Irish Water – the Shambularity.

We are not good at joined up planning in this state. As the economy improves and the state begins to have some discretionary income, it is perhaps too much to hope for that the historical  approach to planning, of random actions that at best don’t join well or at worst cut across each other, that this will be supplanted by some degree of rationality.

This lack of ability to plan is not new, although recent events  around water and postal issues might suggest so.  Take roads for instance. We now have a reasonably decent road network. It is incomparably better , for national primary routes, than was the case ten or twenty years ago. And yet, the lack of a comprehensive national plan for a motorway network has led to a hodgepodge of bottlenecks and bad design. One of the first motorway standard developments was the Naas bypass, which relieved what was a horrible bottleneck on the main Cork/Limerick to Dublin road. But what did the planners do? They ended the road a kilometre outside a town with an even greater potential for bottlenecks, Newbridge. When that was bypassed, yep, Kildare town emerged. And so on by increments over three decades the worsening traffic problem was shunted from town to town until the N7 became the M7…which ends at the double 90degree village of Adare. What a great idea for a beautiful heritage village, to ensure that it is clogged by fumebelching juggernauts every Friday and Sunday. Who would have thunk it..

It is perhaps arguable that we even need an M7.  A motorway standard dual carriageway with  oneway bypasses of the worst bottlenecks would have cost less and delivered the same standard. And we would have had services on them. If anyone can tell me any other OECD state that has motorways wherein there are proudly displayed “No Services” I will give them a prize. Lack of coherent joined up thinking has resulted in endless retrofits, refits and make do’s.

Recently my gast was officially flabbered when Irish Water, the worlds first stand up comedy utility, announced that they were to seek Irish directions for their bills. These are the bills that are to be sent to everyone, even the dead, just in case they may be a customer.  Leaving aside the notion of a utility which doesn’t know its customers, doesn’t even know if they are alive, we have a utility that can’t find them. Again, this is down to lack of planning. There is a linkage here, a depressing one.

In modern countries there are postcodes. We have been planning to have them since 1973. Like commercial nuclear fusion, they are always a few years away. We now have, or will have soon, an official postcode system. This is called Eircode. Eircode sucks so hard that it could drain the atlantic in thirty seconds. It is a system that has been excoriated by everyone who will have to encounter it. Commercial delivery companies, postal service operators, emergency service operators, even the data protection commissioner have all slated it. Mere unusability seems not to matter though as minister after minister have passively allowed it to ooze forward.

There are alternatives to it, including free ones. These have the advantage over Eircode that in addition to being free, they work. To use Eircode fully one will have to pay. Our addresses have been privatized. Instead of looking up an address online via a map and finding its postcode (e.g. NY3-67-QJ4) one will have to have access to the database.

If we had a working sensible postal code system then we could have no issue whereby a utility was sending bills to persons who may or may not be customers (aka spam mail) addressed as “Jimmy Sullivan,  Bog Road, beside the turn to the CoOp and a bit on from the house with the big conservatory, Country Clare”.  They could be sent to Jimmy, and then we could deal with the issue of Jimmy not being a customer as he and all before him have a perfectly fine well, or are on a group water scheme since Dev’s visit in the fifties.

We have here the Shambularity – a dense mass of interleaved poor planning from which no escape is possible, sucking in resources and hope. Irish Water and the Eircode companies are , I am sure, led by decent hard working people, who has found themselves, as have many , balancing the conflicting demands of hyperlocal political concerns, technologically terminally ignorant political advisors, and good business planning.  However, they has been trapped in the events horizon, the swirling cloud of mess that has accreted around the shambularity, and have not been able to escape and deliver a coherent narriative.

Why do we have a postcode system that nobody outside its developers want? Why do we have a utility that has to resort to spamming the population (when it can find them) in case they might be customers? Was nobody thinking logically?

A version of this was published in the Irish Examiner Sat 11 April 2015

2 thoughts on “Irish Water – the Shambularity.

  1. bjg

    I once tried to find out about the careers of serving TDs. I wanted to see whether any of them had any experience of running anything more complex than a parish social. I gave up somewhere around the letter C because (a) it was difficult to find useful information and (b) I hadn’t found any TDs who could be expected to know anything about running large and complex systems.

    I also looked, for other reasons, at some of the behind-the-scenes work that Irish Water was doing: the long-term assessment of needs, the planning and the prioritisation of projects. I don’t know whether they were getting everything right; I do know that some serious people were doing some serious work.

    The contribution of government and opposition politicians to this process seems to me to have been entirely negative and I see no reason to believe that anything controlled by the political class can ever work properly. I suspect that the NRA managed to get the motorways built only because so much money was available at the time.

    I do not work for, know anyone who works for or have any associations, business or otherwise (save as a customer), with Irish Water.



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