On Thursday this week, I got the opportunity to speak on the Water Services Bill 2017. I recalled the long and successful struggle of the Right2Water campaign in Dublin Bay North and throughout Ireland and paid tribute to the tens of thousands of citizens who peacefully and steadfastly opposed water charges and the privatisation of water supplies. I warned that Part 2 of the Bill on water allowances, thresholds amounts must not be permitted to become an excuse for the reintroduction of charges through the back door and called for amendments to this part of the Bill and to the provisions on Irish Water itself.
The Dáil officially started back for the Autumn/Winter term on Wednesday afternoon, the 20th of September. Of course, the Committees were already back last week and the Budgetary Oversight Committee, of which I am a member, is meeting twice per week throughout September as we prepare for Budget 2018. This week and last we heard again from representatives from IBEC, NERI, ESRI, ICTU and others. Next week, we will meet again with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohue.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on the Water Services Bill 2017. From the outset I was opposed to the Fine Gael Ervia project, including Irish Water, whose aim was always to privatise Ireland’s domestic water supply.
I always advocated that all the necessary capital funding for expanding water supplies and the maintenance of water systems around the country should be a core part of the annual and multi-annual capital budgets. For about eight years I was chair of the Dublin City Council general purposes committee, which among many other matters looked after the water supply for much of the Dublin region. I saw at first hand how the city council, which organised and provided this water, was denied resources by successive Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to carry out critical maintenance for new pipework and to expand Dublin water supply resources. When we were trying to get the Leixlip works refurbished and developed, we had a great struggle to get funding from the Fianna Fáil-led Government.
I attended the Committee for Budgetary Oversight earlier today and it was good to hear that the Minister for Finance is to introduce a Brexit package to support Irish businesses, exporters and hopefully the Irish farming sector. Witnesses at a recent Committee for Budgetary Oversight, including the Irish Tax Institute, IBEC and the chambers of commerce, all called for additional supports for companies that will be strongly impacted by Brexit whether in 2019 or 2021. I hope that any such tax expenditure will have detailed costings and that a time cap is put on whatever provisions the Minister will bring forward. Undoubtedly some supports are necessary for Irish industry and agriculture and the EU 27 should contribute heavily to their funding. I welcome that the Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, inaugurated the stakeholders’ forum. The reality of the vital necessity to protect the North of Ireland and its people, in respect of Brexit, came home to us recently when the UK Office for National Statistics, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and Ireland’s Central Statistics Office showed us quite clearly the incredible amount of interaction between the North and the South. There are 110 million Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland crossings back and forth annually and a huge number of rail passengers.
Deputy Broughan has recently asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, whether he is considering legislation to restructure our policing services. On the 21st of September 2017, Deputy Broughan received a reply to his Parliamentary Question confirming that the Minister will bring forward legislation if recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. However, the Commission is not due to report to the Minister until September 2018.
Deputy Broughan today received a reply to a Parliamentary Question that he raised back in July with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, on the number of test purchases carried out under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 per county each year since 2014. Figures received today show that there have been 1,103 test purchases nationally since 2014 up to the 16th of July 2017 and that 116 of these were listed as ‘Crime’ and 987 were listed as ‘Non-Crime’. However, on further analysis of the data provided, there are 8 counties in which no test purchases were carried out over the three and a half years (Galway, Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Roscommon, Longford and Wexford) and a further 6 that have had no test purchases since 2015 (Clare, DMR East, Sligo, Leitrim, Tipperary and Waterford).
Deputy Broughan was contacted by a number of concerned constituents regarding ‘extra charges’ being placed on residents at nursing homes. Following these queries, Deputy Broughan asked the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to report on the regulations surrounding such extra costs. Earlier this summer, there were also reports of additional fees being charged to residents at nursing homes around the country.
I am delighted to support this Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 and I warmly commend our colleagues in People Before Profit and Solidarity on bringing it before the House. This afternoon at Leaders’ Questions, I listened in disbelief as the Taoiseach kept spinning about 80 citizens being housed each day. We all know that this mainly refers to citizens and families entering HAP and so-called family hubs and that the delivery of social and affordable housing continues to be non-existent or a trickle.
Deputy Broughan has today strongly criticised claims that the construction industry “can’t make viable profit” on apartments with asking prices of €240,000 to €320,000. Deputy Broughan absolutely disputes these claims and is calling on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, to reject the flawed report from his own Department. A decade ago, the banks and the construction industry created Ireland’s housing bubble and then relinquished all responsibility when the bubble burst leaving a generation of home owners in negative equity and others in pyrite-riden and fire-trap homes. Now they are attempting to hold the country to ransom yet again by demanding VAT reductions in Budget 2018 and refusing to build needed affordable homes in a timely manner.
Following recent reports of a pensioner being refused their pension payments because of not signing up to have a Public Services Card (PSC) and further stories which came to light after this revelation, Deputy Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, to report on the number of social protection payment recipients that have a public services card in 2016 and in 2017; the number of social protection payment recipients with no public services card in 2016 and in 2017; the number of social protection payments that have been withheld due to the lack of a public services card in 2016 and 2017; the total amount of those withheld payments; and for a statement on the matter.