Editorial: Irish Water's main failure has been communication
Published 15/01/2014 | 02:30
The spending of €86m on consultants by Irish Water has excited a lot of comment and necessitated the appearance of its most senior executives before the Oireachtas Environment Committee yesterday and the Public Accounts Committee later today.
The major public concern surrounding this spending can be traced back to a more or less throwaway remark by the organisation's chief executive John Tierney in the course of radio interviews.
It was no way for Mr Tierney, a very experienced public servant, to announce the spending of such vast amounts of public money.
We have since learned through this newspaper that four of these major contracts did not go out to competitive tender because the company used an exemption in EU procurement rules.
But yesterday, it also emerged that all staff in Irish Water are now in line to receive bonuses this year.
All 510 staff in the utility, with the exception of managing director John Tierney who earns €200,000, will be entitled to bonus payments for meeting specific performance targets.
Part of the problem with Irish Water (or Uisce Eireann) is that while Irish Water has been established as an adjunct of Bord Gais it will dwarf its parent company, being approximately three times larger than the gas provider.
As such, massive investment was needed to streamline various systems to deal with the huge workload involved.
Mr Tierney told the Environment Committee yesterday that one of his key targets was to ensure that all those 'systems, processes and capabilities' are in place to take over €11bn worth of assets on January 1, 2014.
While €80m is a very large sum for ordinary taxpayers and consumers to absorb, taken in the context of an €11bn utility, this is not a vast sum of money.
So it seems that Irish Water's first failure has been a failure of communications.
It is surprising that no one advised Mr Tierney that when you are explaining you are losing. He and his officials will have more explaining to do before the Public Accounts Committee today, but, more importantly, they have yet to earn the trust and confidence of the Irish taxpayer who is funding this so called 'superquango'.
IT'S IN ALL OUR OF INTERESTS TO GET AGRICULTURAL POLICY RIGHT
While the rest of the Irish economy was in the doldrums, the agriculture sector was booming. Yesterday the Government announced details of its Rural Development Programme 2014 to 2020. The sums are staggering. The Government will invest €1.9bn over the next seven years and the EU will match this with another €2.2bn.
Taken with funds from the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) investment in Irish agriculture will top €12.5bn.
Apart from the horsemeat hiccup nobody can deny that the agriculture sector is something we can be proud of, from the worldwide success of the Irish agri-business sector to the predominance of Irish bloodstock.
The Rural Development Fund is an important element of that. So it is essential to get it right between now and 2020.
At a time when pylons and wind turbines dominate much of the conversation about rural Ireland, it is important to remind ourselves that agriculture is still an important part of what we are. Despite the pharmaceutical industry and the influx of 'new media', Ireland's reputation is inextricably linked to its food production and the agricultural landscape that enables it to thrive.
There are many elements to this plan and the farming and business communities will be poring over the details. We can only hope that it is fit for purpose and its aims will be achieved in the interest of farmers and non-farmers alike.