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Water Services Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy] We heard it first from Mr. Jack O'Connor of SIPTU; we heard it from the Green Party that was the initiator of the idea of water charges and we heard it from Deputy Joe Costello of the Labour Party. As has been said by other speakers, the formulation in the Bill reminds me of the fraud perpetrated on the people in the last general election, in particular, by the Labour Party which produced its Tesco ad with the warning not to vote for Fine Gael. It stated, "Vote for us and we will stop Fine Gael bringing in water charges". This is something very similar. The Minister came into the House a fortnight ago and gave the impression that water services would be given protection by being inserted into the Constitution in order that they could not be privatised. This is not provided for in the Bill and its provisions are worse than useless. It is sleight of hand and trickery. As other speakers said, the Bill does not provide for any specific or exact circumstance. It states the Government may do - not that it has to - if it so decides. This section is worse than useless and more trickery by the Government, the Minister and the Labour Party. It is worthless. Amendments Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, are worthwhile, but if the Bill is to be useful, what is needed is an amendment to the Constitution to prevent the privatisation of water forever - full stop.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins The Minister has said he is listening to the people, but he has not listened to them on this issue. They want a referendum and constitutional protection to prevent the privatisation of water services. The Minister says he is providing protection, but that is not the case. Holding a plebiscite is not good enough and it is not good enough under the terms of the Bill. We do not know what will come from the European Union. The TTIP, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is being discussed very secretly with regard to multinationals challenging governments and their public utilities. Therefore, holding a referendum is more crucial than ever to ensure the future protection of Irish Water.

I met the Detroit water brigade today. Its members explained how their water service had not been sold off but that every single piece of it had been privatised and contracted out to contractors to carry out the work involved for the city. The water service today bears no resemblance to what it was ten years ago. I, therefore, support the amendments.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett One of the reasons people are absolutely furious and have come out onto the streets in recent weeks and will come out again in huge numbers tomorrow - it is not just about paying water charges - is the dishonesty in politics, with political parties, Governments Ministers and Taoisigh thinking they can play the people for fools. The people are very angry about this. Every now and again the Government faces a crisis and people get really angry and then apparently we have ardent words from the Taoiseach and the Minister about how they are listening to the people. On the face of it, they seem to display a little humility and appear to be listening, but actually the spin, the dishonesty, the manoeuvring, the game playing and the attempt to play people for fools continue. We have seen it again tonight with this carry-on in respect of the late sitting. It is a peculiar, absurd little game that I do not fully understand and, frankly, I do not even care too much, as it is part of the continuous game playing. The Bill represents the same.

There is a commitment not to privatise when they know that the people have stated clearly that they do not want to see their water services privatised and they want cast iron guarantees that they will not be privatised. For the past week or two, after the Bill was published, the Government has been saying, "We have it now. They will not be privatised. It is included in the Bill that they will not be privatised and we have taken measures to make sure they will not be privatised." However, of course, the devil is in the detail, as usual. There is no guarantee. It is utterly meaningless and a pretence. It is another attempt to deceive and the Government keeps doing it. I wonder if the Minister thinks he will not be found out. Part of the reason people are on the streets is the way in which the Labour Party, having been humiliated on the issue of bin charges for its complicity in the privatisation of refuse services, continued to spin a line, "It was all those people who were boycotting bin charges who caused the privatisation of refuse services". Was this really the case? How is it that refuse services were privatised in rural areas first where there had been no boycott campaigns and no opposition to paying? The last places to have refuse services privatised were the places in which people resisted. They lasted ten years longer than anyone else precisely because they had resisted. Does the Minister think they have not worked this out? Does he think they have not worked out that if they have to pay five cent in user charges, that it will only move in one direction and that the services will be privatised? Does he think they have not worked out that when the contracts to install the meters go to the richest man in the country, that, in fact, they have already been privatised and that all of his assurances mean nothing? Does he think they have not figured this out? Does he think they are stupid? He obviously does because he would not be saying what he is if he did not think he could play the people for fools. However, they are not fools. I cannot believe he believes what he is saying because he knows that once user charges are introduced, privatisation is inevitable, as everybody knows.

As for the off balance sheet stuff, we listened to the people from Detroit who described it as "financialisation", another word for bonds. They said the issuing of bonds in Detroit had led directly to charges sky rocketing to the point where people were being charged nearly $1,000 a year and where three quarters of the charge was for water going out. They were being charged three times more for the water coming off the roof than the clean water going in. That is where financialisation led because the bondholders placed demands on the water company to jack up the charges to get their pound of flesh. The Minister should stop playing the people for fools because they are not, as he will discover tomorrow.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I wish to make a couple of quick points. I echo what Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett has said. The European Union has taken us for fools, as has the Government in turn. This is an island and the shoreline has always been in the ownership of the State and will remain so.

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