by Enda Craig and James Quigley
Oireachtas report omits any mention of crucial European Law session
In this article we will again return to the question of Ireland’s 9.4 Exemption, the River Basin Management Plans and their inexplicable omission in the draft or final report of the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water when it concluded business in April 2017.
Anyone not acquainted with the importance of the above topics can read our article Michael Noonan 'Water Charges Required Under European Law' is a Lie or listen to the 30 mins video below or read the excellent legal opinions by Irish Senior Counsels, Conleth Bradley and Matthias Kelly, who, by the way, were invited to present submissions to the Committee by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, respectively.
This article zones in on the Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water debate on the 15th February, 2017. We draw your attention to the fact that the subject of the debate i.e the 9.4 Exemption and the River Basin Management Plans are of the utmost importance to the anti water charges’ campaign, that the debate lasted for a complete session and it somehow never got included in the final draft report or the subsequent final report of the committee. This final report was passed by the Dáil on the 13th April 2017 and will form the basis of any future legislation.
Report procedures and inconsistency
It could be the case that‘it’s the way they do business down in Dáil’, as we were informed by a R2W TDs on the Oireachtas Committee, however, as ordinary citizens, we can only take the explanation found on the Oireachtas website itself at face value where it says
″ On an ongoing basis Committees publish reports based on the meetings and hearings they have held″.
Ordinary citizens would instinctively know that any chairperson would include in their report such important matters that were debated for a complete session, especially one with top opinions from senior counsel.
However, this was not the case here. One would think that the Committee members, those opposing water charging, including Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, would be up in arms over such an omission, especially since they were responsible for inviting legal submissions in the first place.
Significantly, there wasn't even a whimper after the draft report was presented to the committee member on the 5th April, 2017, (sans any hint of 9.4 Exemption or the RBMP).
Understanding the sequence of events for reports
After all the meetings of the Oireachtas Committee had ended, it was up to the chairman Pádraig ÓCéidigh and his team to furnish a " confidential draft report". This report should have included and reflected the various topics that had been discussed during the committee’s private and public sessions. This procedure allows committee members to scrutinise the contents and then agree or not to a final report.
In this case a draft report was duly compiled and circulated to each committee member on the 5th April, 2017. After reading that report it would have immediately been obvious that any mention of one of the most important sessions, namely, the 9.4 Exemption and the River Basin Management Plans was not included.
Now would that not raise alarm bells?
If the R2W members or for that matter Fianna Fáil members had been genuinely fighting for the 9.4 Exemption as they professed during the 15th February session , they would have immediately taken steps to remedy the situation and insist that the draft report be rewritten to include the vital information.
This did not happen and as we have witnessed, when the draft report (without 9.4 Exemption) was circulated, unbelievably, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Mick Barry and Brid Smith headed for the media and claimed a great victory. This was followed the next day by a crowd of R2W TDs who again claimed exactly the same 'victory'. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael then rejigged a few words in the draft report during the following week and came up with a final report that again never mentioned the 9.4 Exemption or the River Basin Management Plan.
What are we to make of it
Flabbergasted at the short shortsightedness, appalled at the double-cross and wonder at why the wastefulness of the elaborate legal opinions especially in defense of the 9.4 Exemption.
However, such is our paranoia, we can not rule out that Ó Céidigh did include the February session, as per protocol, but for some reason it was removed by agreement of the Oireachtas members. Such was the secrecy of some parts of the committee sessions and the scarcity of information about what was going on especially from R2W that we are really at a disadvantage.
If we take it that Ó Céidigh and his team omitted the February session, then we might look at that as grounds for calling for a mismanagement of committee protocol and ask for the final report to be deemed null and void.
Another aspect of members not objecting or saying anything is how can R2W hold Fianna Fáil, or vice versa, accountable if neither objected to the omission or worse colluded in it.
That is depressing enough but what is worse is the lack of any credible answers from R2W, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and the Left despite being asked.
One response we came across is worthy of a mention though. That can be found in an unaccredited Right2Water Ireland revisionary article where, in relation to the ‘victory’ claim, it referred to R2W Oireachtas members as ‘Naive’.
Now if there is one description we would never use to describe Sinn Féin, it would not be ‘naive’. More like seasoned, wily, cunning, ruthless establishment politicians, cut from the same cloth as the rest down in the Dáil..
30 mins extract from the Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Water in Ireland - full debate here: https://oireachtas.heanet.ie/mp4/cr4/latest/cr4_20170215.mp4