Seanad debates

Thursday, 25 February 2010

11:00 am

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting my issue. I appreciate the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. He might believe that the marine, which he is in charge of, is unrelated to the environment, but he would not be right, as my Adjournment matter is on two sewerage schemes, one in Newtowncunningham and another in my home town of Moville.

I will start with the latter, given the issue has been ongoing for more than 30 years. I remarked that it was not unrelated to the Minister of State's remit because raw sewage is being pumped into the Foyle in Moville. The surrounding area does not have a basic sewerage infrastructure and issues with the water supply, which needs to be upgraded, must be addressed.

The Newtowncunningham scheme is in the same situation. Land is available for purchase to progress the scheme, but the community is concerned that if there is a delay, the land might not be available in future. It has been identified as a proper site. Those involved in selling the land and those in the community who are trying to progress the scheme are anxious to know the exact position and the timescale on the scheme's delivery.

In my area, there has been a controversy about getting a site. The council decided on a site, had an environmental impact statement, EIS, conducted, went to An Bord Pleanála and put it out for public consultation. The scheme was supposed to be delivered in the 1990s. My main issue is the question of how to bring industries into areas that have lost many jobs. Jobs in the manufacturing sector have been lost all along the Border, including in Inishowen. We have a heavy reliance on fishing and farming in terms of employment, but even those are in decline. If we do not have basic infrastructure, how can we encourage people? Basic infrastructure includes water and sewerage. The lack of infrastructure has stymied development in my area for some time. I cannot understand what or who is causing the delay. Even when times were more flaithiúlacht economically, for want of a better term, the schemes did not progress despite being priorities. In recent days, there have been many political conspiracy theories, but I almost wonder whether there is a conspiracy not to deliver on sewerage schemes in the Inishowen area.

We have the badly needed Moville scheme, but extensions are required in Buncrana and facilities are needed in Ballyliffin and Newtowncunningham. No matter how long they seem to sit as priorities within the council and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, they do not come to fruition. When a project went before An Bord Pleanála, people were told the EIS submitted with it was unnecessary. A couple of months after the EIS was sent back to the council, An Bord Pleanála decided that it actually was necessary. Resubmitting it took one year.

I do not understand the process or why it has been blocked. This might be a serious allegation, but someone is ensuring that this basic infrastructure is not progressing. Who is blocking it? Is it the Department or the council? Perhaps a more pertinent question is what is blocking it. Can we get to the crux of the issue? Is it down to co-funding or can people step forward and say what the problem is?

If we cannot get basic infrastructure, I cannot fight our corner for inward investment as we need to fight it. Added value products in the marine sector could be created in Greencastle and Moville, but not without proper waste water treatment centres. I appreciate this matter is not the Minister of State's direct responsibility, but it has a knock-on effect for his remit. I hope we will not only receive answers, but direct timelines for the schemes' delivery. Uncertainty and ongoing delays are stymying economic investment in my constituency.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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As the Senator may be aware, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government recently advised both Houses that he will soon publish a new water services investment programme. This programme, which will cover the period 2010 to 2012, will set out the water services contracts that are likely to proceed to construction in the next three years and the schemes for which planning will continue during this period.

The Moville and Greencastle sewerage scheme has been in planning for some considerable time, as stated by Senator Keaveney. I remember her raising the issue when I was a Minister of State in that Department. Funding has been provided by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for this planning work. I understand that Donegal County Council has completed a preliminary report for the scheme, but an EIS must also to be prepared, as the Senator stated. The EIS was submitted by the council to An Bord Pleanála, where such statements are assessed, and no decision has yet been made by the board. When the certification process is completed, I expect the council will immediately submit the preliminary report and relevant documentation to the Department for consideration.

There were no proposals to provide a new sewerage scheme to serve Newtowncunningham in the Department's water services investment programme for 2007 to 2009, on the basis that it was not of sufficiently high priority within the schemes required in the county. The priority to be accorded to schemes in County Donegal is a matter in the first instance for Donegal County Council. Local authorities were asked to submit assessments of needs for water and sewerage services in their areas to the Department by 23 October 2009. The Department is now finalising the consideration of these assessments, which will form a key input to the development of the 2010 to 2012 water services investment programme. In conducting their assessments, local authorities were asked to prioritise schemes and contracts for progression over the coming years based on key environmental and economic criteria.

With the changed economic climate and the completion of the first cycle of river basin management plans by local authorities in the near future, there is a greater need than ever to focus strategic environmental and economic objectives. The 2010 to 2012 programme will do this by prioritising projects that target public health and environmental compliance issues, support economic and employment growth and offer best value for money.

As I have already indicated, the Minister expects to publish the 2010 to 2012 programme shortly and his Department will work closely with Donegal County Council to advance priority schemes identified in the programme.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I hope the Minister of State can get the information for me without my needing to use a freedom of information request. From the Department's records, I would like the exact details of the timeline for the Moville sewerage scheme. The Minister of State remarked: "I understand that Donegal County Council has completed a preliminary report for the scheme, but an EIS must also be prepared". If I recall correctly, the EIS was submitted to An Bord Pleanála at least three years ago. It might have been four years ago. The council was told by the board that the EIS was not necessary, but it was resubmitted one year later.

What are the precise reasons for the current delays? I am shocked that small schemes like Newtowncunningham and Ballyliffen are not even on the radar. Can the Minister of State give me precise details of the interactions between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Donegal County Council and the period of time involved? This has been going on for a phenomenally long time and I cannot get to the bottom of why it has not become a reality.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I will pass the Senator's concerns to the Minister.