Yesterday Deputy Healy continued to raise issues at the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services.
- Following up from previous meetings where he was informed that the metering programme would cease on 31 January 2017 I asked Irish Water for confirmation that the water metering programme had stopped and that contractors had been instructed to stop installing meters as of yesterday?
- He asked why Irish Water has no local offices or officials that the public can engage with directly?
- He asked why the public weren’t being notified re interruptions to water supply or planned maintenance by way of radio advertisements or leaflet drops?
- He also asked why Irish Water were cutting off supply to premises without notice or why they are cutting off supply at all?
He will as always keep you updated.
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.
I will be supporting this motion (“That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation.”), indeed, I have signed it. People power strikes fear into the heart of the establishment. That is what has been happening over recent years through the Right2Water and Right2Change protests. Hundreds of thousands of people have protested locally and nationally over two years. They have brought about circumstances in which three out of every four people are refusing to pay water charges. Water charges are an austerity tax and represent double taxation.
At every hands turn, the establishment was expecting the movement would go away. It has not gone away. Last Saturday week, the marching of tens of thousands of people in Dublin sent a very strong message to the establishment, the Government and Fianna Fáil that we want abolition, not suspension. We want Irish Water abolished and a referendum to enshrine public ownership of water into the Constitution. Privatisation is the objective of the Government, as it was of the previous Government. It is the objective of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party and it has to be stopped. The agenda has been driven nationally and from Europe. We are now in a position in which a majority in this House is for the abolition of water charges. We should abolish them now, and do so through this motion this evening.
As I stated, the water tax is an austerity tax and is double taxation. It is particularly difficult for ordinary people, those on low incomes and those on social welfare payments. The majority who say they are opposed to water charges have an opportunity to vote in favour of this motion, which has been tabled by Sinn Féin and many Independent Deputies.
I stood in the recent general election as a Right2Water and Right2Change candidate and have been involved in the movement since the initial stages. I congratulate all water campaigners around the country who in the past two and a half or three years stood up to be counted. Hundreds of thousands of people went out onto the streets. Community campaigners, anti-metering protestors and those who fought Irish Water on every street and estate and in every village, town and city stood up to be counted. They also stood up to the political parties. People power has won its first victory against water charges. Those involved have forced the political parties to retreat. The emerging deal – a fudge – is the first victory as the Government and Fianna Fáil have been forced to back down, but they did not do so voluntarily. They did it under the pressure exerted by people power. A word of caution to everyone involved in the campaign: he or she should stay organised and continue to resist metering. The political parties are treacherous and may attempt to reintroduce water charges. Today’s bad tempered rant by the caretaker Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, may be an indication of what is to come. If we stay organised and continue to resist metering, however, water charges will be dead and buried.
As we have said from the beginning, water charges are unjust and represent double taxation. They were the straw that broke the camel’s back among people who had been devastated by austerity, in particular low and middle income families. A motion on the Order Paper that has been signed by 39 Deputies calls for the abolition of water charges and the enshrining in the Constitution of the public ownership of water infrastructure. It should be debated urgently, but, unfortunately, Fianna Fáil has agreed with Fine Gael to prevent that from happening. I appeal to Fianna Fáil, the Members of which where elected on a pledge to end water charges, to allow the motion to be tabled and voted on, as there is a majority in the House in favour of abolishing water charges. Irish Water must be abolished as it has been a disaster for ordinary people. We must also ensure the many people who paid their water charges under duress – the elderly people who were afraid and people who were ill and worried certainly did not pay voluntarily – will have their money refunded. It is important that the legislation underpinning domestic water charges is repealed. I appeal to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to allow the motion on the Order Paper to be debated and voted on so as to put water charges and Irish Water to bed once and for all.
Change was in the air on Saturday last as 80,000 people took to the streets of Dublin demanding the abolition of the hated water tax.
Right 2 Water campaigners including Deputy Seamus Healy, from all over County Tipperary joined the pre-election demonstration organised by Right 2 Water, Right 2 Change.
The huge turnout on the last Saturday before the election sent a clear message to the outgoing government that public anger at water charges remains unabated and will be reflected in the ballot boxes on Friday.
But it was always clear that the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets of our towns and cities over the past eighteen months have not just been protesting against water charges.
Water charges have been the tipping point for many people – but they are just one manifestation of the austerity policies pursued by the outgoing Government and the previous Fianna Fail/Green coalition.
On Saturday we also heard from two homeless women who took to the stage with their children to tell the crowd what it’s like to be denied one of the most basic rights in a civilised society: a secure home in which to raise a family.
So far, 106 candidates including Deputy Seamus Healy have signed up to the Right2Change Policy Principles – the principles which would underpin a new progressive Government.
This coming Friday, February 26th, people in every constituency will have a chance to vote for one or more ‘Candidates4Change’. Another Ireland will become possible on polling day”,
Seamus Healy TD