% will but we should forget about percentages. People in Ireland are generally compliant; they do not like to break the law and the want to do what they think is right. People consider many factors, including the economy, the country, cities, small towns and villages, when making these decisions and they want to do what is best for the country. Nonetheless, many of the people who will pay the charges are very angry at how Irish Water was set up and foisted upon them. They were told half-truths initially and Irish Water showed great arrogance by remaining uncontactable. TDs were given a direct line to Irish Water only two weeks ago and prior to that we phoned up like everyone else and waited 30 to 40 minutes to talk to someone. Only Eircom made profits from this situation as millions of phone calls were made seeking information.

All of this has done irreparable damage to the Irish body politic and that is regrettable because, as I have often said, there are good people in every political party who set out to do what is best for their constituencies and, as legislators, their country. This is why I have not criticised or aimed derogatory remarks at members of the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but people know they have been let down badly. The Government should take actions now to benefit democracy and belief in politics, though I do not believe it will. If this kind of humility was shown people might say, "alright, even politicians can make mistakes". The Government is asking people to back the failed entity that is Irish Water. If people cannot trust a company that they must fund then it is a failed entity. One must trust the person for whom one works, the company to which one pays fees and the politician for whom one wishes to vote. These are the reasons many people have decided not to pay - they are not all lefties and militants who do not want to pay for anything. It will be clear next Wednesday that 99.9% of marchers are ordinary men and women with families. They feel that they are not responsible for damage to the Irish economy in the past ten to 15 years but they are being asked to carry the burden. The Irish people are being asked to back a company that does not care about them - it has no compassion and is more interested in handing out bonuses over a period of years. Irish Water has developed from an unsettling entity to an obnoxious entity.

The Minister should reconsider this legislation and abolish Irish Water as it has let down the Government - I do not believe that company was set up to carry on as it did. Irish Water does not have faith in people and people do not have faith in Irish Water. I do not think the Government understands how much people are suffering. I am sure Deputies in every party meet constituents in their advice centres who say "stop telling me this is just another €5 per week". The household charge was just another €5 per week, the universal social charge was just another €5 per week and people do not want to hear this again. They know they cannot afford it.

A friend of mine studied for four years at University College Cork and two years in Amsterdam and he now has a very good job. There are five adults in his house - two of his daughters are in third level education - and when he looks at his wage packet at the end of the month there is nothing left. He wonders how things came to this as he has worked for 36 years and has never claimed social welfare. He has never sought a penny from the State but he is struggling to keep one child in university and another in college in Waterford while paying a mortgage and a credit union loan. His six years in college came at a great cost to his family and he pays his taxes and the universal social charge. At the end of the month he has to wonder whether the family can afford to go for a meal. He asks himself "can I bring my wife out for a meal?".

This is exactly what he said to me: "How much petrol can I put in the car this week - €50 or €20 worth?" That is what we have done to people. We have destroyed their quality of life. The Government cannot come along and start saying to people that it is only €5, €3 or €2. That is not accepted any more. Irish Water is the straw that broke the camel's back. The people who marched said it was about more than just water; it was about the way they have been treated for the past ten years. I am not blaming the Government for everything. I have always stated here that the Government inherited a poor hand of cards, what happened was fairly bad, etc., but the point is that Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been in government four years, and they made a lot of promises they could not keep, would not keep or were not in a position to keep. That has resonated with and upset so many people and this is why they are marching. It is not about Irish Water. The Government must remember that this is about austerity, austerity, austerity.

Recently, on each occasion I have got up to speak, I have looked over and seen the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, representing the Government. I hope he is not neglecting his constituency.

I thank Deputy Timmins for his concern.

We should not be here today, as we all know. We are here, I suppose, due to the failure of Government to properly plan and implement policy on an issue that should have been a positive message. That failure was due to a complete disregard for this House and, by extension, the Irish people. The Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 passed through this House almost a year ago to the day. Deputy Naughten and I were fortunate enough to be able to make a contribution because others had left the Chamber. On that day, I pointed out that this would come back to haunt the Government, and that is what has happened. A raft of other issues have fomented around the failure of the Government to constructively and positively deal with this issue.

From my point of view, as I have stated time and again, I am in favour of water metering and water charges on the basis that we pay for water as it stands, and it is not fair that even if I let it run down the front of my house all day I pay the same as the person next door who manages it in a responsible manner. That is not equitable. I have listened to many who follow the socialist banner or whatever, and none of them has made that point. I do not know what they are for; I certainly know what they are against. They are against everything that is presented by anybody. I have never heard them make the point that we need water metering to ensure consumers are treated in an equitable manner and there is conservation.

What we have here today will not work. What I would like to have seen - I am not unique in this, as several Government backbenchers have articulated this view to Ministers - is a lead-in period in which a grant system, something similar to what the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland provided with the warmer homes scheme, was available for those who could harvest grey water, there would be a definitive breakdown of the use by each individual of potable and grey water, and each individual would be permitted an allowance of free water based on his or her potable water needs. What we got instead was confusion about allowances. Children were to get 38,000 litres, but 21,000 litres is the figure they are talking about now. We have never had a definite portrayal of what each individual would use - I understand it is somewhere in the region of 80,000 litres, although I may be wrong - and how that is broken down between grey water and potable water. If that had been done and explained properly, I believe the vast majority of Irish people, while I will not say they would have been happy to pay - because we are never happy to pay for anything that we think we will get for free - would have gone along with the payment. Of course, we would have had the usual suspects who do not want to pay for anything and feel that everybody else should pay for what they utilise and the rich, whoever they might happen to be, will pick up the tab for them.

The Bill reflects the policies outlined by the Government a week or two ago. I have tabled an amendment for Committee Stage. In many respects it is a populist amendment, but it is necessary to drive home the necessity of examining legislation on the development of secondary treatment plants. It provides that those in the seven large urban towns should only be charged for water in - that is, 50%, the same as a dwelling that has its own effluent disposal system - because in most of these towns the sewage is just going into the local river or, in the case of Arklow, out to the sea. I had the Library & Research Service conduct a search and found that I have been raising the issue of the Arklow sewage treatment plant since 1998. The scheme has got permission, the funding has been provided and it has gone through a legal process. The only other thing that has been constant since 1998 is Mr. Brian Cody, the manager of the Kilkenny hurling team. Everything else has changed except the Arklow sewage treatment plant and Mr. Cody. They are the only two constants in Irish life. Many, including myself, would come along and say that the legislation should be changed to permit the development of this site. There was only one objector to it, who has paid over €1 million in costs. The objector has lost every step of the way, but there are a lot of steps. This emanates, I suppose, from the demand by Irish society that statutory bodies apply for planning permission following what happened with the Luggala and Mullaghmore interpretative centres in the mid-1990s. There can be unintended consequences to every measure that we take here.

Coincidentally, on Monday last I had representatives of Irish Water outside my office where a leak had sprung up and I found them decent and honourable. They were the workers who were on the service level agreement with the local authority. I spoke to them about the idea of bonuses, and bonuses did not seem too applicable to them. I am against the concept of bonuses. We think of the CEO and the various management levels, but we do not think down along the line to the worker who is on a basic wage. It is easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I listened to many Members, including Deputy Halligan. The Bill has thrown up many of the weaknesses in our political system and how we operate. For example, I cannot understand for the life of me why the Government, a few weeks ago when this reached its crescendo, did not state that we could have a two- or three-day debate in the Dáil on the issue and let Deputy Cowen, Deputy Stanley or my other good friends over in the top left corner come forward with their proposals. Let them suggest the abolition of Irish Water and ask what we will have instead. We have not heard any of that. The Government came in here with a fait accompli. It put itself up there for others to hit like a dartboard, and no matter what the proposal, good or bad, it was not going to be changed. That was not the way the Government promised it would do business. They should have come in here, and it would have been in their own interest to start with a blank canvas and say, "Fine." Following on from all the debate, and if the Opposition, the majority of which will never come up with any solution, came up with a solution-----

In fairness, we did.

That is okay. I said "the majority". Maybe Sinn Féin is the minority. In any case, we could have challenged or looked at the various options and then had the vote. It demeans this House for us to come in here and make a contribution when it is only for the optics, because it is completely irrelevant.

My concern is that this issue has given rise to a certain instability, which is not welcome. It is not good for the country. While I was coming in here I listened to an interview on Newstalk with a referee, Mr. Nelis, from Tyrone, who outlined how he had suffered as a result of social media after he refereed the Meath county final in 2012 and how he was on the verge of attempting suicide because of the abuse to which he was subjected, which is outrageous. In here, many of us are taking our lead from social media. It is a race to the bottom and it is the lowest common denominator. I heard a socialist TD - I am not saying that all of the problems come from the socialist side, because lots come from the capitalist side, for want of a better word - talk about the junior bondholders.

The word "sharks" and several other derogatory terms were mentioned recently on the national airwaves. Does this mean Blessington Credit Union, which was a junior bondholder and lost €300,000, are sharks that should be thrown to the wolves? I do not think so. It is easy to use simplistic language to affect emotions.

Based on the most recent opinion polls, if there was a general election tomorrow, although the outcome might not be as suggested in the polls, based on a 75% turnout, in the region of 20% of the people would vote for the Government parties. That would give rise to an instability that would not help anyone. I note that Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach to be debated next week. I believe the timing of the motion is poor and that the motion does not serve the country well. It is a populous move. Even from a political tactical point of view, it is not a good idea in that it will only rally support around the Government and as such will play into the Government's hands. It is aimed at trying to build a crescendo in advance of the forthcoming protest next Wednesday. The modus operandi of the motion is not to try to better the country but to create instability.

I have been very critical of the Government in the past year since I lost the Fine Gael parliamentary party Whip. However, when credit is due, it is important it be given. We should not agitate and manipulate purely for self-advancement and to create instability which could be damaging for the country. We should bring forth our own proposals. With respect to the media, I do not know how many times I have read in the print media that there were only two or three Members in the Chamber. There are 24 seats in the Press Gallery. I do not expect members of the media to be in the House to listen to me. I know that many of them are in their offices listening to the debate, as are many Deputies. The simplistic and vacuous approach often taken by the media, although not necessarily by members of the media here but generally, to political commentary leaves a lot to be desired.

A few years ago I articulated the view, in terms of representation in the Dáil, that, with the population ever increasing on the eastern seaboard, there was a need for balanced representation based on geography and population, as happens in the case of local councils. After all, is it fair that following the next general election there will be four representatives in County Mayo which takes several hours to drive across, while not far from here there is a five seat constituency that can be traversed in ten or 15 minutes?

It depends on the volume of traffic.

I thought members of the Labour Party were utilising Dublinbikes to enable them to weave in and out of traffic.

The Deputy might consider using one sometime.

Labour Party and other Government Deputies have tended to travel incognito around Dublin in the past few months.

I am usually here.

It is not something they should continue doing; they need to show their faces.

The Deputy should speak to the Bill.

This is a very important part of the debate.

Constituency boundaries should be revisited.

Not during the debate on the Water Services Bill.

I am always concerned when making a proposal here that some vacuous and cheap editor of a newspaper will interpret it incorrectly. For example, in the homelessness debate that has been taking place for the past few days the most obvious solution to avoid having people sleep rough on the streets is the introduction of legislation to make it illegal to sleep on the streets. Sometimes a complex question can be answered by a simple solution. I am sure that if I were to put this forward as a proposal, the headline in the newspapers would read: "TD wants homeless people sent to jail". That is how it would be portrayed. However, the purpose of the legislation would be to place an onus on the statutory bodies to provide people with accommodation. I do not know if the homelessness problem can be solved in its totality. The catch phrase "if money and beds could solve the problem of homelessness, it would have been solved long ago" is often used. Homelessness is a complex problem. Perhaps there might be a need to consider the introduction of legislation to prohibit sleeping rough in particular areas. A similar provision applies in the case of graffiti on walls in that one can make a complaint against the body that owns the premises, be it a private or statutory body. I am not sure if anybody has actually made a complaint under the relevant section of the applicable legislation, but there is an onus on us all to bring forth proposals. It is easy to stand here and castigate the Government over Irish Water, even though much of it justified.

It is the responsibility of a Minister to manage his or her Department and the responsibility of the Taoiseach to manage his Ministers. A real shortcoming has been our inability to pull the Taoiseach up on his need to front every jobs announcement. I know that we all have to engage in a certain amount of PR, but is it a proper use of time to have the Taoiseach travelling to the far end of County Cork, County Wicklow or anywhere else to front a 50 or 100 jobs announcement? While all jobs are important and credit should be given where it is due, in particular to the many fantastic agencies which are working hard to assist in job creation, is it even necessary for a Minister or a local Deputy to front jobs announcements? Can we not just do our jobs? While it is important that job statistics are highlighted, spending half a day travelling around the country in what is a PR exercise is not, to me, a good use of time.

The Sinn Féin Deputies present in the House were getting a little agitated at my remarks.

We are very calm.

The Deputies will not be calm in a few minutes. In recent times Sinn Féin has put itself in the vanguard of opposition. A couple of days ago its Deputy Leader articulated the names of a number of people against whom allegations had been made. I do not believe this served democracy well. It is important, now that the names are in the public domain, that a mechanism be found to get to the bottom of the issue so as to vindicate or otherwise those involved. Most of those named have stated they did not have Ansbacher accounts. There are often simplistic explanations for such matters - I do not know. As the general public believes there is a cover-up and that something is wrong, we must get to the bottom of it.

Prior to my election to the Dáil, I was a member of the Army. I was stationed in Ballinamore at the time of the operation during which Don Tidey was released and Garda Gary Sheehan and Private Paddy Kelly were murdered. Perhaps given the anxiety of the Deputy Leader of Sinn Féin to articulate names in the House, she might articulate the names of those who carried out these murders. I am sure the Quinn family would also like to know who beat their son to death.

That is not relevant to the debate.

It is important, in the context of the attempts being made to destabilise the Government, that we see what people have to offer. To name people in the House and call for the truth in certain matters in only one aspect of Irish society is not satisfactory. I can understand a Member being disorderly and being asked to leave the Dáil; it has happened to me, as sometimes one believes it is necessary to be disorderly in order to make a particular point. I might do so myself in the near future if the group of which I am a member is not seen as being equal to other groups.

If, following a vote to suspend a Member of the House, that Member refuses to leave the Chamber, a sanction of suspension from the Chamber for in the region of 83 days should apply.

While what the Deputy is saying is very interesting, he is supposed to speak to what is contained in the Bill or what could be included in it.

This Chamber was recently closed to 165 Members for half a day because of such activity. Where a Member sees fit to cost other Members the loss of a day or half a day in this Chamber, he or she should be punished for doing so, be it Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, Deputy Billy Timmins, Deputy Peter Mathews and so on.

I agree that we should have a debate on the issue, but I must ask the Deputy to confine his remarks to the Bill.

I have no difficulty in speaking harshly about Sinn Féin, but there are other groups represented in the Chamber that also deserve a lash.

The Deputy talks about us continually.

I listened to my colleague, Deputy Shane Ross, articulate a view on the ineffectiveness of the Chamber in recent times. He also outlined an approach which he and Deputies Finian McGrath, Stephen S. Donnelly and John Halligan proposed to take. I am inclined to disagree with him. Trying to move the flower power of the 1960s into the Dáil Chamber might not necessarily be the most successful formula. However, he should give it a try.

He has to be upfront with the public. Let him come out and articulate definitively that none of them is interested in participating in government or holding a Cabinet position.

The Deputy has only one minute remaining.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has only one more minute to listen to me.

On the Water Services Bill 2014, I hope.

A lot of water will flow under the bridge before Deputy Shane Ross turns down a Cabinet position if he can get himself into such a position.

The challenge for all of us on this Bill is to have the public believe any of us. I am not an advocate for the concept of independence per se. It is nice and touchy-feely and many Independent Members make a fantastic contribution here, but from the point of view of governing and governance, it does not work. There is an onus on me and others who disagree with the concept to come up with our own solution. In fairness to him, Deputy Shane Ross has come up with a proposal and, whether we like it, Sinn Féin has one. There is an onus on me and others to see how we can come forward with proposals. It is not good enough to destabilise or bring down the Government. We have to put forward concrete proposals. The challenge is to see if the public will believe us because it feels so failed by politicians and political groupings time after time that its confidence in the system has evaporated. In the next 12 months let us stop the smear, responding in a race to the bottom and taking our lead from Twitter and bring forward, in groupings or as individuals, constructive, positive policies. By and large, in this country people are positive. Wealth creation should not be looked down on.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, was right to apologise to the people when he introduced his new proposals for dealing with the water issue because no party in this Dáil has covered itself in glory on this issue. We have all, in different ways, let the public down. At the same time the Minister was right to continue with his proposal because it is essential to deal with the issues around water. We need huge investment in water services because almost 50% of our supply is leaking into the ground. There is a need to replace pipes and get rid of lead piping. The meters are needed to help people to know how much water they are using and to identify leaks. There is enough water leaking from 22 houses to supply the town of Gorey. There are 22,000 people who cannot drink the water from their taps. I understand this problem is being sorted out in Roscommon. There are 42 towns from which raw sewage is going into rivers or the sea. This has to stop. Some of these are tourist venues such as Youghal, as well as some towns in County Clare. The biggest problem is that the Dublin water supply is on a knife edge. We must organise a new supply of water for Dublin in the next eight years or so, on top of the remedial work that needs to be done. If we do not do this, people will have a short supply of water which will affect our ability to attract industry to the country. It is essential to make this investment. No matter how it is done, it will be costly, but we must invest in it, just as our ancestors made a huge investment in the reservoir at Poulaphouca in order that Dublin city and the greater Dublin area would be supplied with water.

It is welcome that the Minister has made the payments system simple and straightforward. Everybody knows that when the conservation grant is taken into consideration, the payment for a person living alone will be €1.15 per week and for households with two or more people, it will be marginally over €3 per week. The previous proposals were not simple and led to a great deal of fear, which was one of the things that fuelled the huge protest on the streets. They were not just about water, but that was the final straw. It is important to have this bedded down.

I welcome, too, the provision in the Bill for the holding of a plebiscite if there is any move towards privatising the water system. The ultimate decision will rest with the public. I am in favour of keeping the water service as a public utility. I also welcome the provision on the establishment of a public water forum. It is important that there be interaction between Irish Water and the public.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, passed on the message to his senior Minister that it is really important for people when they have a problem such as a leak to be able to contact somebody locally. Irish Water should have somebody based in the local council to deal quickly with issues as they arise. For example, the water meter of one of my constituents in Palmerston showed that his household was apparently using 450,000 litres of water over a four week period, whereas his next door neighbour was using approximately 37,000 litres in the same period. The trouble to get Irish Water to deal with that issue was immense. It has been dealt with, but it took approximately three months to do so and it should not have. I had to embarrass the chief executive of Irish Water about it and to go to the media. It has to be fit for purpose. That is one of the big problems confronting us.

Overall, it is important to take this initiative because we must continue to ensure the public has a decent supply of water. Every party is in one way responsible for the bad handling of this issue. I acknowledge this in the case of my own party, but it also true in different ways of all the other parties in this Chamber. Our primary duty is to ensure the people have an adequate supply of safe drinking water.

In addition, we must ensure there is sufficient supply for industry and we must deal adequately with sewerage problems, especially where raw sewage is going into rivers and the sea. It is vital that we develop a system of which we can all be proud, in the same way we are proud of ESB, for example.

Following on from comments made by Deputy Billy Timmins, I recently tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Justice and Equality regarding the brutal and horrific murder of a young man named Paul Quinn who was murdered some years ago in County Monaghan, in my constituency. There is a duty on everybody who has information regarding the killers of this innocent man to provide that information to the authorities. I commend Deputy Timmins on raising the matter here today. I met Mr. Quinn's parents some years ago and do not have the words to express the horrors they have gone through and continue to go through following the loss of their young son.

In deference to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I take this opportunity to raise a matter that will be of interest to everybody in this House, namely, constituency revisions. People living in the middle part of County Cavan will now be in a constituency that stretches over to Ballina in County Mayo and up almost as far as Donegal town. That is ludicrous. Perhaps in future we will be realistic and mature enough in this House to appoint former politicians on these commissions. No political practitioner would sign off on the constituency boundaries that were put in place by the most recent revision.

I have every sympathy with the Deputy, but I must ask him to return to the Bill.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should have sympathy for me, because I have lost most of my constituency. I thank him for his sympathy, however.

This Government has engaged in more than ten U-turns on the implementation of water charges. Clearly, it is making up water policy as it goes along. There were even last-minute changes to the legislation before us today, which gives effect to the recent raft of changes announced by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. It is clear that its original conservation goals and capital infrastructure plans have all been abandoned by the Government.

There is one certainty around this entire debacle regarding the imposition of water charges, namely, that Irish Water has lost the confidence of the public. I mentioned in a previous debate in this House that Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, who, as then Minister of State, pioneered the legislation through this House almost 12 months ago, has since termed the establishment of Irish Water an "unmitigated disaster". Any major public utility must have the confidence of the public and consumers if it is to do its job properly and provide the service for which it was established. Such confidence is an absolute requirement, but it is absolutely lacking in regard to Irish Water.

We are discussing this new Bill almost 12 months since the Government rammed the original legislation through this House. Repeatedly, in the Oireachtas and elsewhere, Ministers have referred to the mammoth task of establishing Irish Water, yet they were prepared to give Dáil Éireann less than three hours to debate the necessary legislative measures. That was a decision endorsed in this House by all Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies. The Government refused to accept our urgings that an ability to pay clause should be included or our warnings that the Irish Water model would be much too large and cumbersome and end up saddling the taxpayer with substantial expenditure on which there would be no direct return to consumers and customers. We now know what is the reality . Why did we not have a proper and adequate debate more than 12 months ago on this major change of policy, a policy that will see a completely new delivery model for water, particularly when service level agreements were being put in place with local authorities at that time to enable them to deliver the service and carry out the necessary infrastructure works for the following two decades? Months ago we were told by the Government in this House and elsewhere that the Commission for Energy Regulation would set the charges. What are its responsibilities today?

We should reflect on the message that was sent out to young, qualified people, many unfortunately unemployed at present, when they learned that individuals who had retired from the public service were being recruited by Irish Water on large remuneration. Indeed, in many instances, those recruits brought their gratuities with them from their employment with local authorities. Week after week, legitimate questions were asked in this House and in Seanad Éireann about these matters, but the answers were always far from adequate. Over that period, how many different responses did the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other Ministers give to the same questions? For months we heard Ministers and Fine Gael and Labour Party Members claim there was nil or negligible investment in the previous decade in upgrading the water network. Finally, two weeks ago, the Tánaiste acknowledged in this House that there had been substantial investment in the water services programme by the previous Government, investment which exceeded €5 billion over a decade. Every part of the country benefitted from that investment, with a vast amount of new infrastructure put in place and existing infrastructure upgraded.

Of course, there is no denying that the water system needs ongoing investment and maintenance and new infrastructure to replace that which is outdated. However, we had to listen many times to Government Members make other erroneous comments in regard to the provision of water services throughout the country. It was repeatedly and incorrectly suggested, for instance, that water supplies never transcended county boundaries, be they public water supplies or water supplies provided through group water schemes. I have referred previously to several examples of such in my own county. The Aughawillan group scheme in south County Leitrim, for example, supplies houses and farm holdings in Cavan. Likewise, the Castlerahan-Mountnugent-BallyjamerduffGroup water scheme in County Cavan supplies houses in County Meath, particularly in the Oldcastle area. In the Bunnoe area of County Cavan, meanwhile, group water schemes transcend the boundaries of Cavan and Monaghan. Not alone do water services cross county boundaries, but they also cross jurisdictional boundaries. There has been co-operation over many years, for instance, between Cavan County Council and Fermanagh District Council in the provision of water to the villages of Belcoo and Blacklion, with both villages and their catchment areas receiving water supply from the same source.

It is worth repeating in this House that group water schemes, in which there was massive investment from 1997 to the late 2000s, are an example of great partnership between local communities, local authorities, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. In the decade up to 2011, there was an investment of €177 million by government in the provision of water, sewerage and group scheme services in County Cavan, a small rural county with a small population. In excess of €130 million was invested in County Monaghan in the provision of water programmes in the same period. That investment in both counties - an investment, I am sure, that was replicated throughout the country - was very necessary and very welcome. Those schemes are providing water services up to a very high standard in towns, villages and rural parishes. In these two counties that make up my constituency, local communities have worked closely in partnership with the county councils, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and with many excellent officials from the Department. I have attended many meetings in rural parish halls over the years where officials came along and worked with local communities, local councillors and local authority officials in developing programmes to roll out new group water schemes or merge existing schemes.

We should put on the record of the Dáil again the excellent contribution made by so many officials from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authorities in working with good local community leaders.

The basic philosophy emanating from the local communities, local authorities and officials in the Department with whom I have had contact over the years was to work together and put in place the best possible services for communities, be they urban or rural. The various groups - if we want to call them that - worked together. The group water schemes were merged, and those concerned were able to source very substantial investment from the Department to upgrade, extend or provide new group water schemes. Those people wanted to make available through their schemes water of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the needs of their consumers.

In some instances, group water schemes may be the source of supply for smaller towns and villages. Similarly, a public supply may be the source for group water schemes. An innovative and necessary programme of assistance for group water schemes was introduced through the subsidy paid to local authorities towards the operational costs of the schemes. That subsidy, or revenue stream, is absolutely essential to ensure that group schemes, which in some instances provide a water supply through difficult terrain to sparsely populated areas, remain viable. The group water scheme infrastructure is vital to rural communities. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, can assure us that under the new arrangements proposed by the Government, the operational subsidy or revenue stream for group water schemes will continue in the same format as has worked so well since 1998. This issue is of particular importance in my constituency. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Michael Kitt, has spoken on many occasions about the importance of the group scheme network and the need for the revenue stream to ensure the schemes remain viable.

We should recognise the significant contribution made by so many people, a contribution that continues to be made by people in every rural parish through their work as volunteers and committee members of group water schemes. The group water scheme model is exactly the opposite of what the Irish Water super-quango has become. Some years ago in this House, I suggested that instead of establishing a super-quango, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government could have ensured that the best practices of local authorities, which had a good record in the delivery of water services, were replicated throughout the country. Surely it was the remit of the Department to ensure local authorities adapted to and adopted best practices. Political leadership at local level was needed to ensure that model of delivery was put in place.

Cavan County Council and other councils throughout the country had a very good record of delivery in regard to water services. Why not continue with those systems and ensure that the less well-functioning councils achieve the same standards as some of their fellow councils? It is very clear that the establishment of the Irish Water super-quango has been a complete debacle, and the Government has lost the support and confidence of the public. It is questionable whether the proposed revenue from water charges of €140 million net will be achieved. There will be no investment in infrastructure from this revenue source. The €540 million wasted on water meters that will not be used and the €172 million spent on establishing the Irish Water super-quango could have been put to good use in upgrading existing water infrastructure that needs to be updated and modernised. How can one justify the expenditure of €172 million on setting up Irish Water and an additional burden of €46 million every year on wages to keep it going?

In November 2009, Fine Gael decided on the establishment of Irish Water as a flagship policy. It has turned out to be a complete disaster and a very costly one for the Irish taxpayer. The principle of water conservation has been completely abandoned by the Government. Some 500,000 meters have been installed to date and another 500,000 have been contracted. Some €540 million will be spent on water meters that will not be used until 2019 at the earliest, and, if I read the comments of the Minister for Finance correctly, perhaps even later.

The €540 million spent was borrowed from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and must be paid back, understandably with interest. A further €25 million in interest payments and fees will be charged in September of next year. That money could have been put to good use in so many other projects. Given the many other demands on public funding and the challenges facing so many Departments to meet the requirements of capital investment programmes, this expenditure on metering is a scandalous waste of money. Those contracts should be reviewed by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is time to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges pending a full review of the policy. These latest U-turns underline the complete mess the Government has made of a very important resource, water. Fianna Fáil consistently opposed the creation of Irish Water. The controversies concerning consultancy costs, bonuses and overstaffing at the super-quango have borne out our fears. Those fears have been articulated all along by our party spokesperson, Deputy Barry Cowen. What we need to establish in this country is a new mutually owned holding company, owned by the customers. The company would set national standards, plan capital investment and borrow on behalf of the local authorities. Delivery of the service would be returned to the local authorities, which would avail of the local knowledge and experience of their own personnel. This model would also have the advantage of being subject to local democratic accountability. We know local authorities are being stripped - wrongly in my view - of the capacity to deliver local services that should be at the very heart of their remit.

I join those Deputies who previously sought justice for all those who suffered tragedies in the north of Ireland.

And their murderers.

Sinn Féin is the only political party that has consistently sought this, through a truth and reconciliation process. Some in the Chamber like to speak only about politically advantageous allegations, but there are hundreds who have died at the hands of the British Army. They have the right to justice also. The Government and Fianna Fáil-----

Three speakers have spoken on this.

I have allowed others but I would like the Deputy to move on to the Water Services Bill.

The people who have lost their lives because of the British Army do deserve justice.

Nobody ever said they did not.

The Deputy never mentioned them here once in my time.

Not in this House, but I have done so.

With regard to the water situation, right now, because of the activity of the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, and his Government, there are people going to petrol stations with 5-gallon drums seeking to fill them with kerosene because they cannot afford to fill their oil tanks. Right now, because of the Government, there are people who must decide to send one child to a dentist and the other to a doctor because they cannot afford to send each child to both. Right now, because of the Government, there are people who are literally going without meals so that one of their children can have a meal.

I spoke to a pensioner very recently who had her oil tank stolen in midsummer, just before the local elections. She told me she needed to get another oil tank before the winter set in and that she could not afford to do so.

She decided to skip breakfast and get up at lunchtime in order to save a few bob every day. She also decided to have dinner with her daughter in order that she could save a few shillings every week to be put by for an oil tank. She told me that she had worked all her life and said she could not understand how the Government was hammering her for a water charge she could not afford. She asked, "How can Fine Gael and Labour do this to me?"

People regularly come to my constituency office who are literally scrimping for every cent to pay their mortgage and they are at the edge of being thrown out of their houses. People also come to my office who cannot afford to pay their rent. In County Meath the rent cap in the case of an average three bedroom house is €650 provided by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, but the average rent in Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne or Dunboyne is €1,000, which means that there is a gap of €350. This year in County Meath 700 people, from all backgrounds, will have presented as homeless. They are all at the edge because of the votes of the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, and his colleagues in recent years. They are being asked to pay a water charge at a time when they cannot even afford to feed themselves. This is their difficulty. At some point the Minister of State and his colleagues will have to start listening to and being straight with the people.

This water services package is dishonest and will push people over the edge into poverty. The votes of those in government will increase the level of poverty. That citizens have been vocal about their fears about Uisce Éireann is good and they are fearful that it will be privatised in the future. This fear is well founded because Fine Gael and the Labour Party are privatising public utilities and organisations. The Government stated Irish Water may be privatised in the future, but this is hocus pocus. Sinn Féin gave it an opportunity to use its vote to ensure it would not be privatised in the future, but it decided not to vote on that basis. Instead, it promised to hold a referendum some time in the future to decide if Uisce Éireann would be privatised. That is political trickery. It should rule out this option now and should support Sinn Féin's call for a referendum on the issue of privatisation.

It is incredible that after barely four years, the Labour Party and Fine Gael are speaking to and about the people with the same detached arrogance of Fianna Fáil when it was approaching the end of its period in government. Even when the Government must stand up for the people by standing up to the European Union, it is shocking how the Labour Party and Fine Gael show such little interest in standing up for fairness and democracy. Back in the day when Fianna Fáil was in charge, Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy held the reins of government fiscal power. The Government in its democratic revolution decided to extend that number to four people who have their hands on expenditure and fiscal issues.

Sinn Féin has discussed on many occasions in the House the hardship people are experiencing under the Government's watch. Ministers trot out the lines that they are listening to the people and that they understand the sacrifices they are making. However, since 2011 only a small cohort have actually experienced an increase in economic wealth - the 10% with the highest incomes - and also Labour Party and Fine Gael Deputies. Therefore, their experience of the economic crash has been the direct opposite.

The Labour Party Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, told us that he was listening to the people who had spoken out about the problems in Irish Water and that he understood when hard-pressed families said they could not afford to pay water charges. Then, without a hint of irony, he tells his constituents in Louth and East Meath that this water services package is affordable. Where is the evidence to support such statements by him and other Government Deputies? How is this unjust charge affordable for workers on zero hour contracts? Ireland now has the second highest percentage of low paying jobs among OECD counties and the third highest rate of under-employment in the European Union. How could the water charge be affordable for these low paid under-employed workers? I ask the Minister of State to consider the hundreds of thousands whom the Government, through its vote, has pushed into deep poverty. How can these individuals afford to pay water charges? I ask Ministers to listen to the people before it is too late.

The recent announcements made by the Government on water charges which form part of the Bill are simply an attempt by it to stave off an early general election in the hope it may be able to hold enough seats to retain power in a slightly altered set-up. The changes were not about the Government embracing fairness or trying to protect people who were struggling from another charge which they could not afford. There was no conversion on the road to Damascus which allowed the Government to see clearly and change its ways for the better of everyone. There was simply fear - fear of the realisation that people would take no more, that protests and demonstrations were actually resonating with the people and that they were taking the lead and campaigning to have the water charges abolished. It truly is the people who are leading the campaign and pushing us, as their representatives, in challenging the Government. This is not something I have seen many times before and the Government is right to feel fear. The people who were moved to action are not the usual suspects and not fooled by this petty attempt at a bribe. They have spent the past few months becoming well acquainted with the issue and how Fine Gael and the Labour Party have implemented their plan. They have felt the pain of unfairness of the past three years and now chosen to strike.

In October at least 100,000 people were on the streets of Dublin, a number I had not seen in over a decade. The crowd stretched from O'Connell Street all the way past Leinster House. It included fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, old and young who had come from all over the State. They showed their resolve that day and again in November and many of them will be here again next week to let the Government know just how badly its plot to fool or bribe them has failed. These were just the most obvious mobilisations. In my area we had protests and marches in Finglas and Ballymun and packed public meetings. Since the changes were announced, not one of these people has said to me that he or she will now pay. No one has said he or she accepts this system, although some have always maintained that it is the structure of Irish Water and the charges to which they are most opposed. The people in question know that fairness is absent from the charges, whereby a single millionaire will pay less than an elderly couple reliant on the State pension. They know that Irish Water has thrown away money that could have been used so much better.

I refer to the decision to transfer responsibility for water services from the local authorities which was a disaster. Those best placed - the local authorities - should have continued to deal with the provision of water services. A proper mechanism should have been put in place to retain the services under the local authorities which could oversee them in areas in which there are serious problems with water quality such as in Roscommon and Galway. In many cases, councils were left badly stuck for local government funding. I was a member of the Dublin City Council's environment committee for many years. We were continually short of money in addressing on a gradual basis the problems posed by old and leaking pipes. However, this approach was working, but we were starved of funding.

Taking €700 million from the strategic investment fund to establish Irish Water, to pay consultants and to transfer all of the liabilities and mechanisms from local authorities and staff has been a wanton waste of money and it will go down in history as one of the worst deals given to any taxpayer.

The people have spoken and will speak further. This will not stop and we will see more and more protests. Will the Minister of State re-examine what the Government has been doing and work on the basis the people will not stop?

Last night I had a good read of the contribution made by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly - that is what I do in my leisure time - and while 20 minutes will not be enough to speak about it I will make a start. Approximately six weeks ago I described Irish water as a dysfunctional monster. Sadly, it is still drawing oxygen and it has not yet been slain. When anyone recalls the term of the Government, water will be one of the issues that will come to mind, as will the manner in which it has been dealt with from the start. For many people who have examined it closely it beggars belief.

Despite the efforts to rewrite the history of it all it is not yet palatable for the people. I compliment the civil servant who wrote the excellent piece for the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. It is a powerful work of spin. It is really well done. It almost makes it sound as though this could be good, but I do not believe it. The Minister started by stating the Government's objective is to make the new domestic water charges system simpler and fairer. Most people do not think it is fair because taxation is fair when done through a progressive system in which the ability to pay is a factor. This is the case with income tax. Indirect taxation is less fair because those with the least money pay the same tax as those with the most money. If one goes to a shop one pays 23% VAT. This is the case for the person who is unable to afford enough heating for the house in the winter and the person with loads of money. The water charge amounts to much the same type of tax; everyone pays the same amount irrespective of ability to pay. The element of fairness disappears pretty quickly.

Calling the €100 that will be refunded through the social welfare system a conservation grant is a new venture in wordplay. At this stage we all know that we have abandoned conservation for the next four years. We have thrown it to the wind. Approximately one month ago, the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, made a very good point when he stated if one did not pay for water it would be like not paying for lights, and if one did not have to pay an electricity bill one would leave the lights on all night. Is he now afraid people will leave the bath running all night because it will not cost any more to do so and they will pay the same price at the end of the year? If someone has a swimming pool and he or she likes to have fresh water in it he or she can refill it every week and have the same bill at the end of the year. Conservation, which was one of the guiding principles of Irish Water at the outset, has been abandoned.

I found something very interesting about rainwater harvesting on Dublin City Council's website. The end of a piece on the website stated, "All rainwater harvesting systems must be approved in advance. If you would like to discuss your options for rainwater harvesting system please contact Irish Water at the details below." It looks like we will patent harvesting. We would not like people to collect rainwater in case they might eventually save money by purchasing less water from Irish Water when it eventually charges for it. This seems ludicrous. There was a bit of an outcry about this from conservationists, and lo and behold it has disappeared from the website. The last line has been removed, which is very interesting.

Given that we acknowledge storing and distributing water is expensive one would think we would do a lot to promote harvesting. Truth be told we have done very little, even in the past ten years when it has been very obvious to all that harvesting is a good idea. In the last big apartment complex we built we collected the roof water for toilets, washing machines and dishwashers. It was a pretty novel idea. It was not cheap, which is one of the reasons people did not do it, but it should have been obligatory. The State should insist on harvesting in such projects. It makes sense. It is almost four years since the Government came into office. I am not saying the previous Government was any different, because it was not interested in harvesting either, but there have been no proactive measures in the past four years to address the issue of harvesting.

We have spoken about retrofitting toilets to introduce a double flush, but it has not happened. It is a huge area as a massive amount of water is wasted by a full flush when a single would do. This retrofitting is very labour extensive and it would have created many jobs. We have spoken a lot about fixing the pipes. To the best of my knowledge, to date there has been absolutely no programme to address the leaks. The Government states Irish Water will fix the pipes, but why was this not done first? Two years ago I asked the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to make a commitment to fix the leaks before a meter was ever put in the ground, and he stated it made business sense, which it does. If more than 40% of the water is leaking into the ground it beggars belief that any State body would decide to let the water continue to leak into the ground and spend more than €500 million - approximately €600 million - on the installation of meters. We could have fixed an awful lot of pipes for €600 million. Surely it is not a mad idea to suggest we should have fixed the pipes first.

When I was reading the Minister's piece last night I came across a mention of one free site visit to fix a leak between the mains and wall of the house. I do not know the answer to this, which is why I am asking the question, and perhaps the Minister of State will be able to get an answer for me. Will Irish Water fix just one leak? In many cases the pipes are in very poor condition, and when one fixes a pipe in poor condition when the pressure is turned back on a different point of the pipe becomes vulnerable and the pipe springs a leak somewhere else.

There is no point in fixing leaks in any pipes put in many years ago. We should replace all the pipes; otherwise, there will be other leaks soon afterwards. If a customer or tenant only gets one free visit, then the second and third visits will be expensive, especially if they keep fixing a leak every time it appears. Those pipes will need to be replaced. The same goes for most of the pipes in Dublin. God knows I have looked at enough of them. I know of one 4-inch cast iron pipe that is in very poor condition. It is not a matter of fixing leaks in those pipes; it is a matter of replacing the system and putting in a new line. A new line must be installed in a different position and the old line abandoned, because it is dysfunctional. Most of the bore in the 4-inch pipe is down to approximately 2 inches with corrosion. In all the years that we worked in Dublin, anywhere we went in the city centre, the pipes below our feet were leaking, but there was no money to fix them at the time. They were not fixed. They are still there.

Much play was made of the site in Ringsend where Irish Water is going to save all of us €170 million. This is not a fair representation of the facts. Much work went into the thinking behind the treatment plant in Ringsend. Eventually, the engineers from Dublin City Council, An Bord Pleanála and the Environmental Protection Agency came up with a scheme that was acceptable all round, despite much opposition from the Sandymount residents, and rightly so - they have every right to be concerned about a development in their area which might impact on them in a negative way. Now, €170 million is to be saved by doing away with the long sea outfall project. Following all the research done in the years leading up to the project, it was deemed that the footprint of the site was too small to deal with the challenges faced and that the site for the wastewater treatment plant that was to be built was not big enough to accommodate the challenges. That is why they came up with the long sea outfall idea, and the EPA agreed. Irish Water has said that we should do away with the long sea outfall because it will cost €170 million. It is scrapping that part of the plan, but going ahead with the rest of it not knowing whether it will work properly. The people in Irish Water are going against all the evidence available to them. They have more or less said that they will magic up a solution with new technology to make it work on the existing footprint, in a fashion beyond the capabilities of all the clever people who came before them. Perhaps it is possible and perhaps Irish Water can do it, but the betting money is that there will be a part two to the Ringsend project. If there is a part two, it will cost more than €170 million, as it always does. When a group visits a site once to do a project, it costs less than when they visit twice. I expect that someday the outfall will eventually be built.

If Irish Water goes ahead with half the project, which is the plan at the moment, to save €170 million, will the representatives of the EPA and An Bord Pleanála be happy with that? Have they signed off on it? That will be interesting to see. More interesting, will the residents of Sandymount be happy with the new project? They were not happy with the last one, when the worst of the waste was being taken 9 km out to sea. Now it ain't going out at all; it is going to be right on their doorstep. It is going to the edge of the waterfront. Will the residents of Sandymount be happy with that? The EPA has questions to answer if this half-baked project goes ahead.

I imagine the Government will have to sign off on it before the alteration gets the go-ahead, but I have a problem with the Government putting this forward as a great example of why Irish Water is best and why centralising the system is best. Many people have asked the question. I heard a Government Deputy in the House today saying that those of us on this side of the House only knock things. He asked what we should do if we do not proceed with Irish Water. I have already said that I believe water should be paid for through a central taxation system. Naturally, I am in favour of taxation. However, it should be a fair system based on ability to pay. It is a question of how we manage the system in Ireland. I am very much in favour of regionalising the system. I imagine many people are aware that there are 34 local authorities. Seven local authorities had come together in the Dublin area to deal with water, including the four Dublin local authorities and those from Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. They were working in co-operation and it was proceeding well. The only thing they were short of was investment money from central government. It is possible for regions to co-operate and make the system work better. The system could have been regionalised and the expertise that existed in local authorities could have been used.

The Government maintains that we do not have a good system. The water is hardly drinkable. There is raw sewage going into our sea and rivers. That is true, but there is a reason for it. It is because we refused to give the money to local government to invest in the system. They could not invest in it without money. There is no point in shooting them given that they are not allowed to raise funds for this type of project. They were dependent on central government for the money but were not getting it.

I wrote to Irish Water approximately five weeks ago asking when projects associated with 13 villages in Wexford where raw sewage is going into the sea or the nearest river were going to start. They were due to start long before now but they had been shelved, postponed and delayed. I asked Irish Water for a date and when it planned to start on these projects. Irish Water has taken on a good deal of people to deal with queries. Members of the Oireachtas were given a hotline number for Irish Water. The hot response did not come until this morning. Perhaps, at least, this means those responsible were watching the Dáil Chamber and they knew I was going to give out about not getting a response again. Anyway, I got a response this morning, but there is no information in it. Apparently Irish Water is reviewing the matter. The person responsible finished the letter by expressing the hope that the letter answered my query. That was a little rich given that it did not answer my query. The residents of all the villages in Wexford are eager to have treatment plants put in place, but the projects are stalled and not proceeding at the moment.

I am running out of time, unfortunately, but I have not got past page 1 of the 14-page speech given by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. I heard Deputy Fergus O'Dowd speak on the issue of the plebiscite yesterday evening. I agree with him that it would certainly copperfasten the position. We can talk about it having to go through the Oireachtas, but that means nothing because the Government of the day has a majority in the House anyway. The House will simply rubber-stamp anything that goes on. Deputy O'Dowd made the point yesterday that to copperfasten the idea of water services in Ireland being forever kept as a public service and to ensure a prohibition on privatisation, we would do well to have a referendum.

Deputy O'Dowd has made the point that there are a number of referendums coming up and that it would not be a major task for the Government to throw this one in, if it genuinely believes it never wants to have it privatised. We know only too well from the Lisbon and Nice treaty referendums that the facility to enable the private sector to get its hands on public services is very strong. European legislation is in place which benefits the private sector and makes it very difficult for governments to oppose its interests. On these grounds alone, it is very important that we have a referendum on the issue. I do not want to have a referendum to enshrine the view that Irish Water should never be privatised. I never want water services to be privatised because Irish Water should be abandoned. The Taoiseach has a very difficult decision to make. He is in a catch-22 and is damned if he does and damned if he does not. His best option is to cast Irish Water into a dustbin.

I welcome another opportunity to speak about Irish Water and its establishment as proposed by the Government. One could argue that it is welcome that this debate is taking place on a Friday, as the purpose of the debate is to hear from all sides and all views. The Opposition has its views, as I am sure Government backbenchers do. We would like to have heard them and to explore them further. It seems to be the case that the Government is hoping the Friday sitting will appease the Opposition in being able to make a contribution, while, at the same time, not encouraging voices on the other side of the House who may have strong views on the establishment of Irish Water and how the issue has been handled. A Friday sitting without contributions from Government Deputies lacks a certain element of credibility in view of the fact that there are some strong views on that side of the House. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, a former Minister of State who had responsibility for the NewERA document and the establishment of Irish Water, was quite forceful in expressing his views. Next Tuesday he and others who may have major concerns, some which they have expressed, will have the opportunity to express them in a formal setting by not supporting the establishment of Irish Water.

It is has been clear from the outset that the handling of the establishment of Irish Water has been a disastrous debacle. We were not allowed to debate the issue in the Dáil last year when the legislation was rushed through in an arrogant, jackboot manner. There was a walkout by the Opposition at the time, which was the most appropriate thing we could have done because the Government did not want to listen to anybody's views on Irish Water.

A plebiscite on the ownership of Irish Water is proposed. The Government did not allow Parliament to debate the issue last year. Now it is so enthused about getting the views of the public that it proposes to establish a public forum which can enter into consultations. The place to enter into consultations is here. Another public forum is taking place on the streets. Having the Government establish a public forum will be a pointless exercise because hundreds of thousands have consistently marched against the establishment of Irish Water, while in the House Deputies have consistently said Irish Water, in the way proposed, will not work. It is unfair, a waste of taxpayers' money and will not do what the Government hopes it will.

Irish Water was only ever meant t be a vehicle for collecting water charges - end of story. There is no other polite way of putting it. It was supposed to be a vehicle to ensure there would be increased investment in Irish Water. The current position in terms of what it can borrow on the markets leads me to believe it was only ever meant to be a way of collecting charges for water.

The public forum is on the street ands there will be a protest next week. I advise the Government to listen to it very carefully, park the Bill and enter into a proper, meaningful assessment of where we go in funding the upgrade of water and sanitary services. It needs to consider how we apportion the costs in a fair and meaningful way which takes account of ability to pay and the hardship some families are under. Let us be under no illusion - two messages can come from the Government. One day the Minister for Finance tells us the recession is over and the next a Minister tells us we have to take extra money from people to fund public services.

There are many reasons for the opposition to Irish Water. Some are against the fundamental principle of charging for water. Others accept that a contribution has to be made but think it should be made when water services have been upgraded and standards have reached a certain benchmark, at which point people would be asked to make a contribution. Everybody is agreed that some people cannot afford to make a contribution because they do not have the money to do so. The Minister for Finance told us one thing but some time later we were told that to allow for the upgrading of water services, we needed to establish Irish Water because there was no other way for the State to provide or fund the investment required. I do not accept this. In view of what the Government has done with Irish Water and the fact that it will net about €90 million, I do not believe it will be able to raise this money on the markets.

We discussed a very different Irish Water utility a couple of months ago. With the efforts made and combined strength of the public on the streets, the Government has consistently diluted Irish Water to what it is now, that is, a utility which will charge for providing inadequate services. The Government spoke about Irish Water being a utility which would embrace conservation. Yesterday the Minister boasted in the House about the fact that a water meter was placed in a hole in the ground every 49 seconds. That is laudable, but it is like a man sitting by a fireplace telling us he is spending money and throwing fivers in one after another. There is no point in installing meters, as there is no conservation element to Irish Water as proposed. It is an irrelevant and futile exercise to have people digging holes in footpaths all over the country and installing meters which will not be read for five years. If they are, the readings will be meaningless because there is no incentive to encourage conservation. It is nonsense, therefore, to refer to conservation. People know where the leaks are and can find them. We do not need a meter outside every house to find them. Irish Water will be nothing more than a collection system without any thought or foresight.

Conservation was proposed as one of the main reasons for establishing Irish Water. I have said in the House that some people will receive €100 because they use a private well and have biocycle facilities or a septic tank. I am still trying to obtain clarity on whether that will be the case. A pretend utility, Irish Water, will collect the money and a €100 conservation grant will be distributed to everybody, regardless of whether he or she conserves water. Regardless of whether I turn a tap on or off, I will still receive €100. It is farcical to pretend that that it is a conservation grant.

I suggest the Government review this legislation in its entirety, not only on the basis that it is unfair to ask some families who do not have the means or the wherewithal to pay for water, but also on the basis of the need for conservation.

We are now using jackhammers, drills and con saws to cut our footpaths to put in place water meters that will not be read for five years. To add insult to injury, if people want to read their meters, they must go out to the public footpath, remove the cover, squat down and look into a hole to read them. No logical provision was made for people to read their meter through an app system. What are we at? Then there is a great slap on the back on the part of the authorities, that they can do it every 49 seconds. The Government is boasting about the fact it is involved in a futile exercise every 49 seconds.

The Government has claimed Irish Water is a utility that will provide a service for which there will be a charge, just like Bord Gáis, the ESB and telecoms, which provide a service for which there is a charge. Then the Government got the idea that there would be a contribution to local authorities and an assessment was made in terms of rates. Counties Dublin and Waterford were assessed to calculate the contribution that would be made by Irish Water to local authorities and a figure of €60 million was decided on. We are now told this is an indicative figure. This is just another accounting exercise to get the Government over the EUROSTAT 50% requirement. The Government is juggling figures again. This is just a charade and pretence, but even more it is an insult to believe we are going to swallow that this was and is a grand plan.

This is the remnant of a failed plan. It is not one fostered or drawn up in the context of four years ago, but the remnant of a plan that was put in place by Fine Gael in Cork in 2009 when now Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, was a spokesperson on communications and energy. It was he who hatched the plan to establish Irish Water. It was he who hatched a plan for the NewERA document. Therefore, the idea that it was foisted upon the Government and that it had to go ahead with it is an untruth, because it was stated in the manifesto Fine Gael presented to the people that it wanted to build this utility and build this water company that would invest in the service. Of course, Fine Gael being populist was light on mentioning charging, but its principle was that a utility company would be established to deliver water to the businesses and households of this country. When this plan went pear shaped, the plan became someone else's idea. Failure is always the orphan and in this case Irish Water seems to have no parentage at all at this time.

I suggest that when we deal with Report Stage of the Bill next week, some effort should be made to park this legislation. The Government must listen to the public forum and to individuals who are saying they simply cannot pay for the provision of the current water service which is not a quality service in every town and county.

There is talk about a recovery in the economy and about it having turned a corner. Every advance the State makes in terms of meeting the challenges it faced in the context of the recession is welcome. However, the Government should not rub people's noses in this. Many families across the country are not experiencing any upturn in their daily lives. The Government's attitude is a bit like meeting a hungry fellow on the street and saying: "I will take you to a restaurant and show you where there is a fine steak" and walking him up the street and showing him the restaurant, but taking a fiver out of his back pocket on the way and then leaving him. That is what the Government is doing. The Government is simply telling everybody there is an upturn and we are all feeling it.

As unpopular and all as the Government is, there is no way it can motivate the swathes of people who have come out on the streets to oppose Irish Water to accept this concept. Many of these people are out because they simply cannot afford the charges. They see them as inherently unfair and as penalising people who do not have the money to pay. The plan is regressive and takes no account of the circumstances in which families find themselves. This is why we will see huge numbers on the streets again next week. It is why we are now debating a haphazard effort by the Government to try to plug its collapsing support. That is why we are debating this Bill today.

This is why the Government is going through this great pretence that today we are having a full debate. We on this side of the House are having a full debate, but there are no contributions coming from the Government side of the House. As long as I have been a Member of this House, we have had a Government contribution followed by an Opposition contribution during debate. The debate we are having today highlights the fact that there is significant opposition to the Bill. It highlights too that much of that opposition is on the Government side, but those Members opposed to it are not willing to come in and say that. Next week, however, when we put the Bill to a vote, the Government will have all of those Deputies who oppose it whipped into line. Once again, the Government has decided that it is going to try to ride out the storm, rub people's noses in this, pretend it has listened and continue on its merry road.

The Government is running out of road on many fronts and running out of road on this particular issue. The gratuitous insulting way Irish Water was established has not addressed the issues. It was suggested it would be fair, understanding and would address the concerns of families under pressure, but that has not turned out to be the case. The original announcement took no account of ability to pay. It was going to hammer families. A couple with two adult children would have paid approximately €500 a year for water. This was what the Government was planning to go ahead with.

We were told the reason Irish Water was charging such large sums was because this was what the regulator had decided. Where is the regulator now? The Government has parked up the regulator to try to get itself out of this political hole. One week the regulator was considered sacrosanct and the issue could not be discussed at all, but then when there was panic in Government buildings, the regulator was pushed aside and the Government came out with nonsense arithmetic to try to get itself over a few hurdles, including the tumbling polls and EUROSTAT. It has now cobbled together this farce, where a person with his own well and septic tank who earns €473,000 or €500,000 or €2 million - it makes no difference what he earns - is paid €100 every year and can leave whatever water he likes run away down his driveway. At the same time, the Government will penalise families who might have nothing left at the end of any week by making them pay €160, and it tells us this is fair. Not only does it tell us this is fair, it says this includes a conservation element.

I see no conservation element in this. I can go home this evening and turn on the tap and leave water running down my driveway and I will still get my €100 from the Government next year. This is farcical. This grand plan was designed by the Minister, Deputy Kelly and I assume, the Minister of State will try to absolve himself of responsibility and say at some stage that he had nothing to do with it. I assume he will say it was the Minister's idea and that he, as a Minister of State, is just doing his bidding. Somebody on the Government side of the House must stand up and say enough is enough of the pretence that Irish Water is built for the purpose of developing and enhancing our water and sanitary services and that it will develop a great conservation philosophy for the people. With this philosophy, we will all turn off our taps when we brush our teeth, will flush the toilet only once a day and will do all the right things. We will not put out the garden hose and fill the plastic Lidl pool in June for the three children to paddle in. None of us will do that. Of course people will do all these things and they should be able to do so to some extent. People must live too.

However, the idea that there is a conservation element in it is an insult and a joke.

The Bill should be parked for the many reasons I have outlined. The most important reason, however, is that it is unfair and unjust. It does not take account of ability to pay or the huge pressures being experienced behind some front doors in this country, where families are struggling daily to pay for essentials. The Minister should park the Bill, pull the plug on Irish Water and let us have an honest debate on how to fund and enhance our water services. We cannot pretend that they must not be paid for. They will have to be paid for, but there should be an element of fairness and sustainability in it to ensure we have a service that provides for the needs of the Irish people and the economy in the years ahead in terms of water and sanitation services. It must also take into account the fact that many people in this country have not yet felt the wind of recovery which is espoused by the Minister for Finance on a continual basis when it suits him, although the following day another Minister comes to the House to explain why it is necessary to charge for water. It is a circle that most people cannot square. The Minister should scrap the Bill and hold a public forum in the new year on how we should fund our services in the years ahead.

The Government's constant refrain has been that it is listening to the people. When people came out in record numbers onto the streets of Dublin in October and when that exercise was repeated not only in the capital city but also across the State in November, the Government had every reason to make at least a pretence of listening.

People demonstrated on the streets because they believe they no longer have a connection with the Government. They have lost all faith in its basic common sense and clearly understand that it has become detached from the reality of their lives. If the Government has listened, it has heard about the many who have struggled to get by year after year, simply to meet their household bills, keep their children clothed, fed and warm, and to cover the basics. When they came out onto the streets they were telling the Government to scrap the domestic water charges, not to alter or tweak them or to come up with an alternative scheme. The reason for that is simplicity itself. Families do not have the money to cover another bill. That is the reality for the people I represent in Cabra and across the north inner city from the Docklands through the markets and into Stoneybatter. Family after family have told me - and, by coming out onto the streets, have told the Government - that they do not have the money.

It has been particularly galling for those families to hear the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, and others say time and again that it is only €3 and so many cent or only €1. They are clearly missing the point that for the people who cannot meet their current bills and who lie awake at night worrying about whether the electricity will be cut off, or worrying that they cannot make their rent payment and will lose the roof over their heads, it is no comfort to hear it is only three euro or only one euro. Of course, that is loose change in the pocket of a person on a strong income, but for people who struggle on very small incomes it might as well be a king's ransom. There are no euros - zero euro - in many households and families across the State. In some instances these families are reliant on fixed payments or social welfare payments. They could be families or individuals with disabilities, or people who have simply had the misfortune to lose their job. However, in other instances these are families in which a person is working or, in some cases, two people are working - families that look fine from outside the front door. You think, "They are working - that is good. Things are ticking over well for them." However, when you go inside the hall door into that home and talk to those people, you realise that things are not hunky dory and that they, too, worry and scrimp and count the cents. They count their coppers, not their euros, at the end of every week or month. That is the situation. If the Government is in the business of listening, as it claims, I am astonished that it cannot grasp the simple reality that people cannot give it what they do not have. You cannot take blood from a stone. The message has been clear: scrap the domestic water charge.

There is another set of people, who take a position that they will not pay. I am one of those. In many ways, I am quite typical of many of the people who have adopted that position. It is a position of principle. It is based on the belief that water, of all public goods, is so basic a requirement for life itself and for a decent standard of living that it ought to be funded collectively through general taxation. Certainly, our society should not countenance a situation in which an elderly neighbour or parent, or a brother or sister who finds themselves out of work, must now worry not only about making the rent and paying electricity bills but also about getting into debt or into trouble because of the water that comes from the tap. It is another pressure - whether to boil a kettle or wash a child. There is something ethically troubling about going down that road.

The people who cannot pay and those who will not pay all believe that access to a clean water supply is a basic fundamental right. It is a human right that finds expression in international instruments, covenants and law. People want that right to be recognised in this State and to see it expressed in the Constitution. Some, such as members of the Government, might argue that it is sufficient to provide for checks, balances and protection in primary legislation, but that does not go far enough. People feel so strongly about this issue that they wish to have it underwritten in Bunreacht na hÉireann. They and I believe that this is the only way to guarantee that the water supply network will never be privatised, save with the consent of the people. That is how it ought to be.

Those in Government have contested any suggestion that privatisation is the ultimate goal in the establishment of Irish Water and in the strategy that has been adopted. They can argue that from here to eternity, but people will not believe them. They have seen what has happened with other elements of public utilities, which have been privatised and sold. There is a deep-rooted fear that the same might come to pass in this case, if not under this Administration then perhaps under a future Administration.

The simple way around this dilemma, for a Government and for political parties that say they have no interest in privatising water or the water network, for the population that says clearly it does not want it to happen and wants a guarantee of public ownership, is to put a referendum to the people. Let us debate and argue the wording, how it might be phrased and put it to a plebiscite. Let us check and double check through a legal, political and social debate and then let the people decide. The Government then demonstrates, not by word but by deed, its commitment to public ownership. It is a simple matter and I cannot understand, given the stated position of the Government, why it has been so hostile to the idea of a referendum. Some colleagues have equated it to a referendum held in the 1980s that has proved problematic in the Constitution. The issue is a lot more straightforward and is about physical infrastructure, supply and a public resource. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the view and communicate the idea to the Taoiseach and his colleagues who sit around the Cabinet table.

As an entity, Irish Water is utterly discredited. It is regarded as toxic, incompetent and a byword for excess, waste and cronyism in the manner of the awarding of contracts for metering, the use of consultants and the huge public moneys wasted in that regard, in the manner the former Minister, Phil Hogan, before he went to the blue skies of Europe, passed the buck on the issue and claimed he knew nothing about the excessive spending on consultants, and the manner in which he was quite prepared to let public officials and civil servants take the rap and play a game of make believe that he, as Minister, was not micromanaging the project, which was the establishment of a brand-new public utility that envisaged spending grotesque sums of money on consultancy. Irish Water initially needed people's PPS numbers but that is not the case now. At each turn, Irish Water proved to the taxpayer and to the public that it was not fit for purpose.

When people came onto the streets primarily to tell the Government to scrap water charges, they were also giving a message about Irish Water. Even in this utility's infancy, the people recognise, even if the Government does not, that it is not fit for purpose. People are not happy to simply sit by philosophically as huge sums of public moneys are squandered in the utility. The Government has made some moves, albeit cosmetic, in terms of the board and minor pieces around Irish Water to appease the anger. It will not work and, if the Government imagines it will miraculously transform Irish Water into an acceptable brand or face for the Irish public, that ship has sailed and the task will prove impossible.

When people came out and protested against the charges and against Irish Water, there was a cynical and deliberate attempt by Government Deputies and others to portray these people as sinister, reckless and a dangerous and irresponsible fringe of society and to create the impression that a vast number of people are so socially deviant they resent paying their taxes or paying their way. That approach and the rhetoric from the Government has caused offence to people and deepened people's resolve. It has kept their anger alive.

In my neighbourhood in Cabra in November, up to 1,000 people protested against these charges. These included senior citizens, mothers, fathers and children representing the mix that lives in our communities. To a woman and a man, they were decent people and citizens who paid taxes through income tax, VAT, excise or the myriad of such taxes and charges citizens pay. Each and every one of them deeply resents the assertion by the Minister of State or his colleagues that they represent something sinister or undesirable in society. Far from being sinister, these people represent what is best in terms of social solidarity.

I have no doubt next Wednesday, all of those people will be out to see the Minister of State, mainly, or perhaps all of Oireachtas Members. I have no doubt they will come out in their thousands or tens of thousands. When those citizens gather around their Parliament in their capital city, they are saying to the Government and to their elected representatives again to scrap charges and forget about pushing charges down the pipes or delaying the bills' date of arrival. The Government should forget about that because it is not enough and forget about the stick that goes with the carrot, which is threatening people in rented accommodation that landlords will be implicated as debt collectors on behalf of Irish Water and the State.

We are at a point where the public mind has considered all matters and has decided. The public view is that people wish to see these charges scrapped and abolished. That is the first thing to do. Thereafter, we need a genuine and open debate about our water infrastructure, the level of investment required, and the ways in which we can leverage investment. That should be properly set out, debated, challenged and decided in the Dáil Chamber. That is the debate we should have had and our call is to scrap domestic water charges, stand down Irish Water and have what should be a genuine democratic debate, with all Members involved, on repairing water infrastructure, guaranteeing a quality water supply to our citizens and ensuring each and every one of them enjoys what is a basic human right to adequate and clean water supply.

The Water Services Bill 2014 is a highly duplicitous item of legislation and emanates from a Government that is reeling from a major movement of people power that has come to the fore in the past few months against the imposition of water charges and against Irish Water. The Bill reeks of dishonesty from the Government from start to finish. Water charges were first conceived and introduced as the new austerity tax.

The intention was to get between €1 billion and €1.5 billion per year from householders through the new water tax. That money was to be used to continue the process of bringing water to our homes and workplaces, which has been done for generations funded from the general taxation paid by everyone. The idea was to use the €1 billion to €1.5 billion to replace the money from the general taxation fund because billions from that pool must be used each year to continue the bailout of bankers and bondholders in European financial markets who gambled wildly on the Irish property bubble. The people concerned made massive profits while the going was good and when the crash happened, almost all of their losses were, incredibly, made good on the backs of the people. We labelled the water charges an austerity tax to bail out bankers and bondholders, which is exactly what is happening. This year alone, between €7 billion and €8 billion will be paid in interest on the national debt, a significant proportion of which arises from the bailout. These interest payments would fund water services many times over and allow for the repair of the water infrastructure that has been grotesquely neglected for decades by successive Governments.

The Bill, in its provisions and intentions, is dishonest from start to finish. The Government has introduced an austerity tax camouflaged as a conservation measure. We have been treated in recent years to endless arrogant lectures from Ministers and the Taoiseach on the need for water conservation, but this is hypocrisy, given the nature of the political establishment, this and the previous Government. In 1994, 1995 and 1996 magnificent demonstrations of people power forced the abolition of water charges under a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government, but in the course of those campaigns we often raised the need for conservation measures to be included in building by-laws and regulations in Ireland. I spoke about this issue often after I first entered the Dáil in 1997 and stressed that developers should be required to incorporate significant water conservation measures in the homes and buildings they constructed. These measures are simple and widely known and include dual-flush toilets, rainwater harvesting and other engineering measures that could be incorporated into homes, workplaces and industrial buildings to save a significant amount of expensively treated water. Since 1997, 500,000 new homes, including houses and apartments, have been built, but nothing significant has been done to compel developers and the construction industry to make the changes suggested. As a result, this year and every year, billions of litres of pristine drinking water purified at taxpayers' expense goes down the sewers, yet the Government has the audacity to lecture us on the need for water conservation. Conservation has now disappeared from the agenda and been wiped off the Government's map by the changes contained in the Bill. The water metering programme was supposed to be a great conservation project, but now we have been told there will be a flat charge for four or five years and there has been no honest comment on what happened to the conservation crusade, which is incredible.

From the beginning we said charging for water, setting up the quango that was Irish water and metering most homes were steps in a process of commodification that could lead to the privatisation of the Irish water supply. The manner in which Telecom Éireann was privatised with disastrous consequences, having been built on the taxes of the people, is comparable.

In the Bill the Government provides for the holding of a plebiscite before the privatisation of Irish Water, but this is more dishonest posturing. The idea of a plebiscite or referendum was suggested by, among others, the Green Party, but that party is responsible for water charges, given its capitulation with Fianna Fáil to the troika. As the crescendo of opposition to water charges grew this year, the Green Party reached for the fig leaf of a referendum to divert attention. That party was joined in this action by other individuals. I am not opposed to holding a referendum, but the key referendum would be on the abolition of water charges as this would end the possibility of privatisation. Multinational water companies from Europe and elsewhere such as Veolia will not be interested in taking charge of a natural resource like water when it has not been commodified. In any case, this is a spurious and dishonest trick because the Government cannot guarantee that a future Government will adhere to this legislation. Legislation can be changed as easily and as cynically as the Government is pushing through this Bill in two days in a non-debate. Another right-wing Government could change the legislation, remove the obligation to hold a plebiscite and privatise Irish Water.

The Bill is full of political trickery. The flat charge is €160 for a household with a single adult and €260 for a household with two or more adults, but nobody is fooled by these measures. Everybody knows that the initial charges proposed would have seen a family with four adults paying €483 and a family with five adults paying €585 and they know that charges will rise towards these levels as soon as the cap is removed. As we explained, if metering was taken into account, families with four and five adults would see bills of €900, €1,000 and more based on water usage per individual. These figures were calculated in two serious studies, the most recent of which was sponsored by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Do not treat the people like fools.

They understand the political trickery, that to try to save the skins of Fine Gael and, particularly, Labour Party Deputies, the Government has come up with this cobbled together so-called compromise which it knows will not be worth the paper it is written on once the pressure is off. Of course, it cannot state the flat charges will be in place until 2019 because it cannot dictate what the Government that will follow will do. It is political trickery from start to finish, as is the so-called water conservation grant. The English language has been battered and bruised by vested interests, from the American military to politicians, in particular, throughout the past ten or 20 years, but to label this €100 a water conservation grant batters and abuses it somewhat more. Perhaps the Government might explain how the grant is related to conservation, as I certainly cannot see how it is. In fact, it provides for an incredible bureaucratic maze worthy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or, more correctly, Fine Gael and the Labour Party in "Blunderland", in Irish Water seeking to take money every quarter - how much it will get is another story - and then, sometime after September or October, the Department of Social Protection sending €100 back. How many public sector workers will be employed to implement this face-saving useless measure? It is incredible.

The penalties provided for in the Bill give the game away. What we have is a defeated Government that will not admit it has been defeated on the issue of water charges. Following a year in which there has been non-payment and a further three months, there will be penalties of €30 and €60 for a household with one adult and with two or more adults, respectively, to kick-in from April 2016, just after the date until which the Government can survive and a general election is held. In the most cynical fashion, the penalties will be applied beyond the date of the general election in the hope the Government can avoid conflict with ordinary people who will be boycotting the bills en masse. That is why the measure which provided for pressure reduction was removed. The Government understood it would be engaged in trench warfare in every constituency if it were to attempt to implement it.

All of this will not save the Government. The findings of the opinion poll carried in The Irish Times yesterday show what is in store: Fine Gael's percentage is down, while the Labour Party, at 6%, is teetering over the precipice towards annihilation because of its betrayal of ordinary people in the past four years. On Wednesday next, 10 December, the mass mobilisation that will take place will be further evidence that the Government has not fooled anybody. If that demonstration does not convince it to abolish these charges, what will happen from April next year certainly will because the water tax - this austerity or bondholders' tax - will be greeted by a mass boycott. The findings of the opinion poll carried in The Irish Times today indicate that 33% will not pay, that 11% are undecided and that 48% say they will pay. The Government will be faced with a growing revolt as people gain confidence that they can win on the issue, just as people power won in the 1990s after a hard fought three year campaign. Therefore, there will be a mass boycott and a huge movement towards non-payment. We will see people power in action and if the Government does not concede before the general election, I am absolutely certain that the election will decide the issue.

Ba mhaith liom a rá maidir leis an mBille um Sheirbhísí Uisce 2014 gur mí-mhacántacht atá i gceist anseo ó thuas go deireadh, agus é ag teacht ó Rialtas atá bascaithe agus brúite ag gluaiseacht ollmhór - cumhacht na ngnáthdaoine - atá in aghaidh na cánach uisce atá an Rialtas ag iarraidh a thabhairt isteach. In ionad éisteacht leis na daoine agus fáil réidh leis na táillí uisce, tá siad, le cleasaíocht polaitíochta, ag iarraidh anois teacht amach as an bpoll ina bhfuileann siad. Ar ndóigh, mar a dúramar ó thuas, is cáin dhian í na táillí uisce, agus an t-airgead chun dul isteach sa pholl ollmhór atá fágtha tar éis billúin euro a aistriú gach bliain ó ghnáthdhaoine na tíre seo go dtí margaí airgeadais na hEorpa.

Ar ndóigh, níl macántacht ar chor ar bith ag baint le haon chuid den reachtaíocht atá os ár gcomhair anseo inniu. Maidir le caomhnú uisce, mar shampla, le linn tréimhse an Rialtais seo nó tréimhse Rialtais eile, níor ardaíodh méar chun céimeanna deimhneacha a thógáil chun uisce a shábháil nó a chaomhnú inár dtithe nó inár n-áiteanna oibre. Beidh an Rialtas ag rá, áfach, go bhfuil siad ag tabhairt isteach na táillí sin agus na méadair uisce chun uisce a chaomhnú. Tá, agus beidh, gluaiseacht ollmhór de chumhacht na ndaoine ag leanúint ar aghaidh i gcoinne na dtáillí seo. An tseachtain seo chugainn, beidh na mílte duine ar na sráideanna i mBaile Átha Cliath. Más rud é nach bhfaigheann an Rialtas réidh leis na táillí ina dhiaidh sin, mí an Aibreáin seo chugainn beidh baghcat ollmhór náisiúnta eagraithe. Ní féidir leis an Rialtas seo seasamh in aghaidh chumhacht na ndaoine. Ba cheart go dtabharfadh Fine Gael agus, go háirithe, Páirtí an Lucht Oibre aird ar an méid atá gnáthdhaoine ag rá.

Geallaim é seo mar fhocal scoir. Más rud é go mbeidh na táillí seo ann agus olltoghchán orainn beidh deireadh le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre. Ní bheidh ach mórán ag teacht ar ais ar aon nós. B'fhéidir nach dtiocfaidh aon duine acu ar ais má leanann siad ar aghaidh ar an mbóthar seo. Tá sé sin cinnte. Sin atá á rá ag na gnáthdhaoine. Is ar a bpriacal féin é más rud é nach bhfuil siad chun éisteacht leo.

Mar a luaigh ceann de na Teachtaí eile níos luaithe, is ait an díospóireacht seo. Bhí sé anseo den chuid is mó den díospóireacht inniu agus bhí mise ag féachtaint ar an díospóireacht inné. De ghnáth, nuair a bhíonn díospóireacht ar siúl, téann sé sall is anall. Is ait liomsa é nach bhfuil aon duine ar taobh an Rialtais anseo ar maidin chun páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht. Glacaim go mbíonn siad anseo chun éisteacht nuair a bhíonn Aire anseo agus is maith an rud é sin.

Is ait an rud é nár tháinig aon chúlbhinseoir nó aon Aire eile isteach anseo chun míniú a thabhairt dúinn ar an bhfáth gur chóir go mbeadh na táillí uisce seo curtha anuas ar ghnáthphobal na tíre seo. Go bhfios dom, níl aon duine acu liostaithe le haghaidh fuílleach na díospóireachta chun an fáth gur ghlac siad an rogha gur fearr leo táillí uisce ná cáin mhaoine a leagadh amach. Níl siad anseo chun míniú a thabhairt dúinn ar an bhfáth gur cheart dúinn íoc trí huaire as an rud ceanann céanna, seachas uair amháin tríd an ghnáthchóras cánach, mar atá á dhéanamh againn cheana féin, leis an mótarcháin anuas ar sin.

Níl sa díospóireacht seo ach charade. An uair dheireanach a raibh an Teach seo ag déileáil le reachtaíocht a bhain le hUisce Éireann, cuireadh gilitín ar an díospóireacht. Bhí uafás an phobail i gcoitinne i gcoinne an méid a rinne an Rialtas ag an ócáid sin. Dá bhrí sin, shocraigh an Rialtas gan a leithéid a dhéanamh arís agus an chleasaíocht seo a imirt ina háit. Dúradh leis na cúlbhinseoirí gan teacht isteach anseo chun an méid atá sa reachtaíocht seo a chosaint. Measaim nach mbeidís in ann cosaint a dhéanamh ar an mBille. Dá mbeadh orthu filleadh ar a ndáilcheantair tar éis dóibh labhairt istigh anseo, bheadh eagla orthu go mbeadh an t-eolas sin ag an bpobal go háitiúil agus go dtabharfadh daoine freagra dóibh ina leith. Ceapann na cúlbhinseoirí go mbeidh siad in ann an cnaipe a bhrú Dé Máirt seo chugainn chun tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo, agus do na táilí uisce, gan tuiscint ar bith a bheith ag an ngnáthphobal ar an méid atá déanta acu. Ní féidir an dallamullóg a chur ar an bpobal a thuilleadh. Níl siad tiubh. Tuigeann siad go maith an píosa cleasaíochta atá i gceist maidir leis an méid atá sa Bhille seo i dtaobh na dtáillí uisce, go háirithe an masla do ghnáthphobal na tíre seo atá sa deontas caomhnaithe uisce. Níl aon rud sa Bhille seo a bhaineann le caomhnú uisce.

Tá a mhalairt de threo ann. Is féidir infheistiú ceart a dhéanamh. Dá mbeadh an t-airgead a bhí ar fáil, agus atá anois á chur ar strae, curtha isteach sa chóras - dá mbeadh infheistiú ceart déanta go dtí seo - bheimid i bhfad níos faide síos an bóthar chun fadhbanna an chórais a leigheas go hiomlán. B'fhéidir go mbeadh na poill atá sa chóras deisithe agus go mbeadh córas séarachais ceart againn timpeall na tíre. Seachas a leithéid a dhéanamh, tá an Rialtas tar éis airgead a chur amú - is é sin díreach é - trí chomhlacht a bhunú. Caitheadh airgead ar Uisce Éireann a bhunú cé go raibh na húdaráis áitiúla go huile agus go hiomlán in ann déileáil leis na fadhbanna. Dhiúltaigh an Rialtas seo agus na Rialtais roimhe, go háirithe na Rialtais le 20 bliain anuas, an t-airgead cuí a thabhairt do na húdaráis áitiúla chun an infheistiú ceart a dhéanamh.

Glacaim leis nach féidir an fhadhb seo a leigheas thar oíche. Ní féidir na fadhbanna sa chóras a leigheas gan infheistiú ceart. Má tá gnáthcháiníocóirí an Stáit ag íoc airgid leis an Rialtas don chóras uisce, ba chóir go mbeadh an t-airgead sin caite ar an gcóras úd, seachas ar chomhlacht nua a bhunú agus consultants, srl., a íoc. Ní cheart go mbeadh níos mó ná €500 milliún caite ar mhéadair uisce a chur isteach. Bheimid níos fearr as an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh ar na píobáin uisce agus ar an gcóras séarachais. Tá an Rialtas ag iarraidh an dallamullóg a chur ar dhaoine sa chomhthéacs seo. Tá lucht an Rialtais ag iarraidh a rá go mbeidh sé ar fad críochnaithe agus go mbeidh gach rud i gceart faoin bhliain 2018. Ní mar sin a bheidh in aon chor. Is léir ó na figiúirí gur a mhalairt a tharlóidh. Ní bheidh aon leigheas ar fhadhbanna an chórais uisce sa Stát seo faoin am sin. Tá an t-airgead curtha amú agus ar strae. Impím ar an Rialtas - go háirithe ar na cúlbhinseoirí nach bhfuil sásta teacht isteach sa Dáil inniu agus na pointí atá acu a chur trasna, ionas go mbeadh díospóireacht cheart againn - tarraingt siar arís ón gcleasaíocht atá ar bun acu.

Bhí mé ag éisteacht leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an iar-Aire Stáit, an Teachta O'Dowd. Is ait liom cé chomh ionraic atá sé anois, toisc go bhfuil sé ar na cúlbhinsí. Dá mbeadh sé ag craobhscaoileadh go díreach ag an am cad a bhí ag tarlú dó, faoi mar atá á dhéanamh aige anois, b'fhéidir nach mbeadh an Rialtas agus na cúlbhinseoirí tar éis aon tacaíocht a thabhairt don chaimiléireacht atá i gceist maidir le Uisce Éireann agus an bealach a bunaíodh é ó thús báire. Is trua é nach raibh a leithéid le rá aige. Is trua é freisin nach raibh daoine sa Státseirbhís nó an Chomh-aireacht sásta éisteacht cheart a thabhairt dó. In ainneoin sin, ní aontaím le gach rud a bhí le rá ag an Teachta O'Dowd. Thug sé isteach na táillí uisce agus ní chóir go mbeadh siad againn.

Fianna Fáil was the first party to commit to the introduction of water charges in terms of the proposal in its so-called programme for national recovery document of 2007 to levy €500 million from water charges. The introduction of water charges is not then all the fault of the current Government, of which Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, is a member. Some of the work was already in train when it took over. However, this Government has gone further, despite commitments from the Labour Party to the public that water charges would not be introduced. I could quote in that regard remarks by the previous Labour Party leader. Perhaps the reason he was jettisoned is because his statements on the investment in Irish Water and water charges would come back to haunt the Labour Party.

From the outset, Sinn Féin opposed the creation of Irish Water. It also offered credible alternatives. As I said as Gaeilge, when former Minister of State Deputy Fergus O'Dowd used public money to employ PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce a report that led to the creation of Irish Water, Sinn Féin was the only party to make submissions to that consultation. It is a pity Deputy O'Dowd was not as forthcoming when Minister of State as he is now about the goings-on in that regard. Perhaps that has something to do with internal party politics. It is refreshing that he is so forthcoming now. Had Deputy O'Dowd, when Minister of State, been so forthcoming at the time of the guillotined debate on the set up of Irish Water I can guarantee many more questions would have been raised . I believe also that some Labour Party backbenchers would not have been happy if they had heard then what he said yesterday on this matter.

Sinn Féin's track record on the opposition to water charges has been unrivalled and is resolute. The Sinn Féin Minister with responsibility in the Assembly for water successfully stopped domestic charges being introduced despite attempts by the British Government to make the party back down. Sinn Féin stood firm in the North and will do the same here. We will continue until the whole of Ireland remains water charges free. It is not that Sinn Féin does not believe that water should not be paid for. It is already paid for through general taxation, which is the progressive way of taxing.

There are three myths that need to be put to bed once and for all. The first myth is that we need to charge people for water. People are already paying for water through their taxes, which are collected by Revenue. The Revenue Commissioners should be called to appear before the environment committee to set out how much in taxes it received each year for the past number of years and what portion of it was meant to be ring-fenced to pay for local government services, which included water services until this Government moved it to Irish Water.

The second myth is that charges are about conservation. Previous speakers referred to the insult to the Irish people of calling what is proposed a water conservation measure. The English language has been bastardised quite often but that is a beauty. If nothing else, it will stand to Government members in the next general election, at which time they will be destroyed. The third myth is that everybody else in Europe pays water charges.

They do not. The Minister of State need only go 60 miles up the road. Northern Ireland is part of Europe and, although he might not think so, it is part of Ireland. It is just a different jurisdiction. The people there do not pay water charges.

Sinn Féin believes the people have a right to domestic water of the highest international standard and that it should be funded through a progressively reformed tax system under which those who earn the most pay most. That includes a wealth tax which can raise money from those with wealth, who are at the moment increasing their wealth. As this State begins to recover, the wealth in our society will become concentrated among the few, as it has always been. Flat charges are always regressive because they have a disproportionate negative effect on households with lower incomes. We are committed to overturning this unfair and unjust water charge. We are an integral part of the Right2Water campaign, which is a coalition of groups, several trade unions, Mandate, the Civil Public and Services Union, CPSU, the Communications Workers' Union, CWU, the Plasterers' Union of Ireland, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, the Socialist Party, several Independent Deputies and a range of community groups, organisations and local campaigns. The Right2Water campaign has been successful in mobilising hundreds of thousands of people in opposition to the Government’s water charges. We expect tens of thousands to be on the streets again next Wednesday and over several months until the water charge is scrapped.

The Right2Water campaign recognises that water is a human right and is committed to the scrapping of the water charges. Any group, trade union or political party that supports this is welcome to join the campaign. I welcome the recent statement issued by SIPTU that it will work with groups in the Right2Water campaign. I hope SIPTU will join the campaign. I cannot see why it has not. Maybe some of the contradictions involved in running the union while being at the head of the Labour Party make that difficult. SIPTU should listen to its members and fully commit to the Right2Water campaign. The same applies to the other unions and groupings which have not bought into it. The stronger and more united we are, the more likely this charge will be defeated, as it was before.

Sinn Féin is also committed to shutting down Irish Water. The Government has brought us to the perverse situation in which people are being asked to pay for water three times: through motor tax and general taxation - we recall what happened when household rates were scrapped in 1977 - and through the millions of euro spent on establishing Irish Water, and then for the water itself. Not a penny more should be spent on Irish Water or on installing domestic water meters. The Minister should scrap it. That money would be much better spent removing lead pipes that are bursting all over the place than putting in meters that interfere with the water system and do not, under the legislation, conserve water. Capital spending needs to have a lasting positive impact. Domestic water meters will not.

The Government needs to replace the leaking Victorian infrastructure. I have often raised the question of the Vartry Tunnel in this Chamber. That could have been fixed with a very small portion of what has been spent on water meters. The Vartry Tunnel is the link that brings one quarter if not one third of the water that comes into Dublin every day. If it collapses - and it could at any stage, as the local authorities have told this and previous Governments - one third of the water system will go overnight and will not be replaced for several months, if not years.

The Government has tried to say Irish Water will address the leaking pipes. Irish Water's capital investment plan for maintenance for the next three years is €150 million. For the past few years, investment has averaged €40 million. Irish Water has not made a huge increase in investment in fixing the leaks in our system, but if the money being spent on meters was diverted, the Government could quadruple the amount that could be spent to €125 million a year. That would be real conservation, addressing the problem and making sure that treated water goes to the houses that need it rather than into a hole. By investing in meters, consultants and an entity that should be scrapped, the Government is wasting taxpayers’ money. That needs to stop now, and the money needs to be invested in the leaking system and waste treatment plants so that raw sewage does not go into Irish seas.

It is totally illogical that the Labour Party is fully behind this. The Labour Party prided itself for many years on being the protector of, or spokesperson for, the working class. When the Government imposes another regressive tax on the working class, it is not speaking for the working class but opposing it, and it will get its message come the next general election.

It is worth recalling as we debate this legislation the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on Irish Water. It borrowed €250 million from the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2013; collected a further €240 million from the proceeds of property tax, which of course was never originally intended to go to Irish Water, in 2014; took €490 million from the local government fund in 2014; will take €190 million from businesses large and small every year; and will continue to collect a sum which, while substantially less than the €500 million a year originally intended, will be none the less substantial, from householders every year, at least until the end of 2018, at which point we do not know how much the bill will spiral. Over €1 billion has already been raised for Irish Water and there is much more to come.

The lack of transparency is quite extraordinary. We do not have any transparency on how much the State has paid to Siteserv, which was sold to Millington for approximately €45.42 million in cash from the State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. A subsidiary of the company, Sierra, was awarded a multi-million euro contract for the installation of water meters.

However, taxpayers, who are footing the bill for all of this, have never been told how much they are paying to this company. That is extraordinary given that we have a Government that came to office heralding an era of new politics, democratic revolution and so on. The secrecy that has surrounded all of this is amazing. Of course, the Government essentially lost all moral authority on this issue on 18 December 2013 when it rammed through all Stages of the original legislation in a few hours, even though that legislation had been flagged since the first day the Cabinet met. Some Deputies walked out of the Chamber on that occasion, while others stayed and attempted to discuss their concerns. My colleagues, Deputies Billy Timmins and Denis Naughten, tried to raise the issue of poor drinking water and various issues relating to cost, scale and so on, none of which was heeded. The Government was determined to get the Bill through the Oireachtas before Christmas last year and that is what it did.

The Irish Water fiasco epitomises all that has gone wrong with this Government. It is very disappointing. I could talk about the issue of cronysim, the fact that unsuccessful candidates at the local elections were appointed to the board of Irish Water and others now hold positions as drivers for Ministers directly linked to Irish Water, and all the rest of it. The guillotined debate shows the arrogant attitude of the Government, which is that it knows best and has no regard for the democratic institutions of the State. It clearly has no regard for the Opposition or this Parliament, which is the forum where members of the public express their democratic intentions. It is most regrettable. All of the problems with Irish Water could have been predicted and many of them were predicted. The Seanad debate was especially instructive in this regard and it is worth reading the Official Report of that debate. It is very interesting, in particular, to read what the then Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, said in the Seanad. His concerns regarding the new body are fairly apparent if one reads between the lines. However, the Government simply refused to engage with any of that and instead rammed through the legislation. As a result, we are where we are, as that dreadful saying goes.

This debate is no different. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh noted during his contribution that there are no Government Deputies in the House. In fact, I am not aware of any Deputy speaking on the other side of the House today. The debate consists of contributions from one Opposition Member after another. It is a slightly longer version of what happened in December last year. Once again, we see the flagrant disregard of this Government for the House and its total contempt for the electorate. I do not blame the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, because he is not responsible for this legislation. I do not know why the Minister or Minister of State who are responsible are not here. As I said, it is very regrettable that there are no Government backbenchers in the Chamber. They are probably out knocking on doors in preparation for a general election. No other Minister is here; Cabinet collective responsibility seems to be a thing of the past. This legislation will be rammed through just as the original Bill was rammed through last year.

It is worth recalling what Irish Water was supposed to do. The most instructive approach in this regard is to refer to the Fine Gael election manifesto of 2011 and the NewERA document of 2009, because it is from these documents that the concept emerged. The really sad thing is that it was a good concept. NewERA was supposed to "deliver real economies of scale by bringing all of Ireland's water assets under the ownership of one State company, Irish Water". It was supposed to be about an efficient utility delivering high quality water for our citizens. That has not happened. The NewERA document went on to state, "The fragmented nature of the water industry, in which 34 local authorities are responsible for investment and maintenance, also means that there are currently no real economies of scale". The Fine Gael Party's 2011 manifesto, meanwhile, proclaimed that Fine Gael in government would introduce a fair funding model - it is beyond debate at this stage that it has failed in that objective - which would deliver a clean and reliable water supply. The manifesto further states, "We will not ask home owners to pay for a broken and unreliable system and that is why Fine Gael will only introduce water charging after the establishment of a new State owned water utility company to take over responsibility from the separate local authorities for Ireland's water infrastructure and to drive new investment."

None of what was promised has happened. In fact, these undertakings are just more of the broken promises that have become so inextricably linked in the minds of the public with this Government. It is really unfortunate because there was a great opportunity here for real reform. The whole concept of conservation, which was integral to the NewERA document, Fine Gael's election manifesto and the programme for Government, has been completely dropped. This Bill is about pandering to populism rather than trying to implement a new way of doing business. The commitment to deliver clean and reliable water before implementing charges, as explicitly stated in the 2011 manifesto, has been thrown out the window. In the meantime, householders in parts of Roscommon, Wicklow and elsewhere are still having to deal with boil water notices.

The biggest joke of all is the idea that Irish Water will introduce efficiency and economies of scale. Those concepts are entirely absent from this legislation and from the whole premise of the entity that has been established. The reason for that is a body called the Irish Water consultative group, a secretive group operating behind closed doors that was established in 2012, met throughout the earlier months of 2013 and reported, as I recall, in July of that year. It was made up of officials from SIPTU, IMPACT, TEEU, ICTU, the water services transition office and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Minutes of its meetings were never published. I have put down several parliamentary questions and received promises that the minutes would be forwarded to me. I have not received them yet, but perhaps they will come. The line from the Government was that the work of this group would lead to the development of a so-called overarching framework to facilitate collaboration between Irish Water and local authorities. In fact, it was simply a stich-up with the unions to ensure Irish Water would become a second Health Service Executive. All of the opportunity to implement reform and achieve the economies of scale and savings that were supposed to be introduced by merging the water service from the 34 local authorities into one utility was lost, because the objective was to ensure it did not happen and those objectives would fail. That is what it was all about and it is a dreadful shame.

I will now turn to the provisions of the Bill before us today. Flat charges of €160 or €260 until 2018 prove this is not in any way about conservation. I understand the roll-out of meters will continue, but they are redundant. We pointed out last year when the first Bill was introduced that charges should not be introduced until the meters were installed, but the Government insisted on proceeding. That has led us to the mess we have seen in recent months. The Government has lauded the provision included in the Bill for a so-called water conservation grant of €100. That is an insult. As far as I can see, no terms and conditions, criteria or requirements are attached to this payment. Perhaps they will be enunciated at some point, but they have not been revealed thus far. The current proposal is for a cheque for €100 to be given to householders regardless of whether they have their own water supply or are attached to a public supply. It seems everybody will receive €100. Despite its name, this grant has no apparent link with conservation and offers no incentive in that regard. It is not clear whether people will even be required to prove they are using it for some type of investment purpose. If the Government were serious about conserving water, there would be schemes introduced along the lines of those for insulating homes and so on, which would encourage people to build tanks, use brown water etc. None of that is envisaged.

The legislation also introduces a so-called plebiscite on ownership of Irish Water, with much being made of the requirement for a vote of the Dáil and Seanad to change the ownership structures of that body. It is hard to credit this provision given that both Government parties operate a three-line Whip on every vote in the Houses. No Government Deputy or Senator will vote against the Government if it were to choose to change the ownership structures. As such, the provision is entirely irrelevant unless, that is, the Government plans to adopt Deputy Peter Mathews's legislation in the new year which seeks to weaken the Whip system. However, I will not hold my breath for that.

This so-called double lock is a total nonsense; it is window dressing. In reality, this Bill is full of window-dressing and populist pandering.

There is to be a public water forum, yet another entity to be ignored by the Government. If the Government ignores this elected Chamber or institution of democracy as it has done over the past three and a half years, and particularly as it did on 18 December 2013 in the case of Irish Water, why on earth should we believe it will pay any heed to a so-called public water forum? The forum has no standing other than serving as an opportunity to pretend the Government is interested in listening to people. It is a farce and an insult. I really do not believe the Irish are gullible enough to buy this. All this ensures the Fine Gael promise regarding the Irish Water system will never be delivered. There is no conservation and there are fixed, flat-rate charges that have no link whatsoever to the consumption of water. There are no economies of scale and there is no efficiency.

It is important to highlight the secret deal of the former Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, conducted under the guise of the Irish Water consultative group. It ensures the sorts of savings and efficiencies promised cannot and will not be delivered. Just a few weeks after the Irish Water legislation was rammed through on 18 December last year, Mr. John FitzGerald of the ESRI published a report that showed Irish Water was to take on 2,000 more staff than required to deliver water efficiently across the State. He estimated — it might have been a slight overestimation — that it would cost the Irish taxpayer an additional €2 billion over ten to 12 years. It may be closer to €1.5 billion but, to be honest, it is such an enormous amount of taxpayers' money that the cost is really quite indefensible. I often recall the opportunity that existed to deliver efficiencies when merging the health boards all over the country and establishing the HSE. The then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, bottled it and gave in to the pressure from various unions and vested interests. He failed to create the state-of-the-art health delivery service we, taxpayers and all citizens deserve. The exact same thing has happened here. The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, clearly did not put a lot of thought into the legislation in the interest of getting it through. As he said himself, he was not interested in micro-managing the process. He decided to outsource decision making to trade unions, as former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did for many years. There was such an unrepresentative group, with nobody to represent the public interest and nobody behind the closed doors to represent taxpayers' interests. The process was simply in the interest of closed-shop trade unions, whose leaders by and large represent their own interests rather than, necessarily, those of their members. The behind-closed-doors secretive group arrived at decisions on behalf of the State and former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and presented them as a fait accompli, and the whole matter was stitched up so a 12 year cosy deal between the local authorities, Irish Water and unions was agreed. Thus, we were presented with a super-quango with 4,000 staff members rather than the 2,000 who are objectively required. It has become a sprawling monster.

I presume Ministers, just like Opposition Members, are dealing with queries and complaints in regard to Irish Water all the time. I feel sorry for some of the staff in the organisation because they have taken abuse. I do not condone abuse or the way in which Irish Water staff have been spat at, heckled and abused in certain parts of the country any more than I condone the treatment of the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, which was absolutely appalling. Many of the Irish Water staff have not been capable of responding to the myriad of complaints and problems that have arisen. Therefore, that the organisation is overstaffed in the order of 100% seems to be in no way contributing to a better or more efficient form of service delivery. Certainly, in my experience and that of my constituents, that is the case.

It is a real shame that the Bertie Ahern-style of making secret deals with the unions has led us to this. There was a much more open and transparent way. Irish taxpayers expected and deserved such a way from the Government. The money in question is not that of the Government; it is the money of the people who work, pay their taxes and contribute to the country. The have contributed enormously to the economic recovery over recent years, yet taxpayers' money is often treated as if it were confetti. It is as if it were the prerogative or luxury of the Government to buy peace and quiet for itself by spending taxpayers' money.

The addition to every household bill will be €100, for the next ten years, on foot of the secret deal. It is extraordinary that there has not been more focus on this. If the public had been aware of it, it would have been even angrier about Irish Water than it is currently

I feel really disappointed. This country was on the brink at the end of 2010 and start of 2011. The troika came into town and put in place a pretty clear programme, which was by and large implemented. It brought the country back from the brink. I give credit to some Ministers for the role they played in this regard. In just over a year, since the exit of the troika from this country, the Government has utterly forgotten and lost touch with reality. It is now practising the exact same type of politics that brought us to the brink in the first place. No lessons have been learned. We are practising the exact same crony politics and convenient, lazy politics that led us to the brink in the first place. That is a considerable indictment of the Government.

It is no surprise that the combined support for the Government parties in a poll yesterday morning was 25%. The Government can try to browbeat the electorate and threaten it over the prospect of the rise of Sinn Féin. I can assure the House that I do not relish the rise of Sinn Féin as I believe Sinn Féin economics would bankrupt and destroy the country, but I believe the Government has no one to blame but itself for letting down and dashing the hopes of the public and failing to honour its great promises, made through NewERA, the election manifesto and programme for Government. The Government promised a democratic revolution and a new way of doing business and running the State, based on efficiency, safeguarding taxpayers' money and looking out for the public interest, but it failed. In just over 12 months, it has failed. It is no wonder that we see the rise of extremists and Sinn Féin. Until the Government addresses this and starts taking seriously the concerns of citizens and representing the people who voted for it in the first place, the country will be in a very sorry place after the next election.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to this debate over the past two days.

The Government has listened to the legitimate public concerns about water charges, how Irish Water was established and how it will operate. With this Bill, the Government is responding to those concerns. I welcome Opposition support for some of the proposed changes.

Many Deputies raised the issue of public ownership of water services and infrastructure, an important issue that we debated at length in this House two weeks ago. I reassure Members, yet again, that the Government is absolutely committed to keeping Irish Water in public ownership. There appears to be absolute cross-party consensus on this issue.

Water is an essential resource for the people and the economy. The Government is ensuring any change in ownership from public to private could only happen with the approval of the people. The provision of water services on a national basis requires the development and maintenance of a substantial asset base of network pipes, treatment plants, reservoirs, land and other components that need significant and sustained investment. For this reason, it is vital that we retain public ownership of Irish Water.

A number of Deputies have referred to the metering programme and questioned its value. The case for domestic metering is indisputable. It facilitates usage-based water charges which many organisations, not least the OECD, have stated is the fairest form of water charges. Domestic metering is instrumental in reducing water usage. International evidence suggests the reduction in consumption can be as high as 10% to 15% through the use of meters. Between 1996 and 2007 in Denmark, for example, there was a 12.6% reduction in household consumption through the introduction of water meters and volumetric water charges. The presence of domestic meters is playing a crucial role in identifying customer-side leakage which is estimated to account for approximately 10% of national leakage. The metering programme will help Irish Water to implement the Government-funded first-fix scheme effectively.

A number of Deputies have argued that instead of investing in metering it would be preferable to invest in mains rehabilitation. While such a strategy would result in leakage reduction, it would not have the advantages of the metering proposals. These are the underpinning of a fair charging system and ensuring sustained reduction in customer-side leakage or usage which help to manage overall production more effectively. A combined approach is required which tackles both customer-side leakage and mains rehabilitation in order to achieve the best outcomes.

People should not be deceived by claims that leaks are not being fixed. They are being fixed, with €171 million allocated for water conservation projects as part of the utility's 2014-16 capital investment plan. These works involve repairing leaks across a water supply network audited through the fact finding exercise conducted by local authorities during the water sector reform programme. Metering is also helping to reduce leakage. Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, highlighted the fact that 22 households in Ireland had been identified as leaking a total of over 1 million litres a day into driveways. This is enough to service a town the size of Dungarvan in my home county. We would not have known about these leaks but for the metering programme; therefore, the issue of leakage is being tackled.

The establishment of Irish Water will allow for the company to borrow money off balance sheet and reinvest in upgrading a system that is leaking 50% of its treated water into the ground. I know from my previous experience in working for a national utility - ESB Networks - a company which undertook to renew its entire network at a cost of €7 billion - that this was done off-balance sheet at no cost to the Exchequer; therefore, we are not reinventing the wheel. The very same principle will apply to Irish Water. If we get rid of customer billing, this investment will have to be made from borrowings on balance sheet which will simply mean higher taxes or sustained cuts to vital services. The asset management system developed by Irish Water will, for the first time, capture all of the assets which are critical to an efficient national water utility and manage them in a sustainable and efficient way. This is critical for asset management in any national utility.

The issue of the proposed water conservation grant arose as a result of the Government review of the charging system two weeks ago. In the past Deputies from all parties have spoken about their support for the use of rainwater harvesting and other measures to reduce water usage. I hope all sides can recognise that the proposed payment will help households to purchase conservation equipment and devices which will assist them in reducing their water consumption. That is the intention. It is not just households using public water supplies that will benefit from this conservation grant, households with private supplies that respond to Irish Water's customer application campaign will also benefit. The importance of maintaining water quality in private wells was highlighted again this week in media coverage of the EPA's evidence that one third of the 170,000 private wells in Ireland were contaminated with E. coli and that 10% could be infected with the highly dangerous bacteria VTEC. I urge all households which receive the water conservation grant to invest the payment in sustainable and safe water usage.

I must, once again, highlight the hypocrisy of the Opposition's stance on Irish Water. Only a few short weeks ago, Sinn Féin was in favour of paying water charges, but it was then outflanked on the far left in the Dublin South West by-election and changed its position. Its position becomes even more unsustainable when in the North where it is in government water charges are to be introduced in 2016. Water meters are being installed across Northern Ireland, with 35,000 installed to date, yet Sinn Féin criticises the Government for doing something similar here. In fact, the UK energy regulator states the cost of providing water for each domestic household in Northern Ireland is £412 per year. An independent water review panel estimated that households in the North were contributing towards their water charges to the tune of £160 per annum through their rates bills. This is more than any household will have to pay in the Republic of Ireland.

Fianna Fáil's position on water charges is simply not credible. In its national recovery plan, on pages 77 and 78, it proposed a €400 flat water charge for every household, with these charges to begin prior to 2014. As a result of its economic mismanagement, it handed the keys of the country to the troika and signed up the country to water charges by 2012 or, at the very latest, 2013. To copperfasten its position on water charges, in its general election campaign manifesto, its leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, stated, "We wrote the Plan. We believe in the Plan. We are the party best placed to implement it." Since entering opposition, Fianna Fáil now takes the populist position of calling for water charges to be suspended and Irish Water to be abolished.

I refer to the socialists and the "Let's not pay for anything" group. I caution the general public in listening to these populist politicians. These are the same representatives who charged people to enter public meetings in my constituency to oppose the household charge and the property tax. They charged people €5, offered them the best legal advice and said they would not have to pay, but I ask where were they when the charges and penalties were then applied.

That is false. They were funding their own campaigns.

It is a fact that the Deputy's people held these meetings. What happened when they penalties and charges for non-payment were introduced?

They do not get money from Denis O'Brien-----

I am sorry, Deputy, but the Minister of State has the floor. Order, please.

The audacity of it.

This group of public representatives abandoned the very same people. They are vulnerable and it was not the correct thing to do.

I heard Deputy Halligan from my constituency say he had attended a protest march in my home town of Portlaw which had been attended by more than 800 people. The organisers said the attendance was 200. Any debate should be factual. I know the people concerned, many of whom have legitimate concerns. I have listened to them and we are responding to their concerns.

Despite all the debates on Irish Water, it must be pointed out that the Opposition has put forward no credible alternative, no sustainable model of management in the delivery of water services. If it wants Irish Water to be abolished, the very least it should do is offer a credible alternative and not mislead the public.

Future generations will not thank us if we do not invest in this critical national public infrastructure. The Bill is about introducing a fair and affordable system of domestic water charges. We want to ensure we will be able to invest in water and wastewater infrastructure, as happens in every other country in the OECD and most other countries in the developed world. It is about financing a national utility adequately in order that it can deliver services and maintain the national network. It is also about safeguarding our future.

The Government has acted to ensure water charges will be affordable and clear for all households. Irish Water will make a distinction between those who want to pay but cannot and those who refuse to pay. Those who want to pay but are in financial difficulty will be able to avail of easy-pay options and instalment plans, just like in the case of any other utility. The Bill also provides reassurance on issues of genuine public concern such as the governance of Irish Water and the use of PPS numbers. These issues have been addressed.

Concerns were also expressed about the need for enhanced customer protection. The public water forum will ensure the voices of Irish Water's customers are listened to, while the customer dispute resolution service, to be provided by the Commission for Energy Regulation, will provide customers with the same access to resolution of unresolved complaints as the current arrangement for energy customers. Customers of Irish Water will have the same access to a customer charter, which is the correct and independent way to ensure proper oversight of the service provided for customers.

Implementation of domestic water charges will help Irish Water to continue its work on addressing the deficiencies which are so evident in our water and wastewater systems. Charges will allow the utility, in collaboration with the local authorities, to build upon the progress it has made already in changing how services are delivered, how infrastructure is planned, and how the network is managed. It will help it to increase investment in infrastructure, moving to the doubling of annual investment that is needed, in a strong economic and environmental regulatory framework operated by the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bill supports a reform programme that will help ensure our families, businesses and farms have reliable public water supplies and adequate wastewater treatment to protect our rivers, lakes and seas. This is a long-term measure, aimed at protecting this generation and future generations. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put.

In accordance with an order of the Dáil of Wednesday, 3 December 2014 the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 9 December 2014.

The Dáil adjourned at 2 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 December 2014.