NI water crisis: “why Sinn Féin and the DUP have reacted with a mix of denial and pulpit thumping”

Via Newshound, in the Sunday Times Liam Clarke adds his thoughts on the “pulpit thumping” intervention of the OFMDFM, the possibly misplaced ministerial confidence, and the ongoing cost of Executive crowd-pleasing as the NI water crisis continues.  From the Sunday Times article

Murphy and his colleagues are making the most of the inherited nature of their difficulties. Yet, knowing the risks, the DUP/Sinn Féin-led administration did little to improve the situation.

There was some limited investment in the water system in order to avoid a European Union fine, but overall the emphasis was on economies. NIW has absorbed 300 redundancies in the past year, and was ordered to cut planned investment by about £100m by the regulator.

NIW handed back £21m to Stormont at year end.

Elsewhere in the UK, investment in the water infrastructure was achieved by selling off the water companies and charging rates. Instead of privatising NIW, a government-owned company that cannot borrow money against its assets or float shares like its English equivalents, Murphy wants to nationalise it.

The Northern Ireland executive is committed not to introduce water rates until at least 2014, a crowd pleaser introduced in its first budget. It has now become a shibboleth and is touted as evidence that devolution works. As a result, NIW has to be subsidised from other assembly budgets to the tune of £500m a year. From next year, capital charges of an additional £400m a year can be deducted from the Northern Ireland block grant by the Treasury unless the government agrees to forgo the sum, which seems unlikely.

This is a subject that nobody likes to mention, but it has been brought into sharp focus by the failure of the water system so close to next May’s assembly election. The proximity of that election is also why Sinn Féin and the DUP have reacted with a mix of denial and pulpit thumping.

Read the whole thing.