€900k to be spent for advice on Irish Water costs
ALMOST €900,000 is set to be spent on more consultants for the Irish Water project, in what's been described as "good money going after bad".
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which oversees the controversial utility, is seeking consultancy support for its water division over two years.
The agency has said that it is advertising for consultants "to advise them on the regulation of Irish Water over the coming years".
There was widespread criticism of the sums spent by Irish Water on outside consultants when it was revealed that it would fork out €86m on such services during its set-up phase.
With the first bills set to land next month and tens of thousands again taking to capital's streets on Saturday to protest against charges, that further cash will be spent on consultants for the project was met with incredulity by one TD.
"When it comes to Irish Water it seems to be money for everything bar fixing the pipes," Independent TD Catherine Murphy said.
"The local authorities had the money to do all of this without the need for consultants," she said, referring to councils previous responsibility for managing the water system.
"I think we are seeing good money going after the bad," she added.
The estimated value of the contract is put at €872,380, excluding VAT, in the CER's post on the eTenders website.
A spokesperson said that the final cost will depend on the costs submitted by the successful tenderers and the extent to which the contracts are utilised.
"These contracts do not relate to any one consultation. They are intended to assist the CER in regulating Irish Water over the coming number of years," the spokesperson said.
They said that the €872,380 figure was included "to comply with a public procurement requirement that some estimate is given regarding the level of the contracts".
The consultancy support sought will include provision of advice on Irish Water's operating and capital expenditure for 2017 and 2018.
They say the specialists will identify "where improvements can be made and where efficiencies can be achieved".
"It is important to carry out reviews of Irish Water's operating and capital expenditure to ensure that water services are provided by Irish Water in an economical and efficient manner," the spokesperson said.
Irish Water and the Department of the Environment declined to comment on the CER's tender for consultancy services.
Last year, Irish Water's Managing Director Mr Tierney revealed that €50m was spent on consultants by the utility in 2013.
An Oireachtas Committee was later told that a total of €86m would be spent on outside consultants by the end of Irish Water's set-up phase - almost half the total cost of €180m.
Former Environment Minister Phil Hogan, now Ireland's EU Commissioner, came under fire for the scale of expenditure apparently with little Government oversight.
"I do not micro-manage what is happening in Irish Water," Mr Hogan said, defending his role last year.
The CER had been given an overall statement on projected spending with no breakdown of the sums paid to consultancy firms.
"The CER is now undertaking a more rigorous assessment of Irish Water's spending," a spokesperson said at the time.
The Government has dealt with widespread public anger over water charges in the last year.
In November, Environment Minister Alan Kelly announced reduced fees of €160 for single-person households and €260 for homes with two or more people. This is to be further reduced with a so-called water conservation grant of €100 which households can apply for once they've registered with the utility.
That hasn't entirely quenched the unrest about charges with tens of thousands assembling in the city centre on Saturday as protests continue.
Organisers claimed that 80,000 people took to the streets for the rally that passed off peacefully, though Gardai were unable to confirm the figure.
Irish Water said that a further 130,000 customers have registered in the past month - this follows the official closing date for registrations.
It said that of the 1.2 million customers registered, some 990,000 are Irish Water customers, which represents 66pc of the total customer base.
The utility has a customer base of 1.5 million customers and the first bills will be issued in April.
However, due to the large volume of customers, it will be doing this on a phased basis over an eight-week billing cycle. This means that some customers will not get a bill until June.
An original date of February 2 had been set for householders to register with Irish Water but there were no penalties for those who failed to do so.
Separately, it has been reported that there is a dispute between Irish Water and contractors installing meters over the cost of delays caused by protests and the monitoring of protesters.
According to a Sunday Business Post report, the protests have led to a bill of between €3m and €5m, with a dispute between the utility and meter installers GMC Sierra - a subsidiary of Denis O'Brien's firm Siteserv - over who will pay.
Both sides have reportedly hired legal teams in a bid to resolve the matter.
"If any claims arose from contractors, we would not confirm them publicly or comment on them for reasons of commercial sensitivity," Irish Water told the newspaper.
GMC Sierra did not comment.
SEE ANDREW LYNCH: PAGE 14