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Report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 947 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Martin Heydon: Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon] At all times Fine Gael has insisted that it could not leave the country open to very significant fines for being in breach of European directives but, as has been said earlier by my colleague and a couple of other contributors, this is also the right thing to do. Supporting the "polluter pays" principle is the right thing to do for our environment. Fine Gael is working towards achieving an outcome that is honest and fair. This report is honest and fair to the people, to the taxpayer and to the Members of this House who will ultimately vote on it tomorrow.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the role of my Fine Gael colleagues on this committee and thank them. We worked very much as a team. Even beyond the six Members on the committee there was a number of other people who substituted at times when a member could not make it. It really was a team effort. I personally learned a lot from it throughout the process. I would like to acknowledge the chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and his staff for the unwavering commitment to being an honest broker in a difficult set of circumstances. I also acknowledge the clerks and staff of the committee, the staff of the Department and the Fine Gael staff behind the teams who were always there as a support us when we needed them.

As I say I learned a lot from my time on the committee. One of the key moments, for me, that I will always remember was the visit to Irish Water headquarters. Very few of the committee members went out that day. To see, at first hand, the progress and commitment of the staff and management in Irish Water was really an eye-opener. For all of the bad press they have got, Irish Water replaced far in excess of 800 km of piping, that had been lying in the ground for years needing to be replaced, in three years when local authorities had struggled to do it in decades.

Opposition to Irish Water and talk of reverting to more than 30 local authorities proves that Governments do not get rewarded for strategic and long-term thinking. That is a concern. That is something on which everybody in this House needs to reflect. I acknowledge the role those staff in Irish Water have played, and continue to play, in what have been very difficult circumstances as they try to work to improve our water and waste water infrastructure. I hope the certainty of funding for the utility and the certainty of its future allows those staff to get on with that work without any distractions in order that their focus can be on the 44 pinch-points the length and breadth of the country where raw sewerage or untreated water enters our water schemes.

For me, at the back of my head throughout all of this process were places like Oak Park in Narraghmore in South Kildare and Walshestown Park in Newbridge, where residents who pay big mortgages and who go out to work every day are regularly subjected to raw sewage being thrown on their greens because of the mistakes of developers in the past and because of the difficulties we have in fixing those problems. Everything that drives us in Fine Gael to fix the problems and to secure certainty into the future is with those people in mind. We want make sure we can fix all those problems of the past quickly, and make sure that we do not make the same mistakes in the future.

Deputy Maria Bailey: Information on Maria Bailey Zoom on Maria Bailey I acknowledge the work of the committee in the past four months. It was a very robust, in-depth debate. It did not always agree on everything, as is very clear. I think we all enjoyed the process because it was very informative. I do not think I have ever learned as much about water as I did in the last four months. We were locked into that room many a time. I know that Deputy Barry Cowen was trying to get out of that room a number of times, as were many of us, but I think what we have brought to the floor tonight is a report that we can work with. There was consensus from the majority of people who were on that committee.

Fine Gael has been consistent on water because we recognise the infrastructure that is needed to develop this country after years of under-investment. We need a sustainable water infrastructure that can support the modern economy for which we all strive.

It is very easy for the anti-everything Solidarity party to be against everything and to never come to the table with reasonable solutions. Whatever about general taxation being used to pay for normal usage, I think it is unacceptable for general taxation to pay for the household that wilfully uses excessive amounts. I do not think anybody in this country would agree to that.

I think the people have had enough when it comes to Irish Water. They want solutions. They do not want to see any more protests or marches. What they want is solutions and for those solutions to be in the ground. We need to be honest with the people. I heard commentary this morning on a radio station, that I will not mention, from a Deputy who is not here to defend himself; therefore, I will not name him. He was deliberately misleading people and using sensationalism to sell his story. He was twisting the facts and the figures, to tell people that what 8% really meant to the Irish people was that large families would pay for water. That form of misleading people, sensationalising and preying on vulnerable people is not the kind of politics to which I signed up. It is very unfortunate that somebody would be disingenuous like that.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett has also left us. He is a colleague in my own constituency and one whom I have worked well with for many years since 2004, but it is also very disingenuous for him to come in here tonight and dismiss the commentary by a very eminent professor, Gavin Barrett, who has spoken on many airwaves this week. He is somebody with expertise in European and constitutional law. It is disingenuous to just dismiss his commentary, as if it does not matter. As Deputy Kate O'Connell said, does one search for a heart surgeon on Google or does one go to somebody who has experience in these areas? I know exactly where I would take legal advice from and I do not think it would be from Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

I think the Deputy would also recognise the infrastructure that is required to develop the country. If I am going to be parochial, Dún Laoghaire will have the biggest growth in population in this country in the coming years. That growth has to be supported by proper, sustainable infrastructure. I am delighted that the Government has recognised that with the local infrastructure housing assistance fund and that we will be able to develop homes and communities for the people who want to live in the Dún Laoghaire constituency. It is disappointing that Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is not thinking long term and that this is about short-term populism politics because I prefer to be honest and straight with people. I prefer to give someone a worst case scenario and to work back than to be deceptive and misleading.

This country needs, and the people need, a proper vision. They need an honest vision for the country to make sure no household is on boil-water notices, that raw sewage is not being pumped into any river in the coming years, that we can provide environments that will sustain the growth that is needed and that we can create the environment for development that is needed.

I do not want to go back over the past, but I would like to outline what Irish Water has done to date, because there was commentary earlier on the wastage in Irish Water in the past couple of years. There has been a significant increase in investment in water core infrastructure from the approximate €300 million invested by local authorities in 2013. There have been improvements to water quality and supplies. The elimination of boil notices has been prioritised, with this work resulting in the lifting of long-term boil notices affecting thousands of people. Irish water has removed the threat of contamination from four drinking water supplies in Dublin for 220,000 people. It has increased the spare supply capacity in Dublin from 2% to approximately 10% of water supplied in the region. In most European capital cities, head room is about 15%.

There has been a greater focus on reducing leakage. The Irish Water "first fix free" scheme for households has resulted in daily savings of 77 million litres by the end of the third quarter of 2016. That is equivalent to the water supply to 210,000 homes. It is developing a regional shared service approach to leakage and has set annual targets. With regard to communications to households about lead in drinking water, information has been supplied to more than 36,000 households with probable lead piping identified through the national metering programme. To say Irish Water has not done anything or has wasted money does not recognise what it has done in the past couple of years. There are many more examples, but I do not want to delay the House.

I will finish up by saying this is not about victory from any side. This is about providing a water infrastructure that the people deserve and that we as a country can develop in the way that we want to.

  Question put.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 13 April 2017.

  The Dáil adjourned at 10.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 April 2017.

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