Water Services Bill makes its way through Seanad

House adjourned amid row about whether Senators were drunk during Friday’s late sitting

The Seanad has been adjourned amid heated exchanges about whether or not members of the House were drunk during last Friday night’s late sitting to discuss the Water Services Bill.

 

The Water Services Bill has passed all stages in the Seanad, paving the way for its signature by President Michael D Higgins and the introduction of charges early next year. It was passed by the Dáil last week.

The Government won the Seanad votes by 28 to 25, after a six-hour committee stage debate on Monday, which resumed after a lengthy sitting last Friday.

Monday had been set aside for the report stage debate, but it was not reached, nor was the committee stage completed. The Government accepted none of the Opposition amendments.

In a strong attack on Irish Water before the Bill was passed, Independent Senator Sean D Barrett said the Government had decided to hang its hat on “an appalling edifice’’ in the same manner in which the previous government had been codded by bankers.

“Please invoke the constitutional protection of the Comptroller and Auditor General to make sure the waste in Irish Water stops right now,’’ he added.

“Stop covering up, because every day more comes out…today this body is investing less than the local authorities.’’

Mr Barrett said the company was “too busy with PR, foundation costs and image building’’.

He claimed lack of scrutiny of Irish Water by the Department of Environment and Ervia “has brought democracy in this country to a crisis point with so many people on the streets’’.

Mr Barrett was speaking during a debate on a Fianna Fáil amendment that Irish Water should be subjected to a full review by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Rejecting the amendment, Minister of State for the Environment Paudie Coffey said fully audited Irish Water accounts would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas for scrutiny. The company could be asked to appear before an Oireachtas committee to discuss its full accounts, structures and capital expenditure, he added.

The House was earlier adjourned for a second time amid heated exchanges about whether Senators were drunk during last Friday night’s late sitting to discuss the Water Services Bill.

Labour Senator John Whelan said he would make one contribution on each amendment, as he had done during the late night sitting.

“We are not just here to filibuster and talk around in circles, repeat yourself, contradict yourself ad nauseam,” he added.

“By the time we got to 3am, I think some members were inebriated by the exuberance of their own verbosity and self-importance.’’

Terry Leyden (FF) intervened to say that the spokespersons for Fianna Fáil had been in the chamber and were “100 per cent sober’’.

Amid noisy exchanges, Mr Leyden said he resented the remark.

“That is not what he said,’’ remarked Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke.

“Oh, sorry, he did,’’ replied Mr Leyden, who added he never saw a more sober bunch in his life.

David Cullinane (SF) said his party would have no problem having a debate on that issue. “There were a lot of Senators coming from the Dáil bar into the chamber late in the night,’’ he added.

He said the three Sinn Féin Senators were in the chamber rather than in the Dáil bar. He added people should know what “some Government Senators were doing when we were here doing our job’’.

As the exchanges continued, Mr Burke said he would adjourn the House for 15 minutes.

When the House resumed, Mr Whelan said he had referred in his earlier remarks to the “verbosity’’ of Senators.

The House was adjourned briefly just minutes after meeting at midday to consider the final stages of the Bill. Senator David Norris was ruled out of order when he attempted to raise the alleged use of Shannon Airport as a refuelling stop for so-called CIA rendition missions.

When he refused to resume his seat, Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke adjourned the House for 10 minutes.

The Irish Times has revealed the Government received assurances from US president George W Bush and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the airport was not used for such purposes.