Irish Water privatisation: Alan Kelly has gone ‘as far as is possible’

Senator Mary Ann O’Brien says services will be targeted by Russians and Chinese

 Minister for the Environment  Alan Kelly: “I believe that what we have here is as far as we can go, hand on heart.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly: “I believe that what we have here is as far as we can go, hand on heart.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said he has gone as far as he can to guarantee there will be no privatisation of Irish Water.

“I believe that what we have here is as far as we can go, hand on heart,” he told the Seanad after a five-hour debate on a proposal by Independent Seán Barrett to protect water services against privatisation by transferring shares from parent company Ervia to the Minister for Finance.

Rejecting the amendment to the Water Services Bill, Mr Kelly said there were no ownership shares in Ervia, that the shares were held by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for the Environment. He said: “I have gone as far as is possible on this issue.”

The Government has promised that a plebiscite would have to be held if both Houses of the Oireachtas wanted to privatise Irish Water.

Absolute guarantee

Independent Mary Ann O’Brien said she accepted the Minister did not ever want to privatise water. But she told him: “You’re not going to be here” in 2050 and a referendum was the only absolute guarantee against privatisation.

By then there would be increased pressure on natural resources such as water and “we are so fortunate to have the perfect temperate climate; we will be the target for the oligarchs of Russia. We will be the targets of the Chinese to privatise it and Minister you will not be here to defend it.”

Earlier, Independent Marie-Louise O’Donnell appealed to the Minister to guarantee the section against privatisation of water services was “watertight”.

The Taoiseach’s nominee said that “when I hear the word privatisation I’m apoplectic” and she pointed out that 34 per cent of the world’s drinking water had been privatised.

Controversial

She told the Minister, “I understand we have to pay for water. I don’t understand the way it was set up. It was so outrageously bad that Noddy and Big Ears and some people in Toytown would have done a better job on it.”

Mr Kelly said: “All legislation of course can be changed. I’m a straight talker – all legislation can be changed.”

But he said again, “What government is going to do this” or would want to privatise against public opposition? And what public would elect a government that did?

The Seanad also rejected by 28 votes to 21 an amendment from Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne to have the national public forum, established in the Bill, consider a proposal to amend the Constitution.

Debate on the legislation continued late last night and the report and final stages of the Bill will be discussed on Monday.