herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

Tierney must go, but Irish Water's woes run deeper

John Tierney has to go. As the Irish Water fiasco rages on, it is becomingly increasingly clear that the CEO is unwilling or unable to lead from the front. The conclusion is obvious - he cannot be allowed to lead at all.

Over the last 48 hours, Tierney has started to look like a very lonely man. A host of government figures are pointedly refusing to express confidence in him, prompting speculation that a coup is on the cards.

They might not have called him "a gobshite" as one Fine Gael backbencher did last week, but they have decided that Irish Water needs a facelift - and the hapless CEO is being lined up as a sacrificial lamb.

Tierney may feel more like a scapegoat, but in reality he must accept a huge part of the blame. Last January he made a disastrous appearance on Sean O'Rourke's RTE radio show, announcing to horrified listeners that Irish Water had splurged €50m on consultancy fees.

This led to a tense appearance in front of the Public Accounts Committee, where government TDs got their first inkling of what a PR disaster this would soon become.

Since then, Tierney has been doing an absolutely brilliant impression of the Invisible Man. He gives no media interviews and communicates only through an official spokesperson. He receives a salary of €200,000 (more than Enda Kenny) from the taxpayer, but his duties clearly do not involve the terrible inconvenience of actually talking to customers.

By a strange coincidence, Tierney's position has come under threat just as another controversy from his past starts making headlines again. During his time as Dublin City Manager, he backed the €500m Poolbeg incinerator project despite widespread fears that it would become a massive white elephant. Now construction work is set to begin, even though Dublin City Council recently voted against it by a whopping margin of 52-2.

On two occasions this year, the Oireachtas Environment Committee has asked Tierney to attend a meting and discuss his role in the Poolbeg project. On two occasions he has refused.

Ominously, one of the committee's key questions has an eerie echo of the controversy engulfing Irish Water - how was €32m splashed out on consultancy fees before a single brick had been laid?

All this means that Tierney's days as CEO of Uisce Eireann are surely numbered. If the government thinks that giving him a golden handshake will solve all their problems, however, they must be utterly deluded.

As recent events have shown, this issue has become a lightning rod for the public's anger - and water combined with electricity can be a pretty explosive mix. Suspending the charges, unfortunately, would require Michael Noonan to take back most or all of the money he gave away in last week's budget.

Every time that Irish Water opens its mouth now, it raises the national blood pressure even further. This week alone we have learned that it will charge a call-out fee of €188, more than twice what most of us would pay for a decent plumber.

Presumably it needs the extra cash to pay its staff bonuses of up to 19pc - even senior managers who are officially listed as "in need of improvement".

Replacing John Tierney would certainly be a good day's work. As part of the mammoth task to restore Irish Water's reputation, however, it will be little more than a drop in the ocean.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News