Ervia tasked with carefully untangling Irish Water by 2023

Union Fórsa says decision to make body commercial raises fears about privatisation

“The Minister has requested Ervia to prepare a plan for separation which ensures that momentum is not lost.” Photograph: Frank Miller

“The Minister has requested Ervia to prepare a plan for separation which ensures that momentum is not lost.” Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Government has urged the semi-State utility company Ervia to prepare a plan for the separation of its Irish Water division in a way that does not impede investment or reforms in either organisation.

The Government decided recently that Irish Water should become a stand-alone, publicly owned, commercial, regulated utility separated from the Ervia Group during 2023.

In a letter to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions this week, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said its Minister, Eoghan Murphy, had written to the chairman of the Ervia board about the move and said he would shortly issue an updated shareholders’ expectation letter to the board reflecting the new position.

“The Minister has requested Ervia to prepare a plan for separation which ensures that momentum is not lost on transformation plans for Irish Water or investment plans for Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland as envisaged under the National Development Plan. This plan will need to ensure that there is stability during the transformation phase and no distraction to the work on major investments.”

Privatisation fears

The trade union Fórsa told members on Friday that it was surprised at the announcement that the Government wanted to establish Irish Water as a commercial State body. The union said the move was likely to fuel fears that the utility would be privatised in future.

The union said it had sought a meeting with senior departmental officials to ascertain the rationale behind the move.

Fórsa official Peter Nolan said the proposal “undermined discussions on the organisation of water services, including the relationship between Irish Water and local authorities, which are currently under way in the Workplace Relations Commission”.

“I am surprised and disturbed by this announcement, not least because we entered discussions on the basis that there was no predetermined outcome on the future structure of water services. We want water services under public control and operated by public service workers. The Government has provided no rationale as to why the board should be commercial, which means this move is bound to be viewed with suspicion by those who use and deliver water services,” he said.