Irish Water chief John Tierney standing down in April

Beleaguered water utility rejects as ‘baseless’ reports it is to begin image rebranding

John Tierney, the outgoing chief executive of Irish Water. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

John Tierney, the outgoing chief executive of Irish Water. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Irish Water has confirmed chief executive John Tierney will stand down in April next year when his contract ends.

In a short statement, the company said: “John Tierney has confirmed his intention to retire in April at the end of his three-year contract with Irish Water.

“He said he very much appreciated the opportunity to work on the establishment of Irish Water, one of the most challenging projects ever undertaken in the public sector.”

spokesman for Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said he had been informed of Mr Tierney’s decision earlier on Sunday. “The Minister would like to thank him for a long-standing career of public service at local authority and at State level.”

Mr Tierney, a former Dublin City Council manager, has almost 40 years of public service experience. Controversy has dogged him since he became chief executive of the much-criticised utility, established to centralise and improve water services and introduce water charges to domestic users.

Public opprobrium

Public opprobrium was heaped on him after he admitted that €50 million of the company’s start-up costs were spent on consultants, and he later told the Oireachtas environment committee that Irish Water would spend about €85 million in total on consultants, while it emerged that staff would receive bonuses of up to 10 per cent of salary.

The extra payments were suspended for 2013 and 2014.

Mr Tierney had previously enjoyed a more enhanced reputation as city manager.

Irish Water has meanwhile rejected as “baseless” reports that it is to begin an image rebranding.

A spokeswoman for the beleaguered water utility insisted there is no rebranding exercise under way and that there is no internal initiative to change the way the company presents itself to the public.

A Sunday newspaper report suggested the company was to undertake a major rebranding initiative in coming months in a bid to restore its reputation, after the general election and as Mr Tierney’s contract finished.

A spokeswoman for the company suggested the report might be “confusing” the issue of rebranding with the company’s business plan, already announced, to “transform” the way water services are delivered through the local authorities.

The water utility currently operates under service level agreements with 34 local authorities.

Irish Water estimates it needs upwards of €13 billion to bring the water system in Ireland up to the best modern standards.

It plans to invest just €5.5 billion in total capital spend up to 2021 to improve the network to an acceptable standard.

It is aiming for savings and efficiencies including €370 million in payroll costs, with a 1,200 reduction in staff, centralised procurement procedures, centralised operations and changing work practices, with a total targeted saving of €1.1 billion.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen said: “Irish Water management and the Government need to understand one thing very clearly. Neither is likely to be in the positions they are in, in the spring of next year.”

‘Not a certainty’

He said the public did not want Irish Water to continue in the current vein and Fianna Fáil’s position was an intention to abolish Irish Water. “Irish Water’s continued existence is not a certainty,” he said.

Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Michael O’ Brien said there had been a lot of argument about successive PR disasters including the €80 million spent on consultancy fees.

He said Irish Water falsely believed that if it had a better communications strategy, there would be less opposition to the charge.

However, he said the boycott of water charges was increasing pressure on Irish Water and the Government, and the AAA said 52 per cent of people had not paid their second water charges bill.

“If this level of boycott is maintained until the general election, it will mean that whatever government is elected will be under huge pressure not to rebrand Irish Water but to abolish the charges and the company altogether.”

Source: Irish Times Nov 8, 2015