Former minister accuses Hogan of ‘hubris’ over Irish Water

Fergus O’Dowd says his warning may have been a factor in him losing junior minister job

Phil Hogan: accused of “hubris and arrogance”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Phil Hogan: accused of “hubris and arrogance”. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Former minister of state Fergus O’Dowd has claimed he was ignored when he warned then environment minister Phil Hogan that Irish Water needed a “proper, professional communications strategy” when it was being established.

Mr O’Dowd, who was involved in the establishment of the water authority, said he told Mr Hogan, now European Commissioner for Agriculture, “that it would be an unmitigated disaster”.

“Needless to say I was not listened to and hubris and arrogance won out over logic and concern for ordinary people,” Mr O’Dowd said.

At the time, Mr Hogan had overall responsibility for the establishment of Irish Water and the legislation introducing water charges.

Mr O’Dowd said his warning may have been a factor in his losing his job as a minister of state.

The Louth Fine Gael TD was speaking during the ongoing debate on the Water Services Bill in the Dáil, which provides for refunds to those who paid water charges, and for fines for excessive use of water.

There was another low attendance in the Dáil on Thursday for debate on the legislation, which commenced on Wednesday night. Just seven TDs attended debate on Wednesday night on the controversial issue, which has convulsed politics in the State for four years.

The former minister also said “hubris and arrogance” won out in how Irish Water would function and on the issue of privatisation.

He insisted that it was agreed in discussions that Irish Water would “never be privatised” but he said “it never appeared in the legislation”.

‘Transparent and accountable’

He told the Dáil it was agreed that Bord Gáis had the capacity to run a water network but that Irish Water would be an “absolutely stand-alone organisation” within two years maximum.

He said it was also to be “transparent and accountable”. Mr O’Dowd believed that if that were the case, everyone would know what was going on and there would be trust in the water authority.

But instead a decision was made to incorporate it into the Ervia group of companies because there were “power plays between different organisations as to who would be the lead, who would be the manager and who would be the overall director or controller and all that cant and hypocrisy”.

He added that “all the while people were losing confidence in the organisation”.

Mr O’Dowd said he believed Irish Water should be totally separated from Ervia. “Then we would never have all that rubbish about people getting extra pay because it was linked to pay in some other organisation and all the stuff that went on, which was a disgrace.

“There is arrogance still at the heart of Irish Water,” he added. “In my view there is despair.”

Sharply criticising the organisation, he said it was arrogant in the way it went about its business, “its insistence on using consultants and its lack of proper organisation”.

Debate on the legislation continues.