In response to last week’s climbdown on water charges, Louth Fine Gael deputy Fergus O’Dowd, said that when he was the junior minister with responsibility for the introduction of the Irish Water company, he had raised all the current concerns, but nobody was listening.
“I tried to raise these issues, and did raise them,” deputy O’Dowd told the Democrat last week. “Nobody was listening to me, and from that point on, the trust had gone from me and the department.”
Deputy O’Dowd said that when he was appointed to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for the introduction of Irish Water, he was never silent about his concerns.
“At my first meeting, I raised issues about affordability and water poverty, which was a key issue for me. The meeting defined water poverty as referring to those who spent more than three per cent of their income on water.
“I asked that a report be commissioned on this matter and a report was done. I also raised the issues of low income, single parent and large families as well as children. These issues were most important to me at all times and I referred to them at every single meeting.
“I raised the issue of fixing the pipes before the installation of water meters. I was not silent on that point and made clear my strong view that we needed to show credibility on the issue of water wastage. In County Roscommon, for example, more than 60% of water was being wasted, while in county Kerry the figure was more than 50 per cent. We needed to acquire credibility by fixing the pipes before installing meters.
“At every meeting I attended, particularly those attended by Irish Water officials and, previously, by representatives of Bord Gáis, I stressed the importance of communication. My message was that we must explain the position to people when installing meters because the public must buy into the issue. I stated at a meeting of a public forum, which can be viewed on youtube, that the battle for the hearts and minds of the people was about this very issue and that if we did not address it by selling it, the system would not work.
We are now faced with protests, which was the nightmare scenario for me and the last thing I wanted to see. Everything I did and continue to do is to ensure the truth comes out, not only about my role but also because people must be informed and educated about what must happen in terms of water conservation.”
“I went to Kerry County Council, Galway, Roscommon, Tipperary and everywhere else to sell this message. The trouble was that nobody listened to me. They are listening now, but perhaps it is too late.
“Let us have the best and most accountable and professional Irish Water we can have, free of all encumbrances of politicians. If it is to have credibility, that is what has to happen. I always tell the truth and act in accordance with my conscience. I am not afraid to face anybody in any committee and will tell the truth at all times, because all I have are the facts for which I stand,”