Unease over council role in water reform

Westmeath councillors have vowed not to give up control of the county’s water services without a fight, after hearing details of Government proposals to create a national company to oversee the water sector.

Councillors expressed concern that in creating a State company, Irish Water, the Government was taking responsibility away from local councils and creating “another quango”, and that services on the ground would suffer.

They were responding to county manager Dan McLoughlin, who outlined the Government’s proposals for the reform of the water sector, based on a position paper published by the Department of the Environment.

Cllr Denis Leonard said that while he understood the argument for centralising services, he hoped “local knowledge on the ground” would be taken into consideration.

“I hope a model emerges that fully utilises the experience gained over many years... I am concerned that the services of local government are being taken away.”

Meanwhile Cllr Mick Dollard said the move “bodes poorly for local democracy and accountability”, citing the creation of the HSE and the recent nationalisation of the medical card system as “nightmares”.

“We are looking at the creation of a quango - why the powers are being taken away from local government is beyond me,” he added.

And Cllr Paddy Hill said he had “great reservations” about the proposal and that it represented “another downgrading of county councils”.

Meanwhile Cllr Frank McDermott said he could see both difficulties and advantages. “We need to look at the bigger picture, an organisation could deliver the infrastructure and maintain it, so it is probably the way to go, but I would encourage people to make their observations known,” he said.

Cllr Joe Whelan reminded those present that the proposal is only at ‘position paper’ stage. “It’s about economies of scale and supplying quality water, but we have to look at local interests,” he pointed out.

Mr McLoughlin is to prepare a document noting the councillors’ concerns, in particular expressing their wish that “caution should be exercised regarding the local authority and the ability to respond locally”.

“There needs to be thought given to how local authorities will remain part of services. Our ability to react on the ground will be one of the arguments put forward,” he added.

The position paper is available to view at www.environ.ie Views must be submitted in writing to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government by Friday February 24.

 

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