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Government accused of 'complete hypocrisy' over Irish Water board ... but they're having none of it

The utility’s new board structure has caused some confusion this evening.

John Tierney
John Tierney

A NEW BOARD structure has been put in place for Irish Water and its parent company Ervia.

Rather than the boards of the two semi-state companies being merged – as had been widely suggested last year – there is now one overarching board with two subsidiary executive boards, the government confirmed this evening.

The make-up of the previous Irish Water board was the subject of much controversy last year with the Environment Minister Alan Kelly pledging last November that there would a new “unitary board combining Irish Water with its parent company, Ervia”.

“The new board will provide for stronger governance and improved setting of strategic objectives,” he told TDs on 19 November when wide-ranging changes to water charges were announced.

Following today’s cabinet meeting the government has decided to have one nine-member “overarching (mainly non-executive) Ervia board with responsibility and accountability for the performance of the Ervia group”.

Fianna Fáil’s Environment Spokesperson Barry Cowen described today’s announcement as “complete hypocrisy”.

I think it’s a massive u-turn again – the minister promised on public record in the Dáil as well as on Prime Time that night that he would get rid of the two boards and make one … now we have three.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same … [The Government] will say anything to get themselves out of a hole and here they find themselves in a hole again.”

A spokesperson from the Department of the Environment was quick to refute Cowen’s claims, urging him to “read up on company law”.

“Subsidiary companies are required under the Companies Act to have a board as well as the parent company. This is the case with CIE and the boards of Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Irish Rail, for example.

In the case of Gas Networks Ireland and Irish Water (subsidiaries of Ervia), they both retain a small board consisting solely of three or four Ervia staff members as an executive board.

“There is now a single non-executive board for the water and gas companies in the form of the new Ervia board with responsibility for overall governance of the parent company.”

Structure

The Eriva group consists of two subsidiary companies, which are Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland (the new name for Bord Gáis Networks).

These two subsidiaries each have executive boards to “directly manage the business of each subsidiary”.

Ervia’s chief executive Michael McNicholas straddles all three boards while two other executives sit on the executive boards of both Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland.

New Water Meters Michael McNicholas Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

So, if you’re still with us, here are the new boards…

The new(ish) Ervia board:

Four members remain on the board as their terms have not expired:

  • Rose Hynes (reappointed chair in July 2014)
  • Michael McNicholas (appointed May 2013)
  • Mari Hurley (appointed June 2013)
  • Finbarr Kennelly (appointed December 2012)

Following an open selection process through the Public Appointments Service the following four people have been added to the board today:

  • Sean Hogan
  • James Martin
  • Celine Fitzgerald
  • Peter Cross

Siptu general secretary, Joe O’Flynn, has also been reappointed to the board for the next three years.

The new Irish Water (executive) board

Chairman

  • Michael McNicholas – Chief Executive Officer of Ervia

Executive Directors

  • John Tierney – Managing Director of Irish Water
  • Michael G. O’Sullivan – Chief Finance Director of Ervia
  • Brendan Murphy – Director of Group Commercial and Regulation of Ervia

The new Gas Networks Ireland (executive) board

Chairman

  • Mr Michael McNicholas – Chief Executive of Ervia

Executive Directors

  • Mr Michael O’Sullivan – Chief Financial Officer of Ervia
  • Mr Brendan Murphy – Commercial and Regulatory Director of Ervia
  • Mr Sean Casey – Managing Director of Bord Gáis Networks

Communications Minister Alex White obtained Government approval for the five appointments to the Ervia Board. He said the new members will “strengthen the expertise and experience” of the board.

“I am confident that the board is equipped with the right mix of skills to steer the company on a steady course in the years ahead,” White added.

In a statement released this evening, Ervia said the establishment of a single board governing Ervia Group and its two operating subsidiaries (Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland) “brings clarity to the governance of this multi-utility company”.

“This is a key step in the evolution of Ervia and will help the executive to deliver our ambitious and challenging plans for Ireland’s natural gas network and water services.”

Additional reporting: Órla Ryan

Originally published: 20 January, 18.54

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Hugh O'Connell

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