With just one-third of households signed up, problems run deep for Irish Water

Moving Tierney won’t stop flow of negative sentiment

John Tierney, managing director, Irish Water. Photograph: Alan Betson

John Tierney, managing director, Irish Water. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The troubles for Irish Water and its managing director John Tierney calmed on one front yesterday, but a lingering uncertainty remains on another.

The initial noises out of the Cabinet meeting were that Ministers were in no hurry to move Tierney off the scene. Though the Cabinet technically couldn’t fire a senior officer of a semi-State company, the pressure brought by Ministers declining to express confidence in Tierney would soon become unbearable.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny later confirmed to the Dáil he had confidence in Tierney, and a spokesman for Tánaiste Joan Burton followed suit.

Undoubtedly, there are tensions, with sources claiming that while Tierney and Phil Hogan, the former minister for the environment, had a firm working relationship, the temperature cooled somewhat when Alan Kelly took over at the Custom House.

Yet the chatter in political circles centred on the relationships within Ervia, Irish Water’s parent company, renamed from Bord Gáis, rather than on the relationship between Tierney and the Government.

In a statement on Monday night, Ervia declined to say if its chairwoman Rose Hynes or chief executive Michael McNicholas had confidence in Tierney and the performance of Irish Water, claiming it never provided such comments.

Issues surrounding Irish Water were discussed at the Ervia board meeting yesterday, but even afterwards the company declined to express confidence in Tierney.

“The Ervia board discussed in detail the challenges facing Irish Water,” a statement said. “The board recognises that there are issues to be resolved and is fully committed to addressing these.”

A Government spokesman said that, while the boards of Irish Water and Ervia are to be merged as planned next month, changes to the management structure of Irish Water are a matter for Ervia.

The above statement suggests such changes, and perhaps new management structures, haven’t been ruled out. The Irish Times reported yesterday that unofficial soundings had been made since the weekend, but before yesterday’s meeting, about Tierney’s position. However, he made it clear publicly that he wasn’t going anywhere.

In any event, moving Tierney would not change the main problem facing the Government over water charges. After years of austerity, a lot of people simply don’t want to pay, even more so since they are being told an economic recovery is under-way.

The Coalition, and indeed Irish Water itself, needs to solve this problem on two fronts if it wants the system of charging to bed down and avoid a significant boycott.

Figures published yesterday showed only a third of the 1.5 million eligible households have registered for the charges, which means the deadline will have to be extended by a month until November 29th.

Many people have questioned why a flat charge – similar to the assessed charge currently paid by unmetered homes – couldn’t have been applied across the board until the vast majority of meters have been installed.

Irish Water last night said “over 455,000 meters have been installed around the country to date” , claiming this beat the target of 450,000 set for the end of the year.

Some 1.06 million will be installed by mid-2016, the company said. Further metering will be done after that, but no figures are available for the final number of homes to have meters and those, such as apartments, who will make do without.

The Coalition is now considering extending assessed charging to allow water metering catch up. Another problem is that water charges are not administered by the Revenue Commissioners, as is the property tax.

Irish Water is therefore lacking the fear factor the Revenue provides, and some Coalition sources say it may be given more powers to improve compliance.

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