Water Services: Motion [Private Members]

We will now move to Second Stage of the Public Service Superannuation Age Retirement Bill 2018.

The Acting Chairman has the wrong item.

We are moving to Private Members' business. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath to move the motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency Report ‘Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2017’ include:

— the waste water treatment at 28 of Ireland’s 179 large urban areas failed to meet European Union standards;

— raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages flows into the environment every day;

— waste water is one of the main threats to the quality of our rivers, lakes and estuaries;

— waste water contributed to poor quality bathing water at six beaches in 2017; and

— coming into contact with inadequately treated waste water poses a health risk;

— many small rural towns and villages and a number of large coastal urban centres are currently without any effective waste water treatment system;

— the lack of any effective waste water treatment systems in such small villages and towns is halting sustainable development and increasing planning refusals by An Bord Pleanála due to existing waste water constraints;

— many small rural towns and villages have developed plans and have designs in place for the construction of waste water treatment systems but are unable to proceed due to a lack of funding; and

— the 2016 launch of the National Taking in Charge Initiative (NTICI) for residential estates, to support and accelerate overall national action on the taking in charge process for housing estates, including estates with developer-provided water services infrastructure;

further notes that:

— since the transfer of water services to Irish Water there is no statutory obligation on Irish Water to maintain, repair or replace combined drain water connections to domestic premises that were previously maintained, repaired or replaced by the water services authority;

— the refusal to maintain such combined drains causes huge difficulties within a row of houses where a blockage may occur in one particular property and responsibility falls on that property owner for repairs on behalf of all property owners served by the drain, thereby causing financial difficulties for that homeowner, and health and safety difficulties if a delay arises in repairing the combined drain;

— such difficulties did not arise when water services authorities maintained such combined drains;

— Irish Water, in its Water Services Strategic Plan, has noted the management of sewage effluent from combined drains during times of periodic flooding as a key challenge; and

— grant payments issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to group water schemes, private well owners and all local authorities to administer the Rural Water Programme amounted to €70,116,335 in 2011, but had dropped to €20,902,851 for 2016; and

calls on the Government to:

— increase and escalate investment in Irish Water to upgrade deficient waste water treatment systems, prevent pollution and avoid financial penalties;

— implement a capital investment programme to provide specifically for the development of waste water treatment systems in rural towns and villages to allow for sustainable development to continue;

— review the service level agreement between Irish Water and local authorities to provide a statutory mandate to Irish Water to repair and restore combined drains systems that were previously under the remit of local authorities;

— expedite progress by local authorities and relevant stakeholders, including Irish Water, in addressing a build-up of pending cases relating to housing developments not yet taken in charge under measure two of the NTICI;

— continue improving how treatment systems are operated, managed and maintained;

— address information shortfalls on the risks to marine life and fishing stock, and the condition of public sewers; and

— urgently prioritise full restoration of the funding provided for group water schemes and private well owners to levels commensurate or above the funding provided during the 2011-2016 period.

I am sharing with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae who was trying to give the Acting Chairman meaningful and constructive advice but ní raibh sé ag éisteacht. Bhíomar ag iarraidh cabhrú leis.

Is annamh a bhím ag éisteacht.

I am delighted to speak to this motion. The motion refers to the astounding and shocking findings in the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report, Urban waste water treatment in 2017, particularly wastewater treatment in 28 of Ireland's 179 large urban areas which failed to meet European Union standards. We talk about Brexit and everything else but this is a major indictment on us. This was on the Minister's and on his predecessor's watch. Níl sé ag éisteacht ach an oiread. I do not know what is going on. He is probably doing sign language or something like that because I do not do his sign language.

I was making sure the clock was working. I would not want the Deputy to get more time than he deserves.

Finish discussing the motion.

I am trying to.

One of the Minister's predecessor, big Phil the enforcer, the former Deputy Hogan, who is currently EU Commissioner, tried to taint all rural dwellers who had septic tanks and their own treatment plants as being the problem, but the problem is here in this damning report by the EPA done under the Minister's watch and which found 179 major failures. That does not include all the smaller failures in small villages in every county, including in my county from Carrick-on-Suir and Ahenny right over into Cluain Meala, Cill Chais - "Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad?" - Tipperary, Monard, Limerick Junction, Aherlow and across into Durlas Éile and áiteanna eile.

Perhaps most disturbingly, it also finds that raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages flows into the environment every day and that many small rural towns and villages and a number of large coastal and urban centres are currently without any effective wastewater treatment plant. The fact that these events have been noted by the EPA on an almost annual basis demonstrates the complete disregard that many parts of rural Ireland experience. It is time the Government listened to them and paid heed.

Like the roll-out of the national broadband plan, the Government has squandered almost every opportunity to reform wastewater infrastructure in rural Ireland. Some villages have been waiting decades for simple infrastructural change. My own village of An Caisleán Nua na Siúire, Newcastle - not Newcastle-upon-Tyne but Newcastle in Tipperary - which is a proud place, is begging and fighting for a proper treatment plant. It is also the case that even where those people in rural Ireland seek to effectively manage their water supplies they are not being supported, rather they are being hammered. Many people who were pioneers of group water schemes and sank their own wells are not getting any support. For example, I submitted a parliamentary question some time ago on the amount paid to group water scheme machine operators. The information provided to me showed that there was a massive drop in the grant payments issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to the group water scheme private well owners from 2011 to 2016 under the Government's watch. It might have been the Minister's predecessor but he was part of it. In 2011 the Department funded all local authorities to administer the rural water programme to the tune of over €70 million. By 2016, a mere five years later, that amount had dropped to just over €20 million. It is a shocking indictment that €50 million was cut from the pioneers and the people who enacted the water schemes, many of which the councils took over. Now Uisce Éireann has them. That is the thanks they get - two fingers every time. That is an astonishing gap of almost €50 million which needs to be explained by the Minister and I hope he is taking notes and will have some explanations when he replies to this motion.

During the same period, in Tipperary alone there was a reduction in payments under the rural water programme from €1.95 million in 2011 to a mere €718,558 in 2016, a 50% cut. This caused huge frustration within rural areas. Why would it not when other people say they cannot and will not pay? These are people who have always paid and will continue to pay. However, they needed supports and they did not get them from the Government. While the Government was engaging in trench warfare with the pay for nothing brigade it was crucifying middle Ireland. They are Mr. Peter Casey's new supporters. Why would they not support him when they are being crucified every which way all the time?

I am aware the Minister confirmed that an initial €3.6 million was to be paid under the 2017 rural water programme, on top of the €11.6 million announced in June of last year and we welcome that. It is a step in the right direction but these grant allocations to local authorities for group water and sewerage schemes are only a drop in the ocean in comparison with the cuts imposed on the schemes over recent years.

The motion also refers to the lack of any effective wastewater treatment systems in small villages and towns that is haunting sustainable development and increasing planning refusals by An Bord Pleanála due to existing wastewater constraints. That is a fact that we have to live with even though we are trying to grow our country.

The Government has plans for 2040 with a new vision for a new Ireland. That cannot happen in small villages like my own village of An Caisleán Nua, Burncourt, Ballylooby, Kilcash, Moyglass and Grangemockler, where a scheme has been designed for years, and Mullinahone. The Minister is welcome to come to Mullinahone to see for himself what he will find when he walks into the treatment plant but he better have his wellies and a face mask.

Even when small rural towns and villages have developed plans and have designs in place for the construction of wastewater treatment plants they are not able to cope because of the lack of funding and that is the problem. There are many pioneers, many good engineers in the county councils and many designs are done by architects and consultants. Sites are procured by willing farmers, landowners and householders and there is co-operation from all involved but there is a thumbs down from the Department every time.

I mention the transfer of water services to Irish Water. There is no statutory obligation on Irish Water to maintain, repair, replace or free a combined drain water connection to a domestic premises that was previously maintained, repaired and replaced by the local authorities. This is an indictment on us. I am told that it was not transposed over in the agreement. I believe it is more sinister than that and is deliberate. It is a case of to hell or to Connacht for the peasants. We have schemes of houses in places, such as Elm Park in Clonmel, and in many other old estates, such as College Avenue, that had a combined drain either in front of the houses or in the garden at the rear. Indeed, if one wanted to build an extension at the back of the house one was not allowed or had to divert the pipe all the way around to the front. If one wanted to extend in the front garden one was not allowed to do so if the drain was there. Blockages are occurring there now but Irish Water is saying that it is not its responsibility. It is its responsibility. Those schemes were built by the council. Many of them were built by hardy and good builders over the years. Irish Water is not freeing the blockages. Heretofore the council workers were ready, willing and able to free the blockages. They would go in with a rod and free the blockage where raw sewage was coming up in people's porches and gardens. The house might be number ten in a row of 30 houses. The householder has to pay the cost of getting in a private operator.

I am pleading with the Minister in this regard. I had a Private Member's Bill and I copied some details from the British model where the same thing happened. I got good support from the technical staff in the Oireachtas and from my two councillors, Councillors Lonergan and Molloy, and my own staff in the office. Unfortunately the Ceann Comhairle - not the Leas-Cheann Comhairle but his boss - and his staff ruled it out of order because of a money cost. What about the people who have lived and served? I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has no boss tonight, he is my boss-----

I want to interrupt the Deputy. Anything that was ruled out by the Ceann Comhairle would have been done on the basis of the existing guidelines.

I am not blaming the Ceann Comhairle at all. Is cara liom é. It is the officials and mandarins who ruled it out. They did so under the Minister's instructions and anything with a money cost gets ruled out. These people are entitled to a modicum of service. They have served this State well. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has dazzled me now. They have paid their taxes and their rent and they are entitled to have a decent service like anyone else when there is a bust in the road. This is a quasi-public mains. It was built by the county council through contract or by the council itself directly and it should be maintained. It is an anomaly that is having an impact on old people in Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Tipperary town, in villages, in Caiseal Mumhain, Ard Fhíonáin agus gach baile eile and all the villages as well. People are suffering because of this but they should not be. Irish Water is just ignoring them. It says it cannot do it but it will not allow the council would do it. This is an anomaly that the Minister must fix. It is within his power to fix it and take those people out of their misery because this is backing up in the gardens of all these houses.

I am glad to have the opportunity to highlight the needs of the people of Kerry who have been left behind since Irish Water took charge of much of the water and sewerage schemes in the county in 2014. I am glad the Lough Guitane water treatment plant, which services Killarney and Tralee, is now operational. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, attended the official opening ceremony yesterday. That is one good story but we have a lot of bad stories in Kerry.

Irish Water took over the water services in 2014. It keeps telling us it is only responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of sewerage and water facilities that are already in existence. It is not concerned with all of the places, particularly the small villages, that have no treatment plant. Kilcummin is one such village. It was promised a sewerage scheme in 2004. Funding was approved for the project in 2008 but then it was withdrawn. The road leading up to the village is in a shocking state. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the Kilcummin sewerage scheme is on the investment programme for next year. There is a nursing home in the village which needs to expand. The road needs to be serviced or upgraded and the people in the catchment area need a proper treatment plant to protect the Deenagh river and the lakes of Killarney.

Kenmare urgently needs an upgrade. A planning application for 50 houses was granted but the developer was told that not one house can be built until the treatment plant is expanded. There are many group water schemes in Kerry that are ready to be taken in charge. The elderly people in such schemes can no longer keep them going but Irish Water does not have the funding to take these schemes in charge and says it is not responsible for doing so. I ask the Minister to consider this issue and to work with Irish Water and the local authorities on it, particularly in Kerry where there are many group water schemes waiting to be taken in charge. We also need funding for the provision of new group water schemes, new water mains extensions and new group sewerage schemes.

The people of Castleisland have been waiting since 1986 for improvement works to the treatment plant and for an extension of the sewerage scheme to the people of the Black Road, Tully Road, Brosna Road and College Road. There are over 120 houses with septic tanks in the town of Castleisland. The village of Scartaglin was number three on a priority list in 2007 or 2008. The former Deputy and councillor, Tom Fleming, and I worked very hard in the Killarney electoral area to ensure it would progress up the list. It was at number three but where is it now? It is not on any list, programme or plan. The people of Scartaglin are deserving of a treatment plant. The village of Currow, a few miles from Scartaglin, comprises a council housing estate, a shop, a school and all that a small village should have but there is no treatment plant. What is happening? Each week, the sewage is being drawn into the treatment plant in Killarney, which is not acceptable in this day and age. Currow needs its own plant. The village of Beaufort is also awaiting a treatment plant. Many villages and communities in Kerry cannot expand or progress without a treatment plant. I ask the Minister to work with Irish Water. Many people have free water, free sewage treatment and free everything and the people in rural areas are entitled to these services as much as the people in Dublin 4 and other urban areas. I appeal to the Minister to address this anomaly because the people are entitled; they are paying their taxes, including property tax. The people of Glenflesk, Currans, Cromane, Cloghane, Castlecove, Caherdaniel, Boolteens, Ballyfinnane, Astee, Templenoe, Knockanure, Lauragh and many other places are entitled to treatment plants. They are being left behind but not alone are they being left behind in terms of sewerage facilities, many of them cannot get funding for group water schemes either. Everyone is entitled to a clear, safe and plentiful water supply. We must address this issue. We need a plan. The Department must work with the local authorities because these communities cannot be left behind.

Deputy O'Dowd, when he was Minister of State, was in Tralee to announce Irish Water's takeover of water services. I told him that we would prefer to keep the existing regime under the local authority but that was not to be. I remember asking Deputy O'Dowd to ensure that the provision of water would be kept under the thumb of the Minister. There is now a split or a divide, with one group of people being looked after and others being left behind. The people in the rural towns and villages and rural areas are being left behind. Irish Water is saying that it is only responsible for ensuring that existing water and sewerage facilities are maintained to a high standard but that it is not responsible for providing any new services. That is the anomaly that must be addressed.

In 2008 the excellent director of finance in Kerry County Council, Mr. John O'Connor, made the case to councillors that levies would have to be charged to new planning applicants for the provision of sewerage and water services. The levies that were put in place were exorbitant. The justification for the levies was that the council would be fined €500,000 each year until all treatment plants were brought up to scratch. Ten years later and the people of Kilcummin still do not have a treatment plant. They do not have a road either. The road will not be resurfaced until the treatment plant is built. If the road had been done in 2004, when the need for the treatment plant was identified, it would still have to be done again now. Imagine what the people of Kilcummin have suffered for the last 14 or 15 years. The road is terrible. It is like the bed of a river. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that funding is provided to Irish Water or to the local authority for the Kilcummin sewerage scheme next year. It is one of the most pressing issues in the county. All of the rural villages and small places to which I am referring are dying because planning permission for housing will not be granted in the absence of the facilities that are available to most urban dwellers. People in the rural areas are entitled to the very same facilities.

I am sharing my time with Deputy O'Dowd.

Ten minutes in total. That is agreed.

I will not get to give my full contribution but a copy of the script is being circulated to Deputies and the Minister of State, Deputy English, will address any issues I do not address in my reply.

We will wait in anticipation.

I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this motion for debate in the House tonight. High-quality, sustainable water services are a fundamental necessity for our citizens and environment and we do not distinguish between rural or urban areas when talking about the application of those principles. The motion highlights some significant issues of interest and concern around the need for investment in rural water services which are shared by the Government. The motion calls for a series of action across a number of areas, most of which are already being addressed. In many instances the Government is going beyond what is sought in the motion.

However, there are elements within the motion that convey an impression that insufficient attention is being given to rural water services. I want to assure Deputies that this is not the case. A huge amount is being done and is being planned to be done in the future.

Overall though, the Government has no fundamental issue with the sentiment behind the motion and much of what it says. In these circumstances the Government will not be opposing or seeking to amend the motion just for the sake of It. I therefore want to advise the Deputies who proposed the motion, and the House, that the Government will not be voting against this motion tonight. Nevertheless, in responding, I want to defend the commitment of the Government to supporting water services in rural areas. This commitment has been backed up by resources which have and will continue to increase year on year for the coming years. Over €8.5 billion is being spent on public water services under the national development plan over the next ten years. That is not in 2040, that is this year, next year and for the next ten years. It is happening now. This investment is tackling many of the issues identified in the motion.

Separately, investment under the multi-annual rural water programme is being increased. In addition, €31 million has been committed for the period 2018 to 2021 to address legacy issues associated with what is called developer provided infrastructure. This is mentioned specifically in the motion before the House.

I undertook a review of the annual group water scheme subsidies in late 2017. This was done in consultation with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, the representative body of the group water sector. This resulted in significant improvements to subsidy levels that the Government put in place with effect from 1 January of this year. We increased the maximum subsidy per house in private group water schemes from €140 per household annually to €231. The maximum subsidy for public group water schemes also increased substantially. We changed the qualifying rules to allow for more expenditure to fall within the scope of the subsidy regime.

In April of this year I established a working group to conduct a review of the wider investment needs relating to rural water services. The group’s aim is to recommend measures to ensure an equality of outcome between those who receive water services from Irish Water and non-Irish Water customers. The terms of reference of the review provide for a two-strand approach. Strand 1 is considering the composition and distribution of funding for the multi-annual rural water programme from 2019 up to 2021. Strand 2 is considering the more complex, longer-focus issues surrounding the longer term future resourcing of the rural water sector. The working group is currently finalising a report to me on strand 1 of its deliberations. This report will make recommendations on the measures to be funded for the next cycle of the rural water programme. This will include provisions in respect of water services to support rural development which are a focus of the motion. I expect to announce details before the end of November. As part of the new programme, I am also planning to implement improvements to the grants available to undertake works on private wells and septic tanks. I expect that these will come into effect from January 2019. While we are looking to the future we also have to support rural water services in the present. In September this year, I announced capital grant supports totalling €20 million for 2018 under the rural water programme. This funding is enabling development and improvement work to be undertaken on group water schemes and group sewerage schemes in rural areas. It also provides grants for households to upgrade private wells and septic tanks. In addition to these capital grants, €24 million is being provided in current funding in 2018 for the subsidies to support the delivery of rural water services that I mentioned already. The motion makes a claim that grant payments issued by my Department to group water schemes, private well owners and all local authorities to administer the rural water programme dropped between 2011 and 2016 but a good deal of investment was made in the mid to late-2000s and addressed a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2002 which found Ireland in breach of its obligations under the drinking water directive. However, looking at the period between 2011 and 2017, a combined total of €273 million was invested in capital and current funding directly related to rural water services. This does not include further spending by Irish Water that benefitted villages and towns. The Government is increasing this investment further. The annual allocation to the rural water programme has increased from €20 million in 2018 to €23 million next year. Under the national development plan this is set to increase to €25 million each year in both 2020 and 2021. The motion makes extensive reference to the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency report Urban Waste Water Treatment produced in 2017. This latest EPA report is based on the assessment of effluent monitoring results from 1,100 wastewater treatment plants reported to the EPA by Irish Water and on enforcement activities carried out by the EPA during 2017. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level, including investment in wastewater treatment plants, and Irish Water’s primary function is to provide clean, safe drinking water to customers and to treat and return wastewater safely to the environment. Following actions taken by Irish Water, the EPA has found that the number of priority urban areas where wastewater treatment needs to improve is down to 132 from 148 in 2016. Of 44 towns and villages where raw sewage was being discharged in 2016, six are now connected to treatment plants. The remaining 38 towns and villages, with a population equivalent of 88,000 people, will be connected by 2021.

The Members in opposition spoke the truth tonight about the great need for increased investment in water infrastructure particularly in rural Ireland but also in urban Ireland where I live. The water system in Staleen in Donore failed twice in the past two years when 70,000 people had no water supply at all which led to significant trauma. Thankfully the money has been found, the capital is being spent and the water supply is being augmented in my area.

The same could happen tomorrow in many of our towns and cities. There is Victorian infrastructure in many places and that is part of the reason for the problems. To replace that infrastructure and improve the quality of water and allow urban and rural communities to develop as people would wish them to be developed is all about money. That is the reality.

The country has made a decision that there will not be a charge for water and, as a democrat, I accept that. Any money that we spend between now and kingdom come has to come out of our current capital account. It comes from current spending out of the budget every year. I welcome the Minister's iteration of increased financial support for water improvement services but it will not go far enough. The reality is, as industries and towns want to develop, there has to be a significant increase in the capacity of the water supply. Dublin is the big area but other parts of the country are important. I appreciate the point that was made about Kerry which had a large number of small group water schemes. The idea was to replace a significant number of them with improved infrastructure and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred to a facility which was recently opened by the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin. That is a good thing.

We are left with climate change which will have a significant adverse impact. I know some Deputies do not like that, but it will significantly affect where water is going to fall and where it has to be brought to in the decades to come. The question of conservation of water is a very important issue. They are the issues. In the absence of a plan to meet all the requirements of the country right now, the question is if we had the money, where we would spend it? We have to be very strategic in what we do.

I note there is a Deputy here from Roscommon. Some years ago, the highest water leakage in the country happened to be in Roscommon. I think it was over 60%; it was incredibly high. The question of conservation of water is something we must tackle. Putting a water services plan together for all parts of the country is something we, as a Parliament, could decide and agree upon. I would agree with what Deputy Mattie McGrath has said. That is what we need to do, but where we get the money from, and where we have to take it from, is the crisis that we are in because it is on balance sheet. It will continue until we find a satisfactory outcome and I do not have any immediate expectation of that happening. The public would not support a charge for water right now. That is the real problem. Where do we go from here?

An increased share of the tax take has to go on improving water infrastructure and each town and county will make its own case. One thing that struck me when I was a Minister was a group water scheme in County Mayo. There is an awareness in rural areas about conservation. In one part of County Mayo, the young people, the schoolchildren, actively went into the community to identify water leaks and ensure the group water scheme dealt with them and that resources were not wasted. Deputy Breathnach has a similar case in his area and my area.

We are dealing with a finite resource in difficult financial circumstances.

It would have to come out of current expenditure. Accepting that, I agree with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that we should try to go forward together to increase expenditure on our water infrastructure from direct taxation. That is what the Oireachtas has decided and what we have to do.

I thank my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion on the need for investment in water services, with a particular emphasis on the rural wastewater network. Fianna Fáil would not make a distinction between rural and urban areas in the sense that further investment is required in our wastewater treatment network.

On a point of order-----

There is no point of order.

They have the confidence and supply and are all right.

(Interruptions).

I was just going to address that. Deputy McGrath was obviously reading my notes.

It is true, though.

Deputy Aylward will never steal my thunder. Unlike some others, we tried to use our mandate responsibly in the context of negotiating the confidence and supply arrangement. A large part of trying to negotiate that was unpicking the mistakes made by the establishment of Irish Water with the charges and the infrastructure itself, to which Deputy O'Dowd alluded. I remind people that while charges were in place, it cost the Exchequer approximately €30 million net a year. With all the difficulties that arose related to the charging infrastructure, we were investing €300 million less per annum in water infrastructure in that time. I agree with the single utility model structure with regard to focusing on where the investment needs to go. During that confidence and supply agreement, we insisted as a party that there would be fairness between both rural and urban dwellers for water charges with a particular focus on group water schemes. The agreement has secured a series of funding increases to group water schemes and established a working group to review funding.

Not enough is being done and we wait to see the outcome of that review but Deputy O'Dowd is correct that each local authority area needs to submit its needs. There is a responsibility in the liaison between the local authorities and Irish Water. Fianna Fáil is committed to ensuring equity of treatment between rural and urban dwellers in accessing water services. In light of that, we fully support this motion. We have boosted funding to the group water scheme under the confidence and supply arrangement. We pushed for that and will press on with the working group as a priority to ensure equity between urban and rural dwellers and water supply costs.

New subsidy arrangements have been put in place, endorsed by a special delegate conference of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes on 13 December 2017, which came into effect on 1 January 2018. It is estimated that the revised subsidy levels would cost approximately €23.5 million per annum compared with the average annual cost of €19.5 million for comparable years. Capital funding for the rural water programme is now set to increase by €5 million to €25 million per annum in 2019. This enhanced level of investment will be maintained up to 2021 and we will insist on that. Including funding being provided this year, a total of €95 million has been secured for the period, 2018-21. One point jumps out from the page in the motion tabled by the Rural Independent Group, relating to the grants provided in 2011 of more than €70 million. It dropped to just under €21 million by 2016. It shows that much work is needed in that regard. I welcome the review that is under way and think that money can be saved elsewhere as well.

I inform my colleagues who do not know about it of a plan under the greater Dublin drainage scheme to spend more than €1 billion on the creation of a massive sewage treatment plan that many of my colleagues and I believe is not required on the east coast. We believe that waste should mainly be treated in the areas in which it is generated. Surely localised plants are a better way forward. We need to look at our wastewater plan in general and, nationwide, we need to look at the big projects that many engineers seem to favour, including projects with large capital expenditure. While the Minister is present, I ask that he follow through on a commitment given by Deputy Howlin as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that a full review would be carried out with a cost-benefit analysis of a greater Dublin sewage scheme with one large sewage treatment plan in the Cloghran and Clonshaugh area of north Dublin.

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I pay tribute to the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward these proposals. They are well thought out and touch on a number of important issues, including Irish Water not addressing the problems of wastewater in our housing estates, which heretofore would have been assisted by the county councils. If one speaks to any county councillor or residents' association throughout this country, they will say it is a major issue causing a lot of distress for many residents.

One line in the motion goes to the very heart of the issue we are discussing, which is the basic health of our communities. It is stated that wastewater is one of the main threats to our rivers, lakes and estuaries. This issue does not just impact on small towns and rural villages, as set out by the Rural Independent Group; it also impacts on large towns throughout Ireland. My home town, Navan, has a population in excess of 32,000 people but last summer we witnessed a disgusting and disgraceful raw sewage discharge into the historic River Boyne which runs through the heart of the town. It happened because of a wastewater treatment plant which did not have sufficient capacity. As a result, the pumping station sent the overflow straight into the river in the middle of the town. The famous River Boyne, where the mythical Salmon of Knowledge was caught, was subjected to a planned discharge of raw sewage. Not many salmon were caught in the river following that discharge and if Fionn Mac Cumhaill had been swimming in the river that day, he would have choked. At the time, the Meath Chronicle captured perfectly the impact of this planned discharge when its journalist, Louise Walsh, described the scene: "Navan anglers have posted stomach-churning images of sewage floating on top of the river as well as condoms, sanitary towels. tampons and baby wipes, which they say have been released from an over-capacity pumping station at Blackcastle, along the town’s scenic Ramparts walkway."

This river is famed for its stock of salmon, brown trout, eel and bream. The anglers have claimed that these planned discharges happen on a regular basis but it was extremely prevalent on this occasion because the river was low due to the lack of rain. At the heart of this was a pumping station which was supposed to pump the sewage from the treatment plant but when it reaches capacity, the overflow goes into the Boyne. The authorities will say that it is not breaking any laws and that the sewage has been diluted by heavy rain. This time, there was no rain so the waste was lodging on the riverbed and along the river. There were children paddling in the water downstream from where this waste was. The issues outlined in this motion are important and need to be addressed, not just in rural Ireland but in urban Ireland too, because the health of our communities is at stake.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling the motion. Fianna Fáil supports it. A central component of the confidence and supply agreement relating to water charges was fairness to both rural and urban dwellers. This is also a key outcome of the Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. This agreement has secured a series of funding increases for group water schemes and established a working group to review funding, combined with a coherent plan for taking in charge estates in rural towns and villages. In County Tipperary, 11,475 houses are not connected to a public supply. They are supplied by private group schemes or their own wells or have no piped water supply. This represents 19% of households in the country. An additional 1,717 households, representing 3% of all households, are supplied by public group water schemes. This is where the network is controlled by a group scheme but the scheme receives its water from a public source. This means that 22% of households in Tipperary are not supplied directly by Irish Water. I am sure the figures are the same for other rural counties. It is vital that these households are treated equally when it comes to supply of domestic water. Fianna Fáil is committed to ensuring equality of treatment between rural and urban dwellers in accessing water services, which is why we support the motion.

A key outcome of the special Oireachtas committee on water charges was he establishment of a working group to verify the subsidy levels needed for rural dwellers and those on the public water supply. The work of the group is ongoing and this motion reflects much of its remit. Fianna Fáil has already boosted funding to group water schemes under the confidence and supply agreement. We will press on with this working group as a matter of priority to ensure equity between urban and rural dwellers in the context of domestic water supplies.

New subsidy arrangements have already been put in place, endorsed by a special delegate conference of the Federation of Group Water Schemes on 13 December 2017, and they came into effect on 1 January 2018. It is estimated that the revised subsidy levels will cost approximately €23.3 million per year compared with an average annual cost of €19.5 million for past comparable years. Capital funding for the rural water programme is set to rise by €5 million to €25 million per annum in 2019. This enhanced level of investment will be maintained up to 2021. Including the funding being provided this year, a total of €95 million has been secured for the period 2018 to 2021. A central recommendation contained in the report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, endorsed by both Houses of the Oireachtas in April 2017, is that there should be equity of treatment and equivalent financial support between households using public water services and those availing of private water services. That must and will be delivered upon.

I am delighted to contribute to the debate on the motion on water services tabled by the Rural Independent Group. A central component of the confidence and supply agreement on water charges is fairness to rural and urban dwellers. That was a key outcome of the work of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. There was a need for equity between rural and urban dwellers. The agreement has secured a series of funding increases to group water schemes and established a working group to review funding, combined with a coherent plan for taking in charge estates in rural towns and villages. That should be continued.

As a rural Deputy, I am conscious that what group water schemes are doing is very important. They are supplying and subsidising what should be provided by Irish Water. The situation should be examined and more funding should be made available. Although water charges have been abolished the members of group water schemes are paying for the maintenance and upkeep of the system every year and they must be provided with annual funding to assist them. Where there are no group water schemes in rural areas we have private wells and grants must continue to be provided in order to ensure equity in the system between urban and rural dwellers.

A survey carried out by the 31 local authorities and collated in December 2015 indicated that of the 5,556 developments yet to be taken in charge that developers had provided water services infrastructure in approximately 914 estates. It is very important that those estates would be taken in charge.

I wish to refer to connections provided to people by Irish Water. Water charges are gone but Irish Water is now taking advantage when connecting individuals or businesses to the system. I regularly hear about cases in my constituency where people are charged anything between €11,000 to €15,000 for water connections. That is ridiculous. The situation has got out of hand. Irish Water is only trying to make up for funding that is not otherwise available to it. The company has gone overboard and the situation must be examined. Young couples who are getting married and trying to build homes are being charged up to €15,000 for water connections. The situation must be reviewed. A brewery that started on the Kilkenny and Carlow border received a bill of €250,000 for a water connection. How could any business possibly start up with such a charge for a water connection? The situation is out of control. I urge the Minister to examine the position and to bring an end to those extraordinary charges.

I am delighted to be able to say a few words on the motion. I compliment the rural alliance on tabling a motion that goes to the practicalities of people's lives.

I have been asked to clarify that the motion has been tabled by the Rural Independent Group.

We are not aligned to anyone but ourselves.

I thought you were all aligned to each other. It does not matter, the group can take the credit for the motion. I will focus briefly on three issues. I tabled a question to Irish Water on providing sewerage services to towns and villages, for example, Kilronan on the Aran Islands, that urgently need a sewerage system. I was told that it must be done on a purely commercial basis. If that were the case in cities and towns and if households and businesses were obliged to pay for them, we would not have any sewerage systems. What is the Minister going to do about this issue?

This Government must be the greatest ever for introducing new schemes that appear attractive on the outside, with lovely shiny wrapping and a little bow on top, but that have a sting on the inside. The Government increased the subsidy for group water schemes but if the subsidy does not cover the full cost of running a scheme for domestic dwellings, the administrators of that scheme cannot go to the householders to collect the balance. Are they meant to have a collection or run a raffle? What is the point of the ruling? The Minister must explain the situation because he has put some people in a very peculiar position. That is typical of the kind of petty rules that are being introduced to stop ordinary people doing practical things and getting on with their lives.

I read a very interesting report on water. The CLÁR scheme used to provide top-ups so that we could bring water to rural houses that do not yet have water from either a group scheme or a public water scheme. Many places along the west coast suffer from that syndrome. The State subsidy per house costs between €10,000 and €15,000. The Minister will tell me that is outrageous but he should remember that water is all they will ever get. Could he indicate the cost of providing water, street lighting and running a sewerage system for an urban house? Would he get much change from €15,000? He surely would not. Why is it not a stated objective of the Government, with the money to back it, to ensure that every house in the country has access either to a public water scheme or a group water scheme? Why is there apartheid in this country when we say in all of the programmes that we will make water available to everybody?

The old adage that you do not miss the water until the well runs dry is apt when we come to talk about Ireland's most valuable and sometimes under-appreciated resource, namely, water. I spent 25 years as secretary to the largest group water scheme in my county. I pay tribute to the many group water scheme committees that have worked might and main on a voluntary basis to improve the lot of their communities in providing water to villages, businesses, farms and households. The source of the water for many of the group schemes has consisted of lake extraction, river extraction and aquifers. Many of those sources have endured massive pressures following the expansion and development of industry, the proliferation of septic tanks and, often, local authority mismanagement of sewerage plants. In addition, during the boom times, local authorities allowed private group sewerage schemes to service many housing developments that are not being managed by anyone at present. Many of the voluntary committees, through no fault of their own, often fall foul of trying to meet quality standards under the EU Water Framework Directive. Algal bloom on lakes at certain times of the year causes significant problems. Group water schemes also deal with farm run-off, nitrates, not to mention the unscrupulous illegal dumping that has happened on many occasions both of domestic waste and diesel sludge from diesel laundering plants in my county.

A commitment was given in both the programme for Government and the confidence and supply agreement that rural dwellers would not be at a serious disadvantage and that charging and costs would be spread evenly across the country, whether the water was provided by Irish Water, or through group water schemes. Approximately 6% of the population get their drinking water from group water schemes. Of those, 11% of households or approximately 170,000 households operate from private wells. We know from the EPA that approximately 30% of household wells are contaminated with E. coli.

All other households and premises get water through an Irish Water connection as well.

I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to one point Deputy Aylward has raised. There is a commitment that Irish Water would have a flat charge of €5,600 for every water connection in future. I know of instances of people being charged €18,000 for a simple water connection. That needs to be brought in immediately rather than being put on the back-burner by Irish Water.

We need to talk about equity. It is unfair that time and again rural communities are subjected to boil water notices whereas households with public supply seldom have such inconvenience. This is relevant for people living in the countryside with no public water passing within a short distance of the home and where the house has never been connected to a group water scheme. The issue of grants for wells and the upgrading of wells needs to be enhanced and increased.

Average water use per person is 55,000 l per year. Good quality fresh water is a vital resource. More Exchequer funding is needed for improvements to group water schemes and group sewerage schemes to upgrade the infrastructure especially in rural Ireland.

I will conclude with an Irish acronym created by children in a school where I taught many years ago. It spelled the word "uisce". The children put it in an Irish phrase: "Uisce inár saol, cosain é". This translates as: "Water in our environment – we need to protect it".

An Teachta Martin Kenny and an Teachta Eoin Ó Broin are sharing time. You have ten minutes in total.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. The essence of the motion sets out the difficulties we have in many parts of the country with regard to the outcome in cases where we do not have an appropriate system or one that works and delivers properly. We see that in many areas. There are pollution problems and that must be acknowledged. There are restrictions on development and expansion in many areas where change is badly needed.

One thing comes to mind for those living in a rural area like County Leitrim. At this stage in County Leitrim, almost 35% of the water is delivered through group water schemes. That is putting considerable pressure on the main source of water in Carrick-on-Shannon, which is the water treatment plant there. At a meeting of Leitrim County Council two weeks ago, I was told the council needed to get funding from Irish Water to get at least 50% additional capacity into that plant. This is necessary to cope with the pressure on the facility at present, which is above full capacity. The plant needs a certain storage volume in place but the facility does not have it at present. Those responsible need to look to the future for any expansion that may come throughout the county.

We also have Lough Talt in County Sligo in my constituency. I know the Minister is aware of this. There is a major problem with the water treatment system there. An upgrade is supposed to be undertaken. We understand there are issues with planning and various things. Every effort needs to be made to get that moving as quickly as possible to get the investment in place.

I acknowledge that investment is visible in some places. In September I visited Bundoran, where a €25 million project for an upgrade of the water treatment system is under way. Investment is visible in some places but not enough is happening in many areas throughout the country. One of the major issues with Irish Water in this regard is a failure in the sense that certain people cannot get the connection between the needs of the people and what Irish Water is prepared to deliver. This is evident in towns or areas where there is potential for business to develop. Carrick-on-Shannon is the location of a business called Masonite, which uses a great deal of water. It takes the water from the Shannon. Other businesses are looking to come to the area. They need large volumes of water but there is a difficulty in providing water for them. Irish Water is not a local authority and has no responsibility for economic development whereas the local authority has a responsibility in that regard. There is a disconnect in that sense. More needs to happen in that respect.

Reference was made to group water schemes and group sewerage schemes. These have the potential to do a great deal in many areas on the outskirts of small towns and villages. There are large numbers of septic tanks in such places. There are opportunities to put in place group sewerage schemes in these areas and pump back water into the treatment plant in the town or village. There seems to be a freeze in the funding to get such developments in place.

Several issues were raised in the motion. The call for additional investment is clear. We need to see investment. Deputy Ó Broin will go into the matter in more detail. We are conscious that the money allocated to Irish Water to spend on wastewater systems has been underspent in recent years. This continues to be the case up to the present.

We need to see a clear commitment from Government to deliver for people, not only the people in urban Ireland but those in rural Ireland too. I wish to raise another issue relating to septic tanks and sewage treatment systems for single houses. We have a problem in many areas in the country because the Environmental Protection Agency has a ban on building a house in rural Ireland if it does not meet the percolation test regardless of the quality to which the householders treat the associated sewage. At present, we have instances in County Leitrim whereby the sewage is treated to bathing water standard and yet people cannot get planning permission. Regardless of the standard to which people treat the water, the agency has a zero discharge rule in place. We need to have that issue dealt with.

The fundamental principle is that the money needs to be put in place, but it seems that even when the money is put in place – we have seen some of the money put in place with Irish Water – it is not going to the right places. It is not delivering to ensure that we protect the environment and provide for the needs of people in future.

I welcome the motion. The Minister needs to take a hand-on approach with Irish Water to ensure the company delivers for people. The feedback we are getting from local authority members and people throughout the country is that they are getting a poor service when they try to talk to Irish Water about their needs. I will leave it at that.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling the motion. I wish to talk a little about the urban wastewater treatment plants and the difficulties we have currently with regard to the spend. Much of the focus has been on the 38 agglomerations that are subject to the European Court of Justice hearings. My understanding is that the court hearing was last month and that we are waiting for the outcome. If the Minister is in a position to give us an update on the matter in his concluding remarks later it would be most welcome.

It is important to note that the Irish Water capital plan has significant increases in the coming years. I agree with the view of the Minister in this area. Next year it is due to increase to €777 million, which is a significant uplift on this year. Then, it goes up to €800 million the following year and so on. Part of the difficulty is that not enough of that money is being spent on upgrading urban wastewater treatment plants as well as those in rural areas. Even where there has been an increased allocation, the figures from Irish Water show significant underspending. In 2016, we were told by the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, that the projected spend in upgrading wastewater treatment plants in 2017 would be approximately €229 million. My understanding is that the amount actually spent at the end of last year was €151 million. That is an underspend of €78 million. Some of this is to do with difficulties in the planning process and in securing planning permission. Some of it is to do with tendering and procurement. In any event, given there is money to spend on some of these upgrade works, I call on the Minister to come back to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, which has responsibility for this area, to explain the difficulties in getting the allocated money spent.

Irish Water estimated in 2017 that the cost of bringing the 38 agglomerations up to scratch would be approximately €1 billion. If Irish Water only intends to spend €150 million per year, it will take a considerable amount of time simply to get those treatment plants up to order. Obviously, that will not be fast enough for the European Commission. In turn, this means we would face the prospect of significant fines and we would possibly have to rethink the capital investment programme to accelerate the upgrade.

I am concerned about all the wastewater treatment plants identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as being potentially at risk. I am not simply talking about those currently in breach of the wastewater treatment directive. Perhaps the Minister will have an opportunity later today to talk us through the extent to which he and his Department are satisfied that the Irish Water capital investment plan in this area will treat all these plants. Otherwise, the Minister might apprise the committee at a later stage. This is not only about the plants that are falling foul of the existing directive requirements - it is relevant for all those others as well.

I have been calling for some time for investment. This does not necessarily mean an increase in the overall level of investment of Irish Water, although that would be welcome, but it means ensuring that an adequate distribution of the existing capital allocation is going to wastewater treatment. Certainly, based on the figures I have seen today I am more convinced than ever before in this regard.

It is important to highlight why we are facing this enforcement action by the European Commission in the first place.

Capital investment in wastewater treatment fluctuated between €250 million and €300 million right up until 2010. While that was not an adequate level of investment, that is where the historic level sat. From 2011 onwards, however, it was slashed down to its lowest level in 2013 to €124 million. That was the year the European Commission initiated the enforcement proceedings, and it is no accident that it initiated those in the year of the lowest level of expenditure. What is more troubling is that in the years that followed up to 2016, capital investment continued to be low, and it is no accident that the European Commission decided to initiate court proceedings in 2016.

While I understand the intention of the motion, the issue is a little more complex. There is money available that is not being spent. We need to understand the reason for that and fix that problem. When that money is spent, if there is a requirement to shift more across to wastewater treatment, that would be welcome. At that stage, we could have a conversation about whether the total quantum of investment in Irish Water's capital investment plan needs to increase. The tragedy would be if it increases next year by more than €150 million and the money does not get to the parts of our water infrastructure it is needed. The more the Minister can reassure us about that, the better.

Irish Water and the Environmental Protection Agency will be before the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government before the end of this term. I invite the members of the Rural Independent Group who are not members of the committee to come and exchange their views with both of those bodies because that would be welcome. Ultimately, the buck stops with the Minister and I would be interested to hear what he has to say, particularly about the issues I have raised.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling the motion. The wastewater area has been somewhat neglected, with water supply getting more attention. The wastewater issue is important, particularly in rural Ireland but also in urban Ireland. My party will support the motion, although I note the Minister has responded on significant funding that is committed, and we should acknowledge that.

The Minister indicated that he hopes the working group will report towards the end of November and that that would involve further investment. I presume he will keep us updated at that time on expenditure and the areas that need it.

I was a member of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. I did not always agree with every member on it, as those who were members will know, but we all fully supported section 6 of the report on equity and fairness. It is probably no harm to quote the relevant recommendations. Section 6.1 states: "The Committee recommends that the principles of equity of treatment and equivalent financial support should be applied equally between households on public water supplies and those in Group Water Schemes (GWS), Group Sewerage Schemes (GSS), those using Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (DWWTS) and Individual Domestic Water Supplies (IDWS)."

Section 6.2 states:

The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government should therefore conduct a review [I presume that is the review the Minister spoke about], in coordination with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and other relevant stakeholders, to quantify what additional investment will be required to equalise treatment between those availing of domestic water services and those availing of private services. The Committee recommends that, following this review, identified investment should be provided.

That is what is being requested in the motion and is generally what Members across the House believe should happen.

I support what was said on the underspend in an area where there is clearly a need, and I heard various towns, villages and townlands being referred to earlier. All of us could quote some of those in our areas, but there is a need for investment in particular parts of the country and we want that to happen.

Another recommendation was that there should be some way the Minister could ring-fence the money provided. I believe the wording was, "Ensure that this funding goes directly to the water utility for the specific purpose of investing into the water infrastructure so as to ensure full compliance with Ireland's EU obligations under the WFD." As is probably always the case, however, the ring-fencing of money for any particular purpose does not happen. The problem then is that these wastewater and water services are in competition with all the other areas where spending is needed. We need to keep an eye on that to ensure money continues to be provided for this important service.

There will not be charges. The Minister might clarify this but I understand in January 2019 there are supposed to be charges for those who excessively use water and who have been warned and so on. Perhaps we might get some information on that because it is something I support, although not everybody in this House does, in that where people are excessively wasting water they should be charged. Apart from that, the money has to come out from the Exchequer and is in competition with many other needs in our economy. That is just the way it is.

I want to raise another issue that seems to be sitting on the back-burner, that is, the first recommendation of the committee, which was that there should be a referendum to ask the people to ensure that water services continue to remain in public ownership. As far as I know, that is still sitting in the committee and there are some issues around progressing it further. I want to put on the record again that I believe that is important because it reassures people that there is no intention of privatising wastewater services. If there is any update on that, I would welcome that. It was intended that it would be dealt with through a Private Members' Bill that had been referred to the committee but I have not seen much progress on that, so I would be interested to hear it.

There are some areas where Irish Water has done good work, particularly regarding lead. That was a major issue in my city of Limerick where significant work was done to bypass the lead pipes. That is important because it is a serious health concern for people who live in areas where there are old lead pipes. I would hope that programme will continue wherever an issue arises.

I recognise that this is a serious issue in many parts of the country. If we are to have equity and the kind of water and wastewater system we all want, it needs investment if we are to avoid fines from the ECJ with regard to the hearings. If there is any update on that, I would welcome it. There are a number of reasons but the most important reason is that, for our health and the health of our environment, we must have the kind of system we all want. I support the motion.

Water and wastewater services are important to all parts of the country, be they urban or rural, and we need proper wastewater systems.

Regarding the group water schemes in rural areas especially, we welcome the €230 subvention last year for schemes that have their own well and their own pump and the upgrade of moneys in that regard. That is badly needed because many of them were struggling.

I ask the Minister and his officials to note that there are rural areas where people may have their own pump and the quality of water might not be great. If they want to start a group water scheme themselves, the Department does not provide funding for that. I ask the Minister to address that because there are a number of such schemes throughout the country.

I note also that for Irish Water to take over a scheme it has to be brought up to a standard but currently it is reluctant to take them over. I ask the Minister to make sure that it speeds up in that regard.

With regard to regulations and the Water Framework Directive, we have a two-tier system in Ireland in that if one is lucky enough to have a public sewer, one does not have to be worried about it.

People in the rural parts of Ireland with septic tanks will get a grant if they are included in the 5% and earn less than a certain number. However, if someone happens to report a septic tank that he or she sees is not functioning properly, someone who is not in that 5% is in trouble. We have to make sure the funding is there for those people. It is costing a good few pounds.

From reading the report, I believe this is a way of going forward. The funding for community schemes needs to be increased. I know the Minister of State is carrying out a cost-benefit analysis, but that cost-benefit analysis does not add up. To solve a problem like this is very important for people.

I also wish to mention the prices Irish Water is charging. The issue has been mentioned here. Group water schemes are taking in people for between €800 and €1,300. They will provide a new connection. Someone could get a price of €3,000 and after that it would be measurable in digital figures.

We need to pay tribute to the people throughout the country who look after the group water schemes today and in years past. The report flies in the face of madness. Deputy Martin Kenny spoke about the situation in Lough Talt in Sligo. Some 50% of Irish Water's sources are in designated areas. People object to efforts to improve the quality of water. An Bord Pleanála mounts objections. It is very hard to improve the quality of water and put in proper systems when one arm of the State is stopping another from doing it.

A situation has arisen with An Bord Pleanála and the EPA. I know of a scheme in Glenamaddy where raw sewage has been an issue in report after report for the last 20 years. When Irish Water looked for planning permission and a discharge licence, lo and behold, it was blocked. The authorities wanted Irish Water to go seven miles down the road. That has a ferocious cost. On top of that they are taking Irish Water to court for the sins of years gone by, things that were not done by councils. They are fining Irish Water. The State is stealing money that is needed to put sewerage schemes in place. In fairness, people may give out about Irish Water, but I remember an incident in Roscommon two or three years ago. A "boil water" notice was applied to Williamstown, Cloonfad and Granlahan. Like a spare wheel, a temporary system was brought in from Israel to keep services going and then the scheme was put together.

Improvements have been made. However, there are small towns around this country into which we know raw sewage is going. If we want to solve this problem we need to allow a higher rate per house. At the moment it is something like €6,000. Irish Water will not do it on its own. If we encourage community groups to get together they will get the work done and help.

Moreover, issues are arising from the Water Framework Directive that are not helping the situation. Farmers have to record what they take out. If a river runs near some land, it is important to be able to install a sump pump and draw the water for cattle, rather than having to chlorinate it, apply ultraviolet radiation to it and so on before pumping it up and down the road. I ask for one thing. If anything is to come out of tonight's debate, I ask the Minister of State to put funding in place for those group water schemes that are not already in a scheme and may not have good water.

Tá mé thar a bheith sásta an deis a thapú chun cúpla focail a rá ar son an rún seo agus tá mé sásta nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag dul in aghaidh an rún. Tá sé sin tábhachtach freisin agus gabhaim buíochas don dream neamhspleách as ucht an rún a chur os comhair na Dála.

I want to thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion forward. I have no hesitation in supporting it and I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing it. It has been well laid out, but a number of statistics jump out at me. I am very familiar with them after spending 17 years listening to report after report at local authority level. In the 21st century, in 2018, we still have raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages flowing into the environment every day. We know that wastewater is one of the main threats to the quality of our rivers, lakes and estuaries.

I am not going to read the rest of the motion. However, I wish to note the fact that there was a significant reduction in the Department's funding for group water schemes at the time when they were most needed. I want to pay tribute to the group water schemes and to those people who have worked very hard to keep them going. They deserve our thanks.

I want to make some comments about Irish Water in that context, as someone who was fundamentally opposed to its establishment. Never once did I personalise the issue. For 17 years I watched a local authority starved of funds. Report after report told us what needed to be done but we had no money in good times or bad. In Galway, 40% leakage was recorded. We knew that. We begged for assistance and we did not get it.

It was a very bad decision to set up Irish Water. It was a waste of money when the local authorities were starved of funds. I say that as someone who was an absolutely committed city councillor, who lived through cryptosporidium and indeed suffered from it at the time, through the lead debacle and so on. The expertise was at local authority level. The people of Galway, to use the example of that city, trusted the local authority, interestingly enough. They trusted the engineers who had the knowledge on the ground. All of that was wiped out by the setting up of Irish Water. Suddenly there was no problem with giving money to a vehicle that should never have been set up.

That is done. However, the continued decisions by Irish Water are troubling. For instance, raw sewage is going into the sea in Galway, Spiddal and Carraroe. Last week I went to Clonaslee in Laois. I looked at the integrated constructed wetlands, a site with the potential to cater for a population of up to 800. It looks after 100 households. Raw sewage goes into a natural area and comes out absolutely spotlessly clean. I have to pay tribute to the local authority and indeed Irish Water in this regard. I would love to see those schemes extended. I was there with a group from Inis Oírr who were very interested in applying this solution, albeit in a different environment, the sandy soil on Inis Oírr. I hope that the Government and Irish Water are 100% behind community groups like this which want to participate and want a good system. I have never had any time for NIMBYism, but I believe that various Governments and local authorities have used that word wrongly. For example, practically everyone in Spiddal is unhappy with raw sewage going into the water, but with the help of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Irish Water has picked a site, agus tá an suíomh sin iomlán mí-oiriúnach. Tá sé cúpla slat ón scoil náisiúnta le gasúirí óg ann agus tá sé beartaithe ag Uisce Éireann ionad séarachais a thógáil ansin. Is é toradh an cinneadh sin ná go bhfuil sé os comhair An Bord Pleanála.

The matter in Spiddal has now gone to An Bord Pleanála. It would not have happened if those responsible had made the right decision in the first place, worked with the people on the ground and picked an appropriate site. Similarly, in Carraroe, they have picked a suíomh cois farraige, áit atá thar a bheith mí-oiriúnach, áit álainn ina bhfuil féidirthachtaí iontacha do chúrsaí turasóireachta, do chúrsaí bádóireachta agus do chúrsaí iascaireachta. Is é an rud atá beartaithe ag Uisce Éireann ná ionad cóireála séarachais a chur ar an suíomh sin.

I will translate that. The people of Carraroe are crying out for a treatment plant. However, the site chosen is wrong. We have a battle on our hands rather than co-operation.

Short-sighted decisions are being made at the expense of the people of the area and at the expense of the possibility for tourism, fishing and the use of the area for boats when there is an alternative site available. Uisce Éireann should at least be able to tell us that it has looked at the alternative site and ruled it out. I never wish to be parochial in the Dáil but I use these as two practical examples where the people want a treatment plant, but not what is on offer. The caighdeán - the standard - that is being proposed is basic. Interestingly enough, the Minister of State, Deputy English, might look at this particular project. In 2008, it was withdrawn. At that stage, there was a higher standard of treatment proposed but the Part 8 was withdrawn then because the councillors indicated they would not support it. We move forward but, in fact, we move backwards. In 2018, it is in the hands of Uisce Éireann. Uisce Éireann has decided to go back and use the same site that the elected members refused to look at in 2008 only this time the treatment standard is lower because, according to Uisce Éireann, it is not near any beaches. There are two beaches that they have not bothered to mention. They stated it is not near any houses but there is a circle of houses. Most importantly, it is on a beautiful inlet, an Cuan Chaisle, and across from Rossaveal, where, on an Údarás site, they have an existing treatment plant that could be upgraded without affecting any house or the area and add to the whole lot.

Ag dul ar ais arís go dtí an bpointe atá á dhéanamh agam, anois tá Uisce Éireann ann ach tá droch-chinntí á dhéanamh ag an eagraíocht sin mar tá sé faoi bhrú rud éicint a dhéanamh. Tá an cosúlacht ar an scéal go mba chuma leis maidir leis an gcinneadh ach é a dhéanamh agus ní féidir liom glacadh leis sin. Anois beidh an dá phlean seo curtha siar arís fad agus atá séarachas ag dul isteach san uisce.

Rachaimid ar ais arís chuig an Rural Independent Group agus an Teachta Michael Healy-Rae.

I thank David and Tríona in Deputy Mattie McGrath's office for the research and work they put in to this Private Members' motion, and Deputy Mattie McGrath himself. I also thank my two colleagues, Deputies Grealish and Michael Collins, for swapping around the time to allow me have my quick say on this matter.

I have been sent here with a clear message from, and on behalf of, the people of Kerry. While other Members have said they do not want to be parochial, I wish to be parochial and to talk about County Kerry and about the towns and villages in Kerry that need existing scheme upgrades or where schemes are non-existent and where they are crying out for a scheme to be put in place and have been doing so for many years. The local authority, Kerry County Council, has prioritised on numerous occasions and costed the funding required to put in sewerage schemes and all the preparatory work in the places my brother has mentioned, such as Caherdaniel, Castlecove and Kilcummin, where we need upgrades or where we have no schemes whatsoever. It is ridiculous.

The local authorities throughout the country are the biggest polluters in any county, quite simply, because of lack of investment. It is not the local authorities' fault. It is the fault of not only this Government but Governments dating back over the years which failed to ensure the proper resources were put in place. The funny aspect of it is that if one goes back over the history, schemes could have been put in place for sums that were not large but now, with modern systems, of course, it involves bigger money.

I, too, was glad to attend at Lough Guitane, where there is a the new water treatment plant which serves big towns up to 50 miles away in Kerry. It is servicing Tralee, Killarney and a massive hinterland. It was great to see that massive investment in Kerry being opened yesterday. It is future-proofed. It will be there for the generations to come.

We need so much more in Kerry. On a day when the Green Party is saying it wants funding for transport to be taken from areas around the country for Dublin, I would say maybe Dublin has enough for a while. Perhaps before Dublin blows up with the amount of money that is being invested in it, people will eventually wake up to what I have been saying for many years that there is a world beyond the Red Cow roundabout. Kerry is at the bottom of the country but, by God, we certainly do not want to be left behind when it comes to investment. We are every bit as entitled to investment in Ballinskelligs as they are in Blackrock. I will continue to say that in such a way that eventually the message will get home and Ministers and taoisigh who are centred on Dublin and who might not think that there is anything beyond the Red Cow realise that there is, and that we are crying out for investment.

We want people to work with our excellent local authority, Kerry County Council, where the engineers and water staff have served us so well over the years. It would be neglectful of me to talk about services without mentioning those who have worked in Kerry County Council over the years. When I say "worked", of course, there are excellent engineers but I want to talk about those who go out on Christmas Day, Sundays and bank holidays and who never open their mouths. When the call goes in that a waterpipe has broken or a pump has given up in a treatment plan, they are the ones who go out and who have served us so well over the years. I say thank you very much to past, present and future staff who have worked in our services in Kerry County Council for their excellent service over the years - it does not cost anything to say that. I remind people that the water would have stopped flowing only for these staff going out. Not too long ago, there was a massive water break in the heart of Killarney town and the water service staff went out. It was such a break that the repairs went on into a second day. They worked through the night and they did not question it. They did not hum or haw. They merely tore at it. Men came with machines and lorries and with shovels and they tore at it and kept going until they ensured that every one of the houses in that entire area had water in the quickest possible time. That type of sterling service must be recognised. When Members in here are blowing about schemes, blowing about this and that and blowing about big money, it is important to talk about the men with the shovels who will go into a trench, dig down and repair a waterpipe and put their heart and soul into it. I thank these people for that.

I want to make sure that in the future when the Minister of State sees the priority list coming from places such as Kerry County Council, he will acknowledge them. I am sorry that I have gone over my time.

My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and I have put forward this motion on wastewater services this evening. The Environmental Protection Agency carried out a report in 2017. It found that: the wastewater treatment in 28 of Ireland's 179 large urban areas failed to meet European Union standards; raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages flows into the environment every day; wastewater is one of the main threats to the quality of our rivers, lakes and estuaries; wastewater contributed to poor quality bathing water at many beaches in 2017; and coming into contact with inadequately treated wastewater poses a major health risk.

It saddens me to say that even without this report such shocking examples are all around us. In my own constituency of west Cork, the coastal communities are urgently waiting on Irish Water works to address raw sewage that is being released directly into the sea.

At a sitting of a Dublin court last month, Irish Water heard that 64% of Castletownberes's wastewater was untreated and carried by a pipe and discharged directly into the town's harbour - a situation described as extraordinary by Judge John Brennan, who was presiding over the case. The EPA inspector, Mr. Patrick Chan, said he had lifted a manhole in Castletownbere and could clearly see human waste travelling out into the harbour untreated. Castletownbere is a picturesque tourist town. It has a brilliant fishing port. For so many businesses in rural Ireland, it is hard to make a living and they rely on their town's natural untouched beauty to attract customers to the area. How will any business in a town where 64% of the untreated sewage is being discharged directly into the town's harbour be expected to attract customers back into the town?

These businesses have been let down by the Government. Not only do they face increases in their VAT rate, they are putting up with raw sewage being pumped into their town's main attractions and their once beautiful harbours. Not only is this affecting businesses, but we have young children playing on shorelines who are being exposed to water into which raw sewage is being pumped.

This is a serious health concern. According to Irish Water, Castletownbere and Castletownshend are among five towns and villages in County Cork where untreated sewerage is currently discharged to receiving waters, either directly from sewer network outfalls or via septic holding tanks where the level of treatment provided is inadequate. The Castletownshend sewerage scheme is needed to stop untreated wastewater being discharged directly into the harbour. Currently, the equivalent of more than 400 wheelie bins of raw sewage is being discharged into the harbour every day, which is an outright disgrace.

What I cannot wrap my head around is that following parliamentary questions submitted to the Dáil in 1992, 1994 and 1995, most replies gave the impression that work would get under way in the near future, resources permitting. We are far beyond the near future now. It is time for action on the ground to get this matter addressed once and for all. This situation is no longer acceptable. Irish Water intends to rectify this problem in conjunction with Cork County Council by constructing a new wastewater treatment plant and network infrastructure to ensure that wastewater discharging to Castletownshend meets appropriate discharge standards. It is believed it may be 2022 before the works are completed. In my book, this is way beyond reasonable time. The people of west Cork have waited endlessly for these works to be started and completed. This Government needs to shake up and deliver on promises that were made to the people.

This is not only about Castletownbere and Castletownshend because other villages such as Inchigeela and Goleen, my own parish, are also affected. I was chairperson of the community council which brought people in from all over the world ten or 12 years ago to deal with this issue with county council. We paid for it and the local businesswoman, Sue Hill, put these people up so we could sit everybody down around the table and work together for a solution. Ten or 12 years later, we still have no solution. There is no growth in rural towns and villages because of this raw sewage seeping into the sea. Water levels in towns such as Clonakilty are at an all-time low, which is another serious issue. In Ballylickey and Inchigeela, the rivers cannot be cleaned because we might hurt a fly or a fish, yet there is raw sewage going into the water and there is no problem with that. What is wrong with us? We are working backwards. As I have said previously, I strongly recommend that members of the Government take a drive outside Dublin, take their heads out of the clouds and see the problems for people living in rural areas such as Castletownbere.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Murphy, for sharing time to make a few points. I appreciate some of the concerns expressed by members of the Rural Independent Group and other Members. Many of the concerns expressed are real, honest and come from first-hand experience of the problems faced by people on the ground in our constituencies. I commend them on raising these concerns. However, I do not want to focus my attention on simply highlighting what needs to be done to fix these problems as I believe that we on this side of the House are very much aware of how to resolve the legacy problems with our water system and, in fact, according to the EPA report referenced, we are very much on the way to achieving that between now and 2021; instead, I want to take this opportunity to illuminate a few examples of where our action has been successful in addressing the types of concerns raised.

I can testify wholeheartedly to the positive impact of Irish Water's investment in wastewater treatment in my own constituency and how that positive impact is being felt by communities in counties Sligo, Leitrim and south Donegal as new wastewater plants have been built and are in the process of being upgraded. Since 2014 Irish Water has upgraded or built new wastewater treatment plants in 55 locations throughout the country, including 12 towns where raw sewage was going directly into the water. There are also plans with funding in place that are progressing to resolve the problems at the remaining 38 locations mentioned earlier. One of the locations listed was Bundoran, County Donegal. A €9 million investment was made there by Irish Water in 2015 and, today, this new facility has stopped the equivalent of more than 66,000 wheelie bins of raw sewage from entering the sea every day. This must be applauded and recognised. Irish Water is also investing €16 million in upgrading the Grange, Strandhill and Tubbercurry wastewater treatment plants in County Sligo and it has carried out rehabilitation works on the main sewer line in Sligo town in works costing €9 million. For decades, nothing was done by previous Governments in this area. These new and upgraded plants will improve the environment, support tourism and, in many cases, build capacity for new homes and businesses. Again, this work must be recognised.

It has been brought to my attention on countless of occasions that there is a need for increased funding for Irish Water, which is something I agree with 100%. However, I must remind the House of Fianna Fáil's shameful move to the side of populist politics when, in 2014, and subsequently in 2016, it insisted on the abolition of the water charge regime - a minimal water charge that more than 70% of people were paying. Because of this political game between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, unfortunately, Irish Water now has to compete with our schools, hospitals and the Garda for funding.

This is the reality of the situation and, as such, a number of the projects mentioned tonight must wait to be upgraded until the funding is available. Nonetheless, Irish Water is prioritising those locations that are not compliant with European standards under the urban wastewater treatment directive and it will then focus on those locations with no treatment of raw sewage. The EPA's annual urban wastewater treatment report points to the progress made by Irish Water in 2017. The utility increased expenditure by 25% to €215 million last year to ensure the development and delivery of solutions to support the safe return of wastewater to the environment from almost 1.1 million homes throughout Ireland after it has travelled through 30,000 km of public sewers and been treated at 1,100 wastewater treatment plants. Irish Water is increasing investment in wastewater infrastructure, year on year, and has planned to increase spending on wastewater projects in the existing capital investment plan. Many wastewater projects are currently in the design and planning stage and expenditure during this stage is significantly lower than during construction. Consequently, there will be a large increase in wastewater expenditure in the years up to the end of 2021, which will, hopefully, get us some way to addressing all of the areas of concern that have been highlighted this evening, including in counties Tipperary and Kerry and many other areas.

I thank Deputies Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Grealish, Harty and Lowry, as well as Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae, for tabling this Private Members' motion. We briefly touched on this at Leaders' Questions a few weeks ago but we did not get a chance for a full discussion so it is nice to come back to debate the facts. There has been a productive and informed debate so far. As is evident in the Government's response, there is agreement on all sides of the House on the substance of the motion. Much of what has been set out in terms of issues raised, proposed actions and policies is being addressed. The Government has adopted a progressive and considered approach to developing structures and systems and providing resources that will underpin rural water services, not just for the short term but also for the long term.

I would like to address a number of specific points in the motion. It notes the 2016 launch of the national taking in charge initiative, NTICI, for residential estates to support and accelerate overall national action on the taking in charge process for housing estates. This includes estates with developer provided water services infrastructure. The motion calls for funding for this area. It should be noted that the national development plan includes provision of €31 million for the period 2018-21 to address issues with developer provided infrastructure, rightly so, because people have been left in limbo in many estates. The Government launched the NTICI in April 2016 to trial new approaches and working methods in supporting and accelerating overall national and local action on the process for taking in charge of housing estates, including estates with developer-provided water services infrastructure. Under the terms of the that scheme, which was underpinned by €10 million in funding, developments subject to valid taking in charge applications were eligible for inclusion in the associated call for funding proposals. Ultimately, €7.5 million of the allocated funding was paid to local authorities in respect of 330 developments, containing some 14,930 homes.

The Minister and I intend to publish a review report shortly on the success of the 2016 initiative, with recommendations to inform and direct future taking in charge plans, including in respect of developer-provided water services infrastructure.

The report will be of value to local authorities and other stakeholders in applying the lessons from the pilot programme in a more general roll-out of a streamlined approach to the process of taking in charge, including through co-ordination with capital works by Irish Water. The funding provided under the national development plan demonstrates the Government's commitment to transition from the pilot phase under NTICI to a programme phase. In a planned and co-ordinated way, we will be able to deal with these problems over a couple of years.

The motion notes a number of factors regarding Irish Water's approach to combined sewers. There appears to be confusion in this regard. I want to provide clarity on where the responsibility lies and indicate what action has been taken. The term "combined sewers" generally refers to the public network which transports foul water and storm or rain water. These remain the statutory responsibility of Irish Water. Local authorities, on the other hand, are responsible for drainage which does not include sewerage. The position appears to be confused with what are called "backyard services" - an issue often raised with Deputies by constituents - which are on private property. Irish Water took over responsibility for public water services in January 2014, with the local authorities providing operational services to the company under service level agreements. While statutory obligations in respect of water services passed from the local authorities to Irish Water at that time, there were no changes made to the statutory obligations regrading the maintenance of drains or service connections for private property. Service connections link individual premises to the public sewer network or, in the case of shared service connections, more than one property to the network. Individual service connections are generally located in the public area, for example, under footpaths or roads. Shared service connections are generally located partly within the boundaries of individual premises and partly in the public area.

Under the Water Services Act 2007, as amended, responsibility for maintaining service connections lies with the owners of the individual premises. Although local authorities were not legally obliged to maintain service connections prior to January 2014, they adopted different practices in this regard. Some took no responsibility for maintaining service connections - including shared service connections and connections within public areas - or for clearing blockages in them, while others took responsibility for maintaining and clearing blockages in shared service connections. Since this issue arose in 2014, Irish Water has worked with local authorities on the basis that established practice should continue and that any public health issues be addressed. Irish Water has also recognised the difficulties which could be faced by homeowners in trying to maintain service connections that are located in public areas. This would include, for example, the cost and time involved in obtaining road opening licences. Irish Water has, therefore, decided to assist by taking responsibility for maintaining that part of the service connection which is located in public areas. It communicated this decision to the local authority chief executives in March. Leaving aside the fact that changing the statutory provisions would be expensive, this issue is finally being addressed.

The motion also calls for action to address what are claimed to be information shortfalls on the risks to marine life and fishing stock and the condition of public sewers. Irish Water has commenced a programme of asset studies - to the value of €50 million - which will provide comprehensive information on the sewer network in 40 towns and cities. To assess the potential impact of its assets on shellfish, Irish Water has developed a shellfish water impact assessment methodology as required under specific wastewater discharge licences. The proposed methodology for undertaking shellfish water impact assessments includes a number of stages which will be carried out in consultation with external stakeholders over the next few years. On completion of the assessments, the next stages will be identification and undertaking of any improvement works that are deemed necessary. I assure Deputies that the concerns raised in the motion are being dealt with.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the motion. I thank my colleagues for proposing it and I also thank the staff in Deputy Mattie McGrath’s office for drafting it. The statistics set out in the motion are frightening. The findings of the EPA report into urban wastewater treatment in 2017 stated that 28 of Ireland’s 179 urban areas failed to meet European standards and that raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages flows into rivers, lakes and the sea every day. We hear reports daily about water quality in our rivers and lakes. How can we expect them to be of high standard when so much raw sewage is being discharged into them? These are the same lakes and rivers from which the vast majority of Irish people get their drinking water. Our beaches are also affected by this raw sewage discharge, which resulted in six beaches being closed by the EPA in 2017. This must pose a serious health risk not only to the Irish people but to the many tourists that enjoy the Irish beaches, rivers and lakes each year.

The lack of wastewater treatment systems in many rural towns and villages is having a negative effect on rural communities as people cannot build homes in the towns and villages in which they grew up. This is contributing to population decline in rural Ireland and puts extra pressure on the major towns and cities that have treatment plants as young people have no choice but to move to get on the property ladder. Every day, we hear about the lack of housing. We have a solution. If the Government would provide the necessary funding and support to Irish Water to facilitate the upgrading of wastewater treatment plants and the construction of new plants in towns and villages, this would help to alleviate the housing crisis. In Galway, there are many rural towns and villages where people have grown up but are unable to live because planning permission to build is not possible as a result of a lack of a proper sewerage system to service housing estates. These people also cannot get planning permission to build outside the towns and villages because such build is deemed urban generated rural development. This is causing major problems and putting pressure on the towns and villages that have treatment plants in place.

There is another problem regarding the transfer of water services to Irish Water in that the company no longer has responsibility for maintaining, repairing or replacing combined drain and water connections to domestic premises that were previously maintained, repaired and replaced by the water services in each local authority. Refusal by Irish Water to maintain such drains causes huge difficulties within a row of houses where a blockage may occur at one private property and the responsibility falls to the owner of that property to repair the drain, even though a large number of properties might be serviced by that pipe. This issue could have huge financial consequences for a particular family, not to mention the health and safety issues that could arise when a drain is blocked for a number of days while these issues are being resolved. Funding must be put in place for Irish Water to address these issues.

The motion calls on the Government to:

— increase and escalate investment in Irish Water to upgrade deficient waste water treatment systems, prevent pollution and avoid financial penalties;

— implement a capital investment programme to provide specifically for the development of waste water treatment systems in rural towns and villages to allow for sustainable development to continue;

— review the service level agreement between Irish Water and local authorities to provide a statutory mandate to Irish Water to repair and restore combined drains systems that were previously under the remit of local authorities;

— expedite progress by local authorities and relevant stakeholders, including Irish Water, in addressing a build-up of pending cases relating to housing developments not yet taken in charge under measure two of the NTICI;

— continue improving how treatment systems are operated, managed and maintained;

— address information shortfalls on the risks to marine life and fishing stock, and the condition of public sewers; and

— urgently prioritise full restoration of the funding provided for group water schemes and private well owners to levels commensurate or above the funding provided during the 2011-2016 period.

The latter funding has been has been reduced from €70 million to €20 million. This is causing major problems for new schemes and in the context of the taking in charge of old schemes, many of which, as my colleague stated, are being looked after by elderly people. It is time funding was put in place to enable these schemes to be taken in charge.

Another issue is the amount of water that is being lost by rural group schemes. These schemes are begging for the local authorities to take them in charge but the local authorities do not have the funding to do so. Local authorities also cannot put in place new schemes in particular areas because there is great difficulty in obtaining approval for them from the Department.

I welcome that the Government and the Opposition have accepted the motion. However, it is no good accepting the motion for the sake of doing so. The Government needs to put in place the funding to ensure that the actions called for in the motion are taken.

I am delighted that the Minister of State will accept the motion and that we are supported by many of the Opposition parties but I am disappointed in some I see pontificating gach lá anseo. Every day of the week we hear Deputy Eamon Ryan from the Green Party talking about the environment and everything else yet he is not troubled by this very significant issue that affects rural and urban Ireland. We are not a bit anti-urban. Then there are our colleagues in the Social Democrats and Deputy Boyd Barrett, who want money for everything and champion the cause of the cannot pay, will not pay, want everything and pay for nothing brigade. Where are they when there are real issues for the people who have to pay all the time and who never minded paying and putting their shoulders to the wheel to dig the wells, develop and provide the water schemes, hold community meetings and collect the money. Ní neart go cur le chéile, as the adage of the meitheal goes. I can think of many water schemes I saw when I was coming home from school as a buachaill óg. I saw the men who worked on them before they even had JCBs. Then they got the equipment. I could talk about a scheme in Tedavnet, in north Monaghan. My late father-in-law was its chairman for years and my sister-in-law runs it now. Eight hundred people are involved. It runs seamlessly. People pay €700 or €800 to collect and there is no problem. The charges Irish Water is looking for are in the tens of thousands. Like my colleagues, I praise the many engineers and the other people, including the clerks of works, the ordinary technicians and the footsoldiers, who develop many schemes and reservoirs. When Irish Water and big Phil the enforcer took over there was not a pipe. There was no water anywhere, only buckets. We had proper infrastructure and all we wanted was a little money to help keep it going and maintained.

I worked on this motion. I worked very hard with the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser for several months to draw up a Private Members' Bill on the issue of combined drains. I want the Minister of State to clarify to me right now a statement he made a few minutes ago in this regard. The Bill was eventually deemed to require more than the incidental expenses allowable and was ruled out of order. As the motion mentions, the refusal to maintain such combined drains causes huge difficulties within rows of houses where a blockage may occur in a particular property. The Minister of State is wrong and I will correct him. These were built by local authorities, either by themselves or by contractors. The quasi-public pipe went along the front gardens or the back gardens and down to the public sewer at the road. That is a quasi-public pipe where it connects with several public mains. Why is this not taken in charge? I think it was trick-o'-the-loop. It must have been Hallowe'en when the transposition took place because this was deliberately left out. I thank the council officials and outdoor members who went in regularly and cleared the pipes with a Dyno-Rod jet or whatever else. Many pipes have dropped and shattered and toilet paper, etc., gets caught in the crevices. That needs to be sorted. It is not fair to Mary, Biddy or Tommy in their 90s to have blockages in their areas, with wastewater coming up into their porches in some cases. I have been in the houses. I have seen two or three instances of excrement coming up. The people in the houses up along the line are under pressure and have to hire the people with Dyno-Rod jets to come in. It is totally unfair and is discrimination against these people and the Minister of State must sort it out. Such difficulties did not arise when the local authorities looked after water services. Irish Water, in its water services strategic plan, has noted that the management of sewage effluent from combined drains during times of periodic flooding is a key challenge. The Minister of State heard stories from all over the county tonight. Rivers are being polluted, our environment is being damaged, our waterways are being polluted and we need to do something about it.

The Minister of State mentioned Fianna Fáil and blamed whomever else for negotiating to get rid of water charges. Fine Gael acquiesced. It gave in. It should never have done so. It should have held the ground and turned off the taps for a while of the people who do not want to pay for anything and then they would pay. What about the man who has to go to the well, pay to repair his own well, and maintain the electricity? The electricity goes off when the frost comes and these men have to leg it out and put red lights on the wells. One will never know the value of water until the well runs dry, as I mentioned. The people who worked on and developed water schemes were pioneers.

There is no fairness for rural dwellers, urban dwellers or those from towns. Incidentally, there are 100,000-odd septic tanks in the city of Dublin, so it is not entirely an urban issue. I am surprised that An Teachta Ó Riain ón gComhaontas Glas - beidh an páirtí imithe le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre - was not here to debate this motion tonight. This is an issue that affects all of Ireland, irrespective of whether one is a rural or an urban dweller. I resent the fact that we have been bundled, like the bundled packages, into the Independent Alliance. We have nothing to do with the Independent Alliance of the Minister, Deputy Ross. He is only interested in big rugby balls, Garda stations and so on. We are interested in rural Ireland and ordinary people who pay their way and are willing to do so having a fair crack of the whip. All they want is a little support, a little cabhair - ní neart go cur le chéile - and to be let live in dignity and have clean water in which their kids can swim and bathe and safe drinking water and not to have the EPA hitting them with fines.

When the Minister of State goes to Europe - I do not know whether he wears a blindfold so he does not hang his head in shame-----

The Deputy is in full flight. I have no option but to interrupt him. In compliance with the order of the House-----

Níl sé 10 a chlog fós.

I must put the question as it has been two hours.

Níl two hours críochnaithe fós.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 November 2018.