Dáil Sketch: Taoiseach in hot water over monster merger
‘Those in council water departments around the country know where the leaks are buried’
“Taoiseach, if you turned up at a multi-billion merger and said ‘we’re not going to see any cost savings for the next five years and we’re locking in the workforce for the next 12’, you’d be fired on the spot. But not here.” Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA
And Enda gazed and still his wonder grew, that so many small heads could carry all they knew . . . It’s the maps, you see.
The men and women of the council water departments around the country have them locked into their brains. They know where the leaks are buried. We need their knowledge, which is why none of them will lose out in the long term when Irish Water is up and running.
Because, unlike the setting up of the HSE, it has nothing to do with politics. The birth of Irish Water did not mirror what happened with the HSE, insisted the Taoiseach yesterday. Although, from the outside, it may look like it.
He wanted to be clear. This is not a case of institutional Groundhog Day, as some on the opposition benches would like to style it. Or Groundwater Day, in the case of the newly formed Uisce Éireann. But the Taoiseach couldn’t convince Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly.
“It’s the HSE all over again. It’s Fianna Fáil all over again” he protested. “Here we go.” He had already explained why to the House, pointing out that the Government never missed a chance to criticise how Fianna Fáil made a hames of setting up the HSE.
“They had an opportunity in 2005 to establish an efficient and effective health service and they blew it for political gain. And instead, they created a bureaucratic monster.
“And now, Taoiseach, your Government is doing exactly the same thing with Irish Water. You’re setting up a new monster – another one that going to waste billons of euro of taxpayers’ money.”
He said people would be overcharged for their water “to bankroll this waste” by “locking in the cost of the entire existing workforce for the next 12 years.”
Claims of overstaffing were roundly rejected by Enda. Irish Water would be in fighting shape in a decade, he argued. This would be achieved through natural wastage – people retiring and leaving and the like. Although as the Taoiseach talked vaguely about reducing existing numbers by half down to about 2,000 employees, we wondered if he was considering hiring snipers to pick off workers who were knocking on a bit.
Under the barrage of facts and figures from Donnelly – “I come from the commercial sector and I’ve worked in mergers” – Enda stood his ground. He is totally opposed to waste. However, the only waste he wanted to talk about concerned water leaking from burst pipes. The money, it seems, will look after itself over time.
But all Donnelly could see, having outlined his business credentials to his fellow TDs, was the Government approving continued inefficiencies in the service.
“Taoiseach, if you turned up at a multi-billion merger and said ‘we’re not going to see any cost savings for the next five years and we’re locking in the workforce for the next 12’, you’d be fired on the spot. But not here.”