Water meters ‘should have been installed’ in homes built since 1997, says Dublin city manager

Outgoing city manager John Tierney defends record


Instead of abolishing water charges in 1997, the then rainbow Coalition government should have required that all new houses be metered for water consumption, according to outgoing Dublin city manager John Tierney.

Mr Tierney, who is leaving next Friday to become the first chief executive of Irish Water, said: “If a decision had been taken then to meter new homes, today we would have 40 per cent of the national housing stock metered at no cost to anybody.”

In an interview with The Irish Times , he defended his record as city manager since September 2006, despite the collapse of public-private partnership (PPP) projects for social housing, continuing uncertainty over the Poolbeg incinerator and the privatisation of waste collection.

Taking office when the boom was at its peak, Mr Tierney then had to face “the most difficult financial period we’ve ever had to deal with”, with €125 million less in revenue this year compared with 2009 and 1,100 fewer staff, due to natural wastage and redundancy.

“But we’ve managed our way through it and kept the books balanced,” he said.

Even the controversial decision to hand over waste collection to Greyhound he sees as positive, because it would save €45 million up to 2017 to be spent on other council services.

Poolbeg plant
Asked about the 13-year delay in delivering the Poolbeg “waste-to-energy” plant, Mr Tierney said the latest deadline for US waste management company Covanta to fulfill its obligations as a PPP partner for the €350 million project was last Friday.

However, no further progress can be made until the EU rules on two complaints involving breaches of tendering procedures and the provision of State aid for the project, which has already cost the council €90 million in land acquisition and payments to consultants.

The city manager said he was “still very hopeful” that the 600,000-tonne incinerator would go ahead as it was “badly needed for the country” – implying that its market would extend far beyond the Dublin area.

“This thing is going to come to a head very shortly.”

On the housing PPPs, which mainly involved now debt-laden property developer Bernard McNamara, he said these schemes “didn’t pan out the way they were meant to”, leaving hundreds of council tenants living in sub-standard blocks of flats built decades ago.

Mr Tierney defended using PPPs to procure housing, saying the scale of redevelopment required was “beyond the capacity of the Government”.

They had also been shown to work in the transformation of Fatima Mansions, Rialto, into the mixed-tenure Herberton scheme.

Irish Water
He said Irish Water, the new State agency he will head, would also be relying on private finance for water services investment, building on the experience of its parent company, Bord Gáis, to “raise money internationally at less cost than capital funding from the exchequer”.

Although Mr Tierney did not disagree that there was some irony in Irish Water taking over from 34 local authorities just as charges for water are re-imposed, he said “one of the positives” was that the new agency, as a single entity, would find it easier to raise funding.

Asked about having a directly elected mayor with executive power, he said he was on record as saying this “would be a good thing for Dublin”, but it shouldn’t be “grafted onto the existing system”, at least until more powers were devolved to local government.

Four independent local authorities currently operate in the historic county of Dublin. The proposed Dublin Transport Authority might have provided the “root” of metropolitan government, but it was set up as the National Transport Authority. “Politics are politics,” he said.

Property tax
On the local property tax, Mr Tierney conceded the Revenue was best equipped to collect it – even though this would set aside a direct link between citizens and local government. If people in Dublin paid proportionately more, they were “getting a higher level of services”, he said

With the still embryonic Digital Hub in the Liberties, the Dublin City Enterprise Board and Docklands Development Authority coming under the city council, Mr Tierney believed that its role in planning and economic development would be considerably strengthened.

Asked why An Taisce’s complaint that permissions for high-rise buildings were granted in defiance of the city plan had not been investigated in detail, Mr Tierney said he was satisfied that it had been “examined” by the Department of the Environment and independently.

On Temple Bar Cultural Trust, of which he is the sole shareholder (on behalf of the city council), Mr Tierney said it was “up to the board to act in this situation”, following a highly-critical audit by the council. “The last thing I would want to do is to fetter due process.”

He was looking forward to the Irish Water challenge after being a city or county manager for 13 years in Galway, Fingal and Dublin.

“When I took over, the city was a work in progress and it’s still a work on progress as I leave, because that’s the nature of cities”.