Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Minister orders inquiry into ‘dismal response’ to water crisis

A full inquiry will be held into Northern Ireland Water’s failure to respond adequately to the crisis that left tens of thousands of people without supplies.

Details of the probe were announced last night by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy following a briefing from the board of the trouble-hit water company.

Mr Murphy said he had spent most of yesterday discussing the terms of reference for the investigation with officials from his department. But who will be conducting the inquiry will not be known until next week.

Since the crisis unfolded there has been mounting pressure both on water chiefs and the minister to resign over the disaster that has caused widespread distress to thousands of families.

While engineers have worked tirelessly to repair burst water mains and pipes across the province, last night there were still almost 4,400 homes without any water and around 20,000 properties on rotating supply.

Yesterday NIW warned it would be early next week before supplies would return to normal, much to the disappointment of the thousands who have been left high and dry for almost a week.

During a Press conference on Friday, Mr Murphy apologised on behalf of the Executive to those affected, saying fixing the problem was his and their top priority.

He also made it clear the handling of the crisis by NIW had been unsatisfactory and that an external investigation would be held.

“Quite clearly the events of the last week or so in relation to the water crisis has been completely unacceptable,” Mr Murphy said.

“Thousands of people and properties and homes right across the North has been left without water and to compound this the communication in terms of customer service from NIW has not been anything approaching a satisfactory standard. On behalf of the Executive and this department I want to apologise for the dismal response there has been to real problems of distress that people have faced over the last week.”

And while returning normal water supplies to those affected is his top priority, so is finding out who is responsible, Mr Murphy promised.

He said the Executive has “tasked him” with putting together the terms of reference for the inquiry and that investigators will be appointed next week.

But there have been some who believe that Mr Murphy, who is the the minister responsible for the “arm’s-length” body, was also to blame.

Yesterday former NIW acting chief executive Christopher Mellor, who was sacked in March, described the water crisis as a “disaster waiting to happen” and said politicians, as well as the company, were also accountable.

“I think this is what happens when you get rid of the directors at the top of NIW who knew what they were doing and replace them with people who have no experience of running a water utility,” Mr Mellor said.

“In my view the politicians, as well as the company, must take some share of the blame.”

However, Mr Murphy defended his decision to sack the previous board and accused Mr Mellor of being a “bit rich” in pointing the finger.

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