I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter and I thank the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, for coming to the Chamber for this debate. The Vartry tunnel is a 4 km long, rock lined tunnel built in the 1860s which runs through the Wicklow Mountains. It supplies water from the Vartry reservoir to more than 150,000 homes in south County Dublin and north County Wicklow. I am deeply concerned by reports that a faultline has been identified in the rock which may result in the collapse of the tunnel at any time. The tunnel has been listed on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of facilities requiring remedial action.
The Minister, Deputy Hogan, will appreciate that this is a matter of considerable urgency. Some 80 million litres of water flow through the tunnel on a daily basis, representing approximately 20% of the total supply of water to the greater Dublin area, including towns like Bray and Greystones. If the tunnel collapses, which could occur without any warning, no alternative water supply will be available to service houses and businesses currently served by the Vartry tunnel. Not only would this be a huge inconvenience for many families, but it would also raise significant health and safety concerns. I understand from media reports that in the event of such a collapse, it could take months or years to restore the water supply to the affected areas. I hope the Minister can allay my fears in that regard. At a time when the Government is rightly doing everything it can to protect jobs and promote employment, this is an additional worry for local businesses in the area.
I ask the Minister to ensure the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Environmental Protection Agency take pre-emptive action now so alternative measures can be put in place in the event that the Vartry supply experiences difficulty. I understand that Dublin City Council has made proposals in this regard, involving the development of a 1 km bypass pipe that would run parallel to the existing pipe. I hope the Department will engage constructively with the council on this so the minds of my constituents in north Wicklow can be put at rest. I recognise there are competing demands for investment in water supplies in different parts of the country. I appreciate that the level of investment in our water infrastructure was inadequate when this country was experiencing an economic boom. It is a matter for the Minister to try to right those wrongs in extremely difficult circumstances. I know he is aware of the need for significant improvements in our water infrastructure. I have spoken to him at length on the matter. Water shortages are becoming increasingly frequent, particularly in winter. Significant leakage across our water network remains a real problem. I believe this unique and pressing case merits the immediate attention of the Minister.