Phil Hogan: Set-up of Irish Water not a mess

Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Developmentat at the National Ploughing Championships.

The former minister who set up Irish Water has declared that the company overseeing water charges is not a mess and he only did what was required during the bailout.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan also moved to distance himself from the controversies with Irish Water by stressing that his successor, Environment Minister Alan Kelly, was now in charge of water.

Mr Hogan’s comments come despite previous admissions by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and others that there were mistakes made setting up the utility company. Furthermore, only half of households have paid their water charge bills.

Asked yesterday at the ploughing championships if he was responsible for the mess, Mr Hogan said: “I don’t agree it was a mess. I introduced what was required under the troika. And you’ll have to ask the Minister for the Environment Mr Kelly for the rest.

“He’s in charge of water, and Irish Water, and the delivery of a very important product called water. I’m European Commissioner for Agriculture and everywhere I go there is a demand for more resources to be provided to give more quality and quantity of water.”

Environment Minister Alan Kelly
Environment Minister Alan Kelly

When Mr Hogan moved to Europe late last year, the Government went on to overturn the system he set up for water charges. This included dropping a threat to reduce people’s water supplies to a trickle if they did not pay and dropping a system to charge households by their usage.

Mr Hogan provoked outrage in January 2014 when it was revealed Irish water had spent €50m of taxpayers’ money on consultants.

“I don’t micro-manage. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” he said at the time.

When Mr Hogan was the minister overseeing the setting up of Irish Water, legislation for it was rushed through the Dáil in four hours. Later, it emerged that Irish Water staff would be entitled to a system of bonus payments. While the Coalition tried to stop this, employment authorities last week approved the pay hikes.

While the initial water charge system was supposed to be based on usage, a flat rate is now in place until the end of 2018. The Government’s financial model for Irish Water with a €100 water grant for users also failed to pass a crucial test with Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency.

Despite the former Fine Gael minister’s defence yesterday, others firmly blamed Mr Hogan for the controversies associated with Irish Water. It was also suggested that the Coalition could have opted for other revenue- raising measures in the bailout troika deal, instead of water charges, when they took power in 2011.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, whose former government originally agreed to the bailout and to the water charges, said: “He is responsible for it [the mess].

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD pictured at media briefing at the National Ploughing championships 2015
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD pictured at media briefing at the National Ploughing championships 2015

"He must be the only man in Ireland now that is saying its not a mess and not a debacle because most Fine Gael ministers start off by saying we didn’t get that quite right did we and Labour ministers were blaming Fine Gael for the mess.”

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy, who has led protests against Irish Water, suggested that Mr Hogan and the Government could have looked at other options instead of water charges under the bailout with the troika.

“There are things that were in the memorandum [the deal with the troika] that weren’t carried through, such as the sale of Coillte,” said Mr Murphy.

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