Water Services Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)

On the Order of Business I wish to refer to the CIA torture report and the fact that the former Minister Mr. Dermot Ahern said there was no truth-----

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

This is the Order of Business.

There is no Order of Business today.

Mr. Ahern was very delicate-----

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

-----in dealing with this matter and lied.

I am suspending the sitting for ten minutes.

Sitting suspended at 12.05 p.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.
SECTION 7.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 9, line 4, after “Water” to insert the following:

“including householders, commercial water users and representatives of the trade unions with members in Irish Water”.

This relates to the public water forum which the Government seeks to establish. People will be forgiven for being sceptical about this forum, what it will achieve, its logic and whether it will add any value to the operations of Irish Water. People have had the experience with the health fora, which are seen as talking shops. There are joint policing committees, which again do not have powers and there are question marks about their effectiveness. Now there will be a public water forum. While I might not fully agree with it, there is a view that this is just a sop to pretend to people that the Government will listen to them.

There are concerns about the forum. It is interesting that we are discussing this amendment 24 hours after RTE released papers and documents that were sent from Bord Gáis to Irish Water and to the Minister which show that the Government was not prepared to listen to Bord Gáis on the installation of water meters and their use. The Government is not even listening to the body that was supposed to have the expertise to deliver Irish Water so if it is not prepared to listen to Bord Gáis, I do not see how it will listen to people's views on the public water forum.

The forum is being established. We must give it at least fair wind and the opportunity to prove itself. We will seek to do that and to enhance it by ensuring the forum includes householders who will be able to offer an input on how this system is operating for them, how effective Irish Water is and problems that might arise for householders, commercial water users, given that they already pay water charges, and representatives of the trade unions who represent staff in Irish Water. One could argue that other sectors should be on the forum, but we have selected the three mentioned in the amendment. If the amendment is accepted, they will be an element of the total number which ranges from 12 to 60, depending on how many the Minister appoints.

There is also a concern that these are appointments by the Minister. Perhaps he will explain how that will happen. There have been major difficulties with this Government in respect of public appointments, even on the board of Irish Water. It was not long ago that the Minister of State appointed a member of the board to be his driver and the board member had to resign as a consequence. Unfortunately, there have been problems with political appointments to the board, so we hope nothing similar happens with the public water forum. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that this will not happen, how it will not happen and how the appointments will be made. Essentially, how will this add value to the operation of Irish Water? How will it be used effectively? Will the Minister accept the amendment which seeks to strengthen the forum to ensure it does not just become a talking shop but can add real value to the operation of the company?

I argued trenchantly a few days ago for giving the forum another task, but I was only using the forum because it was an available device within the legislation. It is extremely weak. What greatly concerns me about the legislation in general is the Minister's extremely broad powers to regulate various matters including, in this case, the membership of the forum. The Minister is giving himself sole authority to decide who or what becomes a member of the forum. That is wrong. We should be legislating for this. In fairness, in its amendment Sinn Féin has gone part of the way towards legislating for the type of person it would wish to see on the forum. There could be others.

There is no provision for any financial support to the forum. An ordinary citizen is expected to make his or her way from west Cork or other far flung parts of the country at this or her own expense. I do not know if the Minister proposes to make a change to this. The people who cannot afford to pay for water will not be able to afford to become members of this forum. We are not talking about salaries but about ensuring people will be able to travel.

First it was costing too much, now it is too little. Is that it?

Senator Thomas Byrne to continue, without interruption.

I said the opposite.

That is what the Senator is saying. He cannot make up his mind about anything.

The Government has made at least 20 U-turns on this in the past couple of months.

It is called listening.

The Government cannot make up its own mind.

I sincerely hope we reach section 10 which deals with the €500 million bailout which the Senator is standing over this morning.

Fianna Fáil is the king of bailouts.

Senator Thomas Byrne to continue, without interruption.

It would be an interesting feature of this debate if somebody distilled the Labour Party contributions and separated the heckles from the substantive contributions. It is nearly all heckles from the Labour Party in the course of this debate. There have been very few substantial contributions.

The forum should have another function, which is to investigate the story yesterday on RTE radio. Bord Gáis told the Government-----

The amendment is specific.

It is very specific. What the trade unions, the commercial water users and the householders want to know is why the Government pressed ahead with the metering programme, despite being told by Bord Gáis, the expert in this area, that it was not necessary. Cui bono - who benefits? That is the question the public is asking.

The question the public is asking is why €500 million was spent on meters when the Government was told it was simply not necessary. The public water forum would certainly be willing to investigate this matter and to ask the question as to why that €500 million was spent into the ground. Not only were we told it was not needed two years ago, but the Government has acknowledged in the rest of this legislation by providing for a flat charge that it is not needed now either. We need a full response in the Seanad to that from the Minister this morning. It was not his decision but he is a representative of the Government and liable for the Government decision.

That is more relevant to the section.

This was a Government decision to sink €500 million into the ground for something we now know it was at all times advised was not necessary.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú. I second the amendment moved by Senator David Cullinane.

I have grave concerns about whether the public water forum will have much of an impact. As has been stated previously, the closest example we can get is perhaps the HSE health forums which people from all sides of the political divide will agree have few teeth and little impact apart from asking questions and trying to elucidate answers. The public water forum is going down that type of route. Notwithstanding this, it is important to look at the make-up of this forum. As such, the amendment proposes including householders, commercial water users and representatives of the trade unions with members in Irish Water. One can see from the thousands of e-mails we are getting that major issues are being raised by different people. The efficacy of putting a group such as MABS on the forum is worth looking at because MABS deals with people on the ground on a daily basis who are trying to pay their bills.

I note that there is a story this morning about MABS looking into the issue of prepayment. We had a lengthy discussion today on entering into payment agreements if there is an inability to pay and on the need to show compassion to those who try to enter into them. However, we see today from MABS that it has done an invisible shopper type exercise in some areas on people who are prepaying their utility bills for other utilities. They are being ripped off by a number of retail outlets in that situation. While the retailers are already getting paid if they take a prepayment in their shops, they are adding on extra expenses.

That has nothing to do with the amendment.

It does absolutely. It is about bringing the concerns of consumers around payments into the water forum. I suggest that type of issue will arise. That is why it is important to include householders and commercial water users.

I raised an issue last week to which we did not get an answer which was that while the rates for domestic household use were being frozen, it was not known what was happening with commercial rates to 2019. I asked if there would be a fixed rate to 2019 and what the impact would be of water costs to businesses. The Minister might clarify that for us this morning.

There will be householders who represent group water schemes. Another question to which I have been seeking an answer is on the bulk buying that has been happening. People are saying those in group water schemes will not be affected by this, but, of course, they will. It will affect the price as they have been getting their water supply from local authorities. They have been getting a serious write-down in the case of most local authorities. There was a fixed rate in counties Mayo and Galway being paid by different group schemes for the bulk water they were buying from local authorities, but the Minister has not clarified for us what will happen in this scenario and whether the cost of group water schemes will increase. Householders representing group water schemes should be considered for the water forum as there are so many different stakeholders.

Obviously, trade union membership is near and dear to the Labour Party's heart. I cannot see why the Minister would have an issue with representation from trade unions to represent the rights of the workers. That is why we are proposing a cost-neutral amendment. It does not have a huge impact on the workings of the public water forum and can only enhance what is there already. Certainly, I hope the Minister will be able to take this on board in the light in which it is being put forward.

I welcome wholeheartedly the establishment of the forum. It is the single most important thing for society to be able to participate. Participative democracy is what we all espouse. When we look back at what the Constitutional Convention did, we see that it led the way in ensuring that many people from all strands and sectors of society will be included in the forum. With the numbers provided for in the legislation going from 12 to 60, there will be ample opportunity for every sector of society.

Another Senator referred to MABS, a group working with people in trouble. Personally, I would welcome members from MABS, the farming community, households, group water schemes and, in particular, businesses which have been paying for water all along. One speaker said the forum was extremely weak. The forum will be extremely powerful. An organisation is as good as its members and the members, if the Constitutional Convention is anything to go by, will be strong. The brief it has been given is a wide one. It will be representative of the interests of all customers of Irish Water. While the group water schemes will not be customers of Irish Water originally, it should include people who may become or are dying to become customers. I know people who are sinking wells that cost €7,000 and the gunge that comes out costs nearly as much again to treat. Some people are paying very dearly for water and it might be time to hear the voices of those who have to sink wells.

According to the explanatory memorandum, the forum will have a very broad role in reviewing and commenting on various strategies and plans, including investment plans and water charging plans. Partnership with the public and private sector is the single biggest opportunity for civil society to participate. I congratulate the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins. If we have faith in partnership and participative democracy, we must acknowledge what the Leader did in bringing groups from outside into the Seanad. The Leader has already said we are going to do more of that as society participating in partnership with the private sector, the public and legislators is for the best.

The amendment proposes to include others and a broad forum is welcome. Gender is important also. While the 40% rule is there, we are aiming for 50%. This should be kept in mind. A forum is as good as the people it is made up of. Representing all will be a huge opportunity for us.

The Minister paints with a very broad brush in this section. While Senator Cáit Keane referred to various interest groups, she was referring to the explanatory memorandum which is not binding at all. When I say the Minister paints with a very broad brush, I mean he establishes something called the customer consultative forum, which sounds very good, but there is no indication of the mechanism by which customers - people who have been enlisted as customers without voluntarily participating - can have their voices made clear.

The Minister refers in the subsection to a number from 12 to 60. That is a very wide range. Perhaps I have missed something, but I see nothing as to how members will be appointed or selected or what interests they will represent. It is very important to have someone there from the coalface to represent the interests of the forcibly enlisted customers. If one needs a comment on the Government's position throughout the Bill that it needs the establishment of Irish Water to provide money for investment, one learns today that there has been less investment in the past two years than there was in the preceding ten years. It has actually gone down. It is an extraordinary statement. At all times, the Government has been shouting that it needs money for investment yet it is not putting any in at all. It is reducing it. The number of leaks-----

The amendment is on the membership of the forum.

Exactly. This is precisely the kind of thing that all Members of the House would say if they were lucky enough to be on this consultative forum. I do not see anything in the Bill that outlines how we get there. How does one apply? Are positions advertised? I recall the competition legislation which came through the House several years ago. All public appointments had to be advertised and subject to competition. We do not find that anymore. We need to know the details, including the rough number that the Minister considers optimal and how people are to be appointed. There is a real necessity for the people who are being pinched to have a voice. If one wants to know how the foot feels, one does not ask the shoe. I am looking for the feet of Ireland, about which we heard so much on Friday. Reference was made to people speaking with their feet. I want the feet of Ireland to be represented on this consultative forum.

A certain Greek artist used to exhibit his paintings publicly in order to attract criticism from his audience. He would hide behind a pillar to listen to the comments. One day the local cobbler started giving out about a drawing of a shoe.

Is this relevant to the amendment?

It is very relevant. Senator David Norris reminded me of the story. The artist overheard the cobbler's criticism and he fixed the drawing before redisplaying it on the following day.

This is not relevant to the amendment.

It is particularly relevant where the Senator is concerned. The cobbler came back on the following day and said: "He made a great job of the shoe but he made no job of the leg at all." The painter jumped out and said: "I will take any criticism from you about the shoe but you know nothing about legs."

A load of cobblers.

The moral of the story is that one can talk a great deal on something even though one knows little about it.

The Senator did a good job of that for the last three minutes.

Good man. The word is "ultracrepidarian". The amendment is ostensibly decent enough but I do not think it is necessary. Surely everyone in the country is a householder or commercial user. While there is no reason we should not also specify trade union members, should we not also say that members of other representative groups have an equal claim to membership? I do not think we need to go much further on this.

Senator Thomas Byrne was particularly vocal on the argument that we have needlessly put €500 million into the ground with the installation of water meters. He described this as an outrage. I remind him that in 2010 Fianna Fáil approved in principle a loan of €550 million for the exact same work.

Speak to the amendment.

This is filibustering.

It is difficult to know how one can approve something in principle and object to it in practice, but we have had that from the Opposition all week. Some speakers have criticised the composition of the forum. The Minister will have powers to provide by regulation for the membership and composition of the forum. It is difficult to see how Sinn Féin could be opposed to the forum carrying out the following functions:(a) to represent the interests of customers of Irish Water; (b) to provide Irish Water with comments and suggestions in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions; (c) to provide the Commission with comments and suggestions in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions; (d) to comment on any policy document produced by Irish Water, when requested to do so in writing by Irish Water; (e) to comment on any consultation document produced by the Commission in respect of public water and waste water services, when requested to do so by the Commission; and (f) to carry out such other activities in respect of such other matters as the Minister by order specifies.

That is not relevant to the amendment.

It is absolutely relevant to the amendment.

We are not speaking to the section. The amendment is specific.

The amendment deals with the functions of the forum.

It deals specifically with the inclusion of certain groups, in addition to everybody else.

That is what the amendment states, but my comments are absolutely relevant. That is why I argue that the amendment is unnecessary.

Senator David Norris covered much of the ground I intended to discuss, but there are some variations I wish to outline. I ask the Minister to clarify the provision for at least 12 and not more than 60 members. Why did he consider such a wide gap in the numbers appropriate?

Long experience has taught me that when it comes to Opposition amendments to Government legislation on specific organisations, the Government always demurs on them. I am not surprised, therefore, that the wording refers to representing the interests of customers of Irish Water. In practice, that gives a Minister wide latitude as to whom he or she can appoint. Sinn Féin has tabled a worthy amendment and I understand the motives behind it in terms of making the forum more broadly representative. However, what happens if the amendment is passed and the Minister's hands are thereby tied? He would also have to ensure the interests of the customers of Irish Water are represented alongside householders, commercial water users and trade union representatives. When it is read in that context, it ties the hands of a Minister. That is why I am interested in hearing the Minister's response. I ask him to spell out how he intends to initiate the process of establishing the forum. How will the members be selected, through the Minister or the Public Appointments Commission? Will it be based on an open invitation to the general public to declare interest in positions, followed by some sort of culling process? The legislation is not quite clear on how this is supposed to happen. It merely states that the Minister will introduce regulations for the composition of the forum. While I understand the Minister's opposition to the amendment, the legislation is somewhat woolly in respect of how the forum will be established and how many members it will comprise. The Minister might also respond to my concern that the amendment restricts the Minister of the day in the appointment or reappointment of members of the forum.

I commend the Minister for bringing this proposal on a public water forum into the revised legislation.

As I said in the one contribution I made on Friday - others spoke 20 or 30 times - when the Minister-----

That is why we are here.

We are not just here to filibuster, talk around in circles, repeat and contradict ourselves ad nauseam. By the time we got to 3 a.m. I think some Members were inebriated-----

What about the people in the Dáil bar?

-----from the exuberance of their own verbosity and self-importance.

On a point of order, I assure the Senator that the Fianna Fáil spokespersons were here and 100% sober.

Senator John Whelan was not talking about drunkenness.

I can only speak-----

That is not a point of order and I do not think that is what Senator John Whelan said.

No; he made an allegation.

He was talking about Members being drunk on verbosity.

All of the Fianna Fáil spokespersons were absolutely 100%-----

That is not a point of order.

No, I resent the allegation.

That is not what Senator John Whelan said.

No, I am sorry, he did.

I heard what he said.

That is not what he said. Will the Senator, please, resume his seat? That is not a point of order.

I presume I speak for all sides of the House when I say I had never come across in my life a more sober bunch than those who were present on Friday night.

It depends on the circles in which we move.

On a point of order, if Senator John Whelan wants to talk about Members being inebriated on the day-----

That is not a point of order. A point of order should relate to procedure.

-----we will have no problem whatsoever in having that debate.

What does that have to do with procedure?

I can tell you one thing.

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat? I call Senator John Whelan to speak to the amendment.

There were a lot of Senators coming from the Dáil bar into the Chamber late on Thursday night.

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

If they want to have that debate, we will have it with them.

The Senator will not be having it here.

The three Sinn Féin Senators were present to debate the Bill, which is what we were elected to do-----

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

-----rather than sitting in the Dáil bar, which is what many of the Government Senators were doing.

We are debating the Bill.

They then came into the House to vote on important legislation.

That is not a point of order.

I am glad that Senator John Whelan raised this matter.

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

The people of Ireland now know exactly what some Government Senators were doing on Thursday night-----

Nobody at all is talking about drink.

-----when we were present to do our job.

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

We were not filibustering.

I am suspending the sitting for 15 minutes.

We were representing the people of the State.

Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.

I was rudely interrupted in speaking to the amendment to section 7 regarding a public water forum and I wish to set the record straight. I resent those interruptions. I said that it occurred to me that certain Members in the House were inebriated by the exuberance of their own verbosity.

Please speak to the amendment.

For the record, I was-----

That is as opposed to some of those guys being intoxicated.

On the amendment, please.

Unbelievable as it is-----

Please, Senator.

I wish to clarify-----

We were here doing our job.

I ask Senator John Whelan to speak to the content of the amendment.

The Minister is doing his utmost to listen to the public and we would be grateful if the Members from Sinn Féin would do the same for a moment and allow me to make my point. I was quoting the former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, when I made the remark. That has nothing to do with Israel and I do not want to start another international incident. It has nothing to do with Palestine or anybody in Palatine, in Carlow, when the by-election is due.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I am doing so.

The Senator is not taking this seriously at all. It is a disgrace.

We are certainly taking it seriously, to the same extent that anyone from Sinn Féin or the Reform Alliance spoke to the amendments on Friday. I could not follow what they were saying then. We are going around in circles.

The Senator will not have that big smile on his face after the next general election. I look forward to that.

Please allow Senator John Whelan to make his contribution, without interruption.

The forum, as set out by the Minister in the Bill, clearly has the capacity to be wholly and fully representative of all the stakeholders in the community - commercial users, householders, workers and so on and there is no requirement or necessity to enshrine this in the primary legislation. Clearly, the Minister is listening here and responding, but now he is being castigated for establishing a forum, just as when we introduced meters people said they did not want meters, but then said they will not pay for water until they get meters. They cannot make up their minds about anything.

Fianna Fáil said it is opposed to a €160 flat fee, but it intended introducing a €400 flat charge.

The amendment is specific.

In regard to the amendment, I am saying the forum will be able to address and tease out all of these issues in the best interest of communities and the public and people in places like Strokestown in County Roscommon. I proposed someone from Roscommon should be on the forum, because Roscommon people have suffered most in regard to bad quality water that nobody can drink, thanks to 20 years of neglect by previous Administrations that purported to represent that county. It is important we have this forum and that it is representative of all stakeholders. It is important it does its job well and feeds into the Department and the Minister of the day, who rightly instructed Bord Gáis that it was wrong when it opposed metering. As anyone involved in water services and group water services around the country knows - colleagues in Fianna Fáil have acknowledged this - the best way to find out how much water we are using and where the waste is and the leaks are is to have meters. At the same time, the entire Opposition here opposes metering.

This amendment is not about water meters.

I would like to see this forum established as early as possible. I would like it to be as representative as possible and believe the Minister is going about it in the correct way.

I commend the Minister for his proposal to put together a forum on water through this Bill. I am concerned, however, about the representation on that board, particularly in regard to households. Will it include representation from those households that have what might be regarded as specific needs? I heard it said over the weekend that Irish Water had intended to make allowances for people with specific medical conditions such as eczema or those with a need for kidney dialysis. I would like an assurance from the Minister that these areas will be considered when representatives of households are being selected. This is a short day in the House and I am anxious that we serve the people of the country rather than each other. If there is rowdiness in the House, I call on the Cathaoirleach to suspend the Member rather than the sitting of the House. I am anxious that we should get through a day's business today. The day is short enough as it is and I am quite dissatisfied by what I have seen this morning.

I welcome the Minister back to the House and hope he had an opportunity at the weekend to reflect on his position in regard to this Bill, particularly with three opinion polls showing Labour Party support at just 5%. At that rate, the Labour Party will not get one seat.

How is that relevant to the amendment?

It is relevant, because the Minister has an opportunity to withdraw the Bill today.

That has nothing to do with the amendment which is specific.

I will be specific, but I wanted to put that to the Minister because, with support at 5%, his seat is in danger also. I am sorry about that because my father was a trade union member all his life and I am very proud of the trade unions.

The Senator should stick to the amendment.

I hope the Labour Party will survive and that it will be in government again some time.

Please stick to the amendment.

This is just a reflection.

We will be all right. We will be grand.

If everybody is reflecting, we will not keep to the amendments.

I could reflect on Senator John Whelan's comments also-----

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I will stick to the amendment. This quango has been set up, but must one be a card carrying member of the Labour Party or of Fine Gael to become a member of this board? The allocation of posts by the Government is on a 2:1 basis; therefore, we see two judges appointed by Fine Gael and one by the Labour Party, on and on to the highest level in the Civil Service.

This has nothing to do with the amendment.

It has. The point is whether there is a provision in this that a person must be a member of a party to become a member of the forum.

The amendment states who should be appointed to the forum.

I support that, but I also support the fact that the appointments should be non-political.

The Senator cannot amend the amendment.

I support the Sinn Féin amendment, but I wish to make a point to the Minister that the public knows what is going on and knows that the possible 60 appointees to the forum will be predominantly Fine Gael and Labour Party appointees.

Is the Minister aware that speaking at the launch of plans to ratify a number of State agencies before the last general election, the now Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said one of the essential measures in Fine Gael's five point plan was to abolish or rationalise 145 State agency boards, committees, task forces and public bodies - often referred to as quangos - to help it hit the efficiency target without affecting front-line services. Now the Government is setting up another quango, possibly a 60-member quango, which will be funded by the State. It will be funded by hard pressed taxpayers, who will be paying-----

That is not relevant to the amendment but to the section. I will let the Senator come in on that issue when we are dealing with the section. The amendment is specific.

I am ready to deal with the setion, too. Will my constituent from Circular Road, Roscommon - let us call her May - be eligible to be a member of the forum?

Is the Senator lobbying for her?

She wants to be able to monitor the meter to ensure there is no leakage. Irish Water and Roscommon County Council have both stated they will not move it to a location close to her house. Currently, the meter is located with three other meters in a gateway on Lanesboro Street, where it can be driven over by service vehicles or where people may park.

This has nothing to do with the amendment. It is not in order.

It is quite in order. I am making a point about the forum. I have acted as Acting Chairman and I am quite aware of the rules. I am referring to a situation where if the forum is established and can be of any use, I want it to deal with May. She may be a member of the forum or she can make a representation to the forum, or she may do neither. This is the case she will make to the forum. The meter is about 3 m away from her house, so how can she monitor it? It is in a gateway that is being used by the public and cars. She cannot get down to the hole in the ground and read the meter.

That has nothing to do with the composition of the forum.

It has to do with the forum. If it is established, the forum will have to deal with these issues. Is that not what it is about? Let me ask the Minister.

That concerns the section. The Senator can ask those questions on the section.

No, I am dealing with the forum, the widened forum. Will the people down on the quays who got free dinners from the Merchant's Quay Project have an opportunity to serve on the forum? Will they be allowed to serve on it? They will be charged €160 per year for water, yet they are queueing for a free meal because of hardship. Will they be allowed to be on the forum? There is no provision to allow for them to be on it? Will the Minister allow the homeless or people who have no houses, property or anything to be represented on the forum or will it be exclusively for Fine Gael and Labour Party members?

The woman in question has made a representation to Roscommon County Council because she is stressed out by Irish Water. She is in her old age and lives alone and does not need the hassle of having to worry about exorbitant bills due to leaks that could go unnoticed. She has been contacting Irish Water since last May and a councillor has started contacting Irish Water on her behalf since September. She is worried that if there are leaks, the call out fees of over €200 are too much.

That has nothing to do with the amendment.

The Senator is making-----

I do not have a platform on TV3 or with Vincent Browne; I must use the democratic process to be heard.

I ask the Senator to stick to the amendment.

On a point of order, I requested that the Senator desist from making personal remarks to me and I warn him again to stop doing so.

That is not a point of order.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has named me on Vincent Browne's show.

We are not talking about Vincent Browne's programme. We are debating amendment No. 22.

The forum is contrary to the policies of Fine Gael and the Labour Party and is another quango.

I will let the Senator comment on the forum when we reach the relevant section.

I will comment on the forum at that stage. I support the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin and warn that the forum will not be stacked by party hacks.

I welcome the amendment because it makes sense.

Sinn Féin wants to widen the membership of the forum because it wants people in different income brackets to be represented and to have a wide church of opinion on the forum, whether specialised or from various income brackets which is a wise move. Such direction should be given to the Minister given the history of the debacle over Irish Water and the manner in which that has been handled heretofore. The handling of Irish Water has even been condemned by the members of Government parties and no one can argue with the fact that the debacle has persisted since its initiation here in 2013.

The objectives of the forum are central to the role of members and are defined in section 7(5). It includes dealing with the investment issue, the delivery of the investment programme and the service standards in a more structured way.

We know what the investment programme for Irish Water is because the Commission for Energy Regulation has stated it will be around €2 billion expenditure in the next two years which is a substantial amount of money. At this stage it appears that all of that money will come from the taxpayer or user charges. Unless there is a white knight who will provide Irish Water with money, and despite what the Minister may assure us, I do not think the established model will attract private investment from the markets. Perhaps the Minister will outline the manner in which the investment programme, for which forum members are responsible for, will be funded. How will the money be raised over the next two years and where will it come from? I want the Minister to answer my question because it is relevant to my questions on the responsibility of forum members.

As Senator Paschal Mooney has outlined, there can be between 12 and 60 forum members which is quite a large number. Also, the Minister can appoint a chairman of the forum. That means there is a total joined up approach between the forum's input to the process and where the Minister is coming from on the day. It is wrong that there are no clear boundaries between the independent forum and the Minister.

A Labour Party hack will be appointed.

If we are serious about a forum, it needs to be objective and independent but the forum being established is neither.

Section 7 mentions that the Minister can appoint a chairman to the forum which is wrong. Before the last general election the Labour Party and Fine Gael stated they would end cronyism and quangos. Now they are establishing Irish Water and will put at the head of the forum someone who will be appointed by the Minister of the day which is wrong. That is the politics of the past from which we are trying to move away.

Fianna Fáil's past.

The legislation is very specific about the membership of the forum. First, one must be a customer of Irish Water which means one must be able to pay. What about individuals who are not in a position, through no fault of their own, to pay for a water service? There are individuals who will not pay, even though they can afford to do so. However, there are individuals who genuinely cannot afford to pay and have no place on this forum. Their voice will not be represented on the forum which is wrong and I want to Minister to clarify the matter for me.

Sinn Féin's amendment is timely and has opened a debate on the ability to pay and the investment programme. Not only will Irish Water be responsible for charging; it will also be responsible for setting fees for new connections. We do not know what the fee for new connections will be in the future either, whether in rural or urban areas. A matter which will affect every house or apartment built going forward into the future.

The role of the Commission for Energy Regulation is very relevant to this section and amendment and it should be objective. Its regulatory role is to bring a monopoly situation closer to the market forces. I very much question the qualities of the commission, its objectivity and the manner in which it takes the ability to pay into consideration and whether it takes customers' views and opinions into consideration when making pricing decisions. In this instance the commission was railroaded in terms of pricing because there is now a whole new pricing model. In this particular case the role of the Commission for Energy Regulation was undermined by the Government due to political circumstances and the fact that the people's voice was heard to some degree.

We have talked about a new forum being established and we have talked about listening to people from the forum. We have democratic forums in both Houses of the Oireachtas, one in the Dáil and one in the Seanad, but the voice of the Opposition has not been heard in this debate.

The amendment refers to specific people to be included in the forum.

Last Friday night we spoke at length and made very valid points. Today we have listened to Senators who were not present for most of the debate on Friday night. They came in here and accused us of filibustering.

I ask the Senator to comment on the amendment.

We researched the material that we debated.

It does not look like it.

We researched it ourselves and spent time doing so.

It looks like the Opposition Senators are making it up as they go along.

If we are not being listened to on behalf of the people then surely the Government is only using a forum as an opportunistic approach and to be seen to be listening.

The Senator has strayed from discussing the amendment.

This is all it is. They want to be seen to be listening and this is a political forum.

I welcome the setting up of a consultative forum in this area. The model could be, very usefully, extended to a number of other areas where there is a significant public interest. I respect the spirit in which Sinn Féin tabled its amendment and its wanting to ensure certain categories of people are represented on the forum. However, I agree with the comments made by Senator Paschal Mooney earlier that unintended consequences may result from setting out, in legislation, the groups to be included in the forum. I shall outline my experience of working in a different area and on a different board. Where representatives were listed in legislation it was then seen to exclude other groups that should have been included. Therefore, I am not in favour of making a prescriptive list in legislation. The amendment states: "including householders, commercial water users and representatives of the trade unions with members in Irish Water". I would have extended the provisions to "including but not limited to" in order to avoid the implication that it was limited to particular groups.

I agree with my colleague, Senator John Gilroy, that the legislation as drafted is reasonably clear and broad in permitting a wide group to be represented on the forum. I disagree with Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill because I do not think it is limited to the customers of Irish Water. As the forum is established as a customer consultative forum, there is no implication that it is limited to these customers.

A number of Senators have made positive suggestions on the types of group that should be represented on the forum and the number of interests. They may not be immediately obvious. For example, the disability sector and MABS were mentioned, but I would like to mention the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and environmental groups which should be included.

Will the Minister take on board some of the proposals that have been made concerning what types of group could and should be represented in the composition of the forum? I see no reason the composition of the forum could not be put out to a public admissions programme via an advertisement in the newspapers or whatever else.

While I am sure some may disagree with me, this Government has gone a long way towards ensuring members appointed to State boards go through a selection process. A similar process should be put in place for members of the forum. We have indicated to the public that we want groups to be represented on this forum that may not be immediately obvious and that are representative of poorer members of society. Charging for the way water is administered may be of more relevance to others who may be better off.

I welcome this section and believe this amendment was probably tabled in good faith, but that is where my support finishes. If one starts requiring prescriptive lists, as Senator Aideen Hayden has just said, one will unintentionally exclude people from strata of society that should be included. We have great experience of establishing forums across various sectors of society for various reasons. I understand that, by regulation, the Minister will set out the detail of this section at a later stage. There will then be an opportunity to encompass and include all of those who should be at the table.

We have heard disagreements of this kind before from political parties across the floor. We have heard objections to the setting up of local policing forums. The same people are now knocking down the doors of these forums seeking meetings so they can issue press statements locally to ensure they are getting media coverage even before those meetings occur.

Great points, but stick to the amendment.

Some people said the health forums were a useless waste of time, yet the same people are at the meetings and are first to go to the media with their points after such meetings. We must, therefore, regard in a jaundiced way what this amendment is supposed to mean. If we were to insert these three categories to the exclusion of everybody else, we would be criticised for doing so and would be asked about various other groupings.

The Minister's approach is to put this in primary legislation to allow an opportunity for a discussion of this nature, in order to take these points seriously. He will make his decision afterwards. If he were to do that, he would not gain a lot from the discussion so far. That is because people said they support the amendment, while the same people said another quango should not be established. Others said people appointed could not afford to be on it, without any outline of what the regulation would entail. While I do not envy the Minister's task, this is a great opportunity for him to answer all the naysayers when he sets out the regulations for this part of the legislation in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister for being here. I have some questions on the forum. My concern is that forums seem great in principle, but in practice they are often not worth a whit and have few teeth. I was a member of the HSE forum for a while at which phenomenal issues were discussed and great questions were asked, but I am quite sure that not one bit of that was fed up the line. I never saw any legislative changes emerge because of the health forum. What teeth will the proposed forum have to ensure that feedback is taken on board? What assurance can the Minister give us that feedback will be taken on board and how will we know that?

My second question concerns the application process for membership of the forum. Senator Terry Leyden may have been a little inflammatory, but some of his comments were made with good reason. The Minister will recall John Walshe's recent book on being an insider in Deputy Ruairí Quinn's Department of Education and Skills. It showed, to my great shame, that Fine Gael's only concern was to get two to one for every membership on the education and training boards. That is what they spent their time being concerned about, and Mark Kelly broke down his door to achieve it. So it does matter that random homeowners are chosen.

Who will oversee that process and who will ensure there will be people on the forum who can mediate for the concerns of family members with specific medical needs? On Friday, I gave the details of a family that wrote to me. They have an autistic son with eczema who needs four baths a day, which uses a lot of water. One bath occasionally is a lot of water, but four baths a day is a huge amount of water. I was shocked to learn that the medical exemptions in the Water Bill had been removed. Can the Minister verify this? It is a serious issue if the allowances for people with medical exemptions have been removed. It is a concern for people on dialysis, for example.

That is more appropriate for another section.

Will technical advice be available to members of the forum? If the forum is to have teeth and not to be just a talking shop, they should have such technical advice. In that way it will be substantive and verifiable, and the members will not be knocked back every time and told that something is not legally permissible. I look forward to hearing the Minister's answers to these questions.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for being here. It is important for Members to be constructive in this debate. In addition, those contributing should not be interrupted, as that is unhelpful.

I welcome this section but do not agree with the amendment. Can someone give me a legal definition of "householder"? Does it have to be an owner, a tenant or just an occupier? Perhaps someone can give a definition of what this amendment is for, because it is clearly broad and does not add anything to the section.

I have been following the issues that have been raised during this debate, including the composition of local authorities. Fewer than 10% of all local authority members are ratepayers. Does that mean that technically we should ensure there is a proportionate number of ratepayers on city and county councils, as well as non-ratepayers? Have we ever established a consultation process with ratepayers, who are paying huge amounts of money to local authorities? I have not heard any of the Opposition parties raising this point previously. In Cork city, for example, approximately €60 million is paid by ratepayers to the city council. Yet, of the council's 31 members, I doubt that there are more than three ratepayers. I was on that council myself for 12 years and was one of only two ratepayers there at the time, yet we were making a huge contribution to the local authority's finances.

The section, as drafted, sets out clearly the purpose of the consultation process to ensure the views of people on the ground will be represented all the way up the line to management. The intention is set out clearly in the wording of section 7 and the amendment would not add anything to it.

Let us have a vote on it if the Senator wants to talk about it all day.

In fact, it would make it more confusing in terms of the definition of "householders". Someone might provide clarification because it is not defined in any section of the Bill. Should we now set out a definition of "householders" if we want to proceed with the amendment?

On the contribution individuals are making to local government, there is a lack of knowledge of the contribution ratepayers are making. For instance, the average ratepayer in Cork city is paying €7,000 per annum on a 1,500 sq. ft. premises, on top of which he or she is paying water charges. Last week in the debate Members were speaking as if meters were something new. In all local authorities meters have been in place in the commercial sector for quite some time. Was there any consultation process with ratepayers at that stage on the installation of meters when they were being installed in buildings liable for rates? No, there was not. Was there consultation with ratepayers? No, there was not. Was any forum set up? No, there was not. In this case the Minister has come forward with a very constructive proposal to set up a forum, the members of which are living in the country and who will be involved in discussing the services being provided at local authority level and by Irish Water. The section has been drafted correctly and will be implemented in a proper manner. I have every trust in the Minister that he will do this.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an bhfóram seo. This is probably one of the better amendments for discussion, although it is like sending invitations to a wedding; the more invitations one sends the more one will leave people out.

The Senator is at the top of my list.

I am not finished yet. On the composition of the forum, as outlined, some Opposition Members are showing their true colours when they say we promised an end to cronyism and quangos. First, they are stating they existed and, second, they are acknowledging that we are working towards that end, but it will take a long time because the number of appointments made by previous Governments to semi-State bodies, etc. reminds me of the Argentine ant - once it gets in, it is very hard to get rid of it. It will take some time to do this, but we are working towards that end. For example, many independent chairpersons were appointed to institutes of technology. I have experience of these bodies and know that matters are improving in that regard.

Judges were mentioned. Sinn Féin could consider recommending some of those involved in the kangaroo courts as judges-----

On the amendment, please.

-----although I have to say knee-capping is not a valid punishment in this country.

The Senator is moving way beyond the ambit of the amendment.

On that matter, I bought a ticket in the Sinn Féin lotto the other day.

On the amendment, please, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

If one reveals three baseball bats, one gets a beating.

That is irrelevant.

On a point of order, I am surprised at Senator Jim D'Arcy because he normally does not lower himself to making that type of comment.

That is not a point of order.

I ask Senator Jim D'Arcy to retract the comments he made.

I retract them, but they were made in jest.

We would prefer if the Senator spoke to the amendment.

I have ruled the comments out of order.

The other day I heard about Laurel and Hardy and it reminded me of Bonnie and Clyde.

Will the Senator, please, try to stick to the amendment?

It was said totally in jest.

Will the Senator, please, address the Chair and not try to have a row with his Sinn Féin friends?

Indeed.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames referred to random homeowners being chosen and asked if this could be arranged within the applications process. I was at the Constitutional Convention and the Senator was right in that the health forum did not achieve a great deal, but the convention was a fine example of participative and deliberative democracy. Working on that principle, not alone the forum but also the concept within it of participative and deliberative democracy represent a good move forward. The European Union is taking a close look at how Constitutional Convention worked to try to emulate it.

While, as a general principle, the amendment is useful for debating purposes, it would not be inclusive; rather, it would be exclusive. For that reasosn I could not give it my full support.

I welcome the Minister. Section 7(2) states there will be a forum of at least 12 and not more than 60 members. As this is the Government that tried to abolish this House of 60 Members, I welcome the Minister on the road to Damascus. He will recall all of the reasons the Government and, in particular, his Department - the lead Department in this instance - gave in favour of abolishing this House, but he has suddenly become enamoured with a body of 60 members. I am delighted to see this and thank him. When he was in his bunker in the Custom House refusing amendments, among the ones he refused was the one suggesting the National Consumer Agency be considered, but it was not acceptable to the Department. The Competition Authority was also suggested, but it, too, was not acceptable to the Department. Democratically elected local authority members were not acceptable to the Department and the Minister guillotined the debate on the Bill in the Dáil. He promised that he would listen to the Seanad, but I expect that by 6 p.m. he will have done nothing in terms of listening to the Members of this House. He does not like us either.

The Minister said the Commission for Energy Regulation had been consulted. I received a telephone call before coming to the House. It stated it had not been consulted and that there is nothing on its website about the matter. In fact, it has not put anything on its website since 19 November. It is not liked either.

The Minister did not like Bord Gáis when it told him it did not want priority to be given to the installation of meters and there are no minutes of the meeting held, which is a disgrace. Part of the reason we are investigating the banking issue is that the Department of Finance, like the Minister's Department, did not keep minutes either. To continue through the list, the Minister did not want the appraisal section of the Department of Finance working on the forum and, therefore, rejected our amendment.

Will the Senator, please, stick to the amendment?

The Minister did not want the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to be involved. He did not want street democracy; he thought people were going for a walk around town. This is the eleventh attempt by him to find people who might agree with him to sit on the forum. I am against the forum and the section, but if we have to have a forum, the one proposed by Sinn Féin would be better, given the track record of the Department in not listening to people, not keeping minutes, repeatedly being of one mind and bringing parliamentary debate in the State to a new low.

The Minister should look at the opinion polls. The other night we forecast what would happen and it has happened. The Minister is out of touch with the people - so much so that the proposal from the opposite side of the House is to let some poor people on the forum. The Government will charge €260 per household and give a one in 80,000 chance a person might be a member of the forum. I thank the Minister for nothing if that is what he regards as consultation.

The record of the Minister's Department means that this is not a good idea. Friends will be appointed. Minutes will not be taken. There is no interest in the views of any community in this House or of any other body - outside the Department's own narrow circle - because they are telling it that this is an economic disaster. However, I support the amendment because it is better than what the Minister has in his Bill.

The establishment of a forum is an excellent idea. Getting the views of members of the public should be encouraged and embraced. That is what the Minister is trying to do by including provision for this forum in the legislation. The amendment that has been tabled is too specific and too prescriptive. There is no question about this. Senator Colm Burke raises a good point on "householders". What is the definition of a householder? Does it include someone who rents or has a lease? Senator Fidelma Healy Eames spoke about house owners rather than householders. The amendment refers to householders.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh mentioned organisations such as MABS. Others mentioned the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. These are laudable organisations. However, they will be precluded from this amendment in appointing an organisation rather than a householder, a commercial water user or a representative of a trade union. This amendment, which has probably been put forward with the best of intentions, is far too prescriptive and would not achieve what it is meant to do. For those purposes, the amendment should be rejected. It is far too specific and prescriptive.

I accept that the amendment was tabled in the right spirit. The rationale for the establishment of the customer consultative forum is to provide a voice for Irish Water's customers and to give them a greater influence on how Irish Water will work and operate. It is a good process and something which mirrors processes and practices in similar types of utility.

Section 7 provides that the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, shall be required to establish the forum. It also provides that the Minister may make regulations in respect of the composition of the forum. It is critically important that the forum is fully representative of a multitude of interests and concerns held by various different stakeholders in Irish Water, including its customers, and that a learning process is part of it. This will include, among others, household customers in various categories and non-domestic customers and will be a much broader group than that proposed in the very restrictive terms of the amendment. Therefore, I will not accept the amendment.

My intention is that this forum will be of significant benefit to Irish Water. I will set out the regulations on how it will work and operate. I intend to set them out in a draft format and send them to the Oireachtas joint committee. This committee can study them and make changes, comments and considerations in whatever shape or form they so choose. It can then come back to me and I will take on board its recommendations and suggestions on the forum. That is why this section is not detailed and is not very specific on the regulations and how the regulations will be set. This is done on purpose. They will be set following consultation with the Oireachtas joint committee and will deal with the terms of reference, the categories of groups of people and organisations that need to be referenced in it and will ensure the expenses of people who are taking part in it are covered and so forth.

It is important that there is a wide range of categories of organisation and people covered by it, including older people, people with disabilities and local authorities, for instance, and all the other categories that have already been spoken about. I will take on board the suggestions I have heard on setting out the regulations before sending them to the Oireachtas joint committee.

I will not pick individuals for this body. I will pick a chair, but outside of this, the CER will run the administrative process. I will define the categories of people and organisations to be involved. However, the process will be run through the CER and the people will then be chosen. I will take guidance from the Oireachtas joint committee on the regulations and on how many people should be on the forum. The legislation provides that it will be between 12 and 60. It might vary over time. Sometimes more people might be needed and other times fewer people. That is a matter of detail that can be gone into later. I wish to state quite categorically, because it was stressed here, and I had to laugh at it, that there will be no political decision making as regards categories of people who will be on this forum. It is outrageous to say there will be. This forum will be for the betterment of Irish Water. It is imperative that it works to those conditions. I know political points have to be struck but that was over the top.

It will be a matter for the CER to deal with the issue of any advice that the forum might need. The CER can provide expertise or technical advice. The CER will manage customer relations and ensure that Irish Water observes and adheres to a customer charter. It is imperative that this works. The CER will take on board the findings and what is coming up for discussion on Irish Water at all times. That is where the teeth will kick in, because the CER will be co-ordinating this and running this. It will certainly take on board the various different issues, concerns or problems that anyone on the forum speaks about. That is important.

The forum will provide feedback on the prioritisation of what Irish Water needs to be doing and where it needs to be concentrating some of its efforts. It will highlight issues on the capital programme or concerns that may be raised by the public on various issues or aspects that need clarification, such as geographical coverage and so forth. All of these issues will be dealt with as part of the forum and that is important. Some Senators have made some useful suggestions on categories of people who should be on the forum. I will take these on board. We should also remember that there needs to be a category - or categories possibly - of commercial users on the forum encompassing very important sectors in our society, including agriculture and tourism, for example.

I was born on the shore of Lough Derg. I was born the distance from here to the gates away from Lough Derg.

Not many people associate Tipperary with the River Shannon or Lough Derg but I always do and we must remember those engaged in leisure pursuits and other matters. One might not consider such people at first, but they constitute a very important sector and should be represented on the forum.

This area has been criticised in these debates, but it was deliberately set out in the legislation in this manner. I will consider people's opinions, reflect them in the regulations and send them to the Oireachtas joint committee in draft form. When the Oireachtas joint committee has had a chance to study the draft and consult me I will then set out the regulations and appoint a chairperson. This will allow the CER to operate based on the categories we need, depending on regulations and the volume of people. The manner of the running of the forum was never intended to be detailed or prescriptive in legislation.

I commend the Minister for his response stating the draft regulations will come before the relevant Oireachtas committee as this will be a positive step. The Commission for Energy Regulation will then define the categories of people who will make up the board and this is a positive step.

I want to allay the fears of Government Senators on this amendment as it does not exclude anyone. The amendment states we should include the categories we set out, which are householders, commercial water users and representatives of trade unions. The board will not be exclusive to these categories; the amendment merely states these categories should be included. I accept the Minister's response that the same argument applies to the areas of agriculture and tourism.

It has been said the Minister cannot be prescriptive but in setting up the local community development companies, LCDCs, he was prescriptive. That process meant there had to be nine public sector members and ten private sector members of the company boards. The public sector membership had to include local authority members, local authority officials and State agencies and the private sector membership was also set out very specifically. The private sector membership had to include community and voluntary interests, social inclusion interests, environmental interests, local and community development bodies, farming and agricultural interests, business and employer interests, trade union interests and other relevant local and community interests. In other words, the Minister was prescriptive in setting up LCDC boards and used similar guidelines to those mentioned in this amendment.

I will not say much more because, to be fair, the Minister has been helpful in his response and has allayed some of my fears. We did not raise these points to start an argument, as though to imply, as others did, that the Minister will pack the forum with hacks. We want this forum to work in the interests of those who use water and for that reason we want to strengthen the forum. We will press the amendment for the reasons I outlined.

There is much business to be done today and there are many more amendments in the name of Senator David Cullinane; therefore, it is crazy to go around in circles. We have been on this amendment for two hours. My point is that this is Senator David Cullinane's amendment and I am asking whether he is pressing it.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 28.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(g) to recommend that Irish Water can issue public health notices in respect of water quality.".

Táimid ag plé an ghaoil agus an róil atá ag an bhfóram uisce poiblí. I note that the role of the public water forum in most cases will be to make "comments and suggestions in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions". We are suggesting in this amendment that the forum should be able "to recommend that Irish Water can issue public health notices in respect of water quality". Perhaps the best way to illustrate how extremely important this is would be to mention an example to which I have previously alluded and which encapsulates what I am trying to say. The existence of trihalomethanes, TTHMs, in our public water supply is a very serious issue. I understand over 30% of the country's water supply is in exceedance of that figure. We have been campaigning for over 40 years for the overhaul of a water scheme that serves the Carraroe area of Connemara. We moved through the first phase of that process, which involved putting down water pipes, and we have moved on to replacing the water source in Carraroe itself. The plan was to go to a clean water supply with a new pump station as a second phase. That was agreed with Galway County Council and planning permission was given. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was fully on board until Irish Water came along and decided to review the matter. Now we have been told it is to be shelved completely, apparently because the water supply in Carraroe is suitable for the needs of public consumption and can be topped up with water from Spiddal and Galway.

Some very good research on the water supply in Carraroe has been done by Raidió na Gaeltachta and others. Carraroe was initially sidelined because the State lost a case in Europe against the quality of the water being provided to people there and, as a consequence, had to put remedial action in place. We have found out that the level of TTHMs in the local water supply has been in exceedance on over 95% of the tests done since 2008. We were told that last year's upgrade, which cost almost €1 million, would bring the water quality up to standard. Obviously, that has not happened. We have found out - we had to drag the information kicking and screaming from the EPA and the county council, etc. - that there has been an issue there since 2008 about which we were not told. We have contacted the EPA, the county council and the HSE to try to find out why local people have not been told about this issue. When we contacted the HSE, we were told it is the responsibility of Irish Water to announce that the water is not of sufficient quality. When we contacted Irish Water, we were told it is the responsibility of the HSE to make a pronouncement on the quality of the water and on whether a boil notice or some other notice needs to be put in place.

It seems to be a very grey area. I suggest that where ongoing testing of a water source finds an excessive level of trihalomethanes or THMs, it needs to be proscribed. I suggest that if monthly testing is done and the water fails five tests, it should lead to a red flag scenario and a public health notice must be issued. The HSE cannot give us a sense of how long a water supply must exceed THM levels for it to pose a danger to people.

Let me explain the health issue. Irish Water is blue in the face stating this THM issue is not a major one, but I beg to differ. THM in water has only been measured here since 2008 and no testing was done pre-2008. Causal links have been proved in a number of international studies which show that THM is a carcinogen. THMs are caused by a reaction between chlorine, that is added to the water, and the organic matter in the water. It is only in cases where more chlorine is added that more THM is created in the water supply. No direct correlation has been proven as of yet. Statistics released last week show there is a 17% increased prevalence of stomach and intestinal cancer in the Carraroe region which stretches from Carraroe to Lettermullen to Ceantar na n-Oileán. Nobody has created a link but people living in the community feel there may be a link between THMs and the high risk of cancer in the area.

We tabled the amendment as there are genuine causes for concern among the community. It appears that the HSE has kicked the issue into touch. It is reluctant to raise awareness about the issue and will not tell us how long is too long for a person to ingest or shower using a source of water that contains THMs. Such water affects a person internally if it is consumed. It can also affect a person who uses the water to shower because a person can develop skin cancers.

The forum could play a useful role in this area if it is given evidence of an incursion by THMs or something like it. We are not talking about a reading being a little over the acceptable level of 100. In some cases the level in the water tested was 200% over the agreed WHO levels. The EPA has instructed Irish Water to resolve the matter. The latter has told us the matter it will not be resolved until February 2016, but the EPA has told Irish Water that it must be remedied by November 2015. We suggest some barrier be put in place to remove THMs from water immediately because such technologies are available.

Our amendment states the forum can "recommend that Irish Water can issue public health notices". We should push the company to do so in areas where there is serious concern and definite evidence relating to water safety. People are genuinely concerned about whether water is safe to use. Irish Water wants to brush the issue under the carpet because 30% of the water supplied across the country exceeds the approved THM level. Irish Water does not want that fact known too publicly because it is not in a position to address the matter.

I have given examples of the issues involved and hope the Minister will take them on board. I appreciate that there are statutory functions for the HSE in terms of E. coli, etc., but we think there are other areas and issues where public health notices must be issued. People have a right to know what type of water they are consuming and the long-term and short-term impacts of same. I would go further and suggest more research be conducted into the causal connections between the level of THMs in water and the incidence of cancer in certain areas. My party would happily support the Minister using Connemara as a test case scenario.

I second the amendment. I will not go over any of the ground covered by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh because he made eloquent points.

Section 7(5)(a) states the primary function of the forum which states: "to represent the interests of customers of Irish Water." I imagine the primary interest for most people is to get good quality drinking water and, therefore, it makes sense that a forum would recommend the issuing of public health notices.

The amendment tabled by Sinn Féin states the forum should be able "to recommend" and a number of our amendments are along the same lines. It is doubtful we will get to Report Stage today, but if we do we would submit an amendment that would change the Government's paragraphs (b), (c), (d) and (e) because they all mention that the forum can make comments and suggestions rather than recommendations. I ask the Minister to take our suggestion on board because the role of the board would be strengthened if it could make clear recommendations rather than just meeting and commenting on reports. The Minister and Bill mentions "comments and suggestions".

I second the amendment and support the comments made by my colleague, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.

I will not hold up the Minister on this issue. All I will say is that I am a little concerned about water quality. There are dangerously high levels of lead in the water in Tralee but no single agency claims responsibility for same. The HSE has not issued a non-drinking notice, the local authority will not do so because the issue concerns Irish Water, and the EPA will not do so either. Nobody has taken responsibility for the matter.

I do not believe the Minister will accept any amendment today and that he ever intended to accept one. In the event of him not accepting this amendment I suggest he considers finding a way to ensure people are advised whether it is too dangerous or unhealthy to drink water in their area. We need a one-stop shop to deal with issues that concern public health. As I said last Friday night, I do not believe the Minister will accept an amendment and I ask him to consider a way to resolve the matter.

I support the amendment, despite what Senator David Cullinane has said. The amendment does not enable the forum to recommend but pre-empts a discussion by requiring it to recommend. However, I understand the principle behind the amendment and agree with it.

Usually the HSE issues health notices, but the water people have traditionally issued boil water notices.

Do they not? I thought they did. If I am wrong, I am wrong.

There is an immediacy and local knowledge by the people in the water services that lends itself to the matter being brought to the public's attention fairly quickly which is important. Either 15 or 20 years ago in this House I raised the issue of public water supplies being tainted with campylobacter and E. coli infection. On that occasion I received a very dusty response, but perhaps we have woken up to water safety. The public has the right to be alerted, as quickly as possible, about any contamination of water services and it is for that reason I support the amendment.

I welcome the Minister. I have listened with great interest to what colleagues have said about this amendment because water safety and quality are matters of great concern. Some worrying and concerning points were made by colleagues about water quality in Connemara and Tralee and more generally by Senator David Norris when he mentioned tainted water supplies. We are all very conscious of water safety and it has been a huge issue in many parts of the country for many years.

As I said on Second Stage, the quest for water safety should make us all welcome a change in how we deliver water services. Clearly, we have under-invested in the water supply for years which has left water quality in many areas in a very poor and in some cases appalling condition. The under-investment in water has been a feature of the current system and happened where there was a multitude of local authorities in charge of water services generally. One national public utility is a hugely positive development because it will ensure we have a better level of water quality.

Given that is the context of the amendment and for the concerns behind the amendment which are ones we all share, we need to look at what is the appropriate way to deal with this issue under the auspices of the national public utility that is Irish Water. All of us agree that the public must be notified where there are issues with water quality.

I understand the HSE has a statutory function in this regard, as the proposer of the amendment has pointed out. One would anticipate that Irish Water will be also working with the HSE when there are issues of water safety or quality in any area. I am not sure this amendment is necessary and I am also concerned that its provisions may lead to function creep for an entity which is hugely important.

Most speakers have welcomed the principle and the concept behind section 7 of the Bill. The idea of a public water forum or customer consultative forum was an important element of the measures announced on 16 November in response to public concerns about the way Irish Water was being governed. The aforementioned forum is hugely important and its functions are set out very clearly in subsection (5). This amendment seeks to amend subsection (5) to insert a new provision, subsection (5)(g), to recommend that Irish Water would issue public health notices. It seems that the forum already has very clearly designated functions. Subsection (5)(b) provides that the forum shall "provide Irish Water with comments and suggestions in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions". If there are concerns among members of the forum about water safety in a particular area or concerns that Irish Water and the HSE are not working together in an adequate fashion to ensure customer safety, then subsection (5)(b) provides sufficient powers and authority to the forum to do what the Senators are seeking with their amendment.

We all appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment proposed but I would suggest that it is an unnecessary amendment. We must be careful not to suggest the customer consultative forum should trespass on statutory functions around public health and safety. That said, the forum would already have the power to provide Irish Water with comments and suggestions on the adequacy of the performance by Irish Water of functions in respect of water safety and for that reason I do not think this amendment needs to be put to the House - perhaps the Senators will withdraw it. Their objective is something with which we all agree in principle, but I argue that it may not be appropriate to provide for this in statutory format in a section that deals with the establishment of a customer consultative forum. Section 7 already provides the forum with quite extensive and specific powers in terms of its function, namely to represent customers of Irish Water.

I have some experience of customer panels - for about 40 years I spent almost every week of the year listening to customers talk, discuss, object and praise. I did not support the last amendment because there is a danger that any customer panel or forum can become a talking shop. If one appoints too many representatives to such a forum, they feel they must represent their constituents and must have a say. I could easily see the customer consultative forum for Irish Water becoming a talking shop.

I was impressed by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh when he spoke about his experience in the west and by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell when he talked about Tralee. It seems that if we have not covered this area well enough, then there must be some facility to draw the attention of the public to a water quality problem when it occurs. On that basis, I have no problem supporting the amendment.

Amendment No. 23 certainly makes sense at some level and it provides us with an opportunity to explore some of the issues it addresses. In terms of efficiency, it certainly makes sense because it seems to provide that Irish Water would issue timely public health notices. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has very direct experience of difficulties with the supply of drinking water in Galway and has outlined the damage to tourism that an outbreak of cryptosporidium caused a number of years ago. Senator Norris referred to E. coli contamination and Senator John Kelly needs no reminder of the problems in Roscommon. Organic contaminants are a real problem, as are chemical contaminants as referred to by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell who spoke about lead pipes in Tralee. Similar problems are faced by residents of Little Island in Cork. There seems to be no single agency responsible for addressing such problems.

While I agree with the intent of the amendment, I worry that it will disperse responsibility across too many agencies. Boil water notices are issued by local authorities on the advice of the HSE. Were we to accept this amendment, we would run the risk of removing the HSE from the equation. The HSE and the EPA both have an independent oversight and monitoring role. The amendment does not address another area covered by the system in Northern Ireland, namely that of "ongoing guidance" with regard to water quality. In Northern Ireland the Drinking Water Liaison Group, DWLG, comprises representatives of Northern Ireland Water, the Public Health Agency, the Northern Ireland Public Health Laboratory, chief environmental health officers, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. A wide range of bodies in Northern Ireland are involved in oversight and monitoring but also in ongoing supervision, which amendment No. 23 does not address.

While I agree that the amendment has some merit, as it is constituted, it would not give expression to what the Senators intend because it is too narrow in its scope.

I thank the Senators who contributed to the discussion on amendment No. 23 which proposes that the public water forum shall have a role in recommending that Irish Water "issue public health notices in respect of water quality". Section 5 of the Bill provides the forum with a wide range of functions including the broad function of providing Irish Water with "comments and suggestions in relation to the performance by Irish Water of its functions".

The issue of drinking water and public health is dealt with under legislation through the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014. These regulations set out a range of standards which the water supply must meet and include matters such as lead, E. coli and many other contaminants. Irish Water must comply with these regulations. In the event of non-compliance with the quality standards set out in the aforementioned regulations, Irish Water is required to investigate the cause and notify the EPA. If there is a potential risk to human health, Irish Water must consult the HSE, ensure that its customers are informed and take appropriate remedial action. Accordingly, the matter raised in this amendment is already the responsibility of other existing statutory bodies and that is why I will not be accepting it.

In fairness to Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, he spoke with both knowledge and passion on this issue because he has been dealing with it at a personal level. It is a serious issue, to be frank. There are water quality issues in a number of areas of the country, including Tralee and elsewhere. It is frightening to see problems coming to light in so many disparate areas. All of these water quality problems must be dealt with as a matter of priority.

On the issue of trihalomethanes, known as THMs, Irish Water has put in place a number of measures to deal with breaches. It is making good progress in this regard, which must be acknowledged. It has developed a new formation potential monitoring programme and a new monitoring programme to ensure compliance with mandatory standards. Many investigations are taking place which are detecting THM breaches. The EPA has also prepared guidance on investigations.

The public water forum can make comments and recommendations on Irish Water functions relating to customers' experience and how the company deals with customers, as set out in section 7(5)(b). It is important to point out that the EPA has a statutory responsibility to supervise Irish Water's performance in the supply of clean drinking water and we cannot override this. It is set out clearly in the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations. An important component of that responsibility is to keep the public informed.

We cannot override this. I am concerned about regulatory stretch as regards multiple organisations and clear lines of division, although I accept that the amendment has been tabled for the right reasons. Paragraph 5 of the statutory instrument relating to European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations provides that it is a legal requirement of Irish Water to inform its customers where there is a breach of statutory standards. Should the company not do something - that should not happen - the Environmental Protection Agency can direct the company to do something. It is important to say that. It is important to point out the responsibilities and roles of Irish Water, the EPA and the HSE. I have no wish to see a stretch in terms of regulatory conditioning or responsibility. It is more important that these organisations work together and adhere to everything for which they are legally responsible and that they do so in the appropriate manner to ensure public health is protected. It is important to ensure that takes place in the correct fashion, comprehensively and by dealing with all the issues of which people spoke passionately in this Chamber.

This is something close to my heart and something I take seriously. Water quality is something I take extremely seriously. It is something I am passionate about, given experiences about which I have been told and experiences I know of having grown up where I grew up. I grew up by the lakes of Lough Derg and I still live there. When I was growing up I learned to swim in Lough Derg. It was a fantastic and brilliant place to grow up, and the water quality was fine. However, the amount of people swimming in Lough Derg now is minuscule. It is unfortunate that it is not at the level it was, because of various issues in respect of pollution and so on. My family lived beside the lake. Dogs tend to drift and our dogs drank the water in an old L-shaped currach harbour and died as a result. Cleaning up the water and ensuring we have water quality in place for generations to come is an absolute passion of mine.

It is critical to ensure all organisations working in the area do their job and that the relevant protocols are in place through the regulations from Europe. I should point out that they are good regulations. They need to be introduced incrementally rather than in one big slap-bang. The organisations need to work within those regulations to preserve our water quality. I accept the bona fides of the amendment, but we do not need to have more and more regulatory crossover, especially for something so critical to human health.

I appreciate the tone of the Minister's response and the fact that most Senators have taken on board points I have made. I wish to further clarify my position. I am raising this issue because I believe it has implications for policy positions and decisions that Irish Water is taking.

I refer back to the example cited. There is an acute scenario involving E. coli or something in the water. Statutory regulations set out that if E. coli is found in the water by the EPA then a boil water notice is put in place, and the HSE is the body that makes the order. The HSE informs Irish Water and Irish Water must stipulate that people must boil water before using it. However, it is more of a grey area when it comes to other issues such as pollution by trihalomethanes, THMs. Frankly, we are not overstepping the mark in the regulatory area. There are various scenarios under which State agencies are advised, or else people are allowed to make recommendations to them. At the end of the day, it will be a decision for the HSE and Irish Water, etc., in respect of whether a public health notice is issued. In these Houses, Oireachtas joint committees can make recommendations, but it is up to the powers that be, whether the relevant agencies, the Departments or the Minister, to take them on board within the statutory framework and make a decision.

The issue of THMs is interesting because the World Health Organization is the body that issues guidelines internationally. The guidelines we had up until recently allowed for 150 µg per litre in the water, but this was reduced further to 100 µg/l. The standard in Canada and the United States is 80 µg/l. I understand the level is 50 µg/l in Italy and 10 µg/l in Germany. It is not as if we are world leaders in respect of THM levels.

The county councils were the bodies that tested water for THMs and so on and they would have sent the results to the EPA. The EPA would have checked the results against the international benchmark laid down. If the tests found that the level of a particular substance exceeded the recommended limits, the EPA would contact the county councils and instruct them to put remedial measures in place. The EPA was doing this but the county councils were not living up to the letter of the law. This meant they had to be threatened with legal proceedings. Now, Irish Water has been threatened with legal proceedings if it does not do something by next November.

In an ideal scenario I can see where the Minister is coming from and how the system should work, but it is not working. This is why I envisage a crucial role for the proposed group to make recommendations. I appreciate what Senator Ivana Bacik said on section 5, but the difference is that this amendment would allow for recommendations to be made as opposed to simply comments and suggestions. It is a little stronger.

The international study carried out by the WHO on THMs came up with guidelines. The value for chloroform was developed from a study showing hepatotoxicity in beagle dogs that had ingested chloroform-based toothpaste for 7.5 years. I am not a mad scientist, but this is what the report states. We know that we have been ingesting the water for over eight years in Connemara. The tests to which I have referred show the levels to be carcinogenic over a seven-and-a-half-year period. We know we have been drinking the water for at least eight years in the Connemara scenario. Yet the EPA and the HSE are telling us that we need not worry about it. Representatives of Irish Water make little of the situation when we raise it with them.

Are there any beagle dogs living there?

I would not mock this. If it is shown that there is a carcinogenic effect in dogs, it could happen in humans. Certainly, I would not mock the situation we are in. If Senator John Gilroy came to Connemara I could introduce him to many people who are angry about this. We believe there is a health issue and that Irish Water is making little of it. The public water forum suggested could have a prominent role in highlighting to the relevant bodies the nature of certain issues. It could also highlight to the relevant bodies the need to make people in the community aware of the situation and the need to consider putting out a public health notice. That is what the amendment seeks to do and, therefore, I will be pressing it.

Like other Senators, I do not see the need for this amendment. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh seems to suggest that the system is not working. Perhaps it is not working in Galway. County Roscommon has had serious water quality issues for the past 20 years, including contamination with cryptosporidium and E. coli. The HSE acted quickly to inform the public in those cases. Public notices were in all newspapers and on radio. I cannot see how this amendment would improve on this. Since the inception of Irish Water, seven new schemes have started in County Roscommon, something that never happened before with all the money that was being pumped into fixing the water system in Roscommon.

I am pleased to hear that Ervia is committing approximately €600 million to fix the water quality problems in the county. The fact that we have 50% leakage is a serious matter of concern. I do not see the need for this amendment. The system in my county is working very well. I compliment the Minister again on the job he is doing. He is a listening Minister and this much was acknowledged earlier, even by Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill who said the Minister had listened to the people.

The Senator should remind me of that later.

I did not hear that.

The Senator will have to go back and get his script.

I see where Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is coming from. Where there is a health risk, Irish Water has a legal obligation to make a full disclosure.

In fairness, if it does not make a full disclosure, it walks a dangerous line because it must, at all times, keep and maintain records on water quality. These records must be made available if a person decides to enter litigation on a matter; therefore, it would be very risky for Irish Water not to make a full disclosure. I agree that there is a need for co-operation between all of the agencies involved. This legislation is not necessary at this stage because there is the legal obligation and it need not be written in stone. Local authorities previously ensured full disclosure on health risks. Much work has been done to improve water quality in recent years, but more needs to be done, which is why Irish Water is being set up as an entity separate from local authorities. It will work in a co-ordinated fashion, improving water quality across cities and counties. This issue is being dealt with in the correct manner.

Long ago every local authority tried to contribute to the building of the Cork to Dublin road, but nobody achieved much until the National Roads Authority was set up. Suddenly the Cork to Dublin road was quickly completed. Likewise, Irish Water means that a single, co-ordinated legal entity will deal with the development of water services in cities and counties. This is a welcome initiative.

I wish to respond to something Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said. Having a review of the links between contaminated water and the carcinogenic effects on the population is a good idea. However, it is a different issue, one about which the Senator is clearly and rightly very passionate. I agree with him entirely and the debate on the amendment has been excellent.

As I said on section 7(5)(b), the customer consultative forum will have powers under the legislation, as it is set out, to provide comments and suggestions for Irish Water on the performance of its functions in respect of water safety and other matters. It may not have the power to provide recommendations, as mentioned by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. I should have pointed out that section 7(5)(f) allows the forum to have a more general function "to carry out such other activities in respect of such other matters as the Minister by order specifies". Clearly, a ministerial order could have the effect of requiring the forum to go further and make recommendations on water safety, if necessary.

I have another point to make before the Minister replies. I take on board the points made and think what is happening is constructive. My understanding is that the implications are far-reaching for the State. Senator Colm Burke referred to the legal implications and I understand a case is being fought in Letterkenny, County Donegal, regarding a similar issue. Is the Minister aware of this? Cases are being brought to court and legal fees incurred because Irish Water is taking on local communities. Nobody wants to see things being taken down this route - we want issues to be addressed before they reach this stage - but I am aware that the State is fighting such cases and I am not sure the Minister is aware of this.

Senator John Kelly raised issues about E. coli and there are HSE guidelines stating an immediate boil notice must be applied in certain acute cases. The Senator should check trihalomethane, THM, levels in Roscommon because there are issues in that area. The long-term effects and what constitutes a long-term effect are at issue.

This debate has been worthwhile and influenced my thinking in a number of areas. It has re-emphasised matters for me because I am passionate about the matter of water quality.

Irish Water is required to investigate the causes of problems with water quality and must notify the EPA which has a statutory role in this respect. If there are issues relating to human health, the HSE must be consulted and remedial action taken. I will not accept the amendment because we do not need regulatory creep in this matter and it would introduce a crossover.

I understand what Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh says and appreciate where he is coming from, given his knowledge of this area. Senator Ivana Bacik has made the point that the forum will not have regulatory powers because it cannot have them - a number of State agencies already have such powers. Instead the forum can discuss policy issues in the context of ongoing performance and investigation. I will not accept the amendment, but I will take on board this discussion when sending regulations for the forum to the joint Oireachtas committee. I give Senators my word and when I give my word, I keep it. The forum regulations can ensure public concerns about the issue of water quality will be be dealt with appropriately. If people have concerns, they will be able to raise them through the forum and I will ensure this is the case by seeing that the categorisation of the work streams and people in the forum will allow for this. The forum will not have regulatory powers because that responsibility lies with different organisations, but it can reflect concerns about public health issues and how such concerns are communicated. There could be communication difficulties if Irish Water did not address concerns about water quality in an area and this would be an appropriate matter for the forum to deal with.

I will not accept the amendment, but I give my word that the regulations I will send to the joint Oireachtas committee for analysis will reflect the issues raised in the debate. The committee will give its views on the draft regulations before they are set. I aim to ensure appropriately responsible and qualified people will be part of the forum and that the concerns of the public will be properly communicated and reflected. All of this will constitute a work stream of the forum. The process the CER uses for people to join the forum will reflect this, too.

I appreciate the Minister's commitment, but our experience with the agencies has not been great. The voices of communities must be heard. For that reason, I will press the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 28.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(g) to review the use of fluoride in the water supply, and to issue recommendations to Irish Water on the use of fluoride in water.".

Táimíd ag cur leasaithe chun cinn anseo a bhaineann le fluairíd a bheith á chur san uisce agus an ról atá ag an an bhfóram poiblí seo maidir le hUisce Éireann. The Minister is obviously aware that there has been a major debate about fluoridation, even in these Houses, in the past while. With regard to the role of the public water forum within Irish Water, this is an issue that could be addressed, and the forum could have a positive role in addressing it. The amendment proposes that the group review the use of fluoride in the water supply and issue recommendations to Irish Water on the use of fluoride in water.

As opposed to comments and suggestions, the idea of recommendations is important. That word is extremely important in this scenario. We know that the fluoridation of our water supply started in 1964 after the introduction of the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Act 1960, that it was a very crude way of medicating the public with fluoride and that consecutive Governments have overseen the addition of fluoride to drinking water for 50 years. There has been widespread opposition of fluoridation since Gladys Ryan took her case to the High Court in 1964 on the basis that citizens had no choice but to drink medicated water. We believe it is time to stop this mass medication. The evidence is there for all to see. Ireland is one of only four EU member states that support fluoridation of water, and Switzerland was the last European country to end fluoridation in 2000. The European Directorate General for Health and Consumers has stated "people do not need [fluoride] for normal growth and development". The European Court of Justice has defined fluoridation as a medication and it has refused to sanction its implementation, yet our Government continues to impose fluoride on the population at a cost of €4.8 million per annum. This is an issue that affects 84.8% of the population. It does not discriminate, so everyone gets fluoride in their water regardless of their age or health. In fact, the highest dose goes to bottle-fed babies. This over-exposure to fluoride has serious side effects. Dr. Robert Balan claims that recent studies show that exposure to fluoride induces central nervous system disturbance. He also linked fluoride to a high risk of Alzheimer's and osteoarthritis. International studies prove tooth decay does not increase when fluoridation stops. The truth is that we receive enough fluoride in our toothpaste to deal with that issue.

I raise this not as a party political issue but as an issue of public health. I hope this is an amendment that the Minister and Senators can support. Regardless of whether we agree on the fluoridation issue, we ask that the public water forum have a role in this area - that it review the use of fluoride in the water supply and issue recommendations to Irish Water on its continued use in the public water supply. There are other Senators here who are passionate about this. We introduced a Bill on this issue. We felt it had to be addressed and it should have been addressed but, unfortunately, that Bill was not passed. If we are to allow this public water forum to have any meaningful role, in the public mindset there is a great deal of debate on this issue, and the forum should at least be given the role of making recommendations on this issue.

If the Senator would like me to do so, I will second the amendment.

I formally second the amendment. It is an important matter of public health. I do not think it is a party or partisan matter and I do not expect the Minister to accept this. As I said last week, the Government is not going to accept any amendment. That is blindingly obvious. As it is not going to bring the Dáil back at this stage, we can forget it. No amendments will be accepted - that is it, done and dusted.

With regard to fluoride, I used my Private Members' time to address this issue and I think it was during this session. I unearthed a suppressed report by the former Cabinet Minister John Gormley. The Government managed to suppress his report on fluoride. It contained quite astonishing stuff. I got the last surviving copy of it. It was very detailed and covered a great deal of scientific evidence. The scientific evidence is balanced, in a way. It is quite difficult to come down very clearly on one side or another. There is a lot of "Elvis was caught having dinner with the aliens" sort of nonsense about it, with claims that it causes everything from nipples to nappy rash and God knows what. It is a load of rubbish. I do not believe it has all these unquantified medical impacts, but at the heart of it there is a matter of principle, which is whether citizens should be dosed against their wishes. It is like the Victorian grandparents, and I remember mine, who said, "We are doing this for your own good," but citizens have rights. If fluoride is going to be shoved into the supply, about which there are questions, what else are they going to shove into it against our wishes? There is a question of the choice people have with regard to what they consume because, as we all know, we have to consume water. There is a high fluoride content in bottled water also. I strongly support the amendment, but I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it being accepted. By the way, I was accused of being one of the ones who was ranting on the other night and I would like the House to know that I did not do so. On this occasion I would like the Members to know that I will speak once on each amendment and stick clearly to facts. I am not going on; I am not filibustering; I am just saying what I think.

This is a worthwhile amendment in that it gives us the opportunity in this section to address this issue and for the Minister to come back with the Government perspective and Department's outlook on it. We are well versed with the issue in the Seanad, because as far back as three years ago Senators David Norris and Fearga; Quinn tabled a strong and worthy motion to deal with the issue. I came to the debate that day with the intention, as I have done on occasion, of supporting the motion from the Opposition.

The Senator has done it once.

I have done so on a number of occasions.

On more than half a dozen occasions.

I do not think so.

Senator John Whelan to continue, without interruption.

The motion was debated. Like other colleagues, I had been contacted by genuinely concerned citizens across the country who were fearful of what they see as mass medication through the public water system. Some people genuinely believe exposure to fluoride poses a risk or a danger to their health and well-being. I do not take the view that just because the State is party to this, it is okay or it will not do harm. We have seen across a tranche of areas over the decades that this is not the case. I do not blindly put my trust in the regulator or in whomever that trust might be vested. On that day, however, the then Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, delivered, over a period of an hour and half or more, the most comprehensive, compelling and persuasive report and reply on the issue of fluoridation. It was so complete and convincing that, to be fair to Senators Norris and Quinn, they withdrew their motion calling for the fluoridation of public water to be ceased.

I think we just did not put it to a vote.

The Senators did not put it to a vote, but I am saying, as the Senator has said, that the case for doing so was not sufficiently strong to warrant that course of action.

At the time, the Minister set out the existence of the 20-member scientific advisory panel to the Department. To be fair, I will defer to those who have qualifications in specific areas-----

There is very strong scientific evidence on both sides.

Actually, there are one or two people going around the country, scaring the living daylights out of people, trying to suggest to them that they are being poisoned, virtually, with the fluoride in the water. It is tantamount to reckless scaremongering. They have no peer review of that science and no endorsement from any reputable scientific or health agency in Ireland, in Europe or within the World Health Organization.

I am sorry, but they do.

Senator John Whelan to continue, without interruption.

There is a lot of misinformation swirling around in the mix on this issue. For example, we put chlorine in public swimming pools but we do not go around advising people to absorb chlorine.

We do not drink it.

It is used in proportion, on the basis that it purifies and keeps the water safe. There is an idea that, somehow, by putting minute quantities of fluoride in the public system, there is a virtual conspiracy to sedate the entire population. We have to be sensible about this.

I believe the amendment is well-intentioned. Senator Trevjor Ó Clochartaigh generally has a sound basis for his positions and perspectives on behalf of the people of rural Ireland. I respect that and I very often agree with the perspective he takes. However, I believe the amendment is unnecessarily repetitive and it overlaps with the work of the advisory panel that is already in existence, which has the scientific basis and qualifications for that purpose. The Senator is correct that this, in turn, can feed into the new public water forum and assist that body in continuing to monitor public concerns around this issue. However, I believe we are well protected in this regard.

I would like to support Sinn Féin's very reasonable amendment on fluoride. In our debate on 1 October, I remember Sinn Féin stating something which made me smile, namely, if people want fluoride, they can buy a tube of toothpaste and wash their teeth because there is enough fluoride in a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to do a person for the entire day.

I want to give Senator John Whelan a few facts. Chlorine is fantastic because it purifies the water. Fluoride has nothing to do with purification. Fluoride is supposed to keep cavities under control in our teeth. When we drink fluoride, it is going past our teeth at 100 miles an hour and into our stomachs, and, within a minute or two, it is in every single cell in our bodies. It is for our teeth, not for the rest of our bodies. It has been scientifically proven that if one wants to take fluoride, rubbing it on topically is the way to get fluoride, not through our water.

I want to remind the Minister that 98% of Europe has rejected fluoridation. What do we know in this country that the rest of Europe does not know?

What did Dr. Hans Moolenburgh of the Netherlands know? He took a medically-based, scientifically-based legal case against the state and won in order to ban fluoridation forever in the Netherlands. What does the rest of Europe know?

I want to list the position in the rest of Europe. The Czech Republic has had no fluoridation since 1993 because it is uneconomic, not ecological, unethical and toxically debatable. Denmark has no fluoridation and toxic fluorides have never been added to the public water supplies. Finland has no fluoridation, and one city which used it, Kuopio, stopped in 1992. France has no fluoridation and fluoride chemicals are not included in the list of chemicals for drinking water treatment due to ethical as well as medical considerations. Germany has no fluoridation generally and fluoridation of drinking water is forbidden. Luxembourg has no fluoridation and fluoride has never been added to the public water supplies. Sweden has no fluoridation; the Nobel Medical Institute recommended against fluoridation and it has been banned since 1971. I could read all day on this and while that is Internet-based information, everything I say to the Minister today is scientifically proven. Fluoridation is becoming redundant. It has been rejected in countries and communities around the world. Even Israel banned fluoridation earlier this year.

Fluoride is a lovely word, is it not? It has been in toothpaste and has been around us for years, so much that it has become embedded in our consciousness. Fluoride is hydrofluorosilicic acid. It is an unlicensed, untested medicinal substance. While it is highly poisonous, most people do not know how toxic it is. There is enough fluoride in a tube of toothpaste to kill a 12 year old child - fact. It is not something we should be putting into our water supply, thereby forcing people to take fluoride.

In the United States, by law, all fluoridated toothpaste carries a poison warning which states that if a person swallows more than pea-sized amount - we all know what a Findus pea looks like - that person should contact a poison control centre. The very same toothpaste sold here in Ireland has no warning. Critically, in Ireland, fluoride is added to tap water at potentially toxic levels. A glass of Irish tap water contains the same amount of fluoride as a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. To go back over that, the pea-sized amount of toothpaste in America, by law, has to carry a poison warning yet, in Ireland, the expert group, which has never carried out any scientific studies, never tested the water supplies and never tested foodstuffs, decided not to put that warning on Irish toothpaste. These are not things Mary-Ann has read on the Internet; these are all facts and they are facts that worry me greatly.

We can talk science and I agree with Senator David Norris that we can have balanced science for and against. There are so many wonderful scientists around the world. Indeed, America got so tired of this that, in March 2006, the National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences, issued a review of all the available literature on fluoride's health affects. The report was written at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA. The report represented three years of deliberations by a panel of 12 scientists who were selected for their balanced views. It acknowledged the following adverse effects of fluoride not previously identified: thyroid impairment; type 2 diabetes, an issue that upsets the Minister for Health greatly; and dental fluorosis, which the whole world knows can be caused by fluoride. To again give the analogy of drinking the water and having it go past our teeth and into the body, does the Minister not think it can cause skeletal fluorosis, which results in the hip fractures and arthritis which are widespread among our elder population? That same three-year study by the 12 balanced scientists also pointed to the risk of arthritis, bone fractures, the lowering of IQ and potential brain damage, the latter especially in the presence of aluminium. All of these effects, with the possible exception of bone fractures and lower IQ, can occur at one part per million, that is 1 ml per litre.

Eminent scientists, doctors, toxicologists and chemists have written countless books and reports on the adverse effects and dangers of fluoride.

The Government has referred to reviews that suggest this is perfectly safe, but the National Reseach Council's three-year study says that it is not safe. We all know that in the context of any medical controversy, we must err on the side of safety. I am not a scientist, doctor or chemist and neither is the Minister but we should not continue to put the health of our citizens at risk and charge them for it.

I ask that the Minister would examine the Irish expert group on flouridation, whose minutes and reports I read all of the time, because one of its members, Dr. Wayne Anderson of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, resigned recently - I wonder why.

I support the previous speakers who have argued in favour of this amendment. We had a substantial debate in the House in October on this issue which really opened my eyes. When I looked into some of the research on this issue and the substantial body of knowledge available, I realised that we needed to wake up. If only 2% of Europe is using flouride and the majority of that 2% is in Ireland, with only one borough in the United Kingdom doing so, that strikes me as weird. In terms of pubic health advances and medicine, we must examine this more closely because it is quite unbelievable that we are completely right and everyone else in Europe is wrong. We are talking about the developed world when we talk about Europe.

Flouride, as Senator Darragh O'Brien pointed out, is deemed a poison in the United States. Every tube of toothpaste carries a poison warning. I do not have a huge difficulty with flouride in toothpaste because one can spit it out, although a child under two is not able to do so. When I looked at the facts during the aforementioned debate I discovered that if a child were to ingest an entire tube of toothpaste, he or she would die instantly, while half a tube would result in a coma. Flouride, therefore, is quite a potent poison.

We are more than our teeth and that is the fundamental point. Flouride may be good at preventing cavities and we all like our teeth and want them to be healthy. However, if I were to swap an organ for my teeth, I might choose my brain or my bones. There are so many doubts out there about dementia, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and so forth. The jury is definitely out on this issue. We do not have all of the facts correct on our side. There is no opt-out for those who want it. Water is, thankfully, still a public resource and is universally available in this country but nobody can opt out of flouridated water. Furthermore, one cannot boil flouride out of water. Since October last, I have stopped drinking tap water whenever I can and am looking into various filtration systems. I have not made a final decision in that regard, but I have engaged in a fairly serious behavioural change. Where possible, I am drinking bottled water but I do not think that is the way forward.

I support the amendment. We spend €4.8 million or more per year on flouridation but for the sake of public health, it would be worth spending that amount on research in order to be sure where we are going with this. So many people relate anecdotal evidence about people who have very healthy lifestyles but who succumb to disease which seems to come out of nowhere. One would wonder. Often the environment is blamed but we do not really know. We cannot leave matters of public health to chance.

There are some occasions when those who are pro-flouride accuse those who are anti-fouride of scaremongering. I support this particular amendment because it provides that the forum will "review the use of flouride in the water supply" and "issue recommendations to Irish Water on the use of flouride in water". The amendment calls for a review and the issuing of recommendations, which is very moderate and in that context, nobody could accuse the proposers of the amendment of scaremongering.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames spoke of her concerns about children and flouride. My wife and I have five children and 16 grandchildren and our children are very concerned about the health of their children but we have removed their right to have flouride-free water. We must accept that this is not something that should continue without a review and recommendations. China, which is by far the most populous country in the world, does not use flouride, while 98% of Europe does not use it. What makes us think that we should be different?

The amendment is very moderate in calling for a review and the issuing of recommendations. Senator David Norris referred to the fact that bottled water contains flouride, to the best of his knowledge. I would imagine that is the case, unless the water comes straight from a spring. There are steps to be taken in this regard and I believe the terms used in the amendment - "review" and "recommendations" - make it worth considering.

Bottle water often has a higher concentration of flouride than tap water.

I strongly support the amendment and Senator Darragh O'Brien and others have put forward very good arguments in its favour. The amendment calls for further research and the issuing of recommendations, which is very straightforward.

In 1987, when I was Minister of State at the Department of Health, I chaired a committee on dental health and dental care in Ireland. I was heavily influenced, at that stage, by all of the dentists on that committee and the report of the committee recommended the retention of flouride in drinking water. However, I have since developed very serious reservations on flouridation. First, flouridation involves putting a substance into water which is actually poisonous. More seriously, though, is the actual administering of flouride, which is shocking. It is a very amateurish operation. The process varies from one local authority to the next. I have no idea how much flouride is used and nobody in this House can tell us how many bags are thrown into the water at the water works. It is literally a case of bags of flouride being dumped into the water in an uncontrolled fashion. The Minister will have to address this, in conjunction with Irish Water. One of the first tasks for Irish Water should be to review the entire flouridation system.

The dentists on the aforementioned committee were, of course, convinced that flouride is wonderful for teeth but what about the rest of the body? We started putting flouride into our water in the 1950s, but if we were to suggest doing so today, we would have to have a referendum first. If we wanted to put flouride or any other substance into the public water system today, we would have to get the approval of the people first.

This is a very serious issue and I congratulate my colleagues for tabling the amendment. I urge the Minister to accept amendment No. 24 in the light of all of the available information. If he does not accept the amendment today, I would urge him to act on its content by setting up a group to review flouridation. If the provision for a review and the issuing of recommendations is not included in the Bill, the Minister should ensure that his Department carries out a thorough, detailed examination of every waterworks in Ireland.

It should thoroughly examine each water works in Ireland and who is administering them and compare the amount of fluoride used in County Roscommon with the amount used in County Galway and elsewhere, just to assess if this is a theory or factually based. I have not gone to these plants but I am aware of the amount of fluoride from information from the Department of Health. If memory serves, the Department of Health budget provides the funding for fluoride. I will rest my case, but perhaps the Minister would consider it.

We have all been contacted in the last couple of years by people who are concerned about fluoride in the water. There are such concerns, but this is a role for the HSE. I cannot see any benefit in including this amendment in primary legislation. However, it is a useful debate and it is worth having. As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said, we had a substantial debate on this issue previously in the Seanad.

Not that it went anywhere.

Many other debates did not go anywhere either.

Senator Martin Conway to continue, without interruption.

The Senator must be corrected.

Corrected. Speak factually.

We have had many debates in the House on direct provision, and there have been review groups and so forth-----

Whose fault is that?

-----but, so far, there has not been any action. It is a collective fault. However, I appreciate Senator Healy Eames's interruption-----

I have never interrupted Senator Fidelma Healy Eames when she contributed in this House and I would have expected her to show me the same courtesy.

I am sorry about that.

Will Senator Martin Conway, please, speak to the amendment?

There are interruptions left, right and centre.

I ruled them out.

I did. I told Senator Fidelma Healy Eames to stop interrupting the Senator. As there is limited time available this evening, he should speak to the amendment, not about frivolous issues. He is wandering away from the subject.

I have not spoken previously today. I am talking about fluoride in the water and I have acknowledged that it is a worthy and appropriate discussion to have. I welcome the amendment because it gives us an opportunity to discuss elements of the water supply that concern people.

The Senator can support the amendment.

Please, Senator, this will only delay and prolong the debate.

I will not support the amendment for the reason I have already outlined. It is the role of the HSE. The HSE is responsible for advising on public health, be it with regard to fluoride or anything else. I have no doubt that Irish Water and the Minister will take into consideration whatever recommendation finally emerges from the HSE after it has analysed and studied international research. The HSE will eventually make a recommendation on fluoride that will be ground-breaking. I note what has happened in other countries. The State retains experts to advise on these matters, and when they eventually make a recommendation it will be complied with by the Government, the Minister and Irish Water. That is a fact. We certainly do not need to include a provision such as this in primary legislation.

Before I conclude, it is appropriate to commend the Minister for his passionate performance when discussing this Bill in the past few days. When Deputy Alan Kelly says something will be privatised over his dead body, I believe him. It is a pity-----

We are discussing amendment No. 24, not the Minister's performance.

Many more of our Ministers should show the same type of passion.

I welcome this well intentioned amendment. There is genuine concern among citizens about the effects of fluoridation of water. While the amendment it is well intentioned, it is not appropriate that a non-scientific body assess scientific cases. I agree with Senator Terry Leyden's suggestion that an expert group be set up, but I understood - the Minister might be able to clarify this - that an expert group had already been established and is considering this issue. We must wait for recommendations to emerge from that scientific expert group so we can make more informed decisions as to how to proceed.

The preponderance of scientific research, the World Health Organization and the Irish Medicines Board have found there is no link between fluoridation and adverse health effects. However, a large amount of contradictory evidence is coming forward, so it is important that this expert group be established, if it is not already in place, and that it report back to both Houses. It is also a matter for the Oireachtas health committee. We must have expert scientific opinion. I accept that the amendment is tabled in good faith, but it is important that a scientific body research this and report back to the Oireachtas with its recommendations.

This is a worthy amendment, but the debate should not be about whether there is fluoride in our water. What is being sought is a review. We can debate fluoride extensively - my view is different from that of other Senators - but that is not what we are debating. The issue is whether to have a review. It is sensible to do so. It does not matter what Senators think, as it is simply proposing that there be a review. I hold a different view from Senators who oppose fluoride in the water supply and I am entitled to hold that view, but let the experts examine it. We should not be debating the pros and cons of fluoride in water at all. Perhaps we could hear what the Minister thinks.

I formally second the amendment. I agree with the last speaker. It is not the intention of the amendment that we have a debate on whether fluoride should be in water,and it is not what we should be debating. There is a great deal more work to be done today. However, listening to the Government Senators in the past half hour on this and the previous amendments, I am beginning to wonder what function this forum will have at all and what it will discuss. They have spent the last half hour telling us what it will not be discussing. I would have considered something as important as the fluoride issue to be exactly the type of issue this public forum should discuss. Saying these are the responsibilities of the HSE and so forth is no use. One could make that argument about any function this forum will discuss and say it is the responsibility of another body, be it the HSE or Irish Water.

I will return to this matter when discussing the section, but perhaps at some point the Minister will explain what this forum will actually discuss. In broad terms, there is reference to comments and suggestions about the performance of Irish Water, but we have not heard anything specific. The amendments we have tabled would give it some teeth and real issues to discuss, fluoride being one of them. I will not discuss the merits or demerits of the issue other than state that this is the perfect body to take on this issue at last and make recommendations to the Government.

I do not agree that the public water forum should discuss this.

We have heard contradictory statements from the Senators who are for and against fluoridation. During the debate we held in October there was a strong difference of opinion as to which was the most accurate information available. Certainly, there are concerns. Many people have contacted me with their concerns about fluoride in the water supply. However, the advisory panel on fluoridation tells us it is necessary, good and recommended. A wide debate on this issue is necessary. I suggested some time ago that we use the Seanad consultative process to tease it out. Everybody on one side cannot be completely wrong, with everybody on the other side completely right. It is an issue which exercises the minds of many. I am concerned that a number of countries in Europe and other parts of the world have banned the use of fluoride in water.

They have not banned it.

We must tease the matter out far more thoroughly than we have done up to now.

I do not believe putting it into primary legislation is the way to go.

It is a public health issue and the HSE is charged with ensuring public health measures are dealt with.

We all know that.

We need to widen the debate. I would like to see and will press this further in the Seanad a consultation session in which we can debate both sides of the argument to see if we can find some common ground.

Senator Darjragh O'Brien is right to say the amendment is specific to a review of the use of fluoride and that we should not open up the entire debate and make it about the use of fluoride. However, Senator Hildegarde Naughton is also right in that the issue of fluoride presents a challenging environment in which to make any argument, but that if there is any evidence to suggest fluoride harms public health -----

It is all right in light bulbs.

If there is evidence to suggest it is doing harm to the public, perhaps its use should be reviewed. However, there is no evidence to that effect, despite the fact we have been putting fluoride into water for the past 40 years. If it was doing harm, that would certainly have come to light.

Senator Michael Mullins is incorrect to say the rest of Europe has banned fluoride. It is not banned, they just do not have legislation underpinning the use of fluoride.

Some of them have banned it outright.

No, they have not. They have not brought in laws to ban it. To ban something, a legislative change must be made.

This amendment calls for a review, not a debate on the use of fluoride.

Correct. That is the point made by Senator DarraghO'Brien and I agree with him. However, to ignore the lack of evidence and to make the forum a place to discuss an issue for which there is no evidence to support it, elevates the argument to something it is not. There is no evidence. The Irish Dental Association, the World Health Organization and the expert body have all stated-----

To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies: "They would say that, wouldn't they?"

God rest her, she would say that. What vested interest has the expert panel on fluoridation got? It has none.

My gosh, that is the key question the Senator has asked.

Senator John Gilroy to continue, without interruption, please.

To suggest that because I say this, I am wrong, points to the lack of evidence in the Senator's argument. All of our deliberations should be based on evidential experience and empirical measurements, but we do not have any of that. To say the Government is so concerned about the effect of fluoridation of water on health that we are prepared to put it in our legislation and send it off to be deliberated upon at the consultative forum elevates the argument to something it is not. There is nothing to stop the consultative forum from discussing the fluoridation of water and it would probably be good if it did that, but I believe it would be a mistake to underpin that in legislation.

This has been another very interesting discussion.

Not a very interesting discussion.

It is interesting. The amendment proposes that the public water forum shall have a role in reviewing the use of fluoride in the water supply and to issue recommendations to Irish Water on the use of fluoride in water. However, the policy on the fluoridation of water in the legislation governing the use of fluoride in water supplies is not a matter for myself but for the Minister for Health.

The Minister is now charging citizens for water.

Yes, but it is still a matter for the Minister for Health. The Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960 and the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations 2007 provide for the making of arrangements by the HSE for the fluoridation of public water supplies -----

That does not prevent the forum from reporting on the issue.

As I said, this is the responsibility of the Minister for Health, not the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Under the Act, local authorities have acted in the past as agents of the Health Service Executive on fluoridation of the public water supply to the prescribed standards. I understand the standards are laid out.

The concentration of fluoride varies radically.

I ask the Senator to refrain from interrupting, please. We have spent 43 minutes on this debate and the Minister is entitled to respond. I will put this to a vote if there is any further interference.

With effect from 2014, Irish Water was assigned responsibility for this matter and took over from the local authorities. However, as has been stated previously, the Minister for Health has set up an expert body to advise him on fluoridation of water supply. Its membership is representative of public health and consumer interests, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland - I was not aware of any resignation from the expert body by a representative from the authority as I do not have that detail - the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health, my Department and a number of others. In the light of this, I do not believe it is appropriate to provide a role for a consumer body in this area, as the expert group is already in place and will make recommendations to the Minister. I do not see any point in creating an overlap or in two groups doing the same work. I suggest the expert body should make the recommendations on this important issue. I understand the Seanad debated this issue in October and it may wish to invite the Minister for Health, who has responsibility for this area, to appear before it.

I wish to make a few further points. Fluoride occurs naturally in water supplies. In many parts of the world the amount of fluoride in the water is naturally optimal for dental health. In regard to our water supply, the Department of Health funds the cost of putting fluoride in water. The issue is also covered by drinking water regulations which are overseen by the EPA. The drinking water regulations provide that a maximum allowable level of 0.8 mg fluoridation per litre of water. Where fluoride occurs naturally in water, the limit is 1 mg per litre. The EPA monitors compliance with these regulations.

The debate on this issue has been wide ranging and interesting. I understand passions run high and that fluoridation has been in the public consciousness in the past ten to 15 years and debated for even longer both here and in other European jurisdictions. I will not say other Europeans were right to get rid of fluoridation, but those countries may not have had regulations in place. I am not a scientist or an expert on public health, but while it is right to have concerns, some of the tone of the debate here has been alarmist. It was almost suggested we are in the process of poisoning our people. That is not what is happening.

There was a basis for including fluoride in our water. We can debate that issue and perhaps this House should lead that debate. It is probably the right forum for it and I understand it has had a debate on the issue.

We have had two.

This would be the right place in which to have that debate. However, we also need to be concerned about the public and its view of what is said here. We must have a concern for comments that are alarmist and the impact these could have on people's health by the raising of concerns that are unjustified. I have two young children who are more important than anything else in the world to me. I will not allow them to use a water supply that will damage their health. This is not a topic on which I am an expert, but if I can see a justification for the need to change the regulations, I will do that, particularly given the personal motivation of my love for my children.

Some friends of mine and constituents in County Tipperary have raised this issue with me. It is an issue we need to keep under consideration, but I remain of the belief there is a justification for fluoridation. If that is overturned and justification for change is made, the process will begin and a debate will be held. However, the expert group is in place and will report to the Minister for Health.

My Department sits on that group. I will, from this process, take an added interest in my representative and what he or she hears from it, but it is a wider debate. I have a concern which emanated from this debate that we can be concerned as public representatives but to be overly alarmist could cause other public health issues, concerns and problems. Therefore, we need to be careful.

I understand the Minister for Health has quite an interest in this topic and the expert group will report back to him. Once it does so, Senators can then ask the Minister for Health to update them on Government thinking on this matter. I will play my role by having a representative on the expert group. We must be concerned about being alarmist about this issue and it is not appropriate for this Bill in a legislative forum. An expert group is in place and I await its findings. I will consult the Minister for Health about this matter.

I want to get rid of any thought that this is a case of local authorities literally getting bags of this stuff and throwing it into the water supply. That is incredible because it does not happen and it did not happen. A process was administered by local authorities but that is administered by Irish Water now. The process is very measured, is overseen by the EPA and is done, in minute detail, to the levels required. That is how the process must be done. A Senator said bags of this stuff were literally shovelled into the water supply, that a guy cut the cord and threw it in, but nobody knew what was going on. That is incredible.

(Interruptions).

It is simply not true. The process is done in great detail now and also in terms of a concentration level. This debate has raised other issues which I will bring back to the Government.

Is Senator David Cullinane pressing the amendment?

Yes. I welcome the proposal that the Seanad petitions committee could look at this issue as well. It would be useful if we followed up on the matter. I will press the amendment because this body could look at the issue. I assume from the Minister's response that he or the Government will not accept my amendment. I urge the Leader of the House who is not here to pursue this issue through the Seanad petitions committee which would benefit all of us.

I remind Senators that this is not a debate on fluoridation, although it has developed into one.

It is a debate on toothpaste

Let us remember that the Minister's predecessor informed me, when I asked the same question over a year ago, that this was a matter for the Minister for Health and he had prime responsibility for the matter.

I wish to comment on the amendment. I again say to the Minister that I recognise that this matter is the Minister for Health's responsibility. The Minister for Health did not bother his barney to come in here on 1 February but sent in his Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is responsible for mental health issues.

I will raise the matter with the Minister for Health.

I thank the Minister. As the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government now owns water and will charge citizens for water, we should join the dots in government, join silos and come together. A Senator said she would welcome the formation of an expert group. We formed an expert group in 2002, but 25% of its members were dentists.

Since the beginning of the group, the chairman has been a dentist.

On a point of order, is this a debate on the amendment or on toothpaste?

I have ruled on the issue and ask the Senator to resume his seat.

This is ridiculous.

I ask the Minister to consider Sinn Féin's amendment to allow the forum to express an opinion and carry out some research and considerations. The expert group has not done the job for us because 25% of its members are dentists.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 27.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

I had strayed from discussing the public water forum because we were asked to confine ourselves to the specifics of the amendments in previous contributions, which we have done. However, we had strayed somewhat into the powers and functions of the forum and the appointments process. The Minister went some way towards providing us with clarification of some aspects of it, which is to be welcomed. I support the fact that the appropriate Oireachtas committee will deal with the guidelines which will be presented to it. However, there is still a question around what exactly the forum will do.

There are questions.

There are questions - plural.

There are still questions about what the forum will do. We have just spent the past half hour talking about what it will not do. Will the Minister be specific about what exactly the forum will do in terms of its powers and functions? The relevant section states it shall represent the interests of customers of Irish Water, which is fine, but that could literally mean anything. It also states it will provide Irish Water with comments on and suggestions in respect of the performance by Irish Water of its functions. Again, that could mean anything and the forum will only be offering comments. The section states it will provide the commission with comments on and suggestions in respect of the performance by Irish Water of its functions. Again, it is a case of providing more comments and suggestions. It will not make recommendations and or have real teeth. The section states it will comment on any policy document produced by Irish Water when requested to do so in writing by it. Again, Irish Water will produce a document and the forum will just be asked to comment on it and only when requested to do so in writing by it. That is it. The forum will not even have the power to initiate the process. This has been very clear because we talked about legislation being prescriptive. This is being entirely prescriptive when it states the forum will only be able to comment on any policy document if requested to do so by Irish Water.

Whether it is a report by the commission or a report by Irish Water, the forum will not have the power to initiate discussion or even pass comment on any aspect of Irish Water's performance. That would worry me in terms of what the forum is actually going to do.

The Minister might also come back to us in some detail about the appointments process. He has allayed some of the fears and I do not believe his intention is to fill this with hacks, as was said earlier.

I thank the Senator.

I do believe, however, that we need to have the proper balance in the forum itself. Notwithstanding my concerns about its powers and functions, we need to have people with expertise, but also users of water services. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the problems they were having in his own area of County Galway and Connemara. It would be very useful to have people with direct experience of these issues on the forum also. How is the Minister going to ensure that is a reality?

I do not want to hold up the Minister any longer, but I hope he will come back on those issues. I would be grateful if he could be specific and clear, give us some indication of his view as to what exactly this forum will do and discuss and further allay the fears people might have about the appointments process.

We have debated amendments to section 7 at some length, but the debate has been quite constructive. As I said earlier, section 7 is generally welcome. The concept of the public water forum is very much welcome in that it is vital that we see some body or forum that will represent the interests of the customers of Irish Water. I listened to Senator David Cullinane speaking on the section just now, and it is important to note that it is facilitative. That is how I would describe it. It is facilitative of this forum and it provides for a broad role for the forum.

We have gone through the functions that are set out in subsection 5 already. The Minister has agreed and I welcome his commitment to reviewing some of the aspects of our debate on the amendments and to reflect those in his work with the Oireachtas joint committee on the regulations. Subsection 5(f) provides that the forum may carry out such other activities in respect of such other matters as the Minister by order specifies. It is a facilitative rather than an unduly prescriptive section. It provides for very important input from members of the public and we have heard already the role of the Commission for Energy Regulation. I would welcome some more detail from the Minister on some aspects of it which Senator David Cullinane has already requested, but we have debated the different amendments and different aspects of the forum at some length now. I very much welcome the fact that there seems to be a general welcome across the floor of the House for this.

The view and objective of the Government is very clearly laid out in the entire Bill, in section 7 particularly. I suppose we could be criticised for not accepting any amendments to section 7 but to accept an amendment would be to put something into the Bill which is not the intention of the Government. We have had a very good debate on all the points and amendments raised and the Minister has moved as far as possible without diluting the intent of the legislation----

Without moving at all.

That is unfair of the Senator. The Minister has gone to great lengths to assuage many of the fears - the whole House has acknowledged this - during the contribution on section 7, for which I commend him.

Has he accepted a single amendment?

The point I am making is that to accept an amendment as they are comprised here in section 7, would be to introduce something that is not the intent of the Government.

That is the whole purpose of an amendment.

The intent of the Government is what the legislation is about.

Then what is the point in even talking right now? We all know that. This is nonsense, come on.

Senator John Gilroy to continue, without interruption, on the section.

If the Minister cannot find a way to accept the amendments tabled by the Opposition, maybe we need to take a look at how the amendments are constructed. Perhaps there could be constructive amendments that would increase the intention of the Government in certain areas and give added strength to the legislation instead of opposing it.

I know the role of the Opposition is to oppose and we accept that, but under section 7 the Opposition has introduced some very good ideas and the Minister has acknowledged that. The fact he did not accept any amendment is not really the fault of the Minister, it is because the legislation is constructed in such a way as to give intention to the Government's view of how Irish Water should be established. That is all I am saying. I am acknowledging the positive contribution of the Opposition and I am also acknowledging the flexibility of the Minister in going as far as he has in trying to accommodate the concerns and fears which everybody in this House has already acknowledged.

Now that we are talking about the exceptions, Senator Darragh O'Brien throws his eyes up to heaven and denies what his own spokespeople have been saying since 12 p.m. today.

There is no point. The Senator has just been waffling on for five minutes about nothing, about what amendments are. I would just like him to sit down and let us get on with it. This is rubbish.

Fianna Fáil is betraying its real view here.

Senator John Gilroy was a member one time himself.

Then a Senator should sit down and say nothing?

The Senator really should, because he is adding nothing.

Imagine if a Government Senator said to Fianna Fáil Members that they should sit down and say nothing. Imagine the outrage there would be.

On the section, please.

If Senator John Gilroy was not saying nothing, he might lose his job. I thank him for taking my advice.

Section 7 provides for the establishment of a public water forum by the commission. It represents the interests of the customers of Irish Water. It is proposed it could be 12 to 60 and that is done deliberately. The detail as regards the regulations was not going to be put into this Bill - it was never the intention to do so. I have said I will draft regulations, send them to the joint committee, give the committee a reasonable period and let it come back to me. We will then have the forum reviewing various issues on Irish Water.

The forum can discuss any issue relating to the performance of Irish Water and particularly its investment. Not alone am I setting out the regulations, but the regulations as a component will give an opinion as to the volume of people. If the joint committee states something different on this, I will take that on board and change it. I will set out the qualifications and types of individual we need, on which issue I certainly got something from today's debate. I hold my hands up and say there were certainly aspects of the debate that were very helpful and will inform my thinking on the matter. The discussion on the profiles of the different types of organisation that need to be represented was also helpful. I will certainly bear these organisations and people in mind as a result of the very good debate we have had today.

This section is responsible in statute for customer issues and we have it very clear. The forum will give feedback to the Commission for Energy Regulation across all the issues it discusses. As the commission is servicing the forum, it will have to take on board the comments, recommendations, issues and priorities laid before the forum by the members. I will set regulations ensuring those participating in the forum will have their travel expenses to and from the forum covered and everything else like that.

The forum can deal with any issue that is of concern to customers. It can deal with customer experience, response times to issues and customer queries, the types of customer query and how they are categorised and dealt with and whether they are dealt with in a satisfactory manner, whether communications are dealt with appropriately. It can also deal with the whole issue of billing and the process by which billing is conducted and can investigate whether it can be improved because when utilities are set up, the process by which billing is conducted can often be improved. The forum will also deal with issues around facilitating communications, as well as conservation and how it can be dealt with.

Not alone will the forum publish various documents but, for instance, it will discuss investment plans and prioritisation of investment plans. I believe that will be a critical component of the forum. It will help to ensure there is balance as regards potential investment and so on. Broadly, that is what the forum will be about. I will not be too prescriptive on the matter because there may be other relevant aspects. I cannot say, hand on heart, that I have thought of every issue. There may be other aspects on which the Oireachtas joint committee will come back to me and I will take on board what the joint committee states directly. I will very much be driven by the Oireachtas joint committee in this regard and I have said as much straight out. There there will be a wider forum of people within the committee and once they come back to me they will be able to give their thoughts on the matter. I do not have a pure monopoly of knowledge on the matter. I am looking forward to drafting the first set of regulations and we will do so subsequent to passage of the Bill. I will send it to the joint committee as quickly as possible. I do not intend for the committee to take forever on the matter. I will not set six or eight months or anything like it. That would be far too long.

I compliment Senators on their contributions. There were some very good and thought provoking contributions. I took some points from the debate which will formulate how I deliver the regulations and set them down. I look forward to the Oireachtas joint committee coming back and we will go from there. The forum is an excellent idea. The concept is used by other utilities, including water utilities, in Europe and throughout the world and it is something we can embrace here also.

We may start off with a certain membership of the forum. I am not suggesting that as things improve in the coming years and decades it will always have to be a given amount of people. That is why the membership is set between 12 and 60 and the number could change during that period.

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 8.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 10, to delete line 7.

The line stipulates that a complaint must be made to Irish Water by a registered customer. We see this as another stick in the Bill to encourage people to register. It has been said ad nauseam by many Senators that there are certain people who will not pay, who cannot pay and who will not register. For some this is a point of principle while others cannot afford to pay. A majority of citizens have no wish to see themselves as customers of Irish Water. Even the term "customer" suggests water is becoming a commodity and is being commercialised. The fact that people must be registered with Irish Water before they can make a complaint about their water supply is wrong. This will disenfranchise many people from being able to make a complaint.

I understand exactly why the Government is doing this. It wants to force people to register or sign up and this is one way of doing that. It is a stick. What if a person is not connected to the water supply? Let us suppose a person has a well or whatever and Irish Water wishes to carry out testing or whatever with that supply. Is that person not allowed to make a complaint? That person may not be registered with Irish Water.

Let us consider the position of amendments tabled by the Opposition. We are always told about unintended consequences. Potentially, there may be unintended consequences with this provision if it holds that a person must be registered with Irish Water. I would have thought this could be a problem given that none of us is a customer of Irish Water. We never asked to be customers. We always got our water from our local authority. It was paid for through central taxation. Now, we are being forced to become customers, to use the Government terminology. The act of not registering could be an act of resistance by some while others simply cannot afford to pay and, therefore, will not register. It is fundamentally wrong to deny them the opportunity to make a complaint. I have made my feelings known on the matter. The amendment intends to reverse that and delete the requirement for a person to be registered with Irish Water as a customer. If the Minister accepts the amendment it means that every citizen, every person, regardless of whether they are customers, will have an opportunity to make a complaint.

This has no bearing whatsoever on the payment issue. It simply allows anyone, even if they are not customers of Irish Water, to make a complaint. Every citizen should be empowered or enabled to make a complaint if they so wish. We are concerned about this provision. It is being included to entice or force people to register or sign up with Irish Water.

This is the most outrageous line in the entire Bill. It is completely disgraceful. Nothing the Minister can say about identifying with the people and all the other hogwash will cover over the fact that this is a deeply wrong and essentially undemocratic thing to have in legislation. It is also, possibly, unconstitutional because the right to appeal is a broad right under the Constitution. The section states that person is not entitled to make a complaint unless he or she has registered as a customer. That is utterly against all sense of decency. Furthermore, it is even narrower, because the previous lines states the person must be registered at the time to which the complaint relates. Therefore, even if a person joined subsequently, he or she has no standing. This raises the question of locus standi also.

It is interesting to see the Labour Party supporting the Government in the intention of this obnoxious legislation. I am completely in support of Sinn Féin on the matter. It is a good day for democracy when we stand out against these intrusions into the ordinary natural and democratic rights of citizens. This is a red line as far as I am concerned. The Government is denying people the right to make a complaint unless they are customers. That really is a case of the bullwhip being applied to the people.

We should take a more forensic reading of the section. Section 8 deals with customer dispute resolution. Section 8(1) states: "the Commission shall provide a dispute resolution service to any customer of Irish Water having an unresolved complaint...". As I read it, this is a narrowly focused section dealing with complaints specifically of customers of Irish Water.

That is the problem. If a person is not a customer he is not allowed to make a complaint.

Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.

Let me finish. Section 8(4) provides for how a person becomes entitled to make a complaint under the dispute resolution mechanism.

It disbars people from making complaints.

Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.

As I read it, this is a limited dispute resolution service, in line with or similar to the service operated by the commission for customers in the energy sector. It is narrowly focused. Clearly, people with broader complaints who may not be customers but who have complaints about other aspects of Irish Water should go to the forum. Section 7 indicates that the public water forum is for customer consultation, but that is more broadly drawn.

No, let us be careful about this.

The Senator expects the forum to deal with day-to-day complaints.

Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.

But she is talking nonsense.

Please, Senator.

Let us be careful about it.

Senator Ivana Bacik is entitled to make her point.

All right, I will listen to her uninterrupted nonsense.

One has to be careful and read carefully the text of both sections to see that they are very different things. The customer consultative forum is about the broader policy issues. Of course anyone who has a complaint about aspects of Irish Water that comes under that section should go there. The customer dispute resolution is a narrower issue for people who have issues or a dispute with the entity as a customer. It is specifically related to the person's role as a customer.

Everyone is a customer because everyone is taking water from the system.

Please, Senator.

Section 8(1) provides-----

Why have that distinction?

Please allow Senator Ivana Bacik to make her point.

I thought we had a constructive debate on section 7. It would be a pity if our debate descends into name-calling and heckling and so on on section 8. We need to be careful about our reading of section 8. The Senators who have tabled amendment No. 25 seem to ignore the fact that section 8(1) refers to a dispute resolution service for customers of Irish Water. Section 8(4) must be read in the light of that subsection. That is what this provision is about.

It is about this narrowly focused dispute resolution mechanism which has to be available for customers, but it is quite separate from people who may have other complaints about Irish Water and its functions who clearly should go to the forum. That is as I read the provisions, but the Minister will have something to say on it. It makes no sense to amend subsection (4) when one can see in section 8(1) that this entire provision is about a narrowly focused dispute resolution service for people qua customers, as customers, of Irish Water, and in that capacity only.

Subsection (17) provides a little more detail and points out that "the customer" does include a former customer to whom the subsection applies, but the sort of complaints relating to customers are clearly spelt out in the other subsections. The commission has to keep an annual report, records of the number and types of complaint received and so on, but these are narrowly drawn complaints by customers in their capacity as customers.

Can I formally second the amendment?

There is no need for a seconder.

I am on the same side as Senator Ivana Bacik. It is a dispute resolution mechanism. It is important to have dispute resolution facilities to ensure people do not always end up in court. The section states the commission shall provide a dispute resolution service. It is between Irish Water and the customer, the intermediary being the commission, but if a customer is subject to legal proceedings he or she will not be included. A facility that can act as a mediator in resolving disputes is welcome, because neither the customer, Irish Water nor anybody else will get everything right on the first day.

Or any other day either.

The commission shall issue a determination to Irish Water regarding its decision on the matter, as well as to the customer and a third party if there is one.

Senator Ivana Bacik's interpretation of this is correct.

She is and the amendment is based on a misunderstanding of subsection (4). If one reads section 8(1) together with section 8(4), one can see that the intention is clear. Section 8(1) states: "Subject to this section, the Commission shall provide a dispute resolution service to any customer of Irish Water ...". Section 8(4) states a person is not entitled to make a complaint unless they are a customer.

Exactly. That is the point.

It is the same thing.

A person can only use that resolution process if he or she is a customer. That is the point.

Please allow Senator John Gilroy to make his contribution. The Senator can come back in.

The point Senator David Cullinane is missing is that the entire section refers to a complaint by a customer, and section 8(4) restates what is said in section 8(1). As far as I can see, it strengthens the position of customers because it obliges the commission to provide a dispute resolution service. Instead of being a negative point, as my colleagues on the Opposition side are saying, I see it as entirely positive. We sat through 15 hours of contributions from the Senator's colleagues here last Friday night and we did not complain. We expect the same courtesy.

The Senator did, rightly-----

I banged out the complaints.

We expect the same level of courtesy from the leader of Fianna Fáil when we are making our contributions, which are reasonable and measured.

This amendment proposes to remove the requirement that a person be registered as a customer with Irish Water to be entitled to avail of the dispute resolution service to be offered by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. Subsection (4) of section 8 requires that for a person to make a complaint to the commission, he or she must already have exhausted any dispute resolution mechanism provided by Irish Water. This does not prevent any other person from making a complaint to Irish Water or from getting a remedy to a dispute through other avenues. However, the clear intention of section 8 is to provide an independent dispute resolution service for customers of Irish Water. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

The point is that only people who are deemed to be customers of Irish Water can use the dispute resolution service. We do not agree with this because we believe the Minister is deeming everybody now to be a customer and unless people register, they cannot use it. We are not talking about any and every complaint. Section 8(1) states: "Subject to this section, the Commission shall provide a dispute resolution service to any customer of Irish Water having an unresolved complaint relating to Irish Water ..." and section 8(4)(iii) refers to their having exhausted all other options. However, it later states it disregards people who are not customers. Essentially, the Minister is saying he is making the dispute resolution service available only to people who have registered or are deemed to be customers. We are objecting to this because we do not believe it is fair. It is using a stick to entice people to sign up.

I would like to make a point to the Minister of State. What if somebody operating on behalf of Irish Water damages the front wall of the house of somebody who is not registered?

The person is not in a position to make a complaint. As Members on the other side of the House said, he or she would have to go straight to court. That is a waste of everybody's time; only the lawyers make money out of this. It is grotesquely unfair to limit a complaints procedure to people who are customers of Irish Water. People do not want to be customers of Irish Water. It is so quintessentially undemocratic that I do not see how anyone could justify it.

To be clear, Senator David Cullinane should be aware that nothing in the legislation would preclude any person from going to the courts in the event of a dispute. This section provides customers of Irish Water with an additional mechanism for resolving disputes-----

That is a primary mechanism.

-----outside the normal company process.

It is not available to non-customers.

For the information of the House, the CER, an independent regulator, is already providing this service for customers of other utility companies and has published reports on these matters on its websites. It deals with unresolved issues after the company's complaints process is exhausted. The dispute resolution service is just one specific area of the energy customer team within the CER. That division also addresses more simple requests for information and the provision of general advice to customers. The CER decision is binding on the company, but the customer is free to take the matter further if he or she so wishes, for example, to the courts.

This section protects the interests of the customer of Irish Water and, like any other customer, he or she has the full recourse of the company process. It is only where the complaint has not been resolved in this way that the dispute resolution mechanism is available. It strengthens the position of the customer and gives the CER a statutory role in an independent process to have an oversight and a view where disputes arise and should be welcomed in the interests of customers.

There is a clear distinction between a customer who walks into a shop, purchases something and makes a complaint where an extra process is put in place to allow the customer who purchased the goods to be part of that and people who might generally be in a position to make a complaint about any aspect of the shop. Everybody will be deemed to be a customer of Irish Water. Whether he or she is registered or unregistered, he or she will be deemed by the State now to be a customer in terms of using water, but the Minister is saying an additional complaints process is being made available only to people who are customers. The Minister of State might give a "Yes" or "No" answer to this question. Is he saying only people who are registered can use the dispute resolution service?

Continue. As outlined in section 8.

Yes. Section 8 states: "Subject to this section, the Commission shall provide a dispute resolution service to any customer of Irish Water having an unresolved complaint ...". Is that only open to people who are registered with Irish Water, yes or no? If the answer is "Yes," that is precisely the point we are making, namely, that we are making this service available only to people who are registered and not to people who will still be users and will have the same complaints. A person who is not registered and somebody else who is registered could find themselves in the exact same position, but the one who is registered can use this dispute resolution service, while the one who is not registered cannot use it. A clear distinction is being made in this section, but if the Minister deletes the line we suggested, everybody can use the dispute resolution service, regardless of whether he or she is registered.

That is the point and why we are moving the amendment.

To be clear, only people who are registered have recourse to the dispute resolution mechanism. It is important to note that everybody can register.

I will not be registering.

It is a blindingly obvious statement by the Minister of State.

Of course, it is, but sometimes in this House one must spell out the obvious. I am happy to do this for Senator David Cullinane.

The Minister of State is most grateful.

I reiterate that there is nothing unusual and that this type of dispute resolution mechanism is already in place for many utility companies and overseen by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, which has dealt with such matters independently and effectively for many years. I have never heard of any issue being raised by Members in this or the other House about how the CER carries out that function. It has been given similar powers in this instance in the interests of customers.

It will be overwhelmed.

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides for codes of practice to be in place for Irish Water that will be approved by the independent regulator. It would be as a last resort where a dispute could not be resolved through the normal dispute resolution process in a company. This enhances the protection for customers and should be welcomed as a strong measure in the interests of the customers of Irish Water.

First, it was as a first resort and now it is as a last resort. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

There is confusion because of the construction of the section. There is customer protection legislation in other areas such that if a customer uses a service, there is a particular route towards dispute resolution. There are many people who may not be customers, but the normal dispute resolution apparatus would work in that case. This is an addition, not a subtraction; it does not exclude anybody; rather, it is another layer.

It does; it excludes people who are not registered.

It specifically excludes people, which is the point.

Senators are either misunderstanding this wilfully-----

There is nothing to misunderstand. A person is not entitled to make a complaint, unless it relates-----

Senator John Gilroy to continue, without interruption.

Section 8(1) indicates that this section relates to customers only. That is spelled out in subsections (1) and (4) and cannot be any clearer. It is an additional layer of customer protection.

It is a primary layer.

If somebody is not a customer of Irish Water-----

He or she can bugger off.

We hope everybody will be a customer of Irish Water. Where people are not, the normal dispute resolution mechanism in the common and every other law of the land would apply. This is an addition to every other right. Unless I am grievously mistaken, that is my interpretation.

The Senator is mistaken.

I am not missing the point at all and fully understand that the Bill is indicating that this is an extra layer of complaints procedure. It is being called a "dispute resolution service". I fully understand that after the so-called customer has exhausted every other opportunity, this added layer is being permitted. The point is it is only being permitted for those who are registered, as the Minister of State has accepted. I do not expect him to make another comment on this, but I am pressing the amendment. It is a fundamental issue, as everybody should have a right to complain, regardless of whether he or she is registered.

The Senator is correct.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 30.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
Question declared carried.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 11, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“9. Irish Water shall be subjected to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General.”.

Section 9 deals with pensions and superannuation in the new Irish Water authority. The amendment proposes that Irish Water be subjected to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Before I make my contribution I would like to hear from the Minister of State the Government's position on the amendment.

Yes, if the Senator wishes.

It is very legitimate that Members of the Oireachtas are concerned to fully understand and interrogate the finances of Irish Water. This is important in terms of State resources being provided for Irish Water and the accountability to the Minister and the Oireachtas of this important State company. The transparency of funding and accountability is achieved through a number of mechanisms which I will outline to the House. They include a statutory obligation to provide audited accounts for the Minister in a timely fashion to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. All expenditure and proposed revenue is reviewed by the Commission for Energy Regulation which consults on these matters. Any expenditure by a Minister, whether from my Department or the Department of Finance, is subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. While I understand the motivation for the proposed amendment to bring Irish Water within the ambit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, this is unnecessary and would place Irish Water in a very different sphere from its parent company and most other commercial State companies. On presentation of its accounts, Irish Water can be invited to appear before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Therefore, I am satisfied that there are sufficient legislative controls in place to ensure the proper stewardship and oversight of public funding in this regard.

The reason I asked the Minister of State to speak first, for which I thank him, is that the response shows the complete inadequacy of the Government's proposal with regard to the oversight of Irish Water. The set-up costs of the company amount to nearly €1 billion thus far.

I served as Vice Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts in the last Dáil. When Government agencies and semi-State bodies are not covered for audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and as a consequence by the Committee of Public Accounts, this leads to incredible frustration. I use the example of RTE, for argument's sake. People were frustrated with the level of expenditure in RTE which was at a much lesser level than in Irish Water. The only way the Committee of Public Accounts could question any of those aspects of RTE was to call in the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. This is not satisfactory.

In this instance, a company is being set up which the Government has described as the biggest State company to be set up since the ESB. While at this stage the ESB is not covered by the Comptroller and Auditor General, I make the point that Irish Water is a new company with all the teething issues, set-up costs and problems. These problems have been discussed and interrogated by the Oireachtas, but, with all due respect to the Minister of State, I do not think it is sufficient that audited accounts go to the Minister and that expenditure and revenue will be subject to oversight by the Commission for Energy Regulation. I say absolutely no way.

The biggest deficiency - if one could say that - within it is that this company, Irish Water, Uisce Éireann, will not be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is generally agreed that office has done exceptional work for the State since its foundation. It is completely independent and has the support of State resources. It cannot be influenced in any way, shape or form. If the company were audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, it would be subject to questioning by the Committee of Public Accounts, the main ranking Dáil committee. This is the only committee with any power whatsoever to interrogate State agencies and Departments and to issue recommendations.

Section 9 deals with superannuation, but we must try to find somewhere to fit this amendment. For the House to allow this legislation go through at this very late stage with all the problems associated with its set-up and its management and not to have proper independent financial oversight would be a total derogation of our duty as Senators.

Many other very important amendments have been debated, including some excellent amendments proposed by the Opposition as there were no amendments tabled by the Government side of the House. All these amendments have had merit. The Government is allowing a company to be set up and to proceed despite all the problems in the past two to three months and it has decided that the company will not be within the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, that is, within the remit of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The audited accounts will be presented to the Minister. If this happens next year, I will be forced to table an amendment on the Order of Business and ensure the Government agrees to the amendment in order that the accounts may be discussed in this House - which has never been done, in so far as I am aware. I know it will never happen because the Government has a majority of over 50 which is just about a working majority. The bottom line is that unless the Government wants those accounts examined by Members of the Oireachtas, it could not happen if this amendment is not accepted.

The Minister of State referred to a desire for transparency, therefore, there is no reason on this wide earth for this amendment not to be accepted. He said other commercial semi-State bodies do not fall within the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, but I maintain that Irish Water is a very special utility, for want of a better phrase. It is about water in Ireland and the management of the water network. This is the company that has already spent almost €180 million on consultants for its setting up. The then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, said he knew nothing about it and then we found out after the event when he had gone to the European Commission that he did know about it. Any other State agency would be hauled into the Committee of Public Accounts immediately. This company plans to borrow for investment in water services, an investment which has fallen, year on year.

Since 2009, investment has plummeted in water services. The Minister of State will be aware of documents obtained by RTE today under the freedom of information regime. It has absolutely plummeted and Irish Water is looking to have a further reduced capital investment next year in 2015 - less than this year.

It is up in the past three years.

If we want to audit and have oversight over Irish Water, surely to God the best people to do that is the Comptroller and Auditor General on behalf of the State's investment in the company. Otherwise, are we saying we are happy enough to have KPMG or PwC - the usual punters which have audited the banks over the years - employed by Irish Water to audit its accounts? Those accounts will then go to the line Minister at the time, who appoints the board of Irish Water. This will be to whomever is the Minister. Long after the Government is gone, there will be other Ministers. That Minister appoints the Chairman and the board and then the board and the chief executive will appoint the auditors. The auditors will audit the accounts. It will be one big happy circle.

What I am saying to this House is that this amendment is eminently sensible and necessary - absolutely necessary - if we are serious about proper oversight over expenditure. I say this as someone who has served nearly four years on the Committee of Public Accounts. I see the benefit of the work the Committee of Public Accounts does now, on a cross-party basis. Why not allow the Comptroller and Auditor General have oversight? Why not allow, through it, the Committee of Public Accounts to be able to each year have the chief executive and relevant members of Irish Water come in and answer genuine queries and questions that people may have? I see no reason for it. The Minister of State's only answer was to say it was unnecessary. I have written it down. He said it was unnecessary. I might ask the Minister of State to repeat-----

That was not my only answer.

I have given the Minister of State other parts of it - that audited accounts-----

The Minister of State will clarify that in one minute.

The Minister of State said it was unnecessary, did he not?

The Senator said that was my only answer. I am saying it is not.

I did not. The Minister of State said, as part of his answer, that it was unnecessary. Did he not? I respectfully disagree with the Minister of State and the Government on the manner in which they are setting this up. I think this is absolutely necessary. If in two years time the Minister of State is the senior Minister with responsibility for the environment and he finds out that there is a problem in Irish Water, he will be dependent on private auditors to audit that. Senator John Gilroy and other colleagues, including colleagues within his party, will not be even able to question Irish Water about it.

The only way they will be able to do it is through the Oireachtas joint committee or the CER, which is not getting to the chief executive at all. The Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General are set up for a reason and they do a damn good job. Why not let them do it? I appreciate the Minister of State's answer, but it makes no sense to me. We are going to spend this amount of money on the establishment, management and running of the company, and the Minister of State is asking the Oireachtas to say we do not want any oversight over it or independent auditing of it.

That is not true.

It is. I am going to finish now because I do not want to repeat myself.

The Senator should take his time.

Senator Darragh O'Brien to conclude, without interruption and advice.

I am trying to be constructive and add something to this legislation.

We hear the Senator.

My amendment states, "Irish Water shall be subjected to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General." It is very simple. Members in the Labour Party would even understand this. Can anyone tell me if there is a problem with the Comptroller and Auditor General having oversight over Irish Water? If there is, what is the problem? If there is a problem with the Comptroller and Auditor General having oversight and having full review powers over Irish Water, why is it okay for that office to have oversight over other Departments, State agencies and so on? I do not understand the difference. It would be an addition to the Bill and an effort to bring back people's confidence in this system if this was allowed to happen.

I am inclined to say this is close to the most important amendment in the entire Bill - that Irish Water would be subject to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General. If it is not, who is minding the public purse? The Comptroller and Auditor General is someone who can stand back and review how we all operate. Who is monitoring the Minister if the Minister is going to have complete control? This is an absolute outrage. A €490 million State subvention is being given in 2014. Who is checking how that is spent? We have seen so many mistakes with Irish Water since it started. Who is minding the public purse? Where is the oversight? There are questions now about private schemes having already been funded.

The set-up costs were approximately €80 million. One year ago, I sat for five hours at one Oireachtas environment committee. The conclusion I came to at the end of the five hours on where the €80 million was being spent was that it was being spent on one thing only, namely, to set up a billing system. That was the only concern of Irish Water - to catch everyone. It had nothing to do with fixing a leak or conservation of water.

It is very difficult to have confidence unless someone is watching. Irish Water, looking at the way the figures are stacking up right now, could become insolvent or could be very close to being insolvent. I will tell the House why. The poll in yesterday's editions of the newspapers said 37% of people were willing to pay. Another 10% said they did not know. The figure of 37% plus 10% is 47%. Let us assume 50% of people do pay for water. It will not be break-even if we are to have investment in infrastructure. That is the whole point. I accept what it is saying and that leaks could be up to 50%. That is appalling. It is not all going to add up. That is why we need the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I could decide on the answer to the next question based on what Senator Darragh O'Brien said. However, I am going to ask the Minister of State if Irish Water will be brought before the Committee of Public Accounts to give account of how it is spending the public purse. If not, why not? I will not ask the Minister of State many more questions. However, it is an absolute outrage if Irish Water is getting under the radar without oversight, when we are talking about public money - not only public money from the taxpayer but also public money from those of us who are going to pay for water. Everyone needs an account at the end of the year. Every Minister should be subject to scrutiny. We are servants of the people and servants of the State. I ask the Minister of State to explain and answer whether Irish Water can be brought before the Committee of Public Accounts and if not, why not.

Senator Darragh O'Brien seems to be able to take any old concern at all, dress it up in respectable language and raise it as a hare. He took two words from the Minister of State's opening address, which contained about 500 or 600 words. He took two words and dressed it up. It looks, at first glance, to be a good idea to have Irish Water subject to the provisions of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Perhaps we should. However, is the Senator seriously suggesting the entire apparatus of the country is not to be trusted? Are we to say the finances of ESB, CIE and Bord na Mona are somehow dodgy because they are not under the control-----

Yes. Absolutely.

This is the sort of argument we are having - that the finances of the ESB are dodgy. Are there Members who are saying that in the House?

Yes, definitely, and corrupt agreements with their employees. They are earning a hell of a lot more than any of the people-----

I am sure the Minister of State will be able to answer for everyone when he gets a chance.

Not for everyone.

Are we saying the CER is not capable of fulfilling its role? Are we expressing such lack of confidence in our own colleagues to be able to interrogate the finances of Irish Water at the Committee of Public Accounts and the Oireachtas joint committee?

It cannot be done under the legislation.

Do we not have confidence in the ability of the Houses of the Oireachtas to raise appropriate questions?

It is not possible. The Senator has obviously not read the Bill.

This is fabulous stuff.

The Senator has clearly not read the Bill because he does not understand what he is talking about.

I have read it. I spent at least 130 hours working on this legislation.

I ask the Senator to address the Chair, rather than Opposition Senators. I have been observing him all day and he has a fierce canny knack of bringing attention to himself and provoking the Opposition.

It is an unfortunate, if completely unintentional, habit of mine.

We are up against the clock and the Minister of State wishes to respond.

One of the Leas-Chathaoirleach's party colleagues accused me of waffling, which was amazing. We listened to some dreadful tosh last Friday when Senators stuck their heads in holes in the ground, although when I listen to some of the contributions made by Opposition Senators, I sometimes feel like sticking my head into a hole in the ground.

The Senator is rambling. He should stick to the amendment.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his guidance. If the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the Committee of Public Accounts, the Commission for Energy Regulation and the State's entire auditing mechanisms are not to be trusted and both Houses of the Oireachtas are incapable of interrogating the finances of a semi-State body, there is something seriously wrong.

Some of those who speak will not have an opportunity to do so. I ask Senator Paul Coghlan to be brief and to the point.

I assure the House I will be brief. While I understand and respect the reasoning behind Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment, he has been waylaid to some extent. As the Minister of State noted, Irish Water is required to provide audited accounts annually. I am sure the company's accounts will be inspected and subject to full scrutiny by departmental officials and the Minister of the day and if anything is found to be wrong, the matter will be highlighted rather quickly and will come before Senators and Deputies.

No, it would not; that is the problem. There is no forum for-----

Please allow Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.

I am happy to accept that Irish Water's audited accounts will be subject to full and necessary scrutiny.

We are discussing amendment No. 26 and if anyone transgresses my ruling, I will immediately call for a vote. Speakers are wandering all over the place.

Good, I want to transgress immediately.

On the amendment, on 14 October, the Comptroller and Auditor General issued a review of audited semi-State and State bodies. The establishment of Irish Water will not stop the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General from performing its role in auditing compliance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Irish Water will not get away with it. A previous speaker asked how the Comptroller and Auditor General would audit every organisation. The ESB was done a serious disservice by a Senator who described its accounts as dodgy. That statement should be withdrawn as it does a disservice to the good people who work in the ESB.

No one made any such statement.

The Comptroller and Auditor General published his review of State and semi-State bodies in October 2014. This will not prevent his office from auditing the extent to which Irish Water is in compliance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The message being sent by some Senators is that this is a free-for-all and semi-State companies can do as they like. That is not the case as they are subject to oversight.

I support the amendment. When I became a Senator 21 years ago, I found that every State company was taking much too long to publish its accounts. Irish Water's audited accounts should be published by a specified date each year. Many years ago, I started to table amendments specifying a date by which new State and semi-State companies should publish their accounts. I used to propose publication within a timeframe of six months after the end of the financial year. However, I subsequently reduced the period to three months. Within a year or two, every company that was being established was required to publish its accounts within three or six months after the end of the financial year. Not only should Irish Water's audited accounts be published, but they should be published within three months of the end of the financial year and approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This is an important amendment. The role of the Comptroller and Auditor General is central to achieving value for money and providing adequate oversight of performance, stewardship and accountability in all organisations where public money is used. As public money is being used by Irish Water, the company should come under the full scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Anything short of that would be a disservice to taxpayers.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a role in liaising with the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and identifying State bodies which use public funding and should, therefore, come within the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I am surprised that any Minister would be satisfied with a position in which Irish Water does not fulfil this obligation. Annual financial statements are vital as they define not only the current and past performance of an organisation, but also lay down future expectations in terms of balance sheets, profits and loss and assets. Irish Water will be entrusted with substantial public funds in the years ahead. That such an organisation will be placed beyond the scrutiny of the body established to protect taxpayers' interests is reckless in the extreme.

Any Minister or Senator who opposes the amendment must ask himself or herself some serious questions. This is a slippery slope and I assure the Government that the issue will come back to haunt it. The amendment should be supported. I ask the Minister of State to reflect on his position and if he needs to time to do so, we would be more than happy to postpone the debate until tomorrow and take Report Stage in the new year.

I support the amendment. I am pleased Senator Darragh O'Brien has identified this anomaly. It is vital that the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General oversees Irish Water of all companies, particularly as it has been born in controversial circumstances. It is the most controversial company ever established in the State. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

People do not have any faith in Irish Water, which will give bonuses to staff for performing their duties, even though some of them have not even started work. What other company would grant bonuses to employees in advance of commencing work or for performing their duties in a proper manner? Surely the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General should oversee the company, given the exemplary work it does and the outstanding results it achieves. It is a well equipped office which presents excellent reports to the Committee of Public Accounts under the chairmanship of Deputy John McGuinness. Irish Water should come under the scrutiny of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

If the Minister of State is not prepared to accept the amendment, he will find it necessary to amend the legislation sooner than he believes. The exclusion of Irish Water from the remit of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is an insult to taxpayers who will fund the company. People will smell a rat because this is being done on purpose. The Government wants to cover up the ineffective work being done by Irish Water.

The Minister of State does not want the company to be scrutinised by the Comptroller and Auditor General or to expose the disaster in its establishment.

Outrageous, as ever.

No other Minister - I have been in a few Departments - would have allowed this company to be established in the manner it has been; no other Government would have done so. A Fianna Fáil Government would certainly never have allowed this Bill to be brought before the House in this fashion. It would not have formed a company such as this which has no respect for the public it is supposed to serve.

I am tiring of this farce that has now continued for 20 odd hours. No amendments have been accepted. I will speak to amendment No. 26 which simply calls for the Comptroller and Auditor General to undertake a full review of the company. I do not believe it will be in operation in 12 months time for such a review to be carried out, as it will be insolvent. Will the Minister of State tell me what will happen if the Comptroller and Auditor General gets to audit the accounts and finds that the company is insolvent? It already owes the Government €460 million and God only knows how much it will owe by the time it gets off the ground. Can we stop this farce? Will the Minister of State say he will not accept any amendment today?

This farce is called democracy.

No; I am getting tired of it.

That is what it is called - democracy.

This is not a genuine effort by a Government to take on board what the House says. The people voted to retain this House, yet not one amendment has been accepted and the Minister of State has no interest in anything anybody here has to say. He is going through what I call a democratic farce, which is an insult to the democratic process. I would love to be able to vote for Irish Water because we will have to pay for water at some stage, but the Bill is an insult to the House and the people. It is wrong to continue with this farce.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but I have said enough; I am so depressed that I cannot speak any more. It is a farce.

We have covered a lot of ground on this amendment, but I want to add a brief comment. I do not think the Government has actually got it yet. It really has missed the plot. The people think this company is probably the most disgraced and discredited that has ever been created. They also think the Government is responsible for it and that it is protecting it and they have smelled a rat. There is something going on about which they are not being told and the cat jumped out of the bag earlier this year when Mr. John Tierney went on the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" radio programme and revealed that €50 million of taxpayers' money had been spent on consultants. If ever there was something to raise the hackles of Irish people, including Members of these Houses, it is the issue of consultants' fees. I am still waiting to hear how €50 million of taxpayers' money has been spent. On whom was it spent and for what? If we were to pass the amendment, at least we would have some accountability. Somebody would be asking questions which would have to be answered. That is the key point of the amendment. One does not bypass the Comptroller and Auditor General when it comes to the expenditure of taxpayers' money; one has to account for every last penny of it. One also has to explain why and where it was spent.

I will finish where I started. The Government should be getting the message that the company is weak in terms of its credibility. This will cause enormous difficulties for the Government. There is no doubt, as my colleagues said, that we will be back here in the near future talking about a brand new structure.

I agree with the previous speakers that this debate has been an absolute farce. No amendments have been accepted. This is a progressive amendment, an amendment one would have thought the Government would have accepted because then it might have been able to save face. However, it will face it down also. It is outrageous that a company of this size, that will deal with such a volume of taxpayers' money, will not be subject to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Some €50 million has already been squandered on consultants, money which mainly went to Accenture, Ernst & Young, IBM and Oracle. We were told the company was being established in this way, as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis, to save money because of the expertise available in Bord Gáis. However, it then wasted our money on consultants. We were told there was no bonus culture, but when the CEO, Mr. Tierney, appeared before the committee he said the 299 staff at Irish Water would receive what he called "performance-related pay awards" - bonuses. The same company spent €20,000 on a logo and laughing yoga classes for senior staff. They are laughing at us - the people. The whole thing has been an absolute farce from day one. The fact that the Minister of State is still standing over this farce will mark the end of his own political career and those of many others.

It is never about doing the right thing; it is all about being elected.

The Senator will not decide that matter.

No, I will not; the people will. They will judge the Government on its performance, not just the Minister of State personally. I am talking about the entire Government.

I hope they will because it has been a good economic performance.

The Government will be judged on its performance.

The Senator should stick to the amendment.

(Interruptions).

Irish Water is a noose around all of their necks; that is the reality and it was entirely of their own making. The Government had three chances to get it right; it is déjà vu. We are 12 months on from the first scene when the Government had to put up its hands and admit that it had made an absolute mess of it. It came back a second time, but it also made a mess of it. It has now come back a third time but has still not answered questions. It has stonewalled the Opposition and complained that we are filibustering because we have asked questions. We have spent 25 hours trying to hold it to account on each and every section of the Bill. I am proud of the work Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have done and that Independent Senators have tried to do, which is to hold the Government to account. We want to see the Bill thrown out, as it should be. The fact that the Government will not accept this crucial amendment goes right to the heart of the Bill, which is an absolute disaster. The Government will pay a price, but the biggest thing is that we will also all pay a price. It is not allowing a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Does this mean that the Committee of Public Accounts may not be able to hold hearings?

It does; that is exactly it.

That is more nonsense, which shows how undemocratic the whole thing is. The Government is hiding and running scared on this issue. It does not want any scrutiny whatsoever when it comes to this disaster of a company and those who will pay the biggest price - apart from the politicians who have stood over it - are the unfortunate people who will have to pay for water a second time. We should have done the decent thing a long time ago by scrapping Irish Water and water charges.

Irish Water seems to be an organisation that brings 250,000 people onto the streets at regular intervals. This House and the Comptroller and Auditor General, a constitutional officer, should be looking at it. This House is protected by the Constitution. We know that the Government tried to get rid of it, but the people decided otherwise. That is why the Comptroller and Auditor General is in place.

Let us look at all of the malpractices associated with the Bill. Ervia was referred to. In December 2013 - the first anniversary - it was announced that Bord Gáis Energy would be sold to a consortium led by Centrica. Therefore, in including it in Ervia the Government's assurances about privatisation do not amount to the proverbial hills of beans.

Let us look at the revelation that no records were kept in the Minister's Department of meetings with Bord Gáis energy in advising not to install meters. We are investigating why the country is bankrupt. The same indictment of the Department of Finance for not keeping written records applies to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in this case. Let me read what was said:

It is best to maintain a formal written record. This ensures that Ministers are provided with the best possible advice from their officials. A written record enhances the accountability of officials to provide advice, and forces clarity of thought. It helps to ensure clear internal communications between different areas of the Department. A record also establishes clear accountability for advice not taken. The lack of a coherent record of budgetary advice represents a major shortcoming in the systems [the Department of Finance in that case and, in this case, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government].

If there are records, let them be published today. If there are no records, let the names of the officials who did not take records of the meetings, after which we were walked into buying €500 million worth of meters, be published.

We have heard about waste. It turned out that the bulk of the cost was related to the engineers whom the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government had hired en masse and that an extra 900 had been added.

We have heard about the over-manning and they have all been kept on. The amount of €460 million for the company is referenced in section 10; there is the amount of €59 million with regard to section 12, while section 13 refers to appointing more members to the board. We heard claims by the Government of this being a talking shop of 60 when it was trying to abolish the Seanad. Now there is reference to two more members of this board. Is that what the Minister of State thought the placards were about outside these Houses? The board should have been removed years ago. Its members should have been fired. Somebody has to be accountable for this mess. The Minister of State and his Department are running from appraisal of this body by the Comptroller and Auditor General, an officer under this Constitution who reports to the Committee of Public Accounts. This body needs such appraisal much more than any one we faced in the past three or four years of the Government. We have not reformed defects in the permanent government, which is why we could repeat all the mistakes again. The Irish Water crisis is the Government's issue in the way that the banking crisis was the issue for the previous Government. The Government has decided to hang its hat on that appalling edifice as the previous Government was codded by bankers. I ask the Minister of State to invoke the constitutional protection of the Comptroller and Auditor General to make sure the waste in Irish Water stops right now. The Government should stop covering up because every day more comes out. Today this body is investing less than the local authorities in infrastructure. It is too busy with PR, foundation costs, image building and so on.

I have not found anything on the Commission for Energy Regulation's website about this legislation and gather it will not report for a few weeks. Let us wait to see what it reports. Lack of scrutiny by the Minister of State's Department and Ervia over this body has brought democracy in this country to a crisis point with so many people on the streets. They have no confidence in either Seanad Éireann or the Dáil. The Minister of State can restore their confidence at this belated stage by redeeming the Bill and saying the Comptroller and Auditor General will look after this because that is what the framers of the Irish Constitution envisaged. This body is being let off the hook. The Minister did not accept any of our amendments today or yesterday. It will carry on as before and bankrupt itself and seriously endanger the finances of the country. The Minister of State should do what I ask now.

The charge has been made that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and me are not prepared to listen to contributions from this House, but that could not be further from the truth. The Minister and I are former Members of this House and respect and value the debate that takes place here. Just because, unfortunately, we cannot support a lot of the amendments that have been proposed-----

-----or any of them-----

The Minister could have supported at least one amendment. Some of them were simple.

Let the Minister of State answer.

It could not be done simply for the sake of it.

I want to make it clear to the Senators and reiterate that fully audited Irish Water accounts will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas for full scrutiny by whoever wishes to examine them. In addition, the Oireachtas joint committee can require representatives of Irish Water to appear before it to again discuss in full its accounts, structures and all its operational and capital expenditure.

I want to make one comment because some allegations were made against other semi-State utilities and the ESB, in particular, was mentioned. The ESB is of very high international repute and recognised globally. I dissociate myself from some of the negative comments made about its accounts. Questions are legitimate about the expenditure from the public purse. I reassure all Senators that any Government expenditure in any Department is subject to full audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and that will happen in this case also where Government funds provided by my Department will be subject to such oversight. In addition, with regard to the Irish Water elements, the Commission for Energy Regulation is established as a dedicated, independent economic regulator and all Irish Water spending is subject to a detailed financial and economic analysis by the Commission for Energy Regulation, similar to that of any other semi-State utility. On top of this, Irish Water is a company under the Companies Act and subject to strict auditing requirements in that respect also.

The involvement of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is not appropriate in this case because, as I outlined, it has full audit over Government expenditure. As I stated, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General reviews all departmental expenditure. It independently reviewed the cost of more than 50 documents on the Commission for Energy Regulation's website. I have one dated 8 October and all those documents are available for anybody to scrutinise on the Commission for Energy Regulation's website. The establishment costs of Irish Water are an asset and need to be recognised as such and have been reviewed fully by the Commission for Energy Regulation in detail, on which a full report is also available.

With regard to some of the public comment made by the Fianna Fáil Party especially on the Irish Water funding model, I suggest to Senator O'Brien that Fianna Fáil is being very selective in its figures-----

The Minister of State can suggest what he likes.

-----and the accounts and how it is presenting them to the public and I will tell him why. It is conveniently not taking account of the commercial water rates that will be an income under the Irish Water funding model and that will be an important income under that model. It is also incorrectly bringing the conservation grant onto the books of Irish Water which, as we all know, is not the case. The conservation grant is provided by my Department and administered by the Department of Social Protection.

It also not allowing for the benefit of the establishment of the modern fit for purpose asset management system being established for the first time in the State for water infrastructure. That is important also. It does not take account of possible fines and pending fines from the European Union if we do not address many of the pollution issues in this country.

The Government is reducing the investment-----

The Deputy's party is not addressing the fines that can be imposed on this country if we continue to allow raw sewage to flow into rivers and bays.

There is no new money for infrastructure.

(Interruptions).

More importantly, it is not taking account of the negative economic impact if we do not invest in water infrastructure.

Why did we not do it in the past two years?

We saw how Galway city was nearly shut down by the cryptosporidium outbreak a number of years ago. We saw last year how Dublin city could not supply an adequate water capacity. There will be an negative economic impact if we do not address many of these issues.

The Government cut the funding by half.

Fianna Fáil cannot have it every way.

Representatives of Irish Water have already appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts earlier this year. The question was raised as to whether they could be brought before it. They have already appeared before it and I am sure they can be brought back before it again.

That happened on 15 January 2014.

That is correct. They have also appeared before the Oireachtas joint committee. The bottom line is that Ministers and Departments are accountable and will appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and the Oireachtas joint committee on the environment to account for any State expenditure in this regard.

It will be too late.

The funding models will be a matter that will be kept under constant review in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, given his particular role in the oversight and accountability arrangements for the commercial semi-State sector generally. That has always been the case. There will be a continuing role in that regard.

For the information of Members, the Secretary General of my Department has recently offered to provide information for the Committee of Public Accounts, if it would find this of assistance, outlining the flow of funds from the Exchequer and the local government fund to Irish Water, funds which, as I outlined, are subject to full examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Assuming that the Committee of Public Accounts confirms it wishes to have such information brought before it, we are happy to place it in the Oireachtas Library for full scrutiny.

What has been said is a red herring. Irish Water will be treated no differently than any other semi-State utility.

It will be subject to full audit. Its audited accounts will be laid before the Oireachtas. It will be subject to appearing before any Oireachtas joint committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General will have full oversight and accountability for any State funds expended by any Department. That should reassure Senators about concerns they have.

The guillotine is coming.

To briefly conclude, all I asked for was that Irish Water be subject to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Unfortunately, the Minister of State has not convinced me otherwise. Any reasonable person watching this debate would say that would be a good thing; cutting through all the nonsense and differences, they would say that would be good and that they would like the involvement of the Comptroller and Auditor General and oversight by the Committee of Public Accounts, but the Minister of State has refused this and I cannot understand why. All of his responses today made zero sense.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 28.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

As it is now 6 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of 20 December 2014.

A Chathaoirligh, would you allow five minutes for a discussion on section 13 which is an extremely important section?

The question is: "That sections 9 to 16, inclusive, and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Bill is, accordingly, reported to the House without amendment; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; that the Bill is hereby received for final consideration and that the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 January 2015.

Is that agreed?

It is not agreed.

Question put: "That the House adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 January 2015."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 January 2015.