Irish Water likely to be held financially accountable by C&AG

SF call to rename Water Services Bill ‘The Water Charges by the Back Door Bill’ rejected

The State’s spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), should have responsibility for holding Irish Water financially accountable, the Dáil has heard.

The State’s spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), should have responsibility for holding Irish Water financially accountable, the Dáil has heard.

 

The State’s spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), should have responsibility for holding Irish Water financially accountable, the Dáil has heard.

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy told the Dáil he had brought the issue to Cabinet on Tuesday and hoped that work to enact this would be completed in the “shortest timefrime” as it is a high priority.

Mr Murphy was speaking during the report stage Dáil debate on the Water Services Bill which provides for the refunding of water charges to households who paid the charge. It also introduces fines for excessive use of water.

The Minister rejected Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy’s amendment to make Irish Water accountable to the C&AG. He said he supported the principle but believed it would require an amendment of the C&AG Act and that it was more appropriate the issue be dealt with through that Act.

Ms Murphy said there should be oversight of a national public body, especially when money for water services comes from general taxation, and public bodies come under the remit of the C&AG.

During the debate, Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Barry Cowen rounded on his Sinn Féin counterpart Eoin Ó Broin who criticised him over his attendance at committee discussions on water services.

Some 20 amendments were also ruled out of order, including one from Mr Ó Broin to rename the Bill ‘The Water Charges by the Back Door Bill’.

Swimming pools

Another amendment from Solidarity deemed out of order called for the introduction of water charges for people who have swimming pools or large water features in their homes.

Mr Ó Broin criticised the Taoiseach and Mr Cowen for “furtively through the media” claiming that Sinn Féin and other opposition parties were delaying the Bill so householders will not receive refunds as promised before Christmas.

He said it was the Government that was responsible for delaying the Bill which was to come before the House in June, then July. That was a decision of Government to delay it until a week before the budget, he claimed.

He said Mr Cowen “has a difficulty with scrutinising legislation, particularly Bills such as this, which include such significant U-turns by his party”.

“It was good to see Deputy Barry Cowen present for a full committee meeting for a change; he does not do so often when we are dealing with detailed amendments,” he added.

Mr Cowen said “Fianna Fáil has been represented at every committee meeting that you refer to, the same as Sinn Féin has”.

“I won’t have you lecture to me on my attendance, irrespective of the fact that my party was well represented at all times and reflected the opinions and policies of this party as they we were elected and given the right to do.”

‘Great offence’

The Fianna Fáil TD added: “I never sought to personalise the issue in the way you did here earlier. I take great offence to it. It won’t be forgotten.”

Amendments calling for a referendum to keep water services and Irish Water in public ownership were also ruled out of order.

Labour local government spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan said her amendment called for sections of the legislation not to be implemented until a date for a referendum had been set. She said the amendment had been ruled out of order as not relevant to the Bill and a cost on the Exchequer.

She said the Bill was intended to implement the recommendations of the water committee report and its first recommendation was to hold a referendum. She said it would not be a charge on the exchequer if the referendum was held at the same time as other planned plebiscites.