Thursday, 16 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The purpose of this motion is to restate Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s proposed introduction of water charges. People should not be obliged to pay twice for this essential public service, which is a recognised as a basic human right. It is Sinn Féin’s belief — one which is not shared by the Government parties — that there should be equitable access to water without discrimination. I include in the latter discrimination based on grounds of income.
Everyone recognises that water is a valuable resource and is expensive to treat. We believe the process of treating water should be paid for through the central taxation system. Operational responsibility for water production, treatment and distribution must remain with local authorities. The resource of water must also remain in full public ownership. As already stated, water is an extremely valuable resource and it is one with which we cannot afford to take chances. We are calling on all Members to support this motion. I include in that people in the Labour Party who were opposed to water charges before they went into government a few months ago and those who informed people prior to the election that they would help them out of the hopeless economic hellhole in which they now find themselves.
I call on those Members who spoke out about water charges in the 1980s and 1990s to do so again. I refer, in particular, to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, who produced a leaflet in which he claimed that “water charges are just another tax on workers”. I call on the Tánaiste to take a stand and to reiterate the views he espoused up to a few months ago just prior to the general election when he described water charges as another tax on workers that will be additional to PAYE, PRSI and levies. In the leaflet to which I refer, the Tánaiste criticised the then Government for attempting to make people pay for water while it was still “looking after tax dodgers”. Little has changed in the interim with the exception of the dates, the currency used and the eradication of the principles of certain Members, combined with a wholesale disregard for the promises they made to the people who gave them the votes which enabled them to drive home in their ministerial cars.
People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already being obliged to pay out. They are already obliged to pay the universal social charge, various levies, PRSI, steadily increasing fuel bills and mortgage increases. In addition, it is proposed that they should pay a utility charge. All of this comes in the wake of absolutely brutal pay cuts and the reduction in working hours being imposed on people who occupy very precarious jobs. It must also be remembered that massive pay cuts have been implemented, officially and unofficially, across the public and private sectors.
It is easy for the Government to introduce a flat-rate water charge and say people will only be obliged to pay a small amount of money. Not one of those in government will be lying in his or her bed tonight having nightmares about his or her home being repossessed or dreading what is around the corner in the next budget. No, they will sleep soundly in their beds and they will not be at all bothered that they have cynically transformed a crisis in private debt that was caused by greed into one involving public expenditure.
Ideologically speaking, the Government must introduce a flat rate charge for water because to do otherwise would be to acknowledge explicitly that those who have more should pay more. As George Orwell noted in Animal Farm:
Would Fine Gael privatise daylight if science found a way to allow it to do so? The introduction of water charges follows on from the process of creeping privatisation begun by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party when in government with the introduction of the design, build and operate, DBO, model. An example of the effects of this can be found in my home county of Laois, where private companies were contracted under the DBO model to provide water services and to construct and operate a number of water treatment plants and one major sewage treatment plant. Massive amounts of taxpayers’ money was paid up front in respect of the construction costs relating to these projects. Now, however, the State through the local authorities is tied in to an expensive, long-term contract under which huge payments must be made on an annual basis to the private companies which run these plants. This is bad economics but it is also bad for local democracy.
Global water intelligence analysts believe the water supply market will grow by as much as 20% during the next five years. Water is big business. It is not surprising that a Government which is intent on feathering the nests of the haves rather than the have-nots now wishes to facilitate a situation whereby water is dealt with solely on the basis of market forces. I refer here to the very same market forces which are responsible for placing us in the situation in which we currently find ourselves.
Water privatisation is the most notorious example. One only has to look across at England to see what happened there, particularly to people living on low incomes, and the disaster privatisation has been for water provision throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Private companies exist to make profits. They are not going to maintain a profit while allowing for the mythical free allowance Fine Gael talk about. The Tories told the British people the privatisation of telecoms, electricity, gas and water was for their benefit. Unfortunately, utility bills now bear witness to the fact that this was not the case. The utility companies that own these facilities are making vast profits while the public are getting huge bills.
How will this water charge operate? What will happen to a person who receives a water bill in the post and cannot pay it? Will they be issued with a fine and how much will that fine be? When they cannot pay the fine will they be jailed? I presume so. Will this not be a further criminalisation of poverty?
Private companies operating water plants are a millstone around the necks of local authorities that have to pay annual charges to them. Local authorities do not have full control over what happens in the plants. I have seen this at first hand. Local authorities are locked into contracts with the companies and must abide by those terms. Consider a local authority that enters into a 25 year DPO contract with company X and the EU issues another water directive five years into the period of the contract. The trend of these directives is to improve the standard of water quality, which Sinn Féin supports. However, as the directive is outside the terms of the contract, the local authority will have no option but to pay the company more money to operate the plant to a higher standard. The local authority will be bound by a contractual obligation.
Water is a resource too valuable to play around with. We do not want to see the Irish public vulnerable to price hikes and water poverty. We have witnessed this elsewhere in the world, particularly in countries under strong IMF influence, such as Argentina and Bolivia.
Despite the need for local authority funding, councils have, for the most part, proved themselves in the area of provision of water. They have the local knowledge and engineering expertise to handle water services. In most cases, with a couple of exceptions, they have a proven track record. We are losing water out of the system because of the ineptitude of previous Governments. During the Celtic tiger years when there was money to fix pipes and install new systems, Governments did not do so. Instead, they gave tax breaks to developers.
That the Government plans to take extra money from taxpayers without putting it back into the system is farcical. The money will be used for meters. Local authorities have substantial funding in their water service capital accounts. This money could be used to fund the repair and replacement of the antiquated pipework system. Local authorities are prevented from using it by the Government’s compliance with the terms of the EU Growth and Stability Pact. County Louth, for example, has collected almost €10 million in development levies. This cannot be used because of the Growth and Stability Pact. County Laois, my own county, has €7.5 million, which is substantial funding for a small local authority, that cannot be used because of the terms and conditions of the pact. The money must be maintained throughout the 12 month budgetary period.
We do not have to be beholden to the markets. We are asking the Government to put the needs of the Irish people ahead of the wishes of private interests, for once. I strongly urge all Members, particularly members of the Labour Party, to support this motion.
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: It looks as though Fine Gael has already started to tax daylight. Most of the Deputies seem to be in the dark with regard to the importance of this issue. It is notable that only one Deputy from the Government parties is in the Chamber. This is unfortunate.
Timpeall na tíre tá teaghlaigh ag strachailt chun a gcuid páistí a bheathú. Tá tuismitheoirí ag lorg airgid chun a bpáistí a thabhairt go dtí an dochtúir. Tá clanna ag sábháil gach uile pingin chun morgáistí a íoc. Tá saol uafásach deacair ann do dhream ollmhór ar fud na tíre. Níl mé ag caint faoi dhaoine dífhostaithe amháin. Táim ag caint faoi dhaoine atá ag obair. Dar le Social Justice Ireland, tá níos mó ná 100,000 duine atá ag obair ag maireachtáil i saol an bhochtanais. Sin rud uafásach. Bheidh an Rialtas ag cur ualaigh níos mó ar ghuaillí na ndaoine sin. Tá sé ag iarraidh níos mó airgid a thógáil as pócaí na dteaghlach sin.
Tá athrú meoin tagtha ar an Rialtas, go mórmhór ar an Lucht Oibre. Roimh an toghcháin, dúirt an Teachta Eamon Gilmore go raibh sé díreach in aghaidh na táillí uisce. Dúirt sé go mbeadh rátaí comhréidh míchothram mar go mbeadh ar dhaoine a raibh seomra folctha amháin acu an méid céanna a íoc le daoine a raibh cúig sheomra folctha acu. Dúirt sé nach mbeadh an Stát in ann clár méadarú uisce a chur i bhfeidhm. Bhí sé go láidir ina choinne ach tháinig athrú ollmhór air an Teachta Eamon Gilmore ó labhair sé faoi bhealach an Lucht Oibre.
Before the election, the Labour Party said it would be their way or Frankfurt’s way. However, the memorandum of understanding between Ireland and the EU commits Ireland to undertake an independent assessment of the establishment of a water utility. Ireland is also committed to introducing a property tax and water charges for domestic users under the EU-IMF deal. If Labour Party Deputies thought they would ever get to vote with their own convictions in the Dáil they have been rudely awoken. The fact that the Government signed up to the straitjacket of the EU-IMF bailout rules this out. It is in direct contrast to their pre-election promise and puts paid to any pretence that Labour Deputies have a free vote on this issue.
I am opposed to these water charges on a number of grounds, including the fact that they are happening as a direct result of the EU-IMF deal. This means that revenue will be collected from families who can least afford to pay and transferred from Irish citizens to bondholders of failed banks. Some Government spokespeople will say this money will be ring-fenced for the use of local authorities. However, the Government is Fianna Fáil mark II. It will continue the same policies of cutting back on the local government grant to each authority. The funding cut back by central Government will be replaced by water charges and the money saved by central Government will go to pay off bondholders.
It is a sad fact that this transfer of money is happening at such a time, when thousands of people are struggling. People are struggling to feed their families and are choosing whether to take a child to the doctor or the dentist. They are saving every cent they have in an effort not to go into mortgage arrears. At the same time, the Government is putting its hand into the pockets of those families and extracting money to pay off bondholders.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Efficient, effective, economic value for money public services are what we all want to see delivered to the people of this State and beyond. Clean water delivered through a first world network, minimising waste and employing the most up-to-date conservation measures, should not be too much to ask for in a modern country.
Supporting an all-island water network that prioritises water quality and environmental standards on an island as small as this makes sense. Keeping water, one of the most vital resources and an absolute necessity for life, in public ownership is the only sane option. Using the central taxation system to pay for it is right and fair. It seemed that in the first flush of Government decision making in early March, the incoming Administration was thinking along these lines. The programme for Government committed to create a new State company that would take over the water investment maintenance programmes of local authorities promising an acceleration of planned investments needed to upgrade the State’s inefficient and leaking water network. That was what was promised.
However, now 100 days into the Government, we see that Fine Gael and Labour intend to heap even more pain on people so debt-ridden that they are already flocking in their thousands to organisations such as FLAC. People are desperately seeking jobs that do not exist and are at their wits’ end trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Water is the most basic of necessities. It is not a luxury or something we can choose not to use. A water charge of €170 would pay for two weeks’ shopping, the monthly electricity or gas bill, or even the new school uniforms children will need when returning to school in September. This is not small change to the hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers whose pay the Government wants to cut, or the 450,000 who still have no work because the Government refuses to invest properly in job creation to boost the real economy.
The Government can make different choices. As hard as things are politics is still about choices. In government, Sinn Féin made different choices. Sinn Féin invested more than £1 billion to improve the North’s water and sewerage services between 2007 and 2011. That is £1 million each day invested to improve the quality of the drinking water and the treatment of waste water in the Six Counties. This investment has delivered an extensive capital works programme. Two projects in particular stand out as examples of what can be done with political will — the Belfast sewers project and the water mains rehabilitation programme.
The Belfast sewers project was completed in spring 2010 and represented a total investment of more than £160 million in upgrading the city’s sewer network and constructing a large diameter tunnel. These measures have not only reduced the pollutant loading on the River Lagan, but also reduced instances of flooding in the inner city by 85%, which represents a good investment by any standards. The water mains rehabilitation programme represents an investment of £80 million in upgrading and improving water mains. To date, more than 1,200 km of mains have been upgraded as part of this programme. These upgrades have helped to improve the quality, reliability and flexibility of water supply across the North while also reducing leakage.
In the North, despite pressure from Britain, Sinn Féin insisted that water charges would not be imposed. These are the kinds of decisions the Government in this jurisdiction needs to take — decisions that invest in infrastructure, take people off the dole and boost the domestic economy. Water is not a luxury item and we must not be charged for it.
Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: I am sure people listening to or reading the report of this debate are not ignorant of this. All of a sudden our environmental conscience, and our need to save water and allegedly to spread the revenue burden for local authorities across a wider base have been discovered at the same time that the IMF with its track record of privatisation of public utilities throughout the world arrives in Ireland. It is shameful that our people have been squeezed to the bone — to use a water analogy they have been to the well repeatedly and now the well is dry. There is only so much that can be squeezed from our people.
As a former county councillor, I find the argument about water conservation farcical. Every year at the annual budget meeting we looked at the issue of water charges as they were applied to businesses, farmers and community groups under the diktat of the EU. We heard that it had to happen owing to the requirement for the user to pay and environmental concerns. At that same meeting it was reported to us that 40% — this could have been an understatement — of the water in the county was lost owing to antiquated pipe infrastructure and no doubt this was replicated across the country. While businesses and farmers were being squeezed to pay for water, we were losing almost half our water because of the pipe infrastructure.
If we are serious about water conservation Sinn Féin believes we need investment in our pipe infrastructure. If the IMF, EU and ECB were serious about the needs of the people and serious about environmental conservation, they would insist on an immediate investment programme in replacing our antiquated pipe system to ensure as much of our precious water is saved as possible. Of course that is not happening and instead we are being asked to pay. This is a three-card trick. The Minister and others have said this money will be reinvested back into local authorities and used locally. What will actually happen is that the money collected will go to the local authorities but the local government fund will be cut, which means the money will ultimately end up in the hands of the financial gamblers across the world who recklessly invested in this State. So our people will be squeezed not to help the environment or strengthen the local authorities, but to pay for our good friends in the international financial institutions, who have looked after us so well in recent years. It is a shameful episode. We need investment in our pipe infrastructure and obviously people need to be educated in water conservation and given incentives to do so.
I wish to touch on the international angle. The very people who caused our economic crisis through their deregulation, open and free markets, and their bible of unbridled capitalism, also believe passionately in the privatisation of public resources. Let us consider the track record of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in other parts of the world. In return for addressing debt, they have ensured that the water resources of these people are taken over. Veolia is doing considerable business in this country and is also doing considerable business in Israel assisting the regime there in its oppression of the Palestinian people. Veolia, a French multinational company, has a lovely track record in Bolivia where water charges became so high that they led to social revolution. I could elaborate for hours on the impact of the privatisation of water on poor people. Could any fact be more disturbing than the fact that the architects of the global financial crisis, which has had an impact on working families across Europe and internationally, are the very people who are now seeking to benefit from the agenda to privatise our most precious resource with a view to ultimately implementing another part of their agenda, the privatisation of our public infrastructure? It may start with the setting up of some quango taking control from the local authorities but this quango will ultimately be sold on, as is the plan based on the McCarthy report and others.
Sinn Féin will not remain silent on this issue. It sees the clear agenda that has been laid out by those who move the chess pieces across the board internationally. It sees how these people have used debt to take control of vital resources across the world. Thankfully, it also sees people fighting back across the world , particularly in Latin America. These poor, ill-resourced people are inspirational to others globally. Sinn Féin will join the international struggle to keep water and other vital national resources in the hands of the people, who pay taxes.
During a debate on the universal social charge, we were told by the Minister of State at the Department of public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, that we have one of the most progressive taxation systems in the world, that we should be very proud of the State we have built, and that we should be very proud when we drive through parts of south Dublin, where there is dire poverty and wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams within hundreds of yards of each other. That the Minister of State, a Dublin man who has witnessed this disparity, can sit this Chamber and say we have one of the most progressive tax systems in the world is unacceptable. Shame on the Government for imposing another charge, another hit, on people who are already struggling, and shame on it for implementing the agenda of international financiers, who have already squeezed our people enough.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: It is approximately ten years since I first heard the phrase “polluter pays principle”, which emanated from the European Commission. I have no doubt all the Commissioners and MEPs nodded wisely and that the Government and Members of this House nodded wisely also. Humble councillors, including those of us on Leitrim County Council at the time, nodded when we read about the principle. We envisaged polluters as people who were setting out to destroy our environment. I refer to companies and factories that were careless with their emissions, thus destroying the atmosphere. I refer also to businesses that were fly-tipping, or dumping illegally, and to householders who were careless about how they disposed of their refuse. We thought these were the polluters but they are not the individuals to which the European commission was referring. Its view was that the compliant, law-abiding person, through the ordinary activities of daily living, had to generate some waste so he could be charged therefor. It was a case of punishing compliant citizens, namely, those who did try to minimise the adverse impact on the environment of ordinary living.
We are doing the very same through the imposition of water charges. What the Government proposes to do has nothing to do with conservation. It is not about people who waste water but about fattening public services and utilities for which the people of this nation and Europe have paid dearly so they will be attractive to privateers. It is not just a question of water and sanitary services. Our hospitals are doctor-fattening units from which investors can make a lot of money; they are no longer places where sick people go. Beds have been closed in public nursing homes and the money is being given to privateers in the private nursing home system. The same applies to the home help service and to tolls on our roads. Private contract workers, instead of local authority workers, are fixing roads. There are many such examples.
Water is most the basic ingredient of all life on this planet. Why do I say the charges are not about conservation but about privatisation? If it were a question of conservation, we would be fixing leaking pipes rather than paying €500 million or €600 million — I forget the exact figure — to install meters. Why do we not encourage and support people to use untreated water for appropriate tasks? Why do we waste treated water flushing toilets, cleaning out cattle sheds, etc.? It is an outrageous waste of money.
In rural areas, where significant EU and Irish taxpayers’ funding has been spent on improving the water network, are we to hand the system over to privateers whose only motivation is profit? Will the Government reduce general taxation on the population to reflect the reduction in expenditure on water provision once it is privatised? That is very unlikely. Will the Government reduce water charges for those who currently pay them, including farmers, big and small businesses and members of group water schemes? There is no chance of this happening; they will be asked to pay more.
The Government-planned legislation is not about making it easy for people to do the right thing and conserve water. The Cabinet knows that, as does everybody who will vote on this motion. It is a matter of abdicating Government responsibility. The Government wants to transfer the cost of running the service from the Government to the citizen, and it wants to transfer responsibility for the operation of the services from local authorities and the Government to privateers, whose only motivation is profit. Even at this late stage, I ask that the Government examine the intent of our motion and incorporate its principles into its legislation. It knows this is the right approach.
Deputy Sandra McLellan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. As with other speakers, I acknowledge that water is without doubt a precious and vital resource, the demand for which will continue to increase in line with population growth and industrial activity. The supply of clean drinking water should not be taken for granted and we all, individually and collectively, must work to conserve it, at home, at work and elsewhere.
The need for an uninterrupted quality water supply is essential to the functioning of any First World society. The inverse relationship between its availability and the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera is a major factor in world health. Worldwide, over 4 billion cases of bacterial infections transmitted through contaminated drinking water occur each year resulting in over 2 million deaths, particularly in young children.
Access to clean drinking and bathing water for us must remain a basic fundamental right, not a commodity to be influenced by external influences such as budgetary or market pressures. It should not be seen as a revenue raising opportunity. We only have to think of the cryptosporidium outbreak in Galway or the devastating floods which affected many parts of the country, including my home county of Cork, in the past 18 months to witness the effect of an interrupted supply. Thousands of people were left without drinking and bathing water, queuing up to receive rations to ensure that they could continue with normal daily life. It must be remembered also that hundreds of people were left stranded without water and forced to buy bottled water.
What was notable in a number of incidences was the way the market responded. In some areas the price of bottled water rose overnight. The supply and demand forces of the market meant that would happen. I have no doubt the Government’s plan to attempt to bring in water metering and charges will undoubtedly lead to the privatisation of water services. As sure as night follows day, this will lead to increased water prices and the further misery for ordinary families.
It is impossible to deal with the issue before the House today in isolation. The suggestion that individuals and families might at some stage be forced to pay a tax on water must be analysed in the context of the current economic climate and the financial plight that so many people face on a day to day basis. It must also be assessed in terms of the absolute squander of the so-called boom years.
We cannot detach the threat of taxes from the fact that previous Governments, particularly in the past 15 years, had unprecedented resources to address the deficiencies and inefficiencies in our water infrastructure. They chose not to, just as they chose not to invest sufficiently in our energy and telecommunications network. Instead, we are left with a wholly inefficient water system which leaks millions of gallons a day from leaks that we usually cannot identify.  When we can identify them we more commonly repair rather than replace, which only adds to the final bill to the taxpayer. This tax has nothing to do with conservation. It has everything to do with a devastating economic policy.
Likewise, this debate cannot be detached from the fact that the current Fine Gael-Labour Government is absolutely compliant with the Fianna Fáil-EU-IMF economic blueprint. The plans have been agreed. This Government seems intent on implementation. It is a natural extension of the EU-IMF agreement, given that so much of our money is going into a black hole, that regressive measures have to be considered.
The measures outlined by Fine Gael and Labour in the programme for Government and reiterated in the amendment to the Sinn Féin motion will have a devastating effect on ordinary people who are already struggling to meet their household bills. As usual, they will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our society who are those least able to pay. With energy and fuel prices increasing, exorbitant professional fees and interest rate increases looming, the relative cost of living in this State is driving more and more families into the red and now this Government, supported by the architects of the current economic crisis, is looking to heap more misery on ordinary families. I commend the Sinn Féin motion and urge others to support it.
Providing access to safe and clean drinking water is of critical importance to me and to the Department. Extensive investment in water services in recent years along with increased regulation and more robust supervision of supplies has brought about a situation where drinking water supplies in Ireland are of a very high standard. This is borne out by the steady improvements in drinking water quality which have been reported on by the Environmental Protection Agency. We are fortunate also, unlike many other countries, to have available substantial water resources from which we can draw our drinking water supplies. However, while water may be relatively abundant in Ireland, the cost of treating raw water to the standard of a food product, which I would remind the House is the standard required of national legislation, is not cheap. Nor is the cost of operating waste water treatment plants to treat the water discharged to our public sewers so that we avoid serious pollution to our rivers, our lakes and our seas.
The State has invested heavily in water services infrastructure in recent years with total investment exceeding €5.6 billion over the past decade through my Department’s water investment programmes. This investment was important in ensuring compliance with the European directives on both drinking water standards and urban waste water discharges and improving water supply to keep pace with population growth and economic needs. The Government is continuing to give priority to investment in this area. A provision of €435 million is being provided this year to fund the ongoing investment in water services infrastructure. This investment is required not only to expand infrastructural capacity, but also to upgrade our water supply distribution network to tackle uneconomic levels of leakage and improve operational efficiency. I accept that there remains a major problem with leakage from the distribution network and I am determined that this level of so called unaccounted for water will be reduced.
Ireland has a diverse water supply system, with over 950 public supplies producing some 1,600 million litres of water daily through a network of 25,000 kilometres of pipes. The extent of burst water mains places a particular focus on the vulnerability of the water distribution system, in particular given its age, the high levels of leakage in the system and the lack of investment historically in mains rehabilitation. The current water services investment programme, which runs to 2012, provides for increased investment in critical mains rehabilitation with contracts to the value of €320 million set to commence over the next year. This is more than double the investment of €130 million in water conservation measures in the entire period from 2003 to 2009.
As I have already stated, the increased investment in new treatment plants for drinking water and waste water has increased the operational costs for local authorities. More stringent environmental legislation and rising energy prices have also contributed to the increase in costs. Continuing previous policies of providing free water, with no incentive to manage usage, is clearly not sustainable.
The extent of the challenges we face is highlighted by reference to recent weather events. Just six months ago we experienced a sustained period of exceptionally cold weather, with some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Ireland, together with heavy snowfall. The subsequent rapid thaw which occurred over the Christmas period caused pipes to burst across the country and resulted in widespread water shortages. This week, as a result of very different weather conditions, the Dublin local authorities have issued warnings that they may need to restrict water supplies during the summer unless there is an increase in rainfall in the coming weeks. These climatic events highlight how finely balanced our water supplies are and they emphasise the need for focussed and strategic reform of the way we manage and deliver our water services.
The Government also recognises there are weaknesses in the current funding model for water services. The programme for Government provides for the introduction of a new fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water. A new system of water charging for households on public water supplies will be introduced based on usage above a free allowance.
Ireland is unique in the developed world in not charging households for water services. Our unique position on this matter looks more untenable when we consider the increasing costs we are facing. In its environmental review of Ireland in 2010, the OECD highlighted the difficulties being caused by our failure to charge households for water based on usage. The OECD noted that Ireland’s policy of providing water in the absence of charges gave households no incentive to save water or to minimise wastage. The OECD advised that the failure to measure water use further perpetuates the public’s low awareness of consumption levels and the real cost of water services, and that a better understanding of costs could in itself promote some reduction in consumption. Moreover, the OECD pointed out that water metering removes inequities between households and ensures households using less water will pay less.
The OECD also concluded that the absence of water metering contributes to a lack of incentives in the planning system and building regulations and in practices, such as rainwater harvesting, that would focus on the water economy. The report of the group on green enterprise opportunities in 2009 highlighted that the introduction of volumetric charges would create a market for water efficiency goods and services, with future export potential.
International experience is clear in showing that water metering can achieve significant reductions in consumption. A recent delegation to my office from the National Federation of Group Water Schemes indicated that significant reductions in consumption were due to the fact that they already had meters. When households understand that they can manage their water bills through reducing consumption, they are provided with the necessary incentive to do so. In Denmark, a reduction of 12.6% in household consumption was achieved between 1996 and 2007 following the introduction of water meters, along with the promotion of water saving devices. The Walker report, prepared for the British Government and published in 2009, estimates that water metering in the UK has the potential to achieve a reduction of approximately 16% of average household demand through reduced personal consumption and reduced customer side leakage. At a recent conference on water metering, a speaker from Southern Water in the UK highlighted how universal water metering in the Isle of Wight had reduced consumption from 160 litres per person per day to 124 litres, which is a reduction of more than 20%. This clearly highlights the very real potential to create major savings in the annual expenditure on providing treated drinking water, and reducing the consumption of a finite resource.
However, there is another important reason metering is needed. Reducing wastage of water supplies should not be seen as a choice between water metering and water mains rehabilitation. Research carried out by the Dublin local authorities estimates average customer side leakage at 65 litres per property per day, and could be significantly higher in some locations. Evidence from the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, which has been a strong advocate of water metering, suggests that much of the water lost from the group water schemes through leakage is on the customer side. The installation of water meters will ensure that leaks can be identified and fixed.
Metering will achieve significant reductions in the volumes of water that are required to be treated every day and will lead to savings in the operational costs of delivering water services and in deferred capital expenditure. My intention is that the metering programme will begin in early 2012 and will be largely completed over a five-year period, although I expect to see significant progress in the first three years. The labour intensive nature of the works has the potential to create significant employment opportunities.
This domestic metering strategy will also offer a great opportunity to develop a new water conservation industry, again creating significant employment opportunities. There is no reason water should not be collected and reused in the same fashion as electricity is captured from wind or the sun. Businesses save thousands of euro off their annual water bills with conservation measures and the right technology. Similarly, households are also able to collect rainwater and treated grey water for suitable uses such as flushing toilets and wash-up facilities. The Department will be examining the possibilities to exploit the opportunities highlighted in the report of the group on green enterprise in this area.
As with any significant policy issue which is submitted to the Government, the potential impacts on low income households and other vulnerable groups will be taken into consideration. I am acutely aware that the economic decline overseen by the previous Government has made life harder for most households throughout the country. As set out in the programme for Government, all households will be provided with a free allowance of water and charges will only apply to usage above that allowance. The Department will also be developing a public awareness campaign to inform households of actions which can be taken to reduce their consumption and hence the cost of the water being used.
The programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael and the Labour Party also provides for progressive and considered structural reforms of the water services sector in Ireland. These reforms are important elements of the Government’s strategy for restructuring the semi-state sector under our NewERA plan. Our intention is to have a modern, adequately resourced water services sector which will manage and deliver critical infrastructure to support economic recovery and employment creation. There is a need for a fundamental shift in the way water services are organised and funded in Ireland. However, it is important to acknowledge the considerable efforts of the local authorities to improve the services they have provided to consumers in recent years.
It is not the Government’s intention to discard the expertise and knowledge which has been built up in the local authorities. On the contrary, we want to ensure that expertise and knowledge is being deployed strategically and efficiently to meet the significant challenges facing the sector. For example, the adoption of river basin management plans last year marked an important step in the implementation of the EU water framework directive and provides the strategic direction for much of our future actions and investment in the sector. The move to a river basin catchment approach to water resource management will require greater co-ordination in the planning and delivery of all aspects of water services. Ireland’s plans were published in July 2010 and will be updated again in 2015. These plans set out the quality status of water bodies, the environmental objectives for those water bodies and the measures which will be necessary in order to achieve the objectives. Out of eight river basin districts, there are three cross-Border international river basin districts. There has been very positive engagement with Northern Ireland in developing these cross-Border plans and we will continue to work closely with our counterparts in Northern Ireland to ensure that we meet the shared objectives set out in the plans. I will meet the Minister for the Environment in the Northern Assembly on 1 July to discuss those plans.
The landscape of water management is set to change in Ireland as we begin the implementation of the plans. There are many players involved, from Departments, State agencies and local authorities through to local groups and representatives of various water users. Discussions have begun between the main players on the governance arrangements that will best achieve the objectives of the river basin plans and thus, the best possible environmental outcomes. Integrated river basin management challenges existing administrative models and requires us to find new ways of working together.
Reducing consumption of drinking water reduces the need to abstract water from the natural environment. In regard to the suggestion for the establishment of a water and sewage authority to ensure that water quality and environment standards are met, this role is currently being fulfilled by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has statutory powers to ensure that we adhere to water quality standards.
The Government’s NewERA plan provides for the establishment of Irish Water, a new State-owned water company. This is a priority but I am aware that the transfer of any functions from local authorities to the new company needs to be carefully managed. The Department is overseeing an independent assessment on the establishment of Irish Water which will commence shortly. This assessment will examine the optimum role of the company and assist in defining the functions of that company. The assessment will determine the most effective assignment of functions and structural arrangements for delivering high quality competitively priced water services to customers, both domestic and non-domestic.
The independent assessment which will include detailed implementation issues will be completed by the end of October this year. I will then be in a position to bring proposals to Government on the establishment of Irish Water before the end of 2011.
The Government has been clear that Irish Water will be a State-owned company. Its establishment does not represent the privatisation of water services nor the creeping privatisation of water services or any other course of action to bring water services into private hands. Irish Water will modernise the delivery of water services. The outcome of the independent assessment, the high levels of unaccounted for water and the low collection rates for commercial water charges are just two areas which could be improved by being addressed at a national level.
The creation of Irish Water and the introduction of a system of water charges by meter will transform the provision of water services. In these difficult times, we need to deliver our services and use our resources more efficiently and effectively. By delivering on the commitments in the programme for Government, we can ensure that this happens. We will ensure that we have a modern adequately resourced water services sector and we will support economic recovery and the creation of employment opportunities.
Some matters arose in the contributions of the Sinn Féin Deputies on which I wish to put the record straight. I assure Deputy Stanley that with this Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, the people will be able to sleep soundly in their beds. We will tell the people the truth about the cost of water provision and how we will deliver a good quality product, which is recognised as a finite resource. We will tell them that we do not want to impose more income taxes but that we want a water services infrastructure provided and paid for on a pay as one uses basis. That is the most essential water conservation objective of any government and I am surprised that Deputy Stanley and others who spoke did not acknowledge that.
At least Sinn Féin stated explicitly in its motion how it would fund all these water services, namely, from general taxation. It wants to increase taxes on workers because that is the only way within the current EU-IMF agreement that it would get the money to roll out these provisions. Sinn Féin wants to increase taxes on workers to pay for an essential service such as water. We oppose that measure.
Another straw man was raised, namely, that we will introduce a flat rate water charge. I have just explained there will not be a flat rate water charge. I am delighted to confirm that will not be a vehicle with which Sinn Féin can attempt to create a diversion. It will not fool the people in regard to these matters. It should not underestimate their intelligence.
I wish to nail some more political myths put forward in the contributions of the Sinn Féin Deputies. There will not be a flat rate water charge but a pay as one uses system through water metering. It will operate as an effective water conservation measure and will deal with a finite resource in the interests of households, businesses and jobs.
Water networks will continue in public ownership and will not be privatised. A rainwater harvesting programme will be included as part of our water conservation programme. There will be a generous allowance to assist low income families. If people want to waste water, they will pay for it, which should be the case.
I am determined to change the system to deal with the leaks in it. I pointed out that €320 million in these times is not a bad investment. I hope it will achieve most of the objectives but if not, we will have to continue with that programme. I agree with Deputy Mac Lochlainn that it makes no sense to have such disparities between local authorities in regard to leaks in the pipe network. Much work is required in water mains rehabilitation and it is my intention to do it.
I wish to improve water quality because people will only pay for water if there is a good quality product. People will only be satisfied paying for any service if it is a good quality product. We cannot underestimate the challenge to improve water quality to the extent we need to in order to ensure we meet our side of the bargain by giving the people a good quality product.
We want to ensure we have good volumes of water. There will be controversy in Deputy Charles Flanagan’s area from which we will bring water from the River Shannon to meet, ironically, the restrictions which must be put in place in June 2011 on water supplies in Dublin. There are challenges in regard to volumes of water in addition to those in regard to the quality of water. It is a big undertaking for the State to meet those challenges.
I outlined my plan in 2009 in regard to these matters. We sought a mandate on the basis of water meters and we got one to implement that policy, which we intend to do. The people also voted for the Labour Party on the basis of the same policy.
Deputy Phil Hogan: There will be no flat rate charge for water. I am sorry to disappoint Deputy Mac Lochlainn because I know that does not suit his political agenda. I am glad of the opportunity to put a lot of issues to bed and to nail any political myths. If Sinn Féin wished to put down a motion to campaign on an issue, it picked the wrong one in water services.
Deputy Niall Collins: I wish to share time with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate and I am sure we will have many more debates on this important issue. I listened with interest to the Minister who has again engaged in an attempt to spin a web of confusion around the troika of charges the Government will introduce, namely, a property tax, a water tax and a household utility charge. Despite everything he said, he did not really come clean on how he will roll out the water charge. We do not know the number of free litres per domestic household nor what the charge for usage above that will be.
The Minister said previously that he intends to introduce a flat rate household utility charge in advance of the introduction of a property tax. When I quizzed his party leader, the Taoiseach, about same, he tried to describe it as a forerunner to the introduction of water charges. There is a little bit of confusion there. When the proposed property tax and the water metering programme are rolled out, will the flat rate household utility charge disappear? We believe the Minister is introducing it as some kind of funding mechanism, because he is not clear on rolling out the metering programme. Will the cost of the installation of meters come from the household utility charge or from the National Pensions Reserve Fund or how does the Minister intend to fund it?
To the Minister’s credit, he acknowledged there was a steady improvement in water quality over the past number of years and that there was considerable investment. My colleagues in Sinn Féin did not acknowledge that in the motion. Over the period 2000-09, the previous Government invested almost €4.6 billion of Exchequer resources in our water infrastructure and 476 major projects throughout the country were completed. There was, rightly, a significant programme under previous Governments for investment in water resources.
However, the debate must move on from that and we must focus on the future delivery of water services in this country. The public is anxious to know, with regard to the proposed charges, whether the household utility charge will disappear when a properly constructed infrastructure is provided to deliver water and meter it and when there is a fair charging system for usage above the free quota. The Government amendment states that the Government will introduce a fair funding model. We must know what that model is.
There are also questions, to which we must receive detailed responses, about the proposed establishment of the Irish water utility company. Will that take over all the core water provision functions from our local authorities? Will there be job losses for the many thousands of people employed in the local authorities? That has not been significantly explained. Is this the creation of another quango and is it necessary to take the option of creating one? The programme for Government promises the abolition of a number of quangos. I do not know how many the Government targeted for elimination in its first 100 days in office but I do not believe it has succeeded in eliminating any. From that point of view, is this the right model to choose and will there be job losses or enforced redundancies in the public services of local authorities? We must have clarity on that.
With regard to conservation measures, can we have more detail about harvesting rainwater? Will the Department produce a scheme over the next months and years whereby schools, clubs, businesses and households can avail of a properly structured grants or incentivisation scheme to invest in capital infrastructure to trap and use rainwater for toilets and other appropriate functions?
I am happy to take part in this debate. We will have many debates in the future on the imposition of water charges. The critical issues are what the free litre allowance will be and what charge will be imposed on households. The Minister says that the free delivery of water would mean an increase in taxation. The Government is attempting to have it both ways because it intends to introduce a water tax and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, would not confirm or deny in the House last week whether there would be increases in income taxes in the next budget.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Tá fíor-áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá faoin ábhar seo. I am glad the Minister acknowledged the €4.6 billion the previous Government spent on the improvement of water services and the plans it had to spend another €320 million.
The Department could reform the way it does its business. In the short time I was responsible for the Department I made it clear that I believed the system whereby a local authority had to constantly revert to the Department for permission, instead of devolving all the small schemes to the local authorities to be carried out with devolved funds, is a total waste of time and money. As a result, works are seriously delayed and engineers with the same qualifications as those in the local authorities are overseeing their work. It only enriches the consultants.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: We will watch that space and see if the Government delivers on that promise. There is a case to be made for a single, efficient delivery system for the main water services in the country. There is certainly a need to ensure that services are trans-border between the counties in an integrated fashion.
However, I would totally oppose any privatisation of water services. In County Galway the collection system was privatised and it is a disaster. It is very hard to deal with the company concerned and much easier to deal with the county council. When there are difficulties, one is obliged to go to the council which will in turn deal with the private company.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The idea that water is free is far from the truth. There is a huge cost to providing drinking water in houses, which somebody must pay. That somebody is the taxpayer. Regardless of what view one takes, water must be paid for by the taxpayer.
There are those who say one pays for it through VAT, income tax, corporation tax, excise duties and general taxation. That approach is irrespective of people’s ability to pay and means one does not care if half the water is wasted. The ordinary poor person still must pay. The other alternative is to ask why, for example, a poor person should, through general taxation, pay for putting drinking water into a wealthy person’s swimming pool. That is what the socialists are asking us to do. It is bizarre. Why should poor people be asked to pay for the profligacy and waste of people who cannot be bothered to mend the leaks in their houses or that occur between their front gate and their house?
If anybody thinks that the leaks issue in domestic properties is exaggerated, I can refer to a recent conversation I had with the director of services in Galway. He told me that when the council introduced farm metering, the scheme, which it had intended to expand and put more resources into because it could not cope with demand, suddenly became more than adequate for the demand. As soon as the farmers had to pay, all the leaks were mended and demand reduced by a huge percentage. This meant the possible investment being discussed could be put on the shelf because it was no longer needed.
The idea that water is free is ludicrous. The idea that in some way it helps the poor that they must pay for it every time they buy a pint or do anything else subject to general taxation is also ludicrous. They are paying for waste, something the taxpayer should not have to pay for in any circumstances. However, the free water allowance should be such that ordinary families who are careful should not pay for water. Furthermore, where there are special needs in a household, particularly where there are older people and people of low income, there should be a waiver to deal with such individual circumstances. The idea that one is somehow lifting a burden from the taxpayer by putting this under general taxation and allowing a high percentage of the water to flow into the ground, be wasted, used for swimming pools or wasted in other ways, is ludicrous and does not stand up to rational scrutiny.
There is one lesson we must learn in this country. No service is provided by the State or by the local authority that will not ultimately have to be paid for by the taxpayer. If one borrows in the short term, one is only deferring the evil day when one will eventually pay for it, and with interest.
Another issue I wish to raise with the Minister is one I was trying to tackle when I was in government. There are people in this country who do not have access either to a good quality group scheme or to a public water supply. They are dependent on wells. The Minister’s colleague, Deputy Michael Ring, is aware of a scheme in north Mayo, near Crossmolina, with which I was involved. There are many areas that do not have a public supply and the answer to that problem was through the CLÁR programme, as I was implementing it. It gave top-ups on the group water scheme grants in these rural areas to ensure people received a water supply. A sum of €3 million per year over and above the group water scheme grants would solve this problem once and for all.
It is a basic, fundamental right of every citizen in this country to have electricity, telecommunications, water and a road of decent quality to his or her house. There will be all sorts of arguments about cost benefit from the Department but I refer to the actual cost, over and above the existing group water schemes grant. I am delighted the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, is beside the Minister because outside the door he will tell the Minister that, although we have had our arguments in the past, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív is correct on this point. The CLÁR scheme was solving this problem for once and for all, at a modest cost, for people who would be more than happy to pay for water every year if they could get decent, potable water into their houses rather than being dependent on wells.
A further problem has arisen for people in that, if a son or daughter wants to build a house next door and there is no group scheme or public water supply, the son or daughter must pay up to €4,000 to sink a bore before applying for planning permission. The application for planning permission might be refused after all that but if the pipe is running past the house, the person could get a letter from the county council or group scheme and receive planning permission. I ask the Minister to seriously consider the CLÁR grants, which were modest and worked. They achieved a national policy that all of us should agree on, that everyone in this State should be entitled to a water supply of high-quality going to a house or home, irrespective of where they live. The modern tendency to think services should only be provided in a agglomerated towns and cities is totally contrary to the traditional way we provided services in this country. It makes me run cold when I think of what might have happened if this modern attitude had prevailed when we decided to provide electricity around the country. I know what would have happened. Electricity would never have got to the huge areas of rural Ireland that benefited from it. There was a policy of basic services, irrespective of cost, being provided to all our citizens.
I propose to share time with Deputies Joan Collins, Catherine Murphy, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Maureen O’Sullivan. The trouncing given to Silvio Berlusconi’s drive towards water privatisation in the Italian referendum last week should serve as a warning to Fine Gael and Labour about the critical nature of water and the way in which people deal with water. Two weeks ago, the assembled suits were in Croke Park and the Minister was slobbering over the prospect of profiteering from the Government’s decision to introduce water metering. This gives an indication of the real agenda, that water is being viewed as the new gold and the new oil, something for private interests to get their hands on and profiteer from. In moving the amendment put forward by the United Left Alliance Deputies, I put the Government on notice that they will not get away with this. It will be a step too far and we pledge publicly to initiate a campaign of mass non-payment and civil disobedience that will succeed in making the tax uncollectible, as we did in the 1990s.
The Government has a cheek to try to dress up this attempt to extort extra taxation in the guise of an environmental measure. Half of the State’s housing stock was developed since we last abolished water charges and not one measure for water conservation was implemented. Not one measure has been taken to deal with leaks. The idea of taking money out of the pockets of workers who have already paid for essential public services, of which water is a crucial one, in ordinary taxation and taxing them again is economic lunacy. It takes money out of their pockets that they could otherwise spend in shops and small businesses. It is absolutely punitive because studies show how little disposable income families have, particularly in advance of the next hike in interest rates. The Government would do well to remember what happened to Margaret Thatcher when she attempted to bring in such charges. In circumstances where people could not pay and did not pay, that will be the rallying call of the communities and it should be the call of the unions. This will check this Government in its vicious attack on the living standards of ordinary people and the attempts to make an essential public service a commodity. In the same way as the Italians can make a stand on it, people in Ireland will also take a stand.
Deputy Joan Collins: We hear the same mantra from the current Government, using the IMF and the EU as a stick to beat us, that this is part of the IMF-EU agenda and must be implemented. I challenge the Government on that. The last thing the people of this country need is more taxes; what this country needs is more money. We need more money in the pockets of people to spend more money and create more jobs in our local shops and cities.
Water is an essential service. It is not an optional service such as the plastic bag levy, where one can buy a material bag rather than paying the surcharge on a plastic bag. This is an essential service and talking about waivers is an insult to the people of this country. We saw what happened with bin taxes. Waivers were introduced but within a number of years, most of the local authorities had handed over the service to private enterprise. South Dublin County Council has handed over this service to private enterprise and the waivers are practically gone in Dublin City Council. It is outrageous to say that this will protect the most vulnerable in our society. Within a number of years, the waivers will not be there and people will have to pay.
Along with Deputy Clare Daly, I warn that there will be a major campaign of resistance to water tax and property tax. Those who cannot pay will not pay. I heard the Minister on the radio saying that when he is going from door to door, people do not have the money. Our pockets are dry and we cannot afford to pay any more. People have disposable income of €70 per week and if the Government attempts to take any more, there will be major resistance. The United Left Alliance will be part and parcel of that process. I call on the trade union movement to do the same.
Deputy Catherine Murphy: I have seen at first hand the very real problems experienced by households in north Kildare. Water interruptions and loss of pressure has become a seasonal problem. Homes with small children and babies have gone without water for up to two weeks during the winter, while in dry spells in the summer the pressure is reduced to the point where some households do not have a constant supply. This is totally unacceptable. Water supplies in the greater Dublin area, of which north Kildare is part, are on a knife edge.
There are two reasons for this, the first of which is the lack of integrated planning. A large number of houses were built without complementary services being provided. Inadequate renewal of water pipes is not a problem in north Kildare because houses there are relatively new but there are serious problems in other places in the catchment area. It is a challenge to ensure security of supply and, at the same time, ensure hard-pressed households do not have an additional burden of taxation through stealth taxes. The introduction of service charges, through the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act introduced by Fine Gael and Labour Party in 1983, drew me into politics. The tax marches took place in the 1970s, when the lion’s share of taxation was paid by PAYE workers. There might be merit in a State-owned water company because it might better manage the limited resources. However, the EU-IMF deal commits Ireland to undertake an independent assessment of the establishment of such a company. I am concerned that they seek to neatly package water services in order to sell them as an asset. That is a major concern.
The principle of taxing waste is not one to which I am opposed but the details of this measure make me question whether that is the proposal and how it will play out. Does anyone think the State will invest €500 million in metering without recouping the sum? This measure is aligned to the European water directive, which enshrines the principle of full cost recovery, and makes me question whether the free allowance referred to by the Government amendment is an introductory offer to gain acceptance for the system. Once the metering system is in place it will creep towards full cost recovery as it is the EU, after all, that is in the driving seat. One way or the other we will pay.
If we are to have a secure supply for households and industry we must invest heavily in the development of new sources of supply and the elimination of waste. We must also change habits to reduce waste. Although there may be merit in the metering system, I am very sceptical about the ultimate intentions behind it.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate on water charges and the urgent need to protect householders from extra taxation. We should be honest as once again people are being hammered and taxed for the greedy actions of others. They are being penalised for the dumping of another €24 billion into the banks. That is the real world now for many householders, low-paid workers and the unemployed.
Some 1.2 million people now have less than 5% of their income remaining at the end of the month after paying essential bills such as mortgages and utilities. This drives people further into poverty and hinders growth in our economy. A new flat-rate household charge will be foisted on householders and families by this new Minister, “Poll Tax” Phil. He is widely known by this name in Dublin North-Central. Instead of hitting workers and the unemployed with more taxes and spending millions of euros introducing water meters, we should invest in the real cause of wastage, which is the ancient water pipe network.
Deputy Finian McGrath: There are choices and we should be open about them. For example, by replacing our water network and introducing water conservation measures, including rainwater and grey water harvesting, we could put thousands of unemployed construction workers to work and help protect the environment in the process. These are the serious options and I hope “Poll Tax” Phil is listening to the debate. I know he was here earlier.
I condemn the chronic and ongoing lack of investment in our water infrastructure, especially during the time of budget surpluses, which in some places resulted in 58% of treated water lost in the distribution network before it reached households.
Deputy Finian McGrath: The €500 million that the Government intends spending on the installation of household water meters, rising to €1 billion due to the funding operation being considered, would be better spent on upgrading the existing distribution network. I challenge the Minister, “Poll Tax” Phil, to reverse this action.
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: I now have about four minutes. I agree fundamentally with the principle that the polluter pays but I do not agree with the Government’s interpretation of what a polluter is. If I give my daughter a glass of water I am not polluting. If I give my daughter a glass of water, leaving the tap on for a half hour beforehand, spilling it on the way to her and leaving her with a small bit of water in the bottom of the glass, I am a polluter. One should pay for what one abuses rather than what is used, especially if there is no choice. The Government’s policy is to make it seem like it is trying to conserve water but as the other speakers have said, it is really just a neat packaging process so that it can sell one of our vital resources. The idea of metering is good but its intended usage is bad.
The Government has indicated there will be a certain reasonable allowance of water but consumers will have to pay when that has been used. That is fine as long as the allowance is reasonable but will there be a standing charge on top of that? It is never very clear what is happening with this Government but it seems there will be some kind of standing charge. I do not agree with that because many people will not be able to pay such a charge. If it is to be enforced, will some people not have any water if they cannot afford to pay the standing charge?
A survey was published by credit unions some weeks ago which was discussed in this Chamber and it indicated that people only have a minimal amount of disposable income once all their bills have been paid. In many cases this will mean people will not be able to afford water if it attracts a standing charge. We are to get a new national company that will not be privatised but what about the cogs in the company which are already being privatised?
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Like many others I believe water is a basic human right, just like the air we breathe. I hope the next step will not be an air tax. Living in and representing Dublin Central I know very well about water, and flooding in particular. A major factor in flooding is the poor infrastructure evident in many areas and antiquated piping. There is also significant water leakage, leading to major shortages, as well as wastage on the other hand. If we had a proper system we would not need this debate. Instead of spending money on water meters we should install a modern and efficient distribution network as that will create the jobs that we need.
I support the Minister’s comments on rainwater, which is the way to go. I would like to see more of that thinking. Equally, an education or awareness programme on how to use water and not waste it would be beneficial. We could begin in this House with the amount of water that comes from taps just to wash our hands.
There is a proposal for a quango to deal with water. The water services should remain with local authorities but we know who is pulling the strings in that regard. This tax will lead to further inequality affecting low-income families and the increasing numbers of what are now known as the new poor. These water charges are a step too far in that regard.
The Government amendment mentions €4.6 billion spent in capital investment in water services in the past decade. There would be a state-of-the-art system in place at this stage if the money had been used efficiently and wisely. The bottom line is that many people cannot afford this tax.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are eight people sharing the next slot and they can work out the arrangements between themselves. The first six speakers have four minutes each and the last two have three minutes each.
Deputy Pat Deering: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I compliment the Minister and my constituency colleague, Deputy Hogan, on his enthusiasm in this issue. He has hit the ground running and I have no doubt he will continue until he ensures we sort out the matter.
Approximately 80% of the drinking water here comes from surface water, with 20% from ground water. It reaches our taps through a distribution system supplying the majority of our households. For this water to go from source to tap, substantial investment is required. We should think about how that happens and what is involved in the process. Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately — we are one of the only countries in Europe that does not charge for water. We must bite the bullet and get real on the issue, accepting the fact that we are no longer in fantasy land.
It takes much money to bring water from source to tap. In my previous careers I was involved in farming and had to pay water rates in my home county of Carlow. I paid substantial water rates of approximately €6 per day. Average use of water in a Carlow household is 0.3 cu. m. of water per day, equal to approximately 75 cent per day of usage. That is not much to pay for a very important resource and equates to the cost of a third of a pint of beer. That should not be a disincentive.
It is essential for us to bring the system up to date. Water is a very important resource and if we do not update our processes and charge for its use, we will continue the case of a free service being abused. The old saying that one does not miss the water until the well goes dry was evident last winter and the previous winter, when pipes were frozen. People abused the system in towns around the country by leaving taps running and washing cars when their neighbours may have had no water supply. Such problems must be resolved, and the only reason they came about was because water is a free resource. Anything that is free is abused. I commend the Minister on taking the initiative. He hit the ground running and I wish him well in his endeavours.
Deputy Gerald Nash: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. It is not illogical to hold a fluid position on water charges but Sinn Féin’s contortions are reminiscent of the great Houdini’s water tricks. The party has consistently resisted the introduction of water charges in this jurisdiction even though it has adopted a more Jesuitical approach across the Border. For four years, the then Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, MLA, had an opportunity to overturn legislation providing for water metering in Northern Ireland but he did not do so. Under his watch, 23,000 water meters were installed in domestic properties.
Deputy Gerald Nash: Northern Ireland was treated to an annual series of denials of the inevitable until the poisoned chalice was handed over to a hapless member of the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin washed its hands of the issue. The dogs in the street know that Stormont will soon be introducing water charges with the agreement of Sinn Féin for the same reason as they are being introduced here, namely, they are an economic necessity. Like many Members, I wish we could maintain the provision of water through the central taxation system but to assert this could remain the case is to betray a wilful ignorance of the crisis facing this country.
Any new system must be informed by fairness, equity and conservation, as well as take into account the ability of households to pay. It is essential that the operation of the water service does not fall into private hands. The Labour Party is committed to a wholly State owned water utility that is managed and delivered under democratic control. Sinn Féin would have us believe the rains that fall on the Cooley mountains can be brought free of charge to the tap if it happens to flow south but must be paid for if it flows north. The only difference between that party’s policies and the Labour Party’s approach to water charges is that we are being up-front with the people instead of hiding behind half-truths and evasions. History taught us that Houdini’s water tricks were only elaborate deceptions. The same judgment will be passed on the tricks that Sinn Féin is performing in Northern Ireland.
Deputy Noel Harrington: Wars have been fought around the globe over water but I did not think they would come down to this parochial level. This debate is welcome because most of us agree that water is precious. It has to be treated and supplied in a way that ensures security and high quality. Somebody must pay for that service and I fundamentally believe in the principle that the user should pay. A funding model that taxes everybody to provide water to every household across this land will not work. A considerable number of households in rural areas throughout this country do not tap into public water supplies, do not draw funds from the State and should not have to pay for other people’s water and wastage.
Many Members of this House came through the local authority system. I spent 12 years on Cork County Council. Every local authority manager or engineer argues that the water pricing model which local authorities have used for the past several decades is fundamentally flawed. The €4.6 billion invested over the past decade, which we acknowledged in our amendment and which was trumpeted by Fianna Fáil, is another case of throwing money at a problem. It was like pouring money down the drain.
When meters were installed for non-domestic water supplies, leakages were found to have occurred between the meters and the taps rather than in the municipal system. That fact has been ignored thus far in this debate. By installing a metering system we can at least identify where water leaks occur. If water leaks occur in the municipal system they can be found easily even if they are not so readily fixed. However, the water that is lost between the meter and the tap is not so easily isolated.
I have reservations about charging people who cannot afford to pay a standing charge and there should be exemptions for those on social welfare or low incomes. The issue of privatisation has been raised by other speakers. In light of the experience of the UK’s privatisation of water utilities in the 1980s, we must ensure the fat cats do not reap the benefits. Thankfully, capacity is not an issue for this country because our climate provides us with plenty of water. Our problem is to ensure water security and quality. Every household has a right to quality water but we have to develop an adequate funding model. The Minister’s proposals will help us to achieve that goal.
Deputy Kevin Humphreys: I welcome the Sinn Féin motion. This is the type of issue we should be debating because water is critical to the future development of industry in Ireland. I am a strong supporter of the Dublin water supply project. The Dublin region is key to economic growth but the entire region is on the same knife edge that Deputy Catherine Murphy described in respect of County Kildare. A reliable supply of water will play an important part in our industrial strategy, in combination with our corporation tax rate and measures to attract new companies and industries. Water supply was a key reason one major technology company decided to create thousands of jobs in the Kildare area. However, Intel will need an additional 4 million litres of water by Christmas if it is to continue creating the jobs this economy so badly needs. By 2014 the Dublin region will have brought on-line an additional 20 million to 30 million litres but beyond that there are no areas from which we can draw supplies. If we fail to plan for further expansion there will be repercussions for the wider economy because of the proportion of taxation raised in the Dublin region. We have a limited strategic reserve of water and new sources must be found. The Garryhinch water project will be important in that regard.
Several Deputies raised the issue of water metering. A pilot scheme was introduced in one area in Dublin whereby smart meters were installed and mains were replaced. It was discovered that three houses were using a volume of water that was the equivalent of 160 houses. That is a total of 70,000 litres of water a day being lost from the system due to a leak in those three houses. The pipes were on private property. There is a need to amend legislation. When those people were not paying for the 70,000 litres of water, there was no reason for them to fix it so taxpayers money just went down the drain.
It is important that we have an informed debate. I am sorry that Deputy Finian McGrath has left the Chamber. Like me and Deputy Ellis, he was a Dublin city councillor. We took our job seriously. Dublin city has a low pressure system. Deputy McGrath left the Chamber having said that Dublin loses 30% of its water. Dublin was down below 30% and was going in the right direction but in a low pressure system the maximum by which one will reduce leakage is 20%. After that there is no cost benefit of further investment within the system. I am disappointed but not surprised that Deputy McGrath threw out wild figures and then left the Chamber.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I will confine my remarks to the motion itself and the amendments tabled. There is clearly an ideological thrust to the motion. That is to be welcomed. It is probably communist, which I do not welcome. The problem with the motion is that no solutions are offered. It is a list of preambular paragraphs with no operational clauses.
In the first paragraph water is described as a basic human right. It is not a basic human right. It is not in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights nor in the European Convention. Interestingly, in 2010 the General Assembly did say that access to water was a right but this country abstained from the vote. That is an academic point and serves no purpose in this context but what I am trying to explain is that there is nothing of substance in the motion.
Reference is made in paragraph 4 to operational responsibility being maintained by local authorities. There are more than 30 local authorities dealing with the issue and the proposers of the motion wish the status quo to remain. Unfortunately, water collection, treatment and distribution do not know the political boundaries we have in this country. We must look beyond that. We must look at the economies of scale we can find if we pool our resources. That is what the Government is attempting to do.
Paragraph 6 deals with the creeping privatisation of our most vital resource. We are not talking about that; we are talking about service delivery. We are not talking about privatising the rain, which is impossible. In paragraph 10 the motion condemns the chronic and ongoing lack of investment in our water infrastructure. I completely agree with that, but that is what we are trying to address with the Government amendment.
Reference is made in paragraph 12 to the European Stability and Growth Pact. Unfortunately, I was not present for the entire debate so I am not entirely sure what that is about. I would like to know more. In paragraph 13 the motion promotes the establishment of an all-Ireland water and sewerage authority. If one is not going to give the authority revenue raising powers or a budget, it will have no powers at all. In effect, it is the establishment of another quango, which we on this side of the House are currently trying to abolish.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Paragraphs 14 and 15 deal with taxation. From the outset the Minister has not mentioned this as a taxation initiative. It is a conservation measure. We are trying to stop wasting our resources. We are wasting them, both natural and financial, and we need to address that, which is what we are trying to do.
Three amendments have been offered by Members of the United Left Alliance. They are operational clauses, which is to be welcomed. The first one is quite dangerous. One cannot stand for election in a democracy, come to the House to debate a Bill, issue or motion, lose the debate and then go back to the people and call on them to break the law. One cannot have it both ways. This is democracy. It is not protest and it is not peaceful. It should not be encouraged nor should it be welcomed in this Chamber.
The second paragraph of the amendments refers to calling on the trade union movement to actively resist any moves towards the implementation of a water tax but all that is happening here is that the proposers are exposing their vested interests. In the third paragraph there is a demand for a substantial scheme involving a major programme of retrofitting homes with water conservation devices and technology which could save billions of litres of treated drinking water each year. That is an excellent idea. It is something we must do. However, there is no indication of how we are going to do it. The answers lie in the Government amendment.
There is a genuine need to do something. One can forget one’s ideologies and leave them at the door. People need access to clean, drinking water every time they turn on the tap. We have big problems in Dublin, as Deputy Humphreys has alluded to, and the Government needs to address that. We do that in our amendment. That is the type of approach the Government is taking. I accept we need time to discuss the matter but I would appreciate more substance in the motion put before the House.
Deputy Colm Keaveney: I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on such a critical issue. I have consistently opposed the introduction of an unmetered, flat-rate water charge. In that regard I welcome the Minister’s comments of clarification. He has been crystal clear on the issue. Some of the commentary from certain sections of the House has been unfair. There is no doubt that water is a valuable resource and every one of us has a right to clean, safe and plentiful water. At the same time, we must recognise that water is not a limitless resource. It comes to us processed and it is an expensive commodity. It is expensive for taxpayers to treat and to distribute. Each of us has a personal responsibility to ensure we conserve and use water wisely.
In that regard the Government intends to take effective steps to improve water quality and ensure further water conservation. We must avoid using a flat-rate charge to plug the gap in the Government’s finances which were inherited by the Government supported by Deputy Finian McGrath, who has absented himself again today from the debate.
The Labour Party, as has always been the case, is firmly opposed to any discrimination where water is concerned, especially on grounds of income. Our two primary goals in that regard are to improve water quality and ensure water conservation. They must be met in an equitable manner, one which does not unfairly hit poorer households in this country. A flat-rate charge would provide absolutely no incentive whatsoever for people to be economical with their water usage. For those who wish to conserve water and lower their household bills, a flat-rate charge would effectively remove the option for them. Any proposed water charges should not cause undue hardship to struggling families. A metering system is the fairest method through which charges can be introduced. I welcome the proposal to introduce such a system.
As many of my colleagues in the Labour Party have explained in recent weeks, the metering system will expedite a fairer billing system. Not only that, but it will provide much needed employment for small builders and contractors across the country. I do not resent the idea of paying for water. I pay for it myself in a group water scheme. I pay far more than the proposed charge that has been mooted in the print media. I strongly condemn the use of what appears to be a type of double-taxation as a funding mechanism for domestic water. Water is a commodity. It is a valuable resource. I fail to understand how the installation of water meters along with a flat-rate charge makes any sense at all. Surely it is unreasonable to believe that installing meters in people’s homes, while at the same time hitting them with a disproportionate flat-rate charge would do any good for the conservation of water.
I strongly support and recommend the introduction of a national waiver scheme, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable families in Ireland would be exempt from proposed water charges. It is crucially important that significant investments must take place along the lines indicated by the Minister. It is an indictment of the previous Government that the average national rate of water leakage is 58% after €4 billion in resources has been pumped into the system in the past 14 years. At a time of scarce resources it is deplorable that treated water would go back into the ground again.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: The debate forces those of us elected to this House to make a decision between being practical and prudent or taking a populist approach that would, ultimately, be of no benefit to the people whom we are supposed to represent. It is important to put on record that what we have, as in Northern Ireland, is a fragmented, inefficient and outdated water supply system which costs €1 billion of taxpayers’ money. Yet Deputies want to tax ordinary people. Shame on them.
It is important we acknowledge that the Minister is being responsible and has laid out the Government’s position quite clearly and with no ambiguity. We will have a water meter company that is State-owned. The Government plans to reform, manage and deliver water services; this will be done over its lifetime. No flat water charge will be imposed. We will be tackling leaks. Deputies O’Brien and McLellan will know that leaks are a major issue in Cork; this will be addressed by the Government. It is a challenging issue. We must look after the people who need to be protected but, equally, we must recognise that water is a precious commodity that must be preserved. We must all challenge attitudes towards the use and conservation of water. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to ensuring a fair charging model, which is important and necessary.
Deputy Tóibín of Sinn Féin likened the water charges to Mrs. Thatcher’s poll tax in the UK when he said the people of Ireland would treat this Government as those of the UK treated Mrs. Thatcher’s. They put Mrs. Thatcher back in government for three terms, and I hope they do the same with us, because we will be fair and honest. We have been up-front with the people, as the Sinn Féin Deputies should have been, but they have not.
Before all these young people in the Visitors’ Gallery leave, I will point out that they probably know more about conserving water than most of us in the House through the green flag system. I was recently at a school that received a green flag for water conservation. It is appropriate that there were young people in the Visitors’ Gallery while we were discussing this. They probably could have told us a thing or two we would not have known. I hope the debate was meaningful for them.
I am happy to speak on this motion, which requires a lot of debate. I agree with many aspects of the Sinn Féin motion, particularly in that it highlights the challenges we face in maintaining a secure and safe water supply. However, guaranteeing a safe and secure water supply requires sustained investment and, as we already know, water is very expensive to obtain, treat and deliver. An example of this is the Dublin system. It is estimated that approximately €1 billion is needed over the next ten years to keep the existing supply going. It is also recommended that between 10% and 20% is needed in reserve to deal with potential losses due to events such as the bad weather we had over the last two winters. A recent report by the RPS group about the Dublin City Council water supply states the water supply in the greater Dublin area is on a knife-edge. Projections show that demand will outstrip supply within the next ten to 12 years.
It is clear from that message that we need to do something about our water supply. Most people in the Chamber are in agreement with that. The most important thing we need is a co-ordinated approach to increased conservation and sustained investment if we want to tackle our current and future water supply problems. If we are to do that, we need money. Investment in water supply will cost money. Let us get real. We have a budget shortfall of €18 billion for this year. As a State, we currently cannot provide basic services such as policing, nurses and teachers, nor pay the salaries of the general public service. If we are to have an adequate 21st century water supply we need to find a way of achieving this, and it will involve some sort of charge. Everybody here must face up to that.
Deputy John Lyons: That is, from the previous Fianna Fáil Government, because it is responsible for today’s debate on water metering. We have been left with this legacy and we are trying to come up with a system that is as fair as possible. As the Minister himself said when speaking earlier, this is a fair funding model.
Any introduction of metering, which is going to happen, must be fair and must take into account those who do not have the ability to pay, such as those on social welfare. I believe an adequate general household allowance must be given to families around the country, and for usage over and above this we must operate on the “polluter pays” principle.
I would like to make four practical points, but I will not get into the general debate. I ask the Minister to note that one area in which we can tackle the water problem is our usage of toilets. In any household, toilets are probably the things that use the most water. I looked up the figures before I came to the House, and found that a toilet uses between 6 and 13 litres of water with every flush — I dare say most Irish toilets are at the upper end of that scale. If people were encouraged to install toilets that use less water, that would be one important way to conserve water.
I ask the Minister to consider, when meters are being installed, a system of rewarding people who install them on their own initiative. If there is any way of using untreated water for toilet systems, that might help with expenses. I appreciate there may be difficulties with this, but it might be worth examining whether water collected from roofs, for example, could be linked with toilets. People have traditionally collected rain water in barrels and so on, and the more we can make use of this the better. I know some work is being done on this by a company in Carlow and probably others.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Apart from the fact that water charges represent another imposition on already hard-pressed households, they will not, as claimed, address the major issues surrounding wastage. The generally quoted estimate for the amount of water lost between source and consumer is 40%. For my county this is much higher, at 48% in 2008. There is clearly an issue to be addressed, but surely the expected cost of €500 million or more to install household meters could be better used. If that money was spent on upgrading and improving the efficiency of the supply system, it would do much more to cut down on the amount of water being lost.
Much of the wastage that does take place is in commercial outlets rather than domestic homes. The last time I spoke on this issue in the Dáil, I cited the example of Starbucks in Britain. A number of years ago Starbucks, due to constant running of water taps, was wasting 1.63 million litres of water every day — the equivalent of the daily usage of a town of over 10,000 people. Undoubtedly, there are similar examples of commercial wastage here. This is something that ought to be tackled before additional charges are placed on domestic households, many of which would find water charges a major additional burden on their income.
I note from reading the Fine Gael Private Members’ motion that was debated here in January that it stressed the need to allocate central funding to investing in and weather-proofing the mains in order to tackle wastage. I also note that it was not suggested anywhere in the motion that households be metered and charged for domestic usage. In fairness, Fine Gael did state that it favoured water charges and metering in its election manifesto. The Labour Party, on the other hand, stated in its manifesto that it was opposed to water charges. It is clearly stated, “Labour does not favour water charges”. At least Fine Gael was honest about this issue. When the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, was asked about this in April, he claimed the origin of water charges, and the reason they have to be imposed, lay in the memorandum of understanding underlying the IMF-EU bank bailout. Again, that displays some honesty.
At least we now know this aspect of the Government’s policy is being dictated by external and unelected people. The same applies to the planned attack on wage orders and the joint labour committee regulatory system, the review of the credit unions and so on. Water charges have nothing to do with conservation or even local finances. They are all about finding more ways of extracting people’s hard-earned household budgets to pay back an unsustainable debt contracted on behalf of a small group of incompetent, and in some cases corrupt, speculators, many of whom will not have to worry about paying water charges because they have already scurried away to their tax havens.
The Fine Gael proposal in its Private Members’ motion last January to establish one publicly owned water authority also had merit. Sinn Féin would support the establishment of such a body, as long as it would be on an all-Ireland basis given the logic of managing this resource on a national scale rather than having it divided, as it is currently, among different authorities. We would also insist that such a single body would not be seen as preparing the way for the eventual privatisation of the water supply.
The McCarthy report did not explicitly call for this although it did recommend, in line with the EU-IMF template, that metering be introduced and referred to the emergence of a commercialised water sector. The report engaged in some convoluted philosophising about natural monopolies and how they are best regulated. It also recommended that when they are privatised, the State would adopt the same so-called safeguards as in Britain. These are supposed to protect security of supply and so on.
The report neglected, however, the historical fact utilities such as water were taken into public ownership in the first place. It was not because of any ideological imperative but because private enterprise could not make profits from a universal supply. To now sell off such utilities, having been built up over generations with public investment, would be immoral and a regressive step. It would also, as has been the experience in other countries including Britain, mean not only paying for water but paying for a worse service.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: The Sinn Féin Private Members’ motion affirms water as a natural resource, access to which is considered by most in modern society to be a basic human right, as well as the provision of adequate sewerage systems. When this debate concludes later this afternoon, however, we will not vote on the Sinn Féin Private Members’ motion but on the Government amendment to it. The constant stream of so-called Government amendments we see every week in response to Private Members’ business says everything about this coalition’s style of governance.
The Government parties have such little confidence in their positions that they are unable to debate Private Members’ motions robustly. If they do not agree with a motion, they should simply vote against it. Are Members opposite so uncomfortable to debate an issue, which causes many of them embarrassment, that they feel the need to run for cover behind an amendment which in effect is a separate motion in itself? It is about time that Members opposite found a conscience, got a bit of backbone and took the right course of action. Labour Members should do what they said before the election and support the Sinn Féin motion on water charges.
This motion is about basic human rights and the provision of a service which is vital to human life, one which all in this House must defend. It is not a right which should be sacrificed, like many other rights and entitlements, at the altar of the EU and the IMF, an altar which has become a convenient cover for this Government to justify the continuation of failed Fianna Fáil policies regarding slash-and-burn policies in the name of the troika.
Every day in this Chamber we hear stories about a dysfunctional health system, an education system that is leaving more and more children behind and a society in which carers have been abandoned. Ours is a society in which our jobless figures grow daily and where the number of people facing eviction and personal ruin rises weekly. At a time when people are desperately seeking a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, when they are praying nightly for some ray of hope, political representatives have an onus to act. More importantly, the Government has a moral responsibility to provide strong leadership and put the national interest above all else.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: While not knowing any of the personal circumstances of the Deputies from Fine Gael and Labour, it is safe to say they all live in relative comfort. None of them are lying awake at night worrying about when the next letter threatening to cut off the ESB or repossess the family home will be in the letter-box. This makes the feigned concern we hear all too often in this Chamber from some quarters all the more disgusting.
All we get is the same old mantra of how Fianna Fáil left such a mess that nothing else can be done but to implement its failed policies. I hear soundbites coming from the Government benches that painful decisions must be made as a result of the constraints of the EU and IMF bailout negotiated by the previous Administration. However, the only pain being felt is that by ordinary people. There comes a point where a Government must stand up for itself and the people it is supposed to represent. The provision of clean drinking water free from charges is one such point. The time has come for Members opposite, especially those in the Labour Party, to grow a pair and do what is right, not what they are told by their paymasters in Europe or Fine Gael.
If they need any reminder of what the right thing to do is regarding the austerity cuts being imposed on us by the EU and the IMF, they should recall their party leader’s words from December last year:
Deputy Dessie Ellis: Tá uisce an-tábhachtach do gach éinne. Caithfimid an tseirbhís uisce saor in aisce a chosaint. Tá formhór na ndaoine ag streachailt faoi láthair, seachas airgead breise a íoc. Is mór an trua é nach bhfuil na píopaíá deisiú againn. Sábhálfadh sé sin airgead agus uisce, in ionad brú maoine a chur ar dhaoine.
When he spoke out against water charges in the past the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, said, “Water charges are just another tax on workers, on top of PAYE, PRSI and levies”. He was right then and he is still right. Water charges are a tax on the poor and the working people of this State.
They are a double tax at a time when workers are paying more than could be considered a fair share to fund the black hole that is the banks and have been obliged to accept the dead end that is the EU-IMF deal. They are being introduced by the more-of-the-same Fianna Fáil-lite Government whose members sit opposite us.
The first line of the motion before the House, which was tabled by my colleagues in Sinn Féin and I, states that “access to water and sewerage services for domestic use is a universally recognised and basic human right”. Access to clean water on an equitable basis must be recognised as a fundamental right in any society. How can it be considered equitable that those who shoulder the largest burden in our economy — I refer here to the people who have faced the brunt of the cuts introduced to fund the banks and who the Government wants to continue to toil until they reach the age of 68 — should only be able to access water on the basis of their ability to pay for it? Does the Government really want to create a situation whereby families will be obliged not just to budget in respect of groceries, clothes, etc., but also to make decisions on which members can have showers on any given day or on whether the windows can be washed? Some Members on the opposite side of the Chamber might deny the possibility of that becoming a reality but when one in five people have only €70 left at the end of the month, how can they doubt that it will come to pass?
The residents of St. Teresa’s Gardens, Dolphin House and other estates and complexes, as a result of the State’s dedication to providing exorbitant profits to developers, must use water that has been contaminated with sewage. That is something one might expect to find in a Third World refugee camp. Will these residents be expected to pay for the luxury of running water? I accept that there is a need bring the wasting of water to an end. However, one will not find savings in this regard in the ordinary households of Ireland where water is an essential resource. They can only be achieved by overhauling disastrously poor and outdated water infrastructure which successive Governments have allowed to rot in the ground. Some 36% of treated water goes unaccounted for in Dublin City Council’s area of remit. If this figure is representative of the entire State, then according to the local government efficiency review group approximately 500 million litres of water go unaccounted for each day. If the Government expects to make water savings of that order from households, then a huge number of children and windows will go unwashed.
The Government has not made a major effort to introduce water saving technologies to houses throughout the State. If the ecological argument had any real place in the Government’s thinking, then introducing such technologies would surely have been the first step it should have taken. Since 2003, local authorities have drawn down less than 50% of the money offered in respect of such measures. When adopted, measures the type of measures to which I refer work. According to the local government efficiency review group, the variable speed drives that were installed at the Leixlip water treatment plant paid for themselves in under ten months, resulted in ongoing savings of €40,000 per month and reduced carbon emissions by 360 tonnes per year.
The working people of this State cannot afford another double tax. We cannot afford to allow our water infrastructure to continue to deteriorate by scapegoating those to whom I refer. There are very real and immediate savings to be made through the introduction of top-down water saving measures. We should not try to make savings in respect of every litre of water which struggling families can no longer afford but rather we should try to save the millions of litres that are being lost as a result of leaks in the system.
The Tánaiste was correct when he stated that water charges are wrong. I urge everyone in this Chamber to think of those who struggle to pay their bills each week. These people are hard-working and decent, and they are under great stress. Members should vote with those people and support the motion.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In supporting the motion I wish to address two main issues: first, access to water as a basic human right that is essential for life and health; and, second, the democratic right of the Irish people to determine how we should deploy our own resources and how we should pay for them.
The former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated: “Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right.” On 30 September last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, adopted by consensus a resolution affirming that water and sanitation are human rights. Recalling the recent adoption of a similar resolution by the UN General Assembly, the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council took an important further step in affirming that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity”.
We are fortunate in Ireland in that we have a more than adequate supply of water to meet all our individual and communal needs and to sustain highly productive agriculture and industry. Millions across the globe are faced with water shortages and the massive problems for human health and economic development that water poverty brings. The resources to address that form of poverty are available globally, as they are to address poverty in all its other forms. In Ireland, we also face challenges in ensuring that all our population centres, both urban and rural, are adequately supplied. I pay tribute to those across the country who are involved in group water schemes, especially those in my constituency with whom I am most familiar. Provision must be made — incrementally, if required — to relieve rural dwellers of the cost of paying for their domestic supply. All citizens, be they rural or urban dwellers, must be treated equally.
The motion focuses on water supply and water services as they affect the majority of the population. This is a well-balanced motion which recognises that water is a valuable resource that is expensive to treat and distribute and that everyone has a duty to conserve it. The Government, on behalf of the people, has a duty to guard and conserve water as one of our most precious resources. It also has a duty to ensure that people’s right of access to water is vindicated. The Government can do neither of these things — indeed, it abandons its duties — when it places this resource in the hands of profit-driven corporations. That is the thrust of this Government’s policy.
The Fine Gael and Labour parties are promoting the creeping privatisation of our most vital resource. This is evidenced by their preference for design, build and operate contracts with private companies in the area of water production and treatment services. If persisted with, this policy will lead to ever greater financial burdens on those least able to afford them. As with any privatisation, the bottom line is profit margin. Citizens will simply be required to pay more for basic utilities in order to ensure a profit for the corporations. When these ventures fail, the State will be obliged to foot the bill. The utilities to which I refer should remain in public ownership, paid for on the basis of progressive taxation, and should be provided to all as a right and maintained as basic infrastructure essential for economic and social well-being and development. The motion rightly points out that the money to be spent on water metering could instead be used to upgrade our inadequate water infrastructure in which successive Governments failed to properly invest.
I want to cite another water-related health issue. In reply to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, stated that approximately €4.78 million was spent in 2010 alone on the compulsory fluoridation of public water supplies in this State. Of this, €1.36 million was spent on hydrofluorosilicic acid, the chemical used for fluoridating water, €2.28 million on operational costs and €1.14 million on capital costs. The Minister of State said the Government has no plans to discontinue the policy of fluoridation. I deplore this position because there is sharp disagreement among scientists and clinicians regarding the fluoridation of water. While such doubt and dispute exists, fluoride should not be forced into public drinking water as it is by law in this State, which is one of the few nations in the world to do so. The Government should give people choice in this matter and save money by ending fluoridation.
As previous speakers indicated, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Gilmore, has an interesting record on the issue of water charges. In the 1980s he stated that “water charges are just another tax on workers”. Shame on him and his colleagues if they reverse one of the age-old mores of the Labour Party. I urge all Members, particularly those in the Labour Party, to support the motion tabled by the Sinn Féin Deputies.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: Mar atá a fhios againn uilig sa Dáil, inniu céad lá den Rialtas a bheith in oifig. Tá sé oiriúnach go bhfuilimid ag plé an rúin seo faoi tháillí uisce mar seo ceann des na flip flops agus na gealltanais atá briste ag an Rialtas agus a bhfuil Sinn Féin á cur i láthair inniu. Tá níos mó na 50 gealltanas briste ag an Rialtas. Cuirfidh seo isteach go mór ar an ghnáth dhuine, go háirithe ar dhaoine atá ar an ngannchuid.
Today is the hundredth day of Fine Gael and Labour in office. It marks 100 days of U-turns, broken promises and dashed hopes. The announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that the Government intends to introduce a household charge in January of next year, followed by water charges and a property tax in 2013, is one of more than 50 U-turns and broken promises identified by Sinn Féin this week.
While nobody is surprised that Fine Gael would bring forward proposals to introduce two new stealth taxes, what is surprising is the willingness of the Labour Party to acquiesce in this matter. At their annual conference only last year, the Labour Party, none of whose Members are in the Chamber, passed a motion reaffirming their opposition to the introduction of water charges. They committed the party to abolish water tax if in Government. They also committed to providing an adequate standard of water to every home in the State, funded by a progressive tax system.
Today, we face the prospect of a Government, involving the same Labour Party, proposing the introduction of a regressive water tax that Labour opposed only 12 months ago. Worse still, Labour look set to support a flat rate household charge, otherwise known as a property tax. Did the Labour Party not repeatedly state during the election campaign that they would oppose the introduction of a property tax? It seems that resolutions at party conferences and election manifesto commitments mean little to the Labour Party. After only 100 days in office they are sounding increasingly like their predecessors.
Sinn Féin, as outlined by my party colleagues, is opposed to water charges. We are opposed to them on environmental, economic and social justice grounds. The Minister says the main purpose of his proposed water tax is to conserve water. A more effective way of achieving this would be to invest in replacing the existing water system. In my own county, 50% of all water is lost through the system before it reaches the domestic households. Meters will do nothing to change this.
We all know that the metering of water has nothing to do with conservation but is another crude revenue raising measure demanded by the EU and IMF under the terms of the austerity deal. Like the regressive forms of taxation it will hit low and middle income earners hardest. These are the same people who are suffering rising inflation, interest rates and unemployment and, for those lucky enough to have a job, lower wages. The economics of such charges is obvious. Consumer spending will be further reduced as people will have less disposable income.  In turn, more private sector jobs will be lost. For those already living close to the edge of the poverty line, a further tax will push many over the edge.
I appeal to Fine Gael to listen to the calls we have made and to what their partners in Government said a couple of months ago. I will conclude with a quote from the Minister without portfolio, Deputy Brendan Howlin. He said, “It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of euro metering a leaky system”. Fair play. They are sentiments my party and I completely endorse.
Deputy Gerry Adams: It is entirely appropriate on the hundredth day of the Government being in office that we debate the introduction of water charges. Fine Gael pledged that it would not charge for water until a new water authority had been established and each home had been fitted with a water meter. This has now been set aside, like other promises, and a flat rate is to be imposed on every household, irrespective of consumption. The Labour Party argued against the introduction of water charges while in Opposition. Both parties said a flat rate charge would be unfair and both parties are now introducing a flat rate charge.
Ba chóir do Fhine Gael agus don Lucht Oibre a bheith macánta linn agus leis na saoránaigh. Níl anseo ach cáin eile. Bealach eile é seo chun cáin a bhailiú. Anois, ós rud é go bhfuil siad i gcumhacht tá siad ag déanamh an rud céanna agus a rinne an Rialtas rompu. Cá bhfuil an difríocht idir Fhine Gael, Páirtí an Lucht Oibre agus Fianna Fáil ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo?
Claims that water charges are about improving water conservation or the level of service are nonsense. This is a family stealth tax. The Government also plans to spend €500 million or more on installing meters. That money would be better spent on improving water distribution, cutting down on the amount of water, over 40%, that is lost through leaking pipes. Such a substantial investment would also create and retain jobs in the local economy.
Access to clean and safe water is a basic human right. Water charges are an unfair and entirely unjust form of double taxation. In the North, Sinn Féin blocked the introduction of water charges. The Government should abandon its plans to introduce these service charges. Sinn Féin believes water services should continue to be held under the operational responsibility of local authorities and in full public ownership. We also support the establishment of an all-Ireland water and sewerage authority to ensure that water quality and environmental standards are met and to facilitate co-operation across this island to reduce costs and maximise efficiency.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd): I thank the Deputies opposite for putting down this motion. I listened to the debate with great interest.
I must clarify some issues, for the benefit of everyone in the country. While water may fall from the sky, it does not get into our taps very easily. There are significant costs attached to the 956 separate public water supply zones in Ireland. Of those 956 public water supplies the Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is some risk attaching to 264 supplies and they are on the remedial action list. This means that steps must be taken to improve the quality of water. In many cases action must be taken with regard to cryptosporidium and the treatment of the water must be changed. It is very expensive to do that. There are, currently, 17 boil water notices in effect in different parts of the country and 18 other water restrictions are in place.
Water is a significant problem and it is important that we provide the best and highest quality water we can. The cost of that to a household is what the water charge will be. It is made very clear in the programme for Government, signed up to by both Fine Gael and the Labour Party, that there will be a free allowance. It is above the free allowance that there will be a charge. We are particularly conscious of the needs of low income households.
A 300 ml bottle of water with a bit of ice costs approximately €2.50 in a public house. Local authorities supply 1,000 litres of water to households for €2.50, about the same price as a bottle of water. Local authorities are providing an outstanding supply of clean water 24 hours a day and seven days a week. We are getting very good value for money. To improve our water supply and our waste water treatment, which is a significant and increasingly expensive issue, we must make up the difference in cost. In the last nine years, approximately €3.4 billion was spent on improving the country’s water supplies.
We want to continue that. This year I understand the budget is approximately €437 million. While it is less in absolute terms, we are getting more done for it. We need to get the money from somewhere. Notwithstanding the points Sinn Féin Deputies make, from where will the money come to improve our water supply system especially with the need to meet increasingly high standards required as a result of EU directives on water quality? It must come from somewhere and the only place to get it is from the ordinary household. Deputy Doherty can shake his head but this is the reality. We cannot all walk into a bank and get the money just like that. We need to pay for it and it must come from somewhere. Sinn Féin is avoiding the issue of where to get the money.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I am trying to answer the Deputy’s question. The money must come from somewhere and we believe it is reasonable and fair that every household should pay for the water after they have been given a free allowance to which it can work. Internationally conservation results from metering. I encourage you to go to your local authority and ask it to show you — as I did with my local authority — the effect of metering on commercial water supplies and how the volume used reduced significantly.
To run a safe water supply we need to raise the money and we need to do it fairly, which is what we are doing. I wish to make one further point — I will be responding to parliamentary questions later. The Irish water company to be set up will be State owned. Its establishment does not represent the start of privatisation of water services. The creation of that company and the introduction of a fair system of water charges based on usage will transform the provision of water services. In these difficult times we need to deliver our services and use our resources more efficiently. By delivering on commitments in the programme for Government we can ensure this will happen.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach éinne a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht ríthábhachtach seo. Labhair Teachtaí ar cheist na dtáillí uisce ag an staid seo. Bhí tuiscint cheart ag cuid acu ar an chúis gur chóir dúinn cur go huile is go hiomlán i gcoinne an cinnidh atáá dhéanamh ag an Rialtas táillí uisce a thabhairt isteach amach anseo. Is trua nár thuig Teachtaí eile an méid a bhíá rá againn maidir le cén fáth nár cheart iad a thabhairt isteach. There were some ill-informed contributions in the debate. I specifically refer to Deputy Nash who, bizarrely considering the constituency he represents, does not seem to understand the issue of water in the Six Counties. It is good to see there is a renewed interest in what is happening in the Six Counties among Fine Gael Deputies.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Mo leithscéal. It is even more appropriate that he is in the Labour Party, which has ignored what has happened in the Six Counties for many years. He was grossly mistaken in what he said because water is a very complex issue. However, we will forgive him for being confused on the issue. The reality is that if it were not for Sinn Féin there would be water charges in the Six Counties. We were the ones who opposed it and prevented it from being introduced and will continue to do so because we do not believe water charges should be applied anywhere on the island.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: That is no problem at all. Deputy Eoghan Murphy commenced his speech by stating that water is not a basic human right. I am happy to correct him; it is. The right to water derives from Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights and is recognised as such by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is the body charged with interpreting the covenant. If people are making statements in the Dáil they should at least have the basic facts correct.
The proposed charges are not about water wasters or conservation. The new Government is unashamed in this regard despite some attempts today to cloud that. The fact that water charges feature in the section of the programme for Government entitled “Fiscal Policy” says it all. The bottom line is that the Government wants to raise more money. If the Minister were to say “we propose to introduce a flat tax on every household in order to bail out private banks and foreign gamblers” that would go down like a lead balloon. The Government has done it anyway under the universal social charge, but I do not believe even it would try that trick a second time. Instead the Government tries to make it sound more palatable so it claims we need to protect the environment. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government was at the same trick because everybody wants to conserve the environment.
However, that begs an obvious question. Why not use the money that has been borrowed to install meters to fix the leaks and conserve the water? Currently up to 58% of treated water is being lost. More than 60% of local authorities lose more than 40% of treated water. That problem should be addressed rather than trying to raise money to pump into zombie banks or to pay back IMF loans we should not be paying back at all.
The Government is cynically using the promise of meters with a free allowance rather than being honest and acknowledging that this has nothing to do with conservation and is rather simply a revenue-raising mechanism. To this end it has promised charges will only hit those who waste water. Labour and Fine Gael spokespersons have advised people they will not suffer if they use water in a responsible manner. There are a number of problems with this contention.
First, a free allocation plus charges model is not permissible under the EU water directive, which mandates full cost recovery from the consumer. The only reason domestic users in this State are not charged the full whack upfront right now is because Ireland secured a derogation from the directive because we had an established practice of paying for water through general taxation. A meter free allocation plus charges model would constitute new and not established practice; and therefore we would quickly come under the scrutiny of the European Commission and would come under pressure to charge domestic users the full rate for every drop they use. The European Commission’s website clearly states under the terms of the directive: “Member States will be required to ensure that the price charged to water consumers — such as for the abstraction and distribution of fresh water and the collection and treatment of waste water — reflects the true costs.”
Annex 3 of the directive makes it clear that there is very little room for manoeuvre within or around this principle once it kicks in — in other words once we depart from our current practice which is explicitly exempted from it.
Neither this Government nor the last one which came up with the plan ever sought advice from the Attorney General, based on information I have received in replies to parliamentary questions and yet it continues to promote a water-charging model that may prove legally impermissible. It is happy to commit to spend €1 billion on installing meters which will be used to charge families for every last drop.
Second, even if a free allowance were permissible, which is not the case, as the Government’s austerity approach gathers momentum and the economy shrinks further it would be likely to be tempted and pressured by the EU and IMF to reduce the free allocation every year and likewise hike the flat rate volumetric charges every year. This is what has happened with other waiver schemes, including those for bin charges; they are reduced until they disappear altogether in some cases. I do not believe that the body the Minister proposes to establish is not in preparation for privatisation of our water supply.
The Minister stated in recent days that a free allowance in the region of 40 litres will be available, but the only figures available to the Department, which come from the national water study published 11 years ago, suggest that average individual use stands at 145 litres, a much higher volume. This, again, shows that any promise that only water wasters will be targeted by charges is a blatant untruth.
There is nothing fair about the funding model proposed by the Government in its amendment. The impact of the flat-rate volumetric charges on wealthy people will be negligible whereas it will undoubtedly force those already struggling on low incomes to go without essential water. It will undoubtedly compound the already stark divide between the health outcomes of those on low incomes versus those on high incomes. When canvassing during cold and dark evenings in February, I was struck by the number of people, especially the elderly, who were living in the dark and afraid because they did not have any money to spare to allow them to switch on their lights. They will not be able to turn on their taps if the Government has its way. The energy poor will shortly be the water poor if the charges are introduced.
That Fine Gael wholeheartedly adopted the outgoing Government’s approach to water and finance is no surprise. Ideologically, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are one. They like stealth taxes and privatisation. I was delighted to hear Deputy Buttimer comparing himself and the Government to the Thatcher Government. There is a lot of truth in that. The Government, with the likes of Deputy Buttimer, will show its true colours in the coming days and months. If it is making the aforementioned comparison, it saves me from doing so.
Despite the ideological stance of Fine Gael, many people expected much more from the Labour Party, especially considering the promises made and views expressed by key public representatives of that party on this issue. People will have seen the leaflet circulated by the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, in his younger days on water charges as a form of taxation. After the most recent general election, Deputy Tuffy voted against the adoption of the programme for Government, citing her opposition to the introduction of water charges as her reason. It will be interesting to see whether she troops in here later to vote against the Government’s amendment.
Last year, 24 Labour Party councillors from across the State, two of whom have since been elected as Deputies, namely Deputies John Lyons and Eamonn Maloney, signed a letter committing their opposition to water charges if elected. The letter refers to a motion passed unanimously at a Labour Party Conference in Galway at which the then councillors stated their opposition to the plans of the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to introduce water charges. These are the very same plans that the Labour Party is now proposing to implement. Very much in line with today’s Sinn Féin motion but completely at odds with the amendment proposed by the Government, the letter states:
One should remember the last Government had promised to introduce water charges before leaving office but thankfully had to leave very quickly. The problem is that we have a new Government that just carries on in the same way in office.
The letter also stated: “In the meantime we will continue to lead the opposition to water charges and privatization”. God love us, if we were waiting on the Labour Party to lead us in opposition. Considering its capitulation since entering office, we would be waiting a long time.
The body being proposed by the Minister will set the ball rolling towards taxation. This is already in hand through various mechanisms mentioned in this motion. Private companies are already in charge of the treatment of water and the disposal of waste water. That is a scandal. Water services should be under the local authorities’ control and there should be a body ensuring the standard is as high as possible and that there is co-ordination between local authorities.
The Labour Party has an opportunity today to live up to its pre-election, vote-securing promises. It was buying votes with those promises. Today I am putting it up to the three aforementioned Deputies and also the leader of the Labour Party. The party could be true to its word and voters by voting against the Government’s amendment on water charging. I commend the motion to the House. It is fair and constitutes the only proper strategy to address the problems associated with water. If adopted, it will ensure responsibility for the provision and treatment of water and the disposal of waste water will be held by local authorities and, therefore, held in the interest of the people.
|Barry, Tom.||Breen, Pat.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Byrne, Eric.|
|Carey, Joe.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Conaghan, Michael.||Conlan, Seán.|
|Connaughton, Paul J.||Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.|
|Costello, Joe.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|Deasy, John.||Deering, Pat.|
|Doherty, Regina.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Dowds, Robert.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Farrell, Alan.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzpatrick, Peter.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Griffin, Brendan.||Harrington, Noel.|
|Harris, Simon.||Heydon, Martin.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Humphreys, Kevin.|
|Keating, Derek.||Keaveney, Colm.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Seán.|
|Kyne, Seán.||Lawlor, Anthony.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|Lyons, John.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||McLoughlin, Tony.|
|Maloney, Eamonn.||Mathews, Peter.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Murphy, Eoghan.|
|Nash, Gerald.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Nolan, Derek.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Mahony, John.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Phelan, Ann.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ring, Michael.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Sherlock, Sean.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Adams, Gerry.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Collins, Joan.||Collins, Niall.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Cowen, Barry.|
|Daly, Clare.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donnelly, Stephen.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Ellis, Dessie.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.||Fleming, Sean.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.|
|McDonald, Mary Lou.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGuinness, John.||McLellan, Sandra.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Ross, Shane.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Stanley, Brian.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Troy, Robert.|
|Barry, Tom.||Breen, Pat.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Byrne, Eric.|
|Carey, Joe.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Conaghan, Michael.||Conlan, Seán.|
|Connaughton, Paul J.||Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.|
|Costello, Joe.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|Deasy, John.||Deering, Pat.|
|Doherty, Regina.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Dowds, Robert.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Farrell, Alan.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzpatrick, Peter.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Harrington, Noel.||Harris, Simon.|
|Heydon, Martin.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Humphreys, Kevin.||Keating, Derek.|
|Keaveney, Colm.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kyne, Seán.|
|Lawlor, Anthony.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||Lyons, John.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||Maloney, Eamonn.|
|Mathews, Peter.||Murphy, Dara.|
|Murphy, Eoghan.||Nash, Gerald.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Nolan, Derek.||Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Mahony, John.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Phelan, Ann.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ring, Michael.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Sherlock, Sean.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Twomey, Liam.||Wall, Jack.|
|Adams, Gerry.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Collins, Joan.||Collins, Niall.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Cowen, Barry.|
|Daly, Clare.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donnelly, Stephen.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Ellis, Dessie.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.||Fleming, Sean.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Healy-Rae, Michael.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.||McDonald, Mary Lou.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGuinness, John.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Brien, Jonathan.|
|O’Sullivan, Maureen.||Pringle, Thomas.|
|Ross, Shane.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Troy, Robert.|
|Last Updated: 08/03/2013 19:55:01||Page of 163|