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Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The following motion was moved by Deputy Phil Hogan on Wednesday, 12 December 2011:

"That Dáil Éireann:

— recognises the social and economic hardship caused by water restrictions and disruptions for families and local businesses;

— recognises that an inefficient, outdated and fragmented water network has contributed to drinking water supply problems across the State;

— notes that the State spends €1 billion every year in current and capital expenditure for water treatment and supply;

— notes the need for significant water capital investment for the next four years and recognises the difficulty for the State in financing such investment through Exchequer funding;

— condemns the vast amount of waste caused by 43% of water supplies lost through unidentified leaks; and

— notes that problems associated with water shortages were discussed in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in January 2010 with little action taken since then to avoid a repeat of similar problems;

calls on Government to:

— establish a single publicly owned water utility company to take over responsibility for water investment and mains management on a national basis while allowing local authorities to tender for the provision of services;

— establish a new utilities commission to merge existing regulators for utilities and to take responsibility for regulating a new water utility company;

— reallocate future water funding from the Exchequer to prioritise water conservation by investment in water mains weather proofing; and

— examine all engineering resources of the State to ensure a rapid remedy to widespread burst water mains.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"— recognises the difficulties for families and businesses caused by the recent water supply disruptions;

— acknowledges the extensive efforts by county and city councils to prepare for potential water supply disruptions caused by recent extreme weather conditions, to minimise disruptions for households and businesses and to make alternative supplies available where necessary, and to restore water supplies as quickly as possible;

— recognises the importance of the work already carried out by the councils, and funded by the Exchequer, to develop water management systems and active leakage controls in identifying and repairing leaks;

— notes the comprehensive review of the Water Services Investment Programme 2010–2012 completed in 2010 which:

— provides for ongoing major investment in water services in the 2010–2012 period, with €495 million spent in 2010 and €435 million provided for 2011;

— accords the highest priority to investment in water conservation to address the unacceptably high levels of leakage in water supply systems; and

— includes contracts to the value of €320 million to commence on water conservation projects, including mains rehabilitation, in that period, which is more than double the investment in water conservation compared to the preceding seven years;

— notes the proposals in the National Recovery Plan 2011– 2014, published in November 2010, to:

— commence a programme of domestic metering to be funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund; and

— establish an independent regulator for the water sector; and

— notes the Government's intention shortly to commence an assessment of the need for a national water authority, which will consider, inter alia, the role of such an authority, the costs and benefits of establishing it and its relationship with other actors in the sector including local authorities."

- (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government).

11:00 am

Photo of Ciarán LynchCiarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
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I will begin by commending Fine Gael for bringing what could be considered a timely motion before the House regarding the delivery and infrastructure of water services across the Irish Republic. The motion reflects a similar motion brought before the House this time last year. We could witness severe weather conditions as an annual occurrence, and dealing with them cannot be explained as a once off or something that happens once every 500 years. It should now be planned for and strategically managed rather than explained as unexpected.

Fine Gael brought the motion before the House yesterday evening and there are a number of matters I would like to bring to people's attention. One of the most notable facets of the Fine Gael proposal from last year was an ambiguity about a national utility and I am glad to see that in the wording of today's motion, it has been firmly described as a private sector agency. There is some merit to the concept of a national utility in that it can deliver quality and provision nationally while also laying out a strategic plan for the delivery of water nationally.

There are 34 local authorities in the country and I would be interested to see how a national utility could incorporate these. More important is the variance in the group water schemes across the country, which are separate from the local authorities that operate. There is a strategic benefit from such an approach and as we have seen in recent weeks, the supply of water is critical not only to households, but to businesses and the daily operation of this country. We need to revisit the area and see a new plan.

Perhaps 90% or 100% of people in this House went for a day or two without water over the Christmas period. The hotel in which I stayed last evening does not have water from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Urban dwellers in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway can no longer take for granted the availability of tapped water. While a supply of tapped water must be guaranteed to householders, I query whether this is possible under the existing structure.

As the Minister is present, I propose to raise a specific issue with him. Last July, my party colleague, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, submitted a question to the European Commission on the delivery of water services in various Irish regions. He asked the Commission to indicate which Irish local authorities had applied for and received funding for water conservation measures under European Regional Development Fund programmes. The Commission's reply stated:

[N]o expenditure has yet been incurred in relation to water conservation investment. On the basis, however, of information provided by the managing authority of the programme concerned (the BMW Regional Assembly) it is possible that the bulk of the works will be undertaken in 2011 and 2012.

Will the Minister confirm that, despite being able to access European Union assistance for the delivery of water services, especially in the area of water conservation, a number of Irish local authorities have not submitted applications for such funding? If the local authorities in question have submitted applications for EU funding, when does the Minister expect them to draw it down?

We have read recently that five or six local authorities have experienced difficulties with water supply as a result of conservation and delivery problems. A minimum of 40% of supply nationally is lost through leakage and other forms of damage. Is it the case that funding available from the European Union to address conservation problems has not been availed of by local authorities? I can furnish the Minister, who is responsible for overseeing local government, with a list of the relevant authorities.

The problems experienced over the Christmas highlighted how we use our water resources. The main difficulty encountered by households was not that they did not have access to potable water for drinking but that they did not have water for other household purposes. This is because Ireland, to my knowledge, is the only country in the northern hemisphere where water of the same quality is used for drinking and other household activities such as flushing toilets, bathing and showering and for appliances such dishwashers and washing machines.

I am not sure how long the Minister will continue in office but a number of simple measures could be taken in the short term. As he correctly noted, the production of water is not free but comes at a substantial cost. Ireland produces drinkable water for every conceivable means of consumption and usage. Surely another approach is possible. For example, we could ensure that households have means of capturing rainwater. This would be feasible and would make sense given the abundance of rainwater in this country. I strongly recommend that all future residential and commercial developments should have integrated rainwater capture and storage systems to ensure they are self-sufficient and can store water. Demand on existing reservoirs would reduce if such systems were standard in all new buildings. For this reason, they should be required in the initial planning designs for housing estates or major commercial developments. Such a measure would reduce consumption of high quality drinking water.

Water services were the subject of debate in the House almost 12 months ago to the day. By this time next year, the Government will have changed. It has become obvious that severe weather conditions are here to stay. The time to plan for further extreme weather is now because the excuse that these are one-off events is no longer valid.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Margaret Conlon, Michael P. Kitt, Paul Gogarty, Mary White, Timmy Dooley and Charlie O'Connor.

The latest cold spell, which was unprecedented in recent times, caused disruption in water supplies in many households, at any rate to some degree. South of the Border the problem was handled by local authorities whereas north of the Border it was handled by the Northern Ireland Water Authority, NIWA, a similar type of structure to that the Fine Gael Party wants to establish. North of the Border there was a major crisis in confidence in the handling of the matter and the chief executive of the NIWA resigned. South of the Border the local authorities worked flat out, as they always do in such emergencies. In this regard, I compliment the officials of South Tipperary County Council for the manner in which they dealt with the crisis, as they dealt with the flooding crisis. As the Minister pointed out, local authority staff worked flexibly, as they have done during flood emergencies, to repair leaks and restore supplies. This is the type of flexible working that is the objective of the Croke Park agreement.

I would be very slow, without due consideration, to remove responsibility from local authorities for water management and supply. They are accessible, accountable and publicly trusted. We have seen many instances of centralised authorities which are not perceived as accessible and accountable and have caused considerable controversy. The Health Service Executive is one such example.

It is interesting that while the Fine Gael Party boasts in its policy document about how many quangos it will abolish, the first thing it does in what is, I presume, the final session of the Dáil is to propose the establishment of a new quango at arm's length from the public, Ministers and public representatives.

The analogy of the National Roads Authority was put forward, which was established primarily to deal with national roads crossing several county boundaries. The authority came into its own slowly at first but more rapidly when large projects were engaged in from the late 1990s on. Water supply is mainly locally based. That is not always entirely satisfactory. Parts of the rural district around Emly, County Tipperary, are an enclave in County Limerick. Nonetheless, they are supplied from County Tipperary and there is no cross-border connection with the surrounding areas on three sides in County Limerick.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Mansergh does not have to give us a geography lesson. He should get on with the job he was elected to do.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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That is not particularly satisfactory and needs to be examined. Focused investment is needed. The disadvantage of water and wastewater treatment is that the product is largely unseen or taken for granted by the public except when difficulties arise. Investment in these matters has always been regarded as relatively politically unrewarding. Priority needs to be given to this matter and I compliment the Minister on having done so. The NewERA document, from which this proposal comes, conjures up notions of additional resources for a range of purposes. I suspect that is a mirage.

There is no question that a system of water meters and water charges is needed in order to conserve water use. Perhaps there will be a free amount through a credit system. It is preferable that this is applicable to the circumstances of each household. There is no question but that the user rather than the taxpayer should pay and I see no merit in the left-wing arguments against user charges. The Minister indicated a study is under way in his Department on the proposal put forward by the Fine Gael Party.

Photo of Margaret ConlonMargaret Conlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to make a brief contribution to this debate. Like others, I pay tribute to the men and women employed by local authorities who worked tirelessly during the recent cold spell. They did so not alone to ensure we had water in our homes but to ensure the roads were safe for travel. They were looking forward to having time off and spending it with their families over Christmas but they put that to one side and went out to ensure we could enjoy Christmas.

We do not appreciate and realise the importance of water as a resource until we face disruption to the service and the consequences of the disruption to businesses, the farming community and households. The simplest of tasks become so difficult when the water supply is disrupted. I also compliment people in local communities. Great committee spirit was shown during the harsh weather. People went to great lengths to ensure their neighbours, particularly elderly neighbours, had water and were looked after. In my county, hotels provided showering facilities to people and the leisure complex in Monaghan offered free showers. That is the kind of community spirit we need to see in times like this.

When the weather conditions changed and the rapid thaw took place, it brought major difficulties for many people as pipes burst. Many businesses and houses continue to face major challenges and difficulties as a result. It is unfortunate that local authorities had to restrict supply. What other option did they have? The sources of the leaks had to be identified and repaired and this was done quite quickly in the majority of cases. One of the most notable difficulties was where properties were unattended as people went on holidays and businesses were closed for the Christmas period. When people came back after the holidays they found the properties in a dreadful state. Local authorities are to be commended for making every effort to ensure tankers were brought to places to ensure families had access to water. When the reservoirs became dangerously low, supply had to be restricted until they were replenished.

We will face weather conditions like this in the future and we learned valuable lessons from 2009. Following the recent spell of bad weather there will be lessons to be learned and we need to review contingency plans that were in place. Where there were deficiencies, work must be done to ensure they are not repeated. I welcome the comments of the Minister in respect of this.

There has been significant investment in our water infrastructure and we need to examine how we use water. Leaks must be identified and addressed. As the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh stated, we must face the reality that water must be paid for. How many of us waste water without realising it? Do people leave the tap running while washing their teeth? Do people fill the kettle when they want to have a cup of tea? People must examine how they use water in their daily lives. Installing water meters will encourage people to conserve water and to be mindful of how they use it.

The Government has a duty to continue to invest in water services. We must ensure our water quality is of a high standard, that we have capacity to ensure businesses and households can function and that we continue to conserve water and minimise losses. There is no comparison between how we handled the situation and our northern counterparts. We are streets ahead. They had major difficulties and were forced to depend on water from other areas. We did very well in difficult circumstances. We suffered like other countries facing challenges. People in Australia have too much water while we did not have enough. God help them in their difficulties. We are not alone. Like other countries, we faced severe weather conditions and in preparing for next winter we will have learned valuable lessons from our experience. We will be better prepared for what will face us.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' debate. I commend the efforts of the county and city councils on the water and road problems during the cold weather we had in December. I commend the work of staff at all hours of the day and night.

On the voluntary side, I refer to the group water scheme movement. We sometimes forget about group water schemes. With design, build and operate schemes they provide a first-class water supply through grants from the Department. These bring water to many people in rural Ireland who would not otherwise have a water supply. I have worked closely in the past with the federation of group schemes and it does excellent work in dealing with the issues that affect rural families. When water charges were abolished for householders, the group water schemes were completely forgotten. I am glad that when Deputy Noel Dempsey was Minister, we made some changes to allow a free supply for rural households. It can cost up to €3,000 to put in place a group water scheme for individuals. Other issues arise from this in respect of maintenance of schemes, taking over schemes, appointing caretakers and getting a majority of members to agree to the local authority taking over the scheme. If a water authority is to be established, the issues affecting group water schemes should be addressed.

I am glad that extra funding has been made available for water services in the period 2010 to 2012, including €495 million in 2010 and €435 million in 2011. I am honoured to have been a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in 2008 and 2009, during which time I had responsibility for group water schemes. We operated pilot rain water harvesting schemes as part of the water conservation measures at a farm in County Meath and a school in County Mayo, and these were very successful. Such schemes are part of the whole education process. Conservation measures such as these are well worth supporting, and we need to have them in order to develop water management systems and identify and repair leaks. During the cold spell in December, leaks in the water supply led to water shortages and water supplies were restricted.

I wish to mention in particular the work done by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, and the investment they are making in water services. There are many projects in which the two Ministers are involved. The Minister knows well my interest in the water scheme for Kilreekil, a village with no water in County Galway. In addition, the Milltown and Claregalway sewerage schemes are on his desk, and I hope he will be able to sanction them. However, I would also like to commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his introduction of the warmer homes scheme, which not only increased energy efficiency but also, in the houses that participated in the scheme, resulted in insulation of piping and attics, draught-proofing and filling of cavity walls, which was very helpful during the cold weather in December. It was unfortunate that we had so many burst pipes, but where lagging of pipes had been carried out it was clear that such problems did not occur to the same extent.

There is a major issue with the pipe network, which I do not have time to go into now. There is much to be done with regard to promoting schemes. We must spend money on the network as well as on the treatment plants. I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss this. A cold spell such as the one that occurred in December may happen every year; it has happened for the last two years.

My final request to the Government is not to forget rural water schemes. It must ensure a good water service is provided to people who are doing it for themselves by setting up voluntary groups, and it must work with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes to ensure that water supplies are available through group schemes to rural Ireland.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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I wish to share my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White.

I wanted to speak on this motion because it is an important issue and one that is often overlooked. My constituency is part of the South Dublin County Council area, which has one of the lowest rates of water leakage in the country, but even so, there are curtailments of water services every second night. During the freeze, people were cut off; in some cases, in areas close to the Dublin Mountains, they were cut off for even longer. The staff of South Dublin County Council worked diligently to get the necessary works done as quickly as possible, and the council's website provided information on what was going on. I cannot fault the council in any way.

Neither can I fault the Minister, Deputy Gormley, or his colleague Deputy Finneran. As others have said, water conservation investment for 2010-2012 is €320 million, which compares well to the amount of €130 million invested in 2003-2006. Investment has increased exponentially, even allowing for inflation. We have a varied and decrepit pipe system, some of which goes back to the Victorian era, and it will take a long time to repair. However, we also know that the economics of the situation do not allow for total elimination of leaks. Instead, we must try to make sure they are minimised to the extent that no cost is incurred in bringing water from elsewhere. Everything that can being done, bearing in mind the current economic circumstances, is being done.

The final solution is to introduce domestic water charges. The Green Party has been consistent on this issue. We said we wanted a system under which there would be a free allocation of water and all water use above this level would be charged. This would encourage people to conserve water. The situation is similar to that of local authority refuse collection. When waivers were given to those below a certain income level in south Dublin and there was no limit to the amount of rubbish that could be put out for collection, the rates of recycling were atrocious. I do not have the figures to hand but the rates of recycling increased dramatically when people were given free tags, because they knew there was a limit to the amount of rubbish they could put out, and they would pay above that amount. People need an incentive; that is why water charges need to be introduced. However, there must be a fair allocation of water that is not charged.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Gogarty for sharing his time.

Water is everybody's issue. It knows no boundaries. The amount we have invested in water services during our time in office - more than €500 million - has been outstanding. Even the Deputies across the floor must allow that this has been a massive investment.

The €19.4 million we have obtained for the main drainage schemes and water services in Carlow has been a major boost to the second smallest county in Ireland, and I thank the Minister for that. Carlow has been flooding for more than 100 years, and when this work is done we will be able to say goodbye to flooding once and for all. When I was a member of Carlow County Council and there was a problem with the Troyswood water treatment plant in Kilkenny, there was not a squeak out of the Fine Gael councillors. It was I, a councillor from a neighbouring county, who took a petition to the European Parliament to make sure the citizens of Kilkenny would have clean water.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I know the Fine Gael Members are earnest in tabling the motion, on which I compliment them. However, they fluffed it in 1997 when they could have carried out major restructuring of the water services. In addition, there is confusion in their party. When Senator John Paul Phelan was on a radio show with me recently, he insisted the Green Party wanted flat-rate water charges. He was wrong. We are not bringing in flat-rate charges; we will have a generous household allowance. Fine Gael ought to get its house in order. As environment spokesperson for the party, Deputy Hogan has spoken several times about the need for investment in water infrastructure, and not only in his own constituency. However, the facts are plain. History will recall that in 1997, when Fine Gael was in power and had the money to invest in water infrastructure, if fluffed it.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to address this motion, which was tabled by Fine Gael. This is a suitable time to discuss the issue in view of the difficulties that have been encountered by many of our citizens over the Christmas period. I am speaking from experience, having been without water for four or five days over Christmas, and I know the burden it places on families and the difficulties it creates for many.

We must recognise that the weather conditions we went through last month were extreme. Although they were reminiscent of last year's cold weather, there were longer periods of below-zero temperatures. Met Éireann will confirm that the cold spell we have seen broke all records in most areas. This is similar to the floods of last year, which were considered to be a one-in-150-year event, or greater, in terms of severity. However, it is not the case that we should merely accept that these were extreme conditions and move on. We must learn lessons, as we did last year with regard to the gritting of roads. Although, in conjunction with the water problems, there were severe difficulties on the roads again this year, local authorities had a much better programme for the distribution of grit. Even though they ran low on salt at one stage, they distributed grit to the more isolated areas for use by local communities, which was a great help.

The same lessons will be learned from the experiences with water shortages and the major disruption that took place. It has identified a number of problems that existed. In recent years, there was a poor level of compliance with building regulations which has been highlighted by the way in which new estates were affected. I found it particularly difficult to see housing estates that were built in the last five, six or seven years being left completely without water because the contractor failed to submerge the piping or stopcocks at the required level. Clearly, therefore, there was a poor follow-up by surveyors and engineers, which must be addressed.

I suppose, however, that there is no point in looking back and blaming anyone. We must look to the future and to investment in particular. In fairness to him, the Minister has had a programme under way for some time. I am thankful for the way he has provided grant aid to replace the old water pipe network in Ennis, which has been there for a century or more. The network has got to the point where it springs leaks even without any extreme weather conditions. That kind of grant aid programme is important and must continue to be rolled out.

In addition, we will have to find some way of reviewing water networks that have been laid much more recently, particularly in housing estates that are about to be, or have been, taken over by local authorities. We will have to incentivise households to address this problem in conjunction with providing treated water. The cost of treating recycled water is outrageous, given its end use. We will have to introduce incentivised programmes in this regard. As we have done with installation aid, we will have to do the same for the collection of recycled water or rain water that can be used in housing estates as grey water for flushing toilets and using washing machines and dishwashers. All of that will greatly reduce the ultimate cost of treating water, which is a scarce resource. A significant investment programme is required for our entire water infrastructure. Since entering Government, the Minister has been focused and has done a lot in this respect.

To some extent, all parties in the House have shared the blame for the lack of investment in our water infrastructure over the decades. Successive Governments failed to act because the problem was buried in the ground. Once consumers had water and temperatures remained above freezing point, there was little political capital to be gained for rebuilding the water pipe network. Potholes are visible but a leak in a water pipe three or four feet underground is of no consequence to most people until the water dries up. I compliment the Minister on what he has succeeded in doing in that regard.

It would be remiss of me not to recognise the tremendous efforts made by local authority staff. Great efforts were made by staff of Clare County Council in putting emergency teams in place over the Christmas period. They include office staff who manned the telephone lines, in addition to engineers and workers who dealt with the leaks. Some people did not benefit to the extent that others did in getting their water reconnected quickly. Some suffered a more elongated period without water, but that was not the fault of local council staff who during the Christmas holidays put their shoulders to the wheel. They did their level best and the House should recognise the importance of public service in this respect.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this topical and important discussion. It has been the tradition on such occasions to compliment our Opposition colleagues for giving us an opportunity to contribute on these matters of concern, so I wish to compliment Deputy Phil Hogan in that regard. I am not afraid to compliment the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, either. I heard what he has done in Clare and he has certainly been helpful to me in Dublin south west, particularly in Tallaght. If he has an opportunity to visit Tallaght again over the next 70 days before the election, I will be delighted to welcome him there.

It is important to discuss the issue of water supplies, which concerns everyone. Whenever I contacted the Minister's staff I have found them to be most helpful. Other colleagues have also referred to the efficacy of local authority staff. I can echo that view with regard to Dublin south west where local authority staff have been very helpful. I have had to bring concerns to their attention, however, and I have also had words with local authority management concerning issues that were brought to my attention. Water shortages must be dealt with effectively at community level.

We have all seen the television images of floods in Australia, which highlights the fact that we have no control over extreme weather conditions. The adverse weather conditions in December brought home the problems associated with meteorological extremes. We need to learn from mistakes that were made in previous years. I am glad that there has been a lot of progress in that regard, although people were left without water in the recent freezing conditions.

In common with other colleagues, I received many calls over the Christmas period arising from the adverse weather, particularly concerning water shortages. People may have been somewhat surprised to see me entering my constituency office on Christmas day. I am not saying this to sound virtuous, but I was dealing with calls from people in different parts of my constituency who had been left without water.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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With respect to Deputy Conor Lenihan.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will not rise to that. The Deputy should not taunt me. This day is sensitive enough, so I am not going to be taunted, although I appreciate Deputy Gogarty's interest. People sometimes forget that there are rural communities in my constituency, even though it is a major urban area. Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country, but there are isolated farms in the Bohernabreena hills. People were upset that the gritting did not reach them in some areas, and also that they were left without water for several days. We are entitled to be concerned about these issues. I live in Springfield which is a fairly big estate of over 1,000 houses.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Where is Springfield? It must be in Tallaght.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy McGinley knows very well where I live.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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I do and I know the Deputy's parish priest as well. He is a good man.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Do not encourage him.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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My parish priest, Father Frank Herron, is from Deputy McGinley's community. He would verify everything I say because I always tell the truth in here. I am not afraid to make the point that people are still telling me they were left without water for several days. I hope the county manager in Tallaght does not think I am saying anything different because there was a positive response from his staff who were on duty fairly quickly after the Christmas holidays. As Deputy Gogarty said, they sent us informative data almost immediately telling us what the difficulties were. In case people think the problems are over, however, myself, Deputy Gogarty and others in south Dublin received a memo only last evening telling us there will be more restrictions. Following a review of the situation throughout the Dublin region, South Dublin County Council will be reducing water restrictions every second night for the next six nights. For example, there will be serious restrictions tonight and major works will be carried out in Greenhills in my constituency tomorrow. The problem has not gone away even though the weather has stabilised.

Oireachtas Members are meeting with the South Dublin County Council county manager, Mr. Joe Horan, on Monday. One of the things I will bring to his attention is the need to be better prepared for the next adverse weather event. We do not know whether it will happen this spring or next winter, but we must be prepared. This is about dealing with the concerns of communities whose inhabitants feel they should be able to access water at all times. I agree that as far as possible we should conserve water. We need to be clear and positive about that. Is the Ceann Comhairle indicating that I must finish?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Tá an t-am caite.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I wish the Minister well.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

12:00 pm

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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This is an important motion and I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I propose to share time with Deputies Naughten, McGinley, McHugh and Crawford.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Hogan, for bringing this motion before the House. It is an indictment of the lack of positive action on the part of the Government to deal with the repercussions of recent severe weather conditions. It is a year since the last winter crisis but in the intervening 12 months, nothing has been done to prevent a recurrence of the mayhem it caused. In Dublin alone not 1 km of mains has been replaced in that time. The failure to replace substandard water mains has left the country once again at the mercy of severe weather conditions, with people forced to endure the misery of a Christmas period without essential water supplies. The country effectively has been brought to its knees as householders, businesses and schools experienced the ill-effects of that inaction by the Government. It seems everybody but the Government knows that freezing conditions are eventually followed by a thaw and, once again, it was not prepared.

In my own constituency of Longford-Westmeath, demand for water exceeded supply by as much as 50% in certain areas over the Christmas period, according to Longford County Council. Water levels in the county's reservoirs decreased on account of frozen and burst pipes, with a subsequently enforced curtailment of supply to local businesses and homes. One disgruntled home owner observed that it is a total disgrace in the 21st century that we have to queue for water when this was never the case during harsh winters in the past.

The water shortage can in part be attributed to leaks in private properties, typically occurring in vacant houses and industrial and retail units. These are the ghosts of the Celtic tiger. That is the nub of the matter - it is another example of the burden imposed on us by the greed of speculators, developers and the Government, which saw residential and industrial estates thrown up without proper regulation and in a piecemeal fashion, for dubious tax returns. Building regulations from the late 1970s supposedly required that all services be protected from weather conditions, with the pipes to all new properties to be laid to a minimum of 600 millimetres below ground. In many cases these requirements were not met in the scramble to develop new estates, and householders have suffered the consequences.

There has been huge anger at the hardships householders have had to endure. The already struggling service industry has faced another serious drop in business. Bars, restaurants, and hairdressers have been particularly hard hit, with business owners not receiving a reliable supply in return for their water rates. It is scandalous that these problems have arisen not merely as a result of seasonal weather conditions. At the best of times, nearly half the water supply from our reservoirs is leaked through pipes that are not fit for purpose and subsequently lost to users.

Water supply will be the major planning issue of the 21st century. While inward investment is the life blood of any locality and hard fought for by local authorities, a casual attitude to planning - on a build now, think later basis - will continue to be a recipe for disaster. Water infrastructure must come first with the rest to follow, rather than the other way around. Good quality drinking water and the means to treat sewage effectively are essential to the commencement of any building development. As we have seen in parts of the country, the pace of development escalated to the point where common sense and basic health and safety standards were left behind.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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In 2006 the Government announced the launch of a €70 million water investment programme in County Roscommon. The then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, said at the time that the go ahead had been given for "some of the biggest infrastructural packages ever undertaken in the county". We are still waiting for even one glass of water to be produced from that investment programme.

The north-east Roscommon regional water supply was shut down due to industrial contamination. Users of the Arigna water scheme find that what is coming out of their taps can only be described as treacle. There are ongoing problems in regard to quality and quantity at the Boyle-Ardcarn water scheme. The Roscommon central water supply has had problems with cryptosporidium contamination in the past which are likely to recur. When users of the south Roscommon regional water supply turn on their taps they find something that is more like strong tea than what should be produced by a public water supply. There are serious ongoing water supply problems under that scheme. In excess of 27,000 people throughout County Roscommon are without a reliable, high quality water supply, not even taking into account the west Roscommon regional water supply which is not even included in the investment programme and where there are significant problems of quality and quantity.

This lack of water capacity is having a direct impact on residential, commercial and tourism needs and will continue to do so into the future. There is a lack of joined-up thinking in this regard. A Forfás report in September 2008 which assessed water and waste water services for enterprise in the gateway towns and hubs indicated that by 2013 Athlone would have a 39% deficit in water treatment and a 35% deficit in waster water treatment. Forfás did not look across the Shannon at County Roscommon, being of the view that the only source of water for Athlone was in County Westmeath. If the report authors had bothered to look further afield they would have found two excellent water sources in Killeglin and Lisbrock. If the investment were provided those facilities could meet the needs not only of south Roscommon but also of Athlone. In regard to waste water, a small investment would allow the Monksland treatment centre to provide significant additional capacity. That option was not considered because of the lack of joined-up thinking.

When Roscommon County Council submitted applications for augmentation to supply the town of Athlone and to upgrade the north-eastern regional water supply to allow it to connect in with Longford, those applications were rejected by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In the south Roscommon regional water supply some of the pipe work has been installed and some of the reservoirs built, but they are lying idle. As the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, knows, having announced the investment in the Creagh sewerage scheme, those pipes have been laid. Two young couples have connected to the scheme but cannot flush a toilet because the treatment plant has not been built. I urge the Minister of State to deliver on his commitment in regard to that scheme and the other sewerage schemes and water supply schemes that were announced but not delivered.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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There is no public service utility more important than the provision of a dependable, high quality water supply. It is a residential requirement, a commercial necessity and is vital for tourism. There is substantial scope for improvement in the provision of the service throughout the State.

Treated water is a scarce and costly commodity. There is an onus on those responsible for its delivery - local authorities and the Government - to ensure it is delivered in a safe, efficient and dependable manner. There are large areas of my own county where the main water supply is still coming through cast iron pipes that were laid down 50 or 60 years ago. Corrosion has reduced some of these 8 in. pipes by 2 in. or 3 in., which is completely inadequate to meet demand. A great opportunity was missed in the Celtic tiger years to improve the delivery of water to communities and industry in every part of the country. There has been much talk recently of investment in infrastructure. We could certainly get people working if we upgraded the water delivery network in every part of the country, including Donegal.

Although Donegal was not the worst-hit county during the recent spell of frost and snow, I recall that Emmet Park in Castlefinn in my constituency did not have water for weeks on end. Water had to be transported from the hydrant to the houses so necessary facilities could be provided therein. It is not often said that those working with the local authorities to address these problems worked very hard. Men, and probably women, were out on Christmas Eve at midnight and on New Year's Eve up to midnight trying their best to ensure water was delivered to houses.

The pipe infrastructure must be upgraded. There are now polypipes available. In the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, cast-iron pipes are things of the past. Polypipes have a life expectancy of well over 100 years. We must address the problem and replace the existing pipes.

Another difficulty that arises is often overlooked. There are parts of the country, including my county, in which water is still delivered through asbestos pipes. I do not want to frighten anybody but, in this day and age, and with the history of asbestos and the danger it poses to health, I must state it is past time that asbestos and cast-iron pipes were replaced, for health reasons, with modern, safe polypipes. This would ensure a constant supply of water. There is a lot to be done.

Group schemes throughout the country, including in my county, ensure that water is available to most communities. Our aim is to provide high-quality water with a constant flow to every household in the country.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, to the House.

If we look back over the past couple of years we will note there has been a good extension of services to rural areas through group water schemes. Not only do they provide water to many peripheral rural communities and houses, they also ensure that the man with the digger and men who help lay the pipes have work. There are ways of getting people back working and we should, therefore, consider possibilities in this area. New reservoirs have been constructed, including in my own parish. There are still challenges and real goals to be achieved in terms of taking water to towns such as Rathmullan, a big tourist town. It has been waiting years for replacement pipes.

There is a problem with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in that councils will be rewarded for leakages. That is how the system operates. The main trunk supply in Letterkenny – I am not talking about the pipes that burst near houses, disenfranchising many people – did not have many leaks this winter but the pipes still need to be replaced. Deputy McGinley implied corrosion and rusting have halved the internal diameter of pipes. These need to be replaced. Councils, however, are in a catch-22 position in that if they do not record leakages they will not obtain funding. This reward system is not good enough in that one is rewarded for leakages. It puts the onus on councils to report to the Department stating they have innumerable leakages in a certain system and that they are in need of funding. The councils that do need to have pipes replaced adequately are not receiving funding.

Insufficient emphasis has been placed on water conservation grants. The group holding up the Soldiers of Destiny, the so-called saviours of the planet, the Green Party, plans to introduce climate change legislation in the coming weeks that will, if it gets away with it, possibly decommission cows from fields. I am sure the offices of the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, a rural man from Roscommon, will prevent that from happening. There was a missed opportunity in terms of having conservation grants to save water. Ten litres of water are used in every flush of a toilet and people do not think twice about flushing a toilet 20, 30 or 40 times per day. We must consider a reward rather than punishment.

My last point concerns the design-build-operate, DBO, system. The DBO system, like many other systems, looked good on paper at the time in question but it is such that the private operators in schemes will ultimately cripple the local authorities. Local authorities are in a very precarious position at present because they have bills to pay at the end of the year to private companies that participated in DBO deals. It is a ransom in some instances. Local authorities, especially in my county, do not have the same revenue stream they used to have. They are not receiving the same revenue from rates that they used to receive given that businesses are closing down, nor do they have the revenue that they used to obtain through the planning system. Everything should be on the table for review. The system is not working in that it is not based on a reward model. Pipes will obviously be provided where there is poorer infrastructure but counties that need replacement pipes will not be able to get them. There is plenty of food for thought in my comments.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this very important issue. The public water supply is one of the most important issues with which any Government must deal. The recent frost, which was unusually severe, has proven beyond question that our completely outdated water system right across the country is not suitable or practical for the present generation.

A new problem arises in that local authorities, which depended upon funding from developers to pay the local authority contribution towards replacing structures within local authority areas, no longer have that funding available because no developments are taking place. Some years ago Fine Gael recognised the problem and came up with an independent solution under its NewERA strategy, which proposes to establish a new public water utility company to take over responsibility for water management and investment. The new company will be responsible for investing in the water network through new fund-raising means and will help take the burden off the taxpayer. It is impossible to believe that, after so many years of the Celtic tiger, so little has been done to replace the water infrastructure, other than by putting further pressure on an outdated system on foot of the massive amount of housing development.

The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government has stood over a system in which at least 43% of all drinking water is lost through leaks. This occurs in normal circumstances, never mind the circumstances that obtained during the recent spell of cold weather. Radical change is needed urgently. The lack of proper water infrastructure is holding back the economy, costing a fortune and leading nowhere.

The Fine Gael NewERA programme, when implemented, will guarantee revolution within the system, create jobs for the many unemployed and, in the longer term, provide major savings. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government has committed the country to an EU framework that will make us liable for serious fines if the required work is not carried out and a quality water supply is not produced by 2016. The IMF has made it clear that this is an issue that must be acted upon. It supports proposals of the type advocated by Fine Gael in its NewERA strategy. This is the way forward. Any new structure set up must be answerable to the Dáil through the Minister. It must not be an independent quango, such as the NRA or HSE.

My constituency of Cavan-Monaghan has a proud record of providing water of good quality through group water schemes in rural areas. Considerable funding was made available for the head works on those schemes. That they are now mostly under contract to one company is a major mistake. People have been bound into paying unjustifiably high prices. This structure has been condemned by a County Monaghan group. People were assured that, if they did not join the bundle, they would be allowed to get the normal grants. However, that did not occur. I am ashamed to have been a Member of the Dáil when that assurance was not followed through. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, did not even answer the letters I wrote to him on this issue. People did not get grants, yet they produce water for approximately €1 per thousand gallons as opposed to the €6 of other schemes. Major questions must be asked about the cost of water.

I will follow up on Deputy McHugh's comments. There is much discussion about climate change and the need to sort it out, but we can save a great deal of water at factory, office and school levels by harvesting rainwater from roofs for use in toilet systems and so on. Providing good, clean, quality water for such systems is a waste of time and money.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. The motion contains several good proposals that deserve cross-party support. In some ways, the recent water shortages on both sides of the Border were beyond the control of the relevant authorities, but there is no doubt that the crisis initially brought about by the weather was exacerbated by the manner in which the water supply was managed. Therefore, there is considerable merit in Fine Gael's proposals to establish a publicly owned company to take over responsibility for the water supply. This would make sense from a number of perspectives. For example, considerable economies of scale would take effect were such a body to be established.

In establishing such a company, it would need to be clearly set down that it would never be considered as a candidate for privatisation. I say this in view of the expected publication shortly of the McCarthy group report on State assets. Going by the tenor of Professor McCarthy's bord snip nua report, many believe this new report may recommend that State companies be put up for sale to the private sector.

The experience in other countries, including Britain, suggests that privatisation is not a good way to administer the water supply. The need to ensure a safe and universal water supply is the reason the water supply in almost every state on the planet was established under public control. This has nothing to do with states controlling areas to which neo-liberals claim they have no business. Nor has the maintenance of water under public control anything to do with ideology. I am pleased to say that my party north of the Border has been instrumental in ensuring that such a policy was not extended to the Six Counties, although the recent shortages there suggest that the current company is far from perfect.

People do not need to pay for their water supply in this State, but that situation may yet change if the Green Party can think of any more excuses to drag out the term of this Government. Even if the current Government does not introduce metering and water charges, a new Government comprising Fine Gael and Labour would do so, as both are committed to this policy. Labour only recently signalled its willingness to do so as part of its acceptance of the austerity programme that will need to be imposed. Therefore, Sinn Féin is the only party in the House that remains opposed to water charges. While this fact is not mentioned in the motion, I will be happy to support the motion on that basis. However, we will strongly oppose any attempt to introduce metering and water charges by the current Government or its successor.

One of the reasons most cited in favour of water charges is that it would encourage people to be less wasteful. There is an element of waste but, as the motion points out, 43% of supply is lost through leaks within the infrastructure and not through overuse by consumers. Given this fact, surely a major effort ought to be put into addressing inefficiencies in supply before charging domestic consumers. This too would be more cost efficient, given that the estimated cost of installing meters is €600 million. Investing some of that in improving the efficiency of supply would ensure a major reduction in water wastage.

There is also quite a large amount of waste in the commercial sector and many local authorities have failed to collect water charges due from that source. The level of waste in the commercial sector is clearly on a large scale. For example, it was claimed that Starbucks in Britain, due to its practice of continually running taps, wastes 1.63 million litres of water per day. There is also the fact that the introduction of water charges at the present time would constitute nothing more than finding yet another means to eat into people's incomes to pay for the mess caused by the banks and speculators. Supporters of metering claim that it could be implemented in a manner that would only penalise excessive use, but there is no guarantee about the level at which charges will be applied. Unfortunately, the experience is that, once something along those lines is introduced, it is regarded as a lucrative source of revenue and the bar is lowered rather than raised. Sinn Féin will support the motion.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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This is an important debate on the water crisis. Before going into detail, it is important to state that the crisis has not been resolved in some areas of this city, particularly in Beaumont, the Malahide Road, Marino, Coolock, Drumcondra and Fairview. These areas have been directly affected in the past 24 hours. I demand immediate action in respect of these areas, which have been left behind. Families and homes there need a proper water service. This must be the priority in our debate. We have had enough talk and waffle. Given the city's recent water crisis, particularly in Dublin North-Central, my duty is to speak out on behalf of the people. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and the Government to do something about this urgent matter.

Regarding the broader issue of a need for a proper water service, this and successive Governments must face up to the stark reality of leakages and a lack of investment in water services, particularly on Dublin's north side. I recognise the social and economic hardships caused by water restrictions and disruptions for families and local businesses. We all know that an inefficient, outdated and fragmented water network has contributed to drinking water supply problems across the State. We also know that the State spends €1 billion on water treatment in current and capital expenditure every year. However, I deplore the vast amount of waste constituted by the 43% of supply lost through unidentified leaks.

The issues raised in this debate are important and I urge action. I commend Councillor Damian O'Farrell, Independent, for pushing this agenda on Dublin City Council and for his great work in helping his constituents during the recent water crisis. He used containers and his trailer to help people. That offer remains in the case of future emergencies. I urge the Minister of State to do something about the water issue.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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We have basic human rights, such as a right to life, to a roof over our heads, to live in peace and to exercise freedom of expression, but a fundamental basic human right is the right to clean drinking water. In the recent past, water has posed a problem. Being an island community surrounded by water with endless miles of rivers, lakes and streams, it is ironic that areas have been without water or have had water rationed and restricted. We are also aware of the opposite occurring, that is, flooding which has caused considerable damage to houses and areas, the result of which has seen some people unable to acquire insurance.

Yesterday, the current update on Dublin City Council's website showed restrictions are still in place. Parts of Dublin and elsewhere in the country are experiencing what it is like for people in Third World countries who must queue for water. Dublin has tankers at a variety of locations and people have been told to bring their own containers. There is no doubt that the water difficulties have caused considerable social and economic hardship, be there too much water, too little or none.

Individual responsibility is another aspect. I acknowledge how Dublin City Council has been proactive in assisting people in taking responsibility by making suggestions on how to carry out leak tests, water audits and toilet and cistern checks. The council made particular suggestions about the use of rainwater and gardening. Flood protection measures have also been undertaken. However, our individual responsibility not to waste water will not be enough without significant investment in infrastructure. With €1 billion being spent every year on water treatment and supply, one would have thought there would be an efficient service, so how is the funding being managed? Is it part of the culture of excessive salaries, bonuses and expenses? There is also the serious subject of planning being granted for development on flood plains, which was most unsuitable.

We are good at overspending on large construction projects, such as the Port Tunnel, the M50 widening and the Luas, which all overran by three times their original costs. If metro north goes ahead we will be able to get to the airport by metro but it will cost at least €6 billion while there will still be people without enough water and others who face the risk of flooding.

I support the motion that covers the need for significant capital investment in water to ensure there is no wastage and an adequate supply but I also acknowledge the Government amendment that highlights ongoing major investment in water services and the commitment to invest in water conservation, which must be a priority.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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This debate has covered many areas related to the water sector. This demonstrates the complexity of delivering and maintaining such a vital public service. It is important to emphasise that recent disruptions that were very difficult for families, businesses and the farming community are not the norm. These arose from adverse and unprecedented severe weather conditions. Met Éireann has characterised December 2010 as the most extreme cold spell on record in terms of depth of cold.

Lessons had been learned from the weather events of 2009 and early 2010 and these informed the response to the most recent weather event. As Minister of State with responsibility for the rural water programme, I wish to be associated with the expressions of gratitude of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government yesterday for local authority staff and contractors who responded quickly and willingly and who worked long hours in difficult conditions to ensure a return to normal service as quickly as possible.

The more than €6 billion invested in water and waste water services since 2000 has made significant inroads into addressing the decades of underinvestment in the sector. This investment has led to increased capacity in our water and waste water treatment plants, equivalent to the needs of a population of 1.1 million between 2000 and 2009; increased water storage equivalent to the needs of a population of 1.6 million people in the same period; improvements in drinking water quality; compliance with waste water standards, particularly in the Dublin area; and reduced water loss through leakage.

Much of the water service investment is unseen, whether it is the repair or replacement of pipes in the 25,000 kilometre underground network, the provision of treatment plants, which are often located in simple structures or less visible locations, belying the complex and sophisticated treatment processes they contain, or the computerised water management systems such as telemetry assisting in the management of networks.

The Government is committed to continued high levels of investment in water services. Its investment is informed by a clear strategy that prioritises water conservation, with some €320 million earmarked for investment in new contracts for mains rehabilitation in the water service investment programme for 2010 to 2012. That €320 million is based on the requirements as presented by the local authorities; the Department did not pluck the figure from the sky. Every county is included in that programme and it is matter for local authorities and the Department to prioritise.

I have heard comment that money that was allocated was not spent, with Deputy Naughten mentioning €70 million that was allocated to Roscommon County Council. I suggest he should not make that complaint here; he should talk to the Fine Gael-led council in Roscommon and ask it why the money was not spent. Fine Gael is in charge of that council and it should get on with the job because the money exists.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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It is a Fine Gael-led council since June. The Minister of State with responsibility for rural water schemes represents the constituency. He should look in the mirror and ask himself that question.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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The programme published in 2010 reflects the priorities for main distribution by local authorities. Over time this investment will further improve the general condition of Irish water services infrastructure.

There must be a strong, strategic framework for the sector, not only to guide investment but to ensure services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible. The passage of the Water Services Act 2007 improved regulation of the sector and the move to a river basin catchment approach, reflected in the priority accorded to each individual scheme in the water services investment programme for 2010 to 2012, both form part of the framework that has been put in place. These will be further developed by the Government's proposals to commence a programme of domestic metering to be funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and to establish an independent regulator for the water sector both to build upon the investment already made in the sector an to inform the water services sector over the coming decade.

It is important the House recognises the progress made in the water services sector as well as the elements in place to make further improvements in the coming years. In recognising the difficulties the public has faced with water disruption over Christmas and new year, I acknowledge the positive response by the public to calls from local authorities to conserve water and to check for and report leaks. This practice should continue, even when all planned restrictions are lifted, to ensure the value of water resource is protected into the future.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Hogan for tabling this motion. My constituency was badly affected by water shortages and cuts. Parts of Donaghmede, Coolock and Howth are still affected by cuts, a situation that has been going on for three weeks. It is farcical.

We all knew the cold snap was on the way but supplies of salt were inadequate for roads and reservoirs were not as full as they should have been. We should have learned the lessons of the previous cold spell but that was not the case. There should be accountability in the water distribution sector. In Northern Ireland when there were water shortages, the chairman of Northern Ireland Water resigned because of the hardship that families and businesses had to face during the cold snap; that is what is missing in this state. Water shortages caused many problems for business, with some having to close in the run up to Christmas, causing particular hardship. This was also the case for young families. Those who had to queue for water from containers had to often endure a long wait.

It is unacceptable that certain local authorities hit the same customers and businesses constantly whenever water supplies must be reduced or shut down. The system should be fair and every area should experience reduced water pressure on a rotating basis. Certain local authorities could not cope with the situation on the roads. There was a lack of grit that should have been supplied centrally and allocated to residents associations in suburbs and other areas.

The water structure is dysfunctional, with 34 authorities responsible for investing and maintaining it. Each of those authorities works in isolation, with no unity or economies of scale. That is why Fine Gael tabled this motion; we want to create a new structure, Irish Water. During the economic boom, proper investment was not put in place for water infrastructure and 34% of water now leaks away. Drastic action is needed but this will provide job creation opportunities if the Government is willing to accept our proposals.

Fine Gael has consistently campaigned for more investment in water infrastructure and the establishment of a single water supply company. The Government amendment reflects a willingness to accept what we propose and the sooner the better it puts its money where its mouth is. This undue hardship should not continue indefinitely.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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The people of County Clare experienced extreme hardship throughout the Christmas period because of interruptions in the water supply. Extreme weather conditions exposed the shortcomings in the water infrastructure throughout the country. County Clare was one of the counties worst affected. I compliment the outdoor staff of Clare County Council on their work throughout the holiday period, in particular Seán Heaney, the water caretaker in Ennis and his crew, for their work in restoring the water supply. Their task was made so much more difficult due to the under-investment in critical water infrastructure over many years.

In the limited time available to me now, I will concentrate on the issue of the Ennis water supply which has experienced many problems over the past number of years including the issue of boil-water notices, cryptosporidium and the quantity of water available to people. The recent harsh weather exposed the limitations of the water supply. On many occasions I have raised in the House the need to prioritise and deliver in full the Ennis water augmentation scheme, but my requests have fallen on deaf ears. Deputy Timmy Dooley issued a "Dooley News" over the Christmas period in which he stated that this scheme had been delivered in full but this is not the case. The people of Ennis, Clarecastle, Bearfield, Doora and Crusheen did not have water for days because of the failure of Fianna Fáil to deliver this scheme. This is not acceptable. A total of 30,000 people depend on this water supply and it is not good enough that they had no water because some aspects of the scheme are still outstanding. A new reservoir at Edenvale, a new pumping station at Clare Abbey and improved extraction capacity at Castle Lake need to be delivered.

I am demanding that funding be released to deliver this scheme in full. I ask the Minister of State to do this today as a priority. We have had enough fudge on this issue. Water is a basic need and the town of Ennis depends on it. I ask the Minister of State to pick up the telephone and make it happen today and that funding be released to deliver that scheme.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue and I congratulate Deputy Hogan on tabling this motion. This issue has been coming down the tracks, so to speak, for a number of years. Alarm bells should really have been ringing last year during the extreme difficulties in the post-Christmas period. At that time Deputy Hogan introduced a debate in the House on the issue. All sorts of promises were made yet again this year, but people are suffering severe hardship and economic loss at a time when we cannot afford economic losses. Water restrictions applied in my own constituency, including in Newcastlewest where it created significant hardship and disruption. At this stage of our development and post the Celtic tiger period, we are still regarded as a successful nation, regardless of our problems. However, to have 43% of our water being lost into the ground is an absolute disgrace. If there was that level of waste in any other service, it would not be tolerated. Why is the waste of water tolerated? Water is expensive to process and treat and a commodity that is absolutely necessary for survival. The problems are not new.

I am involved with several group water schemes. Admittedly with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, they have overcome the leaks and wastage, yet the national grid cannot do so. I fully support the proposal to rationalise the 34 different bodies dealing with water supply and to have instead a single national body for water utility, with delegation to the various councils to implement a national plan. I refer the House to the success of the Road Safety Authority in reducing road accidents and fatalities, even though the figures are still too high. However, a concerted national effort resulted in a certain degree of success and it is hoped this will continue. The same approach should be applied to ensure that a very important basic commodity, water, is properly supplied and properly managed in the country.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank speakers on all sides of the House for contributing to this debate. The number of speakers who have outlined their own constituency experiences with regard to water issues is a clear indication of the fact that this is a very serious problem for many public representatives. It has been a problem for a considerable period of time. People now realise that water is a finite resource which has often been taken for granted. However, this will not happen any longer, particularly in light of the conditions experienced this winter and last winter when people were forced to buy bottled water in supermarkets at significant cost to family budgets and businesses. The inconvenience of having to collect water from tankers in major urban areas brings home to people the importance of water as a resource in our daily and working lives.

In the spirit of acknowledging those difficulties suffered by business and households, Fine Gael has brought forward a constructive motion that sets out a solution. It is very rare to have such unanimity in the House about a problem and very rare to get a Government amendment to an Opposition motion that is quite similar to the motion. However, for political reasons, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could not bring himself to accept the Fine Gael proposition. It is time to agree a motion along the lines of our motion, to agree there is a problem with the provision of water under the existing structures, that the 34 local authorities are doing the best they can in order to paper over the cracks in the system. However, there is a need for a new agency or a new structure to bring it all together under one roof by means of an Irish water holding company that will provide the necessary investment and can draw money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and also include private sector investment so that local authorities can be the agents for the rolling out of the essential water infrastructure that is now required. We cannot put this off because otherwise we will be fined by the European Commission for not meeting our obligations under the EU framework directive. We are better off investing in a better water system than to have council officials trying to cover themselves in glory on the file to ensure that when the court cases arise in 2015 or 2016, all they will say in court in their own defence is that they did not get the money from the Department and they did the best they could, within their own resources, to deal with these problems, as detailed in the files.

It is soul-destroying for directors of services who are in charge of water services to have to give those excuses in a court. We need to avoid this situation by investing in a four to five year programme which is concerted and organised and with one structure, a properly regulated authority. The State needs to provide an essential infrastructural product called water which is of good quality and provided in an efficient manner without the loss of 43% of it from unidentified leaks. Water is an important and expensive resource which is expensive to treat. It should not be taken for granted and Fine Gael does not take it for granted. I ask the Government and the Minister of State to agree to this motion and to allow us to go forward in a united way to solve this problem once and for all, namely, the provision of good quality water supply.

Amendment put:

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 74 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 66 (Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Pearse Doherty, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 72 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 67 (James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Pearse Doherty, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.

Question declared carried.