Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Water Services

9:42 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as an ábhar seo a phiocadh. Táim ag díriú isteach inniu ar chúrsaí uisce, nó easpa uisce, i dtrí cheantar i gContae na Gaillimhe, sé sin, Inis Bó Finne, An Spidéal - i ndáiríre ó na Foraí Maola go dtí An Tulan agus níos faide siar - agus Inis Oírr. De réir mar a thuigim, tá dea-scéal ann maidir leis an oileán sin agus níl an fógra ann níos mó gan an t-uisce a ól. Táimid ag caint faoi níos mó ná 60,000 duine atá thíos leis an bhfadhb seo. Tá frustrachas orthu. Tuigeann siad go soiléir go dtarlaíonn fadhbanna ó am go ham. Tuigim féin é sin ó mo thaithí i nGaillimh. Tá frustrachas orthu mar gheall ar an gcaoi ar caitheadh leo. Dar leo, agus dar leis na daoine atá tofa, caitheadh go dona leo ó thaobh cúrsaí eolais de agus maidir le fógraí. Agus mé i mo sheasamh anseo, tá clár “Iris Aniar” ar siúl agus tá dochtúir teaghlaigh ón gceantar ag cúr in iúl nach raibh sise fiú ar an eolas go raibh fadhb ollmhór leis an uisce.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter, because it is extremely important, and I thank the Minister for State for being here. I know that I do not need to translate the Irish for the Minister of State. He has heard it. However, I need to emphasise what has happened here.

The Inis Oírr notice was lifted just yesterday. It is very difficult to understand what happened regarding Inisbofin.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify the sequence of events and dates. When did Uisce Éireann become aware that there was problem? What was the nature of that problem and why could the system not deal with it? Are the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the HSE involved? This is an island that, like all of us, is utterly dependent on water, the most basic ingredient for life. The islanders were told on 25 August by Irish Water to boil their water. A boil water notice was issued to the 156 customers but no explanation was given as to why or what was wrong but a map was included. On 2 September, they were told that the boil water notice remains in place as there was a deterioration in the quality of the water because the raw water in the adjacent lakes had deteriorated due to low levels and so on. In the interests of brevity, I will not go into all of the details but the main point is that residents were again told to boil their water at that stage. Fast forward to 3 September and residents are told that the boil water notice is now a "Do not consume" notice, with no explanation given. I have no idea whether the doctors and nurses were told. I do not know how anyone was told except through Radio na Gaeltachta and the local news. That situation continues on Inishbofin today. When did it start? The date I have is 25 August but I understand it started earlier than that.

Similarly, Ceantar Cois Fharraige is without water. More than 5,000 people are effected and no explanation has been given. What has emerged is that the level of manganese is too high and the figure that has been quoted is 250 mg as opposed to 120 mg. How did this happen? What is wrong with the system? When will it be put right? I want the maximum volume of information to be given out so that we can have trust in the system. As an elected representative, I have no trust in the system. My trust was seriously challenged by the cryptosporidium issue in Galway and now we are back with the same lack of trust.

9:52 am

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Connolly as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a chur faoi bhráid na Dála. Tá brón orm go bhfuil an ráiteas a thug an Roinn dom as Béarla agus nach bhfuil aon ráiteas trí Ghaeilge agam. Is féidir liom an Ghaeilge a labhairt ach ba mhaith liom a bheith soiléir agus beacht leis an bpobal. Tá fíricí agam sa ráiteas seo; b’fhéidir nach bhfuil gach freagra agam ach tá na fíricí anseo i mBéarla. Bímid go léir buartha nuair a tharlaíonn rudaí mar seo inár gceantair féin. Tá a lán bá agam leis an Teachta, le muintir Chonamara agus le muintir na Gaillimhe. Ba chóir go mbeadh i bhfad níos mó eolais curtha ar fáil ag Uisce Éireann agus tá an fhreagracht reachtúil aige ó 2014.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue of providing safe drinking water. This is a serious issue and I share her concern for the communities of An Spidéal, Inishbofin and Inis Oírr that have been affected by the recent "Do not consume" notices. The Deputy has set out a lot of the facts. Unfortunately I do not have the full information she is seeking today but I will go back to the Department and Irish Water and ask that it be provided to her as a matter of urgency.

Irish Water has had statutory responsibility since 1 January 2014 for all aspects of water services at national, regional and local level and the EPA is responsible for quality standards. The Department has made inquiries of Irish Water and the information that I have is that a "Do not consume" notice for Inishbofin public water supply was issued on 10 September due to elevated levels of manganese. Shortly afterwards on 16 September 2022, "Do not consume" notices for An Spidéal public water supply and Inis Oírr public water supply were issued, also due to elevated levels of manganese.These notices were issued following consultation between Irish Water; Galway County Council, which operates these water treatment plants for Irish Water, and the HSE. These notices are necessary to protect approximately 5,676 customers - I do not like that word and prefer either citizens, residents, or drinkers of water - supplied by An Spidéal public water supply, 156 people supplied by Inishbofin public water supply and 257 people supplied by Inis Oírr public water supply.

I am pleased to report, as the Deputy Connolly said, that the "Do not consume" notice was lifted for Inis Oírr yesterday. Irish Water and the local authority and HSE water liaison group will continue to meet to review the ongoing process control, monitoring and testing of the drinking water supply. Irish Water drinking water compliance and operational experts are working with Galway County Council to resolve the situations in An Spidéal and Inishbofin as soon as possible.

Alternative water supplies in the form of bulk tankers have been arranged. Nobody likes bulk tankers but in the context of what is going on, they are needed. They have been arranged for the people in the affected areas and are in place at a number of locations around An Spidéal and Inishbofin. These alternative water supplies are being replenished on a daily basis. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage's priority is to ensure that people's health is protected and that adequate water is available for all consumers. We all want to see this notice lifted without undue delay, but only when the HSE and EPA are satisfied.

The Government is making substantial investments in our water system to bring the services and systems up to the quality and resilience standards required. I am glad that this issue was spotted through the testing and quality control work that is ongoing because it is obviously a very serious problem. In budget 2022 the Minister secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in public water and wastewater services right across Ireland.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State and certainly agree with him regarding the word "customer".

This situation puts into acute focus the result of the Government's decision to put water under Uisce Éireann. If this was in the old days, not too long ago, there would be an urgent meeting of the city and council in Galway to discuss what was happening and the local councillors would be getting answers. That part is now missing. In addition, what is missing is any oversight by a Department that has allowed this answer to be issued. I understand the difficulties of the Minister of State in reading this out.

Since August, there has been a problem on Inishbofin. Islanders were told they could consume water once they boiled it but then they were told not to boil it, that the water was not fit for consumption. The Minister of State made reference to 10 September but that date is wrong in terms of when they were told on Inishbofin. They were told way back in August and then they were told again at the beginning of September. Then the notice changed and they are still in difficulty.

In terms of all three areas what I would like to know, and what should be contained in the Minister of State's response, is how the problem arose. What is wrong with the system? Is the system not fit for purpose? What is the connection between the three areas: Inis Oírr, Inishbofin and Ceantar Cois Fharraige? What has happened? What is the connection? What has Uisce Éireann done? What is the involvement of the EPA? What is wrong that they do not see the need to tell, at the very least, the GPs and the nurses in the area and to distribute newsletters to houses? That is what was done in Galway city when there were problems. I have no interest whatsoever in bashing staff but there is an obligation and a duty here to inform the public about their most basic right to have clean water.

I am going through countless emails and it is an absolute nightmare but I am being paid. What is it like for the people on the ground, to go through this? Sometimes the communication is only in English, sometimes it is in English and Irish but leaving that aside, the following basic questions must be answered. What has happened here? When is it going to be remedied? How did it happen and what is the EPA and the HSE saying about it?

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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Tá mise ag labhairt ar son an Rialtais agus tá dualgas ar Uisce Éireann cumarsáid agus teagmháil a dhéanamh leis an bpobal sna ceantair go léir. Tá dualgas air i bhfad níos mó eolais a thabhairt don phobal, do Theachtaí Dála agus do chomhlairleoirí contae sa cheantar freisin. Iarrfaidh mé ar Uisce Éireann é sin a dhéanamh agus iarrfaidh mé ar an Aire teagmháil a dhéanamh le hUisce Éireann maidir leis sin.

Tá fadhb ansin. Tá mise sásta go bhfuil an fhadhb sin feicthe ag Uisce Éireann agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in ann an fhadhb sin a réitigh. Tá sé réitithe in Inis Oírr anois. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le muintir an Spidéil, le muintir Inis Bó Finne agus le muintir Inis Oírr agus leis an gnóthaí ansin freisin as an bhfoighne agus as an gcomhoibriú atá déanta acu.

Caithimid sláinte an phobail a chosaint agus is dualgas ríthábhachtach é sin d’Uisce Éireann. Táimid ag iarraidh go mbeadh na fógraí seo bainte go luath ach níor cheart go mbeadh siad bainte go dtí go bhfuil an soláthar sábháilte agus ceart ann chun an t-uisce a ól. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Uisce Éireann ag obair go han-mhaith le Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe ach aontaím leis an Teachta go dteastaíonn i bhfad níos mó teagmhála leis na comhairleoirí contae agus leis na Teachtaí Dála. Beidh mise i dteagmháil leis an Aire ag insint dó a bhfuil curtha in iúl ag an Teachta Connolly ar son muintir an cheantair sin.