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Water Services Bill 2017: Report Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 961 No. 1

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] It is not just about putting meters into the ground, however. It is about taking readings from them, the administration that goes into that and maintaining a call centre. It strikes me that a lot of money is being used without achieving the greatest degree of conservation, that is, investing the scarce resources into dealing with the old Victorian pipes that are leaking and where we can calculate the loss incurred.

There is also very good telemetry available from some councils, which was well used in advance of Irish Water. There was a degree of controlled metering within estates that could pinpoint very large leaks. Essentially, when resources are scarce it comes down to a choice. If the approach is for there to be a continuation of the metering programme, that cannot happen without a decent cost-benefit analysis. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say in that regard. The danger is that we could use up very scarce resources and get no return in terms of conservation. There are other ways of doing it. There is a clue in how the legislation is framed. When we starts counting individuals in households, then we are getting into an extension of the mass metering programme involving maintenance, readings and administration. I would like to hear an estimate of how much that will cost or if a cost-benefit analysis has been done in terms of the return on the investment in terms of the 8% that are likely to find themselves getting a bill due to excess use.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 16 and 18. It is very clear that there are alternative sources of income that could be considered rather than levying water charges in the first place. I wish to comment on what has been included and excluded from the Bill. There has been a big panic in the media to get repayments into the pockets of people before Christmas. It seems to be something the Government is using to attack the Opposition which is raising serious questions about the Bill. No amount of repayments back in the pockets of people before Christmas and the creation of a feel-good factor is going to save votes or anything else in terms of water charges. It is not justified to rush through bad legislation in order to do that. The Minister could have introduced a separate Bill to repay the charges if that was so important.

While it is all very quiet tonight, it is quite momentous because this legislation is, on the one hand, a victory and recognition of the massive movement that took place three years ago against the water charges. At the time this country was in a serious political crisis as a result of the mobilisation of people and the boycott that took place. The Government of the day had to rush through new legislation and here we are again with another piece of legislation. The potential is still there to reintroduce water charges in the future through the excessive usage policy by gradually lowering the limits and we object to that. The Government should recognise defeat.

It is a bit bizarre to rule out a referendum in the Bill, in addition to conservation measures. Even though it is a water services Bill, we are not allowed to propose conservation measures. Does that not suggest that it was never about conservation in the first place?

Amendment No. 16 calls on the Minister to report to the Dáil within six months of the enactment of the Bill on the number of private domestic swimming pools and large water features that exist. The wasters of water that we heard about for the past three years are not ordinary households, but there are very wealthy people who are profligate in their use of water. I visited some picket lines of Irish Rail workers today. The issue is very pertinent to taxation and the proposed charges. One of the key issues that was raised was the strike but the second key issue was the Paradise Papers. There is a very high level of awareness among working-class people about the extent of tax evasion and tax avoidance that is going on. I will refer to some of the kinds of measures that could have been incorporated into the Bill. If we stopped opposing the European Commission's pursuit of Apple for back taxes, we would raise at least €17 billion. That is just one multinational that we found out about in the Paradise Papers but there are many more. A 2% millionaire’s tax on wealth could bring in €2.7 billion. Depending on the rate, a financial transactions tax could bring in anything up to €1 billion. The enforcement of the headline rate of corporation tax as the effective minimum rate could bring in €2 billion. A 10% increase in tax paid by the top 10% would bring in €2.7 billion. A host of measures could be taken to avoid the introduction of a tax that would have led to water poverty among other issues. We won on water charges and hopefully we can now go on to win on those other issues as well.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins This is a water services Bill and it should be dealing with conservation and the leakages we know are happening from pipes. A finding of the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services was astounding. Most people thought Ireland would have a higher rate of water consumption than other countries but, surprisingly, average domestic consumption in this country is 123 litres per capita compared to 140 litres per capita in the UK. In another way, that is not surprising as Irish people are aware of water usage. The problem is the 48% of water that is leaking into the ground through faulty pipes.

  Amendment No. 16 attempts to introduce a conservation measure. When I was a member of Dublin City Council, Mr. Dermot Lacey of the Labour Party went on about all the water wasters with their swimming pools. The simple way to deal with that is to introduce VAT on the installation of swimming pools and then to have an annual tax on the amount of water they use. A Trojan Horse was used to justify the introduction of water charges to every single domestic household in the country.

  It is a shame that so many amendments relating to conservation have been ruled out of order. Conservation is a very important part of a water services Bill. The retrofitting of housing stock is also important. I would love to get a grant, not a €100 grant as was given out as part of the previous Bill, but a real grant to be able to retrofit my home in order to assist me with the conservation of water. It is also regrettable that the Bill is silent on the need for new houses to incorporate conservation measures. I am very surprised and angry considering the fact that all of the debate in the committee was about conservation and the future funding of water services. Slovenia introduced a change to its constitution last year to maintain water in public ownership not because there was any urgency to do that as there was no debate about the privatisation of water or the introduction of charges for water, but because they felt it was the proper thing to do to protect future generations against privatisation and the fat cats who are waiting to buy up water all over the world.

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