Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach inniu. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be here. I wish to discuss Irish Water and the service level agreement with local authority staff. I am not, and never was, a fan of Irish Water in the first instance. I fail to see the purpose of setting up another layer of bureaucracy - some would refer to it as a quango - which currently has 800 staff on its books. Local authorities continue to provide an excellent service to the people of this country in terms of water services.
Local authorities have a service level agreement with Irish Water in that the latter has tasked local authorities with providing water services to the people of this country. They are doing an excellent job. Irish Water has what it calls a balanced scorecard for each local authority, which rates each one on key performance indicators. In layman's language, it rates the service provided by local authority water services staff to the general public. I am delighted, but not surprised, to note that each local authority is performing excellently, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware. The percentage levels of performance are in the high 90s consistently year on year. In Monaghan and Cavan the levels are consistently above 90% and I thank local authority water services staff for the excellent job they do. Given such high levels of service, the question arises as to why we are taking the service away from the water services sections of local authorities and not keeping it where it is. Perhaps that is a question to which the Minister of State might relate.
Public ownership of Irish Water is the clear will of the Irish people. People want control of this utility into the future. There is a commitment in the programme for Government that Irish Water will remain in public ownership, but many are calling for a referendum to be put to the people in order that this can be enshrined in the Constitution for eternity. I support that call. Has the Government committed to holding a referendum? If so, does it have a date in mind?
Another issue I would like to raise is the fact that many local authority staff are quite happy to stay where they are. The 3,500 workers who are providing an excellent service want to stay with their local authority, and I fully agree with and support them in that notion. I understand talks are ongoing between the Government, Irish Water, local authorities and trade unions. We do not want local authority staff, who are doing an excellent job, to be forced down a road they do not want to go.
It is important that we take their concerns on board.
I respectfully appeal to the Minister of State to answer the two questions I have posed. I would like to think that local authority staff, who provide an excellent service, will be looked after and that their wishes will be respected.