The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services met most recently on Wednesday last, 25 January 2017.  I continue to raise many issues of public concern regarding our water services and to insist that important issues such as the need for a constitutional amendment to ensure protection of water services from privatisation be discussed.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): It was suggested that we should not have been discussing this issue, but it is wholly appropriate for this committee to discuss a constitutional amendment. We are discussing the principle, not the specifics, which are for another committee to address. A constitutional amendment is the only certain protection against privatisation of water services, so the suggestion that the currently stated view of political parties and individual politicians that they are not in favour of privatisation represents a guarantee against it is almost laughable.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): Does the Deputy have a question or is he making statements?

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): That was a statement made by another committee member.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): I am trying to move on.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): So am I.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): In fairness, I want to allow other members to contribute.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): The statement does not stand up. In the witnesses’ view, is a constitutional amendment the only certain protection against privatisation? Is it not the case that any current protection, whatever it might be, can be changed by an Act of the Oireachtas?

There appears to be a difference of opinion on the alienation of assets. Is that in itself not an indication that a constitutional amendment is the better way of proceeding? If the departmental and legal views at this meeting differ, is it not clear that the only way to achieve certainty is by way of a constitutional amendment?

Do the Minister and Ervia have voting rights in Irish Water? I am seeking a “Yes” or “No” answer to my next question. Is Mr. Ó Tuathail satisfied that a constitutional amendment would not in any way affect current group water schemes?

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): I thank the Deputy, but my understanding is that some of his questions have already been asked by Deputy Murphy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): They may have been.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): Is that the case, Deputy Murphy? I could be wrong, but Deputy Healy asked five questions, the last two of which had not been asked previously. I will ask our guests to answer each of them,—–

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): Please do.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): —–but I believed that three of them had been answered previously.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): I do not believe that they were the same.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent): The Deputy may be correct.

Mr. Séamas Ó Tuathail: As to whether a constitutional amendment is the only way—–

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): The only certain way.

Mr. Séamas Ó Tuathail: I would say “Yes”. As to whether any other protection can be removed, I would say “Yes”. As to the difference of opinion, I will not comment. That has already been said. The Ervia question is for Ms Graham. As to whether I am satisfied that an amendment would not in any way affect existing rights, “Yes” is the answer.

Ms Maria Graham: I can only refer to my statement, in which I said that we had sought to maximise the protections within the existing legislation. The Minister has recognised the sincerity of the proposals being made and the concerns that have been raised, and he is open to a work-up of proposals. For that reason, the Bill was not opposed and it was suggested that it needed legal and technical scrutiny when on Committee Stage.

A constitutional protection is always higher than a legislative provision. We have discussed the issues with wording.

Regarding voting, Ervia is owned by the State and Ervia owns Irish Water. Ervia has the voting rights, not the Minister. Rather, he has the economic rights. However, there is a range of provisions under the legislation for which ministerial consent is required. The Minister also gives Ervia what is called a shareholder’s expectation letter, which sets out the range of activities that he, as the shareholder in the State company, expects Ervia to perform. That involves a number of metrics and is common to the NewERA family, as it were, those being, ESB, Gas Networks Ireland, etc.

That would set out a range of things to do with dividend policy, water policy, and energy policy, etc. While the Minister does not have a voting right, there is obviously a policy construct within the legislation, within the NewERA legislation, and within the specific ministerial consents that are set out in legislation.