John Tierney needs to be front and centre for Irish Water

Managing director must try harder to keep his head above water

Last weekend Irish Water managing director John Tierney looked like he was on the verge of being shunted from his position because of Government dissatisfaction with the semi-State. There were also rumbles about him from within Ervia, Irish Water's parent company, but Tierney has made it to the end of the week – if not unscathed, then certainly not unemployed.

However, he was summoned to a meeting with Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly where the discussions were, as expected, "frank". Kelly told Tierney to make more public appearances and to engage more with Irish Water. A somewhat chastened Tierney, in a brief media doorstep afterwards, intimated that he had heard the message. However issues remain which Tierney has to address personally, as MD of Irish Water and within the wider organisation.

He certainly needs to take on the role of Irish Water's front man more than he has heretofore. Elizabeth Arnett, the company's director of communications, has taken on that mantle since Tierney's now famous outing on Seán O'Rourke's radio show earlier this year.

Tierney’s reluctance since then to address concerns about the water metering and charging system means he has made himself an easy scapegoat: the man on the big salary, sitting behind a desk while homeowners scratch their heads wondering how much they’ll have to pay.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that Tierney will become a hero if he steps in front of a microphone more often, but a bit more public accountability for his company could help. That entails taking more responsibility for whatever gaffes or missteps Irish Water takes, as it has with issues such as asking people for PPS numbers and the recent furore over bonuses. There will undoubtedly be more of these in the coming months and Tierney should get out and explain his and his company’s position.

Part of this is the engaging more with TDs and Senators, since their opinions are huge factors in shaping public debate. If a TD feels unloved and ignored by a semi-State, you can bet he or she will let people know exactly what they think is wrong.

Irish Water is set to start that process next week, when its senior officers hold a private meeting with the Fine Gael parliamentary party. It will help if direct explanations from Tierney on the many outstanding questions – on PPS numbers, bonuses and the rest – start, but must not stop, there. The next phase is explaining in public. Perhaps Seán O'Rourke would oblige once more?