Saturday 27 December 2014

TDs and senators flounder in sea of tedium and soggy soapbox speeches

Published 15/01/2014 | 02:30

Labour deputy Michael McCarthy,Chairman of  the Oireachtas Environment Committee arriving for the meeting at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke.
Labour deputy Michael McCarthy,Chairman of the Oireachtas Environment Committee arriving for the meeting at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke.

WHAT can extinguish fire? Why, water of course. It was anticipated that there'd be a clatter of fireworks unleashed in Leinster House yesterday when the head of Irish Water faced an Oireachtas committee to supply the answers to a deluge of questions on exactly what a clatter of consultants did in order to earn millions from the public purse.

But the fireworks didn't simply transmogrify into a damp squib, they turned into a sodden, boggy morass of tedium-inducing minutiae, meandering soapbox speeches thinly disguised as questions which were rewarded with far too few satisfactory answers.

The eager Oireachtas members were practically swinging from the (metaphorical) chandeliers when John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water plus a quartet of colleagues (colleagues, not consultants, you understand) filed in for their grilling from the Oireachtas Environment committee.

In fact the chairman, Labour's Michael McCarthy, was so gung-ho that he lobbed several questions at Tierney before the chap had even opened his gob.

However, Michael had to cool his heels until John had prefaced the session by describing Bord Gais as the "midwife" of Irish Water, and it was clear that this particular stage of the process was going to be a protracted delivery.

Nobody thought that setting up a brand new national water company was going to be a walk in the park but few of the hard-pressed citizenry could've anticipated that its birth would have cost a staggering €85m by April of next year.

Maybe it was just a wearisome sense of deja-vu which settled over the Oireachtas members as once more there's national disgust over how taxpayers' money is once more going the same way as the 41pc of Irish water that wastefully leaks out through banjaxed pipes. (Think of the €43m spent on the Bertie Bowl; the €165m poured into the doomed Metro rail project; the scrapped €30m plan to site the National Children's Hospital at the Mater; the boggling €220m squandered on the PPARS health service salary systems. Oh, and let's not forget the €54m splurged on the brave new world of e-voting machines).

But none of the deputies or senators seemed able to extract many relevant nuggets of information from John Tierney -- who found himself in front of this committee largely due to a robust grilling he received from RTE's Sean O'Rourke.

Barry Cowen had brought along a document of his own -- a requested report presented to Fianna Fail on the establishment of Irish Water. Every page was heavily redacted. It was a symphony in black marker.

Barry wanted to know if the run-around which deputies had heretofore received when seeking any information on Irish Water would now end, and a new era (no pun intended) of transparency was on the way.

John assured him that there is now "an absolute commitment to produce that type of information".

"I'll take that as a yes," said Barry wryly.

One puddle of blame began to spread slowly towards Phil Hogan, when John confirmed that the Environment Department had known about the whopping €85m consultancy bill since September 2012.

A few deputies tried to land blows -- Labour's Jed Nash told Tierney he found it "offensive and appalling that this information had to be extracted from you through a journalist".

Water may be transparent but making Irish Water so is proving a torturous task.

So did chief executive John Tierney earn his €200,000 per annum salary yesterday? He sailed through the marathon five-hour session without finding himself in deep water once.

It was water off a duck's back, really.

Irish Independent

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