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Irish Water: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 826 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] We have been told this is all about conserving water, but if one is good at that, one will find that is not what this is all about. One will be punished in such circumstances because Irish Water has to make a profit, or at the very least break even. It cannot break even now because €180 million has already been spent before it has even started. This is a farce from start to finish. It is time to call a halt before any more money is pumped into the hole that is Irish Water. Local authorities should be allowed to retain the responsibility they had in this regard for many years. They were very good at fulfilling that responsibility when they were properly funded. It is time to reverse the decision. We have been told that people should have faith in the Commission for Energy Regulation. I suggest that the commission's decision to sanction hikes in ESB and gas charges at a time when people are struggling says a great deal about where our faith should be.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis Roddy Doyle wrote an amusing but scarily realistic characterisation of what a consultant is, and why the Government uses consultants, and shared it on a well-known social network today. If I can paraphrase it to avoid the expletives, it suggested that "a consultant", in the case of Irish Water, is just a nice way of describing someone brazen enough to charge €50 million for the masterstroke of suggesting that an Irish company selling water should be called Irish Water. I am sure other advice was garnered for that €50 million. As Roddy Doyle wrote, consultants are used as a tool by politicians who lack "the guts or the brains to make their own decisions" or to stand over those decisions. This tool allows politicians to sit back and say the decisions have nothing to do with them. Is that not what Irish Water is all about? Is that not what Fine Gael is all about? This is another example of a body being created in order to take responsibility away from democratic institutions. This approach allows Ministers to pass the buck endlessly. It ensures that the process of asking parliamentary questions makes ministerial offices seem like glorified post offices, as questions are passed on to the chief executive of one body or another. Of course, the chief executive in each case is unable to deal with the politics of the issue or engage in real debate.

This whole stroke, like the privatisation of bus routes and the continued removal of the role of the State in social housing, is all about serving up basic public need to the foaming profit-mad mouth of capitalism. It is based, or at least sold, on the idea that the State cannot provide good services and that the private market is more efficient. It is further strengthened by the continued refusal - it really is a matter of refusal - of right-wing Governments like this one to deliver good public services. This is not a question of incompetence, as a focused effort is being made to undermine the State's role in service provision and to build the argument for privatisation. Fine Gael, with the Labour Party in tow, is wrapping the Irish water system in a nice big bow so that it is ready to be sold off. If this is not the case - if Irish Water is genuinely a public body - we would have real accountability. Instead, we are promised accountability as an afterthought when the Government realises that despite its guillotines and late sessions, it cannot sneak this one through unchanged.

I would like to raise a number of issues regarding the process of installing these meters. JobBridge, or "ScamBridge" as it should be known, is being used to source workers to carry out the serious work of installation. While we oppose metering, we believe that if the Government is to force this into being, it should do so as responsibly as possible. Skilled workers should be used to ensure damage is not done and to avoid service problems in the long run. If these workers are skilled, they should be paid a decent wage rather than a dole supplement. The Government thinks its consultants are worth millions, so what does it say when it is not willing to pay installers the minimum wage?

Council officials have brought my attention to their concerns about what will happen to the valuable scrap metal that is being removed during these installations. I am told that entire stopcocks, which weigh several pounds and could fetch a good price, are being removed. Metal shores are also being removed. Up to a metre of lead or copper piping is being cut out to facilitate the installation of each meter. These bits and pieces add up. A plan should have been put in place to collect any valuable scrap salvaged during these works. Given that some 1.3 million metres of piping is being put in place, we can estimate that some €6.5 million could be recouped by Irish Water if the scrap value of the material being removed is €5 per metre. If the value of this scrap is €20 per metre, we would be talking about €26 million. People are now profiting from the failure to realise, on the basis of these numbers, that this material should be stored up and sold on.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I would like to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The lack of transparency and accountability in this case is the issue that is most annoying the people. I heard the Taoiseach tell the House today that where there is an issue of public ownership, there should be no secrecy. I remind the House that 41 public bodies will be exempt from the new freedom of information legislation. A further 24 public bodies will be partially exempt. I suggest that has nothing to do with transparency or accountability. It is very annoying to people that mad sums of money are being paid to private consultants. I admit that it is nothing new. It has been part of the State's history. The previous Government paid Merrill Lynch €7 million for 14 pages of work, most of which was lies, in 2008. It is not long since Arthur Cox got €27 million for three years of legal work.

The idea of value for money is an important one. It is all very well to say that a certain company got one amount and another company got another amount. Where is the breakdown? If I build a wall for someone, I will be asked to account for material and labour. I have to explain where the entire bill came from. These people are not doing that. I will give an example. One of the main tasks for which Accenture received €17.2 million was dealing with work processes. In actual fact, it tried to reinvent the wheel in an impractical way. The same company is pretty famous for overcharging and for over-analysing a client's problems. It is an offspring of Andersen Consulting, which did not have a wonderful reputation. The stuff the consultants produced was not practical. The local authorities rejected it and told the consultants to start again. They did it again, step by step, with the help of the local authorities.

All of this cost millions of euro. Where was the value for money? Can anyone tell us why it cost so much? Can we get a breakdown of all the consultants' costs and an explanation of where they came from? It does not stack up that they were allowed to get away with this. I am sure John Tierney is a decent man. I challenged his appointment in this House a couple of months ago. Why was an engineer not appointed? Is this man out of his depth as he tries to accomplish the task he faces? Who actually made the decision to appoint him?

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The Minister, Deputy Hogan, said on television last night that the committee was told in advance - when representatives of Bord Gáis came before it on 6 November 2012 - that consultants were to be appointed. I would like to remind the House of what the committee was told on that occasion:

With regard to resources, Bord Gáis Energy is being sold. The billing system we use in Bord Gáis Energy is already being adapted for Irish Water and the design for the Irish Water billing system is in progress. The billing system will be ready by 1 January 2014 and we have already seconded resources from our energy retail business into Irish Water, transferring those who are proficient in the establishment of billing and customer service. Therefore, this expertise will not be lost with the privatisation.

That is what we were told. Why would we have even asked whether consultants were being appointed? Every indication was given that this was being done in-house. Some of these very sizeable contracts were awarded after that. Just because €180 million has been earmarked for the establishment of Irish Water does not mean it has to be spent.

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