Coalition record on utility clear as mud

THERE is nothing secret about it and nothing that will be secret about it. This was the Taoiseach’s defence of Irish Water, which he told the Dáil yesterday will be fully accountable and fully transparent.

Coalition record on utility clear as mud

But the focus of the controversy has now shifted to why information — which it has emerged was provided to the Department of the Environment by the utility company — was not released in response to questions from members of the Oireachtas.

“All this information was with [Environment Minister Phil] Hogan and the department for well over 12 months,” Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Taoiseach.

“Minister Hogan did not want to tell the truth to the Dáil. It was a deliberate, premeditated, and conscious decision to deny that information to the Dáil and deny that information to the public.”

Here are some of the questions asked, and how the Government failed to provide the information to TDs and senators:

Nov 5, 2013 Written Parliamentary Question

* Kevin Humphreys (Labour): “To ask the Minister for Environment, Community, and Local Government the amount that has been spent by Irish Water on consultancy services in 2013; if he will indicate the companies or persons involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”

* Answer from junior minister with responsibility for the agency, Fergus O’Dowd: “Bord Gáis has put in place appropriate programme management arrangements to establish Irish Water, to prepare for the transfer of assets, liabilities, and functions from local authorities from Jan 1, 2014, provide for customer service and billing, and implement the domestic water-metering programme.

“Expenditure on this programme, including details of consultancy costs, is a matter for Bord Gáis/Irish Water, and these costs are not being funded from the exchequer.”

Nov 19, 2013

Written Parliamentary Question

* Barry Cowen (FF): “To ask the Minister for Environment, Community, and Local Government the consultants that have been hired by Irish Water to date; the length of their engagement; and the total costs to date and final estimated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”

* Answer from Fergus O’Dowd: “The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann, to be formed and registered under the Companies Act. Bord Gáis has put in place appropriate programme management arrangements to establish Irish Water, to prepare for the transfer of assets, liabilities, and functions from local authorities from Jan 1, 2014, provide for customer service and billing, and implement the domestic water-metering programme. Expenditure on this programme, including details of consultancy costs, is an operational matter for Bord Gáis-Irish Water, as these costs are not being funded from the exchequer. I am asking Irish Water to liaise directly with the deputy.”

Jul 17, 2013

Written Parliamentary Question

Niall Collins (FF): “To ask the Minister for Environment... his views on whether the work of Irish Water should be entirely transparent and accountable and if he will, therefore, extend the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to that organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”

* Answer from Fergus O’Dowd: “Irish Water will be required to submit an annual report on the performance of its functions each year to the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources.

“Irish Water will also be required to submit its annual accounts to the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government each year. The extension of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to include Irish Water is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.”

Seanad, Dec 16, 2013

David Cullinane (Sinn Féin): “I move amendment No 54 to insert the following: ‘Irish Water shall be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2013.’ I seek further clarification from the minister before making a substantial contribution on the amendment. My understanding of what he said is that it is only in the initial establishment of Irish Water that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply but that once it is up and running, it will apply.”

* Answer from Fergus O’Dowd: “It is not a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government, but for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I understand the inclusion of Irish Water under this legislation will be further considered by that minister. That is as far as I can go.”

* David Cullinane: “The problem is there is no guarantee. This amendment seeks to ensure that it will be subject to that Act.”

Dáil. Dec 19, 2013 Michael McNamara (Labour): There is no provision, high up or low down, that Irish Water shall answer questions from elected representatives pertaining to its areas of responsibility. Will the Minister of State accept an amendment to that effect? I accept the Minister of State has the best intentions and Irish Water may even have good intentions but we are setting up yet another unaccountable body. There is no legislative provision for elected representatives to be able to ask questions and receive answers.”

* Answer from Fergus O’Dowd: “Uisce Éireann will be accountable to the Oireachtas through the annual report, just like Irish Rail and other semi-state companies such as Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna. That report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, so there is no question of the deputy or anybody else not being able to come in here and ask questions of Irish Water about any issue.

“The annual report will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and will be a matter for discussion. There is no issue of the deputy not being able to ask questions, write to this body, or otherwise communicate with it. Representatives can be brought before committees. I do not see a problem in this respect. As Irish Water has a development, there must be consultation with other bodies. There is no question in my mind about the body being accountable.”

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