‘Just four of 20’ committee members visit Irish Water site

Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh finds attendance ‘strange and disappointing’

Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who chaired the committee on water charges, said it was “strange and disappointing” that politicians on the committee did not try to better understand the service Irish Water provides. File photograph: Getty Images

Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who chaired the committee on water charges, said it was “strange and disappointing” that politicians on the committee did not try to better understand the service Irish Water provides. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The chair of the Oireachtas committee on water charges has said just four politicians out of the 20 members turned up to a “necessary” site visit to Irish Water while they were considering the future of water charges.

Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who chaired the committee on water charges said it was “strange and disappointing” that politicians on the committee did not try to better understand the service Irish Water provides.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One this Saturday morning on the Marian Finucane show, Mr Ó Céidigh said “only four people showed up out of 20” to a site visit he had organised to Irish Water, while the committee was debating the future of water charges over the last number of months.

‘You need to see it’

“I felt that was pretty essential that we actually see what Irish Water do, because we’re talking about Irish Water so much here. There’s no point in talking remotely about something, you need to see it, you need to see the people behind it” the former chief executive of Aer Arann said.

Mr Ó Céidigh, who was chosen to chair the committee tasked with deciding the future of water charges after the formation of the minority Fine Gael government, said the perception of Irish Water as an inept and incompetent company was not true.

“When I got there, there was about 15 or 16 employees in the senior management of Irish Water who were there and prepared presentations about what they do.

“There are times when you feel proud to be Irish, and I felt very proud to be Irish to see people like that, so passionate in Irish Water about doing their best to give us a great service, and that had never been highlighted in any way,” the Independent Senator said.

The committee chairman would not name the four politicians who did show up for the Irish Water site visit, and said the other 16 TDs and Senators all gave various excuses for why they could not attend.

“Some of them told me that they had visited Irish Water previously and they didn’t find any particular reasons to go. Others had to come a long distance, we had the meeting around 11 o’clock in the morning, so they didn’t get there in time. Others had other commitments,” the Senator said.

Speaking with presenter Marian Finucane, Mr Ó Céidigh said there was some political grandstanding, as the committee was trying to find a solution to the water charges issue.

“The meetings that were in public … There I found the politicians playing to the cameras, if I may say so to some degree,” he said.

“But when we were in private it was quite different, every single person of the 20-person committee were committed to getting a result. Now they were committed to getting their result.

“But in actual fact there was about 80 to 90 per cent of all of the recommendations everybody agreed with unanimously, there was no issue. But there was 10 to 15 per cent which was highly contentious.”

Scrap charges

In April, the water committee released its report, which included a decision to scrap water charges and to reject plans to put water meters into any new housing built.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney will now have to try to bring forward legislation to enact the positions the committee decided upon.

Political decision-making around the issue had been handled disastrously from the start, Mr Ó Céidigh added.

“There was a total mess created from the absolute beginning, they were bringing in water charges, they weren’t bringing in water charges.

“They then decided to give a conservation grant that wasn’t connected to those who paid their charges, so people got a conservation grant in some cases who hadn’t paid water charges.

“Water is not free, we’re paying for it anyway. At the end of the day it’s being paid by the public.”