Ministers have refused to apologise for the chaotic launch of Irish Water despite its head, John Tierney, finally saying sorry for the mess.
It came as Environment Minister Alan Kelly also made it clear the option of a referendum ensuring water was kept in public ownership was viable.
Mr Tierney, the utility’s managing director, who has come under heavy for the way he has managed the semi-state and its bonus culture, admitted mistakes as the Government signalled retreat on a number of fronts in the face of mass street protests.
“I want to apologise to our customers for mistakes that have been made. We are working with the Government to address all of the issues that have arisen.”
However, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton refused to apologise for the Government’s handling of the company it created.
Mr Kelly also stopped short of an apology to customers, but admitted “major failings”.
Though he would not say so explicitly, Mr Kelly made it clear he blamed fellow ministers and his predecessor Phil Hogan for the litany of problems flowing from Irish Water as he pointed out he was not in Cabinet when the utility was “rushed” through the Dáil and not allocated adequate time to get up and running.
“Being frank about it, there’s been a lot of mistakes made in relation to the set up of Irish Water.
“I want to acknowledge here and now that there were absolute mistakes made in relation to the scale of this project.”
Insisting that it was “simply wrong” for the Government to believe it could set up the company in a couple of years instead of the five-to-six-year time scale that would have been realistic, Mr Kelly signalled charges would be “defined for a period of time so that Irish Water can be set up fully”.
Despite the fact that even under-performing Irish Water workers are in line for pay perks of 9%, when pressed on bonuses, Mr Kelly said: “I don’t tolerate them, I don’t believe them, I don’t think they’re appropriate.”
He also made it clear the option of a referendum ensuring water was kept in public ownership was a viable one, though it is believed the Government would rather try to appease concern on that issue via Oireachtas legislation if possible.
Mr Kelly said that he was not “ideologically opposed” to a referendum and believed that Irish Water should never be privatised.
Mr Kelly did not rule out the prospect of the Revenue being ordered in to deal with a mass boycott of water charges as he said all options were on the table.
As the Government promised a new, coherent strategy on Irish Water to be unveiled next week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Cabinet would seek to bring a “clear and accurate” picture of how the system would work for customers.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, speaking during a trade push in China, also admitted government mistakes, but insisted Irish Water would not be abolished as some opponents have called for.
“But I think we need to learn from some of the mistakes that have been made over the last six or eight months,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ.
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