Ministers have been accused of trying to wash their hands of responsibility for Irish Water in a bid to head off further controversy after it emerged the utility plans to pay a 9% bonus to workers who under perform.
In a move seen as attempting to create distance between the Government and the company it created, several senior ministers publicly questioned the competency of the semi-state’s board ahead of a review of its performance next month.
Fianna Fáil accused the Government of trying to scapegoat Irish Water chief John Tierney, while Sinn Féin demanded a crackdown on the bonus culture operating at the utility.
The row erupted as it emerged even Irish Water workers who are deemed to “need to improve” are entitled to bonuses of up to 9%, while those who manage to do the job expected of them are in line for top-ups of up to 14%, and senior staff who exceed expectations can expect a wage boost of up to 19% under the company’s “reward” structure.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin insisted it was time for the Government to “come clean” on Irish Water, saying: “Who has authorised all of this? The Taoiseach himself? The Government needs to intervene here and say bonuses cannot be paid to employees of Irish Water.
“They need to reverse their approach to the structures and edifice they have created.”
Finance department minister of state Simon Harris said the “competencies” of the Irish Water board needed to be examined.
“We obviously have a situation where a Government employs people to manage, and pays them well to manage, and do a job, and it is fair to ask is that management job being carried out correctly,” said Mr Harris.
“Is it acceptable that people are waiting for such a long period of time to have their phonecalls answered?”
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said there were “real and serious issues” regarding the structure of Irish Water and how it was set up. Asked if he had confidence in those running Irish Water, he said the company needed to deal with the “many outstanding queries that are currently an issue”.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said: “There is certainly room for improvement. Every board and management is continually under scrutiny. So no Government minister would give carte blanche to anyone. Everyone will be under scrutiny.”
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said ministers needed to take action against the bonus culture in Irish Water as they had done in the bailed-out banks.
Under Irish Water’s top-up pay structure, as revealed by RTÉ, senior managers deemed to “need to improve” can expect an extra 9% payment to top up wages above €90,000.
Staff who “need improvement” earning into the €70,000s are entitled to a 4% top-up, and lower grade with wages up to the mid €40,000s can expect a 1.5% bonus.
It is the same reward model at Ervia, the former Bord Gáis, but as Irish Water is a new entity no such bonuses have yet been paid. Irish Water is seeking to impose a €188 callout charge for leaking pipes after a free initial callout.
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