Environment Minister Phil Hogan faced criticism from fellow Fine Gael TDs last night over costs at Irish Water and questions why issues were not revealed when legislation had previously gone through the Dáil.
The €50m spend on consultants and the use of local authority staff were raised at the weekly party parliamentary meeting. TDs also asked why issues and costs were not raised when legislation was rushed through the Dáil in December.
“It could have been aired back then, but he blamed the troika for it going through so quick,” said a party source.
Party sources also said that Mr Hogan replied that all was “above board”, that staff would be reassigned to other council work if not needed by the utility company and that customers would only be charged for the delivery of water services and not the non-usage of staff.
Earlier, ministers insisted they had not been forced into a climb-down as moves to finally subject crisis-hit Irish Water to Freedom of Information probes were rushed through the Oireachtas.
The Dáil and Seanad both passed motions to include the metering monopoly under the transparency legislation. The move is to be backdated to July when the organisation was first legally established.
Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure and reform minister, insisted he had always intended to bring the company under the FoI umbrella and the move was not a U-turn.
However, Sinn Féin’s environment spokesman Brian Stanley accused the minister of defending the exclusion of commercial State bodies from FoI last November because of competition in the market.
“In Irish Water’s case, however, there is no such competitor, nor should there be. This is a State company and will be the sole provider of water,” the TD said.
Mr Stanley also joined forces with Independent TDs to demand Coillte and other organisations be brought under the transparency net.
Roscommon-Leitrim TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, told the Dáil: “Why not apply the legislation to Coillte? What is so different about Coillte? Even Fianna Fáil has stated that we need a less minimalist approach to freedom of information. The dam has broken if that is the case.”
Mr Flanagan said that after the inclusion of Irish Water, 41 public bodies will be totally exempt and 24 will be partially exempt from the openness legislation.
Irish Water has 30 days to make administrative arrangements to be fully compliant with FoI legislation.
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