independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

PAC to probe Irish Water spending on consultants

John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water, with one of the water meters being installed around the country.
John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water, with one of the water meters being installed around the country.

THE spending watchdog Public Accounts Committee is to launch its own investigation into the €50m Irish Water spending on outside consultants.

As Irish Water bosses prepare to be grilled by one Dail committee tomorrow on the controversial spending, the TDs' and Senators' most powerful committee moved to hold its own separate hearing into the controversy.

Sources at Leinster House indicated that Irish Water bosses, the Commission for Energy Regulation which supervises the water firm, and the heads of two government departments, Environment and Public Spending, have been summoned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Up to now it was thought that the PAC could not probe Irish Water because it is by law beyond the remit of the state's spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General which operates in tandem with the committee.  But the move to haul all those linked with the new semi-state company is a clear attempt to get over that proviso and increase pressure on the company.

Already several government ministers have clearly stated that they expect Irish Water boss, John Tierney, to clearly state tomorrow before the Oireachtas environment committee how much it gave to which consultancy firms, and what services they received in return for these fees. Mr Tierney is also expected to give some comparison of what was spent on comparable projects in Ireland and overseas.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he believed the firm may be able to justify the spending but he rejected opposition efforts to involve Environment Minister Phil Hogan in tomorrow's committee hearing.   Social Protection Minister Joan Burton also spoke of the need for a full explanation showing taxpayers got value for money and warned against Irish Water becoming 'a gold-plated operation'.

Controversy has continued since a radio interview last Thursday in which the Irish Water boss said half of the €100m set-up charges had been spent on outside consultants' fees.  The firm has been operating since April 2012 under the aegis of Bord Gais and become a legal entity in its own right from January 1 of this year.

By John Downing, Political Correspondent

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