Is Irish Water in too deep?
Irish Water has Graham Archer’s sympathy. “From the outset, theirs was an impossible task,” he says. “They don’t deserve the ridicule that will be heaped upon them.”
Poor old Irish Water. They’re not a wet week on the job and already I’m overcome with sympathy for them.
Considering the scale and importance of the work it has been asked to do, I could not imagine anyone who would have approached the project within the timeframe and in the manner that they did.
From the outset, theirs was an impossible task. They will not deserve the ridicule that will be heaped upon them. Soon it will be January – then will all the problems emerge. Meters that don’t work, ones that work but not correctly, extra children, fewer children, people who become pensioners, tenants who can’t speak English, direct debits that don’t – it’s a minefield.
We know why Government created Irish Water. They saw a problem looming they were ill equipped to handle – leaking pipes, water shortages, quality issues and councils so broke they could not fund the work required to bring things up to scratch. More acutely, they could see a problem they wanted to distance themselves from as quickly as possible.
Governments are like that…they ask us to place our confidence in them by electing them into office and, when we do, they divest themselves of everything for which we make them responsible.
Enter Irish Water.
One could imagine some Ministerial bright spark (if that’s not insulting to genuine bright sparks) saying “gas, water…what’s the difference? Why don’t we give the problem to Bord Gáis? They manage pipes that stuff flows through with meters that tell how much is being used.” So, Bord Gáis got the job and quickly passed the parcel by setting up Irish Water. At this point you would think, with their experience of managing pipes with stuff flowing inside, they should know what needed to be done.
Not a bit of it. To crack the problem, they had to spend millions on consultancy fees – buying expertise that they were supposed to have in spades.
Now we hear it could take years before everything is working fully. Meanwhile, innocent people are gearing themselves for the problems ahead – problems that Irish Water has inflicted upon itself, partly by asking questions in pursuit of information many believe it’s not necessary for them to have.
We buy electricity but the ESB doesn’t ask how many are living in our houses. They come and read the meter and we pay the bill for what we use. We buy gas and the same rule applies. But that’s not enough for Irish Water…they need to know what we eat for breakfast. Soon the scale of the mess they have created will become evident to all.
I can hear the cries. Whose bright idea was it anyway? Why can’t they just check the meter and charge for what we use? Well, the man whose bright idea it was has gone…off to a cushy job in Brussels. That’s how it works in Government…you make a mess and, before you have to clean it up, you’re moved elsewhere.
I am not an expensive management consultant, yet the thing that strikes me most about Irish Water is this: the time allowed to set it up…to staff and equip it…to install the systems and carry out all that needed to be done to make it work and ensure a smooth beginning and a seamless problem-free commencement was FAR TOO SHORT.
The urgency to get it up and running was unholy. Nobody in his right mind would have taken on such a task in the time frame allowed. From the beginning, the project was doomed to have problems. Already, it is overspent and overstaffed. Already, it has acquired a reputation that, were it dissolved in the water they are selling, there would be a boil notice on it.
The anger it has generated will endure for generations – anger that no silken tongued spokesperson, no slick advertising, no meaningless slogan like ‘for your future’ will dissipate. That’s why Irish Water has my sympathy. However, I suspect I am alone.
Irish Water has begun life as the target of national abuse, not because of what it was set up to do, but because of the way they went about doing it. The pity is that the man most responsible has gone.
Yes, we still have back-of-an-envelope government. And if you need more proof of this…Google IMMA.