TD queries on outlay were never passed on
Published 16/01/2014 | 02:30
IRISH Water never received questions submitted by politicians about its spending -- because they were not passed on by officials at the Department of Environment.
The startling admission was made by a senior civil servant, who cited "workload issues" as the reason for the cock-up.
The failure of either the department or Irish Water to respond to requests from TDs for information has done much to fan the flames of the controversy over consultancy spending by the utility agency.
Several TDs complained at Oireachtas hearings this week that their questions had simply been ignored, but Irish Water officials were unable to offer an explanation as to why.
The questions, submitted in late last year, were never answered despite a request by Environment Minister Phil Hogan that a mechanism be put in place to deal with them.
This would have involved protocol being drawn up so questions could be forwarded by department officials to the relevant section of Irish Water. But this never happened, with the workload of department staff now being cited as the excuse.
The Irish Independent has established that Department of Environment secretary general Geraldine Tallon contacted at least one of the irate TDs yesterday, Labour backbencher Kevin Humphreys, to apologise for what was described as a genuine oversight. An informed source said: "The secretary general made contact with the TD.
"She said the minister had asked for a procedure to be set up to answer parliamentary questions such as these. But because of workload it didn't happen. "An apology was made for what had happened. The apology was accepted."
The offer of the apology by Ms Tallon was confirmed by Mr Humphreys, but he declined to comment further.
Last night a department spokesman confirmed the TD's request for information was "never transmitted" to Irish Water, despite an assurance it would be.
At the Oireachtas environment committee earlier this week, Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen asked why parliamentary questions he had submitted were not answered. Irish Water managing director John Tierney responded that it was not within its remit to answer parliamentary questions.