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 Header Item Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Appointment of Clerk Assistant of Dáil Éireann
 Header Item Order of Business

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 838 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] It is absolutely unacceptable that 40% of water is unaccounted for, or is leaking away into the ground. Some 36% of water treatment plants did not meet EPA effluent standards in 2011. The European Commission has launched a pilot infringement case against Ireland in respect of 80 treatment plants. The State would not be in a position to deal with these infrastructural requirements without the advent of Irish Water, which is able to borrow to fund these things. The Government has decided to implement the "user pays" principle. We want to adopt that principle to make the system as flexible, affordable and equitable as possible. When the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government brings his proposition to the Cabinet, the Government will be perfectly entitled to consider it. It has a duty to talk about all of these issues. It has a responsibility to adhere to the principle of fairness and affordability in what is done here.

As I have said, the metering programme is continuing with an average of between 27,000 and 30,000 meters being installed every month. All of these issues will be discussed and decided on by the Government in the next short time. The CSO has explained the rules in the EUROSTAT context. The maximum subvention in 2015-16 is €535 million, giving an average metered charge of €240 per household to be divided through the quarters as a utility measure. The Government's focus will be on the details of how this can be made as affordable and as fair as possible, in the knowledge that this is the last of the major decisions it has to impose on people. I recognise that this is always difficult. We have to deal with it in the context of how far behind this country is in terms of water quality and the water supply infrastructure. We will try to deal with it now in as fair and as affordable a way as we can.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I agree with everything the Taoiseach has just said. It makes perfect sense. The problem is that it does not reflect what is happening. The Taoiseach has said he does not agree with the service level agreements, but they are in place for 12 years. To date, we cannot get a business plan from Irish Water. When we rang them this morning to ask if we could see a business plan, they told us that there is no business plan. There is an environmental assessment, a capital expenditure programme and some other report, but there is no business plan that we can see. We have to rely on what we hear from the Cabinet. In January, we heard clearly from the Cabinet that there would be no cost savings whatsoever for the first five or six years. I welcome the Taoiseach's position, but I respectfully suggest that it does not reflect what is happening on the ground.

When I asked the Minister, Deputy Noonan, last week why the Government is abandoning thousands of Irish families that have mortgages with Irish Nationwide, he said, not unreasonably, that "nobody stands up for the taxpayer anymore". I will put aside the fact that the Irish Nationwide proposal would have benefited the taxpayer. I will ignore the fact that the taxpayer funded the payment of tens of billions of euro to bondholders. Instead, I will apply the Minister for Finance's very reasonable principle to Irish Water. In the case of Irish Water, every euro that this Government refuses to get from operational efficiencies is a euro that an Irish family will have to pay. I am very happy to take the Taoiseach at his word. My understanding of what he has said is that he believes there are savings that can be found in the first few years. Will he publish for Dáil Éireann the business plan? Will he show us what the cost base is and what the projected savings are? Will he commit that these savings can be passed on to Irish households in a reduction in the annual water charge?

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath We should be shown the plan.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I commit to having the Government discuss the range of issues we will have to discuss to make this as fair and affordable as possible. I also commit to have a full-scale debate in the Dáil, or in an appropriate committee, once the matter is finally decided. I also commit to ensuring the business plan is published and debated after it has been put in place.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Surely a business plan is in place.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There is a process starting tomorrow with the regulator, who has to discuss and have a public consultation about the structure of the tariff to be involved here and later about the details of how that is going to apply.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan We will have a debate after it is decided.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Government has to give policy directions to the regulator and it will do so. As I have said, the Government's discussions in the next period will focus on how to make the important figures which have not been signed off on, as explained by the CSO in respect of the maximum subvention which determines the average meter charge, as affordable and fair as possible.

Appointment of Clerk Assistant of Dáil Éireann

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Before proceeding to the Order of Business, I wish to make a brief announcement for the information of the House. In accordance with section 5 of the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959, as amended by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003, Mr. Peter Finnegan, Assistant Secretary, was appointed as Clerk Assistant of Dáil Éireann by An Taoiseach yesterday. The appointment was made on foot of a recommendation made by me under the Act following consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. As Clerk Assistant, Mr. Finnegan will discharge the functions under Standing Orders and legislation of the Clerk of Dáil Éireann until such time as that post is filled in accordance with new statutory arrangements.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The writ can be moved now.

Order of Business

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is proposed to take No. 3, Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 20, statements on the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 20: the statements of the Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time, and the statements of each other Member called shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 142, motion re the ambulance service (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. tonight if not previously concluded.

Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 3, Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 20, statements on the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance (resumed).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20, statements on the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance, agreed?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is not agreed. I want to oppose the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Certainly.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am opposing it in light of what has transpired in the last 24 hours. The contents of an important memo have essentially been circulated to the media in precise detail. I note that the figure of €537 million used by the Taoiseach is the exact figure cited in this morning's Irish Independent. Given that we are going into a week's recess tomorrow, I suggest that the Government should make time available today for a discussion on the contents of the memo in question. There is no doubt that its contents have been deliberately circulated to the media in precise detail. I know that Labour Party sources are on RTE right now describing the proposal with regard to the level of water charges as "half-baked".

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett We cannot have a long discussion on this.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We raised this in the Dáil yesterday. We have been raising it in the Dáil since last February.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy should speak to the Order of Business proposal.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We have spoken time and time again about the importance of clarity and transparency and the need for a debate on these issues. All along the way, the Taoiseach said that things would become clearer in a couple of weeks' time. He used the word "shortly" yesterday. He told us nothing about what was to take place at the Cabinet table this morning. He did not mention what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had in the locker and intended to reveal. I ask the Government to provide time for a debate today. If it is not prepared to publish the memo that has essentially been circulated, at least we should be furnished with a copy of it. Everybody in the media world seems to have a copy of it. If the Dáil is to have any relevance to topical issues that are of huge concern to the public, the Taoiseach should facilitate a genuine debate and provide for the circulation to the Members of this House, who are meant to represent the people, of the material that has been made available to the media.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I am less concerned with what others may have to say on this. I am anxious to know when the Government will circulate the full information. Will it facilitate statements on the issue of water charges in this House before the recess? Can that be accommodated tomorrow? Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to that effect?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy should confine his remarks to the Order of Business proposal.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin If not, will he give a commitment to provide for such a debate at the earliest opportunity when the Dáil resumes following the Easter recess? There should be no further delay in relation to this matter being addressed in this House.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Government will be quite happy to facilitate a debate when it has made its final decision on all of these matters.


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