I welcome the Minister. Members of every household in the country want clean and safe water when they turn on their taps. I commend the Minister on his ambition for this country that a uniform and satisfactory clean water supply should be available to all houses and businesses regardless of where one lives. The Minister will be aware that currently this is definitely not the case. The disparate quality of water is most marked between urban and rural areas. In some rural areas of Mayo the water coming through the taps is not only unfit for human consumption but in some cases not fit for personal bathing, nor even to use for washing clothes. In most cases the contamination is naturally occurring because of the ground conditions in a particular area and in spite of drilling wells and being resourceful in many ways people cannot get a clean water supply. I have seen red coloration coming through the taps that makes it unsuitable for people to wash their clothes.
This year the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government allocated €200,000 to Mayo County Council for new group water schemes. However, to date, notwithstanding the fact that communities in Kilmurry, Downpatrick, Ballycastle, Massbrook, Aghalonteen, Carracastle and Furmoyle, comprising 210 houses in total, have been waiting for years for a new group water scheme, the council has not been in a position to spend one red cent of the allocated funding. That is not for want of trying on the part of the council and the communities. The problem is that the estimated cost of each scheme is too high compared to the amount of funding available from the Department. Because of the relatively small number of houses in these far-flung proposed group water schemes in rural areas, the cost of constructing the schemes per household is higher than in more densely populated areas where there are more households to contribute towards the cost of the scheme. Under the current funding rules the county council is only entitled to recoup a maximum of €6,500 per house from the Department. In turn, each household contributes approximately €1,200 towards the cost.
In the case of the six Mayo schemes I have mentioned, it leaves a total funding shortfall of €432,000. Previously, the shortfall was funded through the CLÁR scheme, but since 2008-09 when it was abolished, the problem has become very acute, with no movement or progress on the schemes, notwithstanding the fact that local households have actually paid their contributions. In addition, they paid over €170,000 in consultants' fees to have proposals submitted to the Minister and signed off on. They cannot recoup the money until the schemes go ahead. They are out of pocket with nothing to show for it.
I acknowledge that this is a problem the Minister has inherited, but I ask him to intervene and put in place a solution to allow the long-overdue water schemes to proceed. The communities would have benefited from CLÁR funding in the past because they were identified as areas of rural disadvantage. I ask the Minister to increase the departmental contribution for the former CLÁR-associated disadvantaged areas. At present, it is the same amount per household nationwide, or a sum up to that maximum. The people themselves cannot afford to make up the shortfall, nor should they be asked to do so, considering that it is already recognised that they are living in disadvantaged circumstances. I ask that they be refunded the cost of the consultants' fees for the schemes and not be left out of pocket any longer.
I am aware that Irish Water will have responsibility for implementing the Minister's vision for clean water, but I am also aware that it may take up to five years for all the responsibilities to be transferred fully from the water services departments of local authorities and that an issue arises over public and private group water schemes and their sources. It is not quite clear who will be responsible.
The rules are in place and it appears that Mayo County Council will not be able to spend its funding. I ask that the Minister intervene in the practical way in which we have become accustomed to seeing him do his business and provide a solution and hope for the people affected who have been waiting a long time.