Freedom of Information to cover Irish Water

Wednesday 22 January 2014 18.30
Freedom of Information will apply retrospectively to Irish Water
Freedom of Information will apply retrospectively to Irish Water

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has told the Dáil that he intends seeking approval for an order in Oireachtas next week that will provide for the inclusion of Irish Water under the Freedom of Information Act.

The act will be applied retrospectively to the new body.

Following approval of the order by both Houses of the Oireachtas, Irish Water will be given 30 days to make administrative arrangements to be fully compliant with FoI.

The minister was responding to a question from Tommy Broughan when he indicated his intention to place the new utility under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Broughan said that there is a “dearth of information” about Irish Water.

Referring to reports that staff at the new body had undertaken a laughter yoga workshop, he said: “it is this House that is being laughed at”.

Mr Howlin said rather than awaiting the enactment of the new FoI bill, he had decided to utilise the powers under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 in respect of Irish Water.

In such circumstances the Act provides that a positive resolution of both Houses is required before an order comes into force and FoI applies to the public body concerned.

Mr Broughan asked if the FoI would be retrospective and if people will be able to "delve into the spending that has already taken place" in relation to consultancies.

The minister said he has instructed his officials to prepare an order for the House and he hopes time can be provided for next week.

He said that if the parliamentary council has cleared the drafting of the order: "I will provide inclusion of FoI to Irish Water from its date of legal establishment as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann, which is July 17 2013."

Mr Howlin referred questions on bonus payments at Irish Water to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

"I set Government policy on a cross-sectoral basis; I haven't got responsibility for commercial semi-State staff below the level of CEO," he said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused the Taoiseach of withholding information on whether senior individuals from local authorities who left with generous lump sums and pensions transferred seamlessly to Irish Water.   

Enda Kenny insisted that he did not have the information but it would be made public as soon as he received it.

In a statement, Irish Water said: "In the circumstances of two staff who were successful at interview for positions in Irish Water, it would have been unlawful for Irish Water to preclude their applications from an open recruitment process on the basis that they were in receipt of a Local Authority pension."

This evening Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said there is no "bonus culture" in Bord Gáis Éireann nor will there be in Irish Water.  

He pointed out that nobody employed by Irish Water has received a bonus.

He also pointed out that there is pay freeze in Bord Gáis until 2016, and management and unions there have agreed a "radical restructuring" of pay policy

He said responsibility for remuneration of CEOs rests with the Minister and responsibility for the pay system for a commercial State company's employees is a matter for the board and CEO of that company.