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Former minister who set up Irish Water says 'forces' at work to privatise company

Fergus O’Dowd is calling for a referendum to be held next year.

Image: Shutterstock/nito

Updated 11.45am 

FORMER JUNIOR MINISTER Fergus O’Dowd, one the people involved in setting up Irish Water, said last night that he felt that there were “forces at work” with “agendas” to privatise the utility company.

He said he remains “deeply concerned at other agendas, they may be European… I don’t know where they are coming from…” and said we have “real reason to be concerned” about the possibility of Irish Water being privatised.

Responding to the Fine Gael TD’s comments, Environment Minister Alan Kelly told reporters this morning: “I don’t really know what Fergus O’Dowd is talking about, to be frank. I haven’t a clue.

“I mean ‘dark forces’? That goes to a space where I’m not really sure where he’s going to be honest.”

‘Humble minister’

Earlier, O’Dowd, who was a minister of state at the Department of Environment before he was sacked in the reshuffle last summer, told TheJournal.ie that as a “humble minister of state” you are not always “familiar with all the issues” or “what is going on in other rooms”.

Speaking about his role in the setting up of Irish Water in the Dáil last night, he said that he always wanted it to be included in legislation that Irish Water could never be privatised and would remain a public company.

Source: OireachtasRetortTV/YouTube

He said he was very surprised then to see in the number two Bill there was no provision guaranteeing the utility remaining a public body.

It was excluded and not included in legislation, and that concerned me greatly.

O’Dowd told TheJournal.ie that he spoke to the then Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and the department officials at the time about his concerns, stating that they took them on board.

It was then brought in as amendment to the Act that Irish Water could not be privatised.

However, he said that he hasn’t spoken to anyone that does not agree that a referendum should be held on the issue.

“Why we couldn’t have a referendum on Irish Water never never EVER ever going into private ownership,” he said, adding that a referendum would “copper-fasten” that.

‘Reasonable fear’

Speaking today, he said that there was “genuine concern across all parties” about the privatisation of Irish Water and said that this wasn’t just the domain of one protest group.

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O’Dowd said that it is a very “reasonable fear” that legislation could be changed down the line to allow privatisation, stating that the UK did just that.

“I don’t think it is a political force that sees privatisation as an option,” he added, but said that a referendum is the only way to guarantee to the public that Irish Water will always be a public body.

Minister Kelly added that if O’Dowd has concerns he should air them publicly in the Dáil or to him privately. He pointed that it was O’Dowd who brought though the legislation setting up Irish Water, adding he had supported it and implemented it.

The Green Party said that O’Dowd needed to clarify his remarks and reiterated it’s call for a referendum on public ownership of Irish Water.

“The Government’s plebiscite proposal is legally weak and retains the power over water in the hands of politicians, not the people. Only a referendum can copper-fasten the ownership of Ireland’s water to the Irish people,” its justice spokesperson Roderic O’Gorman said today.

- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell

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