In the Dáil yesterday, during Leaders’ Questions, Independent TD Paul Murphy asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny how many Irish Water bills have been paid so far.
He suggested that the rate of non-payment was higher than the Government expected.
Mr Kenny told Mr Murphy to get the information from Irish Water.
He added he wasn’t going “to spoonfeed” Mr Murphy, before saying: “I advise [Mr Murphy] to toddle along to the audio-visual room at 4pm where Irish Water will give him the answers to any questions he wishes to ask.”
Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger asked: “What is the point of Leaders’ Questions then?”.
Mr Kenny replied, “To tell you where to go.”
Several deputies asked Mr Kenny to withdraw the comment.
He didn’t and the Dáil sitting was suspended.
Paul Murphy: “Irish Water has issued almost 1 million bills, 592,000 of which have passed their pay-by dates. How many water bills have been paid? What is the rate of payment and non-payment? I suspect there is much more non-payment than the Government hoped. Otherwise, the Taoiseach would be shouting from the roof-tops that people were accepting the charges and we would not be faced with the bogeyman of legislation that is always just around the corner but never arrives.
On 3 February, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the legislation would be ready in the next couple of weeks. More than a couple of weeks later, on 25 March, he told the Dáil it would be introduced in a few weeks’ time. A few weeks have passed, and yesterday, he told the Dáil it would be enacted before the House rises in July. At this rate, Godot himself may ramble by before any legislation comes before the House. Is the delay deliberate? Is it part of a dishonest plan designed to scare people and cynically timed to happen at the same time as the bills are dropping into letter-boxes? Is it intended to created the impression that it will enable Irish Water to reach into people’s wages, benefits or pensions and deduct water charges, ably assisted by sections of the media?”
“The impression is untrue. It is clear the Irish Water cannot and will not be given any such power. According to the Law Reform Commission report, Irish Water is a company; it is not the Revenue Commissioners. It would have to go to court to seek attachment orders. We have been here before. In the 1990s, people were taken to court for non-payment of water charges and were threatened with disconnection. There were protests at the courts, which were clogged with non-payers. It proved seriously politically embarrassing for the then Government, which did not break mass non-payment, and the water charges were abolished. Court action cannot break mass non-payment now either. The Courts Service has said it would not be able to deal with the excessive burden. Perhaps this is the explanation for the haste with which Denis O’Brien got down to the courts before they clog up with water charges protesters. It would be political suicide to pursue court cases before a general election. The situation remains exactly as before, with no penalties for non-payment until July 2016, after the general election. Mass non-payment can sink the water charges. What are the figures? How many people have paid and how many have not? What are the rates?”
Enda Kenny: “The Deputy’s speech is no different from the ones he has made before. He knows as well as I do that if he wants this detailed information, Irish Water will supply it to him. The Deputy said that in the 1990s people were threatened with disconnection. The Government has listened very carefully to the genuine concerns of people all over the country and has legislated for the fact that there will be no cut-off of water supply. As I said the other day, the Government is moving to a much broader, more comprehensive and fairer system of dealing with civil debt, arising from the work done by the Law Reform Commission several years ago, in which people will not be sent to jail and the Victorian era will be said goodbye to in that regard. The charge is now €1.50 per week for a single person and €3 a week for a household of two or more persons.”
Peadar Tóibín: “For now. That is the introductory charge.”
Finian McGrath: “What about the property tax?”
Kenny: “Those who register will be entitled to a support of €100 assistance towards that from the Department of Social Protection. For this modest contribution, people will receive a high-quality water supply which one would expect in a country as developed and developing as ours in 2015. We cannot go on with a system where thousands of people have had boil water notices for years, a grossly inferior wastewater and sewage treatment systems in so many towns and where 50% of the water supply, for which people have contributed over the years, leaks away into the ground. That is why it is necessary Irish Water is a separate entity, to be able to borrow on the markets to invest to fix those leaks and to provide water and sewerage systems right across the country that will bring us to the point of competency in service and standard that we should have been at for so many years.”
“If one looks at the record, we have had an investment of €300 million over the years which is 50% of what we should have been able to invest. We cannot do that, given the scale of the finances of the country. That is why it is necessary that Irish water be established. It is also finding out through its metering programme the scale of loss of water over the past 50 years which was scandalous. The opportunity now presents itself to bring our country’s water and wastewater systems, as well as its sewage treatment plants to the highest international standards. I am sure Irish Water will be happy to supply the Deputy with the details of bills that have been issued and paid.”
Murphy: “I asked a very simple question.”
Simon Harris: “The Deputy asked the wrong question.”
Murphy: “It was about the rate of payment. The Taoiseach’s answer is to go and ask Irish Water as if it has nothing to do with the Government. The Taoiseach was not shy in boasting about puffed-up and bloated Irish Water registration figures where the same people were responsible for them.”
McGrath: “Remember that carefully.”
Murphy: “It is a bit like “Blue Peter”. Earlier, we prepared in advance and asked Irish Water what the levels of payment were. It said it would not give us those figures as it regards the levels of payment and the number of people who have paid now to be statistically insignificant. That means 500,000 bills and 500,000 people are somehow statistically insignificant. Opinion polls are done with a sample of only 1,000 people.”
McGrath: “More porkies.”
Murphy: “Does the Taoiseach not know what the rate of payments is? Has Irish Water not informed him? Will he find that information and give it to the House? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the legislation will require court cases? Will he allay the scaremongering in which he has been deliberately engaged, suggesting that Irish Water will be able to take them? We have had court cases before about disconnections. The Taoiseach was a Deputy then, supporting the Government parties when people were dragged to court. This was met with protests and the then Government could not break non-payment. The same will happen here. People will have enough reasons after seven years of non-payment.”
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett: “Has the Deputy got a question?”
Murphy: “Will the Taoiseach give us the figures? Will he confirm that he is talking about court cases rather than direct deductions, in other words, that Irish Water will not be able to directly deduct? Is he seriously considering any court cases in advance of the general election? If so, does he have clear prospects lined up?”
Harris: “Deputy Paul Murphy is obsessed by this.”
Kenny: “I know Deputy Paul Murphy is elected by the people and good luck to him. Sometimes, however, he feels he is Julius Caesar and that he can dictate whatever he wants to do himself. I am not going to spoonfeed Deputy Paul Murphy.”
Martin: “In fairness, Julius Caesar was a bit more sophisticated than that.”
Timmy Dooley: “Et tu, Blueshirt?”
Kenny: “I advise him to toddle along to the audio-visual room at 4pm today where Irish Water will give him the answers to any questions he wishes to ask.”
Murphy: “When we asked Irish Water, it said it would not give us the information.”
Paul Kehoe: “He can have a protest outside the audio-visual room.”
Kenny: “That is open to every Deputy, including Deputy Paul Murphy. He can go and ask Irish Water instead of expecting me to spoonfeed him. With respect to the legislation, the Government expects to have legislated for this before the end of this session. The matter will be discussed here and in the committee rooms as one would expect. No doubt, Deputy Paul Murphy will be fully entitled to contribute with his constructive suggestions to that debate. I look forward to hearing him and his understanding of how important it is that we have a proper water supply for people and for business, as well as proper wastewater treatment plants across the country. He should go along at four o’clock and participate in the democratic presentation that will be there for him. When the Bill comes into the House, I look forward to his constructive suggestions.”
Ruth Coppinger: “What is the point of Leaders’ Question then?”
Kenny: “To tell you where to go.”
Róisín Shortall: “Will the Taoiseach repeat what he just said?”
A Deputy: “He should withdraw that.”
Shortall: “Will the Taoiseach repeat what he just said? A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order. The Taoiseach has brought the House into disrepute with that comment. I ask that he withdraw it.”
Kenny: “What comment?”
Shortall: “Every Member of this House has a mandate and a right to be treated with respect.”
Martin: “It is bringing the House into disrepute. The Taoiseach said the purpose of Leaders’ Questions was to tell the Deputy where to go. He should withdraw it.”
Kenny: “Yes, I said the Deputy can go to the audio-visual room at 4 o’clock to hear Irish Water.”
Shortall: “That is not what the Taoiseach said.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are out of order.”
Martin: “Julius Caesar had many rights.”
Shortall: “A Cheann Comhairle, you have a responsibility to…”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are out of order. It was Deputy Paul Murphy’s question.”
Shortall: “…to protect the rights of Members of this House. The Taoiseach should not have made that comment to the Deputy.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are heading for more trouble now. Are you looking to get thrown out again?”
Martin: “The Taoiseach should withdraw his comment.”
Coppinger: “A Cheann Comhairle, you have been quick enough in the past to berate us for making comments and asking us to withdraw them.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Resume your seat.”
Coppinger: “Could the Taoiseach repeat the comment and withdraw it?”
Dáil sitting suspended.
Transcript via Oireachtas.ie