Alan Kelly criticised for dropping out of Irish Water debate

Minister did not attend MacGill summer school due to meeting in Brussels

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has been criticised by the opposition for pulling out of a debate on Irish Water at the MacGill summer school.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has been criticised by the opposition for pulling out of a debate on Irish Water at the MacGill summer school. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has been criticised by the opposition for pulling out of a debate on Irish Water at the MacGill summer school.

Mr Kelly, who was listed to speak at the session until last week, is in Luxembourg for an informal meeting of environment ministers on the subject of climate change on Wednesday morning. No Government representative or TD appeared on the panel on Tuesday night.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman on the environment Barry Cowen said he had been asked last week to take Mr Kelly’s place.

“It’s disappointing that he’s not here. I don’t know what the exact reason is. I was only asked last week to take his place,” he said.

Mr Cowen said forums such as the summer schools were “an opportunity in a different sort of atmosphere to thrash things out”.

They allowed a chance for people with different opinions, ideas and suggestions to discuss an issue that had proven “very difficult for Government to handle”.

“So if he’s not prepared to listen to the solution here he won’t listen anywhere.”

Fianna Fáil would abolish Irish Water and put in place a national water infrastructure directorate, investing about €10 billion over a 12-year period to transform water services in Ireland, Mr Cowen said.

Speaking ahead of his own contribution, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that during his time in the last Fianna Fáil-Green Party administration, ministers did not shirk away from potential flashpoints such as the annual summer school.

“We need a debate on water and I think it’s a real pity that he’s not here,” Mr Ryan said.

“This is where you do come, I remember being here during the difficult times, you know, the likes of (former minister for finance) Brian Lenihan came up during very difficult circumstances and thrashed things out.

“We’re in a similar space on water, it’s not the same, but it’s getting close to it the way things are going,” Mr Ryan added.

Michael McNicholas, chief executive of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent group, said the utility “came up short” in explaining properly how unfit for purpose the current water infrastructure was.

The project had been characterised as involving “lavish spending on consultants and as having “a bonus culture”.

“I strongly reject both assertions, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.”

He said the utility’s €5.5 billion programme of investment was “a nationally vital project designed to give Ireland a safe, world-class supply of a product even more basic than electricity – clean water and efficient sanitation”.