Separation of Irish Water from Ervia to cost €5m in once-off costs, committee told

Government sent position paper on ownership of Irish Water to local authority unions

The Government is also hoping to transfer local authority workers currently working under a service agreement with Irish Water to direct control of the water utility. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Government is also hoping to transfer local authority workers currently working under a service agreement with Irish Water to direct control of the water utility. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Government’s plan to separate Irish Water from the Ervia Group and set it up as a stand alone utility will cost the State about €5 million in once-off costs and as much as €10 million in annual operating costs, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Since it was set up in 2013, Irish Water has been grouped with Gas Networks Ireland under the overall control of State gas and water infrastructure utility Ervia.

But now the Government has published legislation to separate Irish Water and establish it as “a national, publicly-owned, regulated, water services utility”.

The Government is also hoping to transfer local authority workers currently working under a service agreement with Irish Water to direct control of the water utility.

On Tuesday as the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage scrutinised the draft legislation, the committee was told the separation would cost about €5million in once-off costs - mainly for legal services and information and communications technology (ICT).

Assistant secretary general of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Feargal O’Coigligh said ongoing costs were less certain but the kind of figures being mentioned in submissions to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities was to the order of €10million.

Mr O’Coigligh said the draft legislation would set Irish Water as a national, stand alone, publicly owned and regulated utility. Gas Networks Ireland would likely be the other, which Ervia would likely “collapse in on Gas Networks Ireland”.

He said while a future minister would not be able to sell shares without “a plebiscite”, provision for which would have to be approved by a vote of the Dáil, the Government was examining the issue of holding a referendum to guarantee the retention of Irish Water in public ownership.

He said a paper outlining a referendum on retaining Irish Water in public ownership has been circulated to workers’ unions represented at the utility.

The paper was sent to the unions “setting out the possibilities of how it might be brought forward and asking for their views”, said Mr O’Coigligh.

Irish Water and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the one hand, and the unions on the other, are currently in challenging negotiations on the transfer of thousands of local authority staff to the direct auspices of Irish Water, he said.

Mr O’Coigligh said the issue of a referendum had also been subject of discussions with the unions and Office of Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan took issue with the wording of the draft legislation, pointing out that it was not gender neutral and not compliant with UN guidelines.

For example he said the draft legislation referred on page 15 to the role of a “chairman”. Mr O’Callaghan said gender neutrality was more than just the gender pronouns and “somebody should consult the UN guidelines”.

Committee chairman Steven Matthews said the issue was important. He proposed the committee would write to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, part of the Office of the Attorney General , to refer to the UN guidelines.