NI Water: Any convenient ‘troubled’ port in a storm?

Interesting quote from Liam Mulholland who in the absence of any substantial public appearance from his boss, the CEO of NI Water Laurence MacKenzie, puts the blame on the Troubles (for any foreign journalists reading, you might like to note these ‘officially’ ended back in 1994) for his company’s poor reaction to the extreme freeze thaw weather conditions of the last two weeks.

The clear imputation is that politicians were to blame, even though it was Mr MacKenzie himself was so keen to cut both long term investment and the short operational capacity of Northern Ireland Water.

Add to that the fact that neither the CEO nor his number two, the Head of Operations, put the company’s pre-prepared emergency plan into being until 27th December, even though they had information telling them they had a serious serious problem on the 21st, and this begins to look more like a ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse than a reason for 40,000 people to go without water for so long.

You can be pretty sure Mr MacKenzie won’t be trying that one on with a new Board which will be much more inclined to take the Minster’s (who was set swinging in the wind somewhat by his own boss a few days back) necessarily malign view of such an attempt to evade the executive blame for these matters tomorrow than the one he apparently asked be sacked last March.

For all the press reports of Mr MacKenzie’s imminent resignation, don’t believe a word of it until you see the signed paper. We (and the Consumer Council) have been here before. This guy is nothing if not clever, determined and tenacious.

Perhaps it’s something the Minster should have considered before he let himself be convinced by his still suspended former Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, to sack a perfectly competent and, more importantly, an industry experienced, Board of Northern Ireland Water last March.

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  • Cynic2

    There are now two seperate issues:

    1 a comprehensive inquiry into the past and what went wrong. This really needs to cover the whole history of say the last 5 years leading up to this debacle and include the conduct of Ministers.

    2 a clear plan for the future. That means installing the new Board soon. I have nothing against some of the existing Board today – they seem honest and competent individuals so there may well be some carry over. To be credible part of that plan must involve charging and charging more for water to fix the infrastructure issues

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, I will give it to Liam Mulholland he has stuck his neck out and answered questions, which is a first for NIW, of course he answers the wrong questions and gives the wrong answers occasionally, but at least he hasnt hid like the rest.
    Back to the subject itself according to Connor Murphy, most of the problems originated from neglected holiday homes and premises closed for the holidays, where as part of an orcastrated tit for tat campaign in the early 90’s the IRA and UVF dug up the water pipes, removed the insulation and reburied them only 6 inches down. Well it must be something like this or else either Liam or Connor is telling porkies!

  • 241934 john brennan

    When I proposed John O’ Dowd as sweeper behind Conor Murphy, I was just joking – honestly!

  • Cynic2

    Nor was I John …. he clearly needs a minder

    Catatonia II

  • @Cynic2’s idea of a comprehensive enquiry covering the last 5 years.

    That will get us lots of contradictory lies. What we need is a scientific enquiry, like those held after major accidents.

    Metallurgists can do fracture analysis of the broken pipes. Did the cracks appear in one day in the thaw, or had they started a year ago and been growing (but not noticed during inspections) until they finally propagated around the pipe? Compare those scientific test to the official maintenance records, and the unofficial testimony of workers, and the science will tell the truth.

    Do some testing of the warning systems. If a pressure sensor is removed from the water, does the lack of pressure set up an alarm in either a water treatment station or the headquarters? Or do so many alarms go off that no-one can work out what is happening (the problem staff had at 3 Mile Island)?

    Check the user interfaces of the monitoring systems, and also of the software used in the call centres. Are either fit for purpose, providing exactly the right information needed at the right time? Then compare that with claims of how well the systems worked.

    Analyse all the internal e-mails using social network analysis software, just like people have done with the Enron e-mails. From that you can pick up knowledge management flaws (E.g. suppose senior managers communicates frequently with accounting and finance, but rarely with any engineers involved in day to day operations, as communications were filtered through a few people. Or are the stories used internally by one group at odds with the stories for external consumption, as the fraudsters in Enron did?)

    Get the facts first, before any hearings.

  • madraj55

    Drumlins Rock. You have to wonder who is being coached in how to cling on to a post,in spite of obvious incompetence, by who. Was McKenzie being advised by the IFA’s Raymond Kennedy or vice versa?