Irish Water chiefs face Dáil questions

Executives’ appearance before Oireachtas committee brought forward to next week

John Tierney, chief executive of Irish Water: due to appear before the Oireachtas environment committee next week to answer questions on the controversy. Photograph: Alan Betson

John Tierney, chief executive of Irish Water: due to appear before the Oireachtas environment committee next week to answer questions on the controversy. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 07:26

Irish Water and its oversight body, the Commission for Energy Regulation, are facing mounting pressure to provide some rationale and a detailed breakdown of how the new semi-State body spent €50 million in consultancy fees during its first year in operation.

John Tierney, the chief executive of Irish Water, and other representatives are due to appear before the Oireachtas environment committee next week to answer questions on the controversy.

Irish Water says commercial concerns prevent it giving a detailed breakdown of exactly how it spent the money, which went to some of the largest business and consultancy firms in the State, including Accenture, Ernst & Young and IBM.

The company had been due to appear before the committee later this month as part of an annual review but this has been brought forward. While Irish Water cannot, strictly speaking, be compelled to appear before Oireachtas committees, it is understood representatives of Bord Gáis, its parent company, advised it to do so.


Chequebook
Independent TD Shane Ross said Irish Water was a “mega-dinosaur and a quango” which was “taking out its chequebook . . . employing the usual suspects and it’s not accountable to anybody at all.”

Fianna Fáil has tabled a Private Members’ motion in the Dáil calling for Irish Water to be brought under the Freedom of Information Act.

Irish Water has defended itself and said it would save the exchequer €2 billion by 2021. “Costs of €100 million to date represent less than 1 per cent of the cost of providing water services over the next 10 years under the current model,” it said in a statement.

Irish Water has also defended installing a gym for staff in its new headquarters in Dublin.

“Irish Water’s office on Talbot St will have a small gym which is not yet open or fully fitted out at this point,” a spokesperson said. “Staff will have to pay a membership fee to cover the cost of the gym.”


Expensive
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan admitted the €50 million fees bill was high, but said it was needed to establish the company.

His spokesman later said Mr Hogan would have been aware of the “ballpark” figures Irish Water was spending.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which will devise the scheme for water charges, said Mr Hogan asked it to review the set-up costs totalling €100 million.

Its initial view was that “many of the costs were likely to be legitimate and would ultimately yield benefits and lower costs for consumers” but it said more time was needed for a more comprehensive examination. “The CER is planning to do a full review of all of Irish Water’s costs during the coming months,” it added.

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