FORMER Bord Gáis chief executive John Mullins has warned that the current water crisis in the north east could repeat itself in Cork because ‘populism won out against real need’ in the water charges debate.
He made the comments as 50,000 homes and businesses were left without water as a result of a burst water pipe in Louth and Meath.
“Cork is not immune to this, these are not isolated events,” Mr Mullins said. “Cork has had its fair number of mains bursts as well.
“The network was built in 1860, and Cork City is full of these pipes, we have a Victorian Quarter and underneath there is a whole heap of Victorian pipes.”
It has also emerged that Irish Water is monitoring water levels in 50 parts of the country, including Cork, because of low water levels in reservoirs.
Mr Mullins, former president of Cork Chamber, was in charge of Bord Gáis when it was appointed by the Government to manage Irish Water but left before metering or the issues regarding payment began.
He warns that the failure to make the Irish Water model work means vital repairs and maintenance are not being done.
“The reality is that there is absolutely no definitive multi-year plan for investment in the water network,” he said.
“You can’t have one when you are waiting on a budget every year.
“How can you plan a water network over a period of 10, 20, 30 years if you are completely reliant on what’s in the exchequer every year? That was the whole idea of setting up the utility, that it would be separately funded. It’s not a question of people saying 'I told you so' but the reality is that more of this is going to happen.”
Irish Water failed in the face of a political storm over who would pay charges but Mr Mullins points out that it has left Ireland’s water supply at the mercy of day-to-day economic and political pressures.
“If you don’t have money, you can’t fix problems,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that Irish water is now going to be competing with health, education, housing - these all have their own issues. Who is top of the tree?” The lack of direct funding to the utility means the cost of works falls to general taxation.
“At this point in time the people who pay are the people who always pay, that’s the income tax payer and the rates payer,” Mr Mullins said.
He also highlighed the huge economic cost of crises such as the one ongoing in the northeast.
“You look at some of the business in Drogheda now, they are completely ruined because they have no water in the middle of the summer,” he said. “Hotels, when tourists are at their peak.
"The reality is we are sitting on these risks and people said ‘oh, they’ll all be sorted out’. This will happen elsewhere, no doubt about it because of the state of the network is in. It hasn’t been invested in and I don't see the €6bn presenting itself from the exchequer anytime soon.”
He had a stark warning for his native county about the possibly catastrophic consequences of a similar event here.
“Look at what it has done in the north east at the moment - affecting children, the disabled, cancer patients, businesses. If it happens in Cork, there will be nothing else in the Evening Echo. And you could have it - nowhere in the country is immune.”