Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Ed Curran: They'll always find enough water to wash away blame

Cliodhna Maguire aged 6 from Belfast , takes a drink of water from a water tap at Olympia
Cliodhna Maguire aged 6 from Belfast , takes a drink of water from a water tap at Olympia
Padraic White Chairman of Northern Ireland Water pictured at yesterday's press conference at NI Water HQ in north Belfast with board members Kevin Steele (left) and Peter Bunting (right).
Car wash on Boucher Road in Belfast still operating despite the shortage of water.
Laurence MacKenzie, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water at NI Water Westland House
Laurence MacKenzie, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water at NI Water Westland House
Belfast Lord Mayor Pat Convery helps out with the delivery of fresh water
Belfast Lord Mayor Pat Convery, (centre), oversees delivery of fresh water supplies including bottled water just arrived from Scotland
Belfast Lord Mayor Pat Convery helps out with the delivery of fresh water supplies including bottled water just arrived from Scotland
A woman carries away a pack of bottles of Scottish water
Under pressure: Laurence MacKenzie, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water at NI Water Westland House
A Northern Ireland Water employee unloads bottled water supplied by the Scottish government in Belfast
80-year-old Jack Lewis from the Shankill area of Belfast, who just arrived back from holidays to find he has no water, unpacked his suitcaseand packed it with water - Scottish bottled water being delivered to NI Water
Bottled water arrived for distribution at Belfast's Avoniel leisure centre. Sally Patton makes her way through the streets to bring fresh water to those who are unable to leave their homes
Barbra Telford gets her supply of fresh water
Richard McCook from Castlerock Co Londonderry is utilising his resources. Mr McCook has a natural spring on his land and is willing to transport 1000 litres of water anywhere in Northern Ireland for £200
Holmes without water: Eamonn fills his bottle
Retired MLA Mary Neilis from Derry whose tap water stopped on Christmas Eve
Voluntary community worker Robert McCartney collects bottles of Scottish water from Northern Ireland Water's Old West Land Road depot
Northern Ireland water crisis
NI Water's Chief Executive, Lawrence MacKenzie takes questions at their depot on the Old Westland Road in north Belfast
Voluntary community worker Robert McCartney collects bottles of Scottish water from Northern Ireland Water's Old West Land Road depot
12 year old Karl Barr from County Antrim loading his family car with the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena
A Northern Ireland Water employee with bottled water supplied by the Scottish government in Belfast
Lorries from Scotland, carrying 160,000 litres of bottled water, arrive at Larne harbour
Trevor Haslett, Director of Engineering, Padraic White (middle) Interim Chairman and Laurence MacKenzie, Chief Executive Officer (right) all from Northern Ireland Water speak to the media
People wait in line at Avoniel leisure centre in east Belfast with empty bottles to get drinking water December 29, 2010.
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Bottles of water are filled up outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Bottles of water are filled up outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10Kelly and Anne Marie Murphy fill up Bottles of water outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Bowsers are filled up outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out, They will be brought to 5 sites across Belfast so people can get water Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Bowsers are filled up outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out, They will be brought to 5 sites across Belfast so people can get water Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Water storage units have run out at Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Tempers flare as families queue for the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28/12/2010Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin KernoghanFamilies queueing for the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena today. NI Water in Ballymena ran out of bottled water after lunchtime today. The thaw is revealing an unprecedented number of burst water pipes.Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland are still without water on Tuesday.Northern Ireland Water has said it is dealing with interruptions to supplies across a number of areas as a result of the severe weather and ongoing thaw.An unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw have been putting "big pressure" on its systems.NI Water is giving out bottled water but there is growing criticism of the company's performance.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28/12/2010Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin KernoghanFamilies queueing for the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena today. NI Water in Ballymena ran out of bottled water after lunchtime today. The thaw is revealing an unprecedented number of burst water pipes.Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland are still without water on Tuesday.Northern Ireland Water has said it is dealing with interruptions to supplies across a number of areas as a result of the severe weather and ongoing thaw.An unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw have been putting "big pressure" on its systems.NI Water is giving out bottled water but there is growing criticism of the company's performance.
©Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland 28th December 2010Northern Ireland water office in Portadown are giving away water to residents from the Armagh area who have been without for the last 24 hours..Stephanie Shaw from Armagh collects some water.Picture Stephen Hamilton /Presseye.com
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28/12/2010Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin KernoghanFamilies queueing for the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena today. NI Water in Ballymena ran out of bottled water after lunchtime today. The thaw is revealing an unprecedented number of burst water pipes.Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland are still without water on Tuesday.Northern Ireland Water has said it is dealing with interruptions to supplies across a number of areas as a result of the severe weather and ongoing thaw.An unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw have been putting "big pressure" on its systems.NI Water is giving out bottled water but there is growing criticism of the company's performance.
Queueing up for water are these Coleraine residents at Captain Street were a five hundered year old fountain flows whole year round.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mrs Janet Doran in tears as she talks to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, after raw sewage had flooded through her home on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mrs Janet Doran, (left), and Mrs May Maye discuss their problems after sewage had flooded through their home on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mrs May Maye's kitchen after raw sewage had flooded through her home on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Maurice Magill explains the problems residents like Mrs May Maye, are facing to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, after raw sewage had flooded through a terrace of homes on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mr Arthur Doran with property destroyed in his home after sewage had flooded through it on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mrs Janet Doran breaks down in tears as she talks to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, after raw sewage had flooded through her home on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 28-12-2010Mr Arthur Doran with property destroyed in his home after sewage had flooded through it on boxing day at Elmwood Terrace, in Lurgan. The residents of the County Armagh housing estate have expressed anger after the sewage had flooded through their homes saying today that still no-one from NI Water had come to the Shankill estate in Lurgan despite repeated requests for help. Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said the response had "not been good enough" and added that he would be asking "serious questions" of the company. NI Water has said it is doing as much it can to help those affected by the "unprecedented" problems. The problem at the row of houses at Elmwood Terrace was caused by overflowing drains unable to cope with the thawing ice.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Presseye.com - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th December 2010. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Belfast.General views from NI Waters Westland base as members of the public come to pick up bottles of water.
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Bottles of water are filled up outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Water storage units have run out at Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10Kelly and Anne Marie Murphy fill up Bottles of water outside Westland House in North Belfast after homes across Belfast run out Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Tesco's in Yorkgate sells out of water due to the high demand with homes across North Belfast out of water Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/12/10 Tesco's in Yorkgate sells out of water due to the high demand with homes across North Belfast out of water Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
An employee of Northern Ireland Water fills plastic containers for members of the public in North Belfast

The water crisis was a disaster waiting to happen. It was only a case of when.

The coldest Christmas in living memory was bound to deliver the fatal blow to a service hopelessly underfunded for decades and desperately found wanting in political and managerial oversight.

In any other society, heads would roll and the cull would start at the very top - in the Northern Ireland Executive where the buck really stops. Indeed, in any normal society, the Stormont Executive would be tottering on the brink of collapse by now.

That it isn't, and that it continues to survive a system of ineffective governance, is down to one plain fact: Northern Ireland is not a normal society. Whether we like it or not, we are hoist with our own peculiar political petard.

We have had the spectacle of the First and deputy First Minister, along with the minister responsible, joining forces to condemn the management of Northern Ireland Water as if they themselves bore no responsibility or culpability for the dreadful mess visited upon so many tens of thousands of people.

I'm sorry, but their efforts to detach and absolve themselves of any blame do not hold water. The fundamental question in relation to Northern Ireland Water is whether it has sufficient financial resources. No less than the First Minister himself, Peter Robinson, is the very architect of no water charges.

Of course, no one wants to pay water charges, but what is the alternative? Martin McGuinness did himself no service with his trite and disparaging remarks about "well-heeled" economists and observers who advocate water charges.

The legitimate arguments for water charges are not deserving of his dismissiveness - especially since we all know the Executive is playing to a May election gallery and may well change its tune once the votes are counted.

One word holds the whole Stormont charade together - peace. Because we cherish this so much we put up with Stormont's dithering, indecisiveness and now a breathtaking level of incompetence over the water service.

The overall responsibility for this most essential of public services rests with Stormont and, in particular, the minister, Conor Murphy. If he had any conscience, he should walk away now.

Within the Executive there are ministers who should have resigned or been sacked since 2007. But none has and none will be because the system protects them all.

When it suits them, Stormont ministers take responsibility. They take the credit when there is good news to be imparted. However, when problems arise, everyone but a minister is to blame.

Devolution, we now know, holds everyone to book except the exclusive political brethren who inhabit the Stormont estate. The whipping boys, the scapegoats of the Executive are senior public servants in virtually any area of government.

This time around it's Northern Ireland Water bosses, but anyone who cares to examine the dubious record of the Executive will see that, when the going gets tough, there is always an education board, a health trust, or some other public body or official to blame - but never ever our political leaders.

The water crisis reminded me of the aftermath of the Christmas gales a decade ago when tens of thousands of homes across Northern Ireland were left without electricity. My home was one of 10,000 which still had no power after five days. And then, as now, people were literally left in the dark, not knowing if, how, or when, services would be restored.

However, NIE learnt a hard lesson then which I would have thought should have been copied across Stormont by now. New procedures for communication were put in place.

As a result, NIE appears to have coped with crises ever since in a manner which was not apparent in the past week with the water service.

Stormont can change the management of Northern Ireland Water, but we can only change Stormont through public pressure for reform. I suspect the level of public disillusionment is such that, if there were an election tomorrow, political apathy would be more manifest than ever.

Democracy and devolution can only work properly if local ministers are held to account and know their jobs are on the line if they fail. That is not happening in Northern Ireland.

The people have run out of water, but the politicians continue to drink from Stormont's fountain of comfort.

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