Irish Water is ‘a wild animal’, Independent TD says

Mattie McGrath claims new legislation would ‘tame the beast’ that is utility company

Independent TD Mattie McGrath. Mr McGrath has claimed that Irish Water is a ‘wild animal’ and that the Government has rejected legislation that would ‘tame the beast’. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Independent TD Mattie McGrath. Mr McGrath has claimed that Irish Water is a ‘wild animal’ and that the Government has rejected legislation that would ‘tame the beast’. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The Government has rejected legislation that aims to “tame the beast of Irish Water”, Independent TD Mattie McGrath has said.

Mr McGrath described the company as “a failure, a disaster and a wild animal”.

He said that Irish Water was “sick” and it was time to “call in the vets and the ISPCA, take away this beast, give it a nice death, have a wake, a burial and a small celebration”.

Mr McGrath was speaking as he introduced legislation calling for the introduction of an insurance policy for breakages and costs of repairs for householders, for a dedicated Ombudsman for water; for freedom of information in relation to the company and a referendum in the case of a planned sale of Irish Water.

The Tipperary South TD said the company did not want responsibility for any fees. “Those in Irish Water do not want any costs. They want all the cream but they do not want any of the sour milk. That is what I see. They want everything their way and they want to screw the people for what they can get off them.”

The romantic notion of conservation was “just a pure Mills and Boon farce”, he said.

Introducing the Water Services (Amendment) (No 2) Bill, Mr McGrath said he was disappointed that Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly did not have the “courtesy” or “respect” to attend the debate.

He also noted that Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey was also absent.

Government response

Minister of State for New Communities Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government “has already put in place the measures required to address the objectives of this Bill in a comprehensive manner”.

He said the Government was firmly opposed to privatisation, and that Irish Water is already subject to FOI legislation.

He also said that there is a “robust process of protection of customer interests” through the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said that Irish Water has many challenges to confront and resolve, but providing a world-class service for consumers “remains at the centre of the Government’s reform programme”.

The Minister said that Irish Water estimated that about 6 per cent of all water produced is lost through customer side leakage.

“The utility has offered over 2,500 customers leak investigations under the interim scheme, and plans on issuing 7,500 notifications regarding larger leaks, with notifications prioritised in order of size of leak to maximise potential water savings.”

Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the only Government backbencher to speak on the Bill, said that, as a former school principal: “I recall the introduction of water charges for schools prior to the election of this Government in 2011. Schools received no additional funding to pay water charges. They simply got on with it.”

Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said: “Irish Water must be abolished and replaced with a public company that is fit for purpose.”

He said Irish Water was established as a stand-alone semi-State company, and that that meant “it does not have to disclose certain information”.

“All of us have had difficulty getting information from Irish Water.”

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen said the legislation did not go far enough, and that “we call for Irish Water to be abolished”.

He said that the accountancy trick of taking Irish Water off the national balance sheet has backfired badly, and that setting the company up had wasted €172 million, including €85 million on consultants.

“It is time to suspend water charges and abolish Irish Water. It is never too late to do the right thing.”

Lead pipes

Independent TD Joan Collins said the Government claimed it only recently realised that the State has problems with lead pipes, “but we knew for decades that any house older than 70 years could contain lead piping”.

“Members on the Government benches had the opportunity to deal with that issue while they were in the local authority but they failed to do so, even though the problems were repeatedly brought to their attention by local authority engineers.”

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said “the Government needs to lead, to stop offering snivelling excuses and drop the line that it is all the fault of Fianna Fáil”.

He told the Dáil that the Government had turned citizens into consumers. “Therefore, the Government and Irish Water should have the courtesy of affording them the rights afforded to consumers.

“If this were the case, Irish Water should be responsible for the repair of leaks and the replacement of damaged infrastructure.”

He claimed the total amount wasted to date through Irish Water was approximately €800 million.

“Only €40 million was spent in each of the past four years on leaks and replacing pipes. Proper use of that €800 million would ensure double the mains replacement programme for 16 years.

“Imagine the difference that would make to water conservation.”

However, Mr Ó Riordáin said that responsibility for the repair and maintenance of the internal water distribution system from the main stopcock to the house and within the house rests with the homeowner.

“This is similar to the situation with other utility services, such as gas or electricity.”