Tánaiste Joan Burton says she has an open mind about extending the Ombudsman’s powers to enable him investigate complaints against Irish Water.
But Taoiseach Enda Kenny, while praising the Ombudsman’s work and assuring him of the Government’s support, said: “Government is also entitled to make its own decisions.”
Their comment followed an interview in the Irish Examiner in which Ombudsman Peter Tyndall questioned the Government’s decision to preclude him from probing complaints against Irish Water.
The Commission for Energy Regulation can investigate complaints but it also sets the rules and polices under which Irish Water operates so Mr Tyndall said it could not independently probe complaints about the application of those rules and policies.
Opposition TDs moved swiftly to back Mr Tyndall’s stance. Fianna Fáil environment spokesperson, Barry Cowen, said the decision to remove water services from the Ombudsman’s remit when Irish Water was established in 2014 meant there was no proper oversight of the utility.
Fianna Fáil published a bill in April that year seeking to extend the remit of the Ombudsman’s office to include Irish Water.
“It’s alarming to see the Government continuing to prevent proper oversight of Irish Water. It makes you wonder what they are trying to hide, especially considering the number of complaints against the utility is on the increase,” Mr Cowen said.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment, Brian Stanley, echoed that view. “Irish Water customers and indeed public representatives are already aware that making even the most basic queries regarding Irish Water usually meets with a stone wall,” he said.
“The fact that there is no recourse to the Ombudsman compounds that, and also proves that the Government is well aware of the level of dissatisfaction with Irish Water.”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who had a private members bill for a dedicated Water Ombudsman, said the lack of an independent complaints system made Irish Water “a law unto itself”.
Irish Water has a detailed complaints system in place and commits to responding to complaints within five days and issuing a final decision within two months.
If a customer is still unhappy, it offers an internal review with a response within 10 days and if matters are still not resolved, it explains how to contact the Commission for Energy Regulation. Details are in the Domestic Complaint Code of Practice on the Irish Water website.
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