Thursday 23 May 2019

Irish Water boss admits conflict of interest to board

Chairman has links with meter contracts firm

Shares: Michael McNicholas. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shares: Michael McNicholas. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The chairman of Irish Water had to absent himself from a board meeting after advising his colleagues of a conflict of interest.

Board minutes released by the utility show that Michael McNicholas, group chief executive of Ervia, Irish Water's parent company, excused himself from a directors' meeting in December because of his shareholding in a company that has contracts with the utility.

Mr McNicholas's conflict of interest was first reported two years ago, when he said he would sell the shares and give the money to charity.

A spokesperson for Ervia said Mr McNicholas was not in a legal position to sell his restricted share holding until this year. She said he is now in the process of disposing of the shares and will donate the proceeds to the homeless charity, Focus Ireland.

Mr McNicholas owned an estimated 400,000 shares in NTR, where he served as chief executive until 2013 before taking up his post at Ervia. NTR has shares in Celtic Anglian Water which has contracts with Irish Water to install water meters and operates the Ringsend waste water treatment plant.

The minutes show that Mr McNicholas declared a "conflict" and "absented" himself when the contract and budget approval for upgrading the Ringsend plant came up at the board meeting on December 4, which continued in his absence.

The Ervia spokesperson said: "Mr McNicholas is fully compliant with all the requirements of the code of conduct of Ervia in that on his appointment as CEO he declared that he had shares in NTR and that NTR has an interest in Celtic Anglian Water (CAW) which is an operating company which has contracts formerly with local authorities and now with Irish Water.

"He has excused himself from any commercial or contractual dealings with anything to do with CAW in the company."

The board minutes, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also show that Irish Water has started moving against polluters.

Directors resolved to authorise the prosecution of a "list of persons" for water pollution. The list of suspected offenders was circulated to the board, but was not among the documents released under Freedom of Information.

Over the course of three board meetings between December and March, the directors also signed off extensions of credit facilities of €250m with BNP, Danske Bank and AIB. The debt facilities were on top of a €100m loan arrangement with Ulster Bank which it extended last year.

Irish Water's website had said minutes of its board meetings would be published in the interests of transparency. The board minutes never appeared on its website and Irish Water later said that its intention had been to post public board decisions rather than minutes and changed its website accordingly.

Sunday Independent

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