Water Services Bill 2012- Second Stage Speech- 14.02.2013

In welcoming the legislation to establish Uisce Éireann under Bord Gáis to replace the 34 existing authorities dealing with water provision I acknowledge the good work done by local authorities and the professional expertise of their staff and members’ commitment. I also acknowledge the work of the group water schemes across the country. I support the establishment of Uisce Éireann as a way to achieve economies of scale, have joined-up activity, access funding and investment and, because of the particular expertise of Bord Gáis, implement a national charging system which is unavoidable to provide sustainable funding. The state of the public finances has left us with no option but to reduce the capital outlay on water provision in the coming years and this will remain the case into 2014. This vehicle will address that need.
I support charging for water and agree with the previous speaker on the fantasy economics proposed by Sinn Féin. One cannot avoid realities. One has to find the money somewhere and cannot provide services without it. Sinn Féin will have to give us costings and figures to show how it would achieve its proposals. We will avoid waste and reduce the extraordinary 44% level of leakage. Charging will make for more intelligent use of water. This fits with education in schools.

I am a firm believer in the domestic allowance and suggest it is important to put a sensible, not extravagant, domestic allowance in place to ensure everybody will have access to the basic supply of water, after which it is reasonable to charge. People will accept this. Under the new arrangement, we will have a better chance of attracting inward investment to the country, maintaining existing industries and so on because it makes a real national commitment to the provision of high quality water. The independent regulator will ensure reasonable costs. It is expected that the metering process will create 2,000 jobs.

Speaking on this issue a few days ago my colleague, Deputy McLoughlin, mentioned the need to maintain the involvement of local councillors. I support that view. In his closing contribution will the Minister of State respond to the suggestion of putting in place regional fora, like the health fora, to involve county councillors and local authority representatives in an advisory capacity because their input in the past was good? They would need to meet only periodically. Will he also respond to the question about staff? In its report suggesting the establishment of Uisce Éireann PricewaterhouseCoopers stated 2,500 staff would be needed. Some projections suggest that when contractors are brought in, the number will reduce. What does the Minister of State envisage in terms of voluntary redundancies? How will local government continue to pay staff if the grants go directly to Uisce Éireann? I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could answer the question about staff comprehensively. I would also like the point about local government involvement to be addressed. The transition will last until 2017. Council staff will continue to be involved until then and some will move over to Uisce Éireann. I am concerned about their long-term position.
We have a duty to provide quality water nationally, with security of supply for an expanding population. This cannot be done without investment and no representative should address this question without saying from where that will come. We owe it to the electorate to suggest we believe in the process to supply the best water and say where we would find the money if we do not believe in charging directly.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website