Sunday 17 December 2017

Irish Water chief defends €334k package

Michael McNicholas
Michael McNicholas
John Downing

John Downing

The boss of Irish Water's parent firm, Ervia, has strongly defended his pay package, which last year totalled €334,000.

"My salary is fixed by government. It's in line with the pay policy of government. When I was approached and asked to take this job, I was told what the conditions of it were. I never tried to negotiate anything differently. It is what it is. It's in line with public policy and no more comment will I make," Michael McNicholas told RTÉ radio yesterday.

During the week it emerged that Mr McNicholas earned €250,000, which is the maximum allowable amount under the public service pay cap. But when other pay and perks for Mr McNicholas were taken into account, including pension, company car, holiday pay and health insurance, his total reward package amounted to €334,000 in 2014.

The overall boss of the controversial State utility said Ireland badly needed a national consensus on the problems facing the water and sewerage services. He said the entire system was extremely badly resourced and not fit for purpose.

Mr McNicholas said 50pc of the total supply was lost through leaks and water and sewerage treatment plants were not adequate. He said the country needed to invest €600m per year in the service and it was currently nowhere near that amount, with Irish Water likely to spend €400m this year.

The Ervia boss said water investment was part of a budget process with decisions varying from year to year. "Year in and year out you have 'go' and 'no-go' decisions, which you cannot do to invest in long-term infrastructure for the future," he said.

Mr McNicholas delivered a robust defence of Irish Water's achievement record over its first 18 months in existence. He said the number of homes on "boil-water notices" had been reduced from 24,000 to 6,000, with plans to cut that further to 2,000 homes by the end of the year.

He added that additional capacity was supplied to the Dublin area where shortages often threatened.

Work has begun on six of the most urgently needed waste-water treatment centres at some of the 44 locations where raw sewage was still being pumped into the sea and rivers and a national plan to replace lead pipes was developed.

"The only solution that will fix this problem is a single national utility. We have established that utility and it is already making a difference and it has done more in 18 months than has been done in the last two decades," Mr McNicholas argued.

Following on remarks which caused some controversy at last week's MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, the Ervia boss argued that all the evidence clearly showed that Irish Water was needed and would persist after the next election.

Mr McNicholas said the fixing of domestic water charges was not within his remit. He said it would take at least a full year to assess what the payment rate of the new domestic water charges would be as, at present, bills were going to some premises which were unoccupied.

The Ervia boss said there were three funding sources for the company: the Government subvention, business charges and the new domestic charges. The domestic charges amounted to just one-third of potential revenues.

Mr McNicholas again rejected the term "bonus payments" for Irish Water staff, insisting on the term "performance-related reward". He said the board made its own decision not to pay these "rewards" and it was now a matter for the Labour Relations Commission to decide in future.

Irish Independent

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