The Government’s Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 sets the broad policy context for the development of water services, including the position of Irish Water as the single, publicly owned national water services authority. This is consistent with the recommendations made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in 2017, and the legislative reforms in the Water Services Acts.
In this context, Irish Water has proposed fully integrating its operations and ending the current operational arrangements for the delivery of water services through service level agreements with local authorities.
On 19 September 2018, the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) reported on a process of engagement, undertaken at my request, with the parties involved in the transformation programme for Irish Water, including ICTU and relevant affiliated unions, local government management through the County and City Management Association, Irish Water and my Department. In response to the WRC report, I asked the parties to engage in a process to work towards the development of a stable structural and operational framework for the future.
This would replace the current Service Level Agreements for the provision of water services, with arrangements which:
(a) provide Irish Water, as the national water services authority, with the necessary control of operations, accountability and capacity to manage risk and communicate and negotiate with all water services workers on the change agenda and provide a single identity for customer facing services;
(b) ensure that Irish Water is not left without an appropriate skilled workforce to carry out its statutory functions and local authorities are not left with stranded costs; and,
(c) address the concerns of workers in relation to the future deployment of the current local authority water staff, by developing arrangements which meet the objectives set out above, while not requiring the invoking of Section 19 of the Water Services (No.2) Act 2013, other than by collective agreement. Section 19 relates to the process of designation of local authority staff for transfer to Irish Water on termination of a SLA.
I recognise the challenges involved in this process and the concerns which all parties to the process have, especially the workers.
The proposed changes also give rise to significant challenges for the local government sector in Ireland. Any process of transformation needs to be cognisant of the potential impacts on the wider local government system. Ultimately, given my Department's responsibility for the local government system, I want to ensure that our local authorities continue to be a vibrant and progressive component of public service delivery in Ireland.
The formal engagement under the WRC commenced in February 2019 and two formal meetings have been held to date. I am grateful for the commitment of the WRC in facilitating the process.
There are also constitutional and governance issues that are of interest and relevant to the future provision of water services in Ireland. These matters are being discussed between parties in different strands of dialogue outside of the WRC process.