Minister O’Brien publishes Policy Paper on future of Irish Water

Published on: 24 February 2021

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD has today (23rd February 2021) published the policy paper “Irish Water – Towards a national, publicly-owned, regulated, water services utility” following its approval at Cabinet.

The Policy Paper sets out the Government’s views and expectations on the next steps in the transformation of the water sector that will lead to the retention of Irish Water as a national, publicly-owned, regulated, water services utility. Specifically, the Government’s expectations are that:

  • Irish Water will separate from the Ervia Group during 2023.
  • Irish Water will integrate the day to day operation and delivery of water services into its own organisational structure, in place of the current Service Level Agreements, on a phased basis.
  • In preparation for such integration of services under Irish Water, the engagement process taking place under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to identify a stable operational framework for the future delivery of water services should be concluded by July 2021.
  • The framework for the future delivery of water services will enable progress on the ongoing water sector transformation programme by:
    • Providing Irish Water with the necessary control of water services operations, and full accountability for same; the capacity to manage risk; and the capacity to communicate and negotiate with all water services workers on the change agenda;
    • Addressing the concerns of workers in relation to the future deployment of current local authority water services staff through collective agreement with the workers; and
    • Ensuring that Irish Water is not left without an appropriately skilled workforce to carry out its statutory functions.
  • Irish Water, working with local authorities and current water services workers, will implement a phased plan for the integration of water services into its organisational structure, with implementation to be concluded in 2022.
  • Environmental regulation will continue to be performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and economic regulation by the CRU.
  • Water services provision will continue to be faithful to, and consistent with, the requirements set out in the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), and otherwise comply with EU law in all respects.

Minister O’Brien described this as an important step forward in the Government’s drive to achieve a world class public water services system in Ireland, saying, “Ireland has a rich supply of water resources that are the envy of many countries. However, we have a way to go in ensuring our water and wastewater networks and our broader environmental management systems are fit for purpose.

“Irish Water, backed by record Government investment in water infrastructure, is well placed to develop the systems and services that Ireland needs to serve our citizens in the 21st century. To do that, however, requires the creation of a world class utility. Working together, Irish Water and local authorities, have made real improvements in implementing nationwide systems to improve our water services since 2014. Today’s policy paper is about building on that and taking it further.

“Today I am setting out the Government’s vision of how we want Irish Water to develop. We want Irish Water to become the workplace of choice for those local authority staff right across the country who are currently delivering water services on behalf of Irish Water. We acknowledge workers’ loyalty to their local authority and to their status as public service workers as well as their commitment to local service delivery. I am therefore asking that, through the aegis of the Workplace Relations Commission, management from Irish Water and the Local Government sector sit down with trade unions to develop a solution which allows us to move ahead with that world class public utility while respecting the concerns of local authority staff.

“I am also conscious of the enormous transformation involved for local government in future years. The Paper recognises this and I will work with the County and City Management Association to ensure that local authorities are not left with un-supported financial liabilities as a result of the transformation programme.

“I want to thank the existing workforce of Ervia and Irish Water for their contribution to date in the progress made in modernising our national water infrastructure and services; and acknowledge too the further transformational change involved for them as the Government moves ahead with the establishment of two separate companies – Gas Networks Ireland and Irish Water – to manage our national gas and water networks.

“The Government is determined to ensure that the views and concerns of key stakeholders must be considered and addressed within the transformation process. These stakeholders include the water services workers throughout the country, who through their dedication and commitment have developed the water services on which so many of us rely today, the local government sector, which is an intrinsic part of the public service and of local communities, ICTU, and its relevant affiliate unions, namely Fórsa, SIPTU, Connect and UNITE and, of course, Irish Water, its parent company Ervia and their staff. To all concerned I want to say that we as a Government firmly respect your positions and views and want to give you the strongest possible say in deciding your own future working arrangements.

“We now have the opportunity to move forward with the integration of our public water services within Irish Water’s organisation structure so that we have a single organisation that is tasked with developing, and fully equipped to deliver, a world class public water system of which Ireland and its citizens can be justifiably proud,” he concluded.