Friday 20 September 2019

FG blame gaffes by Irish Water boss for fall in support

John Tierney, Managing Director of Irish Water
John Tierney, Managing Director of Irish Water

Niall O'Connor

IRISH Water bosses failed to send “warning signals” to the Government that could have prevented the fiasco which has engulfed the company, chief whip Paul Kehoe has said.

The Fine Gael TD, who sits at the Cabinet table, claims that Irish Water managing director John Tierney must shoulder responsibility for much of the company’s failings.

He believes Mr Tierney didn’t realise the scale of the organisation he was in charge of and management “took on way too much”. In hard-hitting remarks, Mr Kehoe said John Tierney was not prepared for the “task ahead of him” and that the pair have had “very frank exchanges” in recent months.

Although the senior Fine Gael figure expressed his full confidence in the Irish Water boss, Mr Kehoe said he believes his party’s woes this year were sparked by a radio interview Mr Tierney did on January 9.

Mr Tierney revealed that Irish Water spent €50m on consultancy in 2013.

“In the second week of January, we had the MD of Irish Water, John Tierney, on radio and the whole thing on the consultants broke.

“From then on, every month, almost every week, there was something the Government had to face,” Mr Kehoe told the Irish Independent. “I think, personally, the management of Irish Water took on way too much and should have been giving warning signals to the Government earlier. That didn’t happen.”

His remarks came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to attribute blame for the Irish Water debacle.

Fine Gael started 2014 with 28pc in the opinion polls but support has now dropped to 21pc.

Mr Kehoe added: "The government wasn't given warning signals earlier of the pressure areas." The Wexford TD noted, however, that Irish Water management had apologised for the mistakes made.

TDs in both Fine Gael and Labour are adamant that controversies surrounding the setting up of Irish Water and the roll-out of water charges were to blame for the dramatic slump in the government's support.

Earlier this month, Environment Minister Alan Kelly criticised his predecessor Phil Hogan over his handling of the setting up of Irish Water.

But in response, Fine Gael sources have said many of the controversies surrounding water charges unfolded after Mr Hogan left the department to take up his EU post.

Mr Kehoe's decision to criticise Irish Water will be seen as significant given his closeness to many backbenchers within Fine Gael.

He said that "silly mistakes" were made during the year and that party's poll rating was now significantly lower than 12 months ago.

But his remarks come as Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to blame anyone for the Irish Water fiasco.

"Ah, I don't lay blame," Mr Kenny said during his annual Christmas briefing with reporters.

"Collectively the Government made the decision to set up Irish Water. We did that in this room here, at the committee meetings, discussed what was the best thing to do, how are you going to deal with all of these inefficiencies and lack of investment and all of that and the decision was to set up Irish Water."

Mr Kenny said it was "clear" that mistakes were made in respect of Irish Water, as well as the medical card issue, which was also seen as having damaged Fine Gael.

Asked whether the next general election would be his last, Mr Kenny declined to say, but insisted that he intended to run a "very vigorous" campaign.

"Well, I spoke to people recently about 'end of life' and it affects everybody at some stage or other and one person made the point to me: 'You know it ends for everybody, so when do you recognise that you've done something for the last time?'

"Now I expect to run a really energetic vigorous campaign through 2015 to the spring of 2016 and really and truly my hope is that we can communicate with people the extent of what they have done and the hope that we can bring that to their benefit.

"So for the future that's my commitment. I'm going to lead the party into the next election. Hopefully we can win that and continue to build in government on the progress that the people have made for our country."

Irish Independent

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