Senator Mary White: This morning, I attended a senior citizens residents’ association meeting near where I live and a key issue for the people attending related to charges, including property tax and water charges. These are two unfair taxes on people who are not well off. This reminds me of Mrs. Thatcher’s poll tax debacle and it will have serious consequences for the Government in the forthcoming Election.
The Irish Water utility has been an unmitigated disaster for the Fine Gael/Labour Party Government. Fianna Fáil believes in a clear, new policy for the future. First will be the abolition of water charges, but we will provide an alternative. The botched implementation of the water charges regime by the Government has shaken public trust in the quango that is Irish Water. This is evident from the fact that 57% of households have not paid. Fianna Fáil calls for the immediate abolition of charges. Domestic water charges should only be introduced when our national domestic water infrastructure is brought up to international standards and is in accord with the key three tests relating to water quality, supply and leakage. Fianna Fáil will ensure there are no charges in the lifetime of the next Government. Fianna Fáil will abolish the super-quango that is Irish Water. Fianna Fáil consistently opposed the creation of Irish Water and the controversy over consultancy costs, bonuses and overstaffing at the super quango has borne out our fears.
What proposals does Fianna Fáil have? It proposes that responsibility for domestic water be returned to local authorities. In the same way, the NRA has been able to develop our national road infrastructure under the local authorities, our national water supply will be developed. The Fianna Fáil proposal is for a new, slimmed-down water infrastructure company with 100 staff in respect of which the Oireachtas will have control over consultancy costs and there will be no bonus structure.
In regard to water infrastructure for the 21st century, the upgrading of our infrastructure to ensure it is fit for purpose must be a national priority. This will ensure we have a supply that is safe, reliable and adequate for homes, business and industry. I am embarrassed when I hear about the situation in Roscommon, where the water is not fit to drink. I cannot believe this is the case. This is symbolic of the mess and incompetence in certain areas of our economy. Fianna Fáil proposes a major capital investment programme – over a period of 13 years dating from 2015 – to meet the ideal targets. This programme will be funded via the Strategic Investment Fund, private bond issues, European Investment Bank and complemented by general taxation. The total cost for the abolition of Irish Water will amount to €216 million. Savings in wages will ensure this will be made up within five years and will bring an end to the throwing of good money after bad.
In regard to the total cost of Irish Water in 2015, the set-up cost was €172 million, water meters cost €540 million, loan interest on water meters was €25 million and company wages and administration amounted to €45 million. The total cost, therefore, was €785 million. The programme has been a total disaster. It crucifies people on low incomes who must pay for water and pay charges. As was mentioned earlier, Fine Gael has been true to form in looking after the better off in society.