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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
 Header Item Water Services

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Water Services

 20. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when a referendum will be held regarding the State affording constitutional protection to the supply of water services; the status of preparations to hold a referendum in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8531/19]

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in April 2017 recommended that a referendum on public ownership of Irish Water should be held. That is a recommendation that I and my party support. I want to know when the Government intends to hold a referendum regarding the State affording constitutional protection to the supply of water services. I note that, in November last, the Cabinet gave the Minister approval to do so. I would be obliged if the Minister could provide an update.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025. There is widespread support for this view, and the report of the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in April 2017 supported the concept of a referendum. The committee recommended that the wording be carefully scrutinised so as not to impact upon the status of group water schemes and individual domestic water supplies.

Provisions in respect of the holding of a referendum are contained in the Private Members' Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins currently on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Detailed examination of the wording of this Bill, which I have undertaken in consultation with the Attorney General, indicates that it would give rise to unacceptable risks. I have articulated these concerns in my engagement with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor has separately and independently advised the committee on the Bill.

I have sought to bring forward amendments to the Bill and on 11 November last, I received Government approval for the priority drafting of proposed amendments to the Bill. These focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership. I have written to the chairperson of the committee on this matter as recently as 21 January of this year and will continue to keep the committee updated on progress made on the drafting of the proposed amendments.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Minister mentioned Deputy Joan Collins's Bill, which is on Committee Stage. I have discussed this with Deputy Joan Collins and indeed other colleagues from the Opposition side, including Deputy Ó Broin.

I refer to the proposed amendments which the Minister sought to have drafted on, as he mentioned, 11 November last. How many amendments is the Minister looking to make to that Bill? I have heard of 20 or 21 different potential changes to the Bill. I note the Minister mentioned that careful consideration needs to be given to group water schemes. We understand that these matters are not dealt with easily but what I am trying to get a handle on is timeframe. There was an expectation, more importantly, among the public that we would be able to hold a referendum this year in line with the local and European elections. I am certain that there is a desire for the people to retain the ownership of water as a resource in Ireland. Could the Minister give me a timeframe that he is aiming for on this and also the level of engagement he has had with the Attorney General? Does the Minister expect to be going back to the Attorney General's office in advance of bringing forward further amendments? I would like to get a handle on the timeframe.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Government is committed to public water services remaining in public ownership. There is no doubt about that. I accept people might be frustrated with the time that this is taking but there are risks here, as the Deputy has identified. There are risks to private wells, risks to group water schemes and risks to the operation of Irish Water itself.

For a number of months, I have been trying to get agreement around a proposed wording. In March of last year, I met a number of Deputies and I spoke about and gave documentation on the 14 tests that any wording would have to pass so that those risks would be mitigated against and there would not be any unintended consequences. From March until November, no one else was able to come up with wording that would pass those 14 tests. In the end, the Department officials came up with wording and that is what I got agreement to bring to the Attorney General at the Cabinet meeting in November.

From memory, there are probably four sections that we are looking at in terms of amendments to address the unintended consequences that we think are in the Bill. It is not the fault of the Bill. It is a good attempt. Obviously, because of the unintended consequences and the risks, we had to make sure these risks were covered.


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