The head of Irish Water’s parent company, Ervia (formerly Bord Gáis), has confirmed he is to "divest" himself of more than 400,000 shares in a company which makes money from installing water meters — but insisted everything he had done is "above board".
Details of Ervia chief Michael McNicholas’s shares in NTR emerged in a report in the Mail on Sunday. It raised “perceptions of a possible conflict of interest at the very heart of Irish Water”.
Yesterday, Mr McNicholas confirmed he was chief executive of NTR until May 2013 when he joined Ervia.
“I am fully compliant with all of the requirements of the code of conduct of Ervia in that I registered my interest with the company, in that I declared have shares in NTR, that NTR have an interest in Celtic Anglian Water (CAW) which is an operating company which has contracts, formerly with local authorities and now with Irish Water,” he said in an interview on RTÉ radio.
“I have excused myself from any commercial or contractual dealings with anything to do with CAW in the company, which is what is required under the code of conduct. So everything I have done is above board.”
Nonetheless, he had pointed out in recent days that Irish Water had not gained the trust and confidence of the public and “we need to build trust”.
He said he had spoken to NTR on Sunday and told it he could no longer sit on its investment advisory committee even though it was to do with renewable energy “and has no conflict whatsoever with my role in Ervia”.
He said any proceeds from the divestment would go to Focus Ireland.
Meanwhile, he sought to explain the €100m gap between the initial projected cost of the meter installation programme — €432m and the latest figure of €539m.
He said the initial figure was only arrived at after the Government asked Bord Gáis, as it was at the time, to put together an estimate.
He said three factors drove the difference:
-The estimate occurred before Bord Gáis had survey details from local authorities
-The original estimate was on the basis there would be three regional contracts. It was decided to expand to eight regional contracts. “We wanted to spread the workload out over more contractors... which ... gave us much more control.”
-Issues with risk price. “For some regions, some contractors were... not prepared to carry the risk for the price they had bid. So... you move to the next contract up and that increases the overall price.”
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