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Irish Water: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 826 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin] In some cases, they were in danger of being fined by Europe for breaching regulations on water standards. There must be a dimension to this that looks at these areas which do not have the money and perhaps cannot make the best commercial case and that we do not find ourselves in a situation where they are always at the bottom of the pile of priorities for the spending of money by Irish Water.

What input have local authorities into the water service capital investment programme? Local authorities have local knowledge and have an excellent track record in terms of the resources they have had. Can councils set priorities for their areas? They are best placed to know what local needs are rather than a remote organisation in Dublin deciding. Councils are also in a position to be very responsive.

We are setting this out as a situation where we will improve water quality for all, but many of those serviced by what we term "rural water" do not come within the auspices of this. What will happen in regard to water harvesting? Is Irish Water being directed to pursue that side of conservation also? I look forward to hearing the answers to my concerns.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I was flabbergasted by Deputy Mulherin's contribution. She wanted to know what role local authorities will have. Local authorities will be like subbies - subcontractors - with service level agreements. It will fulfil them for 12 years and they can be reviewed every two years. They will have little or no say and will be reduced to the role of subbies. As for the guarantees in regard to accountability, the time for them was when the legislation was going through the Chamber. Does Deputy Mulherin remember that she came in and voted for it? That was the time we were trying to get through 76 amendments to ensure there was some protection. The boat has been missed on that.

The more I hear about the establishment of Uisce Éireann, the more murky the water gets - pardon the pun. Having fobbed off questions from myself and others on the costs involved in setting up the company and denying he knew any of the financial details involved, it now turns out that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, was well aware of them, as was the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. Not only does it transpire, as was confirmed at the meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht yesterday, that the Minister was aware for months of the costs and the overall budget, he was aware of the large sums to be dispensed to consultancy firms. He was also being presented with monthly accounts, months before I asked the Minister of State that question which he refused to answer. The Minister refused to answer several questions we asked in that regard. We got no answers from the Minister or the Minister of State. Why did they withhold that information from us and from the Dáil? I asked the Minister of State very straight questions, including how much it would cost to establish Irish Water, including wages. I asked how much it would cost for the contracting out of services. The Minister and the Minister of State had those figures, which are in this document. The date they got them is set out in the document but they would not tell me. Why was that?

I am an elected representative for Laoighis-Offaly and spokesperson for an Opposition party. Other spokespersons also demanded that information. Why did the Minister or the Minister of State not answer those straight questions? Last Sunday, the Minister of State said he had no knowledge of the €50 million spent on outside consultants. It turns out now that he had the knowledge all along, as did the officials. The Minister was notified of it and Mr. John Tierney confirmed that yesterday at the committee meeting.

Whatever about the Minister's lack of interest in the millions of euro of taxpayers' money on the basis that he does not micromanage such trivialities as €180 million, what about Joe and Mary Soap who will be asked to pay for something they have already paid for through general taxation, commercial water rates and the local government fund by way of car tax money? We know now that the charges will, in large part, pay for the consultants, without whom it appears Government Departments would not be able to find their way to work.

We are also entitled to answers in regard to the Government's claim that Uisce Éireann will result in annual savings of €2 billion. Is it €2 billion or €1.1 billion because the figure has changed three or four times in the past couple of days, depending on whether it is coming from Mr. John Tierney or the Minister? The Minister said €2 billion, the Taoiseach said €1.1 billion and Mr. John Tierney said €2 billion. It keeps changing. How can these savings be achieved given the massive structure the Minister is creating and the outlay of €180 million with not one pipe or one leak being fixed? More than €80 million of the €180 million will go to consultants. How will a macro-structure with an extra 510 staff to pad out a corporate entity, including setting up a massive call centre, be cheaper? Please tell me how because I cannot figure it out and I have asked the Minister.

My party's position all along has been that we do not need this new entity. We need reformed local authorities. Water should be retained under the democratic control of local authorities where local councillors, along with engineers, can make local water services plans and not just be told about them but be actively involved in making them. We accept the need to modernise the water supply and to tackle the issues of wastage and leaks and the need for water conservation and water harvesting but we do not accept the need for Uisce Éireann.

We are mindful of what happened to Bord Gáis when similarly established as a public company. Now it is being sold off and that is why I tabled amendments seeking to change the Bill to copperfasten it so this could not be sold off.

I would like to ask Fianna Fáil about its position because I am confused about it. However, there is no confusion that Fianna Fáil in its four year programme clearly set out that it would charge for water in 2012-13. It said that the Government would undertake an independent assessment of the transfer of responsibilities for water services provision from local authorities to a water utility and prepare proposals for implementation of this, as appropriate, with a view to start charging in 2012-13. The previous Government was in favour of a separate utility and charging in 2012-13. It was going to beat this Government to it. Those are the facts. We need to stop the madness.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh There is a Facebook page which highlights people's election material. Election material is now coming back to haunt those who made promises. The Ceann Comhairle will be aware of Dún Laoghaire, Rathdown and that area. The Tánaiste produced a newsletter in 1997 which stated that he always opposed water charges. Following the abolition of water charges in 1997, he stated that water rates were a form of double taxation on PAYE workers. How times have changed. He also stated at the time that the abolition of water charges were part of a package to improve local government. What a difference a couple of decades make considering that not only has this Government abolished some local authorities but it has taken powers, including powers over water, from local authorities. This Government, along with previous Governments, have been responsible of starving local authorities of money they could invest in a proper infrastructure.

Think of what the €180 million wasted on set-up costs and consultants could have done if it was invested in the infrastructure which has been leaking for many generations. It could have gone a long way towards addressing those leaks and saving money rather than being spent on large and small multinational companies advising and creaming money from this Government and previous Governments in terms of the contracts given to deliver consultancy and so on, all of which would not be required if water was left in the charge of local authorities and if there had been increased investment in the infrastructure and the delivery of water in our State.

All this is moving towards a plan to privatise water and make people pay more. One of the issues which came to the fore during the week was the fact that if citizens - Irish citizens are quite good at this - did their duty, conserved water at a greater rate than they have in the past and did not use the level of water predicted, because a penalty would be imposed on them through a charge, Mr. John Tierney said they would have to look at increasing the price of a litre of water.

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