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Economic Management Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins Will the Taoiseach explain how the Economic Management Council relates to the full Cabinet? Are there any written formulations in regard to what powers the Cabinet has given the council and whether the latter can work independently of the Cabinet in some circumstances? For example, if there is no Cabinet meeting after a serious decision is taken at the council, is that decision deemed to be Government policy and does it go ahead?

The Taoiseach referred to the two hapless Fianna Fáil Ministers who apparently did not know that secret discussions were going on behind the scenes in 2010 to bring the troika - the representatives of European and world capitalism - to this country to ensure the financial system it represented was not in any way threatened by the Irish people refusing to pay off debts that were not theirs to bankers and bondholders. I remember all of that well. However, did the Taoiseach not leave his Cabinet colleagues in the dark on a related issue not too long after he came into Government? Will he tell us about the infamous day that Monsieur Trichet, the then President of the European Central Bank, telephoned him and the Minister for Finance when he got wind that they were talking about burning some bondholders and that the Minister for Finance was going to come into the Dáil - as I recall, it was to be at 4.30 in the afternoon - to make an announcement along those lines? The Taoiseach and Minister were threatened by the President of the European Central Bank that a financial bomb would go off, not in Frankfurt but in Dublin, if that was done. They ran into this Chamber like scalded cats, having crossed out the part of the Minister's speech that would have relayed the burning of bondholders, with that action dropped completely. Will the Taoiseach confirm this happened with no consultation with the full Cabinet and, in fact, that a previous decision of Cabinet was overturned by the Economic Management Council?

Since she was appointed to that role, has the Tánaiste confided in the Taoiseach whether she is still experiencing the angst she previously referred to with regard to the working of the Economic Management Council? Her view before her elevation was that the council was too powerful and too centralised, did not fit with the idea of open government and excluded what she considered important members of the Cabinet like herself? Does she still suffer these misgivings about the exclusion of her Cabinet colleagues now that she is inside the tent or has she accommodated herself happily to this power structure?

I am a little reluctant to start talking about water charges, but I will say that the Taoiseach should have listened to the people on this issue. He should have gone the whole hog, because his concessions will not be accepted. People are not fools; they know that as soon as the pressure is off, the initial plan for massive charges and €1 billion to €1.3 billion being taken from the pockets of the people, moneys they have already paid through their general taxes, will proceed. If the Taoiseach still does not listen, he will be faced with a huge boycott next April that will dog him right up to the general election and have a huge impact in that election. I advise him, in the quietness of the Chamber, to cut his losses and abolish the water tax, full stop. He should, for once, do what the people want.

The Taoiseach and his Fianna Fáil colleagues have a neck to portray themselves as water conservationists. Since Fine Gael went into Government in 1994, some 500,000 new homes have been built. In that period, neither Fine Gael in Government nor any of the Governments led by Fianna Fáil made the changes we called for during our anti-water charges campaign in the 1990s. We called at that time for conservation measures to be included in the building regulations and factored into the construction of homes by developers, and outlined how it should be done. Nobody in Government lifted a figure over that period, with the result that billions of litres of pristine drinking water, purified at the expense of the people, are going into the sewers. That would not be happening if people in government had listened and brought about the types of conservation measures that other countries - even capitalist countries, like Denmark - have implemented in order to reduce consumption. This Government has no credentials when it comes to conservation. As it happens, conservation has disappeared from the narrative in any case. Perhaps the Taoiseach will tell us where it went. It has been disappeared as effectively as any Stalinist politburo could disappear an issue when the line changes, with no discussion of why it changed or whether it was a mistake that it was initially put forward.

I hope the Taoiseach has taken note of these points and will come back to me on them one by one.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I take the Deputy's point regarding conservation, and he is right about it. This matter has been a source of discussion at local authority meetings and Department meetings over the years. We have seen on the Continent, going back a number of years, a far sharper and more effective method of collecting rainwater for use in gardens, for car washing and all of that. I see water conservation being part of the reconstruction and renovation of houses scheme in respect of which a €200 million investment is being made. Energy refits are part of all that. I note that a number of firms are designing water collection tanks to suit the particular contours of houses and garages. I have heard several people on different radio stations outlining various tips and methods householders can use to conserve water. I am sure people will follow that advice because it is very informative.

I always say to Deputy Higgins that he knows well, as a man from southern Ciarraí, that somebody must pay for the clean water that comes out when one turns the tap. Perhaps it is when the Deputy crosses the border of the Pale and into Dublin that his attitude changes and he decides this resource should be free. Yes, people pay their taxes generally, but when these taxes are all put on the table and divided up between hospitals, schools and other bits and pieces, there never has been enough for water or sewerage infrastructure. That is why it is important to set up Uisce Éireann and have it be able to invest independently of Government. On the occasions when I am in that beloved part of our country that the Deputy calls home, I see that the people of Daingean Uí Chúis know very well that when one invests in taking water from a reservoir or wherever, somebody has to pay for it. It is the same in this city and everywhere else. The water that falls from the sky and the water in our lakes and rivers must be treated at a cost before being distributed through inferior mains in this city for the use of the people. What we are doing is asking them for a contribution to that.

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