Northern Ireland

NI Water overwhelmed by 1m contacts from customers

Laurence MacKenzie
Image caption Laurence MacKenzie said he believed firmly in the principles of responsibility and accountability

Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has apologised to customers for its handling of the recent water shortage.

The company's director of customer service, Liam Mulholland, told a Stormont committee that the scale of the problem had taken them by surprise.

He said more than one million contacts were received from members of the public at the height of the crisis.

Former chief executive Laurence Mackenzie resigned after mounting criticism of the company's response.

He officially leaves office on Friday and was due to appear before the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Regional Development which is hearing evidence about the crisis.

His decision not to attend has been criticised by the chair of the committee Fred Cobain.

"This is a huge issue, not just for this committee and the Assembly, but for the thousands of people who have suffered," he said.

Golden handshake

"He has a responsibility to those people. As far as we are concerned he should have been and he is not."

Officials from the government-owned company have been giving evidence to the committee about the handling of the crisis.

The Stormont minister responsible for NIW has said the former chief executive will not receive a "golden handshake" package.

Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said he is seeking legal advice over Mr MacKenzie's minimum entitlement terms.

Mr Murphy estimated the figure to be under £100,000 and said it would be made public.

Mr Murphy said he was yet to receive full details of the severance package for Mr MacKenzie but said estimates of a payout of £500,000 were massively "over-inflated".

"I haven't been given the actual figure yet but I believe it is lower than £100,000 and it is my understanding that the minimum legal requirement does not include pensions contributions, golden-handshakes or bonuses," the minister said.


Mr Murphy also stressed that he wanted assurances that Mr Mackenzie would remain "available to assist the review" into the crisis.

The review which is being carried out by the Utilities Regulator is due in February, and its terms of reference are expected to be made public at an assembly committee meeting on Thursday.

Mr MacKenzie's resignation had been widely predicted after NI Water was criticised for failing to prepare properly for disruption following December's heavy snowfall.

Half-a-million litres of water had to be sent from Scotland to Belfast as supplies began to run out.

There were complaints from the public about a lack of information from Northern Ireland Water as 40,000 homes and businesses were without supplies at one stage.

Phone lines were jammed and the company website lacked up-to-date information.

After more than 10 days of disruption, just 33 households in Northern Ireland are now without a full water supply.

Confirming his resignation Mr MacKenzie said: "This is entirely my own decision. I believe firmly in the principles of responsibility and accountability. It is for that fundamental reason I have decided to pursue this course of action.

A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland Water said: "Following discussion, the board has accepted his (Mr MacKenzie's) resignation as CEO and agreed terms of settlement consistent with his contractual entitlement.

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