Fórsa has said it’s surprised at last week’s announcement that the Government wants to establish Irish Water as a commercial state body. The union says the move is likely to fuel fears that the utility will be privatised in future.
The move was confirmed in a letter to unions earlier this week. The letter also confirmed the intention to establish Irish Water as a stand-alone company by separating it from its parent company Ervia.
The union has sought a meeting with senior departmental officials to ascertain the rationale behind the proposals, and any implications for local authority staff.
Fórsa official Peter Nolan said the proposal undermined discussions on the organisation of water services, including the relationship between Irish Water and local authorities, which are currently underway in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
“I am surprised and disturbed by this announcement, not least because we entered discussions on the basis that there was no predetermined outcome on the future structure of water services. We want water services under public control and operated by public service workers.
“The Government has provided no rationale as to why the board should be commercial, which means this move is bound to be viewed with suspicion by those who use and deliver water services,” he said.
Although the Government has supported Ervia’s proposal to create a single water utility by 2021 - four years before existing ‘service level agreements’ (SLAs) are due to expire – it has repeatedly assured unions that local authorities will maintain their major role in water provision until an alternative is agreed. SLAs govern the supply of services to Irish Water by local authorities.
Last month, Fórsa told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government that SLAs should continue, and that local authority staff should not be forced to transfer to a new entity.
Unions also called for a referendum on the ownership of the public water system to take place this year. This followed a commitment from housing minister Eoghan Murphy that he would facilitate a referendum.