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Thursday 18 September 2014

Dail committee set to ask how €50m went on consultant fees

John Downing Political Correspondent

Published 11/01/2014 | 02:30

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EMBATTLED Irish Water boss John Tierney will face a Dail committee on Tuesday to explain why his company spent half of its €100m start-up costs on consultants' fees.

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During a day of confusion about which Leinster House committee had jurisdiction on the matter, Mr Tierney made it clear that he would meet as soon as possible with whichever group of TDs and senators wanted to quiz him.

Last night it emerged that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) watchdog does not have jurisdiction. A hearing of the Oireachtas Environment Committee scheduled for February has now been brought forward to Tuesday.

Controversy continued yesterday about Mr Tierney's admission that €50m in set-up costs for the new water authority had been spent on consultants. But after a day of relative silence on Thursday, several senior government ministers yesterday came out in strong support of Irish Water.

After a difficult interview with RTE's Sean O'Rourke, Mr Tierney himself returned to the airwaves to argue his case with a second lengthy interview.

He told Newstalk Radio that up to €2.2bn would be saved between now and 2021 by more efficient water services but the charges to be paid would not be known until later this year after consultation with the Commission for Energy Regulation.

COSTS

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney accused the Opposition of "political opportunism" and insisted that Irish Water must have a chance to explain matters in full.

"People need to put this in perspective. Ireland spends €1.2bn per year providing water to households and businesses. That (€50m) is just 5pc of that," Mr Coveney said.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan who is ultimately responsible for water services, mounted an even stronger defence, saying the costs were high but necessary.

He said Irish Water was taking over responsibility for 34 local councils in charge of water and that the overall costs were comparable with what it would take to set up the ESB from scratch.

"These particular costs have been openly tendered for and they have been verified by the regulator. This is going to be a very cost-effective and lean operation," Mr Hogan told KCLR local radio in Kilkenny.

But Fianna Fail said Irish Water had spiralling costs, which would mean higher water bills for consumers.

The party's environment spokesman, Barry Cowen, said neither the company nor the Government had provided enough information about its establishment.

Independent TD Shane Ross and Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said Irish Water should appear before the PAC.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore again said it was important for Irish Water to establish trust with the public by explaining this spending. He expected this would happen soon before a Dail committee.

Irish Independent

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