Irish Water hits back: most cllrs don’t meet us

April 5th, 2023 5:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

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UISCE Éireann has responded to criticism from councillors by pointing out that just six of the 52 members of Cork County Council attended one of their recent clinics.

Critical comments about Irish Water’s rebranding as Uisce Éireann, and the utility’s poor communication with council members were published in The Southern Star recently.

The article was a report about a motion – tabled by Fine Gael Cllrs Kevin Murphy, Marie O’Sullivan and Caroline Cronin at a meeting of Western Divisional Committee – that called for greater transparency and communication.

Specifically, the councillors asked Uisce Éireann representatives to attend their public Western Committee meetings, on a quarterly basis, so they could answer questions directly, and have their responses printed in the local media. Uisce Éireann responded, saying: ‘Service continuity is a priority, including how we engage and communicate with elected representatives. Uisce Éireann provides dedicated support desks, as well as councillor clinics to support elected representative engagement.’ 

It emerged that just six councillors – namely Cllrs Kay Dawson, Frank O’Flynn and Deirdre O’Brien of Fermoy Municipal District as well as Cllr Liam Madden of Mallow Municipal District, Cllr Danielle Twomey of Midleton Municipal District and Cllr Eileen Lynch of Macroom Municipal District – attended the February clinic with Uisce Éireann representatives.

However, conscious of the need to ‘strengthen engagement’, Uisce Eireann said it has started a review of how it engages with local authorities, including elected members.

The spokesperson said John Dempsey, a local authority engagement director with Uisce Éireann, had met with public representatives recently to discuss how best to improve communication.

Previously, Cllr Kevin Murphy said astronomical amounts of money have been asked for water and sewage connections but a lot of proposed developments have been rejected because the infrastructure isn’t there to support it. ‘They have got to be brought in,’ said Cllr John O’Sullivan, because they are responsible for spending significant amounts of national funding. The use of taxpayers’ money deserves to be discussed in public where there is accountability,’ he added.

Responding to criticism of their poor attendance at the February clinic, Cllr Paul Hayes (Ind) said: ‘I attend most of the online clinics. They are meant to be held quarterly, but more often than not, one or more is postponed, which means that only two or three clinics are held annually. 

‘Despite numerous requests for Irish Water representatives to attend our council meetings, they have constantly declined. We can no longer raise issues pertaining to water infrastructure works at our Council meetings, so a quick question-and-answer session online every few months, while other elected reps wait their turn, isn’t really good enough,’ he added.

‘We have a “dedicated” email address to highlight local issues with Irish Water, but replies to queries made through this system can take weeks, if we get a reply at all.

‘For example, I emailed Irish Water on January 3rd about a serious water break in Clonakilty, which caused damage to private property and the public road, and resulted in the loss of 1000s of litres of water. And I only received a reply on February 20th,’ said Cllr Hayes.

‘While the representatives we speak to at the Irish Water clinics are courteous, and try to be helpful, we need more engagement on a more regular basis, as the current system is not fit for purpose and is hugely frustrating for us as public representatives,’ said the councillor.

‘Pending the outcome of the engagement review,’ the Uisce Éireann spokesperson said, ‘we will continue to liaise with elected representatives through existing channels and forums, including the local representative support desk, a dedicated service to address elected representatives queries.’

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