Thursday, 3 February 2005
Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
I am glad of the opportunity to speak on the Water Services Bill 2003, a large document that deals with many issues. I pay tribute to the many group water schemes that have done this country great service, particularly in rural parts. Without such schemes, many rural homes miles away from the main water schemes would not have had access to a basic water supply. Many years ago, those rural schemes were set up by pioneers who had no particular expertise in the area of water services provision but had a driving ambition to effect a vital improvement to the areas in which they lived, leaving the bucket and well scenario behind them. They did the country a great service; they were courageous and provided all their effort and labour voluntarily.
Having said that, it is unfortunate that some group water schemes are, for various reasons, not very well run, in many cases because the original trustees have become tired and, for health or other reasons, are no longer able to carry on. Responsibility for running such schemes is not being passed on. Trustees take on a lifelong commitment, and the issue warrants attention. I hope the Minister will establish a regime to resolve those questions.
The pollution of sources for group water schemes is of concern to many in rural Ireland. Prevention of pollution should be a priority. The treatment of water to make it potable also gives rise to concern. I refer in particular to the use of fluoride in water treatment. Various researchers have expressed concern about the possible harm to people through the use of fluoride in water treatment. In particular, worries have been expressed that the use of aluminium and fluoride in water might be responsible for the increase in Alzheimer's disease and pre-senile dementia, while the British Medical Association states that very high levels of fluoride may lead to bone disorders and disorders of the kidney, liver, heart, central nervous system and reproductive organs. It is also alarming to recognise that the Irish Forum on Fluoridation says that levels of 8 mg. per day are safe. That is exactly the level that the British Medical Association says is unsafe. I suppose that it is a case of experts differing and, perhaps, people dying.
Pollution of water sources is a problem with many causes. One of the main ones can be found in the many inadequate sewage treatment plants dotted throughout the towns and villages of Ireland. Those inadequate plants, combined with the many towns and villages that have no sewage treatment plants at all, are the cause of a great deal of water pollution. Every day one can find evidence of untreated sewage lying on the surface of the land, flowing down the main streets of towns or being discharged into water streams.
Many people may have difficulty comprehending the situation that I have described, but it is reality. Another reality regarding inadequate or absent sewage treatment systems in towns or villages is that planning authorities are refusing permission to developments, many of which are very modest proposals, in some cases comprising just a few houses. Unfortunately, the locations that I describe are in my constituency of Galway East. Many parts of the county have been neglected for several years, and it is soul-destroying that, at a time when investment is available to some of those towns and villages, developments are not allowed to proceed because of those inadequate or absent sewerage schemes. I request that the Minister take a particular interest in that lack of infrastructure and sewage treatment facilities in towns and villages and make additional resources available so schemes in the planning pipeline can proceed to construction.