07/01/2011

Two Part Water Fiasco Probe Announced

As the Stormont Regional Development Minister claimed last night that he has been assured measures are in place to ensure there is no repeat of the water crisis fiasco, the NI Executive has agreed to appoint two people to scrutinise the role of the Department of Regional Development in the recent water crisis.

The Minister, Conor Murphy was speaking after it was announced that the investigation into the crisis had been widened with the utility regulator set to investigate NI Water's performance.

The Executive has now agreed the Terms of Reference for an investigation into NI Water's handling of the recent major interruption to water supplies.

The first part of the report will be by the Utility Regulator into the NI Water incident in line with the Regulator's statutory responsibilities.

The second part of the investigation will be produced by two individuals appointed by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and will consider the broader governance issues, including the role and responsibilities of the Minister for Regional Development and his Department in relation to this incident.

The as yet unnamed appointees will also consider the Regulator's recommendations.

The Regulator has agreed to keep the appointees appraised about his part of the investigation so that they are kept up to date.

This morning, a Stormont Executive statement emphasised the independence of the investigation and said that members will now await its findings.

The composite report, including the work of both the Regulator and the two appointees, will be submitted to the Executive by the end of February and after consideration the report will be published.

Specifically, the probe will look at how, during late December 2010 and early January 2011, water supply was lost to a significant number of premises in Northern Ireland during adverse weather conditions.

The Utility Regulator will carry out an investigation into the causes of this loss of supply and the performance of Northern Ireland Water in planning for and reacting to this event. The investigation will also make recommendations to mitigate against a reoccurrence.

This investigation will consider whether NI Water has contravened any licence condition or other statutory requirement, and if it is continuing to do or is likely to do so in future.
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The Utility Regulator's Board will be informed of its conclusions. In the light of this the Board will then determine whether any enforcement or other regulatory action is necessary or

The investigation will review contingency planning and implementation; internal and external communications; the cause and extent of supply problems and finally, governance, leadership and management issues.

Overnight, Sinn Fein Minister, Conor Murphy said NI Water had told the Executive and his department about "the immediate lessons they have put in place".

"We also received a report from the Civil Contingencies Group - who span across all departments in terms of a response to an emergency situation - to tell us what suggestions they had put in place to allow other agencies and government departments to assist NI Water should any issue like this arise again.

"So there were very firm reassurances given to the Executive and the regional development committee that there have been a lot of immediate lessons learned and measures put in place to ensure we don't have a reoccurrence of this this winter," Mr Murphy said.

Meanwhile, East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long has said that point-scoring regarding the Regional Development Minister's position cannot be allowed to distract people from the urgent job of improving NI Water's procedures to deal with future issues.

She said that immediate action was essential given that further adverse weather conditions may be experienced in the very near future.

"The resignation of Laurence MacKenzie and the political point-scoring over the Minister's position cannot be allowed to become a distraction from the urgent job of implementing improved procedures to deal with similar future events.

"Neither can this be left until the results of the inquiry are published, as it will probably take a number of months before any such report is produced.

"With further extremely cold weather predicted, we need the public to be reassured that NI Water are able to cope significantly better under pressure than was the case during this crisis.

"The response to this crisis must not simply just be about heads rolling, it has to be about putting right what was wrong and doing so very quickly. People must never have to face the problems they faced over the Christmas period ever again," she insisted.

See: Freeze Chills Murphy As Water Boss Quits

(BMcC/GK)

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