Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Commencement Matters

Water Services Infrastructure

10:30 am

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. We are very understanding in this House.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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Fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I raise the matter on behalf of Councillor Joe Bonner of Meath County Council. This relates to an ongoing issue that affects not only large housing estates in County Meath but those right across the country. It is an emerging risk according to senior officials within Irish Water, whom we met last week to discuss the matter. It concerns shared drains coming from estates, a major issue in the commuter belt around Dublin in particular. Prior to Irish Water coming into existence, local authorities had the discretion to maintain or clear blockages in these drains but following a meeting with senior management in Irish Water last week, we were advised that the legislative framework restricts the company from carrying out any maintenance work on blockages in these shared drains within the confines of a housing estate, whether it is a private estate or one in the charge of a local authority.

This creates a major difficulty where blockages exist and there are many examples occurring in sewerage infrastructure pipework between public sewer mains and manhole covers. Blockages may occur across a road in a housing estate, for example, and this could bring about major difficulties. Neighbours may have to work with each other and householders in an estate may have to apply to a local authority for a road opening licence or health and safety certification to carry out the works. They may have to provide a bond to a local authority.The current situation is absolutely inappropriate. There are restrictions on Irish Water in regard to this. Pending a transient outcome or an outcome that would be desirable to the operator, Irish Water, and, more particularly, to the householders in this situation, I request that the legislation be amended or Irish Water provided with the appropriate discretion or that a national survey or scoping analysis be carried out by Irish Water over the next 24 months. In the intervening period, the responsibility or discretion should be provided to those local authorities that carried out the maintenance work heretofore. For example, Donegal County Council, Meath County Council and most others carried out works under the 2007 legislation.

It is my understanding from a reply to a parliamentary question from the now Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, on 7 October 2015 that Irish Water was responsible for water services infrastructure, including water supply pipes or sewers extending from the waterworks or wastewater works to the curtilage of the private property. If that were the case, the problem would be solved. In fact, Irish Water tells me that is not the case. As such, there is a need for clarification here. In the event that no such clarification is forthcoming, the legislation should be amended as a matter of urgency to give local authorities the discretion to carry out these works. It is a major issue that is coming down the tracks, particularly with older housing estates where there may be infrastructural difficulties with the wastewater pipe network. I am not sure what the response from the Department is. I hope there is an acknowledgement that this is a risk and that the Department may provide some direction on solving it.