“The Government proposal to create a new water utility is not about privatisation of water resources, nor is it a precursor to such privatisation”, he said. “Water services will remain in public ownership.”
The minister was speaking at the Water Ireland 2012 conference hosted by WWT in Dublin yesterday (April 25). He admitted that there had been a lot of “speculation and some confusion” about what the Government has planned on water service delivery.
Mr O’Dowd promised a €600m (£491m) annual capital investment to raise standards and the roll out the compulsory metering programme, a significant rise from the €370m (£303m) being invested in the current year. However he acknowledged the challenge this posed to the state in the current financial climate.
The minister stressed that the new water utility, Irish Water would be an independent state-owned company within the public gas utility, Bord Gáis. He said that the utility would have an Irish language name too.
Minister O’Dowd said that Ireland’s water resources meant it was “positioned well” in terms of competitiveness and “needed to attract more water intensive industries”, but that this would need to be underpinned by a more sustainable approach to its water resources.
While admitting that the funding model for Irish Water was undecided, the minister said, “Unless we address key funding organisation issues, we will constrain our capacity to gain from this natural advantage.”
He spoke of the need for steady state investment in the water distribution network complemented by domestic metering, expansion of treatment facilities and upgrade of water service infrastructure across the country to ensure public health and environmental compliance. He said cost efficiencies could be leveraged by operating at the national level.
He also promised the establishment of an independent economic regulator, a function assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).
Gabriel D’Arcy, chief executive of Bord na Mona agreed that funding was going to be a “massive challenge”, but that there was “a crying need for some of the changes being proposed.” He pointed to the wider context introduction of utility in Irish society.
The rationale “needs to be communicated”, he said. “I believe people would be willing to contribute to a safe and secure water supply if they can see fairness in the system.” he said.
John Mullins, group chief executive of Bord Gáis said he was pleased to hear about the additional funding from the minister and urged the establishment of a consumer council.