Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Water Supply

10:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos, gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus na daoine atá ag obair ina oifig for facilitating the selection of this Topical Issue matter.

We do not want to see another children's hospital saga. We in Tipperary are proud people and we are not anti-Dublin, but we think this project is daft. I thank Liam Minihan of Fight the Pipe campaign and I thank Independent councillor, Séamie Morris, and Emma Kennedy for her excellent report and analysis on this. Media reports have indicated that the cost of the project will exceed Irish Water's estimate of €1.3 billion in the national development plan and it is waiting for the tender document to come in.

I am disappointed that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not here. This is no disrespect to the Minister of State, and I wish him well in his new portfolio. As a Green Party Minister of State, I hope he will look at this and accept that it involves too much interruption to our landscape, going through people's lands, affecting the flora and fauna and all the different issues. He might get some of his colleagues in the Green Party who are serial objectors to object to this because it is daft.

The first thing that should be done is fix the leaky pipes. Of every litre of water that goes into the pipework in Dublin, 57% leaks before it gets to the houses or businesses. Some Third World countries, such as India, have had major investment in fixing leaks and they are able to do it, but we cannot do it in Ireland. I am told that Irish Water is all but bust. Many projects throughout the country, whether they be water and sewerage schemes or providing water supply to areas that need new borewells, cannot proceed. Irish Water has not got a cent. It was in serious financial difficulty even before the Covid crisis.

We are going into this project as we went into the children's hospital project - blindfolded, hands behind our backs, gagged and everything else. The original cost for the children's hospital was €400 million and it is now approaching €3 billion. The original cost for this project was €1.3 billion. I can guarantee it will not be done for €2 billion and to do what? - to pump water from Tipperary all the way to Dublin, through your county, a Cheann Comhairle.

There will be serious pressure on this new pipeline. I could walk inside the pipe which has an enormous diameter. Imagine the pressure and the valves unable to slow down that pressure as they feed into a faulty weak disintegrated pipe system in Dublin with old pipes, lead, asbestos and you name it. There will be water breaks all over the place. It will be like someone dropped some kind of a bomb on the city.

I appeal to the Minister of State to stop this madness before it goes ahead. I salute the people who are opposed to this, not because they are anti-Dublin. I come from Tipperary, a county rich in resources. We also have many borewells. The entire town of Clonmel is supplied by mountain streams and borewells. Every other town and village, and most farms and private houses are supplied by borewells. Dublin must be the same and as is Wicklow, which is not far out the road. There are plenty of resources there to get this water locally. It is a fantasy project by the previous Government and fantasies are not good. The Government will need to make a U-turn on this before it is too late.

Why does Irish Water not consider desalination of seawater? Surely the new Government can be innovative with its new ideas and green energies. It is telling us all to retrofit houses, and do this, that and everything else. Why does it not examine this? It should stop this pipe now. Compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, and notices to treat will be issued. The land will never be the same again. There are problems whenever there is that kind of major excavation of the land. It is fine when a road is made because the road is made compacted, but the pipe will always keep sinking through the land. There will be considerable damage to the flora and fauna, and to the rich heritage in the lands it goes through.

I appeal to the Minister of State to use his muscle in this Government and show cause and have a proper investigation, taking into account the Kennedy analysis.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for putting his points so well. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water as a single national water services authority takes a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment.

Existing water supply sources and infrastructure for the eastern and midlands region do not have the capacity or resilience to meet present or future requirements in a sustainable way. In the greater Dublin area, some 82% of the water supply comes from the River Liffey. Some 40% to 45% of the total volume of the Liffey is abstracted to meet water supply needs, which is unsustainable. The level of dependency on this one source also gives rise to real concerns regarding the security of the water supply for the region.

A significant new water source is needed. As well as securing a reliable supply for the greater Dublin area, Irish Water's proposals to supply the eastern and midlands region will enable the provision of treated water to communities in north Tipperary, Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. It would represent the biggest investment in Ireland's water infrastructure in more than 60 years.

This major project is still at the pre-planning stage of development. Once planning is secured and design of the final scheme is complete, detailed costs for this project will made available on completion of the tender process, in accordance with the public spending code.

A preliminary design project cost estimate, which will be an input to the cost-benefit analysis, is scheduled to be published in 2021. Irish Water will be required to outline its position on the project's funding model and how it will ensure value for money in its efficient, effective and timely delivery to my Department. Given the scale of the project, it will also require sign-off by Government at key stages of project development in accordance with the public spending code.

As background, I should state that Irish Water delivers its services in accordance with its statutory water services strategic plan, published in October 2015. This sets out a high-level strategy over 25 years to ensure the provision of clean and safe drinking water, the effective management of waste water, environmental protection and support for economic and social development. Beneath that plan, Irish Water's funding plan for the period from 2019 to 2024 sets out a multi-annual strategic funding requirement of €11 billion to 2024. This comprises a €6.1 billion investment in infrastructure and assets and €4.9 billion in operating costs. This significant multibillion euro investment is being made to ensure the continued operation, repair and upgrading of the country's water and waste water infrastructure to support social and economic development across the State and continued care of the water environment. It is strategically important for the future development of the country. We cannot meet our housing needs. As was proven by the hosepipe bans earlier this year, a secure and safe supply of water is vital. This requires us to look at all options to provide water for the country.

10:10 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not given a cast-iron guarantee that all avenues will be explored, given that he is a member of the Green Party. I will repeat that we are not anti-Dublin or anti-development but almost every town and village in my county is at capacity with regard to waste water treatment, although some of the major towns are okay. Many have water shortages during dry summers. It is not so dry this summer but we still had a hosepipe ban despite all the rain in February. This is, as I have described it, a fantasy project. It will cost too much money. In addition to putting pressure on pipes that are already leaky, causing extra leaks, there is also the matter of all kinds of unsavoury substances such as tar leaching and seeping back into the pipes while repairs are being done. This is reckless.

I am sure there are many hotels and private enterprises in Dublin city that have had boreholes in their back gardens and backyards for a half a century or more. It is not true that the Liffey is the only source we can use. We have borewells all over the country so why not have them here? There is also the reservoir out in Blessington. We should also look at desalinisation of our seawater. Many other countries do this.

Irish Water is penniless and broke because the Government decided to do away with water charges. I know the value of water and how much it costs to produce. We all accept that. This is a fantasy project and other projects will be set back by decades if it goes ahead. It is not too late to stop this. We let the children's hospital become the big black hole it is now. This will be a long black hole right from Tipperary through Offaly and Kildare and on to Dublin. It will destroy other projects for decades to come. I ask the Minister of State, as a member of the Green Party, to stop this madness which will have an effect on ecology, land masses, farmers and people who want to carry on their business uninterrupted.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The delivery of the Shannon water supply project is a key strategic investment priority for Irish Water under the National Development Plan 2018-2027. The cost of the project will be identified and updated throughout the project development process in line with the procedures of the new public spending code, which seeks to address some of the cost estimation issues that arose in respect of the children's hospital.

This project is needed to address the capacity issues in the region, to support jobs in the economy, to address climate change and to ensure the supply is fit for purpose and can withstand extreme weather such as droughts and storms. It will enable the provision of treated water to communities in north Tipperary, Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow in addition to Dublin.

I take on board the point Deputy Mattie McGrath made so well with regard to going after water that is unaccounted for. It is vital that significant investment is made in going after unaccounted-for water in the greater Dublin area. The ambition in that regard needs to be really significant. Having had conversations and discussions with Irish Water, I know it is also important to look at groundwater abstraction and sources of water other than rivers. This is, however, a strategically important project.

There will be plenty of opportunity for all views on the project to be heard as it is developed and undergoes the various consent procedures. There will be a public element and a public consultation. That is the correct and proper forum to voice the public's concerns and any other general issues associated with this key strategic project.