Irish Water gave us the stick, and we are beating them with it.
The press mantra of the title explains the conundrum. We live in a world that is safer than it has ever been in the history of the world. Yet fear rates have never been higher. Crime rates may fall across the board but the reporting of crime continues to raise the threat levels. If your local friendly rag can’t find a violent crime in your neighbourhood they will simply cast the net wider. In our digitally interconnected global village there is no effort required to turn up a salacious, lurid or graphic violent crime to further terrify your readers.
If it bleeds it leads because if it bleeds it sells. We are the authors of our own victimisation, our own anger, our own exploitation, because we give our money or our attention to the graphic, the lurid and the salacioius.
In Ireland water was managed by a plethora of small, under-resourced local authorities.; town and county municipalities, where budgets were allocated in a highly political manner by local councillors. The approach for water was to make do and mend, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If water became contaminated the goal was to fix it quietly. What the people don’t know won’t harm them. Above all: Don’t upset the Elected Representatives. As a water plant manager you could not afford to make the politicians look bad, because they held the purse strings.
Enter Irish Water, a nationally constituted public sector organisation given responsibility for all water management in the country. For the purpose of this post I am ignoring the misguided attempt by the Government to install water meters in every home in Ireland, and the accusations that this was an attempt to privatise water in Ireland. Those are issues that require entire books, not a blog post.
Irish Water is constituted in a very different way from the Local Authorities. It was born of another public sector organisation; Bord Gáis. When you manage the national gas network you need to be focused on safety. Gas has the potential to explode.
As a result of the Gas governance framework Irish Water was furnished with the tools and the business culture of risk identification, risk reporting, issue reporting. As Irish Water management take over the Local Authorities they need to change the culture from one of political expediency to one of “Safety First”.
The result of this cultural change is an explosion in the tracking of faults and the reporting of material breaches in standards. The newspapers are flooded with lurid headlines, burst pipes, dirty water, boil notices, plant failures, activated alarms, contaminated beaches.
As our drinking water becomes safer and safer the fear level of contaminated water increases.
As the investments in waste water treatment plant begin to pay dividends the media become increasingly vocal on each spill of untreated sewage.
The reaction from the general public? Irish Water is a disaster. Things were better in the old days.