Politicising the sustaining of water supply in Ireland - the role of accounting concepts

Stephen Jollands, Martin Quinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
230 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines how the Irish government mobilised accounting concepts to assist in implementing the billing of domestic water users. While billing of domestic water users is commonplace in other jurisdictions and is generally accepted as necessary to sustain a water supply, previous attempts were unsuccessful and a political hot potato.

We use an actor-network theory inspired approach. Specifically the concepts of calculative spaces and their ‘otherness’ to non-calculative spaces are used to analyse how accounting concepts were mobilised and the effects they had in the introduction of domestic water billing, which would also see the creation of a new water utility. We utilise publically available documents such as legislation, programmes for government, regulators publications, media reports and parliamentary records in our analysis. Our analysis covers a period from 1983 to late 2014.

Our analysis highlights how the implementation of domestic water billing involved the assembling of many divergent actors including the mobilisation of accounting concepts. Specifically the concept of ‘cost’ became a contested entity. The government mobilised it in a conventional way to represent the resourcing of a sustainable water supply. Countering this, domestic water users associated ‘cost’ with the direct impact that this would have on their own resources and the implications of this on their lives. As such an entity usually associated with the economic realm became embroiled within political processes with much of what they were supposed to represent becoming invisible. Thus we observed accounting concepts being mobilised to support the gaining of a specific political ends, the implementation of domestic billing, rather than as part of the means to implement a sustainable water supply within Ireland.

Research limitations/implications
This research has some limitations, one being we draw on secondary data. However, our research does provide a detailed base from which to continue to study a new water utility over time.

This study demonstrates the complications that can occur when accounting concepts are associated with gaining of a political ends rather than as a means in the process of trying to achieve a sustainable water supply. Further, the creation of a new utility is in itself a rare occurrence in the developed world, and a water utility even more so. This study demonstrates the role accounting concepts can have in this creation process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-190
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • accounting concepts, sustainable water, actor-network theory, calculative spaces, non-calculative spaces.


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