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Water Services Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] The Minister's commitment that he gave here just less than a month ago, that is, that there will be a plebiscite if there is any disposal of assets, is not written into the legislation. It states there "may" be a plebiscite, so it is at the whim of the Government in power. If that Government has the troika or IMF breathing down its neck because of the dire situation the country is in, a financial motion or emergency motion will be introduced ramming this through. That is why I am asking the Minister to accept the amendment I have tabled, which would at least ensure all county councillors, who are directly elected by every legal resident over 18, would have a direct say in any disposal of assets.

While my proposal does not provide the constitutional amendment many of us would like to have seen included in the legislation, or provide for the plebiscite the Minister promised but which he did write into the legislation, it at least ensures the public will be consulted by their local public representatives, who have a constitutional role now because of the provisions in our Constitution in regard to local government. Each municipal district would, in its own right, make a decision as to whether any of the assets owned by Irish Water could be disposed of in the future. In light of the severe shortcomings in section 2 of the legislation, I hope the Minister will accept my amendment.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins The fact that the Dáil is sitting after midnight, in the early morning of 10 December, to debate for one hour amendments to the Water Services Bill that could easily be debated in time allocated on Thursday and Friday is a tribute to the overweening arrogance of the newly arrived Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. He is newly arrived but already delusional about leaving a so-called legacy. Make no mistake: this is the Minister's two-fingered gesture to the tens of thousands of ordinary, decent people - the taxpayers of this country - who will gather tomorrow outside Dáil Éireann to say they do not want his noxious legislation or odious water charges, which they understand to be another bondholders' and bankers' tax. It is a Minister of the Labour Party who is giving the people the finger.

The Minister is a young and mightily ambitious man in a mighty hurry, but young men in a hurry should make haste slowly. I can tell him now what his legacy will be if he persists along this road with his water tax. He will be known for having started off by attempting to defy a mass movement of people demanding the abolition of this austerity tax called the water charge. He will be known for having been met by ongoing resistance. If he persists in spite of the mass boycott of the odious tax next April, when the first bills are issued, that movement will continue until the next general election if the charges are not gone before then. He will be defeated by that mass movement, be it in the next few weeks, April or in the general election. To the extent that the Minister, with his colleagues in the Labour Party and Fine Gael, arrogantly defies the wishes of a huge majority of the people, there will be a reduction in the number of Deputies, particularly from the Labour Party, coming back to this Dáil. That will be the legacy of this Minister.

It is quite incredible that the Deputies in the Labour Party and Fine Gael, who obviously wanted no debate at this ludicrous hour of the night and having heard the very rational proposal on how this debate should be ordered, had not the guts to vote down the Government's proposal and say the discussion should be made in daylight in full view of the people tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.

I support the amendments before us while wholly opposing the legislation. The idea that a buffer or blocks to the privatisation of Irish Water is included in the legislation is nothing short of the most incredible mendacity, as has been pointed out. If resolutions going in the direction of privatisation are passed, proposals may, if the Government decides to proceed, be submitted by plebiscite. There is no compulsion. In any case, as I pointed out before, this is cynicism from start to finish. No Government can tie the Government that will succeed it to the legislation it passes. The Dáil that succeeds can overturn this legislation depending on the combination of parties, if a majority of that Dáil wishes. Therefore, the desperate Labour Party, panicked by a movement of people power while arrogantly trying to defy it, is pretending it is taking account of the overwhelming view of the people that our water services should be in public hands and not in the hands of Irish Water, which they want to see the back of. The hapless Greens and a few other hapless individuals, including some trade union leaders who are, incredibly, supporting water charges, are putting forward the idea of a referendum as an alibi for their betrayals in regard to being responsible for the introduction of water charges in the first place. It is cynicism from start to finish.

With regard to the privatisation issue, Deputy Naughten should note that not all of us made a mistake in regard to Telecom Éireann and Eircom. I was a member of this Dáil at the time in question and my voice was absolutely opposed to it. I understood what was to happen and, unfortunately, it did happen.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is the Deputy concluding?

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins I am about to. The Minister brought us here at this hour of the night so we will exercise our prerogative to the best of our ability in the time allotted.

Should a plebiscite be held, it should not be confined to the citizens of this State, as proposed in the legislation. My colleague, Deputy Ruth Coppinger, will move amendment No. 7. Why should a plebiscite be confined just to citizens? In the area I have the privilege of representing, approximately one quarter of residents are from outside Ireland. Many have become citizens but very many have not. However, they are taxpayers and residents. The Minister wants them to pay his water tax so they should have a vote on any proposals for Uisce Éireann or Irish Water in the event that it will still be surviving in some shape or form after the Irish people have done away with this Government, its water taxes and all the rest of it.


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