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Water Sector Reforms: Motion (Resumed)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 858 No. 2

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Water Sector Reforms: Motion (Resumed)

  The following motion was moved by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on 19 November 2014:

"That Dáil Éireann:
supports the establishment of Irish Water as a long-term strategic investment project that will deliver the scale of investment necessary to deliver water services infrastructure to the highest standards required to meet the needs of the Irish people;

recognises that managing our water resources effectively is essential to ensure that Ireland can continue to support indigenous economic activity and employment, including in relation to tourism, and to attract major overseas investment and employment;

welcomes:

— the important regulatory role of the Commission for Energy Regulation in relation to water services, particularly in protecting the interests of the customers of Irish Water;

— the efficiencies in capital and operational programmes already being delivered by Irish Water and the continued efficiencies to be achieved in the years ahead; and

— the progress being made by Irish Water in implementing the national programme of domestic water metering, with some 500,000 meters now installed, supporting 1,300 jobs;

condemns intimidation and harassment of workers involved in the metering programme and any other form of non-peaceful protest;

acknowledges the demanding timelines for implementation of the water reform programme to date, which have not fully reflected the scale of the challenge in moving from local government delivery to a fully regulated single national public utility;

recognises that the complexity of aspects of the previous charging regime has created uncertainty for customers in relation to their bills in 2015 and beyond;

in light of the foregoing, welcomes the package of measures approved by the Government on 19th November, 2014, particularly the measures which provide certainty, simplicity and affordability in relation to domestic water charges, and maintain a strong focus on conservation;

and endorses the Government's continued commitment to public ownership of the national water services infrastructure."

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call on Deputy Barry Cowen who was in possession.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for permitting the suspension of the debate for 45 minutes to allow time for the Minister to come back into the Chamber and participate in the debate. It also gives Members an opportunity to respond in a constructive fashion to the motion before the House. In addition, many questions may be asked, clarifications sought and propositions put, but ultimately when it comes to a vote people will make an informed decision on whether to support this motion. I welcome the Minister back to the House for that purpose and hope he will continue to partake in the debate from here onwards.

I specifically want to raise the issue of Irish Water no longer having to pay the €60 million promised in commercial rates to local authorities. It appears this has been done to reduce Irish Water's expenditure in order to help this proposal pass the EUROSTAT test. Is that test in March or is it not? In the course of an earlier submission, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, made comments to the effect that it has been already approved. Has it been approved by the appropriate authority or is he depending on a telephone call to Commissioner Hogan in order for that to have passed the test?

Many local authorities have provided within their budgets, which take place this week, for the income that was to be derived from Irish Water with those assets having been transferred to Irish Water. Does the Minister remember the networks with €11 billion worth of assets? Calculations were made by local authorities some of which have passed budgets. Some may have to reconvene their members to rectify a discrepancy. Will the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government be asked to subvent local authorities by this amount? If so, what guarantees are in place that the local or central government fund will not be reduced by €60 million and nobody will be any the wiser as to whether the money was ever going to be made available to them? That needs to be clarified.

Local authorities around the country are deliberating over tight budgets. In the absence of even €200,000, they may have to suspend disability grants and house adaptation grants for the elderly at €15,000 a pop. That would save Revenue the cost of the fair deal, which is up to €50,000 a year.

In County Offaly, for example, applicants are being told to wait for three to five years because the funds are not available. If the funds do not exist, it will cost €15 million for those people to be housed in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme. Meanwhile, the Minister cannot provide €1 million to rectify that in a once-off payment to clear backlogs.

Apart from that, when local authorities wanted to make an effort to address those issues, the Minister pulled the rug from under them because they now do not have from Irish Water the commercial rates they get from other utilities.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney They do.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen If the Minister clarifies that before the debate concludes, I will have no problem with that information being made available to the House. We will then make a decision on how we will vote thereafter. That is the process in which the Minister is engaged. It is the process of putting a motion before the House, as the Taoiseach well knows. I am glad to see him back to also participate in the debate, considering he was the very one who told us more than 50 times that we would have clarity and certainty.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny More.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I want that clarity and certainty, as does everybody else here, and we expect to get it. If the debate takes a week or a month we will wait for it. As I said earlier, in case the Taoiseach did not hear, I want to see the detailed analysis of what is required, how it will be done and the associated costs. The Taoiseach is on the record as saying one week it will cost €20 billion and the next week it will cost €10 billion. He has had 11 months to figure out what it should cost, and I expect he will clarify that before the debate concludes.

I appeal to the Government to halt the proposals for Irish Water and the water services proposals it has laid before the House. As regards the EUROSTAT test, I am conscious of the on balance sheet and off balance sheet charade to which we have been listening in recent weeks and months. The bottom line is that the Government has to guarantee it, so the people have to guarantee it. That is the important point that should not be lost on anyone.

On Monday evening's "Prime Time" programme, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, was put out to bat on behalf of the Government, having had the leaks in the weekend media. To be honest, I thought he was less than sure-footed and less than committed to stating that there would be enough funding available under that model for future work to be done to rectify the system, leave it fit for purpose and then allow people to make a fair and equitable contribution. That worries me and it should also worry the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, because he is the one who is supposed to be straight. He is the one who tells it as it is and who is held up as shooting from the hip, but he was very subdued on Monday.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Very flaky.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Flaky is the word. For once the Deputy got it right.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The duty of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account and to offer constructive and competent alternatives. I and others have sought to hold this Government to account in this area in the past, but it has not been allowed by virtue of the guillotine. Our party has been consistently opposed to the establishment of Irish Water, to all it stands for and to all it has sought to do, as well as to the way it has done it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It is toxic.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen That animal has turned into a monster. The public has no faith in it whatsoever. It has no traction, it is shot dead and people do not want to see or hear of it again. Against that background, the Minister should consider abolishing Irish Water.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath We could have a wake and a funeral.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Government continues to give it the sort of commitment it gave to Bord Gáis and where is that? It is gone.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe You did it to the ESB as well.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt There will be no more interruptions. Please give the speaker respect.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen How much will the metering cost - €500 million? It is like the Olympics; it seems the Government will take them up and put them down every four years, given the way it proposes to deal with them.


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