NUMEROUS questions and concerns about the future of water supply in the country were raised at last week’s meeting of Clare County Council, which was addressed by Ray O’Dwyer of Irish Water.
Councillors expressed concerns that the new authority will eventually be privatised, while there were also claims that taking it out of the hands of local authorities will lead to an increasingly centralised approach, with rural areas being neglected.
A number of other concerns were raised, with the members clearly concerned about the future regime.
While Mr O’Dwyer did his best to deal with what was coming at him, he wasn’t in a position to answer everything to the satisfaction of the councillors.
Lissycasey-based Fianna Fáil Councillor PJ Kelly asked about the future of Irish Water. “Will Irish Water, because of its relationship with Bord Gais, possibly be sold on in the future and if so, what protection is there for water users?”
He said privatisation had produced “disasters” in England and Scotland, with “sparsely populated areas” losing out.
Councillor Christy Curtin said a “glaring omission” from Mr O’Dwyer’s presentation had been any information on pricing policy. He also queried whether it would be possible for Irish Water to give guarantees that breaks in service will be rectified within 24 hours.
Responding to some of these queries, Mr O’Dwyer said water pricing will be negotiated with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) in time.
However, he said it hasn’t proceeded to that stage yet and he couldn’t comment on it.
He said a customer’s charter would probably be insisted on by the CER but that there had been underinvestment in water across the State for a long period and it may take a while before Irish Water would be in a position to meet such a charter.
Regarding questions about its possible future privatisation, he said there had never been any such proposals in any discussions that he had been involved in.
While he acknowledged that investment in areas with smaller populations is a concern, he said it won’t be possible to “serve lower quality water in any scheme”.
Councillor Kelly said he wasn’t happy with the response he had got regarding future ownership.
“I’m asking a straight question, I want a straight answer,” he snapped.
Responding, Mr O’Dwyer said he wasn’t sure what use a guarantee from himself would be in the situation but it was his “understanding and belief” that it will remain in public ownership.
The Lissycasey councillor then quipped that Mr O’Dwyer’s “understanding could be a misunderstanding”.
Questions were raised about payments to local authorities for taking over the infrastructure, while Councillor Tony Mulqueen repeated concerns about possible future privatisation.
“If I said to you six years ago that Irish banks would be nationalised, you’d have doubted me,” he commented.
Mr O’Dwyer said Irish Water will be taking over both assets and the liabilities associated with the assets.
He said while the figure of €10 billion is being bandied about in relation to assets, it’s not possible to put a total value on the amount of either assets or liabilities at the moment.
Councillor PJ Ryan questioned what would happen regarding farmers who had been guaranteed water for allowing Shannon Development to lay pipes on their land.
Independent Patricia McCarthy said she was “extremely concerned” about Irish Water since the very beginning and questioned if it would be “top heavy” with overheads. She also questioned its management structure.
Councillor Gerry Flynn said Shannon was practically closed for business because of water services issues and noted the local treatment plant is not complying with the terms of its licence. He also questioned how soon the capital investment from Irish Water will come about.
Councillor Pat Burke said he wanted to remind Mr O’Dwyer that there is “plenty of opposition” in the Mid-West to proposals to extract water from Lough Derg to serve the Dublin area.