Irish Water independence given cautious cross-party backing

Some politicians say support is contingent on utility remaining in public ownership

Night-time reductions in the water supply were introduced in the greater Dublin area last night. Photograph: iStock

Night-time reductions in the water supply were introduced in the greater Dublin area last night. Photograph: iStock

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Politicians from all parties have indicated cautious acceptance for the Government’s decision to separate Irish Water from its parent company Ervia so that it becomes an independent publicly owned utility.

More than 3,000 staff are to be transferred from local authorities to Irish Water as it assumes direct responsibility for the provision of water services, according to the decision of the Government last week.

Unions are scheduled to meet Irish Water at the Workplace Relations Commission this week for preliminary discussions, but it is expected that strong guarantees about workers’ terms and conditions of employment will be sought by the trade unions.

Irish Water is expected to target savings of some €70 million, but sources who have been briefed on the issue expressed scepticism about the levels of savings.

The emergence of a political consensus on the future of Irish Water comes as drought conditions across the country have emphasised the need to improve water infrastructure

However, politicians of all parties said they were broadly in favour of separating Irish Water from Ervia to enable its establishment as an independent, regulated, publicly funded utility responsible for water services.

Water referendum

A number of the politicians who spoke to The Irish Times said their acceptance was contingent on guarantees that Irish Water would remain in public ownership. The Dáil has already passed a vote in favour of holding a referendum to enshrine the public ownership of water, but the referendum bid has been paused to allow for advice from the Attorney General.

It is understood one of the options discussed in Government is to enshrine the public ownership of the water utility in the Constitution. This would overcome concerns about the implications for private water sources and schemes of a broad constitutional provision guaranteeing the public ownership of water.

The emergence of a political consensus on the future of Irish Water comes as drought conditions across the country have emphasised the need to improve water infrastructure. Night-time reductions in the water supply were introduced in the greater Dublin area last night.

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