I welcome the opportunity to support this motion proposed by Fianna Fáil yesterday evening. Irish Water got off to a very bad start in that we saw the proposals for a new layer of bureaucracy, particularly the amount of money paid to consultants, including the bonus payments mentioned, which would be funded by water charges on householders and businesses across the country. We were told by the Minister that the initial charge would be €240 per household and that there would not be a standing charge, but there is a major question mark about whether other payments will arise. There is no indication either of the way in which more than 1 million unmetered houses will be charged.
The Government has been committed to water charges for over three years and it is time to clarify the full cost to each householder. An overall clear plan is needed for upgrading the network. The issues of conservation and a regular safe supply of water are important. We should be assured of the supply. Business and industry need a consistent, high-quality supply for the creation of jobs and to attract new investment.
The water shortages in Dublin highlight the need for a regular safe supply of water. There has been talk of a 16% leakage rate in south Dublin, a 60% rate in Kerry and a rate of 40% nationally. That highlights the need for serious investment in the network and in the mains. Water services now cost €1.2 billion per annum, with €200 million provided by commercial water ratepayers. We need a full upgrade of the current system, following which we could have equity in water pricing.
Good work has been done on water supplies at local authority level but they have not been able to provide water to more isolated rural areas. There was an urgent need for a group water scheme movement, which is particularly strong in Galway. Committees have been set up in Galway, Mayo and other western counties to identify a supply of water, collect money and get grants from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, sometimes from the European Union Regional Development Fund, to bring water to homes and farms. There was a charge for people who went out to do this work. They would sometimes try to get a supply from a local authority but more often they would have to go to an alternative supply such as a well or a river. These group schemes were set up and, in fairness to the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, he gave a 50,000-gallon subsidy towards these group schemes, which is something the previous Labour Party Minister forgot about when he abolished water charges.
We have had a domestic allowance and a subsidy to ensure equity with the public water schemes, but the issue of the unmetered houses has not been addressed. In the past there was pressure on group water schemes to have their schemes taken over, but with these new proposals on charges, water schemes will not be as keen to join a public scheme. These committees find it difficult to recruit new members, and we must remember there is a huge amount of voluntary work in the organisation and maintenance of group water schemes.
There are questions and uncertainty about the future. I saw an article in today’s Metro Herald newspaper about what will happen in two years’ time. Everybody is talking about what will happen in two years’ time. The Minister talks about an average payment of €240 for two adults and two children. We have asked questions about households with a third child or an elderly person but have not got answers. Deputy Maloney was right when he referred to people washing cars with drinking water. What happened to the rainwater harvesting projects? Fianna Fáil put money into those projects in the past. The former Minister, John Gormley, with whom I was a Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, had a project in a school in Mayo and a farm in County Meath. These issues have not been developed.
I tabled questions to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on meters and leaks, and one reply stated that where the leak has been identified as being within the boundary of the property under the 2007 Water Services Act, the repair of the leak has been and remains the responsibility of the individual householder.
Questions arose last night on a television programme about finding leaks, and it was interesting that the Minister’s reply stated that where a leak is identified on the public water mains, the repairs are undertaken by the local authority acting as an agent of Irish Water. Local authorities that have lost many of their staff must now be agents for Irish Water. It is time we clarified some of these issues, including the question of the free fix, which was not answered last night on “Prime Time”, and are given answers about what is happening.