Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 July 2012

4:00 pm

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister consider increasing the grant for group sewerage schemes from €2,200 to a more realistic amount, say, €4,000 or €5,000, which would be nearer the grant of €6,000 for group water schemes. In the current climate there may not be many more group water schemes but there will be many more group sewerage schemes, given the issue of septic tanks. A substantially increased grant would incentivise many communities to connect, particularly in urban areas, where the mains system is within a couple of hundred metres.

Recently I attended a meeting of the Woodlawn Estate residents association, Loughville, Ennis, County Clare. There are 37 septic tanks in an area of about 600 m away from the mains. This is a sensitive area, being part of the Drumcliffe water catchment area. I have no doubt this area will be one of the first to be inspected. If a reasonably substantial grant structure was in place there would be a quicker buy in to connect to the mains systems and this would deal with the concentration of septic tanks in many areas.

In many rural areas there are groups of ten, 12 and 15 septic tanks in the open countryside. A more substantial grant system would encourage many people to put in place a larger group system.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising the matter.

I am impressed with the work I have seen across the country which has been advanced by the group water sector with the support of the Department, local authorities and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, in improving water supplies in rural areas. Some €750 million has been spent in the past decade or so by the Exchequer in supporting the sector, particularly to address deficiencies in supplies which were highlighted in a case against Ireland taken to the European Court of Justice.

With the priority attached to the group water sector in recent years, only limited funding has been available for group sewerage schemes and the take-up has also been limited. I am interested in the degree to which group sewerage schemes can make a meaningful contribution to the improvement of the water environment in rural areas in the period ahead. The consideration of this issue has to take account of technical and operational issues as different issues arise in the progression of group sewerage schemes compared with group water schemes.

The National Rural Water Services Committee, which has a role in advising my Department on rural water policy, has examined this issue in preparing the investment strategy for the rural water sector for 2012 and recommended that the rate of grant be reviewed for group sewerage schemes. The rate of grant available for group sewerage schemes is €2,031.58 per house or 75% of the cost of the scheme, whichever is the lesser. The examination of this issue will take into account he results of a pilot programme funded by the Department to test a range of small-scale wastewater collection and treatment systems under Irish conditions.

The pilot programme was implemented by local authorities to test a range of new, small-scale wastewater collection and treatment systems. Twelve villages in six counties were selected as locations for the pilot programme under which appointed contractors design, build and operate the infrastructure over a 20 year period. The experience of the pilot programme will inform guidance being developed by my Department for the roll-out of future group sewerage schemes. I hope the issues associated with reviewing the grant level will come to a conclusion shortly to facilitate the progression of a number of group sewerage schemes later this year and to take account of the results of the pilot programme in which we have been engaged over the past six months.

By the end of the year, depending on the resources and savings we make in the rural water sector, I hope we will be in a position to examine, along the lines mentioned by Senator Mulcahy, how we can improve areas where there is ribbon development on the edges of towns and villages so that they can be included in a way that is more financially viable for householders while meeting the groundwater conditions to which we aspire.