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Sunday 17 December 2017

Now Irish Water chief faces PAC over €96m Poolbeg bill

€32m spent on consultants but not one brick laid on site

Dublin Poolbeg. Inset: John Tierney
Dublin Poolbeg. Inset: John Tierney

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

IRISH Water chief John Tierney faces a fresh showdown with the high-powered Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is now pressing to question him on the €96m costs of the stalled Poolbeg incinerator.

Mr Tierney - who appeared in front of PAC just last week to answer questions about the €50m spend on consultancy by Irish Water - served as Dublin City Council manager for more than seven years and had a direct input into decisions regarding the controversial incinerator plan.

Some €32m has been spent on consultancy services, which represents a third of the overall spend on the Poolbeg project so far.

Now PAC chairman John McGuinness is to ask the Government to refer the matter to the spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This will allow a public grilling of all those involved - including Mr Tierney.

"I am going to raise it with the Government because this represents one of the most outrageous uses of public money, considering that not a single brick has been laid," Mr McGuinness told the Irish Independent.

"It will take one phonecall to the Comptroller and Auditor General to get the ball rolling and allow us to question all of those involved in the project."

An incinerator to deal with waste in the greater Dublin area was given the go-ahead in November 1997.

But a series of objections and an EU-led investigation into the awarding of contracts means that no physical work has yet been done on the site.

Along with the consultancy spend, more than €30m was spent relocating a firm that had its premises on the Dublin 4 site chosen for the incinerator.

Other costs related to site management and relocating a second company that had premises close to the site.

A government audit of the incinerator in 2012 criticised the council for the overall spend and found that project management was "weak and not adequate".

The Irish Independent has learnt that Mr Tierney's successor as Dublin City Manager, Owen Keegan, has banned any further spending on consultancy until the results of an EU investigation into complaints against the Poolbeg project are received.

Mr Keegan has demanded that all further work on the project be carried out "in house" and has ordered that a report be drawn up on issues such as spending in the coming weeks.

"The city manager has made it clear that not one more cent will be spent on consultancy services until we know whether this project will go ahead," said a council source.

A member of the PAC, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy, last night said that the huge spend on Poolbeg must be scrutinised.

"The public are entitled to know exactly what this money was spent on and why it was spent in the first place. There is a lot to be answered here and a real need for accountability," he said.

"I am sure that Mr Tierney would be willing to answer these questions on an issue that is a real matter of public concern," he added.

While current rules preclude the committee from investigating spending by local authorities, Mr Murphy is to seek permission from the Department of the Environment for the committee to probe the Poolbeg expenditure.

He told the Irish Independent that it was "right and proper" for Mr Tierney to be asked to appear in front of PAC to answer questions on the project.

During his appearance at the PAC in his capacity as Irish Water boss, Mr Tierney defended the organisation's spending on consultants.

He insisted the companies at the centre of the consultants' fees controversy were brought in out of absolute necessity.

"These service providers have joined our team temporarily to help us build a hugely valuable asset," he said.

Irish Independent

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