Seanad debates

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Commencement Matter

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

10:30 am

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is very welcome to the House this morning. I thank her for her presence here.

I again raise the issue of the funding of Milltown group sewerage scheme. Those concerned await an announcement from the Department on the amount of funding and a start date. I have raised this issue here a few times previously with the responsible Minister of State at the time, Deputy English, and then with his replacement in November 2017. For the information of the Minister of State, Milltown group water scheme is a scheme of approximately 30 septic tanks that lie outside the periphery of Monaghan town. Unfortunately, septic tanks are causing a pollution and environmental issue and we are all very keen to get the matter addressed. The scheme did apply for funding and was successful, under the group sewage scheme, that is, the fund that was announced for 2016 to 2018. The group was one of six successful applicants and it has been waiting since on the go-ahead from the Department regarding the amount of money required. In order for this project to go ahead it is essential that this group get 90% of the funding. The Department and the Minister have accepted that and all we are waiting for is the announcement date. It is important that I pay tribute to and praise the work of the local community of Milltown in pulling all this together and putting in the application. I praise the hard-working committee, which had a lot of work to do to pull this together and make sure the application went in. Again I thank Monaghan County Council for its assistance in this regard. All we are waiting for now is good news from the Minister of State and I hope she will be in a position this morning to give us that.

I wish to ask two brief questions. The multi-annual programme we are discussing this morning was for 2016 to 2018. That has since expired and I hope the Minister of State has news today as to what are the Government's plans for the next phase in the future.Unfortunately only six applicants in the country were successful. That means only two per year were funded, which I am sure the Minister of State will agree is a very disappointing number. When it is announced this year, I hope that more groups will be eligible to apply because the fund will be much bigger.

The group schemes and the multi-annual programme need to be looked at. Considerable responsibility is placed on citizens to put an application together. For example, they must form a company, which needs directors with all the responsibility that goes with that. They have to hire an accountant and prepare accounts every year. They need legal representation. They need to collect money from the public. There is considerable work for people who do not necessarily have qualifications in any of those areas, which is unfair. I believe successful local authorities should be given a fund and they should lead the project, rather than expecting citizens in the local community to do it.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Gallagher for bringing up this issue, which I understand he has raised previously in this House. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I acknowledge his continued interest in the matter.

The Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2016-2018 operated under the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government includes the funding of group sewerage schemes through what is known as measure 4(d). This is where the clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective.

In December 2015, the Department received sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to increase the maximum grant per house from €6,500 to €6,750 to cover a limited number of new demonstration group sewerage schemes, specifically two per year. In addition, sanction was also given for these new demonstration group sewerage schemes, in exceptional circumstances, to avail of a supplemental grant, subject to the approval of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, where the project represents the most economically advantageous option.

Where a supplemental grant is approved, the overall level of funding from the rural water programme is limited to 90% of the cost per house subject to a minimum household contribution of €2,250 per house. In January 2016 local authorities were invited to submit bids for consideration by the Department under the new multi-annual programme. In total, 83 bids were received from 17 local authorities for funding under measure 4(d) of the new programme.

A proposed Milltown group sewerage scheme was included by Monaghan County Council in its funding bids under the measure. The proposed scheme, with a then estimated cost of €280,000, was expected to cover 32 houses and have a unit cost of €8,750 per house. I understand that Milltown group sewerage scheme proceeded to tender stage in 2016 with an estimated overall cost of €358,000 to cover 30 houses giving a unit cost of €11,933 per house.

Under the new multi-annual funding framework for the rural water programme, an expert panel was convened by the Department to examine the 2016 bids from local authorities for projects under a number of the programme’s measures, including measure 4(d), and to make recommendations to the Department on funding. The panel recommended a priority list to the Department under this measure, including the Milltown scheme at priority number five of the six schemes identified. The recommendations were accepted in full when approving schemes under the new programme in 2016.

As only two demonstration group sewerage schemes can be advanced in any given year, funding was not available to Monaghan County Council for the Milltown scheme in 2016 or 2017. Interim funding allocations under the programme were made to local authorities earlier this year. While decisions on the 2018 allocations are yet to be made, the Milltown scheme will be included in this year’s allocations, which are currently being finalised. It is expected that this process will be concluded later this month. Monaghan County Council will be advised on the funding allocation for the Milltown scheme for 2018 at that point.

While we are talking about a specific scheme here, it should be noted that the Government is committed to supporting the funding of rural water services. Under the national development plan, €95 million has been identified for investment in the rural water programme over the period 2018 to 2021. The annual provision will increase by €5 million from €20 million to €25 million in 2019 and this enhanced level of investment will be maintained up to 2021. This significant 25% increase in funding for the programme demonstrates the Government’s commitment to invest in this valuable and relevant resource.

I again thank the Senator for raising the matter again. I have taken notes. I acknowledge I did not answer some of his questions and will ask the Minister to come back to him on the two questions he raised.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for her contribution this morning. If I am reading her correctly, I welcome that Monaghan County Council will be notified by the end of this month as to whether that scheme has the go-ahead. I welcome that the scheme will be reopened. I ask that the points I made in my contribution be taken on board.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I have a note. I do not need to come back in again.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State has made it clear.