22 January 2015

Water Supply Crisis



Joe Byrne MLA asked an urgent oral question on Tuesday 20 January 2015 regarding the water supply crisis:

"To ask the Minister for Regional Development for his assessment of the water supply crisis currently affecting over 9000 homes and businesses."

The Minister for Regional Development had this response:
Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to reply to this question. I will require additional time for the answer, and I seek your permission for that.

The consequences of the industrial dispute have been unacceptable for customers over the past two weekends and, in particular, during the last week. For my part, I am disappointed that the parties have not yet brokered an agreement, and I am sorry that the public are bearing the unacceptable brunt of that failure. Whilst those in NI Water who are not in engaged in industrial action and contractors have been doing their utmost to maintain supplies, it is not, as I said, acceptable that households are left without essential water supplies for extended periods, particularly given the weather conditions. The impact is felt not only by households and the vulnerable but by farmers, places of education, health and, indeed, health facilities.

I brought in the Labour Relations Agency before Christmas, and it has been working with management and the unions intensively since then. I met management and the unions again last Wednesday and gave them a clear, unequivocal message that this needed to be resolved and resolved quickly. To reinforce that message, I joined the start of today's negotiations at the Labour Relations Agency and impressed on both parties the importance of negotiating until a resolution is secured. The company is working to minimise disruption to customer supplies and providing alternative supplies. All resources at NI Water and the Department's disposal have been mobilised to deal with this ongoing situation. A major incident regime remains in place.

The company has stressed that the key demand that pension reform be delayed is not within my gift to provide, and any settlement will require DFP approval. Northern Ireland Water management has made a number of offers to resolve the issue. Offers made have been within the terms of Executive pay and pensions policy. If the unions and the company cannot find common ground today at the Labour Relations Agency on all outstanding issues, the emergency protocol that worked successfully over the Christmas and new year period, in my view, must be reinstated. This would give the public protection of services and the parties time and space to conclude on the outstanding issues.

You can read the full transcript on our website.