£25m water upgrade cash handed back
Almost £25 million to upgrade Northern Ireland's ageing water system was surrendered to central government last month, it has been revealed.
The money was clawed back by the Department of Finance and Personnel despite the piping and treatment system requiring massive amounts of extra investment.
Years of underinvestment and an unprecedented cold spell prompted thousands of burst pipes over the festive period and led to some householders waiting weeks without water, the company responsible for the supply has said.
Democratic Unionist Alastair Ross obtained the information from Northern Ireland Water (NIW) which said £24.9 million had been handed back.
"People will find it quite astonishing that in December past NIW surrendered nearly £25 million of capital funding in the monitoring round process. This was the period of time when tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland faced the Christmas period without any running water," the East Antrim MLA said.
"One has to ask why NIW were unable to spend the £25 million when the need for improving the water infrastructure in Northern Ireland is well-known. This indicates poor financial management within NIW, and a lack of clear leadership within that organisation far beyond the former chief executive (Laurence MacKenzie).
"It seems that every day we learn of more and more mismanagement issues within NIW and indeed within their parent department under the ministerial responsibility of Conor Murphy."
The money was handed back to the Department of Finance and Personnel for reallocation in the December monitoring round, Mr Ross confirmed.
Mr MacKenzie was ousted this month from his £250,000-a-year job as head of the state-owned water company after the leaks fiasco that left tens of thousands of homes in Northern Ireland without water over Christmas and new year.
The deep freeze was followed by a rapid thaw, which saw pipes burst. Bottled water was brought in from Scotland and an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive held.