Howlin says he did not approve bonus system for Irish Water

Heated exchanges between Government and Opposition TDs in Dáil

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin says he did not approve a bonus payments system for Irish Water staff.

He said the Government does not have control over pay determination in commercial State companies with the exception of the remuneration of chief executives.

“We have always allowed the ESBs and Bord na Monas to do their business in a commercial way. That, I think, is the way to go.”

“There was never approval given by me or my department for the regime of pay that applies in the commercial semi State sector. That is a matter for themselves.”


The Minister said commercial semi-State companies should ultimately operate like commercial companies.

“Where there is high performance, where there are targets set and achieved, then obviously then that is remunerated in the appropriate way.”

Mr Howlin said the Government was looking carefully at everything that had happened since the establishment of Irish Water. However , he said he did not want to throw out the good things as well as those that were less good. “We need to make sure that we get things right.

He believed public confidence could be developed in Irish Water and in a system that provided good clean water.

The Minister said there were new facts emerging from local authorities for the first time about lead piping “which would be a huge issue to be addressed”.

Earlier the Government was again forced to defend Irish Water’s management and charging system as Tánaiste Joan Burton faced criticism in the Dáil from Opposition leaders.

Two days after the Budget was published, the issue of water charges continues to dominate the political agenda.

Government backbench TDs have also been highly critical of difficulties in getting responses to queries submitted to the water utility company.

While the Tánaiste has agreed there is a communication issue she was also accused by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald of giving “smart-alec” answers and deliberately evading responses to issues raised by her.

Ms McDonald had raised a letter sent by Wicklow County Council to tenants in which the prospect of eviction was raised in the event that water charges were not paid.

When Ms Burton replied that that local authority was controlled by Sinn Féin and independents, Ms McDonald responded: "If anyone had any doubt as to whether or not you gave a toss about struggling families... by your smart-alec, dismissive and inaccurate response, they now have their answer," she said.

There followed heated exchanges between Government and oppositions TDs in the chamber.

Ms Burton agreed with the argument made by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that even though its establishment cost was €650 million, its net revenue to the State would be much lower than originally anticipated, especially in the light of the concessions agreed in the Budget.

Mr Martin said that the savings to the public purse would only be in the order of €150 million per annum

The Tánaiste said that this was probably correct but said the idea behind Irish Water was that it be a modern-consumer focused utility”.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin this morning Ms Burton expressed concern that the utility was not dealing with customer queries “efficiently, reliably and in a timely way”.

“When members of the public contact the LoCall number that Irish Water gives out, you can end up waiting in the line for quite a long time to get a response and after that you can spend a lot longer getting a more detailed response,” she said.

"Utility companies, whether it's ESB or gas, is all being about face-to-face, customer orientated companies, which can deal with customers, efficiently, reliably and in timely way."

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast