To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government when a referendum will be held regarding the State affording constitutional protection to the supply of water services; the status of preparations to hold a referendum in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025. There is widespread support for this view, and the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in April 2017 supported the concept of a referendum. The Committee recommended that the wording be carefully scrutinised so as not to impact upon the status of group water schemes and individual domestic water supplies.
Provisions in respect of the holding of a referendum are contained in the Private Member's Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins currently at Dáil Committee Stage. Detailed examination of the wording of this Bill, which I have undertaken in consultation with the Attorney General, indicates that it would give rise to unacceptable risks. I have articulated these concerns in my engagement with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser has separately and independently advised the Committee in relation to the Bill.
I have sought to bring forward amendments to the Bill and on 11 November last I received Government approval for the priority drafting of proposed amendments to the Bill. These focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership. I have written to the Chairperson of the Committee on this matter as recently as 21 January 2019 and will continue to keep the Committee updated on progress made on the drafting of the proposed amendment.
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