It will be a matter for the Oireachtas to decide on the holding of a referendum on the ownership of public water services and the wording to be put to the people.
The Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership and this is reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 approved by Government in May 2018. There is widespread support for this view, as recognised in the Oireachtas approval of the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in April 2017 which supports the concept of a referendum on the issue of water services continuing in public ownership. The Committee recommended that the wording of this amendment must be carefully scrutinised to ensure that it does not impact upon the status of Group Water Schemes and individual domestic water supplies.
The matter of the holding of a referendum is addressed in the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016, a Private Member's Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins. The Bill is currently at Dáil committee stage. Detailed examination of the wording of this Bill as it stands, which I have undertaken in consultation with the Attorney General, indicates that it would give rise to unacceptable risks. Reflecting upon the advices that I have received, I have articulated these concerns in correspondence and engagement on the Bill with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser has separately and independently advised the Committee in relation to the Bill.
In November 2018, I received Government approval for the priority drafting of proposed amendments to the Private Member's Bill to provide for a constitutional amendment which will focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership. My intention is that the draft wording, once finalised, will be brought back to Government for approval and can then be brought forward as a proposed amendment to the existing Bill.
Reflecting this position, and the work that needs to be completed, the referendum was not included amongst those identified by Government to be held in May 2019. The development of the wording is currently being given priority attention by the Office of the Attorney General.
I have written to the Chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee as recently as 21 January 2019 and will continue to keep the Committee updated on progress in this matter.