Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Tax Collection

This issue has probably been synopsised on the basis of how badly I put the question. This question was brought to me by Paddy Malone of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce. He is an accountant and he told me that every year there is an initial 31 October deadline for submitting returns. He talked about self-employed small sole traders, namely taxi drivers and people who would be involved in trades, etc. He said a significant number of them have been impacted massively by the pandemic. Some of them have heard about the Revenue online system extension. There is generally an extension for people who submit their returns online and pay on that date and it usually happens in or around November. It was set for 12 November this year and that got extended to 10 December.

It was explained to me that the difficulty in this regard is that the guy who owes €100,000 and has no difficulty paying it, because he has the money, will leave it until the end. That is fair enough because he has the money and he can pay it. A significant number of people are under severe pressure, however, and many accountants are rushing to get returns in for them because if they get their returns in on 31 October, then they do not necessarily have to pay on that date. The problem is that some of them believe they have an extension but do not actually have one. That are worried that if they put in their returns on 10 December but cannot pay, they will miss out on their audit exemption, which might mean they have to pay more money from an accounting point of view. Also, they do not have the money up front so this needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

This matter was specifically raised with me by my colleague, Deputy Ó Murchú, and a number of people have contacted me about it since. They have told me the small traders are deeply concerned about this.

Specifically, accountants are worried that among those smaller businesses that are struggling there is not enough awareness of this and that they need to ensure that come 10 December their outstanding tax liabilities from the previous year are settled as well as the presumptive liabilities for the current year. While many people are happy that an extension has been granted from 31 October or, say, mid-November to 10 December, there is a concern out there that there are small businesses that are not fully aware this is the case. We have been contacted by accountants who are struggling to try to ensure they facilitate these businesses and make them aware of the issue. We believe awareness of this matter needs to be raised. We want to highlight it to the Government in the hope that something might be done or, at least, awareness might be raised. There is a fear among many accountants that if they use the extension, they might not be able to meet those needs come 10 December. This Topical Issue matter has been raised to make the Government aware of this problem and to alleviate the concerns of those accountants and smaller businesses.

I thank Deputies Ó Murchú and Mairéad Farrell for raising this issue because it is one that is very current to many small business persons and even larger businesses. The provision for tax warehousing, which is in itself a good measure, allows people time to pay on a cash flow basis at no interest in the first period.

Since the outset of the pandemic, Revenue has been mindful of the pressures on businesses and has taken steps to enable them to cope with the restrictions. Revenue has stressed that businesses that are having difficulty should continue to file their returns and that if they are encountering difficulty making payments they should contact the unit dealing with their tax affairs in order to put arrangements in place. Since March, Revenue has allowed businesses to warehouse VAT liabilities from the January-February 2020 VAT period onwards and PAYE liabilities from the February 2020 income tax month onwards.

Revenue has recently stated in its frequently asked questions document on debt warehousing that if a business was able to reopen when restrictions eased in the summer but has had to close again due to the reimposition of restrictions, the warehousing of tax debts, including VAT and PAYE liabilities incurred while the business was temporarily reopened, can continue until the new restrictions are lifted and the business reopens again. Businesses that are eligible to warehouse debts can warehouse amounts up to two months after reopening, pay no interest on these debts for a further 12 months and pay a reduced rate of 3% per annum on these debts until they are paid off. To qualify for tax warehousing, businesses must continue to file their returns in a timely manner. This does not mean they must pay off the debts; it just means they must file the returns.

The Minister for Finance announced in the Budget Statement that tax debt warehousing is now being extended to excess payments of the temporary wage subsidy and to this year's income tax payments. Full details of these measures will be provided in the finance Bill which is expected to be published in the coming days. I will repeat that. Payments in respect of this year's income tax payments will be included in the warehousing provisions in the finance Bill to be brought before the House in the coming days.

Another measure already taken has been to provide for a reduced rate of interest on pre-Covid liabilities. Section 6 of the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Act provides that outstanding pre-Covid-19 tax liabilities would be subject to an interest rate of 3% per annum where the taxpayer applied to make a phased payment arrangement with Revenue. This is a reduction from the normal interest rate of 8% or 10% per annum, depending on the tax in question. The scheme applies automatically to existing phased payment arrangements. The legislation which provided for this measure set a deadline of 30 September 2020 to apply for a phased payment arrangement. Revenue has extended the date for finalising the phased payment arrangement to 31 October 2020. This was announced on 1 October 2020 in a brief issued on the Revenue website.

As mentioned, budget 2021 provided for the extension of the tax debt warehousing scheme to cover the balance due on 2019 income tax liabilities and 2020 preliminary tax. The warehousing of income tax will apply to any self-assessed taxpayer - that is, all the small businesses and the people the Deputies referred to - who expects his or her income for 2020 to be at least 25% lower than his or her income for 2019 as a result of the Covid restrictions. In the case of taxpayers who were not chargeable persons last year, warehousing may apply to preliminary tax liabilities for 2020 where the taxpayer contacts Revenue advising it that he or she is unable to pay his or her liabilities as a result of Covid restrictions.

The date for filing tax returns for 2019 and paying preliminary tax for 2020, as provided for in the legislation, is 31 October 2020. As the Deputies mentioned, Revenue has extended this date to 10 December. This is four weeks later than the normal deadline of mid-November. If the Deputies have any further comments, I will try to deal with them.

I just want to make sure I have this correct. People are worried about two things: that they will not have the money and that they will not make the 31 October deadline. Obviously, there are logistical difficulties for accountants at the minute trying to get information to Revenue on temporary wage subsidy scheme returns, etc., which has created its own difficulties. People are concerned that if they do not have the money for the 10 December scenario, they will suddenly be in difficulty and could lose tax certification or their audit protection. Small companies are also worried about 31 October and the Companies Registration Office returns from the point of view that they might lose audit exemptions. Again, the issue is the general cost of accounting that would lead to. I am very interested to ascertain, on behalf of these small-scale self-employed people or sole traders, what the position will be if they make a return on 10 December. Can they come to some sort of arrangement in respect of moneys if they do not have enough? I would like absolute clarity on that.

My colleague, Deputy Ó Murchú, has outlined the questions. It is good to see provision made for self-assessed taxpayers who would consider their income to be at least 25% lower than it was in 2019. There is concern out there that people who may have done okay in 2019-20 are in a completely different scenario now, so it is good that that is being taken into account. Other than that, I would like the clarity my colleague asked for.

I will go through this because it is important. We are talking about 2019 income tax returns. It is important to put on the record that 2019 had nothing to do with Covid. These are pre-Covid liabilities due, so Covid cannot be referred to this year in respect of tax that was due in respect of last year's financial statement.

I am sorry to interrupt, but the fear is the presumptive liabilities for 2020.

Yes, that is the preliminary tax for this year, 2020. I ask the Deputies to bear with me on this. If a taxpayer has underpaid his or her 2019 preliminary tax liability, the balance of income tax for 2019 cannot be warehoused. However, and this is an important "however", Revenue announced last Friday, 16 October, in its electronic brief No. 190/20, that this liability can be included in a 3% reduced-interest phased payment arrangement if the taxpayer agrees this with Revenue no later than 10 December 2020. It is important to note that for amounts that cannot be warehoused, people can contact Revenue. Once they do so before 10 December, they can get in under the new 3% rate that applies to the phased payment arrangement, not technically under the warehousing system. Revenue will agree to that 3% interest rate warehousing. That is important. The warehousing of unpaid tax - we are talking about VAT, PAYE, PRSI, USC, income tax and corporation tax - will not prevent the business from obtaining tax clearance. That is the position as long as the business continues to meet its obligations for qualifying for warehousing of tax debts by filing all tax returns and paying other liabilities as they fall due. The key point here is to get one's tax returns in.

One can agree to make the payment next year, the following year or the year after. Once a person gets his or her returns in on time the Revenue Commissioners know what they are talking about and will come to the arrangement of 0% for the first 12 months and then 3% after that.

That is even for 10 December.

Yes, once it is in for 10 December.

And they have the communications.

Aviation Industry

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as an ábhar seo a roghnú le haghaidh na díospóireachta anocht.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for choosing this Topical Issue. The Minister of State is familiar with, and I am aware she has met, the management and directors of Ireland West Airport Knock. I know she is fully aware of the situation currently faced by the airport. When one thinks that in 2019 some 807,000 people travelled through Knock airport, this year, at very best, there will be 170,000. That will be a much harder figure to reach now given the decision by Ryanair last week to, effectively, shut down almost all of its winter services, bar seven. Ryanair took that decision as a consequence of not being able to deal with the current travel restrictions. That is a different row. I want to focus on the airport.

Last week in the budget, which we welcomed, allocations were given specifically to Shannon and Cork airports because of the particular cash flow difficulties in protecting the cash balances at those regionally based airports. However, we have not been able to get any detail as to how much money will be given from the regional airports programme to Ireland West Airport Knock and to Donegal and Kerry airports.

The regional airports programme is traditionally run successfully and its support for regional airports is welcome. The Minister of State must accept, however, that this year it is not fit for purpose in a Covid-19 environment. Our regional airports do not have any non-core income this year. Their car parking and retail income is destroyed and, unfortunately, the employment they give to hundreds of families across County Mayo has been absolutely hammered this year. Staff who were laid off completely when the airport was fully closed are now on short-time work. While they have the support of the previous temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, now called the employee wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the rates remission scheme, it will not be enough to sustain the future of the airport.

We cannot wait for the 2021 regional airports programme. There needs to be a special allocation for 2020 extraordinary losses that will sustain cash flow and allow the airport to prepare itself for 2021. I do not know what the travel forecasts are for 2021. The Minister of State might be more privy to that information. They do not look very encouraging from this vantage point but we cannot turn our backs on Ireland West Airport Knock and we cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope it will survive.

In 1986, the week the airport opened, The Western People headline stated that it could not be done. It was done because of people power. It was done in spite of tremendous opposition at the time from the permanent government. We must regain that spirit. There was irony in the coverage by the Irish Examiner at the weekend of the troubles of Cork Airport that summoned up the spirit of the late Monsignor Horan in defending Cork Airport. That is what we need from the Minister of State. We need that spirit. We need that sense that it can and will be done in 2020.

I thank Deputy Calleary for providing me with the opportunity to speak about the impact of Covid-19 at Ireland West Airport Knock and, in particular, with regard to the decision of Ryanair to reduce its services.

Like all airports, Ireland West Airport Knock has been fully exposed to the intense decline in global aviation activity and, unfortunately, the decline has been further compounded by Ryanair's announcement to cut its winter capacity at the airport. As a key player in delivering high-quality international connectivity to the western region, I am fully aware of the significant impact of this latest news on the airport.

Of course, the decision by Ryanair to cut flights was part of a wider move by the company to cut its capacity on flights right across Europe. This development, therefore, was not entirely unexpected given the low booking rates to the end of this year. The challenges faced by the aviation industry are immense and totally unprecedented in living memory. In that context, I fully appreciate the growing concerns regarding the long-term economic viability of many airports, particularly smaller aviation enterprises like Ireland West Airport Knock.

I want to assure Deputy Calleary, however, that the continued viability of these airports is important to this Government. As the Deputy will be aware, policy on regional airports seeks to optimise conditions for regional development and connectivity both for social and economic benefits. As employers, they contribute to the local economy and employment is also supported through the various ancillary services they provide. This is why this Government took strong and immediate action to assist business and protect employment at the outset of this crisis. A comprehensive suite of generalised supports for all companies has been put in place. These include the wage subsidy schemes, grants, low-cost loans, the waiver of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities.

Ireland West Airport Knock has received a range of supports through these measures. That aside, I am aware that Ireland West Airport Knock is still experiencing an unprecedented strain on its financial resources and has made very difficult decisions to manage that in a responsible way. Where lay-offs have arisen, people have been supported through the Government's pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Ryanair's announcement can only have made matters worse in that regard and I empathise with all the employees at the airport, both directly and indirectly, who are impacted by this announcement.

Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to any one airport in Ireland or, indeed, internationally at present. I wish to remind the Deputy, however, that Ireland West Airport Knock is one of the airports receiving Exchequer support as part of this Government's regional airports programme. Historically, Ireland West Airport Knock has been well supported through this Government-backed programme. Last year, for example, it received €9.4 million in Exchequer funds. The majority of that funding went towards its runway overlay project. This year to date, Ireland West Airport Knock has received capital support of over €1 million and it is also eligible to apply for operational supports under the programme. My Department recently invited Ireland West Airport Knock, along with Donegal and Kerry airports, to apply for current funding of which a total of €3.5 million is available this year. This funding is typically paid to eligible airports in December of every year. Last December, for example, Ireland West Airport Knock received over €1.7 million in operational supports.

In keeping with this Government's priorities for regional development I am currently finalising a new regional airports programme for 2021 to 2025. This will give funding certainty to Ireland West Airport Knock over a five-year timeframe, helping the airport to remain viable as it transitions through the various phases of Covid-19. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that I have secured €21.3 million in funding for the programme in 2021.

I wish to advise the Deputy that all support mechanisms for the aviation sector will continue to be reviewed in the context of the Government's plans for international travel, having regard to the recommendations of the aviation task force and the forthcoming national economic plan.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. Will that €3.5 million be paid out to the three airports in 2020? Ireland West Airport Knock will need €3 million of that alone because that is the kind of loss it is facing. In the context of €10 million being paid to Shannon and Cork airports, I believe €3 million for an airport that delivers over 800,000 passengers is a pretty small ask.

I welcome the multiannual funding and acknowledge that. How much of the €21.3 million for the programme for 2021 is broken down towards the public service obligation, PSO, route and how much is broken down for capital or expenditure? How much of that €21.3 million in 2021 will actually be given to operational expenses? While I welcome the multiannual funding, unless we get decisions in the next few weeks, by the end of five years Ireland West Airport Knock will be in a different place from where it could be.

As the Minister of State said, this time last year we were moving with the runway allocation, the majority of which was paid for from within the airports own resources. We are, however, also looking at the area around the airport. We had the strategic development plan in place and developing it to its potential was always envisaged. However, here we are 12 months later as a consequence of Covid-19, which I accept, and the airport is once again fighting for survival.

All we are looking for is a level playing pitch, and similar to the announcement made last week of €10 million to airports which previously got substantial funding in the form of debt write-offs, new major terminal buildings, etc., I ask that our airport, Ireland West Airport Knock, gets a level playing pitch in recognition of its size. Maybe it is time to separate it from the regional airports and give it an acknowledgement of the role that it plays as a very major airport on the Atlantic economic corridor and on the west coast.

I assure the Deputy that this Government is fully committed to our airports and especially to airports like Ireland West which facilitates tourism and economic development for the entire region. Like many of our small airports, Ireland West Airport Knock plays a key role in making the region accessible in that context. The Government is acutely aware of the effects Covid-19 is having an all airports, on the wider industry, and most importantly on people whose jobs have been directly affected by this pandemic. We are fully committed to doing what we can to help the aviation sector and consideration of other financial measures has not been ruled out. As the Deputy is aware, the task force for aviation recovery made recommendations on how to support the industry in the short term and to provide stimulus through the recovery period. As was already mentioned, these will be considered as part of the forthcoming national economic plan.

Covid-19 Pandemic

I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State in the House and indeed all of the Ministers working in the Department of Health at the moment and their officials for dealing with all the ongoing challenges. The work that is needed is acknowledged not just by me in this House but by the public as well, so I acknowledge that at the outset. I am also conscious of the fact that with language being used this evening in terms of contact tracing, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and by the magnitude and scale of the challenges as well.

I put down this question on the back of difficulties expressed to me yesterday morning and over the previous weekend by some school principals. The reason they contacted me was there were communication difficulties in dealing with cases that they were alerted to them on a Friday evening and then going through the process over the weekend. The issue could be summed up in a nutshell by saying it concerns the communication, point of contact, direction and protocol for contact tracing. Since putting down this question yesterday, I am delighted to see that there has been considerable progress made over the past day. The primary level stakeholders and the secondary level stakeholders met with NPHET today as well, and that is really necessary to instil confidence in the leadership within the school communities, because we all know, appreciate and certainly know the value of children and teenagers being back in the school system. Teachers have been very closely monitoring their progress since schools have come back. Parents have noticed progression where regression happened when pupils were absent from school for up to about six months, and it is important we hold on to that progress.

To summarise, what I am raising is something that has already been enacted by the people concerned. I am very well aware of demands on the system and the contact tracing system, but it is really important and incumbent on all of us to ensure whatever resources and strengthening of the existing system that can be done should be done. That focus, especially with the participation of NPHET officials at the stakeholders meeting, was a positive step forward today.

I acknowledge the role played by officials within the Department of Education and Skills. They have been liaising quite closely with Department of Health officials for a long time, going back to last March and there is constant communication and constant engagement in ensuring that they try to get things right. I know from my own communication with them and from my own relationship with them in my previous role that the different officials work morning, noon and night to try to get this challenge under control. We are all on the same hymn sheet, whether it is parents, teachers or principals, to ensure the progress that has been made in having children and teenagers back in school stays on track to ensure we continue with the primary motivation of educating our young people.

I thank the Deputy for putting down the question and giving us an opportunity to clarify it on the floor of the House. Communication is key on this. It is key for the principals, the parents and most importantly for the continuity of children attending schools. I am going to read out the script as it was prepared for me because the clarification points are very important. Before I begin, however, it is important to say all officials in both Departments are working tirelessly together to ensure anything that needs to be done is being done to ensure education can continue.

I am happy to have this opportunity to outline the protocols and supports in place for schools and briefly describe the overarching public health principles, including case investigation and risk assessment, that govern the response to cases and outbreaks of Covid-19, which are consistently applied across all school settings. In all schools with a suspected case of Covid-19, HSE public health will undertake a risk assessment to assess the unique risks in each situation and decide on appropriate, proportionate action to protect the health of students, staff and the wider community. It is important to note that these actions will vary in different schools. This is because every school is unique, with unique risks related to the spread of Covid, so different measures are required to manage outbreaks in different schools. This is entirely appropriate and is a core tenet of public health management of outbreaks of notifiable infectious diseases, including Covid-19. The public health risk assessment, PHRA, approach is described in the Schools Pathway for Covid-19: the Public Health approach, available on the Back to School web page.

Risk assessment is carried out under the jurisdiction of the public health doctor at the relevant regional HSE department of public health. Public health doctors are expert in risk assessment. As outlined, because every school setting is unique, the risk of Covid transmission will vary on a case-by-case basis. The risk assessment process for each outbreak in a school setting assesses a variety of context-specific factors to determine appropriate and proportionate measures to be taken to protect the children and staff in the school and to prevent onward transmission and protect public health. For example, if a confirmed case of Covid-19 with links to a school is identified, HSE public health will undertake case investigation to determine whether the person has been in the school during the infectious period. If he or she has been in school during the infectious period, HSE public health will undertake contact tracing and risk assessment. This may result in a whole pod or class being excluded and tested for Covid-19 if they are deemed to be close contacts. When public health departments are formally informed of a person with Covid-19 who attended an educational facility whilst infectious, they then undertake a PHRA. This usually happens the same day, or the following day. There has been a delay in one particular region which the HSE is working to address urgently.

The public health medical service is available seven days a week, and contact with schools is made on this basis. The risk assessment is dynamic and is evolving as more information becomes available. For example, if contact tracing identifies additional confirmed cases that are widespread throughout the school and HSE public health suspect transmission in the school setting, this may contribute to a decision to close a facility partially or fully as an outbreak control measure. However, if, following case investigation or risk assessment, it is determined there is no risk of transmission in the school setting, HSE public health may advise that further testing in the school is not required.

That was a comprehensive answer and it is good to see the response included upfront honesty on where challenges exist. In one particular area, the Department and HSE are working to deal with ongoing issues. It is important that we continue to be transparent. Information is key. Re-emphasising the seven-day week availability to principals will be very important in the days ahead. The intense feeling among primary and secondary principals and teachers, as the Minister of State knows, is they want to continue teaching. They see the progress and they want to be in a position to lead on the educational front and take a responsible position to lead on the health and safety front. They have dual responsibility. Following the meeting today and the comprehensive nature of the answer, I hope progress will be made.

Many people have varied opinions on what happened last night. As the evenings get shorter it will be a different lockdown at a different time from the lockdown in March when the sun was in the sky and the evenings were longer. Now the evenings are getting shorter. With regard to the 5 km rule, many people, and not just the elderly, go for walks in the evening. People in rural Ireland could be living ten miles from lights or from a town or village. We have to have due consideration for people who want to walk on a footpath in a safe area. We do not want people endangering their lives or putting their safety in jeopardy. We need to have closer scrutiny of this.

There is much conversation about the GAA. The GAA has always been here in the darkest of days when the country has been in the most difficult of times. It was there for the school meals programme at a voluntary level when I was in my previous role. Now that the evenings are short and people are in their houses, they have something to look forward to, whether it is intercounty football, hurling or camogie. It is something on which we should work hard. It is not a glamorous job for these GAA athletes. They are not getting on buses. They get changed at home and they go to training in their own cars and vehicles. It is a difficult time for them but they are providing a ray of hope for so many people in the country.

I thank the Deputy. I will only take a minute to respond so we will keep on track with time. I could not agree more with everything the Deputy has said. Language is also important. The Deputy has covered everything, but how we communicate to people at present and how we use our language so as not be too alarming is also important. There is a lot of anxiety and stress. There is stress and pressure on the principals, teaching staff, parents and young people. Most importantly, we need to be calm and measured in our approach, response and asks. This is what the Deputy has articulated.

I want to place on the record an important piece of information to do with contact tracing. A process is in operation to support all ongoing school testing. As of 13 October, 364 schools had, or were having, testing completed as a consequence of a public health risk assessment. Of the 364 schools that have had mass tests, an additional 172 cases were detected and identified and 8,606 students and teachers have been involved in this mass testing. The testing and tracing system is working and demands on the system are being met by increased resources being applied by the HSE. The testing and tracing is operating seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Water Quality

I thank the Minister of State for his attendance to take this question. Normally, I would deal with this issue locally but we have been frustrated in our attempts to get a satisfactory resolution from Irish Water. What is the current status of the boil water notice relating to the Galtee regional public supply in County Tipperary? The notice has been in place since 31 October 2019. Approximately 120 properties are dependent on this supply to their homes. Will the Minister of State give a full update on the steps that have been taken by Irish Water on this issue to allow the boil water notice to be lifted and ensure the residents of these properties have a safe, clean and reliable water supply in their homes as a matter of urgency? In exactly 11 days, these households will have endured a full calendar year, 365 days, of being subjected to these conditions. This is not acceptable by any standard. It is appalling neglect and breach of contract.

The boil water notice was lifted for 38 homes in the area. It remains in place on a secondary section of the mains from Kilfeakle to Golden pending completion of remedial works and satisfactory monitoring results. This continues to impact on 80 households. The residents of these 80 homes are frustrated and, in fact, bitter over this long drawn-out saga. It was possible to lift the restriction for the 38 homes following the completion of remedial works, primarily the installation of booster chlorination and water mains scouring, the receipt of satisfactory monitoring results, and after consultation with the HSE. The 80 remaining homes have been left in limbo due to depleted chlorine levels in part of the network, and it is these 80 homes about which I am concerned and why I am raising this issue.

The remaining homes have been thanked, no less, by Irish Water for their patience and told the issue will be rectified in that standard phrase "as soon as possible". They have never been given any indication as to when this will happen. No timeline has been put on it. In the meantime, they continue to boil water for drinking, food preparation, bathing babies and children, brushing teeth and preparing infant bottles and food. Prior to the pandemic these families struggled for more than three months. One can only imagine how much more difficult the struggle has been since the pressures of Covid-19 were heaped upon them. They are under intolerable pressure and inconvenience.

During the remedial works that have been carried out to date, to restore a safe supply to the 38 homes, all households on the scheme were left with no water supply or significantly reduced water pressure. In fact, there was a publicised case of a nurse who was unable to wash her uniforms as a result of the water pressure being too low to operate her washing machine. This is an absolute scandal and is bordering on Third World conditions for these households. I ask the Minister of State for a response.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which is one of serious local concern, as he quite rightly pointed out. Certainly it needs resolution.

The Deputy appreciates that the operation of the Galtee regional water supply scheme is a matter for Irish Water, which, since 1 January 2014, has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. In turn, the Environmental Protection Agency, as environmental regulator, is responsible for setting quality standards and enforcing compliance with EU directives and national regulations for the provision of drinking water. However, from inquiries the Department has made with Irish Water, I understand that a precautionary boil water notice for the area supplied by the Galtee regional water supply scheme was issued, as the Deputy said, in October 2019 following consultation between Irish Water, Tipperary County Council and the HSE.

The notice was issued after scheduled network testing identified low chlorine levels in the area between Kilfeakle, Golden and Thomastown, caused by the age of the pipe network in this area. Irish Water, in partnership with Tipperary County Council, undertook remedial works to improve the water quality, including the installation of automatic flush valves and a chlorine booster station in Thomastown. These initial works allowed the boil water notice to be lifted from half the affected area at the start of this year.

Further remedial works are now under way to resolve the remaining disinfection issues in the public supply. The water quality will continue to be monitored over the coming weeks to determine whether these remedial measures have been successful. Once the monitoring results verify the satisfactory residual chlorine levels and that the drinking water quality is in compliance with drinking water regulations, Irish Water will consult the HSE to determine whether the boil water notice can be lifted.

The Department's priority is to ensure that people's health is protected and that adequate water is available for personal hygiene and the washing of hands during the Covid-19 pandemic. We all want to see this notice lifted without undue delay, but only when Irish Water has completed the necessary work and both the HSE and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, have confirmed the water supply is safe once again. Irish Water, along with the relevant authorities, is working to resolve this issue as soon as possible and has advised affected customers to continue to boil water before use to ensure the protection of their health. Additional information and advice on boil water notices is available on Irish Water's website or by calling Irish Water's 24-hour customer care line.

Both our water and our wastewater systems require substantial and sustained investment. In support of this, the Government has committed to ambitious funding of Irish Water's capital investment plans for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis and plans to deliver the €8.5 billion funding package committed to in Project Ireland 2040.

People generally understand that circumstances can arise in which services are disrupted and that this will result in inconvenience, but ten months down the line, understanding and patience have run out. It is important that this matter be treated with urgency by Irish Water. The families now face into a winter, in the midst of a pandemic, with no proper water supply. This cannot be allowed to continue, from a physical, mental and emotional perspective. The matter needs to be addressed. I accept the Minister of State's response and ask that, perhaps in a number of weeks' time, he have his officials in the Department make contact with Irish Water and seek a progress report to ensure that the matter will be resolved once and for all.

The Deputy certainly has my commitment in that regard. He is absolutely correct that it is frustrating, particularly in the depths of a pandemic, that people would have to accept what he outlined. One of the basic components of the sustainable development goals relates to clean water and sanitation, and it is a basic necessity that we provide that.

Irish Water's primary functions are to provide clean and safe drinking water for customers, to treat wastewater and to return water safely to the environment. In providing these critical services, Irish Water plays a role in enabling social and economic development and protecting the environment and the health and safety of the public. Irish Water, as a single national utility, is taking a strategic and nationwide approach to asset planning and investment and meeting customer requirements.

Our entire water system needs substantial and sustained investment over a number of investment cycles to fully improve performance and resilience. Investment will also be needed to deliver new water capacity for our growing population to deal with the increased impacts of climate change and to address our biodiversity crisis. Prioritising the order of this work and the associated investment will need ongoing engagement with Irish Water and its regulators, the EPA and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities.

I reiterate my commitment to the Deputy that we will continue to follow up on and monitor the issue he raised until it is resolved.