Dáil Éireann - Volume 424 - 29 October, 1992

Adjournment Debate. - County Carlow Sewerage Scheme.

[1512] Mr. Brown (Carlow-Kilkenny): Tá mé an-bhuíoch díot gur thug tú cead dom an fhadhb seo a a léiriú anseo.

An Ceann Comhairle: Tá fáilte romhat.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): “Pollution” is the “in” word nowadays and the Department of the Environment lay down all kinds of regulations for county councils who, in turn, must implement them. Farmers, very often when they cannot afford it, have to spend money to ensure that they do not cause pollution. It is very strange that the Minister's Department lead by bad example: Muine Bheag treatment plant is an example which should be an embarrasment to the Minister and his officials.

The need for the plant was accepted on 19 April 1984. Muine Bheag is a nice, rural town of about 3,000 people but the plant for treating sewage is adequate for only 1,000 people, resulting in overflow into the River Barrow, which is not good enough. In the interests of the community, Muine Bheag built their own swimming pool many years ago when much larger towns did not have one. They also have swimming contests in the Barrow. I need not go into further detail as I am sure the Minister knows what I mean.

On 7 May 1991, a year and five months ago, tenders were accepted by the county council and sent to the Minister's Department. While the Department are fiddling and making excuses the council must take the blame for this indefensible form of pollution on the Barrow, and the people of Muine Bheag suffer as a result. I have had many replies in regard to this matter, once on the Adjournment. On 3 March 1992 I was told by the Minister of State that he understood the existing treatment and collection systems were overloaded. He also said that the need for a Muine Bheag scheme had been established. On 7 April 1992 the Minister said that he had instructed his officials to examine the scope for approving new schemes, including Muine Bheag sewerage [1513] scheme, in the current year. To add insult to injury, when I asked about the matter on 20 October 1992, I received gobbledegood written by a distant relation of Hans Christian Andersen which said: “Tender recommendations submitted by Carlow County Council in respect of four contracts for this scheme are under consideration”. If I was not in the House I could say that was a dishonest answer because I have no doubt that the examination of tenders is not holding up this scheme.

Will the Minister tell me exactly what is going on? If the same fiction writer has written his script, I do not want to hear it. What is the point in having tenders advertised and submitted 14 or 15 months ago when the builder is expected to keep within reasonable levels in regard to price, apart from an increase in normal costs? How will he keep his workforce if he is depending on work like this? The whole shambles of the Muine Bheag sewerage treatment has been caused by the Department. It is an embarrassment which I hope the Minister will end this evening.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Smith): The improvement of water and sanitary services infrastructure is one of my priority objectives as Minister for the Environment and is a major area of activity for local authorities. Since 1980 almost £1 billion has been invested in modern water and sewerage services throughout the county. This level of investment has assisted the drive for economic growth, as well as meeting higher environmental standards.

The importance attached by the Government to the provision of adequate water and sewerage infrastructural facilities has been clearly established in the environment action programme. Quality and investment targets have been clearly identified for the water and sanitary services programme up to the year 2000. The overall strategy is aimed at improving the quality of inland and coastal sewage through the provision of modern sewage treatment arrangements, together with [1514] improved systems for the provision of good quality drinking water.

The programme is being assisted by some £96 million in EC co-financing under the operational programme for water, sanitary and other local services, 1989-1993. This programme has as its main objectives the provision of water and sewerage schemes of appropriate capacity and quality to facilitate industrial development; to support the agri-food sector, aquaculture and fish processing, to protect water resources important for tourism purposes, and to allow reasonable advance provision of services for economic development.

Considerable progress has been made over the years in bringing new and improved water and sanitary services to County Carlow. The Muine Bheag sewerage scheme is intended to advance this progress further.

It is accepted that the existing sewage treatment and collection systems in Muine Bheag are overloaded. Carlow County Council's proposals provide for an improved collection system, pumping station and treatment works. It is intended that effluent will receive secondary treatment before discharge to the River Barrow and thus contribute significantly to river water quality.

Tender recommendations in respect of the civil works, mechanical pumping and sludge dewatering plants contracts are under consideration in my Department at present.

I am sure that the Deputy will accept that proposals must be considered in the light of the existing level of commitments under the water and sanitary services programme. He will be aware that the capital allocation for such schemes for the current year is £72.5 million. This allocation has been assigned principally to meet the cost of schemes recently completed or currently under construction. The scope for approving new schemes, including Muine Bheag sewerage scheme, will be considered when the capital provision for water and sanitary services for 1993 is known. While I cannot give an explicit undertaking today in regard to the immediate approval of the tenders for [1515] this scheme, I can assure the Deputy that I will give his comments every consideration before making a final decision.