Belfast Telegraph

NI Water's biggest crisis in years... yet scarlet pimpernel Sean Hogan refuses to face the music

By Chris Kilpatrick

He describes himself as a natural communicator.

So I decided to put that to the test.

When appointed to the position of chair of NI Water in 2011, Sean Hogan stressed the importance of improving the company's image.

"Our communication with our customers needs to be that much better," he said.

But over the past month of industrial strife and water shortages, Mr Hogan has not been seen nor heard in public.

It's a question that was posed at Northern Ireland's Assembly this week and it's one I spent much of yesterday trying to answer - where is NI Water's £40k per year chairman Sean Hogan?

Journalists are used to tracking people down day and daily, be they criminals, leading politicians or celebrities.

How hard could it be?

And the request for a quick chat seemed reasonable.

After all, we - the public - pay his wages.

At the emergency DRD committee meeting on Wednesday, an MLA asked if Mr Hogan was hiding under the table.

He wasn't. I checked.

According to an online profile, Mr Hogan currently provides consultation to five different bodies.

One of them was bound to know where he was.

Or so I thought.

The most high-profile is NI Water, for which he receives a £40,000-a-year salary for four days work each month.

I asked the company to put us in touch with him yesterday and queried if it knew where Mr Hogan was.

No joy on either.

In a statement, an NI Water spokeswoman said: "NI Water can confirm that Sean Hogan, alongside his fellow non-executive directors, has been available throughout the incident, providing strategic guidance, direction and support to the NI Water management team."

But where was he?

Undeterred, the next body on my list was Sentinus, an education charity whose board Mr Hogan has voluntarily sat on since September 2013.

A member of staff said he wasn't there, adding he was rarely in the office.

This was proving trickier than I anticipated.

I tried an auditing company for which Mr Hogan provides business development advice.

"He is not available," I was told.

"I'll get him to call you back."

I was then put on hold for more than five minutes. Nobody returned the call.

Mr Hogan is also the chairman for the Centre of Advanced Sustainable Energy at Queen's University.

"He doesn't actually work in the building," staff said. "He doesn't have an office here."

They weren't sure where he was.

A member of staff said one person might know, but he was off this week.

Maybe the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development could help.

He is paid £300 a day plus travel expenses for his role as chair of the Bovine TB strategic partnership group.

A member of the department wasn't aware of Mr Hogan's whereabouts.

As with the rest of the bodies, I lodged a request for an interview.

But by last night none of my calls or emails to Mr Hogan had been returned.

One company did call back, but in error.

"Hello Sean, there's a Chris Kilpatrick looking for you. Is it okay to pass on your details?" the caller said.

An embarrassed apology followed with a vow to pass my request on. No more calls were received.

In an online biography, Mr Hogan describes himself as a "committed and enthusiastic organisational leader".

"A natural communicator and strategist, I am outcomes-driven with proven emotional intelligence and successes in relationship building and strong corporate governance," he adds.

But despite the worst crisis to hit NI Water in recent times, which left thousands without vital water supplies, Mr Hogan has remained in the shadows.

The natural communicator seems extremely reluctant to use those skills when it comes to engaging with the public.

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