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.

 


Fianna Fáil TDs divided over party’s position on water charges

In today's Irish Times article by Sarah Bardon 'Fianna Fáil TDs divided over party’s position on water charges',  are we once again witnessing the slippery slope of Irish politics and politicians speaking with forked tongues? 

It will be interesting to see how and if Fianna Fáil wriggle out of their commitments to the Irish electorate.   Maybe they know something about the outcome of the secret Commission on Domestic Water charges due out this month and are now gearing themselves for a sea change and softening the blow by drips and drabs - good cop, bad cop sort of thing? 

Let us remind all those Fianna Fáil dithering TDs, Councillors and members who seem to be unclear of their party's commitments on the Water Charges issue, to read their party's 2016 election manifesto Here and all the consequent leadership promises to abolish Irish Water and Water Charges. 

Fianna Fáil's promise is clear to us and all those who voted for them specifically on their commitment to abolish Irish Water and Water Charges.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said many members of the party did not know what the party's policy on water charges was.  "We are trying to be on both sides of the argument."

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said many members of the party did not know what the party's policy on water charges was.  "We are trying to be on both sides of the argument."

Irish Times - Fianna Fáil TDs divided over party’s position on water charges
November 1, 2016

by Sarah Bardon

Fianna Fáil TDs are unable to agree on whether the party’s policy is to suspend or abolish water charges.

The Irish Times has spoken to a number of TDs who have divergent views on what the party’s stance is.

The party’s housing spokesman Barry Cowen is currently holding consultations with individual TDs and Senators on the issue.

Mr Cowen said the aim was to ensure members were fully aware of the policy and to assess any concerns.

“This is an exercise in ensuring they are prepared for the process as it unfolds, and obviously if people have concerns I want to hear them.

“The aim is to unite the party behind our policy on water charges because the expert commission is due to report soon.”

Fianna Fáil’s general election manifesto committed to abolishing Irish Water and water charges.

However, at the launch of the manifesto in February, party leader Micheál Martin said it would be a five-year suspension and the position would be reviewed in 2021.

Last month the party made a submission to the expert commission examining water charges which signalled a shift in their position. It said water charges could not remain and it would support their abolition. This was repeated by Mr Martin in a radio interview.

Mr Cowen insisted there had been no shift in the party’s position since the general election.

“The submission to the commission should not be seen as an absolute position. We are committed to the end of the water charging regime but accept their reintroduction may have to be re-examined, but only when the water system is fit for purpose.”

Abolition

Asked what they believed the party position to be, some TDs, including Dublin West TD Jack Chambers, Louth TD Declan Breathnach and Dublin South-West TD John Lahart, repeated the position articulated by Mr Cowen.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry, Meath West TD Shane Cassells, Roscommon TD Eugene Murphy and Kerry TD John Brassil said they believed the party was in favour of outright abolition.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John McGuinness said many members of the party did not know what the policy was. “We have been caught out on water charges because our policy is not defined. We are trying to be on both sides of the argument.”

Mr Brassil said there seemed to be “confusion” over whether the party was in favour of abolition or suspension. “I understood the charges would be suspended for the lifetime of the next Government and it would be up to any future Dáil to reintroduce charges. That is what we have campaigned on.

“What Barry [Cowen] is saying is we haven’t changed position but when we were asked for a submission for this commission we said we wanted to abolish them,” he said. “I am a member of the party so if we adopt a position I will live by it. But I do not see the logic in having a substantial investment for water metering and just saying we are not going to use them.”

Mr MacSharry said the party’s position was abolition. “That is the position in our submission and repeated by the leader. If that is not the position I certainly have not been told about it and it is a matter for the parliamentary party to discuss.”

Mr Cassells said the party’s position is “crystal clear”.

He said: “The submission speaks for itself. We have suspension and we are working towards abolition as a permanent solution to water charges.

“There has been no ambiguity on this from our perspective. If people in the party are unsure they should come to us.”

Reintroduction of charges

Mr Chambers said he accepted different terminology had been used by various members of the party. However, he said he believed the policy to be suspension of the levies for this generation.

This view was shared by Mr Lahart, who said he did not believe a Fianna Fáil-led Government would reintroduce charges.

As part of the confidence and supply arrangement agreed with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil secured the establishment of an expert commission to examine the future of water charges. It was due to report back by the end of November but there is some speculation it will come sooner.

Mayo TD Lisa Chambers and Wicklow TD Pat Casey said there were diverse views within Fianna Fáil about water.

However, all TDs were in agreement that water should be paid for. Roscommon TD Eugene Murphy said he believed general taxation should be the source of funding.

Many of the party members said they believed the party should have fought for a “household” charge where property tax, water charges and waste services would be paid for.

Many TDs, speaking off the record, admitted they were not consulted before the party made a submission to the expert commission.

One long-standing TD said: “The first we heard of it was when we read it on the front of The Irish Times.

“And no matter what you are told by party headquarters, it was one step further

than what we had said before and a definite change in our general election manifesto.”

Source: Irish Times, Nov 1, 2016