Water Metering Legislation

14-05 John Speaking 2

[Speaking in the Seanad during Second Stage of the Water Services Bill]

After a lot of soul searching I will be opposing the Bill tonight. I have consistently opposed the concept behind the Bill since my earliest days in this House.

I am not naive and I know that water costs. I know that everything we do occurs in an economic context. I also know there is an opportunity cost for every euro we spend in the public sector where it is not available somewhere else. Clearly the priority from the outset should have been to fix the infrastructure. The second priority only then would have been to develop some degree of metering and-or billing capacity. Instead we have had exactly the opposite. If the billing procedure and the metering technology that were put in place were free, cheap or generating all the income we needed to fix the infrastructure, one could perhaps think of a justification for it. However, I am seeing estimates of between €430 million and €540 million just to get the billing-metering of the operation up and running.

In addition we have completely lost at this stage the incentive for water conservation. Furthermore we are told that water is not free, which is correct. We have been paying for it already. If we are paying for it from our taxes now, surely from the outset, when this thing was first created, there should have been a complete write-off against our tax for whatever would have been paid because that part of our income tax that is currently going to pay for water would no longer be paying for it. In this regard the complicated weave of tax, social welfare and accounting instruments, which are put in place to satisfy this theoretical goal of this being off the national balance sheet, is such that any external scrutiny of what we are doing with rebates, etc., would find it very hard to maintain that this is completely disentangled from the national balance sheet.

For all those reasons I am very much opposed to it. However, there is also a political reason. The middle ground has been lost on this. I say this with no disrespect to my colleagues. We have many fine conviction politicians in the two Houses, many of whose convictions I do not agree with. Some of them are very far to my left and some of them are to my right. However, the notion that reasoned, thoughtful, non-extreme people could actually be the main objectors to this has been lost in the noise of the extremism. It is critical that people realise it is a respectable position to oppose this very flawed initiative, send it back and get something suitable in its place. That is why I oppose the Bill.

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