Adjournment Debate. - Cobh (Cork) Water Supply.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment.

The town of Cobh has grown enormously over the last number of years and is continuing to develop. The Minister is familiar with the geography of Cobh and that it is effectively built on a hill. There are three levels, one at the waterside, another slightly up the hill and the third at the top of the hill.

The largest amount of development over the last two years has been at the top of the hill and there has been a major problem regarding the water supply to the new housing estates. The supply to the new houses and the existing housing stock in the middle layer is cut off at different times during the day. This was particularly the case last summer, and the water is often cut off in the morning. Given the massive amount of development taking place, a new water tower to supply water to the new houses is required. If a catastrophe occurred, such as a fire, one of the main dangers is that the water supply may not be sufficient to enable the fire brigade to extinguish it.

A number of weeks ago the Minister's programme manager met the urban district council in Cobh and the members were promised that the council would receive a reply by 22 April. A response has not yet reached Cobh — I am not aware if it arrived this evening — and the members of the urban district council are most disappointed. I ask the Minister of State to urgently address this matter because it has been ongoing for a number of years. It has not arisen only in recent months; it dates back to the time my party was in Government. However, this problem must be addressed immediately to ensure a catastrophe is avoided. I do not want members of the Government blamed for something they had the power to rectify. I hope the Minister of State has good news for Cobh.

I am delighted to respond to this matter. I have high regard to the people of Cobh; the Deputy and I have had many good times there in recent times.

I am aware of the deficiencies in the water suply serving the town of Cobh and its immediate surroundings and that the people of Cobh are most concerned. Proposals to rectify the water supply problems in Cobh have been prepared by Cork County Council. These entail improvements, not only for the town of Cobh but also for the Midleton and Carrigtwohill areas, which are estimated to cost £3.4 million. Contract documents for the overall scheme have been submitted to my Department.

In common with a large number of other desirable projects it has not yet been possible for my Department to allocate funds which would permit this scheme to progress towards construction. This is due to the demand for finance for other high priority water and sewerage schemes around the country. In allocating scarce resources to the most urgent projects, we are forced to make difficult decisions that must inevitably cause disappointment to some local authorities.

In determining spending priorities for water schemes, we must have regard, first and foremost, to health and safety issues and the need to comply with national and European standards relating to water quality. Other factors that must be taken into account include the social, economic and employment benefits that will accrue to a town or region as a consequence of the provision of additional water. Some areas and their local authorities will always be disappointed when it is not possible to advance projects they consider vital to their areas. However, we do not have access to unlimited resources to fund water supply schemes everywhere in the country.

Over the last five or six years approximately £9 million in capital grants have been paid to Cork County Council for water and sewerage schemes around the county and in the years immediately ahead I anticipate further substantial moneys will be allocated to carry out important schemes. Regretfully, however, it is not yet possible to set a definite date for the start of the Cobh scheme but I assure the Deputy every effort will be made to advance the project at the earliest opportunity.