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Sunday 21 September 2014

Lise Hand: Phil drowns his testy inquisitors in a sea of statistics

Published 22/01/2014 | 02:30

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BIG Phil had arrived into the Environment Committee armed to the teeth. Inevitably, he was strapped into his usual (XXL) Kevlar vest - off which surface bounces the barrage of barbs, snipes, jibes and insults which buzz around this particular minister like forlorn females surround Francois Hollande.

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But this time he had extra ammo, in the form of information. If the members of the Oireachtas committee wanted a detailed breakdown of expenditure on Irish Water, by golly he had it in spades.

Phil Hogan read painstakingly through a list of stats relating to spending on the setting up of the utility company. A total of €15.7m had been outlaid in 2013, including €760,000 on the regulator, €570,000 on phase two metering, €79,000 on a PricewaterhouseCooper report, €321,000 on additional staff.

Phil read on and on. Glaciers advanced and melted. Mountains rose and fell. Prince George grew up and ascended the British throne. And still the surge of stats flowed non-stop.

It was only last week that the Environment Minister was getting it in the neck from all quarters over when precisely he knew that a whopping €50m in consultancy fees had been forked over to Irish Water.

He even mentioned that C-word which dare not speak its name. Consultants. He had got the breakdown of the class of individual/company who had been at the sharp end of the €50m pay-out.

"They're not consultants - they're external service providers," he explained in an admirable example of calling a spade not a spade, but a soil displacement implement.

Sinn Fein's Brian Stanley wanted to know how much had been spent on repairing leaks in the water system in 2013. Phil managed not to answer the question. Instead he had . . . more figures.

These related to the number of meters that have been installed to date. And so on, ad infinitum.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy wasn't waving at Phil - she was drowning in his sea of statistics.

"If you wanted to get a department that confuses people, the Department of Environment is it," she reckoned.

The cunning plan worked. Oh yes indeed, Minister.

And doubtless, somewhere in the political ether, Sir Humphrey Appleby was raising a silent toast.

Irish Independent

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