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Water Charges Introduction

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 18 September 2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ceisteanna (40)

Barry Cowen


40. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the current timeframe for the introduction of water metering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39118/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (28 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Environment)

The programme for Government and the memorandum of understanding with the EU, the IMF and the ECB provide for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a State-owned water utility. The Government considers that charging for water based on usage is the fairest way and it has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. International evidence has shown that where meters have been installed, significant reductions have been achieved in the level of consumption, and this is also borne out by the water savings achieved with metering in the group water sector.

The Government has also decided that Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann group, will be responsible for the metering programme. The Government has recently approved the preparation of legislation to assign the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the metering programme. The objective is to have the Bill enacted by the end of this year. Pending the enactment of the legislation, my Department will be working with the local authorities to progress aspects of the metering programme, including the carrying out of surveys of domestic connections, and the Department will also be progressing the tender documentation for elements of the meter infrastructure.

A couple of questions emanate from the Minister's answer. The timeframe seems to have been amended because earlier this year - to great fanfare when the process was announced - the date for the installation of all the water meters was 2014. There was also an indication that 2,000 jobs would be created. Is the timeframe now in tatters? Today, Bord na Móna announced much restructuring and some job losses. I would like to know, in writing in the coming weeks if it is impossible today, why that organisation was overlooked in favour of Bord Gáis for the water metering process. The Minister has moved back from his initial commitment to have this done more quickly. Will he confirm that Bord Gáis is continuing to recruit personnel and how many have been recruited so far? For what purposes is this recruitment taking place? Will the 2,000 jobs be filled when there is nothing to do for half of the personnel?

Over the past number of years, some county councils have from their own resources begun a process of installing water meters not only in private estates, but in public authority estates.

It is ironic to think those who showed this forward thinking are to be penalised by virtue of the local government charge in the same fashion as anybody else who did not have the foresight to do this in recent years, irrespective of what agreement or options may have been laid down with the troika with regard to funding being made available to the State.

As the Deputy knows from the troika agreement, water charges are to be introduced in 2014. This is what the previous Government negotiated. Whether or not there are meters there will be water charges in 2014.

We know it is an option.

The Deputy knows it is there. It is not a surprise.

We know you made a commitment to the electorate you would overturn it, re-negotiate it and do everything with it. However, when it suits you it is a problem.

Through the Chair.

We have abandoned our economic sovereignty thanks to the policies pursued by our predecessors and we are doing our best to sort it out. An independent assessment was carried out by PwC on behalf of the Department to establish which semi-State body would be appropriate and would have the necessary skills and expertise and two companies were considered, namely, Bord na Mona and Bord Gáis Éireann. Its independent recommendation, which was subsequently approved by the Government, was that Bord Gáis Éireann had the best synergy to deal with the issues because it was already involved in dealing with utility customers.

Will the Minister publish it?

That is a separate question.

There is a time limit on this question.

In addition to this, procurement documentation is being drawn up and it must be done in a way that is legal and according to EU tendering arrangements. Those who will obtain jobs are fitters, plumbers and people in the construction industry who were abandoned arising from the downturn.

Fix the leaks in the State.

We will do that also.

It would be much better to do this than to waste money on meters.

Perhaps the Minister would reply to the Deputy's question.

I remind Deputies that people already pay water charges. People provide water supplies themselves, as do commercial people, and this is extending the principle to public supplies.

Every citizen pays for water.

We all pay for water through our taxes.

You do not want to pay for anything.

I have a follow-on question on the fact that Bord Gáis-----

You do not want to pay for anything.

When we buy goods in shops we pay for the shopkeepers' water charges also.

I ask the Deputy to please adhere to the rules of the House.

It appears that Bord Gáis is in the process of recruiting fitters and engineers but I have yet to learn when their work might commence and I do not know to what infrastructure they have access. Where stands the expertise in the local authorities to which the Minister so proudly states he can provide funding so they can provide services? He is taking one of the long-standing-----

A question please Deputy.

-----facilities available to the electorate, namely, local authority water services. Where stands this expertise and local knowledge and these engineers in local authorities? How will they be employed in local authorities? Are they being asked to transfer to Bord Gais?

Local authority staff work very closely with Bord Gáis and in the coming seven years they will continue to do so through providing the infrastructure for rolling out the metering programme and in providing the water infrastructure to be laid down in the legislation to come before the House. This legislation will give Bord Gáis the necessary powers with regard to arrangements with the Commission for Energy Regulation and the roll-out of the water metering programme. During these seven years the local authorities and Bord Gáis will work out the systems they must put in place to deliver what is probably one of the largest public utility projects since the establishment of the ESB. The experience in local authorities will be used to good effect with regard to rolling out the programme.

Question No. 41 answered with Question No. 37.