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 Header Item Pension Provisions (Continued)
 Header Item Water Services Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan] Will the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 address some of the problems which have arisen with the administration of funds, such as the second scheme with Aer Lingus? Is there any conceivable way that the ambit of that legislation could be utilised on current wind-ups? It was disturbing to hear from ordinary members that they did not receive annual benefit statements. People seem to be uncertain about how additional voluntary contributions, AVC, are operated. There was no consultation whatsoever on the wind-up. I hope the Minister and the Pensions Authority take action on this and ensure there is not a recurrence in any other scheme and that the current problems are addressed.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I welcome the Minister's response. She is right that the trustees have huge power in this area and that is where it really rests. That is a legislative shortcoming and I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks last week that the area is under review and that the Pensions Authority is going to look at making sure that trustees behave in a more accountable and transparent way. I welcome that the Pensions Authority has agreed to examine this area.

I have a word of warning on that, since we are never happy. This scheme has been delayed in its wind-up for a number of years. Millions of euro have been bled out of it while the trustees waited to decide what to do. The resources were in cash and were effectively losing money. It consumed €2 million between 2015 and 2016 in professional fees and so on, just by sitting there. A further delay runs the risk of that situation. Members are very keen to have the financial interests distributed, but they want them to be distributed in a fair way where staff have options and a way of addressing the matter. That is my word of caution. Hopefully, the intervention by the Pensions Authority will be timely and measured but it is important that we go back to the drawing board on it because while there is a method of distribution, it is one of madness and needs to be changed.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I was not aware the Taoiseach had promised a meeting so I apologise. I do not know if there is a need for it now but if there is, I am happy to organise it with the relevant people in my Department. I hear what Deputy Daly said. It is not within my gift to put a timeline on the request but I can certainly convey to the authority the details the Deputy has just outlined.

To respond to Deputy Broughan, although the information provided has caused me concern, that does not necessarily mean that anything that has happened is wrong or illegal. Therefore, it would probably not be helpful if I was to concur with the Deputy that further legislation is needed. I will express the concerns regarding the timing to the authority and whatever the outcome of this is will be reflected in any future legislation. The Deputy is aware that our legislation is coming back on 9 November. I am not sure whether we will have it back soon enough to address the issues but I can guarantee the Deputy that, as long as I am sitting here, whatever issues arise, if there are any, from the treatment of this pension fund will be addressed in future legislation.

Water Services Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley The approach taken by the previous Government and the current one to the establishment of Irish Water and how we run water services in this country is a lesson in how not to do it. It has been a difficult campaign for many people, in both conducting the campaigns and trying to face down the efforts to impose what was, in effect, double taxation. An issue which concerned me greatly, and I am on the record of the House pointing it out on many occasions, was the cost of establishing the utility. It was really set up to provide a billing structure. There was speculation that part of the idea was that the structure could be privatised. I introduced a Bill four years ago, under which we would have a referendum to ensure that it would not be privatised and I still think that is worth doing. I welcome that the Labour Party, which rejected it at the time, has now changed its mind on the matter and thinks that we should do it.

According to Irish Water, 49% of the water supply leaks out of the network. The wasteful installation of meters could have been better spent. I pointed out a number of times, as did some of my Sinn Féin colleagues, that we should have a neighbourhood or district metering system. That has been floated and I notice it has been taken on board in a more mainstream way in the last year or so and that is to be welcomed. The cost of metering every house and maintaining these meters has not been taken into consideration enough. The life of these meters is quite short and trying to maintain them is costly, and their purpose is questionable. I pointed this out many times to the then Minister, Phil Hogan. There should have been no introduction of domestic water charges and we still should not have any through the backdoor. With the ministerial power proposed in this Bill, we do not want a future Minister to be given the power to create a charging regime.

Water is a basic source of life and it must remain in people's hands. Such a basic human need is important for health and hygiene and cannot become an economic commodity. It was established that Irish Water was a company to trade water as a capitalist commodity. I firmly believe that was the eventual intention. All its structures were geared towards that end, including billing and other components. With the responsibility for water being taken away from the local authorities and given to a company, it would have been easy to sell off to the highest bidder. One can look at what happened in Britain. One cannot ignore the catastrophic effects of that and the way householders are being charged huge prices for a basic water supply.

I introduced a Bill in 2014 regarding public ownership and a referendum to decide on that. Fine Gael and the Labour Party voted against that. The then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, rejected it and said there was no need for it. The Fine Gael Minister of State at the time said: "I would not consider it an appropriate approach to amend the Constitution to provide for a prohibition on the privatisation of a utility company." That was it and it is still seen by Fine Gael as a utility that trades as a commodity which can be bought or sold. This is key. If one sees water as a commodity and not as a service, then the logical extension of one's ideology is the potential to sell Irish Water. We need that referendum. We have had referenda on less important matters in the past and this is one we should have and which should be prioritised. Later, another Bill was passed on Second Stage by this House to achieve public ownership but that now languishes on Committee Stage. Sinn Féin and other Deputies involved in the Right2Water campaign also submitted amendments to this Bill to ensure public ownership.

The structure of Irish Water has been inefficient in its functions. Local authorities still provide the service but it is now taken away from local practice to bureaucratic workings elsewhere. The argument for an overarching body responsible for water may be taken as a given, particularly for cross-county matters, but if it is in place, it must be efficient, working, accountable and cost effective.

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