Alan Kelly ‘satisfied’ with decision making over Irish Water

FF says ‘culture of secrecy’ surrounds utility company after report that meetings not minuted

Tens of thousands of protesters converged on Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Saturday where a rally calling for the abolition of the planned water charges was held.

 

Minister for Environment Alan Kelly has said he is satisfied with the decision making process between Irish Water and the Government.

He was responding to reports that minutes of high-level meetings in 2012 between this predecessor as minister for the environment Phil Hogan and Bord Gáis chairwoman Rose Hynes had not been kept.

Mr Kelly told RTÉ Morning Ireland that all key decisions on the utility company had been made before the Cabinet.

He said fiscal and spending decisions had been overseen by the Commission for Energy Regulation while Bord Gáis had to act in accordance with corporate governance procedures.

It emerged on Sunday that no records were kept of meetings in October and November 2012 at Mr Hogan’s Leinster House office at a time when significant issues about Irish Water’s establishment were being decided.

During Irish Water’s first six months, April to September 2012, 23 meetings took place between Bord Gáis and the department, but only 10 were minuted. There were four meetings between Mr Hogan and Bord Gáis officials, two of them with Ms Hynes.

Bord Gáis said it was customary for such meetings to take place without recording what was discussed.

A Department of Environment spokesman said that “as officials were not present at the meetings the agendas or reports of the meetings are not generally available and therefore are a matter for those present”.

Fianna Fáil accused Mr Kelly of making “disgraceful attempts” to dismiss the Government’s failure to keep records of crucial meetings about the establishment of Irish Water.

“I am appalled at the manner in which Minister Kelly has today attempted to shrug off this very serious revelation,” the party’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen said. “It is extremely serious that no minutes were kept of meetings when vital decisions were made about Irish Water that would have a huge impact on taxpayers for decades to come.”

He said it was the “latest evidence of the Government’s deliberate attempt to shroud Irish Water in secrecy” and that the news “flies in the face of every single promise made to voters by Fine Gael and Labour about open and transparent government”.

“I am calling for an investigation into why minutes were not kept of the meetings between Minister Phil Hogan and Bord Gáis management in 2012,” Mr Cowen said.

Mr Kelly also said that more than 1.2 million people had registered to pay residential water charges to date.

The Government was “quite satisfied” with the volume of people who have signed up, he said, adding that he believes most people will pay their bills.

He said proposed legislation to deal with residents who refuse to pay Irish Water charges will be discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday.

The Minister said the legislation will distinguish between residents who can’t afford to pay for their water and those who simply refuse to pay.

“Provisions are imminent,” he said. “There will be a distinction between those who can’t pay or are finding it difficult to pay and those who just don’t pay.”

The Minister’s comments come after an anti-water charge demonstration drew tens of thousands of people to Dublin at the weekend.

A crowd estimated at 50,000 protested in the capital on Saturday and further demonstrations are planned for the coming months; a “bin your bill” march will take place in Dublin on April 18th to coincide with the first domestic bills being issued.

Mr Kelly said he respected people’s right to protest but insisted the creation of Irish Water was “the right thing to do”. He said the country would face unprecedented water shortages within 10 years if the utility company was not in place.