Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Water Quality Issues
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire freisin. I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss an issue which is significant in County Meath, particularly in those areas where hard water is a feature. Many of County Meath's residents who are new to the area are not used to hard water; we are talking about a sizeable number of people, given the fact that 60% of the population was not born in the county. In various parts of County Meath, the water is very hard, as has been acknowledged by Meath County Council. The council has produced an information leaflet outlining to people what to do about hard water. The practical reality for those who have hard water is that it is very costly. They incur costs through, for example, having to replace kettles regularly. At a more serious level, however, costs are incurred through having to replace boilers, tanks and so forth.
I attended a public meeting in Ashbourne a number of weeks ago which was organised by a completely non-political group of concerned residents. I was very impressed because normally such meetings have a political angle, particularly in the run-up to elections but this one did not. The aim of the group was to put pressure on politicians of all hues to raise and address this issue. I attended the meeting with my party colleague, Mr. Sean Smith from Ashbourne.
People have had to spend huge sums of money dealing with the consequences of hard water. It was interesting to note at the meeting that very few people were saying that they were not going to pay the water charges. Most of those who attended were more concerned with making sure that the charging structure would be fair and would reflect the extra costs incurred by those living in hard water areas because those costs are huge. I am not asking for a subsidy for the installation of water softeners, although some people at the meeting did suggest that. Most people would be happy if there was a recognition in the charging structure of the extra costs incurred in hard water areas and it is worthwhile exerting political pressure in this regard. The Commission on Energy Regulation, CER, is engaging in a consultation process where this matter can be raised but it is also important to raise it in these Houses. I look forward to the Minister's response.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce water charges based on usage above a free allowance. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. The Water Services Act (No. 2) 2013 provides for the transfer of water services functions from the local authorities to Irish Water. The Act also provides that the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, will be responsible for the independent economic regulation of Irish Water. The CER has been given statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers.
Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations, 2007, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library, suppliers of drinking water are required to ensure that the water supplied is wholesome and clean. Water which is wholesome and clean is defined as water which is free from any micro-organisms and parasites and from any substances which in numbers or concentrations constitute a potential danger to human health, and which meets the quality standards specified in the schedule to the regulations. Hard water is not included as a parameter in the quality standards specified in the regulations as it does not pose a threat to human health. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is the supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring Irish Water's compliance with these regulations.
I have listened to what Senator Byrne had to say and would suggest that the group to which he referred makes a submission to the CER and to the EPA to draw attention to the specific issue of hard water in Ashbourne and other parts of County Meath.
I suggest the group involved makes a submission to the regulator and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to identify some of the specific issues regarding hard water in Ashbourne and many other parts of County Meath. As you know, a Chathaoirligh, I know County Meath is more renowned for hard men than hard water. The consultation process with the regulator will begin in April and, by making a submission, the regulator will decide measures on charging for water.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. The fact this emerging issue is being taken seriously by him and the head of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, is welcome. I am making no claims about the safety of hard water. It is perfectly safe. I am glad Meath is built on strong foundations but it has consequences. I, as well as other public representatives, will advise the residents to make a submission. I get complaints on this emerging issue from Ashbourne and Dunshauglin while my colleague, Deirdre Smith, is having a public meeting in Ratoath tomorrow evening. While I thank the Minister for his reply, I will not accept this is the final world on this significant issue and we will continue the fight.