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Minister Coveney must urgently clarify legal position on Irish Water sale of assets - Eoin Ó Broin TD

25 January, 2017 - by Eoin Ó Broin TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on water Eoin Ó Broin TD has called on the Minister Simon Coveney to ‘urgently seek legal clarity from the Attorney General on whether Irish Water has the right, with Minister approval, to sell public water service assets.’ The call comes following a disagreement in interpretation of the legal restrictions on the sale of public water service assets in the Water Services Act 2007 between Department of Housing officials and Senior Council Seamus Ó Tuathail.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“Today the Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Water Services examined the issue of the need for  constitutional protection of the public water system.

“While the Water Services Act 2014 prevents the Government from selling its shares in Irish Water without a referendum and subsequent legislation,, the issue of whether Irish Water could sell public assets, with Minister Approval, is of equal importance to this debate.

“When questioned directly on whether Irish Water could, with Ministerial approval, sell public water system assets, officials for the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government said that such sale could not take place under the terms of the Water Services Act 2007. The Department indicated that only public assets that were not in active use could be sold.

“However Senior Council Seamus Ó Tuathail flatly contradicted the Departments reading of the legislation and argued that, under current legislation and Irish Waters Constitution, any assets could be sold subject to Ministerial Approval.

“To have such diametrically opposed readings of the legislation on such a fundamental issue is deeply worrying. Minister Coveney must urgently seek legal clarity from the Attorney General on whether Irish Water has the right, with Minister approval, to sell public water service assets.

“If they do this provides a clear route for a future government to by-pass the legislative protections against privatisation of the public water system contained in the 2014 legislation.

“While those protections are themselves weak as they can be overturned by future legislation paving the way for privatisation, this additional route to privatisation is deeply worrying.

“On both grounds the case for a referendum to provide constitutional protection for the public water system is urgently needed. Given that the Housing, Planning and Local Government Committee is dealing with legislation on this matter I would urge all members to ensure that this Bill is progressed through the Oireachtas as speedily as possible so that people can have their say on this matter in a referendum.”

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