Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Report Stage

I move:

That in accordance with Standing Order 134(1), the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 be recommitted in its entirety.

On Committee Stage, we were told as a by-the-way at the end of Committee Stage rather than at the beginning that there would be changes to the Bill. We were not told there would be substantial changes. The process is technically very flawed and for that reason I am seeking to have the Bill recommitted to Committee Stage.

The Taoiseach committed to do that.

I ask the Minister of State why it is not agreed.

I just asked the Minister of State.

Can the Minister of State give an explanation for not agreeing to that?

I put it to the House. Is it agreed?

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

It is not agreed.

Deputies

It is agreed.

This morning I read into the record what was said on Committee Stage. It was clearly indicated on Committee Stage that all that was involved were technicalities. The least the House is owed is a detailed explanation of why, in view of the misleading information given on Committee Stage, the Bill is not being recommitted to Committee Stage. The Minister of State owes it to the House to explain that in detail.

We deserve an answer to this. In the response to the complaints made about the manner in which the Minister at the last minute put in these very substantial amendments the line the Government gave out was that all this was well flagged. That was the line repeated ad nauseam at the weekend by the media, that all these changes were well flagged. Can the Minister of State explain why, if they were "well flagged", as some Ministers suggested since last year, they were not in the initial Bill or introduced on Committee Stage? If the Minister of State had them already why did he hold off with these substantial amendments and bring them in literally at the deadline of 11 a.m. on the morning after which no further amendments can be put in by the Opposition? Why would he do that-----

It was a political stunt.

-----unless he was attempting to deliberately bypass the Second and Committee Stage debates where there would be proper scrutiny, oversight and debate on those issues? There can be no other explanation. If the Minister of State believes in the democratic process and a proper legislative procedure, this Bill has to go back to Committee Stage when we can properly scrutinise these amendments.

It is clear from the Minister of State’s reaction that he wanted to brush off Deputy Catherine Murphy’s most reasonable request that, given the antics and manoeuvres of Government, the content of the amendments and the length of some of them, at the very least we should, and the public might, expect a full and thorough Committee Stage consideration of each amendment. The Minister of State is quite happy to brush off Deputy Murphy and to say he was not accepting that proposal. I do not think he had the first clue why he was saying that. I saw him furiously looking for guidance from his officials. It is not good enough for the Minister of State and his mob in government-----

(Interruptions).

That is rich coming from Sinn Féin.

Yesterday it was arseholes, today it is mobs.

Says the expert on mobs.

If that is not parliamentary language, I put it to the Minister of State that this is not correct parliamentary procedure. What is going on here is not worthy of any assembly that would have even the pretence of going through proper democratic processes and oversight.

The armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other.

That is right Deputy Bannon.

It is time Deputy Bannon woke up.

A Deputy

A few votes, Deputy Bannon.

Deputy Catherine Murphy and the Opposition are quite right to insist that this matter go to Committee Stage. Can we have a full and detailed explanation from the Minister of State of why he and the Government have proceeded in this manner and why he feels we are not due, and the citizens and taxpayers in this jurisdiction cannot expect, a proper Committee Stage debate on this issue, because his mob does not like what needs to be said?

A Deputy

Why is the senior Minister hiding?

I support the motion and I will be interested in hearing a Government response, and a response from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, who has driven this. I remind the Deputies of what the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, said on Committee Stage. She stated, “This Bill is quite technical. There are some typographical issues. It will really be a question of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. The scope of the Bill does not allow for the Bill to be changed in any huge way. The Bill itself is very technical.” What we have here is not just a huge changing of the Bill but another Bill entirely, brought in under the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. This is the water services (No.3) Bill that the Government promised us. It has now come by way of an amendment to a completely different Bill. The purpose of it is entirely transparent, it is to avoid any proper scrutiny here. It may result in any subsequent Act being open to a legal challenge and it is to avoid scrutiny by the public and the response of the public who are gathering for a protest at 6 p.m. outside this building. The Minister of State should answer and the Government should accept this proposal.

A Deputy

The water mob.

(Interruptions).

It is a political stunt.

On Committee State, Deputy Phelan stated, “This Bill is quite technical. There are some typographical issues. It will really be a question of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. The scope of the Bill does not allow for the Bill to be changed in any huge way. The Bill is very technical-----

What is the Deputy saying about the motion?

-----and we will be proposing amendments. The Deputies will have plenty of time to consider them.” The Minister of State said at that time that there would be no big change to the Bill but that it would be a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

The Deputy should read all of the text.

The Deputy should read all of the text.

When we raised this operation yesterday, and the way the Government was proposing to deal with this legislation, the Taoiseach said it was open to the Opposition to propose to recommit it to Committee Stage.

Yes but the Deputy should read all of the text.

The implication was that it would be recommitted. He did not definitively say it but he gave that as his way out of the leaders’ questions on this yesterday.

Where does the text say anything about being promoted?

He strongly implied that it could be recommitted because this is very sharp practice. Deputy Phelan said what she said. Deputy Coffey is here and the Minister is notable by his silence. The whole point was to smuggle through this legislation pertaining to Irish Water, hopefully without anybody noticing, and with the Minister well in the background.

In the best Fianna Fáil tradition.

This issue has been badly handled from day one over two years ago when it first came into the House and was rammed through. The Minister of State should give an adequate response saying why he will not allow it to be recommitted given that the amendments are new, very substantive and have been visited upon us for the first time on Report Stage.

I am happy to clarify for the Deputies opposite that these amendments have been well flagged.

There it is again - “well flagged”.

They were flagged and provided in writing to the Deputies opposite within the required timeframe under Standing Orders but also on 26 May on Committee Stage. I see that the Deputies opposite are choosing the text they wish to choose. I will quote the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, from that committee meeting when she said-----

At the end of the meeting. I heard it.

She said:

I want to point out to the committee that while the Government is not presenting any amendments to the Bill at this stage in the process, it intends to propose a number of amendments on Report Stage in the Dáil. This will require a motion to be tabled to amend the Long Title and scope of the Bill. These amendments will cover a range of issues, including further amendments to waste legislation and provisions . . . We intend to make further amendments to waste legislation and to include provisions relating to water services legislation.

(Interruptions).

That is unprecedented.

It was in response to that Deputy Catherine Murphy asked about the scope and the Minister of State said the changes were technical. Deputy Coffey, should read the full report. I read it into the Official Report this morning. When she was asked to clarify her initial statement she was told-----

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should put the question.

Question put.
The Dáil divided by electronic means.

As a Teller, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means, because of the critical nature of bypassing a whole section of the process.

As Deputy Murphy is entitled to call a vote through the lobby, we will take that vote now.

Question again put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 39; Níl, 73.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Éamon Ó Cuív; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared lost.

Before we commence Report Stage I wish to advise that there are typographical errors in the numbered list of amendments circulated on 30 June. Amendments to amendments which appear in the name of Deputy Paul Murphy should also be in the names of Deputies Joe Higgins and Ruth Coppinger.

Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 6, so amendments Nos. 1 and 6 may be discussed together. Recommital is necessary in respect of amendment No. 1 and the related amendment, in accordance with Standing Order 136, as they relate to the instruction to committee motion.

So it is possible to recommit them.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 1 and 2.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 7, after “extend” to insert “the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952,”.

Amendment No. 1 is a technical amendment which provides for amendments to the Long Title of the Bill to allow for amendment No. 6. Amendment No. 6 consists of two changes to the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 relating to motor tax matters. The first amendment is to section 1 of the Act. From time to time clarification is required in relation to the requirements set out in primary legislation for eligibility for taxing in a particular motor tax class or in relation to an exemption from motor tax. Currently, such matters are dealt with by way of circular instruction to motor tax offices. The amendment provides that clarification in relation to the construction and use requirements for eligibility to any motor tax class, and the supporting documentation that may be required with a tax application, will henceforth be provided for in secondary legislation rather than by way of circular, giving a clear legislative basis underpinning instructions to motor tax offices.

The second change is an amendment of the definition of a motor caravan. The definition for motor tax purposes was most recently amended in the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Act 2013 to align with the definition that has been introduced for vehicle registration tax purposes in 2010 which had no minimum interior height requirement.

Before 2010, both VRT and motor tax codes contained the same interior height requirements of 1.8 m. After the height requirement had been removed from VRT legislation while remaining for motor tax, it led to vehicles being classified as motor caravans for VRT purposes but then being refused motor tax at the motor caravan rate. The alignment of the definitions in 2012 was intended to remove the discrepancies.

Bill reported with amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are consequential on amendment No. 20. Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 20 and amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, to amendment No. 20 are related and all may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, line 8, to delete “and the” and substitute “, the”.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are technical amendments which amend the Long Title of the Bill to allow for amendment No. 20. Amendment No. 20 enables the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make the required payment from the local government fund to the Exchequer, as envisaged in the Revised Estimates volume in 2015. Amendment No. 20 updates subsection (2C) of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 and changes the provisions in section 6 of the Local Government Act 1998, which provides powers to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make payments from the local government fund. In this respect, it is necessary to provide specifically for the legislative underpinning of the required transfer of funding to the Exchequer. The transfer to the Exchequer is in respect of 2015 only and will be for a maximum amount of €540 million. In 2014, the legislation provided that up to €600 million of local government fund income could be transferred from the fund to the Exchequer. Some €520 million was transferred last year and in 2013, €100 million was transferred. Subsection (2C) continues to provide that in determining the payment to the Exchequer regard must be had to the balance in the fund when all commitments have been made. The projected income to the local government fund for 2015 is in excess of €1.84 billion. The amendment ensures an appropriate contribution is being made to the Exchequer in recognition of the State finances generally.

Can the Minister of State explain why he is taking more than half a billion euro from the local government fund, money that people paid in property tax, to give to Irish Water? During the property tax fanfare, brochures were distributed showing children smiling in parks and reading books. Libraries were going to open and grass was going to be cut to the finest blade in every corner of every housing estate. Does the Minister of State remember? He bullied and intimidated people into paying it and passed it over to the Revenue when people would not pay the household charge. People have found that not only have their council services not improved, they have been cut back, for example library opening hours have been cut in my council area. There have been many other cuts and there is never any money when councillors seek anything. The Minister of State proposes to take money from the fund and give it to Irish Water, a company that is meant to be independent and garner its own finances.

Can the Minister of State explain why he is doing it? I would like an answer, and the Minister of State owes it to people. Why does Irish Water need a transfusion of funds from the taxpayer, which is what we are discussing? We are swimming in amendments, from dog licences to waste and the size of cars, and it is inexcusable that the Minister of State is ramming through something as significant as this provision for a transfer from one fund to another. Will our masters in the troika and the EU agree with it? The people of Greece can do nothing to control their autonomy to make decisions. Although three leading Government Members have condemned the Greek Government for measures such as the introduction of a wealth tax, the Government is able to dip into taxpayers' funds and give money to a huge quango that virtually nobody wants or sees a need for. What will happen to the smiling children and the libraries they are supposed to be enjoying when the Minister does it?

I have a question on the proposed amendment of section 16 of the Finance (Excise Duties)(Vehicles) Act 1952. Although there is no mention of documentation in the Act, there is a proposal in section 17(3)(a)(d) regarding “any documentation required to support a claim for a particular rate of duty”. While I appreciate that this is technically part of the previous section that was discussed, the way the Bill is being brought through the House is slightly unorthodox, to be kind about it.

This is from one of the Government's own.

Given that there will be no Committee Stage, the Minister of State would agree we need to get as much information as possible. The Minister of State read out what the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan read out on Committee Stage. She said her amendments would be brought through on Report Stage, and this is one of them. This is our only opportunity to discuss it. Given that there is no mention of documentation in the Finance (Excise Duties)(Vehicles) Act 1952, what type of documentation is envisaged? Is the documentation envisaged to register for the first time in a particular vehicle class, given that we have different vehicle classes, or is it on an annual basis? It is important we find out what is envisaged, given that the amendment would enable the Minister to bring in secondary legislation to do it, and the Dáil has no control whatsoever over secondary legislation.

While I support many, although not all, of the objectives of the Bill, I have many reservations about how it is done. Unlike my colleagues opposite, I have no problem with the principle of paying for water or with the fact that those who pay have to be differentiated from those who do not pay, when it is a choice as opposed to an inability. I am not joining my colleagues opposite in opposing the principle of paying for potable water. This has nothing to do with water. It is an amendment to an excise Bill which was not flagged in any way.

What documentation is envisaged? It is important, for the integrity of the House if nothing else, that when an amendment is introduced we at least know what we are doing, even if the amendments are being brought forward in the most unorthodox way possible. We took a vote not to remit the Bill to Committee Stage, and while it was a democratic decision of the House, democracy is not the tyranny of the majority. We must, at least, account for ourselves. This is why we have an Opposition and a debating Chamber in which we are free to ask questions and get answers. My only question on amendment No. 6 is what documentation is envisaged and if it is envisaged that it will be produced when one first registers or on an annual basis.

I have tabled amendment No. 3 to amendment No. 20, and it is very similar to some of the other ones. Amendment No. 20 would allow the Minister for Finance to take up to €540 million from the local government fund and transfer it to Irish Water. The provision changes section 6 of the Local Government Act 1998, which established the local government fund. It achieves this by altering section 79 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, which the then Minister, Phil Hogan, brought before the Dáil and which allowed up to €600 million to be transferred from the local government fund to Irish Water.

However, approximately €470 million was taken out. This section of the Act is entitled, "The local government fund and Irish Water". This provision simply changes the date by which deductions can be made from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015 and decreases the amount from €600 million to €540 million. The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, described this is a one-off measure. That is exactly what we were told last year and the previous year. It is a one-off event that happens every year. The Government may need to introduce legislation on it every year, but, in effect, it is merely changing the date and the amount. I called a vote on section 79 when we were debating it. The section provides that the Minister may make payments out of the local government fund to Irish Water in respect of water services functions transferred from local authorities to Irish Water. This came about as a consequence of the resistance to water charges in the early 1980s which were related to major anti-tax marches and proposals to broaden the tax base. The Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1983 introduced water and refuse charges which were called service charges at the time. These were resisted for a number of years and in 1997 it was agreed by the rainbow coalition Government that motor tax revenue would be ring fenced in the local government fund to provide certainty. This revenue was additional to commercial rates and other income.

The Deputy's time has expired.

There is no time limit.

I apologise; I received incorrect information.

During the years I had concerns about the way in which the money was distributed, but at least it offered certainty. Subsequently, however, the household charge was introduced, with promises that it would pay for grass cutting or libraries. It was mis-sold on the basis that it would cover a range of additional services to which people were not accustomed. The household charge was succeeded by the property tax as a replacement for the local government fund. When that fund was at its height in 2007, it amounted to almost €1 billion, but it has since been whittled down to almost nothing. People are not receiving additional services in paying the property tax. I do not understand why the Government is trying to con people. Why does it not simply acknowledge what is happening? People are offended when they are told something is other than what it is. If the Government replaces one tax with another, it should be honest enough to say so. We have all been through difficult times, but this dishonesty has undermined the credibility of politics.

People are paying the property tax to replace the local government fund, as well as motor tax, to pay for Irish Water. It is no surprise that they are up in arms when that kind of thing happens. There has been a fundamentally dishonest approach to this issue. At the last general election Fine Gael gave a commitment that it would not increase income tax. By taking water services off the books to fund them separately, it avoided touching income tax, but it still meant the introduction of a new tax. People on low incomes who would not be caught in the tax net are now paying taxes by a different name. These measures have nothing to do with conservation. The previous Government also proposed water charges, but its model would have included a free allowance for everyone and charges would only have applied where water was wasted.

The Government is claiming that the figure of €540 million, a significant sum, represents a contribution to the Exchequer, but the 2014 Act clearly states the local government fund is inextricably linked with Irish Water. Part of the reason the fund is needed by Irish Water is the resistance to charges from people who have been pushed too far. They do not have anything left to give.

May I briefly raise a point of order?

It concerns a matter of great importance to all Members of the House. Members have a constitutional right to access, enter and leave Leinster House. Equally, citizens of the State have a right to demonstrate outside it if they see fit, but they do not have a right to prevent elected Members of the House from gaining access to or leaving it. There is an anti-democratic fascist mob outside Leinster House which is obstructing Deputies from gaining access to it.

The Deputy's point of order should be raised in the context of the Bill.

Sadly, the policing by An Garda Síochána in this context is grossly inadequate.

Can we speak about matters unrelated to the Bill?

I ask that the matter be drawn to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle.

I ask the Deputy to take his seat.

I ask the Garda Commissioner to take the necessary action to protect the constitutional rights of Deputies. The anti-democratic dangers posed by events taking place outside Leinster House need to be considered, understood and addressed. What is happening today should not set a precedent for similar events.

On a point of order, may I take up something the Deputy said?

No. Will the Deputy, please, take her seat?

The Acting Chairman has just allowed somebody-----

Please do not speak over me.

----- to accuse people outside Leinster House of being fascists.

In the context of the discussion we are having the Deputy may not raise a point of order.

There was no need to allow Deputy Alan Shatter to speak in the debate.

Will the Deputy, please, take her seat?

The Acting Chairman allowed Deputy Alan Shatter to describe people outside Leinster House as fascists. Will the Acting Chairman ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark?

As it was not directed at anybody in the House, he does not have to withdraw it. I ask the Deputy to take her seat.

I am taking part in the debate.

If the Deputy is ignoring the Chair, I will ask her to leave.

Deputy Alan Shatter was allowed to say whatever he liked.

Will the Deputy, please, take her seat?

Will the Acting Chairman allow the debate to be conducted properly?

A bumper sticker which reads "my motor tax pays my water charges" has become popular in the anti-water charges movement and it is about to become even more popular as a result of this provision. According to the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the local government fund is:

a special central fund which was established in 1999 under the Local Government Act, 1998. It is financed by the full proceeds of motor tax and an Exchequer contribution. The Fund provides local authorities with the finance for general discretionary funding of their day-to-day activities and for non-national roads, and funding for certain local government initiatives.

Perhaps the website is somewhat out of date because the main purpose of the fund is to pay for Irish Water.

Can the Minister of State clarify how many different sources of funding Irish Water now has? It is getting the property tax instead of libraries, playgrounds and parks, and is also getting motor tax. In addition, it is getting a Department of Social Protection payment via the so-called conservation grant, which it has stolen from lone parents and handed over to those whom the Minister, Deputy Kelly, refers to as the "compliant". It is getting commercial water charges from businesses. It is also trying to get water charges from domestic customers, albeit not very successfully.

Is Irish Water going to suck in the entire revenue of this State in every possible way that money can be obtained? Will it all eventually end up going into Irish Water? Will this be the super-quango of super-quangos?

Why is this extra money needed? Is it a sign that perhaps people are not paying their water charges? That would be indicated by the fact that after six different attempts to get the figures for water charges, we still do not have them. The Taoiseach resorted to telling me to toddle along, while Irish Water said it would not be helpful to give the figures. Under a freedom of information request, it said that it was commercially sensitive information, even though the company is a monopoly. After an appeal, it said the same thing.

During Leaders' Questions, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, refused to answer the question. He gave us an advertisement for Irish Water that we could hear many times on the radio any day of the week. Then a question to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, was ruled out of order. Is this a reflection of the failure of the Government's strategy to scare people into paying the water charges? That is what all this is really about. The reality is that the Government is failing on it.

Surely EUROSTAT has some interest in the fact that this money is coming from the Government's central funds, potentially to Irish Water and provision is made for that through this amendment. Does EUROSTAT have nothing to say about that? Could the Minister of State inform us how EUROSTAT will do the test?

At the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform recently, there was an incredible statement by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. Its representatives said they had heard from the Department of Finance that the EUROSTAT test would be done only on the amount of money that has come from the bills. Therefore, it will examine the money that has come from the bills, and ask whether more than 50% of that comes from people who are paying them. Clearly, the answer will always be 100%, meaning that they have managed to dupe the test itself so that they can always win. That is relevant here, otherwise why is money being transferred?

What is the reason that lies behind it? It is also the reason for the amendments tabled by the anti-austerity alliance which provides that first, there should not be more than one payment from the fund. How many payments does the Government intend to make from the fund to Irish Water? Second, such a payment should be subject to approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It should not be solely up to the Minister to hand over the money. Most importantly, the reference to €540 million should be deleted and replaced with €1. The whole amendment should go but we are arguing that a maximum allowable transfer should be €1 even if the legislation gets through.

We need to have an in-depth debate on this amendment and cannot allow it to go by without sufficient discussion. The Minister should come in and respond at length to the various questions that have been raised. We should continue the debate through the course of the evening, if necessary, in order to get to the bottom of exactly why this provision is being inserted and why this money is potentially being transferred.

As regards this Government amendment, I must compliment the Minister of State and his departmental officials for performing the gymnastics required to get to this point. The reason for establishing Irish Water, as outlined by the Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and his predecessor Phil Hogan, was to keep water services off balance sheet. It was said that it would be a stand-alone commercial entity. The record of the Dáil will show that this was rehearsed and repeated over and over like a broken record. This amendment is being tabled, however, with the clear intention of doing what the Minister of State said he would not do, that is, raiding the local government fund to prop up Irish Water. He did it in 2014 and said that it was a one-off.

I recently paid my car tax which is for roads, and an ESB bill which is for electricity. I accept the fact that under the terms of the 1998 Act car tax is going into the local government fund because at least it is going to local government services. As a former member of a local authority, I know that we had some idea every year where that fund was going. Now, however, the Minister of State is leaving it wide open to continue raiding the local government fund for no less than €540 million. On what basis is it morally correct to raid the fund?

The local property tax - or family home tax, which is a more apt name for it - was supposed to be for parks, libraries, footpaths and lighting. That is what the Government repeatedly told us but we now see that it will be used to feed the corporate monster called Irish Water, which is not fixing leaks. I could show the Minister of State a leak that would have been fixed had the county council been left to its own devices and which had half the money at its disposal that is being pumped into the corporate monster called Irish Water.

The amendment is about financing Irish Water and keeping it off balance sheet. Before Christmas 2014, the Government transferred €500 million of a water loan back onto the State's balance sheet through one line of this Bill. Using the coalition's grand majority, they rammed it through and then rushed off on their Christmas holidays. Yesterday at the committee, the Minister of State said that local authorities pay rates to themselves and all commercial activity is rateable. Here we have, in the Minister of State's words, a stand-alone semi-State commercial company that does not pay rates. Imagine if Bord na Móna, the ESB, Bord Gáis or Coillte could do that, yet none of them can. This outfit, Irish Water, can because that measure was pushed through. That amounts to €559 million. In this year's budget, Irish Water was given a €399-million subvention from taxpayers' money for operational costs. Not content with that, the Government decided to give Irish Water another €222 million for capital funding, telling the company it could borrow on the market at three times the rate the Government can borrow for the State's balance sheet. Can the Minister of State explain that logic?

The Government then robbed €130 million from social welfare to be paid out in a water conservation grant, including for the millionaires of this country. They can thus empty their swimming pools every morning and refill them if they wish, while leaving sprinklers on for their extensive lawns and gardens. There is no problem because they do not need to conserve one drop of water. I want to see water being conserved, as I have said for the past four and a half years in this Chamber.

Sinn Féin wants to conserve water. It is a valuable resource and it costs money to treat and to get into people's homes but this does not conserve one drop of water. The grand total on the State's balance sheet because of the actions of the Government in the past six months alone is €1.31 billion. Does the Minister realise that is €1,310 million? The Minister should try to spin his way out of that one.

That is what the Government has put on the State's balance sheet. Not content with that, the Minister comes into this House to secure a clause in the legislation to take €540 million. That is a fact which is on the record here and no spin from officials can get the Minister out of it. It completely negates everything he has said in this Chamber. The Minister of State has stood logic on its head in respect of all the arguments and all the cases put forward by him, by the previous Minister, Phil Hogan, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It is being done to prop up Irish Water and then go to EUROSTAT to get approval for it all. I am sure EUROSTAT will do that because it is the billed amount that matters. The billed amount and what is actually received are not the same thing, however, and we will wait to see what has been received by the end of the year. Let us see what the Government has brought in by way of water charges by Christmas, then deduct the €130 million it robbed from social welfare and the State's balance sheet and then we will see what we are left with. The Government will then go into next year saying it has to do it, but it knows all this.

All this is a gliding exercise to glide the Government smoothly towards the elections. That is why it rowed back and reduced the charges, putting in the laughable water conservation grant that even people who are not connected to Irish Water can claim. People with their own wells can claim it. That is how crazy it is. It is a nutcase of a job. It has been done in the hope that people buy into the system. If the Government only nets a fiver after deducting €130 million, it will say it has the system up and running. It is about getting the door open and the sums are there. The sums are not mine but the Government's own and they were given in writing and verbally in the Dáil.

I will be opposing this amendment because it is illogical and wrong and the Minister of State knows that. The Government is pulling a fast one, using its majority, as it did with the previous two water Bills, to stand logic on its head and to ram the Bill through this House. It has totally disrespected the Opposition and the electorate in the way it has done this.

This is a bit like Lanigan's Ball. Phelan steps in and steps out, Kelly steps in and steps out, Coffey steps in and steps out. I never saw a Bill that involved so many Ministers.

What has that got to do with the amendment?

It has a lot to do with the amendment. Normally the same Minister takes a Bill through from beginning to end for continuity's sake, unless there is some very grave and serious reason, which does not appear to be the case today because I saw the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, in the House. Only in extreme situations would one ask another Minister to take either Committee Stage or Report Stage on one's behalf. It was the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan, who took the farcical Committee Stage of this Bill. I have sympathy for her because she was sent in with no Government amendments and an announcement that we would skip Committee Stage and go straight on to Report Stage with amendments. That was sharp practice and it was unfair that she was asked to do that. It was shameful.

If the Government knew amendments were coming, why did it not tell the committee it had amendments coming in and ask to defer the date for Committee Stage, as the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, did on the Animal Health and Welfare Act because he rightly wanted to bring in his amendments on Committee Stage? We agreed to do that and I have no doubt that Deputy Stanley would have agreed to deferring the Committee Stage of this Bill until this week in order that he would have the full suite of amendments.

What is going on here is absolutely shameful. The nature of Report Stage means we can make a long first contribution but we are limited in not being able to make a third or fourth contribution and so cannot tease things out in the way we should as parliamentarians.

The Minister's amendments, and the proposed amendments to the amendments, are quite interesting. I have listened to the debate from different sides. I have listened to the Minister of State's initial contribution explaining what he is doing and I have listened to Opposition Deputies explain why they oppose it and why they have proposed amendments. The Minister might clarify something in his response. The local authority fund is made up of motor tax and Exchequer funding. When the Government introduced the local property tax, LPT, it dramatically reduced the Exchequer funding going into the local government fund. The LPT does not actually go into the local government fund as 80% is retained by the local authorities and the rest is recirculated, but it was introduced to reduce the Exchequer contribution to local authorities which was in turn done to reduce the current borrowing of the Government and the Exchequer deficit. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that that is, in fact, what happened. It would mean the statement by the Government when it introduced the local property tax was, to put it mildly, dishonest. Instead of telling people it was trying to reduce the Exchequer deficit, because the country cannot go on forever borrowing in the current account, and that it was raising new taxes with a property tax rather than taking it out of income tax, it tried to distract the public by giving the illusion that the local property tax meant more money for local authorities. Many people, believing the Government, fell for that one, which was quite shameful.

Irish Water is really Irish water and sewerage because it is water in and water out. This is a big change that has come in since this Government came to power as it was the first time paying for sewerage services had ever come up. The previous Minister, Phil Hogan, denied that would happen when we discussed the septic tank legislation. He utterly denied that people would be paying for water out and said clearly on Committee Stage that they would only pay for the water in. The Minister of State should check the record as he will find out I am right.

I do not recall that. I recall Deputy Ó Cuív saying it would cost €20,000 to remediate a septic tank and that it would cost €500 to register.

Is the Minister of State allowed to intervene all the time?

I like it when he intervenes as it adds a bit of spice.

He might answer the question.

It is obvious that when he intervenes, he knows he is losing. Irish Water is a water and sewerage facility. Is that correct, Minister? The amendment creates a facility every year to transfer up to €540 million from the local government fund to Irish Water.

The Deputies rightly say this particular utility will not pay for itself and that it needs an Exchequer subsidy of €540 million, plus another €130 million, as well as the no rates subsidy. As has been pointed out time and again, the net income that will be earned from water charges will be very small.

This is the rub: amendment No. 3, tabled by Deputies Paul Murphy and Catherine Murphy, would, in practice, be put into force over a small number of years. When that happened and the Government decided that the amount of the transfer was €1 or less - perhaps nothing - Irish Water would tell us that, as a result, water and sewage treatment charges would have to increase by €540 million. There would be a temptation and advice from public servants. The Minister would be told he would be able to square his Department's budget for the year by reducing the payment to Irish Water and that it would be painless. When Irish Water, as part of a chain reaction, would then put up water charges and a question was asked about it in the House, the Minister would say it was a commercial decision for Irish Water. That is what is going on.

The Government's amendment is written in such a way that there is no commitment to transfer €540 million in the future. As I have said, it is perfectly set up to reduce that sum over time until it reaches zero. At that stage it will have to be made up in water and sewage treatment charges. It is for that reason that I have to say amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 20, tabled by Deputy Paul Murphy, is ultimately reasonable. What he is saying is that the Government should not be able to do this in the dark of the night. He is saying any decision on the amount of money involved should have to be brought before the two Houses of the Oireachtas to be debated and the Government would have to own up to what it was doing and the knock-on effect of reducing the sum of €540 million. In a very unfair and opaque way, it is trying to create a situation in which it can wean away the grant and allow water and sewage treatment charges go up. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, will clarify whether my reading of what is legally possible, based on the Minister's amendment, is correct.

I take issue with Deputy Brian Stanley and what he said about paying water conservation grants to people who have wells and septic tanks. There is as much, if not more, cost associated with maintaining a septic tank and a well as there is with being part of the public system which up until now was free. As someone who now has access to the public supply but who had a well for many years, I can state absolutely that even with the charge to be applied, it will be much cheaper than it was to maintain the well, replace washing machines, dishwashers and all other equipment in the house because of particle matter in the water from the well. Wells are variable and difficult to maintain. One of the interesting divisions in society concerns those who had wells for many years and then received a public water supply. Most of them would say they would pay an annual fee for a public water supply because of the ability to simply turn on the tap and be sure of getting quality water from it.

There is much talk about having paid for the water and sewage treatment services through general taxation. We did and we did not. We did when there was a Government surplus; we did not when there was a Government deficit. It is a very simple mathematical equation. When the Government was running a big surplus during the noughties, not only did we pay for everything through taxation, we also had money to put away in the bank. Once the Exchequer went into deficit, taxes were not paying for all of the services provided. It is debatable whether they were paying for social welfare, education, water or health services, but the simple fact is that, at one stage, what we were paying in taxes did not pay for €20 billion worth of services being provided. One thing was certain. When the money was coming from general taxation, those who provided their own water and sewerage systems were paying the same in taxation as everyone else, but they were not getting the same services from the State. Let us remember that 550,000 house owners - somewhere between one quarter and one third of all houses in the State - provide and maintain their own wastewater systems. There is, therefore, a certain equity in what is happening because at least a person will not be billed for a service he or she is not receiving. Unlike Deputy Brian Stanley, I think it is right that if a sum of €100 is to be given to those with publicly supplied water and sewerage services, it is perfectly logical and fair that the same sum be given to those who provide these services for themselves. Anything else would perpetuate an inequity that has lasted way too long.

I have said this before about the Water Services Bill. It will not happen in the short term, but when it does happen and the same standards are applied to built septic tanks on inspection as are applied to new septic tanks or wastewater systems as they are more properly called, it will cost up to €20,000 to remediate them to the proper standard. If one checks the memorandum circulated by the Minister of State's Department, it specifically states that it could cost up to €14,000. It was not me who said this but the Minister of State's Department. I am sure the Deputies in the House from rural areas will confirm that people ring us in our offices to say they have a totally deficient wastewater system and that they are polluting the ground around them. They want to upgrade their systems because they do not like to pollute. They want to receive the very small grant provided to upgrade their wastewater systems because they are not in compliance with the law.

What are they told? They are told they cannot get the grant unless an inspector actually picks their house. Now we have a great situation - only this Government could do it - where someone is breaking the law, although they wish to comply with it. The person has no wish to pollute but believes that, like the person who is inspected, he should get the grant too. He is told he cannot get the grant because the inspector has not found out he is breaking the law, even though the person is telling the inspector he is breaking the law. Does the Government know how much that grant is costing it? For 550,000 wastewater systems, it costs the Government €99,000. I hear talk about private wastewater systems polluting. It is the best bargain the State ever got. How many millions and billions do we spend on public wastewater systems?

The Government could not even say to the people of rural Ireland that if they come forward indicating they have a non-functioning wastewater system, it will give them a grant to upgrade it to a suitable standard. Is that equity or fairness? Is that good environmental policy? Is that ensuring we keep the pristine environment in which many of us have the great advantage of living? Is that protecting our rivers and lakes in some of the most high nature value areas of the country?

I will be opposing this section and I will be supporting amendment No. 2 from Deputy Paul Murphy which relates to openness and transparency. I hope the Minister of State will answer the questions I have put to him and that he will explain to us exactly the financial arrangements the Government is putting in place. I hope the Minister of State will either confirm or deny whether I am correct in saying this is designed in such a way that the Government can reduce the subsidy, increase the water and sewerage charges and then claim it was all done by Irish Water.

The sort of skulduggery at the back of this amendment and the various other amendments brought forward at the last minute to circumvent the normal process of legislative scrutiny and oversight is precisely what has brought people to the streets this evening and precisely what has brought unprecedented numbers onto the streets in fury and anger during the past year. They are there because of the unfairness and economic hardship of austerity, which is unbearable for vast numbers of people. It has plunged people into poverty, greater levels of deprivation and homelessness and needless suffering. That is one aspect of the anger and fury that has led people onto the streets, for the information of Deputy Shatter.

The other aspect is the utter contempt for democracy and the playing fast and loose with the entire democratic process, inadequate as it is in the first place. We have an election every five years but the people we elect can then shred all the promises they made. They are completely unaccountable and there is nothing the people who voted for them can do about it. If that is not bad enough, the Government wants to subvert even the utterly limited form of democracy we have. This amendment highlights what the Government is at.

In fact, this amendment is bigger news than the points we initially highlighted when we cottoned on the day before the Government submitted these amendments last week. At that stage the Government was pulling a fast one. It started to get the word out to the media and the public that it was up to no good and that it intended to smuggle through what is essentially a new Bill on water charges in a Bill which, when it was initiated in this House, had nothing to do with water charges.

In the short time we had to scan the Bill and work out precisely what is in it, we spotted some of the measures the Government knew would be controversial. The Government started to get the message out over the weekend. I admit I did not spot this amendment. Only more recently did I spot it. This is actually the worst of them and the most controversial. Of course, that is why the Government did it. The Government knew this would be controversial and it sought to hide these measures and smuggle them in under another Bill.

This extends the situation that has absolutely infuriated people. The property tax was unfair, regressive and unjust. People resisted it. As if all that was not bad enough, it is now going to finance Irish Water, as will the motor tax that people have paid. These are precisely the issues that have driven people onto the streets in unprecedented numbers. These taxes are being used to finance Irish Water. People are paying through the neck with a regressive tax to finance a new utility that is going to make the same people pay through the neck with another regressive tax. It was supposed to be for one year. Now, the Government is extending it for a second year in breach of a previous commitment. Most people do not know that. Fully €500 million is at issue here. This is big money.

When Deputy Stanley and Deputy Murphy listed the various sources of finance for Irish Water, including motor tax, local property tax, raiding or stealing money from lone parents in the social protection budget and squeezing and trying to terrorise householders, they missed out another source of finance which is costing all of us. That is the fact that this is all on balance sheet, that is, the State is borrowing extra money and paying interest to do this, a point confirmed to me by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. The representative from the body to whom I spoke pointed out that our deficit is increased by the costs of Irish Water. The Government, which has savaged people in the name of reducing the deficit because of the demands of the troika, does not mind increasing the deficit or increasing borrowing and the interest we have to pay to set up Irish Water. This really exposes what those in government are up to. They claim it is all about meeting the targets, deficit reduction and reducing the debt when it comes to justifying the assault on working people. However, when it comes to setting up Irish Water to squeeze people and enrich contractors like Denis O'Brien, it is no problem. In that scenario the Government can inflate the deficit and pay interest on it.

The representative of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council made clear, if there be any doubt at all, that the Government will be required to ratchet up the charges to two, three or four times the current level. This was confirmed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, which is not a left-wing think tank by any means. It is an oversight body of economists set up by the troika and established in law by the Government. The representative confirmed that to reduce the deficit, Irish Water will have to generate more money itself. This means ratcheting up the charges as soon as the Government can get over the line - if it can get over the line - of the next general election. That is what the Government is up to with these amendments. That is what the Government has been up to with its entire strategy of dealing with the fury, anger and protest against these unjust charges. It is altogether misleading. I am not allowed to say it is a lie so I will say it is deliberately, cynically misleading. With this strategy the Government is hiding, denying and covering up its real intent.

It is heading towards a charge of €600 or €700 per year, which will be required as part of the deficit-reduction plan to which the Government is committed. In fact, the Government will be under pressure from the troika to meet this objective. This year we will be borrowing more and spending more to finance the monster that is Irish Water in order to put the squeeze on ordinary people.

Deputy Stanley is absolutely correct that when people are paying their utility bills, they do not expect that their money will be going towards financing a quango. I will add a footnote to that: we actually do finance quangos when we pay our electricity bills because we do so through the public service obligation charge, much of which is going into the hands of private companies in the so-called wind energy business. The money is not actually going towards the production of energy for us but it is to make a profit for the private sector. In that sense, the approach to Irish Water is completely consistent with what the Government is doing, namely, setting up various utilities or trying to funnel money into the pockets of private companies or entities it hopes will be soon private.

Let me respond to the Minister of State's attempt to justify all this, the manner in which he has brought in this legislation and his denial that he has been playing fast and loose with the democratic process. He quoted the words of the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, on these amendments on Committee Stage. He omitted to mention the fact that she made her point at the end of Committee Stage when it was over. There was no chance to discuss the matter. Second, the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, said the amendments would be published in good time. They were not published in good time. As soon as it became clear to me and my office that apparently technical amendments concerning water were going to be brought forward, I started to ring the Bills Office to ask for them, but there was no sign of them. I am sure it was the same for other Deputies. I kept ringing and, in the approach to the final deadline for submitting Report Stage amendments, I asked where were the Government amendments. At 11 a.m., the deadline by which we had to have our amendments submitted, we could not see the Government amendments. We did not see them until mid-afternoon after the deadline had passed for us.

The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, said these issues were "well flagged". I congratulate his spin doctors on that phrase. He managed to get every single correspondent to repeat it, on RTE, in The Irish Times and in all the other media. The expression "well flagged" was straight from the Minister of State's press release to the national media. If the issues were so well flagged, why was the proposal not contained in the original Bill? The Government obviously had the legislation and knew exactly what it was going to do. Is the Minister of State saying the Government did not bother to draft the legislation until, say, last Thursday, although the issues were so well flagged since the end of last year? When was it actually drafted? Perhaps we should submit a freedom of information request on that. Could the Minister of State answer the question? The legislation, or the majority of it, had to have been drafted some considerable time before the deadline of 11 a.m. last Thursday. It was a fast one. The Minister of State knows it was a fast one and that is why he is smiling. It is why the Chief Whip, Deputy Paul Kehoe, stated last week when this was pointed out to him that one would want to get up in the morning early to fool us. He had a big smile on his face. It was all a bit of a laugh to him that the Government was playing a trick on the Dáil and the public. Perhaps that is the way business has been done in here for years. I am here for only the past four years.

Is the Deputy having fun?

I am not having fun when I see this stuff. It is not fun scrambling around trying to figure out what is in legislation only to discover that we are extending one of the most controversial aspects of what the Government has done over the past year. I refer to the fact that property taxes and motor taxes are going into Irish Water. That is not funny. If one asks the demonstrators to identify the issues that have really infuriated them, they will refer to this one most often. If they do not, it certainly will be very near the top of the list. We now discover that the Government is to do this again this year, although it said it would not. Some €500 million is involved. That is news, in my opinion. Was it well flagged? When did the Minister of State know about that? When did he decide on it and why could we not see the legislation relating to it before last Thursday afternoon, after the final deadline had passed? It is because the Government was pulling a fast one. There is no other explanation.

People take these matters seriously. Perhaps in years gone by, people just dismissed the Dáil generally. However, in recent years, as we can see from what is happening in Greece and the numbers on the streets, ordinary people are actually beginning to become very interested in the details of what goes on in here. The more they look, the worse it gets. There are games, followed by games and further games. It is all regarded as a big laugh but we are actually playing with important stuff. It is very important and affects the lives of human beings, the macro-economy and all the big issues that are now being debated, including debts and deficits, the very phenomena that are leading to the big crisis in Greece. Does Ms Angela Merkel know? Perhaps she will threaten to cut off the finance to our banks if she discovers we are inflating the deficit to line the pockets of Denis O'Brien and the other contractors who are making money out of Irish Water. This is just another example, but a big one, of what the Government has been up to in trying to subvert the democratic process. It is a disgrace. Is the Minister of State honestly saying these matters do not need to be debated forensically on Committee Stage? We will not get the chance to do so.

Committee Stage should allow for a proper back-and-forward debate in which one can ask the Minister questions and double check the answers with a view to contributing again on Report Stage. That is the whole point of Committee Stage. The Government has circumvented that deliberately. If anybody suggested, in terms of legislation generally, that we should just get rid of Second Stage or Committee Stage and instead have just one stage of debate in the Dáil, would we not be up in arms? Would anybody who believes in democracy and the purpose of this Chamber not say it was utterly unacceptable? However, the Government has done so with this Bill, deliberately. It has done so with the IBRC legislation also.

I will conclude although I feel like going on forever just to annoy the Government because it played so fast and loose with the whole process. That is why people are out on the streets. The Government is fundamentally undermining people's belief in the democratic process. Deputy Shatter stood up and gave out about the protests and referred disgracefully to fascists, using unbelievable language. It is really outrageous language that he should have been forced to withdraw. If he wants to understand why people get angry and lose faith in the democratic system, he should realise it is because of that kind of carry-on. The Government is digging the grave of the very democracy or type of democracy it purports to care so much about. It is playing with fire. The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, should think about this although he seems to be so inured to the cynicism in the House that it is probably pointless even making these points.

On a point of clarification-----

The Deputy can make his point. He is entitled to come back in and can ask the question then.

It is not a question. I wanted to clarify something for the record of the Dáil and clarify a misrepresentation. I said many times on the record of the House that we fully support grants for wells and a subvention for rural group water schemes.

The Deputy has made his point.

I will be brief. The point I am making in respect of the so-called water conservation grant is that it should not be there for anyone, rural or urban, because there should be no domestic water charges.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

I again say that we fully support the scheme of grants for private wells and the subvention for rural group water schemes. This should continue for people in rural areas, many of whom I represent.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

I am glad that Deputy Stanley has clarified that because it is not what I heard earlier, which is on the record of the House. The Deputy and Sinn Féin said they did not agree with the water conservation grant being given to rural dwellers who, as Deputy Ó Cuív quite rightly noted, have installed, maintained, paid for and pumped those wells and septic tanks for many years. Deputy Stanley's words are on the record of the House. He said clearly that he was opposed to that conservation grant. I was very surprised to hear him say it given the fact that he is a rural Deputy but that is what he said.

In respect of Deputy McNamara's earlier comments, I think they referred to a previous amendment that was already agreed but I am happy to clarify that the documentation he referred to is currently specified by means of circulars that were given that we are now underpinning in legislation through the amendment in question. I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputy. We can get further clarification for him if he seeks it.

I want to make it clear that 100% of the local property tax is being given to the local government system in 2015 and is funding essential local services delivered by local authorities. All of the property tax paid into the local government fund will be paid directly to local authorities and will not go to Irish Water, as some have implied here. All of the figures associated with my earlier contribution are published and are part of the Estimates process, which is approved by the House. For years, motor tax, which has been referred to by many Deputies, went to local authorities to fund water services so there is nothing new in that sense. I want to make it clear that none of the local property tax has been paid to Irish Water to subvent it in any way in 2015.

I also wish to clarify matters relating to Irish Water and the local government fund. Historically, the local government fund provided local authorities with finance to fund some of their day-to-day activities, including elements of the costs of water services, through general purpose grant allocations. The total operational costs of providing water services, which is estimated at just under €730 million, were removed from the local government sector in 2014. As a result of the introduction of the local property tax in 2013 and the establishment of Irish Water, the local government funding model has changed considerably. I am addressing some of the points that Deputy Ó Cuív raised. The funding provided to local authorities for the provision of water services from 2014 is governed by service-level agreements between Irish Water and individual authorities. Therefore, the local authorities are no longer in receipt of funding for water services costs directly from the local government fund. Instead, the fund provided a subvention to Irish Water in 2014 of €439 million and it is expected that it will provide up to €399 million in 2015.

The level of State subvention to Irish Water from the fund in 2014 reflected the fact that the costs of operating water services were being met by Irish Water and that there was no revenue at that stage from domestic water charges in 2014 as the first bills would not issue until 2015. Irish Water financed other costs from non-domestic water charge revenues of some €190 million and from borrowing, which was the subject of appropriate ministerial consent. I repeat that 100% of the local property tax revenue is being provided to the local government system in 2015 and is funding essential local services delivered by local authorities in their respective communities. All local property tax paid into the local government fund in 2015 will be paid directly to local authorities and other payments from the fund will met from a combination of motor tax and Exchequer funding. Some €459 million will be paid to local authorities in 2015 in the form of the local property tax allocations. No general purpose grants will be paid in 2015 as this funding line has been replaced by the local property tax allocations. Local property tax allocations for 2016 will be decided by the Government in the context of the Estimates process, which we will debate and which will be approved by the House.

I have addressed many of the questions and clarified some of the issues raised by Deputies. I am happy to respond in my next contribution.

Could we get a copy of that speech because there was a lot of information about this financial transfer and it would have been helpful if it had been handed out in advance?

This is the problem about doing this on Report Stage. If it happened on Committee Stage, we could keep coming over and back and drill down to what is happening. The Minister of State confirmed what I thought was happening. The Government introduced the local property tax, which does not provide for any extra service. It is just matched by a reduction in Exchequer funding to local authorities. That part has been clear except the Government sold the property tax on the basis that there would be a range of extra services. I asked the Minister of State a specific question that is quite simple. As the Bill is written, am I correct in thinking that the €540 million is an upper ceiling and that without ever coming back into this House, the Government can reduce the subsidy to Irish Water over the next five, six or seven years if it is still in power? The consequence of this will be rapidly increasing water and sewage charges for citizens because of Irish Water's huge overheads. In respect of the Government withdrawing the €540 million, has it been given an estimate by Irish Water of the water and sewage charge it would require per house to fund its business?

I have asked the Minister of State specific questions and I expect he will give me specific answers. The real lacuna in this legislation is not the fact that the Government is giving €540 million because that is keeping the water charge down. This is temporarily keeping at least some of the money that is coming in within general taxation going to water and sewerage services. The real trick in the loop is the fact that it allows the Government to reduce this over time and the fact that if our friend, the Minister for Social Protection, also returns to power, she will be able to abolish her €100 grant to every household. The legislation is structured in such a way that the Government can do this without having to come back to this House.

I thank the Minister of State for the clarification. I would welcome further clarification but I appreciate that I cannot get it today. The Minister of State provided a lot of information. Am I correct in believing that a maximum of €540 million to be provided will be provided from the motor tax fund?

If this is correct, is it in addition to €399 million which the Minister of State mentioned which is the subvention in 2015 from the local property tax pool or fund? That amounts to almost €1 billion. Am I correct or incorrect? That is my only question.

With regard to the figures I read out earlier, the Minister has not confirmed whether he has changed his mind on them or whether he is now rowing back on them. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that over the past six and a half months he has put that €500 million of a loan onto the State's balance sheet, that effectively the €59 million write-off in rates, that no other commercial semi-State company enjoys, is a hit on the taxpayer and that the other figures I read out relating to the subvention for operational and capital funding of €399 million and €222 million, amounting to a total of €750 million when it is added to the so-called water conservation grant, gives a figure of over €1.3 billion.

It is worth noting that before this was introduced, rural group water schemes received a subvention out of general taxation and the local government fund. People did not object to that subvention nor should they. People in rural areas who wanted to drill a well or to improve a well always received the appropriate grant to do that. However, the Minister of State is not doing anything to improve or add to it. The chances are that the Minister will take from it down the line if the opportunity arises. That grant should continue.

The Minister of State said he is not taking money out of the local government fund for Irish Water but this is a smoke and mirrors job on his part. The Minister of State is taking the motor tax money. The hauliers in particular will love this Government for this. Does the Minister of State know how hard-pressed they are? Some of them are paying four times the motor tax and four times the road tax that hauliers pay in the North. They are paying €3,600 and €3,800 for an articulated tractor unit. The Minister of State is using their money to pump it into the leaking pipes in order to sustain the unsustainable corporate monster that is Irish Water. Then he robs the money from the social protection fund - €130 million - in a laughable water conservation grant that should not be there because the domestic water charges should not be there. Members of this House can claim it. Does that not show the Minister of State how ridiculous it is? Millionaires can claim it. It is ridiculous.

People in rural areas should continue to get what they used to get from the local government fund and general taxation, the well grants and the subvention for rural group water schemes. Can the Minister of State not see that these proposals are crazy? I know he does and I know the Minister, Deputy Kelly, does too. They want to keep everything smooth. The reason this legislation is being rammed through the House is that if it had to be done in two separate Bills, they know they might not get it through in the next two weeks and a series of sittings of this House before the summer recess. By stitching it onto a Bill about dog breeding and the park below in Killarney, they will get it through the House. It is like what they did before the last two Christmas breaks with the local property tax Bill. Does the Minister of State remember what he and the Minister did last year with the water Bill on the eve of Christmas before they went on their Christmas holidays? They did the very same as they are doing now. They do not want any humps or bumps in the autumn. They do not want any outcry about any of this in the autumn in the run-in to an election. They have it all planned. They have foreseen everything. They have bought one half and intimidated the other half. That is what they think they have done and they are hoping to get by. They are hoping that the half they have bought will support them in the election. All should be fair in politics and the Ministers should be up-front with the public and with us. They should stop twisting what the Opposition Deputies are saying and they should be honest with us.

It is on the record of the House.

The Minister of State should not talk nonsense. The record is clear. The Minister of State has spun that many times that he is dizzy and he is sweating from spinning. That is what is wrong with him. He has forgotten what he said originally-----

The Deputy did not want the rural dwellers to get the grant.

I have been talking to rural dwellers, including people who supported the Minister of State's party in the past and they now have a water meter outside their door courtesy of Irish Water when the rural group water scheme was taken over and a one inch pipe was connected to it. Now they are customers of the corporate monster called Irish Water. In Derryguile, between Portlaoise and Mountmellick, the people are all on the supply line for Irish Water. All that is needed is a half-inch pipe. What was previously a rural group water scheme is now connected to the supply owned by the corporate monster called Irish Water. This is thanks to the Minister of State and his Government. Those rural dwellers will not forgive him for what he is doing because they are now in the very same boat as their urban neighbours, their sons and daughters and other relations living in the towns. That is what they have been telling me in recent weeks and months. Wait until the Minister of State faces them on the doorsteps in Waterford just as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will have to face them in Laois.

The Minister of State should not try to play urban dwellers off rural dwellers. The Ministers have stuck the boot into the whole lot. The septic tank legislation which they pushed through the House is crazy. People cannot get an upgrade no matter how badly their tank is leaking. They have not protected people in rural areas. They have stuck the boot into them in the very same way as they did to people in the towns. People on low and middle incomes will suffer.

I was outside at the protest and I spoke at it. I can inform the House, which may have been misinformed, that there was no sign of any fascists. In fact, there were Greek flags, Irish flags, banners and placards against the water charges and placards declaring Okhí which means "No" in Greece. It was a protest of the anti-water charges movement, protesting against the despicable manner in which this legislation is being processed, the way a new Bill has been rammed into an old Bill in the form of amendments in order to avoid any sort of basic democratic parliamentary process. They are protesting against the same but much larger process which is happening Greece, whereby attempted regime change is taking place with the instruments of financial terror, of bullying, of tyranny, of the troika. That is what is happening outside. I would strongly urge the Members of this House to go outside to meet some of the people who are outside, to make their own judgment as to whether they are fascists or perhaps ISIS or whatever particular scare-mongering word one wishes to choose, and to investigate the situation. I urge them to talk to the people and establish what are their grievances. I think they would indicate to the Government that the Government has made a grave error by avoiding the democratic process of debate in the way it is doing with this farce of a procedure, which is effectively avoiding Committee Stage.

The Government has made a big mistake. It is angering people more than they would have been if it had just gone through the normal process. People would have grimaced and bore the reality that in this parliamentary democracy people are elected with whom one may not agree and even though they are in a minority, they must at some stage listen to them, allow their amendments to be heard in committee, to be discussed and then they can be voted down. If the Government was not in such haste to get this Bill through, if it was not in such haste to avoid a public discussion, to avoid a discussion in this House, then it could have gone about it in another way and it would not have paid the price that it will pay for this.

In his response the Minister of State said something very revealing, which gets to the heart of this amendment and this issue. He said that motor tax always paid for water. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought the Government's argument was that we have not paid for water. Those of us on this side of the House who are opposed to water charges have always said we already pay for water. What is the position? Has motor tax always paid for water? Is it possibly the case that we have already paid for water through our general taxation and through our motor tax? If that is so, surely the Government's case for water charges has just collapsed in this debate this evening because its key argument has been that people have to pay their water charges. That is what Government Members say repeatedly in this Chamber, on the radio and on television. However, the Minister of State has said this evening that motor tax always paid for water services. So it was not free and we already paid for it.

That begs the question as to what will happen to the motor tax when we have the water charges. Will the motor tax be reduced because now we are going to pay for it again? Is the Government seriously suggesting that we will pay for water twice? That is what we argued but the Government claimed it was not a question of double taxation. It said we had to pay for our water. However, the Minister of State's response illustrates that we already paid for water. There is no proposal to reduce motor tax or any other general taxation and then we will have water charges on top of that. This is an admission by the Government that it wants people to pay for water twice.

Why does it want people to pay for water twice? There are two key reasons. First, it is revenue raising but not now, this year, next year or the year after because it will be revenue losing for those years, but it is establishing another revenue stream for Irish Water, which therefore the Government does not have to spend whenever the full charges become effective in 2019, of €200 per adult per year on average based on usage of 148 litres per person per day. That is the first reason.

The Government can deny it and it can create non-binding requirements on itself to have referendums before doing it all it likes, but the other agenda is privatisation. There is no other explanation for why it has invested so much political capital and why the Labour Party has been willing to face such losses over this issue but to continue all the way like a soldier directed by a general to run towards the enemy trenches. The only explanation is that the medium to long-term agenda is privatisation of our water services, facilitated by the amendment and the potential handing over of money to Irish Water. That can be done in many different ways. It is already happening now from below in the water services, in Irish Water, with design, build and operate contracts on a for-profit basis going to major water multinationals such as Veolia, Suez and Thames.

It will also happen very quickly if the Government, in spite of this amendment, were to pass the EUROSTAT test and have this off-balance sheet funding, which means going to the international markets and borrowing at a higher rate than the rate at which the State is capable of borrowing. It means borrowing from bondholders, who are the people who lend money on these international markets. It means effectively therefore privatising the revenue stream from the water charges to these people.

People in Ireland who have followed this debate may be aware of Detroit Water, which disconnected approximately 30,000 people. We all said that was because of the privatisation of Detroit Water, which is accurate. However, it is also accurate that Detroit Water was under the ownership of the city council and it had the same model of fund-raising that Irish Water has. It was officially publicly owned but then raised money through the bond markets through the effective privatisation of the revenue streams. Then the bondholders say, "We're not getting enough money. We're not getting our money back. You have to be harder. You have to disconnect people. You have to incentivise people to pay their water charges so that we can get our money back". The same process could happen here.

In the medium to long-term I believe we will see full privatisation of Irish Water and full privatisation of our water services. The dark forces that are circling, as mentioned by a former Minister, want access to this. It is part of an agenda that comes from the troika. We can look to Greece in terms of the ruthless pursuit of agendas that takes place. The troika agreement with Ireland contained water charges, arguably a precursor to water privatisation. The Government was delighted to discover that water charges already existed in Greece and Portugal.

Water privatisation was included in the troika agreements where it could be. Where it could not, the process started with charges which lead inexorably towards privatisation. It wants privatisation. The big multinationals want privatisation. I would be fairly sure that people such as Mr. Denis O'Brien would like privatisation. That is where this fundamentally leads. Through this amendment and other means, the Government is interested in fattening up Irish Water for privatisation at some stage down the road and people will suffer the consequences. The present Government parties may not be in power; it could be a different Government.

The problem the Government has, as reflected in this debate, is that people are watching these things. In the past the Government or Fianna Fáil might have got away with this kind of stroke politics in how it treats the Dáil and shows basic respect for parliamentary democracy. However, people have been turned on to politics and are even watching the Dáil in a way that did not happen previously. Therefore, people know what is going on and when the Government does things like this, people mobilise and come out to protest, as they are at the moment. People will continue to do so and they will see through the falsehoods and scaremongering promulgated by the Government, and they will understand that if they stand firm together, the water charges can be defeated. While we will do our best in these debates, ultimately the Government has a majority in here, but out there the majority is more important if people are mobilised. I think people are mobilised and therefore this measure can be defeated even if it is passed by the House this evening.

Normally after a Bill is published, on Second Stage we get an explanatory memorandum. It would have been very interesting to see the explanatory memorandum for these amendments. It is not just the water-related amendments, but also the other amendments relating to waste, some of which are quite good. Perhaps others could have been added and there may have been a number of missed opportunities. Essentially, the absence of such an explanatory memorandum is part of a deliberate circumventing of the process and is fundamentally dishonest.

Many things have been dishonest in recent years. People were told that the core rates of social welfare were not cut. However, for example, there were cuts through changing the length of time one could qualify for some of the additional things in the household benefits package. We were told the money collected for the household charge was about something additional and then discovered that it was a replacement for part of the local government fund that was withdrawn. The same applied with the property tax. It is a replacement tax. A fund that was ring-fenced for water has been transferred essentially to central funds to be transferred to Irish Water.

The common thread in all this is dishonesty and presuming that people are fools.

People do not like being taken for fools and they will not be taken for fools. Deputy Paul Murphy is right. There is an engagement in the detail of politics that I have never seen and I was on a local authority for 20 years before becoming a Member of this House. There is an attention to detail in politics that is different now because people feel they have to pay attention as many of the things that happen will impact on them personally.

I am not sure what genius thought this was going to be a good idea to circumvent the process but it is not a good idea. The Minister of State may have read out part of what Deputy Phelan said but the last part of what she said when I pressed her for the detail was that it was only a matter of “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” and it is not. The transfer of €540 million from the motor taxation fund to the Exchequer and then to Irish Water is no minor deal and people know it. People also know it is being transferred because there is insufficient funding coming from the source the Government hoped would be there, the water charges. There is no doubt that there is significant resistance. We know that in part because the Government will not tell us the payment rates. Every week we were told how many people were signing up. That was used almost as a marketing initiative. People can read into that and know exactly what it means when the Government does not provide the information. They know the amount being demanded now will significantly alter if the full cost recovery model the Government envisages is put in place. There are many people who, with the best will in the world, do not have anything more to give. I do not how many times that has been said in this House. I have knocked on the doors of households which might be regarded as doing alright but the people have said they may seem to be alright because they have a nice house but look in the fridge. There is nothing in reserve. That is one of the messages coming very strongly from this.

The Minister of State is right, motor tax, which is the main source of local government funding, did pay for water and wastewater. The rainbow coalition in the 1990s resolved the deficit in local government funding by ringfencing the motor tax fund. That is why people feel they have already paid and what is being demanded is that they pay a second time. I have no doubt there is a need to build a decent water infrastructure, that we have to change our habits in respect of water and water conservation but there is a lot of nonsense being spoken about the entire system being defunct. For example, the best we can hope for in the leakage rate is that anything below 20% is unlikely to be achieved even in the best situations. In my own local authority the rate of leakage is 25%. It does not take a genius to figure out that the leaks are in the old Victorian pipes. Most of the money spent so far has been spent on getting the institutional arrangement in place, setting up a database, a call centre and putting in metres. Going after the areas where there are the most leaking pipes has not been the primary concern. People cannot understand that. Taking the €540 million out of the local government fund for this is another item on the list of things that are dishonest. That is what is undermining democracy.

We are going back to the debate about the fundamental need for Irish Water. Most Deputies, if they are honest with themselves, agree about the status of the water networks that we were pumping over €1 billion into, and that up to 50% of the treated water was leaking into the ground, and that there were sub-standard water treatment systems all over the country polluting river courses, streams and beaches. Serious intervention is and was required and should have been made many years ago. It was correct to establish a national utility that would manage our water networks, water treatment systems and pumping stations as assets. We are not reinventing the wheel. The other semi-State utility company, the ESB, has been doing this for years. It has undertaken huge refurbishment programmes across its networks over the past 15 to 20 years because it needed to do so to service the future needs of society, people and businesses. It is no different for water except that it is a more critical resource. It is a shame we have neglected to intervene and invest in our water services, as was required. For the first time a strategic approach is being adopted by Government to ensure that this investment can be secured to guarantee quality water for people, farms and businesses. None of us here, on whatever side of the House, will be thanked if we do not intervene now and address the problems we have been storing up for many years. They are very obvious all around us, pollution, sub-standard water, capacity issues and leakage.

People are trying to imply that funding is being paid directly to Irish Water from the local property tax. I absolutely refute that. The operational subvention to Irish Water in 2015 will be up to €399 million. The amendment we are speaking to does not change this in any way. It relates to a payment to the Exchequer, not to Irish Water.

The Government indicated in November 2014 what the subvention to Irish Water would be in 2015 and 2016. That has not changed. I emphasise this amendment is not related to the funding of Irish Water. While funding was provided in the past it was not enough to deliver the level of investment we required. I have already outlined to the House why that is the case. This amendment is necessary to enable the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make the required payment from the local government fund to the Exchequer as envisaged in the Revised Estimates Volume in 2015. The amendment ensures an appropriate contribution is being made to the Exchequer in recognition of the State’s finances generally. I confirm for Deputy Ó Cuív that the transfer to the Exchequer is in respect of 2015 only and will be for a maximum amount of €540 million.

The Government said that last year and the year before.

In 2014 the legislation provided that up to €600 million of local government fund income could be transferred from the fund to the Exchequer. In fact €520 million was transferred last year and in 2013 €100 million was transferred. Subsection (2C) continues to provide that in determining the payment to the Exchequer regard must be had to the balance in the fund when all commitments have been made. It should be noted that the projected income to the local government fund for 2015 is in excess of €1.84 billion.

Deputy Murphy asked whether motor tax has gone into water services in the past, and, yes, it has done so for many years. We would not have been able to fund them if we did not have that investment. However, it was never enough so we had to bring forward new proposals, as outlined, for a national water utility that is modern, fit for purpose and which we can stand over as a modern, developed economy. I have heard a lot of anger and a lot of ranting but I have heard no solutions - not one solution - in terms of how we can deliver quality water for the people of this country, which is what they are entitled to.

As many Members want to speak I do not want repetition.

We just want to get to the bottom of this.

I will uphold the rights of all Members but I do not want repetition. I have heard things repeated that I heard two hours ago when I was in the Chair last, so I do not want that again.

I know how you feel.

Until we get to the bottom of this and until the Minister of State gives us clear answers, we will just have to repeat and repeat. As the Minister of State knows, I am not the spokesperson on this subject and, therefore, I am not up to date with the labyrinthine financial arrangements as well as I would be if I were. Do I understand correctly that €540 million is being taken out of the local government fund and given to the Exchequer, and the amendment states this is going to happen for one year only? I understand further that the Exchequer is then making a payment of €399 million to Irish Water this year. These are the 2015 transactions, if one likes. Given there is no legislative provision for it, is it proposed to transfer money from the local government fund in 2016 to the Exchequer or anywhere else? If it is not, does that mean there is suddenly going to be a big wad of money - €540 million - extra in the local government fund? If that is the way it is, can I take it that €540 million is going to be available for local authorities in a bonanza? Furthermore, if the Government is not going to make any transfer to the Exchequer in 2016, because there is no provision in the proposed legislation to do that, will a subsidy be paid from the Exchequer in 2016 to Irish Water?

I accept the Minister of State is technically correct that this money is going to the Exchequer but it is just as if it was passed to Deputy Stanley and he passed it on to the Minister of State rather than me having me pass it directly to him.

Smoke and mirrors.

However, it does make this a little more complex and more opaque. Can the Minister of State explain the financial transactions that take place in a simple way that we can all understand? It is always said that we should follow the money trail. Will the Minister of State explain to us the money trail?

My colleagues have been lamenting, as I did yesterday, the fact that on Second Stage of a Bill, the Minister will normally explain the purpose of the Bill and will then go through each section of the Bill and give the reasoning behind it. An explanatory memorandum on the amendments was circulated, I will grant that. However, it does not really explain the financial trickery that is going on here and does not really say much more than what the amendments say. In particular, it does not explain the circular transfers of the money. Maybe my Opposition colleagues fully understand all of this manipulation of the money, particularly what happens in 2016 - the Minister of State will have to forgive me if they all know what is happening and I do not. However, as I said, I am very curious as to what is happening to the money and I would like the Minister of State to clarify the money trail for me.

I am sorry if I missed some of the Minister of State's contribution so I may be repeating myself, but it has been a very long day. I would like the Minister of State to dwell on one point. I asked why the Government was taking this money. Unfortunately, we still do not have the Minister of State's speech so it is very difficult to deal with some of the issues when we do not have that speech in front of us in black and white. Nonetheless, one of the points he made which has brought clarity to the protesters outside, and to others, is that car tax has always been put into paying for water services in local authorities. I was on a local council for 11 years before I came here, so I would be very familiar with the funding of local councils. The Minister of State is right that this is the case and it is also the case that money from the local government fund would have been used for all services, including water services. For many years, those of us on this side of the House who oppose the new water charges have been saying that we have always paid for water and that our taxes have always funded water services. However, the Minister of State said we have been getting it for free. We have not been getting it for free because anyone who pays car tax is paying for water, and, by the way, car tax was increased in the last couple of budgets and my own car tax doubled. People have had to pay more because of the bailout and we now find it is going to Irish Water.

The reason this matters is that Irish Water is going to cost and has cost a lot more than if the water services had been left in the hands of the local councils. We will keep needing bucketfuls and bucketfuls of money to keep this monster well fed because it is like a hungry beast that needs constant food. When local authorities were doing this, it was done in a much more slimmed-down fashion. There were no big bonuses for executives. While I accept that county managers and chief executive officers were very well paid, this was not the case for the ordinary water service worker or engineer, and there was no extra bureaucracy created, such as call centres to answer people's queries. The point is that we are going to keep needing to dip further into the taxes that people pay in order to keep Irish Water going.

The people outside are not happy. The car sticker was mentioned, and I have one here. The phrase on it is, "My car tax pays for my water". This has just been confirmed by what the Minister of State said. People have been paying for water through different taxes for many years whereas the Government has been making out that a tooth fairy was paying for it.

How much more of this are we going to need? The Government will find out that people are not paying the water charges, and I assume they are not because this is 1 July and, at this stage, surely the Government would be shouting it from the rooftops if the payment figures were good. What it is hoping for is that, through this legislation, people will not listen to the fine detail and they will not realise that the civil debt Bill which is coming up, and which we will speak on, is toothless and is designed for the likes of a television licence defaulter rather than a water charge boycott by hundreds and thousands of people. It hopes people will not realise they cannot be prosecuted for anything less than €500, so court cases are many years down the road, or that the Government cannot actually dip into their pockets and take this money directly. Later we will deal with a disgraceful proposal to terrify renters who are very vulnerable.

What the Government is trying to do with this legislation is increase the payment figures as much as it possibly can and hold on to the information about it as long as it possibly can. However, it is 1 July and the billing cycle is now finished for everybody. Sooner or later, the information is going to be demanded and we will discover that the Government is going to need to take more funds from taxpayers and other sources to keep the beast of Irish Water going. This is because it will not be able to do it from the four sources that were pointed out by my colleague, the first of which is the Department of Social Protection taking it from those like lone parents and giving it back to people in €100 bribes to get them to register.

The second source is car tax. The Minister of State may say also that it is not coming from the property tax but it is, because the Government is cutting the local government funding to local councils and keeping that money. Therefore, it is coming from property taxes and we will probably discover it is coming from other taxes also in the years ahead. On top of this, there is the car tax. There seems to be no end to the funding Irish Water will need in order for the Government to save political face. That is disgraceful.

The Minister of State's explanations in regard to the amendments leave much to be desired. These amendments were supposedly well flagged, but they were well covered up and we are just beginning to see the game plan now. The Minister is giving permission to himself and the Government to take €540 million from motor tax into the Exchequer and by way of a fine technicality, they are trying to hide what they are doing. With the other hand, the Government is removing a similar amount of money from the Exchequer and handing it to Irish Water. It should not try to pretend otherwise. The fact is jumping out at us here that this is exactly what it is at.

Along with the €1.31 billion that the Government has put on the State's balance sheet so far, between what it did in December and what it has done to date this year, in other words in the past six and a half months, there is also off the balance sheet some €300 million borrowed by Irish Water from the private markets at three times the interest rate at which the State can borrow. Can the Minister not see when this is all added up that this is the worst and most expensive way to try to fund water services? Can he not see it gives the worst return and the worst results? Does the Government realise what has not been included in these figures? What is not included is the €539 million that the Government took, or borrowed, from the National Pensions Reserve Fund - a fund we should maintain - to install meters outside houses. That has not been mentioned. If that is included, we are running towards a figure of €2 billion.

Let us deal with the figures we have. If the meter installation programme had not happened, the Government would be saving that money, that is €539 million. That is a loan that will have to be repaid to the National Pensions Reserve Fund. We then have the €1.3 billion on the State's balance sheet, added in the past six and a half months, and then the €300 million plus borrowed by Irish Water on the private markets. All of this money will have to be repaid. Local authorities were providing water services for approximately €0.9 billion, between €860 million and €890 million per year in capital and operational funding. Now, just six months into the year we are already looking at a cost of €1.3 billion added to the State's balance sheet.

If the Government had left things as they were and tried to reform them, the operational funds could, being generous, have been covered by €500 million, with capital investment being approximately the same. This would have worked out at €1 billion per year and we would have seen €500 million going into fixing leaking pipes. It would have been cheaper to do that than do what is being provided for here. The Government has added cost upon cost because of the meters, which are the cash registers on the footpaths. That is what they are about. Will the Minister of State confirm that what this amendment does is to take €540 million from the local government fund, from the motor vehicle taxes, to put into the Exchequer, to make up for what is being taken out of the Exchequer with the other hand and put into Irish Water? Not alone that, there is no limit to how often this can be done. It can be done in subsequent years, in 2016, 2017, 2018 and so on. And if the Government wants to increase the amount taken, the Minister can come back to the House, if he is still here, and ask for that figure of €540 million to be increased. That is what is happening.

If the money was paid directly to Irish Water, if the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, wrote a cheque and handed it straight to John Tierney in Irish Water, the optics would not be good. Instead, the Government is bringing the funding by the circular route. It is bringing it into the Government coffers through the motor tax and then the cheque is handed out to Irish Water, on top of all of the other cheques. I pointed out to the Minister many times when Irish Water was being established that he was going to hand a blank cheque to Irish Water, all in order to get the system of charging up and running so as to get a revenue stream in place. Of course, the full cost of that to taxpayers and householders will not be revealed until after the election and that is the problem here.

What is being done here is all economic gymnastics. An example is the way money is being moved around and the writing off of rates for local authorities. This is totally unheard of. We also had the €500 million placed back on the State's balance sheet by way of a single line in a Bill before Christmas and all of the other changes made. All of the economic gymnastics being performed here are all being done to get this system up and running. Will the Minister of State confirm that the €540 million mentioned in the amendment is really about the transfer of the money to the Exchequer to provide for a similar amount to be taken out on the other side as a subvention for Irish Water?

The Minister of State has not answered the question about the amount being put on the State's balance sheet now, which is far in excess of anything put on the balance sheet prior to the establishment of Irish Water. That is being put there to fund water services. I ask the Minister of State to check that and also to check the figures on what was going into capital investment in water services during previous years. There is more money going towards water services now and a greater weight is being put on the State's balance sheet, contrary to the reason behind the setting up of Irish Water initially. We have finished in a position that is the worst possible. There are holes in the State's finances as a result, with more money on the balance sheet and more money demanded. Today, we are stitching in an amendment to try to get this money included under the radar to try to pull off another stroke. That is what this is about.

Deputy Ó Cuív raised an important point in regard to how much money will go to Irish Water in 2016. We need a clear answer from the Minister of State on this. The point was also well made that the Government is just hiding behind smoke and mirrors in saying this provision has nothing to do with Irish Water, because it is a two-stage process. First, the money will be handed from the local government fund to the Exchequer and then the Exchequer subsequently hands over the money to Irish Water. To all intents and purposes, the money comes from the local government fund, including from car tax and other sources, and it goes to the beast that is Irish Water. Who the middleman is and how it is transferred, whether via PayPal, NETELLER, cheque, credit card or cash, does not matter. The essence of the matter is that the money starts somewhere and ends up somewhere else. From our point of view and from that of the public what is important is the transfer that is taking place.

The point about the figures being paid is extremely relevant. The only reason this transfer of money is needed is because Irish Water is not getting money from elsewhere.

That should cause a problem in terms of the EUROSTAT test, if it was applied objectively and fairly. It may not, but regardless of that it causes a problem in terms of Irish Water just having the money to operate as the beast that it is, and so that is the reason we have a further injection of cash which comes from the Exchequer, which comes from the local government fund, which comes from people who pay their taxes. Let us look at the payment figures because it is shocking that everyone by now has received their bill and should have paid their water charges. It was reported that the Cabinet was due to discuss the levels of payment yesterday. We do not know if that happened. We know that Irish Water has the figures but they are not being given out. That is quite incredible at a time when we are having another parliamentary and public debate about water charges. The amendment is directly related to the number of people who have paid yet the Government will not tell us. As a result, it is part and parcel of a process of debate and a method of debate that is fundamentally opaque, non-transparent and undemocratic because the Government has the figures and that can inform its debate and lines of argument, whereas we do not have the figures and the people do not have them.

Let us go back and look at all the different ways we attempted to obtain the figures. The matter was first raised in the Dáil on Leaders’ Questions. If I recall correctly, the response of the Taoiseach was that he was not there to spoon-feed me information but I could toddle along to Irish Water which would answer any question I had. Subsequent to that, he made the point about answering any questions on Leaders’ Questions as fully and completely as possible. Then, later that day, Deputy Ruth Coppinger and I duly toddled along to Irish Water and we asked for the figures. First, we asked how many bills had gone out, how many bills had been paid and if it had the figures. Irish Water confirmed to us that it has the figures for levels of payment, how many bills had gone out, which it told us. Irish Water told us how many bills were due to have been paid at that stage but it refused to tell us how many people have paid on the grounds that it would be unhelpful to do so. That begs the question of unhelpful to whom? It is clearly unhelpful to Irish Water, as opposed to those of us who are campaigning against water charges.

The third attempt to get the information was a freedom of information request which was denied by Irish Water on two grounds, first, that the information is commercially sensitive, which is a joke considering the fact that Irish Water has a monopoly and that it is happy to give out the registration figures and that they are not in any sense considered to be commercially sensitive, and second, because to give those figures would result in an undue disturbance of the ordinary course of business. That perhaps is slightly closer to the truth of why Irish Water did not wish to give the figures.

The fourth attempt was a freedom of information appeal, which goes to the office next door to the guy who answered the first question, and the other Irish Water employee also said Irish Water would not give the figures. An appeal is ongoing to the Information Commissioner.

The fifth attempt was with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, standing in for the Taoiseach. He just refused to answer the question in any way at all and then said that we should direct the question to the relevant Minister. He did not know that we already had directed the question in the form of a written parliamentary question for the following day to the relevant Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. The question did not even ask how many people had paid. The question was whether the Department had discussed the levels of payment with Irish Water. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that it is not the responsibility of the Department. How on earth is who the Minister meets not the responsibility of his Department? It goes to show the extraordinary lengths to which the Government has gone to hide the figures of payment and non-payment.

It is a massive saga that we have gone through that has been going on for seven weeks. It is seven weeks today that I first attempted to get the figures from the Taoiseach. The information is crucial to the debate. We cannot debate the amendment in a fully informed way without having the figures. The Government evidently has something to hide, which is perhaps indicated by the levels of registration, which for some reason it is happy to give out although they are an embarrassment from the point of view of Irish Water and the Government. They claim to have a maximum of 70% registration, which means 30% of people have not registered; almost 100% of them will not have paid, and many of the 70% who have registered have also not paid. Nobody, or very few of those who have not registered will have paid, but many who have registered will also refuse to pay.

The figures also indicate a slow rate of sign-up for registration because the figure being used by Irish Water at the moment is 1.32 million sign-ups, but it was using the figure of 1.23 million about a month and a half ago, and approximately three months ago we had the same figure of 1.23 million. That gives a rate of approximately 30,000 people a month signing up after much advertising. How much is Irish Water spending per person on advertising to get people to sign up, never mind the €100 promised to so-called compliant people? That speaks to a low take-up of registration and a low rate of payment, which results in a situation whereby the Minister has suggested we hand over more money to Irish Water.

Finally, I wish to deal with the quite incredible assertion by the Minister that he has never heard any positive proposals or alternatives to how the system could be run. Let us start very simply. Water charges will not raise any extra money this year, next year or the year after to invest in water services. That is a fact. If everybody pays, Irish Water will raise somewhat less than €100 million but then it will spend that in giving the money back in the conservation grant. No extra money is being raised that will be invested in water infrastructure. The alternative right now is to abolish the water charges.

The Government says it has a great off-balance sheet model – it does not talk about privatisation – and that it can get money for free. Given that the borrowings are off-balance sheet, it is free money and we will be able to invest and we will be able to deal with Ballymore Eustace and all the other problems the Government likes to talk about that it has discovered in the past couple of months. The money, of course, is not free. The money is borrowed at a higher rate of interest than that at which the State is capable of borrowing money directly, and the money will have to be paid for by people. If Irish Water continues, it will be paid for by those people who pay their water charges. It will be more expensive than if the State were to borrow directly.

A very simple alternative is to abolish water charges, abolish Irish Water and bring the responsibility for water back to the councils with an appropriate level of national co-ordination and then have investment, because investment is the answer to all the water problems the Government has discovered. The Government can call it Irish Water and do whatever it wants with it but it does not solve the problem if the Government does not invest money in fixing the pipes and the infrastructure. That is what needs to happen. The Government is not raising any extra money to do that at the moment. That is a fact. It will borrow money through Irish Water at a higher rate. One thing the Government could do, if it were to abolish water charges and abolish Irish Water, would be to borrow money on-balance sheet at a cheaper rate and stay within the Maastricht criteria and the fiscal treaty criteria and invest.

Alternatively, if we grant that the Government would get €100 million a year, which it does not – it gets zero after all the costs are deducted - it might even end up with a negative amount, but if for the sake of argument one were to say the Government would get €100 million the question must be asked whether there are other ways the €100 million could be raised? There are many. One could ask what defines the water charge and what is its main feature. It is a regressive tax which means those who are less well-off pay more as a percentage of their income while the well-off pay less. The bottom 10% in terms of income will pay approximately 2% of their incomes in water charges while the top 10% will pay less than 0.2%.

Is there another, fairer way of raising €100 million that does not punish ordinary, low-paid people? There are many ways, for example, a financial transaction tax, of which the European Commission is a fan, the same European Commission that is bullying the Greek people unmercifully. Even it recommends a very small financial transaction tax of 0.1% on share transactions and 0.01% on derivative transactions. The Government estimates it would raise €500 million, five times the most optimistic estimates of the outturn from the water charges. This option could raise five years' worth of water charges. We could increase the rate of effective corporation tax. Our headline rate of 12.5% is very generous to corporations, which pay approximately 8.5%. Increasing the effective corporation tax rate by 1% would raise slightly more than €500 million, again five times more than the most optimistic estimates of the outturn from the water charges.

We could impose a wealth tax on net assets in excess of €1 million, calculated by adding all an individual's assets, subtracting his or her debts and taxing the portion that exceeds €1 million at 1%. It would raise €600 million, six times the most optimistic estimate of the outturn of the water charges. We could increase by 1% the effective income tax rate paid by those who earn more than €100,000, which would raise €250 million, two and a half times the most generous estimate of what the water charges would raise. We have many alternative ways of funding it, which would provide much more money than water charges. The Government is losing money on the project. The long-term gain will be further regressive taxation and privatisation.

The Government has dropped the talk of conservation. For a while, it was the main issue, until the Government discovered Ballymore Eustace and the state of our water infrastructure, which it had ignored for so long. The Government then discovered the off balance sheet model, and it became the thing. We on the left are serious about water conservation. My colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, upon first being elected, in the aftermath of a battle that defeated the last water charges proposal, raised and argued for building regulations that would have made grey water harvesting, rain water harvesting and dual flush toilets mandatory in new builds. This was before approximately a quarter of the State's housing stock had been built. If it had happened then, at a tiny cost to the developers, how much more water would have been saved than any amount the Government can achieve by way of water charges?

Even now, the Government is not serious about water conservation, because the small investment would come from the builders, developers and big construction companies, which would lose a tiny percentage of their total profits. The beneficiaries would be the environment and water services. However, this debate is not about conservation, but the further crucifixion of working people through further regressive taxation, the imposition of yet more austerity measures and the preparation for privatisation. The amendment is a crucial part of achieving it, both making up for the non-payment opposition and fattening up Irish Water for the future.

I will focus on the €540 million. I have a copy of the Local Government Reform Act 2014. Part 13, which is entitled, "Local Government Fund and Irish Water", amends section 6 of Local Government Act 1998 by substituting a number of sections, and by inserting the following subsection:

(2CA) The Minister may make payments out of the Fund to Irish Water in respect of water services functions transferred from local authorities to Irish Water.

This is to be the third consecutive year in which money has been taken from the motor tax fund and given to the Exchequer for the purpose, in the main, of funding Irish Water. On each occasion we were told it was a one-off measure. It is not a one-off measure, but a feature. The first year was not a full year. In the second year, €600 million was taken, the bulk of which went to Irish Water. Amendment No. 20 provides that up to €540 million is to be taken out of the fund and contributed to the Exchequer. How much of it will go to Irish Water? Will it go to the Exchequer and will other money go to Irish Water, or will it go directly to Irish Water? If not, why does the legislation tie the two things together?

I thank the Deputies for their various views and contributions. I disagree with a number of them. I am surprised that, with the exception of Deputy Ó Cuív, who like me has concern for rural Ireland, no Deputy expressed concern for more than 550,000 rural dwellers who already pay for water through their group water schemes, private wells or septic tanks in which they have had to invest over many years.

That is because it has nothing to do with the amendments.

They have had to install, maintain and treat them over many years. Neither the parties of the left nor Sinn Féin has expressed concern for any of these people.

The Minister of State was not listening. It should not go to anybody. He should abolish water charges.

Sinn Féin gave the view that it opposed the conservation grant that will assist these rural dwellers. The Sinn Féin Members were, as always, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, telling people what they want to hear on one side and on the other side coming here and making different statements.

The Minister of State should tell the truth.

It was the same with the metering. Deputy Brian Stanley criticised the metering programme. In the North of Ireland, more than 30,000 meters have been installed, and they are continuously being installed, in preparation for water charges, which Sinn Féin chooses to deny, speaking out of the other sides of their mouths here in the South.

I will answer it for the Minister of State.

It is a fact. I find it hard to listen to the hypocrisy I hear in the Chamber. Borrowing for metering will be repaid, just as when local authorities borrow. Where meters have been installed, we have found large volumes of water leakage. It is very obvious for people to see and when Irish Water publishes its annual reports, with the oversight of ComReg, we will see the very real benefits of Irish Water and how it is managing the asset. I have listened carefully to some Deputies. Although I did not time Deputy Paul Murphy, for many minutes he gave an ideological lecture on a model that has failed throughout the world.

That model essentially involves spending lots of money as long it is somebody else's money. I have asked for solutions and alternative proposals. The difference between Opposition and Government is that Opposition Members are entitled to express opposition, which I respect, and they can also express anger and complain, which I also respect. I expected to see alternative proposals but all we are getting is anger without any solutions for delivering a modern and fit-for-purpose water system which will serve the needs of this country for generations to come. That is important because the Irish Water model has already brought benefits in the short few months it has been in existence. It is allowing water leaks to be fixed, thereby reducing wastage of treated water. Treatment facilities are being upgraded more efficiently and our ground water and water sources are being protected. In County Roscommon, the boil water notices affecting more than 11,000 people were lifted yesterday.

Deputies have suggested that Irish Water will not be able to raise money but the forecast billing revenue of €271 million will allow it to draw down additional investment. Between 2014 and 2015 more than €1.2 billion, excluding metering and establishment, will be invested in our public water systems. The Deputies opposite are public representatives who listen to their constituents just as I do. If a constituent has a boil water notice or a coastline or river is being polluted, they will try to hold the public agencies to account. Those public agencies cannot respond to complaints unless they can invest in their utilities. The subvention was criticised by a number of Deputies. It is ironic that the very same subvention allows the Government to cap the charges to make them more affordable for our citizens. It provides for children's water allowances and the capped charges. I do not understand why they are criticising it given that it reduces the cost burden on the very people they claim to represent.

Deputies Eamon Ó Cuív and Catherine Murphy raised issues in regard to the Estimates. The transfer of funds from the Exchequer was agreed as part of the Estimates process. The revenue and the Revised Estimates were published on 18 December 2014 and the matter was debated in the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on 3 March 2015 and subsequently moved by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the Dáil on 5 March 2015. The Estimates process allowed the question of the transfer of funds to be dealt with transparently. In 2016 the moneys to be transferred from the Exchequer will be decided as part of the same Estimates process and Members will have an opportunity to engage in that debate. The Revised Estimates for 2015 for the local government fund include a statement that income to and expenditure by the fund was €1.84 billion, of which €459 million was from local property taxes and paid directly to local authorities for the delivery of essential services, €364 million went to roads programmes, €399 million went into water investment programmes and €484 million went to the Exchequer. Nothing has been hidden in these figures. We are being open in proposing a model which will ensure investment in essential water networks. We can stand over that model. There was huge opposition to the ESB when it was first established in the 1920s. In time people will look back these debates and wonder why this new utility was ever opposed. Nobody likes to introduce taxes but in government we have responsibilities. I want a water infrastructure that will serve this generation and the generations to come.

It is a red herring to suggest that we do not care about rural dwellers and the money they pay into group water schemes. Our position is that people have a human right to water. That includes rural dwellers and people in group water schemes. They should not have to pay for water other than through central taxation. The infrastructure for rural areas should be provided through progressive central taxation.

It is also nonsense to suggest that, in arguing against water charges, we are not interested in vital investments in water infrastructure and conservation. Every time we debate this issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, speaks about the need to invest in water infrastructure. Can we short circuit that fake debate? We agree 100% on the need for investment. In fact, we agree 150% in comparison to what the Government is doing because we think Irish Water's investment programme of €1.2 billion is not sufficient. Our investment programme would be bigger because we think several billion euro needs to be invested.

That is why we are furious that the Government has wasted so much money on matters that are unrelated to fixing the water infrastructure. Had that money been invested in infrastructure, we would have rehabilitated it more quickly. Money was wasted on advertising. Every time we listen to an advertisement by Irish Water, it is money down the drain. Money is wasted on advertising agencies, consultants, billing systems we do not need and contractors. Every cent that is spent in these areas is a cent that is not spent on fixing leaky pipes. The money will continue to be wasted through profit taking by consultants and contractors. These are not insignificant amounts.

The administration cost of billing nearly 2 million people four times every year is a lot of money wasted and is unnecessary. It would be cheaper, more efficient and fairer to take the money out of central taxation, either through income tax, corporate tax, a financial transaction tax or other measures that do not involve regressive taxation hitting the least well off.

Deputy Paul Murphy gave four examples of how the Government could get more money than from Irish Water, on a more progressive and fairer basis. The Minister of State, however, pretended not to hear it. That is what is happening with Greece as well. The Government is on the same page as the bullies in the European Union. When the Greek Government went to the EU with detailed proposals about alternative ways to pay off their debts, they were rejected with a straight face.

I do not think he should do so, but Mr. Varoufakis said that they are determined to service their external debt. However, the troika does not like the proposals because it considers them to be unrealistic. Or the troika pretends not to hear them, just as the Minister of State pretended he did not hear Deputy Paul Murphy. Nonetheless, the Minister of State has heard alternative proposals from many Opposition Deputies for financing the necessary investment in our water infrastructure.

The issue is not whether we need massive investment in water infrastructure; it is how one pays for it and whether it is fair. In so far as one must pay for it, the method by which one garners that revenue must be efficient. On all counts, however, Irish Water fails, which begs the question as to why the Government wants it. We all know the answer to that question. It is about privatisation. The Minister of State knows it, and so do we and the public. I can guarantee the Minister of State that if he gets away with this, although I hope he will not, Irish Water will be privatised in less than ten years. He knows that is what will happen, just as Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour knew when bin charges were being introduced that the bin collection service would be privatised. Privately they all said it, but publicly they maintained that paying bin charges would stop privatisation. That was because they wanted to undermine the campaign of opposition against bin charges. In fact, however, it was the other way around. The Minister of State knew it then and knows it now, so he is just being dishonest with the people. Everybody knows that this is the stepping stone to privatisation, so why does the Minister of State not come clean about the real reasons for it?

It is difficult to know where to go from this. I feel we should keep this debate going just to annoy the Government.

I like listening to the Deputy as much as he likes listening to himself.

I can tell the Minister of State that I am tired of standing here and I would much rather be somewhere else. I honestly feel, however, that the more we keep this discussion going the more the people out there will have an opportunity to look at the details of what the Government is doing. What has been done in circumventing Second and Committee Stages was a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the people. I have just tried to explain that to those gathered outside Leinster House this evening. It is the anger over those tactics and that kind of skulduggery that have so many angry people on the streets. They are furious because they are being treated with contempt. The only protest we can put up against this is to drag out the debate so that people get a chance to examine the details of what the Government is doing. In that way, they may be able to apply some political pressure, not that I think it will make much difference to the Government at this stage.

I take solace from the fact that the reason the Government sought to bypass Second and Committee Stages was because Ministers knew there were going to be protests. They tried to condense down to an absolute minimum the period in which this Dáil will be debating water-related issues. The Government knows that its support in the opinion polls plummeted when the protests were at their height at the end of last year. There was a direct correlation because support for the Government parties collapsed when the protests were at their height. The Government could never admit this because that would be giving away the big secret that the people have the power to defeat it. The Government will not admit or acknowledge it but it is well aware of it when plotting the sort of skulduggery it has engaged in on this legislation.

The Government asked itself how it could prevent this matter from becoming a major public focus. It decided to smuggle it in an apparently innocent and innocuous Bill, thus minimising the possibilities for the Opposition to make any noise about it or create any potential focus or protest outside. That is what the Government is doing.

The issue is about undermining, subverting and defeating opposition to the austerity agenda. It is less dramatic and severe than what the troika is doing to the Greeks but the tactics are from the same hymn book. The Government is fearful, just as the troika is fearful of the example that the Syriza Government, and the sentiment that elected them, represent to the neo-liberal agenda in Europe. They are scared and that is why they are deploying such foul tactics against the Greek people.

It certainly has nothing to do with the payment of debts, as I pointed out to people outside Leinster House this evening. It has nothing to do with the necessity to pay off debts or deal with deficits. The Government has no problem in writing down debts for people. Hundreds of millions were written down in IBRC to the benefit of some of the richest people in the country. The Government can do that without any problem. It can write down those debts but it is different when it comes to ordinary people who cannot bear the burden of having to pay off these odious debts any longer, because infant mortality, poverty and deprivation have gone through the roof, while incomes and pensions have been slashed. In addition, people are committing suicide at a dramatically increased rate. When ordinary people say they cannot pay, however, the Government says "No, sorry lads, you'll have to pay off the debts. We know it hurts and we know it's painful, but that's just the way it is. Debts have to be paid off".

The Taoiseach's famous phrase was that he did not want to have the words "I didn't pay my debts" written on his forehead. There is no problem for some of the richest people in the country, however. If they want a debt write-down, they can have it at any time because we have to incentivise the entrepreneurs. Then the same entrepreneurs get the contracts for Irish Water. Honestly, one could not make it up. The Italian Mafia would be very proud of it. They could not dream up a scam like the one the Government has engineered around Irish Water. The company that is putting in the meters has benefited from this massive write-down for one of the richest people in the country, who also became one of the richest people in the country because he got the second mobile telephone licence under murky circumstances, to put it mildly.

That is not my opinion but that of the Moriarty tribunal yet still nothing is done about it. It sickens people that nothing was done about that and the very same people reappear to make an absolute fortune. How much profit will Sierra and Siteserv make out of the contract to install these meters? A lot of money. The increase in Mr. O'Brien's wealth since 2006 is unbelievable. The rest of the country has become much poorer and has seen incomes cut by 20% or 30%, deprivation has risen, poverty has risen and yet his wealth has gone from approximately €2.6 billion to over €6 billion in the same number of years. We could pay for the entire investment programme for the next four years by just using a wealth tax to cancel out the extra billions he, just one individual, has got over the past six years. If we just took it back he would still be left with the €2 billion he had back in 2006. If we did the same with the extra wealth a few other multimillionaires and multibillionaires have accumulated in the past five years, while the rest of us have been impoverished, it would pay for the necessary rehabilitation programme for water. That is the scandal the Government has presided over while it continues with a load of bogus arguments about being interested in fixing the water infrastructure.

Some terms and conditions for customers of Irish Water are extraordinary. A person on one of the protests pointed me to the agreement to which one signs up when one registers with Irish Water, one provision of which is that anyone who harvests rainwater from their roof, their paving, their windows or anywhere on their property has to get written permission from Irish Water to do so. That gives the lie to the claim that water charges are about encouraging conservation, which the Minister claims to support. Why would that be? I bet the Minister of State has not even read the agreement but why would Irish Water have a stipulation that the householder would require written permission to harvest water? There is a very obvious reason but the Government has not mentioned it and most people who have registered are blissfully unaware of it. If people start to conserve more water to reduce their water charges bill by, for example, not flushing their toilets so much, Irish Water will increase the water out charge when the metering comes up. That is a standard feature of what has happened elsewhere, such as in Detroit and everywhere else in the world where there is a similar model in which there is a charge for water in and water out. At the moment the ratio is 50:50 but the water companies tend to vary this over time. In Detroit one now pays much more for water out than water in because people conserve more as the charges rise, but the water has to go out into the system so the companies increase their charges for water out to deny people the benefit of conserving it. This removes the incentive to conserve water at all.

In Bolivia, when Bechtel, the nasty, profiteering gang which set up the infrastructure for the US army in Iraq, was in control of the water system, it sent inspectors to the poorest shanty towns to tell people who had water collection receptacles on their roofs to pay for them. The people eventually chucked them out after two years of sustained protests but that provision is in the customer agreement which a person signs up to when he or she registers with Irish Water. So much for conservation. It is all about money and profit. It is about setting up a utility, which will be privatised, to make money out of what is a basic human need.

We beg to differ with the Government on how to vindicate the basic human right for water and believe it should be paid for through fair and progressive taxation. We think it would be fairer and more efficient and would yield more revenue to tax the people who do not pay their fair share at the moment, whether they are the corporate profiteers, the super-rich with their accumulated wealth, the very high earners or the financial speculators, instead of this regressive unfair austerity charge.

Since a transfer of money to the Exchequer from the local government fund is only provided for this year, will there be a transfer next year and, if there is, will it require specific legislation to facilitate it? We have to know what is going on with the money because all the legislation provides for is a one-year transfer of money from the local government fund to the Exchequer, a proportion of which goes on to Uisce Éireann.

I do not go along with the theory that the 32 local authorities were doing a highly efficient job and I had many a battle, both as Minister and local councillor, with the local authorities on this. We have to be honest about having a national network of water because if there had been a water supply to every house 120 years ago, no one would have set up 32 separate utilities. As with the electricity supply there would have been one national network connected in a comprehensive way, not stopping at county borders but giving a seamless system of water. We need a national plan in order that we move away from the stand-alone system county councils had in the past, because the problem was that if anything went wrong with them, one had no water. On the other hand, if there were a lot of interconnecting systems with larger and fewer treatment plants, it would give the advantage that if one supply got into difficulty, as happens with electricity, a backfeed of water would keep the supply going. The one-off, stand-alone local authority systems that did not connect have been a feature of rural life, but if anything went wrong, the whole system was down. When there was an outbreak of cryptosporidium in Galway, the fact that Galway city and county were not properly connected led to a lot of problems in the city because the new treatment plant in Luimnagh was not joined to the city system.

To say, therefore, that the status quo is working correctly is wrong. To say it was sensible to have pipes stopping at county boundaries just because there was a county boundary is wrong. To say that everything was right with the system is also wrong, given my many dealings with it. The games that used to go on between local authorities and the Department of the Environment, which used to totally frustrate me, was wrong. A lot of money was spent on consultants preparing grandiose plans and sending them off to the Departments. The Departments would then say they were too big and the plans would to and fro for years. More money was spent on plans than was spent on putting pipes into the ground and upgrading the system.

I believe in the concept of a national network of water so that from one end of the country to the other each system would connect into the next. As a problem might arise, as it inevitably would, be it a purely natural phenomenon or otherwise, there would always be a back-up supply connected to it. At times, the debate has been a little unreal on that aspect.

I am still fascinated as to what is going on with the money trail. As I said, since the provision we are debating is for one year only, will new legislation or an amendment be needed next year? Will there be a transfer from the local government fund next year to the Exchequer? We are due an explanation on that matter in this House tonight. If this Bill had been legislated in the proper way, we would have got that explanation on Second Stage or Committee Stage and we could have come back to it on Report Stage.

I wish to take up a point the Minister of State made when he attacked the Opposition for not mentioning or dealing with the issue of rural dwellers.

The Deputy is very sensitive.

It does not pertain to any of the amendments tabled this evening. Since the Minister of State has opened up the debate, I will take up the issue. Dividing rural and urban dwellers is the Minister of State's stock in trade.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil rely on it sometimes, as does the Labour Party when it suits it. We have always called for the idea that anyone who can be should be linked into a public water network. Attempts should be made to do that in rural areas. People should be brought into the public system as much as possible. Where it is not possible, people should be given grants for payments towards their group water or individual scheme. This was raised in the last water charges battle. I know the Minister of State is very young-----

The Deputy would be surprised.

-----but this position was put forward 20 years ago because we did not want a rural-urban divide then. If Irish Water is let loose and takes legs in the way the Minister of State would like it to, it will not be long before it takes control of rural group water schemes. Everyone will have to pay something towards Irish Water. In case the Minister of State thinks that is unlikely, it is happening already in the United States. There is very strict regulation in the United States, including, as was noted earlier, regulation of water harvesting. Anyone who harvests water has to pay the water utility for the privilege.

People in rural areas know this is an austerity measure. If one wanted to divide rural and urban dwellers, people in urban areas could argue they pay more property tax, but we are all in the one struggle. Most people in this country have not benefited and have lost out during the past seven years of austerity.

The Minister of State used the Water Services Bill tonight in a broadside on the left, saying that it never has any alternatives. My colleague, Deputy Paul Murphy, spoke for 15 minutes during which he outlined four alternatives, yet the Minister of State continued to insist he did not put forward any alternative. It is incredible that people on the Minister of State's side of the House perpetuate the myth that there is not a brass farthing in the country to be taxed. There is enormous wealth in this country and the people at the top have increased their wealth. They did not lose out during the recession. According to figures from TASC in April, the top 10% now own 34% of all wealth and the figure is growing. It was 27% in the 1980s. In the past couple of decades, some people have enriched themselves.

The former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, came into this House and was allowed by a different Acting Chairman to speak randomly on his experience outside this Chamber tonight. He said a bunch of fascists and thugs had prevented him from gaining access to the building and that this was disgraceful. It is called peaceful protest and it is the likes of the water charges which have ignited the protests. For seven years people stayed dormant, in acceptance and with their heads down in the hope that things would improve. The water charges have become the lightning rod for the anti-austerity movement. It is amazing that politicians who spent the past week bullying the Greek people are now finding a protest outside the gates of Leinster House a bit inconvenient.

At the outset of the debate the Minister, Deputy Kelly, made a very arrogant speech, which he delivered at breakneck speed. Believe it or not, many people listen to the goings-on in this House. Quite a few people listen to the Oireachtas goings-on live. More people than ever before are well aware of what is going on because of social media and the Internet. There is no way anyone listening could have followed a word the Minister said. It was very arrogant of him. However, he slowed down for effect when he wanted to mention certain things. He again delivered a broadside about Greece and how they have water charges there. The arrogance of the Government knows no bounds. Today it has come in with a sleight of hand. Cute hoorism, as it was called earlier on today, is a good description. The Government is sneaking in a whole new Bill in the guise of amendments to avoid discussion and debate.

We have been discussing it all night.

The members of Government then whinge that we are boring them and keeping them in the House. I have a nine year old at home who wants to see me-----

So do I, but we cannot get out because of the Deputy's people.

-----but thanks to the Mniister of State we will be here until 11 p.m. every night in the summer.

The Government ordered the business of the Dáil; not us.

The speaker to continue, without interruption.

I assume this will continue for the next few weeks as the Government rams through other measures which it could have got through the Dáil on the many occasions debate on other legislation finished early. Then the Government wonders why-----

The Deputies would only be causing disruption.

-----there are no women in the Dáil to be howled down and shouted at by very loud men. The Minister of State should expect a lot more. The Government is going to be challenged at every inch and on every line of these amendments to the Bill because of its manoeuvring and the way it thought it could act in the belief that we would simply give up. People have asked why we do not walk out of the Dáil. However, four or five Deputies spent the night here getting some interesting information out of the Minister of State and getting him to admit that motor and other taxes have been paying for our water services. We knew this, but it was nice to hear it from the horse's mouth. The Government has been saying we have been getting it for free and now we must pay for it but we were paying for it all along. Now the Government wants us to pay a second time and on top of those taxes which were already paid.

It is ironic that after this debate - it should be mentioned although it may have been mentioned earlier - the debate on the disgraceful cut to the lone parent payment is being shoved in at 9 p.m. until 10.30 p.m. tonight. There are women about whom I am reading today who are being told they have no money-----

This is not part of the debate.

-----and that they have to go to their community welfare officer-----

She is absolutely right.

This is totally related because it is related to the way the Government has conducted this debate. Deputy Lawlor may have only just come into this House but some of us have been here for a few hours listening to the Minister of State meandering about Greece and all sorts of places.

I never mentioned Greece.

If the Deputies do not mind, I am going to stick-----

The Deputy is meandering now.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger to continue, without interruption. I ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate.

I never mentioned Greece once.

In fairness, the Chair never interrupts Deputy Ruth Coppinger when she starts talking about something that is not an issue.

My point is that a very serious debate affecting thousands of women-----

-----is being shoved to conclude at 10.30 p.m. because of the Government's carry on.

I never mentioned Greece. The Deputy should correct the record.

It is a disgrace.

Debate adjourned.