Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services
Public Water Forum
Dr. Tom Collins:
I will deal with a couple of questions raised by Senator Coffey. The first one relates to an earlier question posed by Deputy Seamus Healy about how the public forum is funded and how its funding is organised. Funding is organised through the CER at the moment. We have a budget for this year of approximately €180,000, which has been approved by the CER. We made three requests for technical support since the foundation of the forum, all of which were processed through the CER's own procurement system. The first request related to recruitment and publicity support when the forum began in autumn 2015. The second request was for technical support for the establishment and maintenance of the website. The third request was for technical support for policy analysis. Where we require technical support, we request it via the procurement system of the CER. Once the forum evolves and matures - it has some way to go in that regard - it would be better if it operated more independently. Independence is key, not only in the sense of being independent but also that the forum appears to be independent. The perception of independence is as important as the reality. From that point of view, ultimately one would like it to evolve and become a statutory body with its own direct line of funding. There is no debate on that issue at the moment, however.
I agree with Senator Coffey's overall point about building trust. Certainly trust has been one of the victims in much of the debate over the last couple of years. We do not have formal reporting mechanisms such as those suggested by the Senator whereby Irish Water reports to the forum on progress made. However, we have found our engagement with Irish Water to be entirely positive. We have, for example, asked to be involved with various presentations by Irish Water and have always received a positive response. The notion of a coherent body engaged in trust building is important but the forum is not an agent of Irish Water or of any other State body. It is a vehicle for the public voice and maintaining that public voice is important. If that voice is a critical one, that makes it even more important at times. I see trust as being built not on marketing but on informed public debate, education and the capacity to take different positions from bodies that may have a particular axe to grind, so to speak. I do not think it is necessarily in the interests of the forum to be particularly close to any of the bodies in the landscape in which it is operating because independence is absolutely key.
I think I have dealt with the main questions posed by the Senator.