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Water Crisis - Friends of the Earth's Perspective

Water Crisis - Friends of the Earth's Perspective

Chances are that you experienced at least some disruption to your water supply over Christmas and that you've heard a great deal in the local media about the crisis that left tens of thousands of homes without water, in some cases for weeks.

Here at Friends of the Earth, we'll wait for the conclusions of the inquiry that will be conducted by the NI Authority for Utility Regulation rather than pointing the finger of blame at NI Water employees and board members, or politicians.

We are concerned, however, that Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, may react to the crisis by taking the regressive step of bringing NI Water fully back under the control of his department. 

When Water Service, as it was then called, was a division of first the Department of the Environment (DOE) and then the Department of Regional Development (DRD), it enjoyed Crown Immunity from prosecution. It was regularly exposed as being guilty of large-scale pollution and environmental damage incidents, yet was never held accountable for its crimes. 

Since 2006, when it became an arm's length body that was indirectly managed by the DRD, NI Water has been answerable for any offences it commits. To bring it back under the direct control of the Minister would lead to the risk that it could again get away with serious cases of pollution, and leave the UK open to cripplingly large fines under EU law.

Friends of the Earth believes that NI Water should remain quasi-independent of the Department, to ensure that it can be prosecuted when it damages our environment. 

We would like the company to become a mutualised, not-for-profit company entirely independent of Government and directly answerable to the people of Northern Ireland through independent regulation. 

We're not in favour of privatisation or the introduction of free market principles to the provision of water.

We will oppose any move by the Minister to reverse the progress made on ensuring that the rule of law applies to the company.

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