Stewart Dickson MLA said: “Despite my reservations, I respect that the Assembly and Executive have agreed a Programme for Government which rules out the introduction of domestic water charges through to April 2015.
“Throughout the legislative process, I stressed the need to reconsider the post-2015 period and questioned the wisdom of extending the subsidy as far as April 2016. However, as time dragged on it became clear that even if we were able to agree on alternative arrangements, Northern Ireland Water would not have enough time to implement these before the end of the mandate.
“This legislation was introduced far too late for us to do anything about the governance and financial difficulties faced by NI Water. It is regretful and shameful that no consideration was given to these issues, even in parallel with the legislative process.
“We are signing off on hundreds of millions of pounds of expenditure without any meaningful debate or discussion about the future of our water system.
“We have to pass this today because we have no alternative – because successive Ministers have failed to face up to the reality that the current arrangements are unsustainable. This legislation is only another sticking plaster, put on with no idea of how we intend to heal the wound.
“The Committee has at least tried to get the discussion underway. Indeed, last week we heard from Welsh Water, which operates a similar model to what my party has advocated for several years.
“Most importantly, its Chief Executive, Nigel Annett, stressed the importance of a revenue stream independent of government that provides security and, crucially for our water system, allows for long-term planning. Charging at Welsh Water is linked to the social security system to identify households that require discounts.
“This contrasts sharply with arrangements here – arrangements that subsidise the water costs of the richest in our society, whilst diverting hundreds of millions of pounds away from public services on which the most vulnerable depend on heavily.
“As I have said time and time again, charging is necessary, but we need to make sure that any charging arrangements are not only fair, but transparent and designed to protect our most vulnerable people.
“These are the issues that we need to consider urgently. We cannot afford any more sticking plasters. We need to start the discussion now – not in 3 months, 6 months or a year – we need it NOW. And so I urge the Minister and his Department to immediately engage with the Committee and this Assembly to find a fair and sustainable solution for the people of Northern Ireland.”