| (Speaker Continuing)
[Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor: ] This is another deflection from Sinn Féin’s own unsettling issues, just like Deputy Mary Lou McDonald’s theatrics in this Chamber last week which deflected attention from the sexual abuse of Maíria Cahill. I find Deputy McDonald’s à la carte approach to the rules of this House deeply troubling. I can only speculate what this might mean for the country were she, or Sinn Féin, ever to get near power. The approach of Sinn Féin to this House is not surprising. Today’s business is obviously a diversionary tactic, costing the taxpayer money, and I will not waste another minute discussing the Bill. Irish Water will remain in public ownership.
Deputy Tom Barry: This is a very important issue. As we all know, water is vital, but we have seen many people use it as a political tool. It is a plentiful resource but, unfortunately, providing it to people in their taps requires much effort. I hope the result of what we have seen over the past while will be the start of a proper water service and that, like our broadband service, this service will be put together from scratch. We have worked on depreciation for the past number of years and have seen no investment in this critical infrastructure.
The people who pay for water already know the value of it. People might say it is a human right, but so too is food, which one does not get free. We have had to make huge efforts to ensure we have high-quality food. Now that this issue is settled and we have seen the very affordable proposals, I think people will appreciate what we have done and will say that in the longer term it is important to build up our infrastructure. That will take many decades and I hope it will provide much valuable employment for people.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and look forward to the results of the work we have done. I hope that in the future, when we have all moved on, what we have done in this regard will be recognised as something pivotal for this country that will be very valuable in the long-term.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: I welcome the Government’s announcement yesterday of changes to water pricing and to Irish Water. Without a doubt, the cost of water and the fear of not being able to afford another bill has been to the fore in the minds of most people. The suite of changes set out by the Minister shows that considerable depth of consideration has been given by the Government to concerns articulated in regard to certainty and affordability, including issues of governance at Irish Water.
Clearly, we have massive infrastructural problems with our water and sewerage systems, which have not been addressed in a meaningful way over the years. The previous system in which local authorities operated as sanitary and water authorities was not in a position to address the considerable shortcomings. Forty-two towns in this country have no wastewater treatment facilities and many of them are in designated environmentally sensitive areas. One hundred and sixty-two urban wastewater treatment plants are operating currently while awaiting licences. They must be licensed by the end of 2015 but they are in limbo because, in most cases, remedial works are required at the very least. In the meantime, our rivers, lakes and coastal areas are being polluted and we face the threat of prosecution, fines and other sanctions. There are problems and knock-on effects for citizens in terms of a proper and adequate water supply and the treatment of sewage. These are no small things, even though I have heard them referred to very glibly in this House during the course of debate. As responsible citizens, we must address these issues. Our well-being is connected to our environment. Not only do we need water, but we need a safe environment and we must be environmentally responsible. We must ensure we have proper wastewater and sewage treatment facilities. As a modern country, society and economy, if we want to attract people here to invest in business and provide a healthy environment for our people, this investment must be made.
I am glad to see the three-year capital investment plan Irish Water has set out. For years, my county has had different wastewater treatment schemes, water schemes, etc. on lists which could never be dealt with because we did not have a rates base to provide a polluter-pays contribution. The environmental degradation is real, as is the lack of proper water. There is no other tenable and viable solution here, so I welcome the changes made. In my own town, €5 million has been spent on fixing leaking pipes. Local authority workers were out every other day fixing pipes, which was such a waste of resources. Substantial businesses were without water, as were whole housing estates. When one looked into the ground, one could see that the pipes had simply melted away. There was no way that was going to be addressed in a comprehensive fashion, so I welcome the expeditious implementation of the capital programme which is very necessary and will reap benefits for our citizens in the long-term.
With this particular saga or debacle in regard to Irish Water, the natural fears that people expressed highlighted the conflict of ideologies in this Chamber. However, it is worth remembering that this is an open market economy and we draw benefits from capitalism. Even the proponents of socialism want to draw benefits from capitalism. They want foreign direct investment and the taxes we glean from it, so there must be a reality check.
I refer to the violent nature of some of the protests, which was condoned by some Deputies. Where people desire socialist ideals, they should realise that they must be pursued through democratic means, because if one destroys our democracy in the course of trying to achieve something, what is one left with? That is not socialism. We can try to implement socialist ideals, some of which are worthwhile or worthy, but we should not undermine our democracy in the process.
It is always worth remembering that, in many ways, democracy is about how we try to persuade people as to the merits of our case. We persuade people with words and language, and there are very many articulate people in this House. It is never about force or banging somebody on the head and saying that he or she must follow a certain way; it is always about persuasion. That is why I was very alarmed to hear Deputy Paul Murphy suggest that it would still have constituted a peaceful protest had the Tánaiste been detained in her vehicle for 12 hours. Is this really being presented as some democratic endeavour, and to what end? The Tánaiste has her own well-founded and deep-rooted convictions about her position, so should she be bullied and intimidated into changing them? Is that what we are talking about?
The aim of the revolution we are being told about is to cause civil strife, uproar and, ultimately, anarchy, which is the only place I can see it all ending up. With anarchy, there is the destruction of so many freedoms we enjoy. We must obey the law of the land. Democracy is exercised in this House and we should reflect on it and not throw it away. Members of this House have a platform and they should show leadership. The sort of carry-on we have seen is not democratic.