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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 Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins] I hope Members of the Government parties who occasionally stand up and claim to have such a mantle of democracy support this extension of democratic rights to the residents and taxpayers of the country generally.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on  Zoom on  People will be surprised to hear that the Government is not serious about a plebiscite to keep Irish Water in public ownership and is refusing to accept the word "shall" instead of "may" or any compulsion to hold a plebiscite. I agree with the proposal that any vote should be taken in local authority areas - in municipalities rather than on a State-wide basis.

I endorse what my colleague has said with regard to citizens. The Government has no compunction about taking money from the non-Irish who make up 12% of the population of the State, so it should also allow them a say in the fate of the water supply that they are being asked to pay for.

I also ask, under amendment No. 8, that the Minister accept that in any plebiscite the McKenna principles should apply and that public money should not be used to promote one side of the debate or to promote the selling off of the water system to a private entity. I am sure the Minister will accept that.

We should have brought the sleeping bags tonight. We may even need them tomorrow night, because the conduct of the Government has added to the cynicism that is out there and to the numbers who will protest tomorrow. The news earlier that the Government had proposed a motion of confidence in itself sent an air of disbelief and bewilderment around the country, and to hear that the Government proposes a debate at 12.30 a.m. on something as serious as the water Bill has also added to the air of disbelief about the Government's carry-on. The Government may have thought it was sticking two fingers up to the crowds, but this will probably result in an increase in the number of people who will come out and exercise their democratic rights tomorrow and deliver their message of utter lack of confidence in the Government, particularly after the carry-on of the Government today and tonight, having us here until 1.30 a.m., with massive interest on the Government benches as usual.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am disappointed that the amendment I tabled, amendment No. 2, was ruled out of order. There is considerable concern out there about the possible intentions of the Government or a future Government towards water services, and the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, need to take this on board.

There is an amendment here from Deputy Naughten in relation to the word "shall". According to the proposal of the Minister, it would require a resolution of the Dáil to hold a plebiscite, but all the Bill states is that the Government or a future Government "may" do so, and that raises considerable concerns. The intention of my amendment was to put this in the hands of the people and not to trust the Government or any future Government on this matter. The intention was to put a clause in the Constitution.

I am also disappointed that we simply get a message of six or seven words stating "The following amendments have been ruled out of order". We do not get any explanation as to why that happens. I find that difficult. We put the work into submitting amendments to shape legislation and have an input, and that is the level of response. The Government, in its weak-kneed and weak-willed response of trying to placate the public - or satisfy half of the public and dampen down the Opposition - then comes along with a weak Bill stating that a future Government may, if it so decides, hold a plebiscite. I fully support Deputy Naughten's amendment in that regard.

I also support Deputy Catherine Murphy's amendment. While it is not the one that I would favour as my first choice, as I stated, I would favour a constitutional amendment to put the decision into the hands of the people. Recognising that we are where we are, it is a step in the right direction to insert the phrase "of not fewer than two thirds of the Members" to ensure that Irish Water cannot not be sold off without the agreement of two thirds of the Members of the Dáil, and it certainly makes it that bit more difficult for a future Government.

In reading the Bill and studying how these amendments are being handled, my worst fears are being deepened. I am very concerned about the Bill that has been introduced. There will be a number of problems with it. It adds further to the mess around Irish Water-Uisce Éireann and water services. We have been going down the wrong road since 1 January this year, when we transferred this out of the hands of the 31 local authorities. I heard both the Minister and the Minister of State say that we could not continue with a situation in which water services began and stopped at county boundaries. That was never the case. I live in a county that is surrounded by other counties, and there has been co-operation with all of those counties in the provision of water services. It is uncomplicated. The way it is done is simple. There is co-operation with Carlow, Offaly and the other counties.

I am disappointed about the way this has been handled. I support the amendments to which I referred, which try to make the best of a bad situation, but I am extremely disappointed that the Sinn Féin amendment to put a provision into the Constitution - effectively, to put the decision into the hands of the people now and forever - has been disallowed.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Rather than the plebiscite that the Minister proposes, I tabled a Bill looking to alter Article 10 of the Constitution - a simple line stating that the water supply could not be sold into private ownership - but it was ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle using a new Standing Order that was never meant to be used in that way. I wanted, in the Dáil, to criticise the Ceann Comhairle for his actions, which, I believed, were repugnant to good parliamentary work, but I was told by the Ceann Comhairle's office that there is another Standing Order that means I am not allow criticise the Ceann Comhairle for anything he does. Obviously, because I am not allowed criticise the Ceann Comhairle, I will not suggest that he is acting contrary to the good working of the Parliament, but we could have an interesting conversation if he was not protected by that interesting Standing Order.

I resubmitted the provision as amendment No. 3 to this Bill, and it was ruled out of order. Because the previous Standing Order could not be used, a new Standing Order was used to rule it out this time. It was ruled that my amendment, which seeks to delete a provision of the Bill, does not speak to the provisions of the Bill. There was also a technical reason - that a Bill that changes the Constitution can only concern itself with changing the Constitution. Whilst some of these rulings may be technically correct, as a Member of the Oireachtas, I feel that when I am trying to do the work of Parliament and table legislation that I and those I represent believe in, we are dealing with an apparatus and a set of rules that seems dedicated to stopping us from having sensible parliamentary conversation. There seems to be a body of work that needs to be done to change the Standing Orders of this House. Deputy Kelly is a member of Cabinet. I had four amendments tabled for this evening, all of which were very sensible, but three of them have been ruled out of order. One amendment that was ruled out of order sought a reduction in charges for those who have no wastewater treatment, such as in Arklow, which would have reduced revenues to Irish Water.

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