Northern Ireland

'No repeat of winter water crisis' says Conor Murphy

The Regional Development Minister has sought to reassure his assembly committee there will be no repeat of the recent water crisis.

Conor Murphy said NI Water had increased its stock of bottled water from 90,000 litres to 200,000.

On Wednesday, the Stormont committee also heard that other measures taken included improving communications.

NI Water has been in touch with its counterparts in Britain in a bid to be more customer-friendly.

Mr Murphy is facing tough questions over his department's handling of the recent water crisis.

More than 40,000 homes were off mains supply after an unprecedented period of cold weather.

His appearance before the committee follows a damning draft report into his department and Northern Ireland Water.

The leaked draft report, commissioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), is critical of how the company handed out government contracts without competition in breach of public sector rules.

It also highlights weaknesses in how the department governed the company.

It described the department's arrangements for overseeing NI Water as "the worst of all possible worlds."

Mr Murphy told BBC NI Good Morning Ulster on Wednesday that he had not seen the report which was leaked on Tuesday evening and it was, he stressed, a draft.

"The key issue which this draft report probably will identify -I have not seen it - but I am sure it is in it because that is what it was set up to do, is the issue of procurement and the failure to procure £28m of contracts," he said.

"It meant that companies were not operating on a level playing field in terms of their ability to attract government contracts."

String of controversies

This is the latest in a string of controversies to hit NI Water.

Its chief executive Laurence MacKenzie resigned in the wake of the water crisis, with many people critical of the government-owned company's failure to come to the aid of those in need.

Both NI Water and the Department of Regional Development said they would not comment on a leaked draft report.

Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain, chair of the Assembly's Regional Development Committee said: "What's most important is the whole issue of the independent review which was set up by the minister.

"Clearly, that review is now compromised." Mr Cobain said that was disappointing.

Chairman of the PAC, Sinn Fein MLA Paul Maskey, said that he, too, was disappointed the draft had been leaked and he would seek to get to the bottom of how it happened.

Conall McDevitt, SDLP, said that the report raised "serious questions".

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