Fine Gael deputy Fergus O’Dowd, who as a junior minister at the department for the environment was responsible for the setting up of the regulations governing Irish Water, said he had told Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Irish water’s introduction of water charges was “an unmitigated disaster”.
Mr O’Dowd said he worried that the company was becoming “another cosseted quango with a bonus culture”.
Deputy O’Dowd, who lost his junior ministry at the Department for the Environment during the summer, said he raised his concerns with the Taoiseach and the then minister, Phil Hogan, about the charges and the people who cannot afford to pay.
Deputy O’Dowd said he had told the Taoiseach and Phil Hogan that Irish Water was “an unmitigated disaster”. He had said it at a management committee meeting and in public long before last week, but nobody “seemed to be listening”.
“I have been saying this since I went into the job as minister,” Mr O’Dowd told the Democrat.
“My job was to do the regulation. I went to the Taoiseach and Phil Hogan. I said it at a management committee meeting.
I said it a lot in public. They just weren’t listening until now. I always had the same message, and that is: People need to know why the charges are necessary.”
“A high quality water system is necessary if we are to create jobs the food sector and agriculture in general.”
Mr O’Dowd has also criticised the high number of staff employed by the Irish Water company, most of whom were co-opted from local authorities to the semi-state body.
Deputy O’Dowd has suggested that a voluntary redundancy package should be introduced at the company and staffing levels reduced. This he said would bring about cheaper water rates.
He pointed out that water charges in the UK are two-and-a-half times cheaper than here and in Scotland costs were also reduced.
“Irish Water is over-staffed,” he said. “and with modern technology, there is an opportunity to look at how efficiencies can be made.
“There is a real opportunity to cut costs and now is the time to look at it. A redundancy package could be brought in as long as it is voluntary.
“When the water system was re-organised in Scotland, the cost of producing it was reduced by 40 per cent.”
Mr O’Dowd also responded to a statement by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) following a comment by Irish Water head of Communications Elizabeth Arnett.
Ms Arnett had said: “All the costs, including the staff costs in Irish Water, are included in the costs approved by the regulator”.
But in a statement, the Commission for Energy Regulation said no staff bonus amounts were reviewed or approved by it.
“That is astonishing,” deputy O’Dowd remarked this week.
Some 519 members of Irish Water staff are set to avail of bonuses of 7.5 per cent.
Some employees will be entitled to amounts that are worth 15 per cent of salaries.