Water crisis war of words steps up

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Jack Lewis collects bottled water at the Shankill Leisure Centre, Belfast

The war of words over Northern Ireland’s faltering water supply has stepped up ahead of a crunch board meeting of the company at the centre of the storm.

The leaders of Northern Ireland Water (NIW), the government-owned company responsible for water supply in the region, will meet on Friday afternoon to review the crisis.

Thousands of homes are still without water and more than 20,000 continue to suffer interrupted supply.

The board will report to Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy who will update Executive colleagues within days on plans for a full investigation into the damage caused by Arctic weather conditions, plus NIW’s heavily criticised response.

“I will be seeking assurances that this will not happen again this winter,” Mr Murphy said.

As temperatures plummeted to record lows, pipes froze and when the rapid thaw followed after Christmas there was a massive number of bursts. NIW hopes to have much of Belfast reconnected by the end of Friday but it could be early next week before those in remote areas receive help.

In a further development the former Northern Ireland Water acting chief executive Christopher Mellor, said the crisis was a “disaster waiting to happen”.

He was among a number of board members sacked by the minister last March after criticisms of the oversight of how contracts were allocated.

But Mr Mellor said: “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.”

But Mr Murphy rejected the claims and told the BBC: “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.”

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