Irish Water billing - Muddying the waters even further

IT becomes harder by the day to divine what decision-makers at Irish Water are thinking.

 Despite being dogged by controversy, largely of its own making, from its inception this State-owned company had a truly abysmal record of bungling because it was set up under the unseeing gaze of a coalition government forced to allay mounting opposition to water charges by offering grants.

Ranging from extreme campaigners to those who support the principle of paying for water, people either see it as an extra layer of taxation or as the last straw in a punishing regime of austerity.

Yet, Irish Water continues to provide critics of the way the business is run, not to mention tens of thousands of anti-water charge campaigners, with the kind of ammunition that reflects a tendency to shoot itself in both feet.

In the latest chapter of this saga, costly both in political and financial terms, the company plans to send out water bills to more than 1.7 million households in the full knowledge that hundreds of thousands of those invoices will, in one way or another, be incorrect.

Viewed through the jaundiced eyes of the man and woman in the street, this will inevitably be seen as further proof of its generally perceived incompetence, justifying the widely held public impression, shared by some members of Government, that it is not fit for purpose.

Indeed, it has recently been confirmed that no minutes or written records exist of important meetings which took place behind closed doors between Irish Water representatives and former Environment Minister Phil Hogan and his officials.

Now the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Hogan later explained that it was not his job to micro-manage the water company’s development.

Yet another example of a laissez-faire approach to its formation, this raises serious questions about the failure of governance on Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s part and also by the Coalition to keep its eye on the ball.

The upshot is that along with householders whose property has been metered, more than 500,000 householders from its customer base who have not yet registered will also receive bills.

Irish Water is hoping customers whose ‘unique’ address is not in its possession will contact the company and fill them in.

The questions are: what happens if contact breaks down? And what if the 500,000 customers fail or refuse to register? The company denies it is sending out bills “willy-nilly”.

Furthermore, it argues that in building a database teething problems will always arise, but going on its own figures it looks as if up to 500,000 ‘issues’ may be looming.

Unfortunately, in view of its record, it is hard to have confidence in the future performance of an organisation entrusted with the management of the nation’s vital water resource.

The political elephant in the room remains the burning question of whether Irish Water will one day be privatised and sold off to shore up the deep hole in the national coffers.

It beggars belief that they are operating on the basis of such a lack of information when it comes to sending out bills to households up and down the country over a two-month period starting in April.

Let’s hope the billing operation does not begin on April Fool’s Day.

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