Water Services Motion- 19th November.

Today our Government is responding to the people’s concerns and continuing to show leadership. Both are equally important. First of all, we are responding by establishing affordability. This will come in the form of a net €60 for a single person dwelling or family and a net €160 for a dwelling of more than one person, in other words, €1.15 per week and €3 per week respectively. That is affordability clearly established.
The allowance of 21,000 litres per adult child will remain where it is relevant and for the future. The price of water has been reduced by 25% to €3.70 per 1,000 litres. Where a person is only using water or sewerage the charge will be halved. All households now have certainly until the end of 2018. Another important aspect is that if a boiled water notice is in place there will be a 100% rebate for the duration of that boiled water notice. This addresses the legitimate concerns of the many people who were on the protests with sincere and decent motives. Of course, it does not address the concerns of those participating in thuggery around the imprisonment of the Tánaiste last weekend. That type of protester will not be satisfied with today’s outcome, but reasonable people will see this as meeting their concerns.
It is worth noting that 815,000 people have registered already, indicating that there is buy-in to the whole concept. All people wanted was for the matter to be sorted out. People wanted the question of affordability sorted out. They wanted the issue of bonuses addressed. That was clearly addressed yesterday by the board and it will be the subject of independent scrutiny. These are significant attempts to meet the concerns of the people.
Another important point is that in the case of a mixed house, that is, a shop and living accommodation, the old arrangement involving the council charge will apply in the commercial section of the house while the new charge will apply in the dwelling end. Again, that addresses the relevant needs. All of the concerns of the people are addressed in these measures.
How are we showing leadership and responding today? We are showing leadership by not ignoring and failing to walk away from the facts, including: that 20,000 people are on boiled water notices in this country; that there is 100-year-old piping in areas of the country and a major issue with bad leaden piping; that sewerage is entering lakes and rivers, presenting health and safety issues; and that there remains a need for inward investment and the attraction of inward investment to create jobs, but this cannot materialise if we do not have a reliable and sound water service. For example, during last year’s web conference we had 20,000 valued visitors in our city and the water almost went off. This has been much cited but it is relevant. That cannot be allowed again. We cannot have half of the expensively treated water in our system leaking away. It cannot be allowed to continue. These are the issues that need addressing.
All of this begs the question of what has been happening thus far? What has happened to the money? What has happened with taxpayers’ money? Up to now the country has been spending €1.2 billion to maintain the system, but we still have a level of leaks up to 49%. We have been investing and I am satisfied with the level of investment in my constituency. However, if we did not set up this semi-state utility we could not access the money off-balance-sheet that will be needed in the next ten years to go on and create a state-of-the-art service and water system. This is a necessary exercise. This is what leadership is about rather than walking away from the problems, as cited earlier by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. We are not walking away; we are showing leadership and facing the matter straight, head-on and we are dealing with it. No other system, nothing else, is acceptable.
It is extraordinary that people on the left can come into the House and suggest that they oppose the concept of paying for water as well as the property tax. Despite this, they say we should broaden the tax net. We cannot broaden the tax net if we do not take on the question of water charges. We are almost the only country in the OECD at this stage that is not doing it. We cannot broaden the tax net if we do not do that or put in place a reasonable property tax. We are broadening the tax net. From the limited economics that I studied I understood this was a left-wing or socialist concept and that it was acceptable to the left for a government to broaden the tax base and have more people paying. I understood the thinking on the left was that this would create equity and that the government in question would not have an over-dependence on narrow direct income tax. There is a tremendous inconsistency and dishonesty in this regard. There is also a dishonesty in the view that we should have services of a given quality and a given quality of life without facing up to the facts that money simply does not grow on trees and that funding must be secured in the most equitable way possible.
My proposition is that we should accept and endorse the plan brought forward very well, thoughtfully and responsibly to the people by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. We should endorse the plan as one that achieves affordability, reason and that addresses the difficulties people have had. At the same time the plan will ensure that we will have a modern water supply in future, that the health of our people will be secure, that we will be attractive for inward investment and tourism and that we will have a good quality of life and a quality environment. The people who oppose this may look to Scandinavian and northern countries and maintain that those countries have great services, but those countries have high taxation. They cannot have it both ways. This is reasonable and I believe people should be big enough to accept that it is reasonable.

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