New political reality means public assets need greater protection

19 May 2016

When the Water Services Act 2014 was being drafted Labour ensured that there was a provision in the legislation to guarantee that the utility and the infrastructure associated with it, would remain in public ownership, by stipulating that there could be no sale of the assets without a referendum.

In the context of a Government with Labour at its heart, it was my view that such a provision was an adequate measure to ensure the protection of the public utility, against privatisation. As far as Labour is concerned, the provision of water could never, and should never be something that can be outsourced to the private sector.

However, there is now a new political reality, and I believe that if push came to shove, the current Government would take a very different view on the ownership or indeed potential sale of key state assets and state commercial companies.

It is also the case that the confidence of the Irish people in Irish Water has taken a massive hit in recent weeks, thanks to the uncertainty that now exists arising from the deal between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to suspend water charges. As a result, it has become necessary to take steps to provide further protection to the companies that own our gas, electricity transmission and distribution networks and the public water supply and waste water treatment infrastructure.

For these reasons, I believe that we now need to copper fasten the public ownership of public utilities by giving them protection at constitutional level.

For this, we will require a referendum, which is provided for by the legislation we are publishing today.

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