Joe Leogue on the catalogue of failures by Irish Water in the past month which has prompted tens of thousands to take to the streets today
If a week is a long time in politics, a month is a lifetime. Both Irish Water and the Goverment are bracing themselves for the mass demonstrations against water charges expected to spill onto the streets of towns and cities across the country today after a month of discontent.
October 1: The Society of St Vincent de Paul said there were real fears that water charges would rise once the current fixed charge period ended in 2016.
“The government subsidy is the most significant aspect of pricing for households and it is far from certain that the level of subsidy will remain post 2016,” said head of policy John-Mark McCafferty.
Without it, he said, the €240 cited by the Government as the likely average national bill could be closer to €600.
October 6: More than 400 people packed the Metropole Hotel in Cork for the launch of the ‘We Won’t Pay’ anti-water charges campaign, organised by the Anti-Austerity Alliance.
Those in attendance heard Socialist TD Joe Higgins compare the successful water tax campaign of the 1990s with the opposition to the current charges.
He said if water charges were allowed to be implemented, it would, after the universal social charge, represent the most serious attack on working-class people and their living standards in the past six years.
He also challenged the assessment by Irish Water that three-adult households would pay less than €400 a year, and four-adult households just under €500 — saying it was based on false and unreliable data.
October 7: An Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted Irish Water has suffered “teething problems” and issues with communications after it was described as “an abject failure” by former junior environment minister Fergus O’Dowd who oversaw the establishment of the utility.
The Louth Fine Gael TD, who lost his junior ministry in the summer reshuffle, said the public was not adequately informed as to how the new utility would be rolled out.
“There’s no bad time for telling the truth, and this is the truth. We need to speak out more about these issues so we get the change, there is time to change, there is time to sell the messages, there is time for people to come on board and to be sold the messages,” he said.
“People don’t understand what’s going on, some people are being intimidated to send back forms, they don’t realise that if they don’t fill in the forms that they won’t actually get the reductions for the free allowances,” Mr O’Dowd told RTÉ.
Meanwhile, Irish Water head of communications, Elizabeth Arnett, told RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke that staff at the company will not get bonuses, but have a “performance-related award scheme”.
“In relation to bonuses, there are no bonuses in Irish Water, we have a performance-related pay structure approved by Government that is in place in other utilities, and effectively it means that part of your salary you don’t get unless you perform,” Ms Arnett claimed.
October 11: Organisers of an anti-water charges protest in Dublin said that there was a considerably higher turnout than the 30,000 estimated by gardaí and claim that as many as 100,000 took part in the march.
October 14: The budget contains provisions for a new water support payment of €100 a year to some social welfare recipients and a tax credit worth 20% of a household’s annual water bill, capped at €100 a year. Opposition parties claim it is a response to recent protests, and the measures come in for criticism as the support payment is not available to approximately 190,000 short-term unemployed. Furthermore, the tax credit is not available to the 280,000 who are employed but do not earn enough to pay tax.
October 16: Irish Water conceded that it may extend the deadline by which two million households are supposed to have registered with the utility, including the controversial measure of including PPS numbers with their details. The original deadline was October 31.
October 17: GMC Sierra Ltd — one of the companies employed to install the devices — secured permission to serve legal proceedings on a number of people that the company claims is interfering with workers putting in the meters.
Irish Water moved to clarify the confusion surrounding rented properties, and explained that the landlord is not liable to pay for water bills in the event that the occupier or tenant has not registered their details.
It also emerged that tenants on the Rental Accommodation Scheme were written to by councils who warned that those who failed to pay their water charges would be evicted. The letters lead to opposition party claims that low-income families are being threatened.
October 18: There are significant turnouts at regional protests against water charges in Cork and Ennis.
October 19: RTÉ reports that senior staff at Irish Water and its parent company Ervia, may earn annual bonus payments of up to 19% as part of their reward scheme, and that awards are not limited to those who meet or exceed targets, but also include staff who get an official “need improvement” rating.
October 22: The Data Protection Commissioner confirms that approximately a dozen Irish Water customers have had their bank account details sent to their landlords in error. The Data Protection Commissioner instructs the utility to rectify the matter and put in place procedures to ensure it does not happen again.
Meanwhile, Environment Minister Alan Kelly met with Irish Water CEO John Tierney, and subsequently told the media that the utility boss needs to be out “facing the public”.
Leaving the meeting, Mr Tierney defended his position.
“Nobody has asked me to step down. I have got excellent support. There is a recognition this is probably one of the most difficult jobs anybody was asked to undertake. I’ve been up for the task since day one and I’ll be up for the task for the rest of my tenure,” he said.
Asked if his staff deserved pay-related awards, he said: “My staff are doing a fantastic job for the people.”
October 24: The Commission for Energy Regulation confirms it accepted a proposal from Irish Water to allow an extra month for the registration period. The sign-up deadline is now November 30, and the first water bills are set to be issued to households at the end of January instead of the beginning of the year, as originally planned.
October 29: Irish Water advertise for a Data Protection manager, a week to the day after news of the bank details data breach emerged. The advert says the successful candidate will be expected to assess, monitor and control risks arising from transfer of information to and from external organisations as well as develop and implement an assurance plan over the critical information security and data protection risks.
Meanwhile, Communications Minister Alex White conceded the Irish Water project was not ready. “I will agree with you that people have responded very, very strongly to this, that we have, I think, tried to bite off too much too quickly in relation to this project.”
October 30: A meeting between Irish Water staff and city and councillors in Cork is abandoned after protesters breach the conference room in the Silver Springs Hotel.
Meanwhile three people are arrested at a protest at a water meter installation in Cobh, including Karen Doyle, who told the Irish Examiner after her arrest that she is as determined as ever to fight the charges.
Meanwhile, the Right2Water campaign said there are at least 70 anti- water charges protests planned for today across the country.
Irish Water Couldn’t organise a letter to Bruree
The Irish Water letter sent to Limerick man Donal O’Regan in Brewery instead of Bruree.
It’s been flooded with complaints of incompetency, and now it’s being said, Irish Water “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery“, after it confused Bruree — once home to President Éamon de Valera — with “Brewery”.
In an Irish Water application pack sent to Limerick man Donal O’Regan, the cock-up appears in black and white.
O’Regan, said that while there may have been some poitín made in the past, Bruree has never been associated with beer.
Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins, who was asked to comment on the mix-up involving the party’s founder’s birthplace, said: “It doesn’t inspire confidence when they can’t get a simple address right. It is just another example of the whole fiasco that is Irish Water.”
Mr Collins said there was a serious side to the Irish Water administration error: “Éamon de Valera grew up in Bruree. He was very proud of the village and would be turning in his grave at this.
“It is an out-of-control bonus-driven super quango built on a foundation of incompetence by the Government. It has been a debacle from start to finish,” he added.
It is understood a large number of Irish Water packs have been returned to the controversial utility firm, due to errors or not enough information on addresses.
A spokesperson at An Post said they “would not make any comment” as it is a matter between Irish Water and the customer.
Irish Water has yet to comment on the mistake.
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