Cabinet approves Water Services (Ammendment) Bill 2016, a paradox

Read outline of bill below and how Buncrana Together's sees this Bill and Government action as a paradox.

Juno McEnroe, Political Correspondent writes in the Irish Examiner, June 15, 2016

Bill to suspend water charges passed by cabinet

Legislation to suspend water charges has been agreed by the Cabinet. From June 30, homeowners will no longer be sent bills for at least nine months.

Terms for a commission to examine the future of charges as well as that of Irish Water are also set to be finalised next week.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney brought details of the legislation to suspend charges before his Cabinet colleagues, which will be published later this week.

The particulars of the Water Services Bill were essentially agreed between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil during the government formation talks and specifically the ‘supply and confidence’ agreement.

A Government spokesman yesterday said charges would be suspended by June 30. But a spokesman for Mr Coveney said this was not conclusive as the date would depend on when the legislation passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Under the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil deal, charges will be suspended for nine months while a commission examines them. Its recommendations will then be referred to an Oireachtas committee. The Dáil will then vote on that committee’s final recommendations.

Mr Coveney has already indicated that the period of suspension could be longer than nine months. This would likely be the case if the commission or committee’s work did not finish during that time.

Original article; Irish Examiner, June 15, 2016


Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016

 

The bill and its passage in the Dail can be read or downloaded here.  Below is an explanation in full which can also be found at the aforementioned link.

General

The Water Services Act 2014 provided for a revised domestic public water charging system, which commenced on 01 January 2015. Irish Water began charging in respect of dwellings receiving its services from 01 January 2015, with quarterly bills issuing from April 2015 for the previous quarter (e.g. customers received a bill in Quarter 2 2015 in respect of Quarter 1 2015).

This Bill provides for the suspension of domestic water charges for nine months, from 01 April 2016 to 31 December 2016, to provide time for an extensive deliberative process to be undertaken on the funding of domestic water services.

Firstly, the Government will establish an expert commission, which will make recommendations on a sustainable long-term funding model for the delivery of domestic water and wastewater services by Irish Water.

Secondly, a special Oireachtas committee on the funding of domestic water services will then consider these recommendations and endeavour to make its own recommendations. Finally, the Oireachtas will consider and vote on these recommendations.

Financial Implications

The suspension of domestic water charges from the beginning of Quarter 2 2016 to the end of Quarter 4 2016 will result in customer revenue losses for Irish Water requiring additional Exchequer subvention in 2016.

Due to the suspension of the 2016 Water Conservation Grant, for which €110 million was originally allocated, the net additional cost of suspending water charges for nine months is unlikely to exceed €20 million in 2016.

Section 1
Definitions
This section sets out the definitions for terms used in the Bill.

Section 2
Suspension of domestic water charges
This section provides for the suspension of domestic water charges (except for connection charges) for a period of nine months, commencing on 01 April 2016. The section also provides for a prohibition on Irish Water billing domestic customers for water services between the commencement of the Act and 31 March 2017 (i.e. the billing period for 01 April 2016 to 31 December 2016), or at any future time, in respect of the nine month period of suspension.

The section also provides that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government shall extend the nine month period of suspension by way of Ministerial Order for a further period if he or she is satisfied that an Oireachtas committee, established to examine the issue of funding of domestic public water services, will not conclude its work by 31 March 2017.

The Minister may also extend the suspension, by order, to enable the Government to consider the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

Under the section, Irish Water shall be prohibited from billing domestic customers for water services during any period of extension of the suspension of water charges (i.e. any period of suspension beyond 31 December 2016), from the commencement of the Act to 31 March 2017 (i.e. the billing period for 01 April 2016 to 31 December 2016), or at any future time.

The section also provides that Irish Water shall not include the period of suspension of domestic water charges in calculating the time period of unpaid water charges, for which a late payment charge applies.

Section 3
Short title
   
This is a standard provision to provide for the short title.

An Roinn Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil, Meitheamh, 2016.


Buncrana Together
 

We have major reservations about this bill and any commission that is set up.  See our other articles for details, here and another here.   We see these events as a ploys used  to defuse anger and opposition to Irish Water and Water Charges and as a political maneuver by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail  to suit their respective right wing party interests.

This Fianna Fail and Fine Gael deal and its implementation, in regards to the Water Charges issue is something of a paradox.  Not only has the Irish people clearly made their opposition felt in the General Election in February 2016 but also we now have a minority government, Fine Gael,  implementing the agreement and the other party to the agreement, Fianna Fail,  on the sidelines letting them take the initiative.  Apart from little whimpers from Fianna Fail individual party members, Fine Gael's Simon Coveney is in control of the 'Terms of Reference'.

 This anomaly is more striking when you think that Fianna Fail promised and was given a mandate to abolish both Irish Water and the Water Charges.  This was clearly a 'Core Principle' in their pre-election manifesto.

Irish Water and Water Meters

The confusion is further compounded because Irish Water Ltd is still in existence.  This much hated and derided company is being funded by the very people who want rid of them, the Irish people.  How many times have we heard from Fianna Fail TDs and even some Government Independent Ministers criticiseIrish Water Ltd and callfor this 'Quango' to be abolished.  

Imagine Irish Water is still happily sucking the public financial well dry, (see Irish Water appoints Jerry Grant to top job ).  It is ironical and sinister that the system of installing water meters is still in full swing amid all this confusion.  Is the Government presupposing the outcome of what we see as a loaded 'Commission of Experts' which is included in this bill? 

Arrests, Imprisonments, 

Suspending water charges and in the interim continuing with their related  services and installation begs many questions.  But the most sinister question is why is Fianna Fail acquiescing to the Government's draconian policy of arresting demonstrators, bringing them to court and even imprisoning them (see our article Two elderly water charge protesters remanded in custody)  .  Why are these measures continuing and why is the Government spending fortunes pursuing this policy? 

Anti Water protesters were arrested and handcuffed in Tyrellstown, Co Dublin on June 15, 2016.  They were released the same day without charge.  Click photo to view video.

Anti Water protesters were arrested and handcuffed in Tyrellstown, Co Dublin on June 15, 2016.  They were released the same day without charge.  Click photo to view video.