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 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Water Charges: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 840 No. 2

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Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that tomorrow's business, after oral questions, shall be a motion re the nomination of a member of the Government and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leaders of the Fianna Fáil Party, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group or a person nominated in their stead, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and Members may share time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed.

Water Charges: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Dara Calleary on Tuesday, 6 May 2014:

That Dáil Éireann:

— the commitment of the Taoiseach to inform the Houses of the Oireachtas of the standard level of water charges prior to the 23 May election; and

— protracted Government delays in providing information to the public and the Commission for Energy Regulation in regard to the level of free allowance, low income household subvention, rebates, first fix policy and ongoing total level of public subvention;
further notes:
— that the Central Statistics Office calculated an average bill of €240 per household based on current public expenditure subvention levels;

— reports of an average €50 standing charge per household regardless of water use; and

— that just one out of four houses will be metered by the time charges will be introduced, leaving over 1 million households without meters facing fixed bills;
condemns the:
— cynical, politically motivated delay of information on what level of water charges households will have to pay;

— failure to outline how unmetered households will be charged;

— lack of consideration being given to ability to pay; and

— unsustainable burden of a water tax being placed at this time on home owners in addition to a doubling of the property tax on the family home and other stealth taxes;

calls and agrees that:
— the Government should publish the full details of its water charges policy before 23 May so that home owners are made fully aware of the costs they face;

— any water pricing system should be introduced only after the water infrastructure is made fit for purpose, and must encompass the ability to pay of low income households, differential water usage by individuals with special needs such as medical requirements and large families; and

— rebates should be considered and disclosed for properties that will not be metered prior to the introduction of charges.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
supports the establishment of Irish Water as a long-term strategic investment project to deliver the necessary water services infrastructure and quality of services required to meet statutory compliance and demographic needs;

recognises that managing our water resources effectively is also essential to ensure that Ireland can continue to attract major overseas investment and employment;

notes that the:
 - programme for Government provides for the introduction of a fair funding model to deliver a clean and reliable water supply which will involve the installation of water meters in all households and the move to a charging system based on usage above a free allowance; and

- the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, which has been assigned responsibility for economic regulation of the water sector, commenced public consultation on the structure and design of tariffs for both the non-domestic and domestic sector on 17 April 2014 and will finalise the level and structure of the tariffs in August 2014;
welcomes the:
- progress with the roll-out of the domestic metering programme being delivered by Irish Water with over 200,000 meters installed to date, supporting some 1,150 jobs;

- commitment of Irish Water to maximise the delivery of the domestic metering programme in 2014, on foot of which it is expected that a further 40,000 to 50,000 meter installations is achievable over and above the 400,000 target for end-2014 already indicated to the CER;

- the indications that progress remains on track for the installation of 1.05 million meters, with programme completion likely to be ahead of the target - mid-2016 rather than end-2016; and

- fact that further options in relation to metering additional properties are under active consideration;
welcomes the Government's:
package of measures to ensure that domestic water charges are introduced in as fair and equitable basis as possible, with particular reference to the following elements:
- Irish Water's Government subvention in 2015 and 2016 to be conditional on the average annual domestic water charge not exceeding €240;

- each household will receive an annual free allowance of 30,000 litres of water and a corresponding allowance for wastewater;

- there will be an additional free allowance for every child under 18 to cover a child's normal consumption of water supplied and wastewater treated of up to 38,000 litres per annum, with the level of consumption underpinning this allowance to be verified from actual metering data;

- the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government intends using his powers under the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, to issue a policy direction to the CER requiring:
- the domestic water charging regime to remain fixed until end-2016;

- that, for social and environmental reasons, there should be no standing charge for domestic customers - there may be a minimum charge applied to properties that are not permanently occupied, for example, holiday homes;

- assessed charges to be based primarily on occupancy and possibly refined based on data from metered usage to ensure that they are as close a proxy for metered usage as possible;

- the CER to ensure provision for retrospective adjustment of charges including a rebate above a reasonable threshold in the context of transitional arrangements for people moving from assessed to metered charges;

- charges to be capped for people with high water usage due to certain medical conditions; and

- Irish Water to take account of the quality of services provided for customers, including circumstances where services are reduced or restricted, for example, due to boil water notices;
commitment to a package of supporting measures under the social protection regime to assist particular groups; and

intention to provide funding to increase investment in public water services infrastructure by €100 million in each of the years 2015 and 2016, including for a scheme to provide each household with a free fix of the first leak on a customer's water supply pipe;
supports the Government's overall water funding package, which balances the need for a sustainable funding model to support long-term investment in the sector, taking account of the relevant European rules on Government accounting, while ensuring that domestic water charges are introduced in the most affordable, fair and equitable manner possible; and

welcomes the timely announcement of the package of measures, which responds to the Government commitment to provide early visibility in relation to the level of water charges, in advance of the final determination on charges by the CER, following detailed examination of Irish Water's cost base.

- (Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government).

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I support the Sinn Féin amendment to the Fianna Fáil motion, which is largely in line with my thinking on the issue. The Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, admitted on television that some families will be paying up to €450 per year in water charges. With the Government adhering to its target of taking €500 million from this tax, it is inevitable that some people will be paying more than others. The Minister is coming back to rifle through the pockets of ordinary people who cannot see how they will pay this additional tax in their current circumstances. This is not about conservation; it is simply an austerity tax. If the Government really wanted to encourage water conservation, it would have put the €1 billion it is spending on meters and the €140 million it spent on consultants into fixing pipelines and preventing the loss of 40% of our expensively treated water into the ground.

I am delighted to see people coming out in housing estates in Cork and Dublin to protest against the installation and implementation of water metering. I fully support their action. These people are not fooled by the sham battle in which Fine Gael and the Labour Party engaged in recent weeks and all the talk of protecting vulnerable people, including the elderly and children. This is not about the protection of vulnerable people. It is about the protection of vulnerable election candidates on the doorsteps. After all, water charging is one of the issues most frequently raised by voters. The two-year review that has been indicated will see everybody paying much higher water charges thereafter.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly When the populations of the three Dublin local authority areas succeeded in forcing the Government of the day to abolish water charges in 1996, the then Minister for the Environment and now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, introduced a new system of local authority funding. I have a copy of the KPMG report the Minister commissioned at that time, which stated that installing domestic water meters would be unproductive, inefficient and not worthwhile based on the revenue likely to be generated. Instead, the Minister proposed a mechanism whereby the rates support grant to local authorities was increased by allowing them to keep all of the proceeds of motor taxation. That taxation has increased four times since 1997. How dare the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and his Government claim that Irish citizens do not pay for water? The current proposal has nothing to do with paying for water and is, in fact, simply another tollbooth on a necessary public service in order to pay the interest on a debt that was foisted on the shoulders of Irish citizens.

As Deputy Joan Collins observed, the sham row is over. The Government went into this looking to take €500 million out of the pockets of citizens and it has succeeded in that. If, as the Minister claims, some people will pay less, then we can be sure that some will pay more. I am shocked at how out of touch the Labour Party is on this issue, which really is saying something. The idea that obliging the working poor to pay more is somehow a thing to be lauded is amazing. Moreover, the notion that this is a conservation measure is a joke. Within a square kilometre of this House, we have a range of public buildings in which no rainwater is harvested. I doubt if a single kilometre of pipework has been fixed in the three years since the Minister came to power. It is sickening to note the Government's refusal yesterday to introduce a financial transactions tax - out of step with 11 other EU member states - which would have raised enough to negate the need for water charges.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins The Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, told an absolute falsehood on RTE television last night when he said that children, meaning those aged under 18, will have free water based on an allowance of 38,000 litres per year, or 104 litres per day. The Dublin region water supply project, which is sponsored by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, has noted that 148 litres per person per day is the current average usage. Moreover, its projection is that with all meters and charging in place, the best possible reduction that can be achieved by 2030 - 16 years from now - would leave average usage at 130 litres per day. In other words, the supposedly free allowance for 18 years olds is 44 litres per day fewer than current usage and 26 litres per day fewer than the supposed average when the optimum saving is in place. A 16 or 17 year old does not need to wash less, drink less or use fewer sanitary facilities than a 21 year old. The Minister's blanket claim of free water for under 18s is a blatant falsehood concocted by Fine Gael and the Labour Party to save their skins in the local, European and by-elections in the face of public anger at another austerity tax.

In accordance with Standing Order 48 of the Dáil, I give way for the 30 seconds remaining to me to allow the Minister to clarify or withdraw that falsehood.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister is not obliged to respond and has indicated that he does not wish to do so.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins I am asking him to respond. I have allowed him time to tell the truth about the situation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I do not have responsibility in this matter.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins Will the Chair ask the Minister to respond?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy has asked the Minister to respond and it is for the Minister to accept or reject the request. I call Deputy Seamus Healy.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy It is time for some honesty in this debate. Fine Gael and the Labour Party are kicking the question of water charges down the road until after the local and European elections, with the decision to be made in August. On the basis of the interviews and statements made by the Minister yesterday, a household of two adults and two children will pay €360 per year, while a household of three adults will pay €586 per year. Households with more than one person are being penalised by this so-called Government. It is particularly shameful that the Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party has agreed to these proposals. This is a man who built his career on opposition to water charges. The reality is that we are already paying for water, and these charges amount to double if not triple taxation. In addition to the so-called local property tax, we will now have a completely unfair and unjust water charging regime.

I have two questions for the Minister, which I expect him to deal with in his reply. Will households that are subject to boil water notices be exempt from water charges? Is the Minister listening to me?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I am too long listening to the Deputy.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy Will people obliged to boil water, such as those in Burncourt and Skeheenarinky in my constituency, be exempt from the charges? Second, will the thousands of families on the north side of Clonmel who have hard water and whose electrical goods are being damaged on a daily basis by limescale be exempt from the charges? I ask the Minister to respond to those two specific questions.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I strongly oppose the introduction of water charges, which amount to a new tax on people who are already being hammered and who see 40% of their water supply going into the ground.

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