ENVIRONMENT Minister Alan Kelly today apologised for “major failings” in the way Irish Water was set up.
Mr Kelly also pledged that “modest charges” fixed for a time into the future will emerge from a major government review currently under way.
In his first public comments since over 100,000 people took to the streets at over 100 venues on Saturday, Mr Kelly also made a thinly-veiled attack on his predecessor, Phil Hogan, who is now Ireland’s EU Commissioner.
He made a huge climb-down on previous government statements and said a little more time was needed to work out detailed changes.
“It is the Number 1 priority of government I assure,” he said.
Mr Kelly said the new charge regime “will be modest and consistent over a number of years.”
The Environment Minister also did not rule out the prospect of giving the Revenue Commissioners some role in collecting water charges.
Mr Kelly said he had “no ideological objection” on holding a referendum to put a “no-privatisation of Irish Water clause” in the Constitution.
But he said he thought such a guarantee might be better done by legislation.
The Minister said there will be a major overhaul of how Irish Water works but he referred questions on bonus and other pay and perks at the company to chief executive, John Tierney, who also appeared at a joint press conference at the company’s headquarters today.
Mr Tierney said the new board at Irish Water must review the “pay model” and this would go ahead. “We’ll see what comes from that,” the company boss said.
Both men apologised for errors at Irish Water and pledged to work on restoring public confidence in the entity.
Mr Kelly, who took up the job of Environment Minister last July in place of Phil Hogan, said more time should have been allowed to set up the biggest state utility in the state’s history and it was wrong to push the enabling legislation through the Dail by using the guillotine.
“I was not part of government at that time,” he said when asked his view of Mr Hogan’s role. While he avoided direct comment on Mr Hogan’s role he also notably failed to defend his predecessor.