Trying to pour oil on troubled waters

John Tierney, Managing Director of Irish Water.

Changing a few board members at Irish Water will not allow the Cabinet to wash it hands of the mess that it has created. It must tackle the bonus issue and fast, writes Shaun Connolly

HOW lucky for the top brass at Irish Water that they are entitled to a big bonus for not doing their jobs properly — because judging by the mess made of things so far, they are going to be quids-in.

Not so lucky for the struggling families forced to stump-up when they turn on the taps so they can pay for the bonuses, of course.

Or for the ministers who have belatedly realised what a monster they have created — which is perhaps why they still refuse to face reality over this escalating political disaster.

But, of course, in the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of Irish Water everything is inverted and a bonus is not a bonus at all, but a “reward”.

Though, when we are talking about this unfortunate utility that still equates to a reward for failure.

Thanks to the cushy little number passed down from its parent company Ervia, formally Bord Gáis, senior managers already earning in the €90,000-plus bracket will be entitled to a 9% bonus, sorry “reward”, under the performance-related pay scheme — even if their performance is ruled to “need improvement” at their annual review.

And as befits a top-heavy structure which the ESRI has condemned as bloated, the higher-up you are, the more you take, as those on the lower ranks not doing their jobs properly will only be rewarded for not doing their jobs properly by 1.5%.

Senior staff who actually manage to do the tasks assigned to them will be in line for a 14% bonus for pulling off this wonder of the modern workplace.

And if someone at the top of the ladder actually manages to do better than expected — and by the standards set so far, it would seem not very much is expected— they will get a 19% reward.

In the clear-as-polluted-water communications that have become a trademark of the unloved utility, a spokesperson helpfully “explained” that while the rewards were performance related, they were not strictly speaking salary bonuses: “Part of that salary is withheld and placed at risk and you have to work for that and it is dependent on your performance. There is no bonus on top of your salary, part of your salary is placed at risk.”

Yes, but not really much of a “risk” for the senior manager who knows they will automatically get a near €9,000 bonus for not doing their job properly.

But a major risk for the Government now that this absurd situation has come to light.

That is why ministers are now trying to publicly undermine the Irish Water board and its CEO John Tierney at every turn ahead of a planned sweep out of the utility’s high command next month.

And if the Cabinet thinks it can cut itself off from the creature it has created just by changing a few board members then it is still clearly in denial about the contamination this utility will inflict upon it up until the next election unless it can get a grip on the bonus issue.

But as Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeatedly told the Dáil there will be no bonuses in Irish Water, that is proving somewhat tricky.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton was being especially slippery when he declared that bonuses were performance related, none had been paid out, and the Government had no control on them.

Talking down to people like that is hardly likely to improve matters, as customers know the only reason the bonuses have not yet been paid is because the company was only just launched, the “performance” related element covers under-performance, and if the Government is not in control of this thing, then who is?

Irish Water is not an alien life form that has suddenly landed on Ireland with the sole purpose of exploiting its natural liquids, and as such is beyond the control of human kind.

It is a semi-state body created by Fine Gael and Labour and ram-raided through the Dáil by them under guillotine so that its many flaws could not be examined before it went into operation.

The in-built bonus structure would be a nightmare to now legally unpick, but this is a horror story penned from the Coalition’s own hand with even the junior minister who helped craft it, Fergus O’Dowd, branding it a “disaster” from the safety of the backbenches.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are shouting for a banker-style crackdown on the bonus culture, and no bleating from ministers that it is really a “reward” structure” which cut pay across Bord Gáis by 2.1% in 2012-13 is going to stop the damn of public anger bursting come election day.

In a rare nod to reality, Irish Water is considering extending the registration date beyond the deadline of October 31.

But wherever they shift it to in the calendar, Irish Water will always mark Halloween for this Coalition, and the incompetent manner in which they set it up will haunt them for the rest of their time in power.

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