Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

 

8:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter for debate on the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, to the House to discuss a project in County Galway that has been promised for a long time. The circumstances in Kinvara Bay are unique. The continued discharge of raw sewage into the bay must be an embarrassment to Galway County Council and to the Government. This matter was brought to the attention of the European Commission, which warned the council that it would take action against it if something was not done within a particular period of time. That period of time has elapsed, however, without any indication from the council or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that anything is about to happen. Kinvara Bay is unique because it has inner and outer sections, with protective currents which ensure that the sewage that is pumped into the bay is retained. The levels of pollution in the bay are greater than those in normal bays, in which the water is kept clean to some degree by the regular removal of sewage by the tides. That process does not happen in Kinvara Bay. The visual impact of the retention of sewage is as severe as its impact on water quality. Many studies have been done at Kinvara Bay. The quality of its water has been tested on numerous occasions by the former health board and more recently by the Health Service Executive. All such tests have found that the quality of water at Kinvara Bay is far below the levels required by the EU. The bay is highly polluted.

We have been waiting for a long time for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to release the preliminary report that was submitted by Galway County Council. The Department has given permission to local authorities to pursue projects costing less than €5 million. The Kinvara Bay project would cost approximately €3 million. I have raised this issue to allow the Minister of State to indicate that the council may proceed with the planned works at Kinvara Bay, thereby alleviating a serious problem. The fishing grounds at the bay are already gone. Kinvara Bay used to be a renowned area for shellfish, including oysters and shrimps, but nobody eats shellfish from the bay now because it is so polluted. There was a time when one could swim in Kinvara Bay, right into the quays, but that is no longer possible because of the health risks involved. The waters of the bay have traditionally been quite important for recreational activities such as boating, but such activities have ceased because people have been warned of the potential health risks associated with the poor quality of the waters. I am sure Senator Kitt is very familiar with the problem there as well.

I ask the Minister of State to release the project and indicate to Galway County Council that it should progress matters. Galway County Council, in a recent statement from one of its officials, has stated that the wheels are turning. However, they have been turning in Kinvara for so long that it must be a very large wheel that has allowed matters to continue as they have over the years. Many people have made representations to the Department on the issue. I hope the Minister of State can indicate that work on this project may commence immediately.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Burke for raising what is obviously a very important issue.

My Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2005-07, published last December, includes some 60 major water and sewerage schemes, with a value of over €451 million for Galway. Over the years the Department has delegated more and more responsibilities to local authorities to speed up the procurement of new water services infrastructure. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and I have recently greatly extended this devolution of functions when we announced that for every project in the water services investment programme valued under €5 million, local authorities will henceforth be entitled, after they receive preliminary approval, to proceed right through to construction without further reference to the Department. This gives local authorities the power to advance individual schemes with considerably reduced involvement by the Department. The result should be a significant speeding up of the process for hundreds of individual smaller schemes — from drawing board through to completion. More importantly, it will mean that the Department's expertise can be concentrated on advancing the bigger and more costly projects.

The Kinvara sewerage scheme is included, at an estimated cost of €2.8 million, to start construction in 2007 in the Department's current water services investment programme. It might be worth having a word with the officials in Galway because additional information has been requested from Galway County Council in order to allow a decision to be made on the revised preliminary report for the scheme received from the council. Perhaps the Senator might talk to the county manager, because the sooner the council gets the information to the Department, matters can be advanced to the construction stage in line with the revised procedures we have put in place. I hope this clarifies the position for the Senator and I assure him that a decision will be made on the preliminary report and a response issued to the council as quickly as possible after receipt of the necessary information.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this issue and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, for coming into the House to reply. I am talking about the village of Creggs on the border of Galway and Roscommon. It is well known, inter alia, for being the place where Charles Stewart Parnell made his last public speech before he died. I commend the historical society in Creggs for establishing a heritage centre in memory of Parnell.

This village is unique in catering for a wide variety of sporting bodies. As well as GAA and other sports, it is well known for its rugby teams. The Cathaoirleach will be interested to know that the principal of the school in Creggs was the late Mattie McDonagh. The school won the Irish Independent Building for the Future competition.

I want to point out that this is a CLÁR area where there is priority for certain developments in towns covered by the programme where the population has fallen over the years. For that reason it is a village that needs a sewerage scheme in order to develop. I am making a strong case this evening to have it included. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has visited the town of Creggs with me on a number of occasions. He announced that Creggs was in the CLÁR programme and has helped out in many ways, particularly as regards grants given to some of the sporting bodies in the town. I ask the Minister of State to progress the scheme, if he can, particularly as regards the CLÁR priorities and also regarding the necessary developments that the people of Creggs wish to undertake.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I want to thank Senator Kitt for raising this issue and for his ongoing interest in matters such as these in his Galway constituency. My Department continues to invest heavily in modern water services infrastructure to support social and economic development. The Water Services Investment Programme 2005-07 includes some 60 major water and sewerage schemes with a value of over €451 million for Galway. Many areas of the county, such as Carna-Kilkieran, Tuam and Headford will now benefit from improved water supplies. Also included are new regional water supply schemes for Costelloe, Gort, Ballinasloe, Clifden, Loughrea, Dunmore-Glenamaddy and Portumna.

In addition, towns and village such as Athenry, Ballinasloe, Barna, Carraroe, Clifden, Glenamaddy, Headford, Kinvara, Milltown, Oughterard and Tuam can also look forward to new or upgraded sewerage schemes.

When selecting individual projects for approval as part of the water services investment programme, the Department takes into account the priorities identified by the local authorities concerned. In this case, Creggs sewerage scheme was fourth on the list of schemes submitted by Galway County Council in response to the Department's request in 2003 to local authorities to produce updated and prioritised assessments of new infrastructural needs in their areas.

The local authorities' assessments of needs are the main input to the ranking of individual schemes by the Department. This process has resulted in Galway County Council currently having an extensive package of works for which formal departmental approval has been given and for which the necessary Exchequer funding is in place. The €451 million worth of projects to be completed over the next few years will transform the quality and coverage of the county's water and waste water infrastructure and will comprehensively deal with the essential infrastructural requirements the council has prioritised. Given the level of competing demand for the available funding, however, and the relating low priority afforded to the Creggs scheme by the council, it was not possible to include it in the water services investment programme at that time.

On the positive side, I must emphasise that the current Water Services Investment Programme 2005-07 is part of an ongoing three-year strategy that is rolled forward at regular intervals. New schemes continue to be added to future phases of the programme in line with prevailing priorities identified by local authorities and national requirements. In this context, local authorities have recently been requested to undertake new assessments of their needs and priorities which will be taken into account when framing the next phase of the water services investment programme.

It is important for the Senator to have a dialogue with Galway County Council to ensure it gives the Creggs the priority he is saying it deserves. If the Senator does that, I can assure him that I have listened carefully to what he has said as regards the Creggs sewerage scheme, and that it will be borne in mind when the next roll-out of the investment programme is being prepared.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State and ask him to bear in mind what I have said as regards Creggs being a CLÁR area. I believe there should be some priority and if the council makes that case. I trust that he and the Department's officials will take on board the fact that Creggs is a CLÁR area.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Obviously, it is of extreme importance that Galway County Council prioritises this scheme and makes its case on the basis of the importance of the CLÁR scheme. If that is done, the Department will look very favourably on it in terms of including the scheme in the next programme.