Irish Water debacle far from unique in political context

Controversy has all hallmarks of previous arrangements brokered FF governments

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 17:14

But that did not take away from the fact of the enormous amounts of money paid to consultants. Again some of what was being done was captured by that nebulous phrase ‘change management’, an always costly exercise.

The other big process controversy was the dismal e-voting project. Then environment minister Martin Cullen took the idea piloted by his predecessor Noel Dempsey and sprinted away with it. Before any opportunity had been given for rigorous scrutiny, the machines had been bought, as had the software, and a big glossy launch had been organised. It was only when the prospect of a ‘hanging chad’ problem reared its head - and the absence of a verifiable paper trail - was a halt called to the gallop. Eventually the whole scheme was abandoned and the electorate reverted to the peann luaidhe and ballot paper.

But not before some €50m in costs had been incurred, some of it for costly storage of the voting machines throughout the country. Generous consultancy fees again featured.

Politically, two major questions surrounding the set-up of Irish Water will dominate the debate and proceedings in the Dáil and in the Public Accounts Committee later today.

The first is the extent of knowledge of the Minister and his justification for not micro-managing a spend of €180m. Allied to that will be further scrutiny of why the expertise that Bord Gáis claimed to have in its application for the contract was not utilised and why the new company had to spend such enormous sums on consultancy services and service contracts.

In its detailed memorandum yesterday it pointed out that the contracts were fixed price, that the consultants were immediately available, had the relevant experience and Irish Water had no obligation to them once the contracts came to an end.

And such are the biblical going rates for consultants. But such an enormous spend still needs to be justified as it is taxpayers’ money. And that is where Hogan may be in the frame for taking his eye off a dropping ball.

The second issue is that of bonuses. John Tierney’s disclosure that there is provision for bonuses is embarrassing for the Government. There seems to be a bit of pass-the-parcel going on between Hogan and Brendan Howlin’s Department of Public Expenditure over responsibility. With widespread cutbacks in public sector pay bills and in public service budgets, it still remains an embarrassment for the Government.

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