Seanad Éireann - Volume 185 - 06 December, 2006

Adjournment Matters. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

  Acting Chairman: I welcome to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Gallagher.

  Mr. U. Burke: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Senator Kitt will agree the Gort regional water scheme has been discussed for at least 30 years. However, it seems there has been little or no progress in that time as to how a proper water supply for Gort should be provided or augmented. The latest response from Galway County Council stated that work is ongoing on [1134]the environmental impact study and the abstraction order cannot proceed until it has been completed.

While I do not know who is responsible for compiling the environmental impact study in this instance, this has been going on for years. Someone is passing the buck along the line in respect of both the EIS and the abstraction order. There is no agreement as to the nature of the construction in the lake, regarding the water coming out or otherwise. Examples have been cited, mainly by the local farming community, who are concerned about the levels of the water and the manner in which it is proposed to dam the water at that location.

I wish to raise some important points regarding the town of Gort. Approximately five years ago, a serious fire took place in the town, which highlighted a problem, namely, that when the fire brigade attempted to use the hydrants, it found there was no water pressure. Subsequently, steps were taken to install new piping in the town’s main street. While this was done, it did not improve either the supply of water or other matters. Even the Ennis road, which is probably one of the areas closest to the source of the supply, has no pressure whatever.

Apart from the question of pressure, the question of quality also arises. The water is distinctly discoloured and at present, no one can take and drink a glass of water from the supply in Gort. It would remain unacceptable even after boiling. Last year, I was told that tenders were issued for new pumps to augment the supply in various areas in which the pressure was low. This mainly concerned areas such as Ballyhugh, the Ennis road and other localities within the town. Although the pumps were purchased during the year, they will not be installed until 2007.

I do not know who is to blame in this case. However, this is not as much a matter of apportioning blame as it is a complete stifling of progress in this locality. The worst aspect of the issue is that in recent times, there have been clear indications that the local authority will not allow any further developments and will refuse planning permissions within the town. This constitutes a serious blow to a town such as Gort, which has just begun to expand, as have many other urban areas within striking distance of Galway city. However, it would be a serious consequence if, on top of everything else, restrictions were to be placed on the number of planning permissions and the development of the town.

As long ago as 2003, all local public representatives made representations on various aspects of the inadequacy of the supply of water to Gort. We were fobbed off with assurances to the effect that matters were in progress or that planning had reached a particular stage and awaited input from someone else. Frequently, the buck stopped in the Department with the Minister. It would then be thrown back and forth between the Department and the council.

[1135]I ask the Minister of State to ensure that clear decisive action will be taken regarding the improvement of the supply and quality of water in the town. This cannot be allowed to continue and whoever has been stifling progress or making inadequate efforts to secure a proper supply should be asked to move the issue along as a matter of urgency in order that the town of Gort can develop properly.

The most important point regarding supply to domestic households, hotels, bed and breakfasts and so on, is that at present, they cannot use the water safely for drinking and are obliged to buy water in cans. As the Acting Chairman is aware, within half a mile of this locality, the floods can be up to six feet high. Nevertheless, the town of Gort has no drinking water. I ask the Minister of State to take whatever initiatives are necessary to ensure the supply of water in Gort, in terms of both pressure and quality, is rectified as a matter of urgency.

  Mr. Gallagher: I thank Senator Ulick Burke for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to reply on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2005-2007, published in December 2005, includes some 60 major water and sewerage schemes, with a value of more than €451 million, for Galway. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is pleased to confirm that the Gort regional water supply scheme is one of these schemes. Funding of €15.8 million has been allocated for it in the investment programme and it is scheduled to start next year.

Galway County Council’s preliminary report for the scheme was received in the Department in January 2006. The council was informed that same month that the Department’s examination of the report would have to await the outcome of the environmental impact assessment the council was then carrying out. Obviously, the environmental impact assessment could have a significant impact on the design, scope and scale of the council’s proposals and there would have been little point in subjecting them to detailed examination until the situation in that respect had been clarified.

From recent contacts between the council and the Department, the council may have recently determined that a full environmental impact assessment might not be required. It is to confirm the position in this regard to the Department in the near future. When this issue is resolved, the Department will be able to reconsider its position regarding the preliminary report. Approval of that report will allow the council to prepare contract documents, which will be used to invite bids for the construction of the scheme.

[1136]From what has been said, it will be clear that further progress with the scheme is entirely in the hands of Galway County Council. I can assure Senator Burke that the Department will do everything it can to facilitate an early start to the construction phase once the council comes back with firm proposals. The money for the scheme — there is no question about that — is available in the Department and the Minister is keen to see it get to construction as soon as possible.

The Department provided funding in 2004 for certain advance elements of the scheme to deal with the most pressing water supply problems affecting the town; these works are now complete.

I reiterate the importance of the council getting back to the Department as soon as possible. After that, I hope progress can be made and tenders invited.

  Mr. U. Burke: The Minister of State stated the Department is not requiring a full EIS report. This has been bandied about for at least ten years. If somebody could make a decision as to whether we are looking for a full EIS report and get on with it, the sooner the Minister could approve it.

  Mr. Gallagher: To clarify, what I stated was that Galway County Council has stated an environmental impact statement might not be required and it is to confirm this. As soon as the council confirms, if it is not required then progress can be made. I will relate all of what Senator Burke has stated to the Department.

  Mr. U. Burke: I thank the Minister of State.