Deputy Healy asks the Taoiseach the following questions with regard to the introduction of the water charges:
“Where water is not fit for purpose, such as in the case of the 18,000 families subject to boil water notices like residences in my constituency served by the Burncourt regional water supply scheme, will families be charged for water?”
“Where hard water is supplied and is corroding electric kettles, shower heads, washing machines and dishwashers, as is the case across the northern part of Clonmel, will the families be charged for water?”
“A huge number of premises will not be metered before the introduction of the charges. How will the bills for these families be calculated?”
“What will be the free water allowance? Will larger households get a larger free allowance of water?”
“Where individuals have special needs for extra drinking water, will the extra amount be free?”
“Will individuals with medical conditions requiring frequent use of toilet facilities, for example those suffering from incontinence, prostate problems or Crohn’s disease, be provided with extra free water for sanitation?”
Deputy Seamus Healy: The Water Services Bill provides for the introduction of water charges and it was guillotined and bulldozed through the Dáil before Christmas. It was supported by the Labour Party and a Labour Party Tánaiste who built his career on opposition to water charges.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: Now he is cutting the property tax.
Deputy Seamus Healy: Be that as it may, in a few short months we will have water charges imposed by this Government. There are many unanswered questions and I hope the Taoiseach can provide answers to the House and the public this evening. Where water is not fit for purpose, such as in the case of the 18,000 families subject to boil water notices like residences in my constituency served by the Burncourt regional water supply scheme, will families be charged for water? Where hard water is supplied and is corroding electric kettles, shower heads, washing machines and dishwashers, as is the case across the northern part of Clonmel, will the families be charged for water?
A huge number of premises will not be metered before the introduction of the charges. How will the bills for these families be calculated? What will be the free water allowance? Will larger households get a larger free allowance of water? Where individuals have special needs for extra drinking water, will the extra amount be free? Will individuals with medical conditions requiring frequent use of toilet facilities, for example those suffering from incontinence, prostate problems or Crohn’s disease, be provided with extra free water for sanitation? These are some of the many questions still unanswered. The public and the House have a right to know the answer to the questions. I hope the Taoiseach answers the question.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Seamus Healy has made the case for the introduction of Irish Water or the Irish water board. In 2014, we cannot continue with 18,000 families having to boil water and having boil water notices issued to them on a regular basis. That is not on anymore. We cannot have a situation where up to 1,000,000 homes are the subject of intensive inquiries from the Environmental Protection Agency because of the inadequacy of the water system, nor can we have 40% of water produced, which the people pay for, leaking into the ground. As an example, some 60,000 litres of water leaked away from one house in Galway last year. This is not sustainable.
Given the extent of rainfall we have naturally, this should not be the case. If people are not in a position to consume the water that flows through the pipes, it cannot be allowed to continue. In the next couple of weeks, the Government will bring to the House the financial and structural model under which Irish Water will operate and it will include a very clear analysis and presentation of how this will operate, the extent of the charges that will apply, the follow through on the use of an allowance of water and the charge thereafter. The Government has taken this into account. It is in the interests of Irish Water being able to operate as a semi-State entity and being able to borrow money on the open market for real investment in the network of piping that is being retained in public ownership so that people do not have to boil water and so that we do not have 1 million houses under threat and so that businesses can say they will have an adequate supply of pristine, high-quality water. In all my time in here, I have listened, year after year, to people speaking about leaking pipes, asking why there is not a national scheme to fix it once and saying that, for a country that is able to build the rest of the world, surely we should be in a position to provide adequate water for people, consumers and businesses. This is putting in place a structure to carry us through the next 50 years. That is the reason for Irish Water and the financial and structural business model will set out all the details in the coming weeks.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: What about group water schemes?
Deputy Finian McGrath: Like the Cabinet, it is full of leaks.
Deputy Seamus Healy: As usual, the Taoiseach has answered none of my questions. I asked policy questions for the Government, not questions for Irish Water, the regulator or anyone else. We can only assume that, by refusing to answer questions, the Taoiseach is kicking the issue down the road beyond the local and European elections. Is the Taoiseach aware of the European right to water campaign, which believes that water is a human right, as does the United Nations? The campaign includes 1.5 million European citizens who have signed a petition calling on the European Union to legislate to ensure all member states vindicate the right in laws. The vindication of the right is an obligation of sovereign governments. Will the Government support the call of the 1.5 million European citizens for an EU directive enforcing the principle? Will the Taoiseach instruct the Government’s representatives to be present at European Parliament hearings on 17 February and to support the call? Will this country be shamed again like we were in 2010, when the previous Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party abstained on the issue at the United Nations?
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Was Deputy Finian McGrath a member of the Government at that time?
Deputy Finian McGrath: No, I was not there that time.
The Taoiseach: I accept the Deputy’s challenge in the assumption that this will be kicked out beyond the local and European elections. I have always been a believer in explaining to people what is involved so they know in advance.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: Was that a conversion over the weekend?
Deputy Micheál Martin: What will it cost?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy can take it from me that the Government will before the local and European elections present its business and financial model so people can know what is involved in the very same way as we determined the property charges.
Deputy Seamus Healy: The Taoiseach has answered none of the questions.
Deputy Michael Noonan: So those opposite will have to stop making up stories.
The Taoiseach: The fact that something becomes a human right does not mean it is always free. The Deputy’s assertion is that this is some kind of political camouflage that will end beyond May. Deputy Healy can forget that, as the matter will be dealt with upfront and in advance so that people will know about it. The business and financial model to be produced here in a couple of weeks will set out the structure, method, allowance and the charge that will apply, so everybody will know in advance what it will be. The Deputy should understand that the charges which drive this are in respect of the Irish consumer and not Uisce Éireann, the people who work for Uisce Éireann or anybody else. This will be driven by consumer needs and requirements.
We are talking about providing an opportunity for the next two generations to have a system and supply of water that stands up to the needs of a modern country. We cannot go on with the business of 40% of produced water leaking into the ground. We cannot stand on doorsteps and say that we are so incompetent that we must continue to boil water or that 1 million homes are under threat because of irregular and inadequate supplies. It is time to end all that and put in place a basis for a supply of water of which every person in the country can be truly proud. The charges will be driven by the requirements of the consumer and not anybody else.