Tuesday 25 June 2019

Irish Water in hot water over bizarre claim that staff bonuses are not bonuses

One third of Irish Water staff are set to receive bonuses of 14pc or 15pc of salary.
One third of Irish Water staff are set to receive bonuses of 14pc or 15pc of salary.
Junior minster Fergus O'Dowd
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Irish Water has become embroiled in a new controversy after bizarrely claiming its staffare not going to be paid bonuses – just “performance related awards”.

The comments come in the wake of ex-junior environment minister Fergus O’Dowd’s criticism the company had “abjectly failed” in selling its message to consumers.

Mr O’Dowd spoke of his fears that it was becoming “another cosseted quango with a bonus culture” and his belief that disadvantaged groups are faced with having to pay more for water than they should.

In an unprecedented attack from a Government TD, Mr O’Dowd said: “Irish Water has come across as arrogant and uncaring, demanding money and demanding PPS numbers without properly explaining why all of this is necessary.”

One third of Irish Water staff are set to receive bonuses of 14pc or 15pc of salary.

Official figures provided by Irish Water outline the generous bonuses and salaries to be paid to its staff, which show that:

* 29 staff, including Managing Director John Tierney, are on salaries of over €100,000.

* 165 staff will qualify for bonuses of up to 6.5pc of their salary, while some 65 staff are set be paid an extra 14pc.

But Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett repeatedly claimed these were not ‘bonuses’.

“This is a performance related award scheme that has been approved by Government,” she said.

Speaking on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, she repeatedly claimed there was a difference between bonuses and performance related pay.

“The company and the individuals have to perform before this is awarded,” she added.

Mr O'Dowd, who lost his ministry in the Government reshuffle during the summer, made the comments in a piece for today's Irish Independent.

Asked what actions he had taken over his concerns, Mr O'Dowd said he had raised them with department officials and the then environment minister, Phil Hogan, who is now the designate EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Mr O'Dowd's involvement with the utility company ended after he steered the legislation setting it up through the Oireachtas. Ministerial responsibility was taken by Mr Hogan at that point.

He said he had asked Mr Hogan for more responsibility, but this was not given to him.

Mr O'Dowd said the new company had been its own worst enemy and would not be facing as much resistance if it had adopted a better communications strategy.

"I warned the department at a high level meeting that it was going to be an unmitigated disaster if there was not enough engagement with the public and that has proven to be the case," he said.

The former minister refused to apportion individual blame for the shortcomings he identified.

"This is not about personalities," he told the Irish Independent. "It is about bringing about real change in Irish Water. This organisation has to change its ways right now and listen to the people."

Mr O'Dowd said people felt "angry and intimidated" after receiving their sign up packs in the post, requesting copies of PPS numbers.

He said it was clear there was "an intense dislike of the whole process".

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