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Privatisation of Irish Water possible, Dáil hears

The Government has left the door open to the future privatisation of Irish Water, the Dáil heard last night.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said he is reserving the right to make changes to an opposition law seeking to retain Irish Water in public ownership. The Government yesterday decided not to oppose a bill, brought by Independents4Change TD Joan Collins, which is being supported by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.

Ms Collins accused the Government of still leaving the option open to future governments to sell off the State’s water network to a private operator for profit.

However, Mr Coveney said the bill could be deficient in its present state and therefore reserved the right to make changes to it at Committee stage.

Mr Coveney, in his address to the Dáil, said not one person on any side of the house had dissented from the view to keep the country’s water system in public ownership. He said the bill has not yet been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny and said as a result the bill as drafted could have unintended consequences.

“It is imperative that the Bill undergo the necessary deliberation and scrutiny at pre-legislative stage to ensure that its intention or wording does not run the risk of unintended consequences,” Mr Coveney said.

The Constitution usually does not explicitly recognise the structures of the State that operate below our key institutions. These structures, like the education and health systems, or the energy and road networks, are usually prescribed in legislation, he said.

Seeking to enshrine such property in public ownership through a constitutional referendum inherently risks having unintended consequences that could impinge on individuals’ constitutional rights to private property.

The minister said that while politicians may disagree over how to fund water services, “we share a common view on the State owning this vital public service”. He said the last Government legislated twice to reassure people that Irish Water and its infrastructure would not be privatised by a future government.

In her speech, Ms Collins said: “Ensuring that it remains in Article 28 gives the people of Ireland a guarantee that the Government will have full responsibility for the public water system of this country.” She also reassured all of those with group water schemes that they would not be impacted by the amendment.

“Ireland has had a number of nightmares with privatisation — from the selling off of public housing stock to bin services and Telecom Éireann.

“It is clear now that the people of this country reject privatisation, which is corrosive to the social fabric and disempowers citizens by taking crucial parts of the economy beyond their control,” Ms Collins said.

Fianna Fáil TDs Barry Cowen, Marc MacSharry and Thomas Byrne supported the bill.