herald

Monday 21 August 2017

Irish water needs to talk to people - Enda

IRISH Water needs to constantly engage with customers and explain why we are paying for our water supply, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Mr Kenny was speaking today after his party colleague and former minister, Fergus O'Dowd - who helped establish the semi-state body - criticised the company's approach to introducing water charges and described it as "an unmitigated disaster".

Mr O'Dowd (pictured right), who developed the legislation which set up the utility, said it had "abjectly failed" in selling its message to consumers.

"Irish Water has come across as arrogant and uncaring, demanding money and demanding PPS numbers without properly explaining why all of this is necessary," he said.

Speaking this morning, Mr Kenny said Mr O'Dowd was voicing concern about how Irish Water was connecting with people in explaining the reasons for the establishment of the group.

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"He is making the point that there is need for constant engagement with communities so that everybody understands the need for setting up Irish Water and the need for making a contribution to a commodity that is very precious and is costing €1.2bn at the moment per year.

"Unfortunately we have a lot of problems with treatment works, leakages over 40pc, inferior pipe work in many places and we have got to be able to deal with this in the way that will provide high quality water for every person, business and industry for the next 50 years," the Taoiseach said.

Mr O'Dowd was dropped from his role as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources and Environment in July's reshuffle.

Asked what actions he had taken over his concerns, Mr O'Dowd said he had raised them with department officials and the then-Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who is now the designate EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Mr O'Dowd's involvement with the utility company ended after he steered the legislation, setting it up through the Oireachtas. Ministerial responsibility was taken by Mr Hogan at that point.

Mr O'Dowd said the new company had been its own worst enemy and would not be facing as much resistance if it had adopted a better communications strategy.

"I warned the department at a high-level meeting that it was going to be an unmitigated disaster if there was not enough engagement with the public," he said.

"This is not about personalities," he said. "It is about bringing about real change in Irish Water."

Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said she disagreed with some of Mr O'Dowd's comments. "We want to bring clarity to customers about what they can expect to pay," she said.

hnews@herald.ie

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