Irish Water seeks to avoid passing €5m metering costs onto taxpayer

Protesters show their support against water charges during the demonstration in Dublin on Saturday. Garda sources put the turnout at between 30,000-40,000 people.

Irish Water and billionaire Denis O’Brien are locked in an escalating legal row over who should pay for a series of unexpected water metering costs linked to protesters’ interference with the equipment, which could end up costing the taxpayer €5m.

Both parties have employed lawyers to argue they are not responsible for the massive bill to pay for video security for workers who have been faced with protesters, repair works on meters, and delays in putting the equipment in place.

Details revealed on the same day as gardaí sent eight files concerning Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy and others to the DPP recommending charges be brought show Siteserv, the company owned by media mogul Mr O’Brien, and its subsidiary GMC Sierra have paid out thousands of euro to date as a direct result of the protester-linked issues.

However, with the anti-charges campaign showing no sign of abating, the firm has now contracted lawyers to argue they are not responsible for the expense and that the bill — which is estimated to be in the region of €5m — should be paid by Irish Water.

Both Irish Water and Mr O’Brien are reported to be willing to take part in a mediation process, the issue has been complicated by the fact that Siteserv and GMC Sierra insist that they were given verbal reassurances by Irish Water that the utility would pick up the cost.

The situation arose as the State firm was hit by a further controversy, when it emerged that no minutes were taken in more than half of the high-level meetings to set it up.

The issues, uncovered by RTÉ’s This Week programme, have led to concerns that the lack of notes opens up the possibility of litigation should one side remember verbal agreements differently to another.

Renua Ireland leader Lucinda Creighton said it is essential that the Oireachtas environment committee investigates, a move the committee’s chair Labour TD Michael McCarthy said will take place at a public meeting next month.

The legal and paperwork controversies came on the same day as gardai sent files to the DPP relating to eight water charge protesters including TD Paul Murphy and councillors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon.

When asked about the timing, which occurred the day after tens of thousands of people took part in a peaceful protest in Dublin city, Mr Murphy said there has been a “clear, conscious message” from Government to link the campaign to violence.

Meanwhile, a leaked garda dossier advised government TDs on how to protect themselves from violent protests by using constituency office panic buttons, CCTV and fire-fighting equipment, among other matters.

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