herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Irish Water has become an 'embarrassment' to Government - minister

Alex White
Alex White

Communications Minister Alex White says the Government must accept the embarrassment over Irish Water debacle, but that the utility is worth continuing with.

Mr White said the Government must accept it has gotten certain things wrong in the creation of the much-maligned quango, but says it cannot be dismantled.

"We can take embarrassment and the Government has to take embarrassment and take criticism on Irish Water," he said.

"But the one thing we cannot imagine is that we can put in place a fit-for-purpose infrastructure like water for the future of this country without paying for it or having a funded structure for it," he added.

"We are talking about a critical piece of infrastructure, but it is telling there is no serious credible alternative to this project," Mr White said, adding "we need political consensus".

Asked is Irish Water the model to stay with, the minister said: "No question".

Some last night took his comments to be a criticism of his party colleague and Environment Minister Alan Kelly and his predecessor Phil Hogan.

Mr White downplayed the significance of the decision of the European agency, Eurostat, to reject the Government's wish to keep Irish Water's borrowings off the State balance sheet.

borrow

The Government had argued as one of the main reasons for creating Irish Water in its current form, was to allow it borrow sums of money without affecting the country's debt figures.

But he said the decision was not the most critical from his point of view.

"I think it is desirable for it to be off balance sheet because there would be more freedom in terms of borrowings," he said.

"I don't think it is the most critical issue. We have already planned for it to be on the balance sheet. It does require investment and it does require a commitment," Mr White added.

He denied the Government is not in control of the situation, but said the Government is justified in calling into question the assumptions made by Eurostat in its decision-making on Irish Water.

"It is fair enough for us to question the basis upon which a decision by Eurostat was reached. It is fair enough for those issues to be raised and ask 'did you look at this' or 'did you look at that'," he told RTE Radio.

"But clean water and reliable water is far more important than on or off the balance sheet," the Dublin South TD said.

Separately, Mr White said he felt that those TDs found to have abused their Dail privilege should face tougher sanctions.

He said that, in his personal view, such sanctions should include a TD's pay. But Mr White ultimately said it is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP) as the oversight body in the Oireachtas to decide on exactly what sanctions should apply.

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