Coalition to open Irish Water to Freedom of Information

Access to information may halt when Irish Water becomes fully commercial

Irish Water chief executive John Tierney

Irish Water chief executive John Tierney

Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 01:00

The Government is expected to respond to the controversy over spending on consultants by Irish Water by opening the new semi-State up to Freedom of Information requests for a limited period.

The Cabinet will discuss the controversy at its first meeting after the Christmas break later today and Irish Water will also fully detail how it spent €50 million on consultants at an Oireachtas committee hearing.

A spokesperson for the company said its chief executive John Tierney will lay out all the information in a statement to TDs and Senators.

However, the Coalition is also expected to try to ease the public and political pressure by deciding to bring Irish Water under Freedom of Information legislation for a limited period.

The Government’s move has been spurred by Fianna Fáil tabling a Dáil motion for this week, calling for Irish Water to be brought under Freedom of Information legislation.

The Government will not support it, but it is understood it will table a counter motion containing its own proposals.

However, sources said Irish Water will only be opened up to Freedom of Information requests for a period of about three years.

While Irish Water was only established as a legal entity on January 1st, Freedom of Information will be retrospectively applied.

“That was the mood of the place anyway,” one source said of the thinking in Government Buildings, while another confirmed it will be discussed at Cabinet.

“There is no guarantee it will happen, but that is the intention.”

Sources said the changes will not come into effect immediately, but will be part of the legislative process.

“It won’t take months, probably more likely a few weeks,” one senior Coalition figure said.

It is likely to be withdrawn from Freedom of Information obligations once it establishes itself as an independent entity and has built up a track record of accessing funding itself, which is planned to happen in 2017.

It will then become a fully commercial company and will not be accessible under Freedom of Information legislation, similar to how Bord Gáis is now excluded.

However, Labour TD Kevin Humphreys last night said Irish Water must stay open to Freedom of Information requests because it will have a “monopoly” on the water supply sector.

Mr Tierney and other senior managers will appear at the Oireachtas environment committee later today where they are expected to fully detail how and why the company spent €50 million on consultants.

“It’ll all be in a statement and it will be very comprehensive,” an Irish Water spokesperson said.

Irish Water will also now appear before the Public Accounts Committee tomorrow, alongside the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Department of the Environment itself.

While some TDs were critical of the PAC for calling Bord Gáis in when it was already appearing before the environment committee, Wicklow TD and PAC member Simon Harris said it was important to set a precedent.