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Water Sector Reforms: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 858 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] As Buzz Lightyear, also known as the Minister for Finance, said, these measures will possibly extend beyond that timeframe. It will surely turn out to be "to infinity and beyond." If that is the case, there will not be much conservation of water. It defies all rationale for the introduction of water charges that no conservation is being achieved.

The other main reason for the introduction of water charges, we were told, was to facilitate investment in water infrastructure, an issue in respect of which the Government has wrongly accused previous Administrations of neglect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some €5 billion was invested in water infrastructure between 2000 and 2011, as Deputy Gabrielle McFadden will see if she checks the record.

Deputy Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden Is the Deputy feeling hurt?

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Government's determination to establish Irish Water has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of euro. It has stalled any progress in infrastructure provision. As others pointed out while the Minister was speaking, €700 million was spent on setting up Irish Water and the procedure for the installation of meters.

Deputy John Lyons: Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons How are those e-voting machines doing?

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Not one cent was invested in the ground or any pipe. Following its series of U-turns, the Government has created he most inefficient billing method in the western world, which involves the Department of Social Protection administering a bizarre €180 million cash rebate scheme. The income from all of this will be €90 million. In addition, the Government has spent nearly double that amount on consultants. No wonder the people are disillusioned and disgusted by politics in this country. There is a fundamental lack of honesty on the part of the Government which has moved the deck chairs so many times on this issue that people cannot believe what Ministers say either in this Chamber or outside it. In April the Taoiseach said the maximum amount families would pay in water charges would be €240. Of course, this was before the local elections, when Ministers wanted to manage expectations and let on everything would be all right on the night. However, the Government's friend, the regulator, let it down again on 13 September when it confirmed that the cost would be €500 or more.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The regulator did not say that.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Yes, it did. That was the figure given for four-person households. Members opposite should look it up and do the maths.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey The numbers were agreed with the troika.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Taoiseach told us that he did not agree with a bonus culture and that those days were gone. Within days of that statement, the CEO of Irish Water confirmed that all of its staff had a bonus incentive included in their contracts. The Taoiseach also said charges would be fair and that children would have a free allowance, neither of which came to pass in the course of these famous U-turns. This is the Taoiseach who wants Ireland to be known as the best little country in the world in which to do business. No business person anywhere in the world would agree that investing €750 million in a white elephant and getting a return of €90 million is good business. No other functioning democracy would countenance the hames the Government has made of this. The Government concentrated on what it saw as the big picture of investing in infrastructure, while deflecting from the advice contained in the report it had commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers. It deflected that advice and what it was being told by the Opposition, its own backbenchers and, most importantly, the people.

There has been no analysis of the billions of euro that apparently need to be spent in the system. That figure seems to have been plucked from the sky. Two or three weeks ago the Taoiseach said in this House that €20 billion was required. Last week he said it was €10 billion. On the radio last night a Government Deputy was referring to €20 million. This debate should not conclude until such time as somebody with eminent qualifications or independent authority can inform the House of exactly what has to be spent, where it needs to be spent, how long the process will take and what system can be put in place. It is not good enough for this entity, this monster that is Irish Water, not to have a five-year plan in place and to be still in a consultation phase in respect of its 25-year strategic plan. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to talk about figures of €10 billion and €20 billion. We must have the facts on the table. The record will show that, with others, I have sought these facts since the first proposals were brought before the House. We sought an audit of the networks for rectification and reinstatement works - a clear setting out of what was to be done, how it was to be done and how much it would cost. We still do not have that information and that is not good business. We cannot run around the world saying this is the best small country in which to do business when we cannot even put that information on the table. The debate should not conclude until such time as it is placed before the House.

We do not know whether the first fix policy will cover lead pipes. I pause to observe that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has left the Chamber. The debate has not been guillotined, but the Minister has no interest in taking part in it. I said at the outset that I wanted this debate to be different from what went before. I want people to see that the democratic process is better than the Government wants us to believe it is. There should be a collective effort on the part of every Member of the House to resolve this issue properly and effectively. Maybe then the democratic process would be recognised by the public as something that works. After we have waited for 11 months and three weeks for everything to be put in front of us in such a way that we might begin to understand and question it, we see that the Minister with responsibility for the issue has walked out. He is nowhere to be seen.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please. Deputy Barry Cowen has the floor.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen  I will go so far as to seek an adjournment of the Dáil until the Minister with responsibility for this matter returns to the Chamber to hear what we have to say. I assume the Minister has left to brief the media. His ministerial colleagues do not seem to know. One would have assumed they would know and have prepared properly and adequately for this debate. The Minister has been briefing the media for the past week. We walked out of a debate on this matter once before because of the disdain with which the Government had treated the Oireachtas. If it wants to treat us with disdain again, it also will be treating the public with disdain. The Minister with responsibility should be here to represent the motion before the House. He should be here to listen to constructive alternatives and opposition.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We have not heard any constructive proposal.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Perhaps then we might have a proper debate.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney There are four Ministers here willing to listen to the Deputy's proposals.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please. I am calling Deputy Micheál Martin.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I propose that the debate be adjourned until the Minister returns to the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak presently. I have called Deputy Micheál Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is unbelievable the Minister has left the Chamber. We had the same on budget day. There has been a lot of talk about upholding and underpinning parliamentary democracy, but what the Minister has done is contemptuous of the House. I appeal to Ministers opposite and the Chief Whip in particular to bring the Minister back into the House. Pending this, I propose that the debate be adjourned.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams We have been asking for months for details around this whole fiasco of water charges and Uisce Éireann. The Taoiseach promised us that there would be a full debate, that we would get all of the answers and that there would be clarity. What we have seen, however, is the Taoiseach and the Minister leaving the Chamber before the Fianna Fáil Party spokesman has even finished his contribution.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Tánaiste left too.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams It is despicable. We should adjourn the debate until the Minister returns.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Deputies for their proposals. However, under Standing Orders, the debate is to be adjourned at 10 p.m. I cannot adjourn the House until that time.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming The Leas-Cheann Comhairle could suspend the sitting.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle agree to a suspension in order to protect the integrity and dignity of the House? We will not put up with what is happening.


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