Speech on water sector reforms

19th November, 2014

Motion re Water Sector Reforms

Statement by Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport



I would like to start by saying that the announcement made today on water charges shows that this Government is able to act, but also able to listen.


It has shown it is able to act by refusing to be blown off course by those from Fianna Fáil, who caused this mess, and those on the extreme left, who would make the mess worse. Both of these groups were united in the view that we can keep on ignoring the underinvestment in our water services, to the detriment of our economy and our environment. This Government does not hold that view, and has shown that today.


It has also shown that the Government is able to listen by addressing the very real concerns of many people that water charges, while necessary, must also be affordable and offer certainty in terms of what lies ahead. The charges must be accompanied by accountability and clarity of purpose, so that people see where their money is going and why it is being raised.


New package

I am acutely aware that any additional bill represents an imposition on many families that have been hit hard in recent years by job losses, negative equity, reduced incomes and all the other social and economic problems that this Government inherited and has a duty to solve.


However, today’s package means that the net costs of water will be €60 for a one adult household, which represents 30% of households across the State, and €160 for a household with more than one adult, representing the remaining 70%. These costs, which are capped, are equivalent to €1.25 or €3 per week, depending on the make-up of the household.


Payment plans and easy-pay options will be put in place to assist those who have difficulty in paying.


Further, this should be considered in the context of the changes made in Budget 2015, which saw reductions in the USC and changes to income tax rates, which will be seen in people’s pockets in the New Year.


Importantly, the package of measures also ensures that those who have already registered with Irish Water, and those who intend to, will not be at any disadvantage to those who have not. A distinction will be made between people who can’t pay and people who won’t pay. The incentive to conserve water remains, as does the disincentive to avoid paying.



The choice we face as a nation is to invest in water through the introduction of water charges or to allow an already dreadful situation with our water infrastructure to deteriorate further.


Let me explain by way of example.


My party colleague, Councillor Ray McAdam, in a recent question to the Chief Executive of Dublin City Council, was able to ascertain that Dublin City Council was responsible for maintaining 2,450 km of water mains.


He also determined that the grand total of five kilometres per annum of water mains were replaced in Dublin city between 1997 and 2007, with approximately ten kilometres per annum replaced from 2008 to 2013.


By my maths, that is approximately 100km of mains replaced in fifteen years from a total of almost 2,500 kms.  At that rate, it would take four hundred years to replace the water mains in this city alone. In the meantime, we would need to pay for ad hoc repairs that see both water and money go down the drain.


We cannot go on like this. We need to invest in projects like the water treatment plants at Ballymore Eustace, at Oberstown, at Galway. And in projects like the Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plan, the savings from which will account for the full cost of Irish Water’s establishment.



It would be remiss of me not to refer, during the course of this debate, to the disgraceful antics of Deputy Paul Murphy, and his apologist-in-chief, Deputy Ruth Coppinger, over last weekend and into this week.


Deputy Murphy, it seems, was driving around his constituency on the hunt for the nearest protest, got a phonecall that things were happening in Tallaght and hot footed it down to the scene, megaphone in hand.


He then decided he was the law of the land, imprisoning the Tánaiste in her car, inciting the mob and smirking as he did so.


This was followed on Monday by Deputy Coppinger making matters worse by condoning these actions on national radio.


The mask slipped this week. We saw what the AAA is really about. Anger, not answers. Slogans, not solutions.



In recent months, the headlines were dominated by those who, for their own political purposes, promote uncertainty and confusion and seek to politically benefit from that.


From today, those of us who wish to address the problems in our infrastructure, while reassuring people about the affordability of the charges and the accountability of those spending the money, have taken the initiative back.


And that can only be a good thing.