Minister wants Irish Water to have stronger controls over plants in immediate term

Move follows anger at two failures, which saw unsafe water enter public supply

Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O'Brien wants Irish Water to have strengthened control over all water service plants in the immediate term.

He said this would be pending the implementation of agreed longer-term operational and staffing arrangements surrounding water services.

The Minister's comments came in the wake of incidents at two treatment plants last month, which led to unsafe water entering into the public drinking water supply and causing a danger to public health. The plants where incidents took place were at Ballymore Eustace, which serves parts of Co Dublin, and a plant in Wexford that serves Gorey.

The issue of potentially moving staff who have traditionally worked on water services in local authorities to Irish Water has been hugely contentious.

Siptu in May warned that local authority workers, which it represented, were "fully prepared to take swift and immediate strike action" if they were forcibly transferred to the utility company. Talks on this issue have been under way at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for some time.

Fórsa trade union, which also represents workers in the sector, said in June there had been a breakthrough in the process and that employers had accepted a WRC proposal recognising that unions would not recommend or support any outcome that would involve the coerced transfer of local authority staff to the water services utility.

Unions are concerned that leaving the employment of local authorities could lead to a diminution of workers’ terms, conditions and public service status.

Policy paper

Mr O’Brien said at the weekend that, shortly after taking up office, he had developed a Government policy paper on the steps required to transform Irish Water into a proper unified national water utility.

He said he would “be asking Irish Water and local authorities to take further steps to improve Irish Water control of all water service plants in the immediate term, pending the implementation of the agreed longer-term operational and staffing arrangements”.

The Minister at the weekend met senior figures from Irish Water, Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council to discuss the incidents at the two plants.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “In the immediate term, Irish Water will now undertake an audit of the water treatment plants across the country.”

The Minister said the failures identified were “concerning and unacceptable”. He said Irish Water would be prioritising audits of the largest 20 treatment plants. This would include visiting the sites and meetings with staff, to ensure “proper processes are in place in terms of dealing with and escalating any incidents which may arise”.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent