Water Committee’s many unanswered questions

by James Quigley

In my last article I asked  should the chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh  have ensured that each session of the committee was included in all committee reports.  I said that that question was put to him and that we did not receive a reply from him. It turns out my article wasn't wholly accurate.

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Chairman

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Chairman

Michael Mooney, Communities for Ireland’s 9.4 reminded me that he wrote twice to Mr Ó Céidigh in August this year  and he received not one but two replies.  Neither reply, however, was directly from the chairman himself.  Rather they were sent indirectly through the committee secretary, Tom Sheridan. (see all letter below)

Michael pointed out that in a second email he informed the secretary that he was annoyed that Mr Ó Céidigh did not reply personally, in the first place.  Hence the secretary's second reply.

However, apart from the etiquette question,  what Mr Sheridan's replies in fact does is point out that both he and the Chairman Mr Ó Céidigh are in agreement.

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This answer speaks for itself.  The responsibility is now laid squarely on the members themselves and puts the onus on them to give us an explanation, firstly whether they agree with the committee secretary or not and secondly, If they agree and it would be amazing if they didn’t, then,  they have to explain why they did not include any mention of February 15th session and in particular the 9.4 Exemption in any report.  Did they replace the 9.4 Exemption or Ireland's  ‘Established Practice’ with excessive charges and metering?

One of the reasons we dwell on this is because we have not got an adequate explanation to date from anyone.  We have to determine who was responsible for setting the agenda for any of the committee’s reports.   This is a highly significant line of questioning.  Depending on the Oireachtas member's explanation, their answer will shed light on procedures and in particular why there was a total omission of what we believe to be the central and most significant session of the whole committee, namely February 15th session.

Not only does it question the bona fides of those who professed to be acting in the interest of the majority of Irish people opposing Irish Water, water charges and metering but it has the potential to question the administration of the committee itself and by extension the farcical end result.  This by the way includes Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Solidarity/PBP, Independents and Senators.

 

Original query from Michael Mooney

Dear Mr O’Ceidigh,

I am aware that you were appointed independent Chairman of the Oireachtas Comittee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water in Ireland which is now disbanded. I followed this with great interest but it ended with some disillusionment.

I understood that it would be an independent chairman’s responsibility to record and report on all significant contributions to the committee and as a result of this I have a query.

During the meetings which were both held in private and public you obtained input from senior counsels. These were Matthias Kelly and Conleth Bradley who are regarded as experts in European Environmental Law. You permitted their input, as you believed or stated that it would be of the ‘utmost importance’ following some objection from Colm Brophy TD. These people were invited by Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail to contribute their legal opinion on Ireland’s compliance with the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD). Their contribution extended over at least one full session around mid-February 2017. In their legal opinion, they confirmed that Ireland was in compliance due to a practice already established of paying for water. This established practice forms an exemption which leaves Ireland in compliance with the EU WFD via Section 9, item 4 or as commonly referred to Exemption 9.4. This is a significant piece of information and my query is;

Why was this omitted from the confidential draft report that you furnished?

I look forward to an urgent reply on this matter. Please confirm receipt of this upon arrival and advise if you can reply within 7 days and maximum 14 days.

 

 

First letter from Oireachtas secretary

25 August, 2017

Dear Mr Mooney,

I refer to your recent message to Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh regarding the Report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services.

In the course of its deliberations, the Joint Committee considered extensive information from a large number of stakeholders (received both in writing and in oral evidence at meetings), regarding a range of matters relating to its brief. Transcripts of the meetings of the Joint Committee along with a large amount of other information are available on the webpage of the Joint Committee at the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas (www.oireachtas.ie).

It was not the objective of the Report of the Joint Committee to re-produce all of the information that was considered. The content of the Report, which is mainly comprised of the Joint Committee’s recommendations, was agreed in detail by the Members over a number of meetings and approved by them in the normal manner.

The Joint Committee ceased to exist following the conclusion of its work at its final meeting on 11 April of this year, and the subsequent submission of its Report.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Sheridan
Committee Secretariat

 

Second letter from Oireachtas secretary

28 August, 2017

Dear Mr Mooney,

Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services

I refer to your message to Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh dated 20 August regarding the above matter, to my reply of 25 August, and to your subsequent message.

I replied to your message to Senator Ó Céidigh as the person who was the Clerk to the Joint Committee during its deliberations. This is consistent with normal practice.

Having considered both of your messages, Senator Ó Céidigh does not wish to add anything to my earlier reply.

Please contact me if you have any further queries regarding this matter.

Yours sincerely,
Tom Sheridan, Clerk

 

Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water - A Collusion in Secrecy

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by us on the 8th September 2017 to the FOI Co-ordinator, Oireachtas Service, has been refused by Mr Thomas Sheridan, Clerk to the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services.

by James Quigley

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We requested information on 21 private sessions, including voting preferences and agreements of members of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services that concluded business in highly controversial circumstances in April this year.

We asked the FOI Services for

“all submissions, records and minutes of all Private Sessions and any information other than was made public through the Oireachtas site, relating to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, that took place between 13th December 2016 and 11th April 2017.

We believe there were 21 meetings in total and all had private sessions and submissions that were not made public.

We believe we have a right to know what took place in our name, who voted for what and what is the actual truth of events during those proceedings.

We are particularly interested in the 15th February 2017 sessions and all the 10 'Private Sessions' between 28th February 2017 and 11th April 2017.”

Mr Sheridan replied

″I have reviewed your request, and have considered all of the records to which you refer in the context of the specific provisions in the Freedom of Information Act 2014. Arising from that review, I do not believe that any of the records to which you have requested access falls to be released under the Act, as the Freedom of Information Act 2014 does not apply to those records. ″

(Read Mr Sheridan’s full reply here)

 

Facts kept under lock and key

So other than an appeal of Mr Sheridan’s decision, (costing €30), it seems we are not going to be made any the wiser about the many private sessions of the water committee. We suspect that there were many private deals done between individual Oireachtas members and parties, such is the nature of the sordid political game.  We know we will not unearth that information, other than some honest member with integrity divulging it.  However, we should expect openness and transparency especially in any public representative body such as an Oireachtas Committee and it is a shame and indeed it is ‘fingers up to democracy’ when such a simple thing like knowing what our representatives agreed to or voted on, is being kept under lock and key.

What we do know is the fact that the most important session of all, that of February 15th, including the highly significant paragraph 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive, never got into any final committee report.  (see references)

 

Mr Sheridan sheds light on secrecy

The collusion of all members of the committee in this secrecy and what can only be described as the deliberate omission of the Irish Exemption or any reference to the February 15th session was corroborated in a phone conversation between Thomas Sheridan (Oireachtas secretary) and Enda Craig (Buncrana Together) two weeks ago when Mr Sheridan revealed that contents of reports by the committee was discussed and agreed beforehand by the committee members.

If Mr Sheridan's explanation is the case then surely the corollary to that is that any omissions were also agreed.

 

Chairman gone AWOL

For a fuller picture of this overt 'collusion in secrecy'  it might be interesting to know that a letter was also emailed a month ago to the 'independent' Oireachtas Chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh asking why the February 15th session was completely omitted in any report.  We have not receive a reply yet.

References:
The dilemma of paragraph 9.4, our democracy, the Oireachtas Water Committee and Right2Water Ireland

Clouds of suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption in Oireachtas Water Committee report

Michael Noonan 'Water Charges Required Under European Law' is a Lie


Ceann Comhairle refuses Mick Barry, AAA/PBP, respond to Government handpicking chair of water committee

A row broke out in the Dáil today during a debate on the 'Establishment of a Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services'.   Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail suspended the session for five minutes after refusing AAA/PBP Mick Barry finish a point of order.  The full debate can be read here,  however,  to get a full picture it is best toread the previous item 'Order of Business',  bottom page 20 for further controversy.

Mr Barry accused the Government of 'pulling a really sly one on the water charges committee'.  He said that the Government with support of Fianna Fáil chose Pádraig Ó Céidigh to be chairman of the proposed committee.  Mr Barry said: “Let’s be clear on what’s going on here. This is an attempt on the part of the government with support on the Fianna Fáil benches to pull a sly one on the issues of the water charges committee.”

He said that in a previous committee on housing, the chairperson was not appointed by the Government after some “backroom conversations” with Fianna Fáil but was elected.  What is being proposed here is the Government will pick the chairman of the committee."

That was as far as Mr Barry got.  The Ceann Comhairle interrupted him andeventually suspending the session.

The objections, however, were not only about the Government handpicking Pádraig Ó Céidigh for the position as chair.  It also involved the way it handled the 'Order of Bussiness'  which the Government changed to allow the motion on the water committee to be brought forward.  

A Sinn Féin motion to allow the special Oireachtas Water Charges Committee pick its own chairperson was defeated by the Government with the support of Fianna Fáil.

The Dáil voted to establish the special Oireachtas committee 93 to 38.  This committee made up of 16 TD and 4 senators will discuss a report, due out next week, from a Domestic Water Commission which the Government had already set up.  Incidentally this was another controversial issue in the long sage of Water Charges.  Many in the Anti Water Charges movement believe that the outcome from the so called 'independent' commission is a foregone conclusion.

Minister Coveney hopes that the Oireachtas Select Committee will deliver it's recommendations sometime around end of March 2017 after which there will be a Dáil vote.