Taoiseach says he knew of Irish Water start-up costs

Kenny pledges company will be subject to ‘full rigours’ of Freedom of Information act

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 18:49

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said today he was aware of the €180 million cost of setting up Irish Water.

He also said the company would be subject “to the full rigours’’ of the Freedom of Information (FOI) act and proper responses in the House by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to parliamentary questions.

“This is a public utility in public ownership,’’ said Mr Kenny. “Therefore, there is nothing that should be secret about it and there is nothing that will be secret about it.’’

Speaking in the Dáil , Mr Kenny said it was an issue of “transparency and accountability’’.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said that last year TDs from all sides of the House had asked specific questions of Mr Hogan, relating to the cost of establishing the company, the number of consultancies hired and many other questions.

But no detailed answers were forthcoming, despite the fact that it was now known all the information was with Mr Hogan and the department for well over 12 months. “And it is now clear, Taoiseach, that Minister Hogan did not want to tell the truth to the Dáil about the establishment costs of Irish Water,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said that despite repeated questions on the issue, the minister had refused to give information . He had shown contempt for the Dáil and TDs and citizens.

Earlier Mr Adams called Mr Hogan to resign over his handling of the establishment of Irish Water, saying his ministerial career had been characterised by one debacle after another and this was “one debacle too far”.

Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen said Mr Hogan was “sleepwalking his way into no confidence territory” by claiming he knew nothing of the details of the €86 million expenditure by Irish Water on consultants during its set-up period.

Mr Hogan today refused to say bonuses should not be paid. That was a question for Irish Water and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to work out, he said .

“That’s a matter for the contratural obligations that Irish Water ventured into and if the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform want to review those that’s a matter for them,” he told reporters in Dublin this morning .

Mr Hogan also defended his lack of knowledge of specific details of Irish Water’s expenditure. “I don’t micromanage any state company no more than any other minister,” he said. “That’s why we have the Commission for Energy Regulation. ”

This evening it is the turn of the Public Accounts Committee to question senior managers of the company.

The committee will be inquiring into oversight and spending in Irish Water which has a budget of €180 million for establishing itself.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, PAC chairman John McGuinness said Irish Water should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

He said Mr Hogan needed to micro-manage Irish Water and said it was a “scandal” that he had not done so to date.

The PAC will also question the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment as well as the Commissioner for Energy Regulation, who will set the price for domestic water charges.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Mr Cowen excoriated Mr Hogan’s remarks that he did not micromanage Irish Water.

“That would be fine if he was talking about the gym at the Fine Gael headquarters. We are dealing with a €180 million project, €85 million of which deals with consultancy payments,” he said.

“I don’t think we can be expected to believe that the only question that Phil Hogan asked of Irish Water chiefs was ‘how much do you want lads?’

And they said €180 million and he said ‘fine, collect it on the way out’.

“That game is not on. We are not going to stand for it.”

He and the party’s public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming both said they did not believe Mr Hogan’s assertion that he did not micromanage Irish Water.

“We don’t believe it. We don’t buy it. We don’t understand it. And then to feign surprise on local radio last week. if he didn’t know, it’s a bigger issue,” said Mr Cowen.

Separately, senior management at Uisce Éireann, including managing director John Tierney, will appear before an Oireachtas Committee for the second day in a row. Following five hours of hearing at the Environment Committee yesterday, Irish Water officials will appear before the Public Accounts Committee this evening to be asked about oversight and spending for a second day.

Ahead of today’s Oireachtas proceedings Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes defended Mr Hogan’s role and his lack of knowledge on specific detail on spending. He said Mr Hogan had “acted totally correctly” by asking the Commission for Energy Regulation to assess the spending.

Responding to the disclosure by Mr Tierney yesterday that Irish Water staff were entitled to bonuses, Mr Hayes told RTÉ that bonuses should not be paid to Irish Water staff across the board. Minister for Social Affairs Joan Burton echoes those sentiments later. Fianna Fáil later called on the Minister to issue a directive banning such bonuses.

Mr Fleming also criticised the regime whereby Irish Water was not subject to Freedom of Information, parliamentary questions or scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General. He also asserted on RTÉ that a “buddy of the Taoiseach” had been appointed to the board of the utility, contending political cronyism.

The Secretary General of the Department of Environment Geraldine Tallon will also appear before the PAC this evening outline the role of her Department, and its extent of knowledge and checks. Representatives of the Commission for Energy Regulation will also appear to outline how that office’s assessment of Irish Water’s spending.

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