Speech to the Dáil on Sinn Fein’s Domestic Water Charges Private Members Motion

This motion has given us the opportunity, yesterday and tonight, to hear everyone’s views on this issue in a much calmer environment than we had eight to 12 weeks ago and to talk it through. There is much common ground here. If we get tonight’s vote out of the way and people do what they have to do, we have nine months ahead in which we can discuss this and see if we can focus in on the common ground, where there is consensus.

Most speakers I have listened to on all sides of the House agree with the concept of having greater and more investment in water infrastructure. It is very clear that we all agree on that point. Everyone agrees it should be in public ownership. There is total agreement in that regard although there are different discussions on whether we should charge for it and who pays for it. Some are totally against the concept of charges because of genuine beliefs. I totally accept and understand that. Others are against them for other reasons. It is hard to accept that, but that is fair enough. Many people here are against privatisation. I listened to Deputy Gino Kenny. That was not and is not our agenda but I accept that the Deputy believes that it is. There is a bit of work here for us to explain that it is not the agenda and to work on that. That is fair enough and we accept it.

In six or nine months’ time, if Deputies want to vote to get rid of Irish Water or water charges, that can happen. The Deputies can have that vote. The process was set out by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, last night. We will have a commission that will assess information. We will share with a committee that reflects the make-up of the Dáil and is not controlled by anybody. All of us have an equal say in it and then we will have a vote in six or nine months’ time. Perhaps we could use that time when there will be no charges, because they will be paused in a couple of weeks’ time, to analyse the data, go through all this, listen to the experts, both from Ireland and all over the world, listen to our own committee members, listen to new Deputies from all backgrounds and parties, and Independents, and then have a vote on it in six or nine months’ time and make a decision then.

In the meantime, we should respect each other’s position on this and understand we have different views. The shouting and roaring has got us nowhere in the past four or five years. I accept that people oppose this purely on the way the previous Government brought it in. We accept mistakes were made but we should park all that and have the conversation. Is it right or wrong? Has Irish Water provided any useful service? I believe it has and that massive improvements have been made. The facts indicate we are saving nearly €40 million a day because of less leakage. That is a benefit which we should regard as a good achievement by Irish Water. If Members want to say Irish Water has done some bad things, fair enough. We should analyse them but there is a process in place now to bring a shape to this, achieve consensus, get agreement on some parts of it and see where we go in the coming months.

I firmly believe in the concept of a single utility to drive this agenda. Others might not but if we listen to everybody’s views, we might find that we all believe in that. I was on a council and the debate was not very functional in terms of who would have water when it came to a county boundary and so on, never mind wastewater and charging. We are talking about counties charging each other to deal with wastewater in a small country like Ireland.

There is a good deal of common ground here, so we should put aside political differences and see if we can get a solution to this because there is an opportunity in terms of whether to charge for water or not but there is also the question of gaining investment. This was not just about making money or privatisation. It was about conserving water and making sure that people think before deciding what to do with their water. I accept most people probably use water in the correct fashion. They do the right thing because it is very expensive. Others choose to wash their car or do other things with it. That is not the best choice to make in terms of using water that is treated by the State using taxpayers’ money and other charges. A charging regime might force people to think twice about that. Other countries have no access to water. I want to be clear. We do not charge people for rain water. People are charged only for water that is treated, on which we spend a fortune. In many cases, that water is equivalent to Ballygowan in that the same cost is involved. That is what we charge for.

The final point I would make, and Deputy Fitzmaurice made it earlier, is that one way or another everybody is paying for water, either through direct taxes, indirect taxes or charges. The metering has other benefits separate from charges, so I would defend metering till the cows come home. One way or another, we are paying and we should not fool people by telling them they are not paying for water because they are and we should analyse that as well.

Members talk about 90% ofpeople voting against Irish Water. They did not. That is an over-simplistic view of the election. People voted for many reasons. People in rural Ireland have been paying for water all their lives. People in rural Ireland did not just vote for this Government, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil or Independents. They voted for a mix of us all and yet they are paying for water in most cases. Members should not tell me that people just voted in the election to get rid of Irish Water. That is not a true reflection of the election.

I respect every Member’s mandate and the percentage of the vote they got. Anybody who got involved in the formation of this Government had a role in terms of policy influence and so on—–

—–but we had to respect the percentages. We got approximately 25% of the vote – 50 Deputies. Did all of those people vote to keep Irish Water? If the Members opposite believe they voted for them to get rid of it, that is the opposite to what we believe.

Our vote is respected as well. Let us tease out this issue and this House can decide in nine months’ time in a normal manner.

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