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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Thousands spent on PR firm to deal with questions from press

Paul Melia Environment Correspondent

Published 23/06/2014 | 02:30

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IRISH Water's parent company Bord Gais spent thousands of euro to hire a top public relations firm to deal with press queries about water.

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FleishmanHillard was paid a daily rate to deal with journalists after two full-time staff members in the press office who handled queries about Irish Water left Bord Gais last February and April, the Irish Independent has learnt.

But Irish Water has refused to reveal the amount it paid for the services, saying it was commercially sensitive.

Sources suggested the daily rate paid was €1,200, a figure disputed by Irish Water and Bord Gais which said that it was "incorrect" and "significantly higher" than the agreed fee.

Bord Gais Eireann Group, the parent company of Irish Water, has used FleishmanHillard for the past five years.

The company was hired following an open tendering process and with the board's approval, it said.

It added that "additional assistance" was provided to the Bord Gais Group press office in recent months while replacement press office staff were being hired.

Sources in the public relations industry said that standard fees for consultation ranging from €1,000 to €1,500 a day, were "not uncommon".

In a statement, Irish Water said the public relations firm was hired to provide cover for the press office after staff left.

"We have had to ensure that we have full-time cover and have used a mix of internal and external resources," it said.

"The group currently includes Bord Gais Group, Bord Gais Networks, Bord Gais Energy and Irish Water. Details of contractual arrangements with Bord Gais are, in line with practice, commercially sensitive and not disclosed.

"Bord Gais cannot disclose the fees paid to FleishmanHillard. However, I can confirm that the figure you mentioned (€1,200) is incorrect and is significantly higher than the agreed fee."

Irish Water refused to say how many days FleishmanHillard provided press office services, meaning the total spend cannot be calculated.

Payments to outside consultants come amid increasing disquiet about spending at the commercial semi-state utility.

It has emerged that Irish Water and Bord Gais have spent €55,000 on a staff gym at its Dublin city HQ, and almost €6,000 on entertainment for staff since August last year.

The water regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) will include "legitimate expenditure" when calculating how much of Irish Water's costs can be passed on to customers in water charges.

It is not yet clear how much spending on PR will be allowed by the regulator.

Irish Water has a start-up budget of €180m and has come under fire for spending large sums on outside consultants.

The company says these consultants are providing services needed to monitor the network.

Irish Independent

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