Enlighten Us Phil

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Hogan

[From left: Principal Advisor at the Department of the Environment, Gerry Galvin, Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Minister of State for the New Era Project, Fergus O’Dowd, at a press briefing regarding the establishment of Irish Water in April 2012]

Labour TD, from Louth, Ged Nash joined Richard Crowley to discuss the €50million spent on consultants by Irish Water, on RTÉ’s News At One earlier.

During their discussion, the Labour TD lamented the fact that he, as a member of the Dáil and the Public Accounts Committee, knows very little about how Irish Water was set up.

Perhaps, Mr Crowley suggested, Environment Minister Phil Hogan could shed some light on the matter…

Ged Nash: “I think people were astonished when the figures were revealed yesterday that €50million was spent on consultant fees alone, on the initial set-up of Irish Water. Now, in justifying that, John Tierney, the man that runs Irish Water said, and I quote ‘this represented value for money’. Well, if Mr Tierney reckons that that represents money, let’s have a public discussion about that. As it stands at the moment, Richard, the position is that you have as much information as I have. And I feel as a member of the Dáil and as a member of the Public Accounts Committee that I need to have more information about how this money is spent and the public need to have confidence about that that money was spent in an appropriate way.”

Richard Crowley: “But what I think surprised a lot of people, Ged Nash, is that this money was going outside the company anyway to so-called consultants and that’s a very vague term, we’re not quite sure what it means. But we thought that these guys were given the job because they knew what they were doing. Why then are they farming it out to somebody else and paying for it?”

Nash: “Well this is a question I think that needs to be put to John Tierney and indeed as well to the Energy Regulator who will be setting the price of tariffs after a period of public consultation this year, it’s important we have that information. If the Irish Water company feels it needs the expertise, they’re quite entitled to buy that expertise in but why didn’t they do that in an open and transparent way and in an accountable way? The fundamental point for me, Richard, is and I think for the people I represent, is that we must have public confidence in this public utility. Another important point to make is that it is a public utility, it is answerable to the Dáil, it’s answerable to the Oireachtas, and we need to have that public confidence from the get-go. Old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable, there needs to be full disclosure in relation to all expenditure from the, sorry, from the operations and I think that’s an important point to make.”

Crowley: “But it’s all very well to huff and puff now but the money is gone. The stable door is [bolted], there’s no point in closing it now. It’s been spent.”

Nash: “I think that’s why people are astonished at the level of expenditure. As I said, John Tierney stated, quite categorically, that he believes this represents value for money. A case has not been made, as far as I can see, to the Oireachtas. It might very well have been made to the relevant ministers, as to why this money should be paid. But the fundamental point is that all of this information should be in the public domain, as to whether or not this represents value for money or not. John Tierney reckons that it does but I think it should be up to the Oireachtas to decide whether that’s the case or not.”

Crowley: “But it was your government that set it up in this manner and it was your government that allowed, if you like, this money to be spent and now we’re in the business of saying ‘well, where did it go? what did you spend it on?’ But it’s too late.”

Nash: “I think the point is that we are, I think you’ll agree with me Richard, we are operating in something of a vacuum at the moment because there’s very limited information. My point, my central point is that all of this information should have been in the public domain in any event. It shouldn’t be a case of requiring John Tierney to say it in an interview or through some other mechanism or format. The information should be available. Irish Water should represent a new way of doing business. In other words, make sure that all this relevant information is in the public domain from the start cause if we are to have public confidence in Irish Water from the start, then it needs to find a new way of doing business, to ensure that is the kind of focus and transparency which we would expect. And we very much welcome the fact by the way that this is a public utility in public ownership but it needs to behave in that way.”

Crowley: “But surely, and this is the point again, surely the company boss, Mr Tierney or somebody else should have given these numbers, should have given a business plan to the minister involved and said ‘this is what we’re intending to do, this is how we’re intending to spend the money’ and then minister then says ‘fine, go ahead with that’ or ‘please don’t’ or maybe ‘you should look at that again’. But, really it’s too late now.”

Nash: “Yeah, we are working with limited information at present. It may very well have been the case that there was some communication between Mr Tierney and the minister of the relevant government department and indeed the regulator or someone, we don’t know that and that’s my fundamental point. We need answers to these questions and the best way we can secure and get those answers is through an examination of this issue and the Dáil Public Account Committee which has shown in recent months we can get to the bottom of…”

Crowley: “Phil Hogan, Phil Hogan could enlighten us to some degree surely, couldn’t he, Ged Nash?”

Nash: “Well that could very well be the case..we need to ensure.”

Crowley: “But it is the case.”

Nash: “Yeah, well, he’s in effect the line minister, he may have information that he can contribute to this particular debate, this discussion, in the interests of transparency. The Department of the Environment, although the Government in effect is the line department but the minister would have a degree of responsibility in that. Irish Water, of course, is a public utility. It is answerable to the Dáil. We must make sure that we obtain the answers in the interests of public confidence in this company.”

Listen here

UPDATE: On the 3pm news, RTÉ reported Mr Hogan saying:

“These particular costs have been openly tendered for and they have been verified by the [energy] regulator and they’ve been verified by the National Treasury Management Agency. But I do think that definitely that there is certain concern about this amount of money. But it was always set out, two years ago, that there was going to be a sum of money required to set up this new company.”