Freedom of Information appeal on Oireachtas Water Committee secret sessions turned down

by James Quigley

I know it’s not the most sensational story out there but it is worth recording and it's important that people  know the truth, the whole truth and not just the titbits that are thrown at you. Our initial Freedom of Information (FOI) request for details of over 30 private sessions of the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water was turned down on Sept 18th. Now our appeal of that decision has also been refused.

Committee Chairman Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.  Read Clouds of Suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption from Oireachtas reports.

Committee Chairman Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.  Read Clouds of Suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption from Oireachtas reports.

The ironic thing about the refusal to allow public access to the secret records of this public body comprising 20 TDs and Senators is that they are all public representatives, in a public body, dealing with a public mater and supposedly representing the public and there was not one thing that they were discussing that was of a sensitive nature.  

Part of their remit was to ensure the public are fully engaged in the process.  Yet they conducted business in over 30 secret session thus refusing access to the public to the most important part of their business,  the nitty gritty of the deals and voting of the members.

According to the committee secretary, Thomas Sheridan, the Oireachtas Committee members themselves agree what was or wasn’t to go into committee reports. 

In the end when the committee finally emerged from their last seven secret sessions in April 2017 the public had to endure the spectacle of claims and false claims from various committee members.  We were subjected to various reports none of which included any mention of the February 15th session, Ireland's 9.4 Exemption, the River Basin Management Plan.  Instead the reports included excessive charges, a pitiful water allowance, metering and acceptance of Irish Water.  All couched in vague language and subject to the whims of future government interpretation.

To this day the claims and counter claims are still going on. Especially in the last two weeks when the Water Services Bill 2017 was being discussed in Dáil Éireann. This Bill apparently is basedon the controversial recommendations of the special Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water.  It has now gone through it’s second stage in the Dáil.

Barry McCowen, Fianna Fail

Barry McCowen, Fianna Fail

What happened to the February 15th Session is like the Bermuda Triangle. It vanished into thin air sucked up into the vortex of Dáil Éireann. That full day of rhetoric, legal opinions from Senior Counsels, threats and claims from EU Commissioners, lofty arguments from questionable R2W representatives and Barry McCowen, that warrior of Fál, when he said in response to EU Commissioner Vella,  "I rest my case"

Was it all hot air, a mirage perhaps?

And what happened to the responsibility of it’s chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh?  Should he have made sure that each session of the committee was included in all committee reports for consideration when voting.  This was a question we put to him in an email.  However, we have not yet received a reply.

Presumably all of the twenty members on the water committee, that is,  if they were present at the time and not sleeping, know exactly what went on. Presumably all parties, that the twenty members represented were thoroughly kept up to date and know exactly what went on.

Yet the public who have by their opposition and mandate brought it about is kept out of the loop, not entitled to an explanation.

Once again we are, as we have always been the subject of political shenanigans.

As you can see from the FOI refusal (see below), the officials and by default the Government and all those committee members who have not been particularly honest, are hiding behind a bureaucratic loophole in section 127 of the House of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 that states that ″ Freedom of Information Act 1997 and 2003 does not apply to a record relating to a Part 2 inquiries and other committee business″.

In other words they will only divulge what they want you to know.  Even though there was nothing of a sensitive nature in the Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water other than the members themselves, what they agreed on and what they voted for.

We will of course appeal this decision and will relate the outcome in due course. Isn’t the public entitled to the truth.

 


Platitudes and bromide in Ireland's political scene

In this article Enda Craig reponds to Deputy Paul Murphy’s , short but altogether, unsatisfactory explanation on facebook yesterday that Solidarity did not support the removal of the 9.4 Exemption from the Oireachtas Water Committee’s report. 

by Enda Craig

Deputy Murphy’s response together with the lack of a credible explanation from those who we were led to believe were the ‘good guys’ like Solidarity, People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and Independents, to my serious accusations in Buncrana Together, When the Dust Settles where I accused representatives of doing deals in the Oireachtas Water Committee and selling out the anti water charges movement, brings up thoughts of just what these Irish politicians mean when they talk about ‘Peoples’ Power’, ‘Mass Movement’ or ‘Grass Roots’.

When it comes to platitudes from the left in Ireland be it Solidarity, PBP or those in the somewhat more hazy left or right category, Sinn Féin, it baffles me what they mean.  Especially when I believe that the ‘grass roots’ are looking for some honest answers. After all when it comes to people's power, honesty and information is the key. 

You know, to my mind, this is not far away from the bromide one hears, all too often, from the mainstream parties such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil when they say they are working hard on behalf of the nation, or constituents or to quote an often Sinn Féin cliché, ‘we have a mandate’. Euphemisms like these are really for keeping the masses in the dark, clichés to give people the impressing that their opinions count and platitudes to hide what they really want or are doing, like the opposite, acting in their own self interest. But the masses, so long as they are controlled, are needed every so often to march up and down O’Connell Street or every four years at election time.  It is condescending.

Murphy’s reply

″Solidarity did not support the removal of the reference to 9.4 in the Water committee report. We opposed the Water Committee report for various reasons, including the charging for 'excessive use' and the retention of Irish Water as a commercial entity. Our position was well explained on the Committee and in the ongoing Dáil debate on the legislation. Regardless of the legal situation, we believe that if people organise to oppose the imposition of charges in the future, it can be defeated and the law turned into a dead letter, just as it has been for the last 3 years″

 

This is an answer Sinn Féin could just as easily come up with. Even Fianna Fáil on the face of it were against Irish Water and Water Charges but behind the scenes both conjured up ‘excessive charges’, metering and the establishment of Irish Water.

What Mr Murphy or indeed any of the Right2Water TDs did not answer was to explain in detail why subsequent to the Oireachtas Committee debate on January 15th, 2017, in which two Senior Councils advocated the retention of the 9.4 Irish Domestic Water Exemption, that no mention of this can be found in any report, especially the ‘Confidential Draft Final Report’.

This is the report Solidary and R2W TDs fully accepted and supported when Deputies Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Brid Smith and Mich Barry spoke on video on the night of April 5th 2017 when they rushed to be the first to announce to the world a ‘victory’ for the Anti-Water Charges campaign.

 

Solidarity and People Before Profit speaking outside Dáil April 5th 2017

Mr Murphy might care to explain his enthusiastic comments on the video that ‘there will be no excessive usage charge’. I would think we deserve an answer to that especially in light of their failure to explain Sinn Féin’s behind the scenes deals with regard to ‘Excessive Charges’’ or indeed Right2Water Unions agreeing with them in the Oireachtas Committee.

In relation to his comment that″Solidarity did not support the removal of the reference to the 9.4 Exemption in the committee’s report″,  I am not aware of anyone making that specific accusation. My contention was that the 9.4 was never included in the report in the first place and no one complained about it. An altogether serious reality.

I would like Mr Murphy to show me detailed evidence that he fought tooth and nail, subsequent to the legal debate on January 15th , to have the 9.4 Exemption included in any Committee report. A bland statement like ″our position was well explained on the Committee and in the ongoing Dáil debate on the legislation″ does nothing to clarify his actions in relation to accepting a report with proposed progressive charges in the place of the 9.4 Exemption. The details of his attempts to retain the 9.4 and to have it included in the committee’s report are now required to justify his so far unsubstantiated claims that he did fight for them. Murphy’s claim regarding his position to the 9.4 is not documented anywhere, as far as I am aware. I would like to be proved wrong.

Just to be precise the time-frame I am referring to is subsequent to the January15th session and up to when the Committee’s Confidential Final Report was published on the 5th of April.

I spoke to the Oireachtas Committee secretary, Mr Thomas Sheridan, on the phone and his reply was confirmed in writing to Michael Mooney that after each session the Committee members would meet in private session and decide and agree which parts of that session would be included in the Oireachtas Committee report.

The most critical of all decision to drop the 9.4 Exemption and any mention of the January 15 debate and replace it with 'progressive charges' was made at that point.  It is not unreasonable to think that if there was a deal done behind their backs,  Mr Murphy or any of the R2W TDs should have raised hell at that point.  They should have explained to the anti water movement what was happening during all those private sessions.  And they should now explain why the 9.4 Exemption to water charges was left out of any report.  After all how can you have an 'Exemption to Water Charges' and all that it entails and what we now have 'progressive water charges' at the same time.  That is a contradiction.