LIMERICK City and County manager, Conn Murray, was “directed” by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to sign an agreement with Irish Water before January 1.
But councillors still do not know the details of this agreement, under which council assets of over €500m were transferred to the new semi-state company.
But despite repeated questioning from Fianna Fail’s Cllr James Collins, Mr Murray refused to be drawn on whether or not he was “happy” with the service level agreement (SLA) he was directed to sign off on.
“The manager said he would not sign the agreement if he was not happy with it,” Cllr Collins said, and he asked Mr Murray repeatedly: “ Are you happy with it?”
“The service level agreement has been signed. I will work with it,” Mr Murray replied.
It had been his intention, he told councillors, to come back to them after the budget meeting in December to discuss the Irish Water agreement with them. “At that stage, it wasn’t signed. I did indicate to councillors unless I was otherwise directed, I would come back to them,” he said.
However, he continued: “I received direction from Minister Hogan to sign. I had no choice but to sign the SLA.” “You were directed by the Minister and the net effect was that assets of €549 were signed over to Irish Water and we didn’t get a chance to go through the agreement and see if we were happy with it,” Cllr James Collins declared. He had asked for a copy of the agreement he said but all he got was the generic one on the deparment’s website.
“This is one of the biggest event for local authorities,” he said. “The level of information is minimal.”
And he questioned if there was “anything to prevent” the council drawing down the €14m which Irish Water is due to pay the council for water production in 2014. Mr Murray said that to his knowledge, the money could be drawn down.
But Cllr Kevin Sheahan declared that Minister Hogan had “lost the run of himself). “It is calamity after calamity,” he said. “Ordinary people out there have serious concerns about the future of Irish Water.”
And he referred to media reports that Irish Water was “acutely overstaffed” with 4,300 employees and that such a staffing level could cost the exchequer an additional €2b.
The people of Ireland had been “crucified” with taxes, charges and reductions in allowances, the Fianna Fail councillor continued and the €2b extra spend was to be condemned.
“If Irish Water is overstaffed, if it is going to cost €2b extra, better to scrap it now before it drowns all of us.”
A motion from Cllr Patrick Fitzgerald called for the roll-out of Irish Water in Limerick to be “put on hold until further information and details of the cost are known.”
“I would ask is Iirsh Water a replica of the HSE with the high levels of administrative staff?”, Cllr Fitzgerald asked. Economist John Fitzgerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute, he said, had estimated that Irish Water needed about 1,700. “Instead it is going to have to pay for more than 4,000 who will provide services to it by way of 34 local authorities,” Cllr Fitzgerald said.
In addition, he queried the economic argument for water meters. A paper prepared for the Department of the Environment in February 2012, concluded the economic argument for metering was questionable, given the €500m plus cost of installing meters, Cllr Fitzgerald added.
Mr Murray assured councillors he would organise an information session for them on the matter. “There is a lot of mis-information out there,“ Cllr John Egan said.