Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I know the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is familiar with west Cork. I understand he has been to Castletownshend, so he will be very familiar with how picturesque it is down there. Castletownshend, to paint the picture, is a coastal village just east of Skibbereen and is one of the most picturesque locations in Ireland, I would say. It is a beautiful village with a 17th century castle and looks over a beautiful inlet, one of the most stunning inlets along the Cork coast. It also has the very famous Mary Ann's restaurant that attracts people from far and wide. Walking down the village you pass that 17th century castle on the left-hand side and come to the pier with what look like pristine waters, and then at the pier there is a big "no bathing" sign. The reason the "no bathing" sign is there is that, despite the beautiful, picturesque village I have described, what you also have there is raw sewage being pumped into water into the inlet. I went to see it last week to get another look and excrement is clearly to be seen going out into the water.
It is one of many villages around the coast that have this problem. It relies heavily on tourism, as does much of the region, and the least the people there deserve is a proper, functioning wastewater treatment plant. The first part of my question is to look for an update on the status of that project? I understand it is supposed to be forthcoming but is there funding for it? When can we expect to see work commence on a wastewater treatment plant for Castletownshend? What are the timelines?
While I am on issue of raw excrement, I have to bring up the problems being faced by the population in Shannonvale. Shannonvale is a village close to Clonakilty. Some would consider them to be the same town. Shannonvale is just outside Clonakilty. This issue has often been brought up in this Chamber. There are many young families in Shannonvale with many young children. There is a children's play area which for the past number of years has been cordoned off because raw sewage is coming up through the ground. It is clear for everyone to see. It has been acknowledged by the council and by Irish Water but we are no closer to understanding when that issue will be solved. The Topical Issue matter relates to the Castletownshend issue so I fully understand if the Minister of State does not have an answer. I have spoken to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien time and again about this. I ask the Minister of State in his communications with Irish Water to stress the importance of resolving this issue.
As a Kilkenny man, I am very fond of west Cork. It is a part of the country I am very familiar with. On the issue in Castletownshend, it is simply unacceptable that we have raw sewage discharging into watercourses. It is something this Government is determined to address. We have had a number of these issues raised consistently by Deputies. We need to make significant progress over the next number of years.
The Deputy will appreciate that, since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water service planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level, including investment in wastewater treatment plants and returning wastewater safely to the environment in an efficient and sustainable manner. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects is a matter for determination by Irish Water. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is a key statutory body for the investigation of complaints of pollution and for the enforcement, both directly and through oversight of Irish Water and local authorities, of environmental legislation in Ireland, including compliance in regard to licensed urban wastewater discharges. The EPA's recent report on urban wastewater shows that while many serious challenges remain, Irish Water is continuing to make progress and is improving performance of our wastewater systems. Irish Water has reduced the number of priority wastewater sites listed by the EPA, it has increased the number of large towns and cities that now meet the required EU standards for wastewater discharges, and it continues to reduce the number of towns and villages discharging untreated wastewater.
However, while there is still a long complex of work lying ahead for Irish Water, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and I are eager to see faster progress on the delivery of projects wherever this is possible. As part of budget 2022 the Minister secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion comprising current expenditure of €629 million and capital expenditure of €830 million in respect of domestic water service provision by Irish Water. The overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies throughout Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in rivers, lakes and marine areas. This is key to addressing Ireland's shortcomings in water and wastewater infrastructure, including compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive.
Specifically in regard to Castletownshend, I understand from Irish Water that planning permission for the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant and network infrastructure was granted in November and works will commence in 2022. While ensuring wastewater discharging into Castlehaven meets appropriate discharge standards, this new plant will also bring benefits to Castletownshend in terms of health, integrity of the environment and improved water quality for all.
In regard to the issue raised by the Deputy on Shannonvale, again, that is unacceptable. That is something I am more than happy to take up with Irish Water and the Minister, Deputy O'Brien.
I thank the Minister of State. That is a very positive development in regard to Castletownshend. Obviously we knew the planning permission has been granted, but that we can expect work to commence in 2022 will bring much solace to the people of Castletownshend, business people and residents alike.
In my remaining time I have another Irish Water related issue to raise regarding my home town of Clonakilty. I know the Minister of State is a big fan of Clonakilty and visits it regularly. Clonakilty is one of the main towns in west Cork. It has a population of about 5,000 people. It is my home town. It is earmarked for growth of about 36% as one of the key towns in County Cork. In regard to development in Clonakilty at the moment, however, Irish Water's position is that it will not allow development of more than one house in the town. It will not allow water connection for any estate of 20, 30 or even 50 houses. Therefore development cannot take place. To put that in context, the demand for and price of housing in that area, like everywhere else, is skyrocketing. Availability of premises to rent is non-existent. There is nowhere left to rent.
Our aim as a Government is to deliver 33,000 homes per annum but in a town the size of Clonakilty we are only allowing the development of one house. This flies in the face of what we are trying to achieve. I do not expect the Minister of State to be familiar with the exact details of this case. Irish Water has indicated a period of five to seven years will be needed for an interim solution. That is far too long for anybody who is looking for a house in the Clonakilty area. I ask again that the Department intervene and instruct Irish Water to find a better interim solution.
As I said, the experience across the country is that small towns that are primed for growth are being held back because of a lack of adequate infrastructure. The Minister and I are determined to work towards resolution of these issues with Irish Water. As I said, the local authorities and Irish Water need to work together to try to ensure this infrastructure is in place. We have put in place significant capital funding for Irish Water. There are other issues with Irish Water in terms of moving towards a single public utility, with local authorities and the work that has to be done with the Workplace Relations Commission. Notwithstanding that, it is critically important that we move swiftly and with determination to ensure that these towns have the capacity to be able to develop and grow their local economies and to support families who want to settle in them.
As I said, this is an issue across the country. I know that the Deputy has an interest in water quality generally and in the wetlands. From that point of view, we want to ensure the next cycle of river basin management plans are supported by adequate infrastructure to deal with wastewater discharge into water courses across the country. I will follow up on the specific issues raised in this Topical Issue matter with regard to Castletownshend. We have given good news about the delivery of that particular wastewater treatment plant, but it is critically important that we deliver the much-needed infrastructure throughout the country that is, unfortunately, stifling development in many small towns.