IT HAS been a tricky start to 2014 for Irish Water. There have been questions about its spending on outside consultants, about its payment of bonuses to staff and about its recruitment of senior personnel recently departed from the local authorities on very handsome severance terms.
In fact, last week, in reply to a Dail question, it emerged that one-third of all jobs at the new semi-state firm, set up under the aegis of Bord Gais, actually went to former local authority senior staff. Yesterday, there were further questions raised about Irish Water following the publication of documents relating to the transfer of assets, staff and pension entitlements from various councils to Irish Water. With this complex process comes a suggestion that it would happen more easily if staff got good treatment on jobs, pay and pensions.
Irish Water insists that this is just an attempt to ensure continuity of service and minimise duplication in a smooth, phased handover from the 34 councils, which, up to now, were in charge of water services. Their critics see it as a more cynical exercise. For now, Irish Water remains at a very dangerous phase in its existence and must do everything possible to keep public confidence. People accept that regular piped water of a good standard has always cost money. People also know that the service requires big investment to stop the huge level of leaks and ensure continuity of service. They are prepared to pay water charges to a new entity that achieves these aims.
Good service at a fair price is key. But so, too, is a sense of trust. That can only be achieved by the company upholding the highest standards of behaviour, which obviate any suspicion that they are careless with people's money.