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Economic Management Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] My fundamental point is about how the Economic Management Council, EMC, has got it wrong. Has that not been proven by what we have seen on the streets and what we will see there again tomorrow? Will the Taoiseach go outside and listen to people tomorrow when they tell him that the EMC got it wrong?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Taoiseach to respond.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Where does one start?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny First of all, the Deputy made the point about the Economic Management Council and the work that it does. Then he branched into the pipeline for water. The Bill dealing with that will be debated later tonight. There is plenty of time over the next period to discuss that.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett It is about the Taoiseach's role in it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Economic Management Council has a duty to consider some of the major implications in terms of infrastructure that we have to look at for the next number of years. For instance, what does one do in terms of financing broadband for the country outside the cities and bigger towns? How does one do that? Is it to be by private contractors? Is it to be by the ESB being able to form a company or a relationship with a supply company and bring it in on the wires? What is the duty of the State in terms of providing its contribution to this where commercial companies might not go? If we are serious about providing broadband throughout the country, how is that connectivity to be provided: PPP, direct build, commercial entities or the State? Is that, for instance, to be considered for some of the funding that may come from the Juncker investment scheme?

The same applies in the case of social housing. The Government has put up €2.2 billion in this respect. Is there an opportunity for further funding, for PPP investment, for social housing? These are matters that need to be considered and reflected on.

For instance, what does one do with the remainder of the share that Ireland holds in Bank of Ireland? We put in €4 billion; we have got back €6 billion. That is a profit for the taxpayer. The Minister is very clear, in that he is not going to sell the shares in Bank of Ireland, yet we own the vast majority of AIB, as the Deputy is aware. How does one value that? What does one want to do with it? Does one make a decision to test its value by putting up a portion of it for analysis and, if so, how? These are the bigger matters that need to be considered in the interests of the country, and it is right and proper that things of that scale should be considered by the Economic Management Council.

In regard to Irish Water, the Economic Management Council did not go through all of the details. It has had the 34 local authorities, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Irish Water itself, the regulator and so on. Each of these has its own responsibilities and its own matters to attend to. The Deputy seems to assume that the Economic Management Council was involved in tightening every jubilee clip and handling every monkey wrench that went out to put in meters.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett No, I am not saying that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This is not the case. I do not know whether the Deputy was ever in a trench himself having to deal with one of those things but, believe me, it is an experience.

For instance, we discussed the question of homelessness. What does one do with an issue that has been around for a long time? The point was that, in addition to the Cabinet sub-committees, which I chair myself, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey - this was reflected at some element of the EMC in the past - conducted the meetings with the NGOs on Thursday, the lord mayor on Friday, came to the Cabinet committee yesterday and brought their business before the Cabinet this morning, where it was endorsed and set out as a way of dealing with the principal priority of rough sleeping in Dublin and other cities - Cork, to a lesser extent Limerick, to a lesser extent Galway and so on - and then making arrangements as to how one is going to get the voided units renovated and fixed up so that they are suitable for individuals or for families, and the bigger build by providing proper housing through the expenditure of the €2.2 billion. That is what is involved there.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked me if I would be out listening. There is a debate on homelessness in the Chamber tomorrow, obviously arising from the unfortunate tragedy across the road that needs to be dealt with. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, are leading that. I hope to contribute to that debate at some stage, but I have listened to the people who came to my office. I have listened to the many people who protested and who rang up, some in not very polite language, I might say, or some who sent messages of a particular kind. In any event, what they did say was that they wanted clarity, they wanted certainty, they wanted to know about affordability, they wanted to know about the entity of Irish Water and it being retained in public ownership, and they wanted to know what was going to happen after 2019. All of those issues have been dealt with as fairly and as clearly and as definitively as can be by the Government. The cost, as the Deputy knows, for somebody who registers and gets €100 back is €1.15 per week for a single person or for a single person with children under 18 and €3 where it is two or more adults in the house, with children being free. There is no cut-off. There is no reduced pressure. The first leak is fixed. It is possible to beat the meter, unlike what Deputy Martin says, by being able to conserve water and understand it. Obviously, Irish Water will be retained in public ownership. Legislation will be drafted so that if some future Government were to say "We want to privatise it", it would have to go and have a referendum. Nobody is going to do that anyway. The last public entity that was sold was Eircom, and we saw what happened there with asset stripping over a period, which turned out to be a complete disaster. The Deputy knows who did that.

There is a situation that Deputy Boyd Barrett will understand. Across rural Ireland, water has been paid for for very many years. Some people have had to put in private wells. It might be €5,000 or €6,000 to bore a well - the pipes, the pumps, the chemicals, the salt and all of that.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The State should have paid for that, too.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is a contribution every year of a pretty significant amount. Let me give the Deputy an example of three very small rural schemes down the west of 1,200 houses, fragmented holdings, long boreens and all of that, bad sources and everything. They are paying serious money every year.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett They should not have to.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny They bundled them all together with the local authority at the time and the then Department of the Environment, fenced off the sources, put in proper pumps, fixed the leaks, and put a meter on every farm for every trough and for every house. In the first year, those 1,200 houses saved 500 million litres of water. Those people are very happy in the knowledge that they know exactly what they are using and they are paying a hell of a lot less than they used to before. It is about the conservation of water. The more leaks that are fixed, the less treated water is lost and, therefore, the less the cost of producing water. Therefore, one is going to have a much more efficient system.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is a vociferous Deputy who lives in the greater Dublin area. This is a conurbation that needs attention in terms of water. All of these kilometres of pipes that are ruptured and are leaking 40% of the water in them at the moment need to be fixed. In the next 20 years, long after I am gone out of this House, the situation in so far as this, an expanding city, is concerned is that it will need a new major supply of water. It is not going to get it just coming out of the heavens. One has to be able to invest for the future.

I made the point - I think to Deputy Martin - the other day that 1,000 boil water notices went out to Williamstown in east Galway, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know, and right over into west Roscommon. There are small schemes with turloughs and poor surface supplies. That needs to be dealt with properly and in a coherent fashion. The solution identified in the longer term is to supply that from Lough Mask, which currently supplies most of south Mayo and off into that region.

That is where we need to be. That is the story that Irish Water will be for the next 50 years - to invest and supply and provide a proper scale of clean water. When major pharma companies decide to site in Ireland, they require huge volumes of water, as do software companies. It is very important for consumers, for business and for industry alike that we have this.

The Deputy asked me about humility and getting it wrong. I would say that we certainly did not get it right, but we did listen to the concerns of the people. In respect of clarity, definition, affordability, fairness, the future, public ownership, first leak, no cut-off and no reduced pressure, all of these things have been answered and dealt with. They are now clarified. The Bill is going through the House. I might add that there has been no guillotine this year, and there will not be any guillotine this year. If the House has to sit Saturday, Sunday and Monday, that is what will happen.

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