Enda Kenny has ruled out scrapping controversial pay bonuses for Irish Water staff, but says staff with the new utility company will get no pay increases until 2016.
His comments came as embarrassed members of government were forced to respond to scathing criticism about Irish Water from the former Coalition minister who set it up.
Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said the setting up of the company to oversee new charges had been an “unmitigated disaster”. It had a “major communications failure” dealing with customers, revealed the Louth TD, as he said he had voiced concerns several times when the semi-state company was being set up.
Reacting to the unprecedented criticism of the firm, the Taoiseach admitted there had been “failures” with how it operated.
He also admitted that there were communication problems with the company.
However, Mr Kenny told the Dáil he did not agree with claims by deputy O’Dowd that the company was a “disaster”.
Instead, he said there had been “teething problems” setting Irish Water up, but that it was “here to stay”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on the Government to release a poverty audit on the charges and Irish Water, which Mr O’Dowd revealed had been carried out.
Mr Kenny rejected the Opposition leader’s criticism and pointed out that Mr Martin’s party had originally proposed that water charges would average €400 but that they would now amount to €240 a year.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the Government to scrap the proposed bonuses for staff in Irish Water.
In some cases, staff will get thousands of euro, while some pay increases could amount to 14% of salaries.
Mr Kenny said any bonuses for staff would not be paid until 2016, and that Irish Water’s CEO would also not get a bonus.
He said Sinn Féin’s budget proposals, to be launched today, would include plans to scrap water charges but would leave a €850m gap in the public finances.
Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett defended the payments and repeatedly said they were not bonuses. “This is a performance-related award scheme that has been approved by Government,” she told RTÉ.
“The company and the individuals have to perform before this is awarded.”
Twenty-nine staff, including managing director John Tierney, are on salaries of over €100,000.
Nine staff members are on salaries between €125,000 and €149,999, while another 19 are paid between €100,000 and €124,999. In all, 165 staff will qualify for bonuses of up to 6.5% of their salary, while 65 are set be paid an extra 14%.
Some opposition TDs want households to boycott the new charge.
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