Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Environment and Local Government Barry Cowen has said the Taoiseach cannot duck important questions surrounding the establishment of Irish Water.

It has emerged that the former Environment Minister Phil Hogan signed off on a document detailing costs for the set-up of the new quango in October last year, months before the consultant costs controversy erupted and the Minister publicly claimed that he was not aware of specific details.

Deputy Cowen commented: “The funding that was agreed for the set-up costs for Irish Water, which included millions of euro for consultants’ contracts, was agreed by the Economic Management Council (EMC) because the money was being drawn down from the National Pension Reserve Fund. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, along with Ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin all cleared the way for these lucrative contracts to be given out. The question is – did they know where the money was going? Did Phil Hogan give them the detailed breakdown he apparently signed off on in October last year? Did they want to know what the money was going to be spent on?

“Phil Hogan might be hoping that he can simply put his head down and figure that because he has been sent off to Europe he can avoid questions about his actions on Irish Water but the Taoiseach and his senior Ministers in the secretive EMC still have an obligation to tell us how much they knew.

“€180m of taxpayer’s money is being used to create this quango. Did the EMC know how much money was being spent on outside consultants? Ministers Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan would have to give the go-ahead for this spending so how much did they know and how much information did they ask for? Were they misled?

“Phil Hogan consistently dodged Fianna Fáil questions at the Environment Committee and now it appears he has misled the public in a pretty fundamental way. It is extremely serious for the Taoiseach if it is true that a Minister deliberately misled the public and the Oireachtas about how much he knew about the set-up costs at Irish Water. But how much did the Taoiseach know and when did he know it? Some Government Ministers may have been genuinely taken aback at the figures but the 4-strong EMC and Phil Hogan cannot claim to be surprised.

“Maintaining silence on this issue will not work. The Taoiseach and his top Ministers, Noonan and Howlin cannot duck and dodge their responsibilities for the set-up costs at Irish Water. These issues must be clarified as a matter of urgency.”