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The Department of Environment is gone - so where does Irish Water go now?

The unloved utility has fallen between the cracks.

Former Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly
Former Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

AMID ALL THE news today about the big changes to Ireland’s government departments, two words have been notably missing.

Where is Irish Water?

The controversial utility, which proved to be the single biggest headache for the last government and a major bone of contention in the talks to form the current minority government, appeared to have fallen between a few stools after today’s reshuffle.

Previously, Irish Water had fallen under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government under Minister Alan Kelly.

However one of the surprising announcements today was that the Department of Environment no longer exists. Instead, its functions have been split between three other newly aligned departments:

  • Housing, Planning and Local Government, under Minister Simon Coveney
  • Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, under Minister Denis Naughten
  • Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, under Minister Heather Humphreys

Which department Irish Water would fall under would depend on whether it was seen as a local government issue or one of natural resources – and very few people in government were willing to answer that question.

Outgoing minister Alan Kelly was one of the people left wondering where the utility had ended up.

In the Dáil this evening, he said that three ministers are effectively taking over his role – and he wasn’t too impressed.

“I want to express some concerns also about the proposed reorganisation of ministerial roles, in particular the Department of Environment,” he told the Dáil.

“Three Departments are replacing the old department, and I wish all the Ministers the best.”

However, I note from the way the department has been divided in three that there is no section on the environment.
You might want to clarify, Taoiseach, where the function of environment, the environment role, is. And effectively, who is going to be the minister for water?

So who is the Minister for Irish Water?

Minister Simon Coveney confirmed to TheJournal.ie tonight that he will be the minister responsible for it, with the utility now falling under Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The move will mean that Coveney will have responsibility for two of the most contentious issues facing the incoming government: water and housing.

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Unsurprisingly, the fate of Irish Water was one of the major sticking points in the negotiations between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

While the future of the water charges looks uncertain, especially given the low rate of payment among the public, the charges look likely to be suspended for at least nine months from July as part of the agreement reached between the two parties.

An external body will examine the workings of Irish Water before reporting back to an Oireachtas committee on how to address the problems facing it.

Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan said earlier this week that people who have paid their water charges won’t be getting their money refunded – despite some speculation that it would be paid back.

Alan Kelly has been strongly critical of both parties, particularly Fine Gael, for their handling of Irish Water during the negotiations.

In his parting words in the Dáil tonight, he described the party’s actions as a ‘treasonable betrayal’ of people who had paid their bills:

“Above all, I object to the blatant betrayal by my former colleagues of those who did their legal and civic duty and paid their water bills as well as their treasonable betrayal, along with those in Fianna Fáil, of the long-term national interest of delivering a modern water infrastructure that is fit for purpose, rather than pumping hundreds of tonnes of raw sewage into our rivers and seas on a daily basis”.

Read: Who’s in? Who’s out? These are your new ministers? > 

As it happened: After 70 days, Enda Kenny has been re-elected Taoiseach > 

About the author:

Christine Bohan

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