Dáil debates

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla — Topical Issue Debate

Water Supply

9:30 am

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

In a letter to the Secretary General of the Department last week, the EPA outlined two serious incidents in recent weeks in drinking water plants serving parts of Dublin city and surrounding areas, which occurred in the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant and in Gorey, County Wexford. This included, in the case of Gorey, illnesses detected by the HSE in the community served by that water supply, as the three Deputies have outlined. It is important to note that Irish Water reports that these incidents have been rectified and the water supply from the two plants is now safe to drink, although that is cold comfort to the many who fell ill.

In its letter, the EPA stated that an abject failure in management oversight, operational control and responsiveness at two public drinking water treatment plants had allowed unsafe water to enter the public drinking water supply and endanger public health. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I find the failures identified by the EPA concerning and unacceptable. People's safety and public health are paramount.

Our drinking water must be wholesome, clean and delivered by supply systems that are secure, safe and reliable.

Following receipt of the EPA’s letter, the Minister acted swiftly and met with the managing director of Irish Water, as well as the chief executives of Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council at the weekend. He has requested that Irish Water immediately undertake an audit of each of the water treatment plants across the country. Irish Water will prioritise the 20 largest water treatment plants and will visit each to ensure that proper processes are in place in terms of dealing with and escalating any incidents which may arise. Irish Water’s managing director and the local authority chief executives each assured the Minister directly of their full co-operation and indicated that their respective organisations are working closely together to put in place urgent and necessary corrective measures. Irish Water will also work with each local authority over coming two weeks and will conduct refresher training on incident reporting for all plants. Where appropriate, Irish Water will put its own staff on-site to ensure the continued safety of water treatment plants. The Minister has also requested that the local authorities work with Irish Water to improve linkages with the Irish Water national control centre.

Ultimately, there are limitations to the current working arrangements between Irish Water and local authorities. This is impacting on the delivery of services, a matter highlighted by Deputy Kehoe. A process is under way in the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to deliver the transformation of the service, but the Minister has also requested that Irish Water and local authorities take further steps to improve Irish Water's control of all water service plants in the immediate term, pending the implementation of the agreed longer term operational and staffing arrangements. The Minister will again meet Irish Water and the local authorities in question on Monday, 4 October, to assess the issues that led to these incidents. Again, we will make the reports available, as the Deputies have outlined, in a timely manner.


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