The casual spending of tens of millions at a time here when so many people are struggling to survive financially and paying very heavy taxes is hard to swallow, whether you have a glass of Irish water or not.
So, people asked, who are the consultants and what will they be doing? It turns out that four or five big companies are getting most of the gravy.
One of them is the accountancy firm Ernst & Young, which was auditing the books at Anglo Irish Bank (the bank that brought down the country) and failed to see there was anything wrong!
IBM Consulting is getting €45 million ($61m) for planning systems like the new utility’s call center, customer care and billing. Another global consulting company, Accenture, is getting €17 million ($23m) for various services, including IT.
What they are doing is dressed up in corporate speak and gobbledygook designed to make it sound incredibly complicated.
But it’s not. Irish Water is just another utility, like Electric Ireland or the Gas Board or Eircom (the national phone company).
All these already have billing systems and customer services that deal with every home in the country. So why do we need all these consultants reinventing the wheel when the expertise is already there? Wasn’t that why the Irish Water set-up was linked to the Gas Board?
It turns out that the Irish Water boss has earlier form in dealing with consultants. John Tierney is a previous Dublin City manager, and it was on his watch that all those consultants were hired for the incinerator project in the Docklands area. That was supposed to handle all of Dublin’s waste and generate cheap electricity.
But project was never started and nearly 10 years later it is moribund – but it has cost the taxpayer over €100 million ($135m), a lot of which went to, you’ve guessed it, consultants.
Another interesting thing about Irish Water is that more than 100 of the 300 staff are people who left local council authorities to join the new organization. Some of these would have taken early retirement, so they now have nice salaries as well as their state paid council pensions.
An example is the former Waterford County manager who retired from the council at the end of 2011 with a pension package worth €335,000 ($450,000). Now he’s back in the game with Irish Water.
With all this going on, is it any wonder ordinary people here in the private sector who start paying tax at 52 percent at a very modest income level are deeply cynical about how public money is spent in Ireland? And at the lack of accountability and the secrecy?
Irish Water is yet another state organization that has been excluded from the Freedom of Information Act, making it hard for the media to examine what it’s doing.
One thing is clear, however. Some people are going to do very well out of Irish Water. But it won’t be the vast majority of people.
Around €180 million is being spent on setting up Irish Water, including the €80 million going to consultants. And it’s costing around a billion euro to install the water meters all over the country.
That’s a lot of money. Just think what it could have done to repair the pipework in Dublin.
All that money is being spent — but not a single euro of it is going on the pipes!