Contribution to the 2013 Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage – 19th December

December 19th, 2013 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen:

I welcome an opportunity to contribute to this debate. The legislating for and setting up of Irish Water, which will assume responsibility for managing water supplies, will go a long way towards ensuring that we have a sufficient and reliable supply of water in the future, particularly given the importance of water not only for our own survival but also in the areas of agriculture, fishing and tourism, and in view of the critical role it plays as a key driver in attracting foreign direct investment into the country.
Given the establishment of Irish Water and the transfer of functions from the local authorities to it, there are a number of issues that I want to bring to the attention of the House today. Up to now, Clare County Council has managed our water services, and it has done a good job against the backdrop of tight budgetary constraints in recent years, especially given the embargo on recruitment. I am anxious to see that Irish Water is not restricted in the same way. I have raised this with the Minister on a number of occasions. I understand Irish Water has already recruited 183 staff but I ask the company to review the position in Clare and, if necessary, supplement the number of staff transferring from Clare County Council in order to ensure that our water services are maintained at their high standards.
It is also critical that Irish Water continue to invest in the water infrastructure and that consumers are protected and have safe drinking water. Of course, reliability is important as well. The EPA expressed concerns recently regarding delays in the replacement of lead piping in the town of Ennis. Phase 1 of the Ennis water mains contract included the replacement of lead pipes in the Marian Avenue, Ahern’s Terrace and Linnane’s Terrace areas of the town, and this has been a success. Given that the contract documents for phase 2 of the Ennis scheme are currently being prepared, the replacement of lead pipes in the remainder of the town, including Connolly Villas, should be included in this phase, as this is important for health and safety reasons.
We also need to progress the Ennis-Clarecastle sewerage scheme. Commercial and industrial activity has effectively been stifled in this area given that planning permission is being refused, as the majority of lands zoned would utilise this scheme. The Minister is anxious to progress the upgrading of the Clonroadmore wastewater treatment plant and his Department is currently examining the tenders. I hope this can be fast-tracked as well.
As well as the much-talked-about interconnectors from Castle Lake and Sixmilebridge to Ennis, the upgrading of the Shannon sewerage scheme is now a priority given the vile odour that residents in the Shannon are must endure, and, of course, the Kilkee and Kilrush sewerage schemes are key infrastructural projects in the county, not only because of the jobs they would generate during the construction phase but also because of their potential to attract new businesses to Clare. I am in the process of examining whether we can progress the Carrigaholt small sewerage scheme as well. Carrigaholt is an important seaside resort in west Clare and there is fishing off the coast. The establishment of a sewerage scheme there is important, and I am trying to progress that.
At a public meeting I attended recently in Scarriff, I heard that there was much concern in east Clare regarding the plans to extract 350 million litres of water every day to supplement the supply in Dublin. The indications are that this could have an environmental and economic effect on tourism and fishing in east Clare.
There are genuine concerns, especially as the water levels are so low in Lough Derg at this time of the year, the middle of winter. These concerns must be taken into consideration before the debate continues further.
I have several other issues to address, but time does not permit me to do so. In particular, with regard to metering and the application of water charges, I urge Irish Water to learn from the experience of the local property tax. The billing system needs to be fair.
Deputy Pat Breen: ] Payment methods need to be flexible. Phased and cash payments through post offices must be facilitated. There must be flexibility for householders and businesses with an inability to pay. It is also important that there be clarification for community organisations, voluntary groups and Tidy Towns committees on who will have liability for the use of the public water supply when water charges are introduced. There are a number of outstanding issues and I hope the Minister of State will respond to them. It is extremely important that small villages and towns in rural areas, some of which I highlighted, are looked after by Irish Water.

Debate adjourned.