NI Water examines its response to the crisis

First Minister Peter Robinson says the response of NI Water has been "shambolic"

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The board of Northern Ireland Water will meet later to reflect on how the company has handled the ongoing water supply crisis.

They will report their findings in the coming days to Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy.

Four thousand three hundred and sixty homes remain without running water.

NI Water has said that about 20,000 properties will have an on/off supply, all of them in the east of Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, former Northern Ireland Water acting chief executive Christopher Mellor, who was sacked in March, has described the water crisis as a "disaster waiting to happen".

"I think this is what happens when you get rid of the directors at the top of NIW, who knew what they were doing, and replace them with people who have no experience of running a water utility.

"In my view, the politicians, as well as the company, must take some share of the blame.

"I think it was interesting but predictable to see the politicians lining up at Stormont to blame the company."

However, Conor Murphy, the minister with responsibility for NI Water, said he was "entirely correct" to sack the previous board.

"I would have been rightly criticised for leaving the board in place, on the basis that Chris Mellor alone had some experience in a water utility company, given the procurement practices that were going on," he said.

NI Water spokesman Liam Mulholland said on Friday morning: "Our sole focus at the moment is to get customers back on supply.

"There will be a review and there will be lessons we will take from this and try and improve things going forward.

"But right now it's about getting those 6,000 homes that are off supply completely back on."

Shambolic

An emergency session of the Executive was held on Thursday to discuss the problems affecting the water supply, after which First Minister Peter Robinson called NI Water's response "shambolic" and "ineffective".

He said he did not think anyone could suggest the state-owned company had "covered themselves in glory".

"People must assess their own position and of course if people don't assess their own position the (Executive's) review will look at where responsibility lies and decisions will be taken on the foot of that," he added.

In relation to the water company, Mr Robinson said: "It isn't simply a case of under-performing, we believe it has been shambolic at stages, it has been ineffective. It has not been the kind of organisation that is fit for purpose.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said NI Water's performance had been "totally unacceptable behaviour by an arms-length body".

Start Quote

We believe it has been shambolic at stages, it has been ineffective. It has not been the kind of organisation that is fit for purpose.”

End Quote Peter Robinson NI First Minister

He said it was "disturbing" that people at a senior level at the organisation had not anticipated the scale of the difficulties presented by the recent thaw in temperatures.

"We are not prepared to accept this treatment on behalf of citizens. Arms-length bodies need to be held to account," he said.

He said it was a "key priority" that schools and businesses would be able to resume after the Christmas period.

Bursts

NI Water warned it could be next week before all homes and businesses are reconnected.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, South Tyrone Hospital, Dungannon, and Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn, have been affected by the water supply crisis.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has warned there could be major changes in how the NI water supply is financed.

Owen Paterson said Northern Ireland's infrastructure had suffered over the years and that changes were now needed.

"What will be looked at here is the difference in the way that water is paid for in the rest of the UK and the way it is paid for in Northern Ireland, where it is just an element of the rates," he said.

Graph showing investment in NI water and sewerage

Eighty villages and towns have been affected as pipes burst in the thaw.

Trevor Haslett, director of engineering at NI Water, said the situation in urban areas was improving and should be better by Friday afternoon.

Burst pipes

However, he added: "It could be early next week before everybody is on supply."

Mr Haslett said over a period of 12 hours the company suffered more burst service pipes than he could remember for 35 years.

The Scottish government is sending further supplies of water to Northern Ireland. Five lorry loads of bottled water are being delivered on Friday, with another two lorries scheduled for Saturday.

NI Water's Chief Executive, Lawrence MacKenzie, and Trevor Haslett, Director of Engineering & Procurement, take questions

'Big pressure'

NI Water, a state-owned company, which is the sole provider of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland, said an unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw following the long period of freezing weather had been putting "big pressure" on its systems.

The thaw followed the worst snow in Northern Ireland in 25 years and record cold temperatures.

As temperatures rose, burst pipes drained reservoirs, forcing NI Water to turn off the tap to the 80 locations.

Local councils are working to supply water and offer free showers to people without a mains supply and information is being provided on the NI Water website.

More information on the water shortage is available from the NI Water website, or telephone hot line on 08457 440088, on Ceefax page 169 and BBC News Online.

Are you in Northern Ireland? Are you experiencing problems with your water supply due to the weather? Do you run a small business? How has it affected trade? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

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