It’s transparency all the way with Irish Water

New public utility subject to Freezin’ of Information Act

 Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to be given all the information on criteria that apply to staff of Irish Water.  Photograph: David Sleator

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to be given all the information on criteria that apply to staff of Irish Water. Photograph: David Sleator

Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 01:00

Micheál Martin reintroduced us to a familiar organism yesterday. It’ll fit in nicely with the cryptosporidium and E.coli. “The bonus culture is back,” he declared. “It’s alive and well in Irish Water.” We’ll have to boil the meter installers now before letting them past the gate. And find a filtration system for screening consultants, although it might be too late for that.

But it’s still full steam ahead towards a much-needed purification plant for Enda and his Ministers, whose sparkling pre-election clarity runs cloudier today than the outflow from Ming Flanagan’s tap in Roscommon.

But never mind the waterborne bonuses that will be paid to the staff of our newest public utility. Never mind the lump sums and pensions given to these raw recruits when they retired their way into big new jobs in Irish Water.

Current supply
The Taoiseach wasn’t really of a mind to discuss their situation during Leaders’ Questions. He was more concerned with the condition of the current supply.

Is Irish Water fit for human consumption? In too many cases, it is not, Enda told the Dáil. Something must be done. Then there is the leaking. Worse than a Fine Gael parliamentary meeting, it seems. “There is water unaccounted for,” announced the Taoiseach. He’s looked everywhere.

Even behind the radiators in Government Buildings. But the water has drained away like documents destined for the PAC. This cannot continue. The question the Fianna Fáil leader asked was very similar. But the Taoiseach wasn’t as eager to address it. Is Irish Water fit for human consumption? Micheál Martin isn’t convinced.

The public jury is still very much out on the issue, but early reports on its establishment are making a lot of people feel very queasy. Mind you, it was a stroke of luck for the fledging utility giant so many qualified people were available to join the team from Bord Gáis and the local authorities.

Micheál is suspicious, though. Did these senior employees make the switch with the gentle encouragement of fat retirement lump sums and nice pensions?

The Taoiseach didn’t really know, as its nothing to do with him and he’s only interested in making sure people don’t get sick from drinking the water or drown in a tsunami of leaks. His worries have nothing to do with the new staff of Bord Gush, though.

As the Opposition leader pointed out, their job for the next decade or so will be to charge for water and collect the money. The local authorities will still be responsible for maintaining the system.

So why, wondered Micheál, are bonuses up for grabs? Enda stepped in to muddy the water “in the interests of transparency”.

He’s asked Big Phil to look into this issue and the chief executive of the new company will have to give him “the full information on those criteria that apply in the case of Uisce Éireann, Irish Water, so that everybody will understand what is involved if an employee is to achieve an output of work or a productivity that would allow him or her achieve a performance pay rating”.

To explain even more, he talked about a man he met who told him stuff. Enda has the happy knack of always meeting people who tell him stuff just before that same stuff comes up at Leaders’ Questions.

What they tell him always goes some way towards supporting his side of the story. Anyway, on the subject of bonuses, didn’t the Taoiseach meet this chap the other day who was working for years in a senior position for a local authority, enjoying the pay and conditions that went with it.

All of a sudden, he decided to apply for the exact same job with the new water board. This chap – he’s an engineer – gave up his permanent number with the council. Guess what? sez Enda. “The person involved is probably worse off now in a sense that the level of travel and subsistence available to him during his time as a local authority employee is not available now to the same extent.

“Also, the scale of holidays, for instance, I think is seven days less.” That’s what this engineer told him. Irish Water pays a bonus to the brightest and the best, “to reward them when they achieve an output of work or a productivity that would allow them achieve a performance pay rating”.

Bonus material
But why would Enda’s engineer want to do the same job for fewer allowances and shorter holidays? That sounds stupid. He doesn’t sound like bonus material at all.

“Lump sums?” wondered Opposition deputies. “Lump sums?” they suggested to the Taoiseach, who said nothing. “I asked you about the lump sums and you didn’t respond” said Micheál. “You kinda skirted around that one with the usual auld story about a fellow you met.”

Nevertheless, it’s openness and transparency all the way, as far as the Government is concerned. Sure, doesn’t the chief executive have all the information? He’ll pass it on to Big Phil Hogan and it’ll be grand.

“This is a public utility and, as I said last week, it will be scrutinised by the Oireachtas here,” stressed Enda, “and by civilian society because it’s subject to the freedom of information act.”

Or The Freezin’ of Information Act, as it has now become under Brendan Howlin’s watch, with the approval of his Labour colleagues and his Fine Gael partners.