So, Irish Water? As noted here at length, water is a controversial matter, especially when there is a faint hint that it is being prepared (as Northern Ireland Water undoubtedly was) for privatisation.
In the case of Irish Water, it now seems their Chief Executive John Tierney (one of the few on the current board with any direct technical experience of the water industry) is under pressure to resign after a slew of bad stories hit press leaving the government alone to answer a series of operational questions:
Mr Tierney’s leadership of Irish Water was called into question by no fewer than six Coalition ministers this weekend, sparking a bitter blame game between the Government and the semi-State company.
“Where is the guy? Since he gaffed in relation to the consultants earlier in the year it looks like he has been benched. He should be out front, not in hiding,” one minister told the Sunday Independent.
Another member of the Cabinet added: “We are getting it in the neck here, but his position must be in question.”
Environment Minister Alan Kelly has informed the company of his deep displeasure as to how it has handled its operations in recent weeks.
The Sunday Independent has learned that the boards of Ervia (Bord Gais) and Irish Water will be unified, with a view to radically shaking up the level of expertise at the utility.
Specifically, Mr Kelly is to seek to place “properly qualified people” in key positions and is adamant that it won’t be “stuffed with party acolytes”.
A senior Government source said: “There will be no party hacks going on here. We are looking for professionals who know what they are doing.”
Which is tantamount to admitting that that is exactly how it was set up. Slugger understands that serving members of Northern Ireland Water’s executive technical team did not even merit an interview the first time round.
Aside from Conor Murphy’s blocking the privatisation of NI Water there has been no public debate on how best to handle the distribution of utility resources north or south.
A recent ESRI paper (PDF) questioned the regulatory process, noting particular problems in the UK as a matter of concern in terms of high prices.
The news that the already costly Irish Water body is paying bonuses under controversial circumstances only adds to the sense the government has embarked on an adventure without due care and attention to the long term consequences.
Start up costs are already approaching €200 million, with another €500 million already being spent on Water meters. All of this when 12 year supply contracts have been agreed with current local authorities.
A classic case of rushing at a problem to signal clearly that something is being done in time for the next election, without working through the long or short term consequences of such a mad rush.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty