Leaders' Questions (Resumed)

If the Tánaiste had intended to give reassurance to people regarding accident and emergency departments, she has singularly failed to do so. A very simple sentence is required, which is that no accident and emergency department will be in any way adversely affected by anything that arises from the report. That is what is needed.

I want to raise another matter, if I can. The HSE funds 1,900 voluntary agencies to a value of approximately €3.1 billion per year. A total of 44 of these agencies, which account for annual expenditure of €2.5 billion, are funded under section 38 of the Health Act. The remaining approximately 1,800 are part funded under section 39 of the same Act. The governance context in which the HSE engages with section 39 agencies is different from what applies in the case of section 38 agencies. For example, the employees of section 39 agencies are not public servants, are not members of the public sector pension scheme and, unlike those in section 38 agencies, are not directly bound by Department of Health consolidated pay scales.

In 2009, the HSE developed a national standard governance framework for non-statutory sectors. In 2010, under this framework, service arrangements were introduced between the HSE and section 38 agencies. In 2013, the HSE sought to enhance the governance arrangements in place for these agencies and to strengthen the direct relationship between the HSE and the board of each agency. Part of this enhanced governance was the introduction of annual compliance processes and annual meetings between the HSE and chairs of all section 38 agencies.

Will the Tánaiste confirm that all section 38 agencies are in full compliance with the HSE requirements regarding board and corporate governance? Will she confirm that all agencies adhere now to Department of Health pay scales in all circumstances? Will she confirm that the chairs and directors of all section 38 agencies have signed the compliance statement, as is now required? Will she confirm that all of the overpayments to individuals employed in these agencies which have been notified to the Department of Health have now ceased? Will she confirm the Government is satisfied with the oversight arrangements that are now in place to monitor what is State expenditure of €3.8 billion?

Reviews of all section 38 providers are being conducted by external consultants. These are under way by the Department of Health at present. The purpose of these reviews is to establish the standard of governance in place in these organisations and to confirm independently the very points raised by the Deputy, that governance practice and procedures accord with those set out in the respective annual compliance statements. The reviews involve an examination of key governance processes and documents, including obtaining confirmation that internal financial controls and written financial procedures are in place in these organisations. Six of these reviews are under way and their outcomes will inform the HSE's relationship with the agencies concerned and any further enhancements needed in the overall governance framework.

The HSE provides funding in return for services to 40 agencies under section 38 and to a much wider group under the other section the Deputy raised, which is section 39.

The value of these relationships in terms of the money given by the Government is in the hundreds of millions. The history has been that, to begin with, they were rather informal arrangements, but we have now moved to a point where they are far more formalised and, as the Deputy said, quite a number of changes in governance have been made. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform spoke earlier this morning about the payments made to the CEOs of section 39 bodies and the need to examine them to see if they were in line with the FEMPI legislation. Regarding the agencies about which the Deputy has spoken, the Minister is following up as we speak.

This matter has been teed up for some time, but the Tánaiste has not been able to answer my direct questions. Am I to understand neither she nor the Minister for Health can confirm that all of the agencies the Government funds are adhering to the Department of Health pay scales or that everybody employed in the agencies is being paid in accordance with the pay norms set down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Second, will she confirm that overpayments already formally notified to the Department of Health have ceased?

On the Deputy's first question about compliance, I am informed that the annual compliance statements have been signed by the agencies. The Department is providing another layer to examine, with external consultants, the area once again. Further work is being done to review the position again. As I said to the Deputy about what he described as overpayments, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has spoken about this issue today and said his Department is examining it right now. I understood from what he said earlier today that that was the position. He is following up the matter. It raises very serious concerns about the compliance of certain organisations with the standards laid down by the Government regarding payments to people who are delivering services paid for by the taxpayer.

The Government Whip went on radio on Saturday and sang a song. It was a fitting way to round off what had been a most musical week in Dáil Éireann. Did not half of the Cabinet spend the week accusing the poor Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, of not showing sufficient "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" for the views of the Attorney General? The stage trapdoor opened and as Joe O'Toole went hurtling down, he could still be heard singing, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

As for the Taoiseach, like Sinatra, he did it his way and now the end is near and, if Deputy Brendan Griffin has his way, he soon will face the final curtain.

My question to the Tánaiste today concerns water charges. I start with a confession-----


May we have a little order, please?

I have to confess that, as one of the founder members of the national boycott campaign, I never expected to see a 73% non-payment rate. The anti-poll tax campaign which, by the way, ended the political career of the Iron Lady, Maggie Thatcher, never achieved a 73% non-payment rate or anything like it. If one was to find a fitting historical comparison, one might need to flick through the pages of maritime history. On 14-15 April 1912 the unsinkable Titanic crashed into an iceberg in the icy waters of the north Atlantic, just as the Government's good ship "Water Charges" has crashed into the iceberg of mass non-payment. The history books record what happened when Titanic reached tipping point two hours and 40 minutes later. Her rate of sinking increased suddenly as her forward deck tipped under the water and the sea poured in through open hatches and grates.

I suggest that 73% non-payment is not far off a tipping point.

Is the Government seriously going to try to use European Commission threats to save a sinking ship? Is it seriously going to try to use a rigged commission to save a sinking ship? Or, is the Government going to recognise reality and give this hated charge a decent burial?

I thought the Deputy was going to break into song during his introduction.

Turn behind you.

Report Stage of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill is scheduled in the House later this evening. As the Deputy knows, it proposes to suspend domestic water charges from 1 July to 31 March next year. During this period, no Irish Water customers will receive bills for domestic water charges. The Government has charted a way forward. Charges are being suspended for nine months, during which time we will have a discussion on the future funding of domestic public water and wastewater services. The expert commission, under Kevin Duffy, will get on with its work and make recommendations on how we fund domestic water services. The work is commencing and should take approximately five months.

A special Oireachtas committee will examine the findings and recommendations, which will take approximately three months. The Oireachtas will consider it and vote on the recommendations. The process has been laid out and agreed, and the Government intends to follow it. In the discussions here, we have seen the outline and detail of the path forward. We believe it is the right route in order to discuss how the infrastructure, which is so necessary, will be funded. This key discussion must take place and we will continue the discussions in the format I have outlined.

Does the Tánaiste seriously believe the Irish people will not believe the water commission is rigged? Joe O'Toole let the cat out of the bag. The cat ran across the floor of the Dáil and everybody has seen it. The song the Tánaiste might like the members of the water commission to sing is "Silence is Golden".

"Bridge Over Troubled Water".

However, although the members of the commission are not talking to the press, the Tánaiste cannot bury their past statements. Xavier Leflaive of the OECD is on the commission. He once said, "Water pricing can be used to signal scarcity and to create incentives for efficient water use in all sectors". At another stage, he said, "It is well acknowledged that metering is the best [system]. It's fair and efficient". Is the Tánaiste prepared to come clean and admit the commission is just a sham?

The commission is an expert body that has been brought together to consider the evidence, receive submissions and examine the legal framework nationally and internationally, which we need to do. The commission has been asked to do this work and make recommendations. It is an expert body. I do not accept what the Deputy said about it. It will examine all the evidence and bring it together, examine potential funding structures and the legal frameworks, which are very important, at European and national level, and make recommendations. The group of experts will, no doubt, consider all the evidence and come up with recommendations. The report of the commission will come before the House, after being to a Dáil committee for further discussion on the way forward. We must have a discussion on the funding of the significant investment needed to deal with the problems which have not been dealt with to date when many local authorities were dealing with it in a very inconsistent way. Already, Irish Water has made improvements to the infrastructure around the country.