Thursday, 25 February 2021
Topical Issue Debate
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Her points on human health, business and the development of Arklow are well-raised. It also involves an area of mutual interest to me and the Deputy, the area of nature, biodiversity and the environment. There is no doubt that this project must be expedited.
Since January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects is a matter for determination by Irish Water.
As part of budget 2021, funding of more than €1.4 billion was secured to support water services. This includes €1.3 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area.
Arklow has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, as an area where wastewater is discharged into the Avoca river without any treatment. This practice of discharging untreated wastewater into the river is no longer acceptable. Irish Water is working to address this historical issue, in partnership with Wicklow County Council, through the provision of a new wastewater treatment plant in Arklow. This will bring benefits to the town and surrounding areas in terms of health, environmental protection and improved water quality for all.
The Arklow wastewater treatment plant must be delivered in a way that not only meets the required legislative standards but that also ensures that all works are undertaken in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, in co-operation with the local community. Under the Water Services Act 2013, Irish Water is required, as the Deputy said, to seek the consent of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, given with the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to enter into capital commitments. Irish Water must seek ministerial consent prior to entering into any individual capital commitment of a value in excess of €20 million. This is a financial control and not an issue of project consent.
In the context of the updated public spending code for evaluating, planning and managing public investment in the project as it proceeds through its life cycle, consideration is also being given to the appropriate application of the code having regard to the current life cycle stage of the project.
I assure the Deputy that the capital commitment consent request is currently under active consideration. However, given the significant investment by the taxpayer, this does involve close scrutiny by my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In addition, NewERA carries out an in-depth review of the request on behalf of Ministers to help inform the decision. I also understand that some further inputs into the review process are awaited from Irish Water. However, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, hopes to be in a position to provide a timely decision to support Irish Water in its delivery of the project once all scrutiny is complete.