Water and Wastewater Treatment Services: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

recognises that:

— many of our towns and villages do not have water and wastewater treatment services;

— we need people living in communities to develop growth centres;

— towns and villages need investment to provide the infrastructure necessary to attract families to live, work and raise their families;

— clean water and wastewater systems are essential components to grow communities; and

— the excessive cost to the homeowner for the provision of water and wastewater treatment services is a barrier to providing homes;

acknowledges that:

— regional development will provide the catalyst for economic recovery post Covid-19 and Brexit;

— local authorities and developers require clear policies and actions to ensure proper planning takes place; and

— the provision of housing for all is a national economic and social imperative, and infrastructural costs in the provision of water and wastewater treatment cannot be borne solely by house purchasers; and

calls on Government to:

— create a strategic plan to make regional development a reality by investing in water and wastewater infrastructure in our towns and villages;

— implement a development lead infrastructure scheme to fast track infrastructural development in our towns and villages to create balanced development; and

— put in place a transparent cost structure for new, and extensions to existing, water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.”

I am sharing time with four colleagues. I thank my colleagues in the Regional Group for putting together the motion. It is important to note that this is not an attack of Irish Water, rather a cry for help from the Government on its behalf. As we know, many towns and villages do not have the services they require. People live in communities where nobody takes charge of the sewage treatment and an environmental time bomb is ready to explode in our towns and villages. The motion also refers to housing and how we can address the issue.

In Athenry, a town the Minister of State probably knows well, which is located next to a motorway crossroads, features a railway and is within shouting distance of Galway city, no more new homes are allowed to be built until 2025. Craughwell, which is also a growth centre for Galway, is not allowed to build any more houses. The same is true of Corofin and Abbeyknockmoy. They are just four examples of growth centres attached to the motorway, with connectivity into the city, and they cannot build houses. The simple reason is that Galway County Council will not give planning permission without there being a municipal treatment plant, while An Bord Pleanála has refused on the same basis and stated that any development in these towns and villages will be premature until the infrastructure is in place.

Prior to Irish Water being formed, Galway County Council earmarked sites for wastewater treatment in all these places and carried out feasibility studies. It had identified a site for the east Galway wastewater treatment plant and was moving ahead with that. When Irish Water was brought into being, it was intended that it would take over that role. Every one of the projects I have mentioned, however, is now off the agenda and there is no specific plan. In Athenry, for instance, money was found to extend the plant and get it ready, but now the money that is needed to complete the network is not available and it will not be done until 2025, pending funding.

This cannot continue. I ask the Minister of State and the Government to put in place a fund for Irish Water in order that it can carry out the works it is charged to do. There have been so many discussions about housing. Why we are not building houses seems to have become a mystery, but some of that mystery relates to the fact we cannot build houses in the towns and villages where we want to. We do not want reviews or working groups. We do not need any more of them. I know from my time in government that there is pushback from within the permanent government on these matters. We need to give the money to Irish Water. It has the expertise. I have worked with many people from Irish Water over the past five years and they are very good people, but they too are frustrated because they have to prioritise environmental issues and highly populated places where serviced land may need to be provided.

There is a complete stagnation of development in rural Ireland, and on top of that, there is pushback against once-off rural housing. People in the regions are being told they cannot build in the countryside and have to move to the towns and villages. They are told that towns and villages will be designated for them, but they cannot build there either. We do not need to wait for county development plans to be prepared to get this infrastructure in place. There are housing estates where the sewage is running out of the wastewater treatment plants, for which nobody is taking responsibility. It is a disgrace in this day and age. We charge the same households local property tax and give them nothing back to help them solve these problems.

I implore the Minister of State to get to the nub of this issue and provide funding to Irish Water. If Irish Water does not have the capacity within its resources, it can designate it to the local authorities, which will put in the infrastructure and let Irish Water take charge afterwards. We need to do this now. We cannot wait any longer for more reviews. Even if the money was provided today, as the Minister of State will be aware, it would take perhaps three years before a new wastewater treatment plant was operational. We talk about remote working, but how we can we remote-work in rural areas if we do not have housing?

I thank my colleagues in the Regional Group for tabling the motion. It is clear that Irish Water's delivery of new wastewater treatment plants is simply not working. We need a clear strategic plan to make regional development a reality by investing in water and wastewater infrastructure in our towns and villages. That is a must.

The latest report of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has shown that many towns and villages simply do not have adequate water and wastewater treatment services. The report is also highly critical of Irish Water's delivery of new treatment plants. It highlights that 19 large towns and cities did not treat wastewater to a European standard in 2019, and notes that 35 areas continued to discharge raw sewage, including Omeath in my county of Louth. It goes on to state that 48 areas were under significant threat to inland and coastal water pollution as a result of wastewater discharge. Of these 48 areas, a number of areas in County Louth were identified, including Dundalk, Blackrock, Castlebellingham, Dunleer and Tallanstown. The report also notes 13 areas where wastewater discharge must immediately be improved to protect endangered freshwater pearl mussels and again two areas in County Louth were identified, Carlingford and Omeath.

The report gives a grim overview of both Irish Water and the delivery of treatment plants. It is clear that action is needed, which is why we in the Regional Group call on the Government to take action immediately. The motion calls on the Government to recognise that many towns and villages do not have water and wastewater treatment services. We need people living in communities in order to develop growth centres

Our towns and villages need investment to provide the necessary infrastructure to attract young families to live in the area and raise their children. We also want the Government to recognise that clean water and waste water systems are essential components to grow communities and that excessive cost to the homeowner for the provision of water and waste water treatment services is a barrier to providing homes.

We have also called on the Government to acknowledge that regional development will provide the catalyst for economic recovery post Covid-19 and Brexit, particularly for Border areas such as Louth. It should also acknowledge the provision of housing for all is a national economic and social imperative and infrastructural costs for the provision of water and waste water treatment cannot be the sole responsibility of the house buyer.

In tabling the motion, we call on the Government to take the following action: to create a strategic plan to make regional development a reality by investing in water and waste water infrastructure in our towns and villages; to implement a development led infrastructure system to fast-track infrastructure development in our towns and villages to create a balanced development; and to put in place a transparent cost structure for new, and extensions to existing, water and waste water treatment services.

The EPA has clearly identified the failure of Irish Water to deliver adequate waste water treatment plants. It has also highlighted the consequences of not taking action. We must take action now and the Government must step up now and provide the resources. We cannot ignore this report. The many areas around the country that have been identified as being at risk is alarming. In my constituency of Louth a large number of areas have been identified as requiring immediate action, including Dundalk, Omeath, Carlingford, Blackrock, Castlebellingham, Tallanstown and Dunleer. Louth is the smallest county in Ireland.

We in the Regional Group seek cross-party support for the motion. We appeal to the Government to take immediate action. What is needed now is action, not empty words. As I have said previously, we need the Government to invest in water and waste water infrastructure in our towns and villages. I come from the smallest county in the country and the Minister of State can appreciate the serious problems we have. I appeal to him for his help.

I thank my colleagues and particularly Cait, our administrator, for bringing forward this motion regarding Irish Water. I recall when Irish Water was set up it sparked off one of the most controversial debates we had in this House for many years. I sat on the committee established to try to find a solution and an all-party agreement on the best way to move forward with the establishment of Irish Water. The outcome of the committee’s deliberation was that there should be no water charges, which effectively left the full cost of Irish Water to be borne by the taxpayer.

There is much debate in the House on housing and lack of supply, particularly for first-time buyers. I want to particularly congratulate the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, on the tremendous work he is doing to bring forward the affordable housing Bill and on his efforts to find a solution to the housing crisis.

Many town and villages around the country cannot be developed and cannot move forward due to the lack of infrastructure, particularly sewage treatment plants and water supply schemes. Unless this issue is dealt with there will always be a crisis in rural Ireland regarding housing supply.

A matter demanding immediate action, on which my colleague, Deputy Canney, touched, is the quality of sewage treatment plants provided by some developers building smaller schemes of houses. Currently, too many problems are arising from plants not properly built. We must have closer monitoring of the construction of these plants in the future. Irish Water needs to be involved from the start and ensure the treatment plants are built to a proper standard and specification and it should supervise the operation until completion, eventually taking them over and maintaining them. That is the way forward to increase housing supply in rural Ireland. I ask that this be seriously examined.

On the outskirts of Galway city there is a major pumping station at Merlin Park, which pumps effluent from Oranmore and the east side of the city to the main Mutton Island treatment plant in Galway Bay. This pumping station is now at full capacity, resulting in development being held up on the east side of the city and in the wider Oranmore area. The new county development plan, which will be going on display shortly, proposes a new town centre at Gurraun and a major development at Ardaun, with more than 500 houses being proposed in the lifetime of the new plan. None of this development will take place until this pumping station is upgraded.

Galway County Council in recent years has proposed a new waste water treatment system, which would cater for the major growth of the east side of the city, as Mutton Island is nearing capacity. This is another issue on which Deputy Canney touched. This treatment plant would cost in excess of €100 million but there has been no movement from Irish Water to progress this plant, which will take a long number of years to bring to fruition. Unless there is movement on this plant, no growth will be possible on the east side of the city, particularly in Oranmore, Athenry and surrounding areas for a few years.

Another issue I want to raise is the cost of group water schemes. I have been working on a scheme on the outskirts of the city that would cater for approximately five houses. We secured approval and a grant from the Minister of State’s Department, for which I am thankful, to cover some of the costs of the scheme. To keep the costs down, we got agreement from a landowner that the pipe can be laid inside the wall and a way leave provided so as not to have to dig up the road. This would drastically reduce the cost of the scheme but, unfortunately, Irish Water is insisting it does the contract for this scheme and the pipe must be laid on the roadway, which would drastically increase the cost, possibly making it unviable. By laying the pipe inside the wall, the cost would be in the region of €35,000 with the householder only having to pay a contribution of approximately €800 each. However, if the pipe was put down under the road, as insisted by Irish Water, the cost will be in excess of €100,000 and each household would have to pay in the region of €7,000 which is not realistic. This issue has to be examined to ensure that we get a proper water supply to local residents at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer and the householders.

Another issue that has been raised in my constituency office is the time it takes to get approval from Irish Water for a connection agreement in order that an applicant can apply for planning permission. It is taking up to five months before an agreement is reached and an applicant can lodge a planning application. This backlog needs to be dealt with. It is holding up development and housing. I the Minister of State to examine that.

Unless proper funding is put in place to construct infrastructure that is needed in our rural towns and villages, we will always have a housing shortage in rural Ireland.

I am delighted to support the motion on investing in our public water and waste water treatment infrastructure. As a proud member of the Regional Group, I am very much in favour of balanced regional development across regional, rural and even coastal Ireland. It is not that I am particularly biased towards living in the countryside; I am just biased towards progress. Living in regional Ireland and supporting the move towards regional Ireland has major benefits to pay for the entire country. It will reduce gridlock, congestion and pressure on services in our main cities. It will also reduce the cost of living because it is much cheaper to live in the countryside. It will further reduce our carbon footprint because we will not have to commute as much. Most importantly and crucially, it will improve our quality of life because we will get to spend much more time with our families and children. We will have a healthier lifestyle and a cheaper cost of living in the country.

I am completely sold on the idea of balanced regional development. To be fair to the public, they are ahead of the Parliament. There has been a major and even a macro trend towards moving towards the countryside, particularly in the past 15 months as a result of the pandemic. As a result of that shift, the Government should not just allow it to happen, it should encourage and support it to happen and even capitalise on this trend. The best way to do that is to make up for the chronic lack of investment in water services, water treatment and other facilities in rural Ireland. I welcome the publication of the recent strategy, Our Rural Future. There is much good context in that strategy document. I accept there have been at least some improvements in road infrastructure and the broadband roll-out is at least accelerating. We are not there yet but it is improving. Water services and water treatment infrastructure are always the poor relation. I am not sure why that is the case. They may be just not deemed to be as sexy, glamorous or as cool as the other technical utilities or it may be the fact that water pipes are under the ground and because they are invisible it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.

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A major infrastructural improvement is required in terms of water treatment facilities. In my constituency in Portarlington, the taps were dry for three weeks last summer. I know it was a dry summer but the main reason is leakage. There is a huge amount of leakage. Many of pipes in the country date back to the Victorian era. We need to improve the piping in our regional towns. There is also a lack of boreholes and wells. There is huge room for improvement from a water facilitation point of view, particularly in a growing town such as Portarlington. Many of the regional towns are rapidly expanding and we cannot rapidly expand unless we provide the facilities required.

I accept there has been improvement and some investment in water treatment facilities, but there has also been a few overflow incidents on both the east and west coasts in the past few months. That is unacceptable. I accept these water treatment facilities are built to EU standards, but we should recognise these EU standards are minimum standards. There is nothing stopping us increasing the spec and the standard of construction to ensure those treatment plants are customised specifically for the Irish environment. Some of those overflow incidents are threatening and compromising the blue flag status of some of our beaches. It is an area we have to improve on.

We need to invest heavily and urgently in our water facilities for a number of reasons. The first is from a climate change point of view. Climate change will bring big changes to our weather patterns. We will have drier summers and wetter winters. We also need to reduce the amount of waste of potable water and the amount of pollution from a waste water perspective. Our population is increasing and the trends are obvious from that perspective. The more people one has, the more water one will need.

Money is cheap now. It is almost free. What better time to invest in our water facilities, be it water treatment plants or water facilitation? It should done as soon as possible to encourage regional development, build houses and invest in our future.

I thank the members of the Regional Group for their motion and Deputies Canney, Fitzpatrick, Grealish and Berry for their opening contributions and the constructive nature of the motion. It is timely as we go about reviewing our national development plan. They have highlighted the pressure points that Irish Water, as a public utility, is facing. I welcome the views of other Deputies on this important area as we outline plans and actions the Government is intending to take.

Our Shared Future, the programme for Government, sets a high level of ambition around sustainable water management and contains more than 30 commitments specific to water matters. These commitments are directed towards overcoming the deficits in our water infrastructure which impact on the provision of safe and secure drinking supplies and, as mentioned by Deputies, strive towards achieving sustainable development, including housing provision, in both rural and urban Ireland.

Significant progress has been achieved over the past decade on institutional reform in the approach to the delivery of water services in Ireland, including on the overall governance and practice of water protection. The work continues. A number of significant and complex challenges remain for our water services. Irish Water, backed by record Government investment in water infrastructure, is well placed to develop the systems and services Ireland needs to serve our citizens in the 21st century.

Irish Water continues to evolve on its journey to becoming a world-class water utility. A modern, effective, environmentally compliant and efficiently delivered water service system is central to all our national interests. Working together since 2014, Irish Water and our local authorities have made real progress in implementing nationwide systems to provide a coherent approach to water services. Irish Water has become firmly imbedded as a national public water utility with strength, delivery and management of water services and investment.

Irish Water delivers its services in accordance with the statutory water services strategic plan which was published in October 2015. This sets out a high-level strategy over 25 years to ensure the provision of clean and safe drinking water, effective management of waste water, environmental protection and support for economic and social development. In turn, Irish Water's strategic funding plan 2019 to 2024, outlines its multiannual strategic business planning funding requirement of €11 billion, which comprises €6.1 billion of planned investment in infrastructure and assets and €4.9 billion in operating costs.

Robust governance, accountability and oversight are in place, with economic regulation of Irish Water by the Commission of Regulation of Utilities and environmental regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, while An Fóram Uisce and the water advisory board have specific roles to oversee the performance of Irish Water.

I acknowledge we have a way to go to ensuring our water and waste water infrastructure, including the distribution and collection networks, are fit for purpose. Water and waste water infrastructure in Ireland has suffered years of underinvestment and the condition of the national asset base was deteriorating faster than the investment could keep up. These underpinned interventions require Irish Water, as a national public utility, to periodically rebalance its investment portfolio to ensure it is maintaining existing levels of service and supporting growth capacity, while addressing the compliance and capacity challenges.

The cost of the provision of domestic water services provided by Irish Water is met by the Exchequer from my Department's Vote, with more than €1.3 billion being provided in 2021. The Government's substantial and sustained investment is vital to address the existing infrastructure deficits, ensure compliance with EU directives, accommodate population growth and build resilience in the face of climate change.

Maintaining a high level of investment in the water sector over the future investment cycles is vital in order to achieve greater environmental compliance; overcome challenges in water and waste water treatment infrastructure; address unacceptably high water leakage rates; service future housing and development needs; and ensure security of supply across our country, all of which, to be fair, have been raised by the Deputies.

Significant reforms are still required. At the end of February, my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, published a paper agreed by Government, entitled Irish Water - Towards a National, Publicly-Owned, Regulated Water Services Utility. The policy paper sets out the Government's expectations on the next steps of the water sector transformation. This transformation will ensure Irish Water plays an effective and efficient role in underpinning the implementation of Project Ireland 2040, including our objectives under the national development plan.

Continued high levels of investment in our water services will be a priority for Government under the revised national development plan which is in preparation. This motion is key in setting out the priorities which we need to bring into that development plan.

In terms of alignment with the national planning framework, the second leg of Project Ireland 2040, Irish Water takes account of and supports ongoing work on the implementation of the framework, including the regional spatial and economic strategies. It liaises closely with local authorities to inform ongoing reviews of county development plans, local area plans and its waste water capacity registers, which help ensure the right development is supported in the right place.

A key programme is Irish Water's small towns and villages growth programme 2020 to 2024. This will support the growth in smaller towns and villages through an investment fund of €100 million, with the approval of its economic regulator, the Commission of Regulation Utilities. Irish Water recently announced details of 13 waste water treatment plants across 12 counties, which have been selected for upgrade under this programme. These projects are now commencing design, thus investment under the programme will now begin to deliver and accelerate.

The engagement of relevant local authorities will ensure timely deliver of these badly needed upgrades around the country. An increase in the supply of housing, the need for which is agreed on by all sides of this House, is critically dependant on the provision of supporting water services. This growth programme will now begin to deliver the necessary capacity in small towns and villages to support broadly needed housing development in the right place for all our communities.

It is important to acknowledge the vital role played by the rural water sector in delivering high-quality water services to areas outside the public water system. Nearly one fifth of Ireland's population gets its water from private supplies consisting of private group water schemes or private household wells. Just under 200,000 people are served by almost 400 private group water schemes throughout the country. More than 170,000 rural households depend on their own private wells for their domestic water needs. Group water schemes provide an invaluable service to families, farms and businesses in rural Ireland.

This Government is committed to supporting the rural water sector by providing equity of treatment and financial supports, equivalent to the public water sector. For capital investment needs, the multiannual rural water programme provides funding certainty for the continuous improvement of water services. The programme has provided more than €70 million over its current three-year cycle which runs to the end of 2021.

An annual subsidy also provides funding towards the operational costs for group water schemes and the supplying of water for domestic use.

I have set out in broad terms the Government's water services policy programme, focusing on the water sector transformation and the significant funding for domestic water services, including the relevant programmes and supports for our rural water sector. Our sustained investment in infrastructure is required to ensure continued supply of good-quality drinking water and appropriate treatment of water to ensure continued social and domestic development. We have made demonstrable progress in addressing the huge challenges we face as a Government and will continue delivering strongly on the commitments made in the programme for Government, particularly those underpinning housing development.

A number of Deputies have raised the infrastructure needed to unlock so much potential in our towns and villages up and down the country. Deputy Canney made a point on our rural housing policy. As Minister of State with responsibility for planning, and coming from a large rural constituency, I really understand and appreciate how important rural planning is because it consistently takes up of 25% our output of housing. We are currently reviewing the sustainable rural communities document which has not been revised since 2005. That will be an important key to ensuring that delivery is protected and that those who live in rural areas can continue to do so in a sustainable way. That is very important and I am acutely aware of it because of the constituency I occupy. As I said at the outset, the Government is not opposing this motion. We look forward to working with our colleagues to try to improve water services for all, both rural and urban, and to unlock the key potential inherent in our towns and villages to ensure this national development plan review will again support Irish Water in the delivery and working with this key public utility.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. The objective behind it is that we would have a strategic plan for regional development and make it a reality by investing in our water and waste water infrastructure in towns and villages across the country. I welcome the contribution by the Aire Stáit, who is accepting the core principle behind our motion and the motion itself. The reality is that local employment opportunities are being stalled as a result of the failure to upgrade and provide waste water treatment facilities across our country. Our towns and villages need this investment, this necessary infrastructure, to provide for clean water and waste water treatment facilities to attract families to live, work and raise their children in these rural communities across the country. This infrastructure is an essential part of growing these particular communities.

The latest EPA report is highly critical of Irish Water's delivery of new waste water treatment plants. The report highlights 35 towns and villages that continue to discharge raw sewage into nearby waters. Sadly, in the part of the country I represent, east Galway, we actually have raw sewage running in the streets of villages because of the lack of waste water treatment facilities. It is going to be very hard to bring investment into those villages and those communities when that is what visitors to them can experience, and it should not happen in the current society.

The lack of this basic infrastructure is being compounded by measures within county development plans right across the country which effectively ban the construction of one-off rural housing. The new county development plans will prioritise cluster developments near existing settlements with waste water treatment facilities. This will decimate existing communities where people cannot build on their own land and now cannot live in their own parish because they have no serviced lands. There is no point talking about planning for future housing needs in regional growth centres like Athlone, the town shared by myself and the Minister of State, if we do not have the basic infrastructure in place. I will give a practical example of what I am talking about. Monksland, the community on the County Roscommon side of Athlone, requires a new network upgrade and a new treatment plant in order to cater for increased demand. The Government has designated that community, as well as the rest of Athlone, as a major growth centre that will see substantial growth in the years ahead. However, half the town cannot expand because we do not have those facilities. The two closest villages to Monksland, Brideswell and Curraghboy, do not have any waste water treatment facilities and there are no plans to provide any. Where then are the young people of south Roscommon going to live? Irish Water needs to publish a five-year sewerage plan for every single county across the country because that type of strategic plan is not there.

As bad as the situation is in south Roscommon, it is absolutely deplorable in east Galway. Villages like Kiltormer, Aughrim, Kilreekil, New Inn, Kilconnell, Ballymacward, Caltra, Castleblakeney and Menlough have no waste water treatment facilities. All those communities will not be able to retain their own existing young populations unless they have access to that basic infrastructure. We then turn to the mother and father of all challenges: Mountbellew, which is the biggest town in County Galway outside Ballinasloe and has a massive hinterland. The design for the waste water treatment facility there has been completed and a site identified for it but there is no funding to proceed with construction of the project. We are therefore saying to communities right across east Galway that they must either live in Ballinasloe or migrate to Galway or Dublin. How is that going to solve the housing and congestion challenges we have in those cities? We cannot even provide young couples with serviced sites.

I am delighted to be able to propose and speak on this motion as part of the Regional Group. I concur with everything my colleagues have said on the floor.

We all know the importance of top-quality water infrastructure. Unfortunately, much of our water infrastructure needs upgrading. This presents us with an opportunity to plan carefully; to fast-track infrastructural development in our towns and villages to create balanced development; to create a strategic plan for water investment and to put in place a transparent cost structure for new, and extensions to existing, water and waste water treatment infrastructure. To put it in one sentence, it is an opportunity to get it right. We need to take this opportunity because we cannot allow any town or village to be in a position where there is inadequate water infrastructure to support development. We have a housing crisis, which means we need to build houses. We cannot have leave ourselves in a position where housing or business developments could be rejected because of a lack of water infrastructure. That would amount to State-sponsored negligence.

Business development will be key to a post-Covid recovery and building houses will be key to solving the housing crisis. We need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to do both in all parts of Ireland. Many businesses of certain kinds will have seen benefits to working from home. There has been less unproductive time sitting in traffic or on a long commute, more time with the family and the ability to work in a comfortable environment. Of course, it is not for everyone or every business but it is likely that we shall see working from home or working from community hubs become more commonplace. All of these things need water infrastructure.

It is not just about throwing money hand over fist at the problem either. It is about a sensible, workable strategy. We currently have a lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to the upgrading of water services. I will give an example from my home area. A €13 million waste water treatment facility is being developed in Arthurstown, County Wexford, to service the Arthurstown, Duncannon and Ballyhack areas. This is, of course, badly needed and very welcome. However, the lack of joined-up thinking is shown by an exchange that took place in 2019 between Wexford County Council's director of services, Mr. Eamonn Hore, and the head of asset management in Irish Water.

Mr. Hore wrote to ask Irish Water to investigate the connection of the village of Ramsgrange to the new water treatment plant at Arthurstown. He wrote that most of Ramsgrange village was, at that time, served by poorly operated private discharge plants that discharge into the stream that runs through the village and into Duncannon beach, about 3 km away. For those Members who are not familiar with Ramsgrange, rather unusually for a rural village, it has a secondary school of almost 600 pupils, a national school, a pub, a supermarket and a variety of houses. The village is only 3 km away from the new €13 million facility where Wexford County Council has identified not only bad water infrastructure, but also obvious environmental issues. The lack of a strategic plan or joined-up thinking means that Ramsgrange will not be included in this new scheme, even though it is in need of it. It should be included in the scheme, as a practical measure, because it will be cheaper to do so now.

This is just one example that I happen to be familiar with, as it is almost on my doorstep, but there are similar anomalies right across the country. We cannot continue to deal with our water on a patchwork quilt-type basis which is why I, as part of the Regional Group, am calling on Deputies on all sides of the House to support this motion. Let us have a strategic plan, ensure we protect our environment and create the conditions to allow rural Ireland to recover and thrive.

Our local beach, Duncannon, has, unfortunately, lost its blue flag, which is pertinent to the situation I have just described. I ask the Minister to consider the fact that the loss of that blue flag will have an impact on tourism in the south County Wexford area. The measures we have proposed must be taken seriously and put into practice as soon as possible.

I thank the Regional Group for introducing this important motion which Sinn Féin is more than happy to enthusiastically support. Let me start by saying that the provision of genuinely affordable homes for working people in our towns and villages should be a priority for Government. It is absolutely essential not only for the revitalisation of those towns and villages but also for balanced regional development and, crucially, to tackle the challenge of climate change.

For that to happen, we need increased investment by Government in tackling vacancy and dereliction, a quick and cheaper source of good quality family homes in every county, particularly in every town and village across the State. We must also tackle decade of under-investment in water and, in particular, waste water infrastructure. Before we can rise to the challenge of providing new waste water treatment infrastructure, we must deal with the fact that there are thousands of families living in recently built developments that still are not connected to the public water system. The Minister will know that we have approximately 566 developments, in predominantly rural areas, across the State that were built with developer provided waste water treatment infrastructure, the intention of which was to connect them to the public system. None of them has been connected to date.

This is a legacy issue of planning permission provided during the Celtic tiger, delays because of the crash, changes in policies and improvement in standards in waste water treatment infrastructure developed under the auspices of Irish Water. The difficulty, of course, is that there are thousands of hard-working people who bought homes, predominantly in rural Ireland, and are now at risk of carrying the cost not only of the maintenance of what should be part of the public water system but also the cost if something goes wrong.

We must be honest and say that, in some cases, the developers did not build these waste water treatment plants sufficiently. In other cases, they built them exactly according to the planning permission that was provided by the local authority at the time. It seems that there is a slight shifting of the blame between central government, local government and Irish Water, with, of course, the homeowner stuck in the middle and unsure of what may happen in the future. The Government has allocated funding in the amount of €3.6 million so far this year to remediate the infrastructure in 26 of those estates but that is a fraction of what is required. We need to hear from the Government the timeline within which all of these developments will be brought in charge and their waste water treatment plants brought up to scratch.

Speaking more generally, we hear a lot of backbench Government Deputies bemoan in this House the lack of affordable accommodation in our rural towns and villages and the lack of infrastructure. Of course, the reason those things are the case is because the Government is failing to invest. The level of investment, for example, in ensuring local authorities can bring vacant homes back into stock is derisory. All of the targets under Rebuilding Ireland for tackling vacancy, particularly in our rural towns and villages, have been badly missed. Those targets were themselves very modest. The Government two years ago cut the capital investment programme for Irish Water, crucially limiting its capacity to tackle the kinds of problems that Deputy Naughten rightly raised in terms of those 35 agglomerations that are not only pouring raw sewage into rivers, lakes and seas, but are also currently subject to European Court of Justice and European Commission enforcement which will result in the State paying millions of euro in fines. If the Government wants to tackle this problem, the key is that it must invest in the affordable homes working people, particularly in rural Ireland, need. It must also, and crucially, invest in the waste water treatment facilities to bring our existing infrastructure up to scratch and in charge, as well as provide additional capacity, particularly in those towns in which we want to see greater regional development to take the strain off Dublin and Cork cities, and elsewhere.

The homeowners living in those 566 developments need action, clarity and certainty. This is not a problem of the Minister's making, it is one he has inherited. I urge him to sit down with the local authorities, Irish Water and his Department to come up with a plan so that the people will know when their estate will be upgraded, when it will be connected to the public system and when they will no longer have the fear and uncertainty of having to foot the bill if something goes wrong with waste water treatment plants that, through no fault of their own, cannot currently be taken in charge.

I met with Irish Water, along with my colleagues, Councillors Terry Crossan and Gerry McMonagle, about our concerns over the south Inishowen water supply from the Eddie Fullerton Dam and the development of Letterkenny, the major gateway town in the county. I left that meeting with a clear view that Irish Water is utterly under-resourced. There is clearly no plan in place to address how Irish Water meets its responsibilities to our communities across this State. In the case of south Inishowen, an inadequate pipe infrastructure that has burst repeatedly was put in place. This is the main trunk line from the Eddie Fullerton Dam to thousands of homes that are regularly impacted by water bursts. Those pipes were to be replaced a number of years ago. I was given a guarantee to that effect in a meeting with Irish Water but Irish Water is now saying that will not be done any time soon because there are even worse cases across the county. What a mess.

Letterkenny town is the major gateway and magnet for investment in the county. Irish Water is now stating that the situation there will have to be developer-led. That is a mess that has impacted Letterkenny in the past. The infrastructure needs to be put in place and building can then occur around it. There are concerns over both water and waste

water. Councillors in Letterkenny have a vision to extend the town southward. That is their vision. They want to develop lands for waste water and water but Irish Water cannot do it. There is a whole area, as one approaches the town from the direction of Buncrana and Derry, containing businesses and houses that are not connected to a state-of-the-art sewerage treatment plant because the investment is not there. I give the Minister of State those examples of the mess we are facing and the need for a plan and resourcing. That is why this motion is so important.

I too welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. I will start with a bit of positive news by welcoming the upgrades in Mallow, Cobh and Youghal. The environmental impact is welcome.

As many Deputies have said, we have major issues with capacity in other areas, particularly in my town of Midleton and in Mitchelstown. It is slowing down the building of homes. I know it has sometimes been mooted that it is not desirable to have people from the cities coming into the towns and jamming the place up but this is about having locals living locally, supporting local businesses and giving both an opportunity to grow. The capacity issue has been raised with me on numerous occasions and it is one of the stumbling blocks for local and regional development when it comes to housing. I also find it difficult to get replies from Irish Water when it comes to freedom of information requests. I remember sitting on Cork County Council discussing a county development plan a number of years ago for 2,000 homes where Irish Water refused to service a site and that development fell.

I would like to mention another issue with regard to capacity in a number of areas. The proposed treatment plant at White Bay Beach seems to be very small. I am wondering if Irish Water plans ahead when it comes to capacity in this because this treated sewage will be going into the bay there. I welcome that Ballycotton sewerage scheme is in its infancy but we need maximum investment in our sewerage and water systems. I worked in it for 20 years so I know how the system works. If we do not get this right, the impact will outweigh the environmental pluses. It goes back to the point that we do not want to start emptying out our towns and villages. There is great frustration that people cannot even build one-off houses because of capacity issues. I would like the Minister of State to address that.

I thank the Regional Group for bringing this motion, which I wholeheartedly support. It is nothing short of disgraceful that people must still fight for water 100 years after the State was formed. The motion being debated states that "clean water and wastewater systems are essential components to grow communities" and that it is essential that we invest in "the infrastructure necessary to attract families to live, work and raise their families". It is shameful that this basic infrastructure is still denied to many in this State. Too many households do not even have access to group water schemes. I commend all of the volunteers across the country who have provided water and worked so hard in their communities over the years.

In my constituency of Mayo, people are still fighting to access clean running water through community water schemes. It is wrong that they have been forced to fight tooth and nail for the most basic infrastructure requirement but it is even worse that some are being denied access to group water schemes. Downpatrick Head community water scheme thought it would finally see progress after 20 years of campaigning in June of last year when it received grant approval. However, the goalposts were then moved. The group was told that there was an additional cost of €18,000 and that it needed to find another nine houses for the scheme. This community had funding pulled from it back in 2008 and it is scared that the same thing will happen again. It is scared that all of its hard work will have been in vain.

The Murrisk water scheme has been campaigning for a clean water supply in that area for over 20 years. There are 600 households there without a clean water supply in 2021. It has still not even been allocated funding yet. If it was successful, the community would have to pay 15% up front. Every election comes around and there is always an announcement that things will happen and then nothing happens. There seems to be no understanding that some families simply cannot afford to make the payment up front.

In the middle of a global pandemic, Achill Island was left without water for months last year. The fact is that the treatment plant does not have the capacity to meet the needs of the population. I welcome that some works have been done there in recent times but we want a permanent solution to the problem of water on Achill Island. I got correspondence from Irish Water today and in that correspondence Irish Water stated that it hopes it does not happen this year and that it has put some works in place but if it does happen it will supply water through tankers. That is not good enough for rural Ireland or Achill Island.

We support this motion. It is an important issue for most of us who live in rural Ireland and we understand the importance of having infrastructure in place. The particular change happened when Irish Water came onto the scene. Towns and small villages that had group water schemes in place for many years suddenly found there was a change in policy and attitude towards what was being done. That is something that rings out clearly throughout the whole country. We need to see the investment go in and we need to see co-operation between the local authorities, communities on the ground and Irish Water to ensure that investment is put in place straight away.

The example that comes to my mind is that in Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim there is an area known as Hartley. A lot of houses in that area have their own septic tank systems, some of which work well and some of which do not. They are upstream of the River Shannon from where the water goes in for the treatment plant which provides drinking water for most of the county. The idea was that a scheme would be put in place so that they would get a group sewerage scheme which would pump into the scheme that is there in the town. However, after the local community coming together and working hard for a couple of years, even going around and collecting the money from the people in the area, the next thing was that when they had all that done Irish Water turned its back on it and stated that it would not go ahead with it. That is the type of situation we see all over the country. We need to have a change in policy and attitude from Irish Water to understand that small communities up and down the country need to have the infrastructure in place as a priority.

The other issue which comes straight to mind is that of one-off rural housing and the big problems that are there. That is something I have spoken to the Minister about as well. We have a serious issue in many areas where people who want to build a one-off rural house are being refused the right to do so, which means they cannot sustain their local communities. We are told it is about the septic tanks and the sewerage situation. The reality is that technology has long overcome that problem. The single house sewerage treatment systems that are available treat the sewage to up to two or three times a better standard than the town sewerage systems. It is not an argument any longer. That argument needs to be put to bed and we need to get back to being able to develop houses and giving people a place to live in their local areas where they can send their children to the school they went to themselves.

It is an indictment of this Government and successive Governments that many of our towns and villages do not have waste water treatment services in 2021 and those that do most often need a serious upgrade as they have been operating over their capacity, causing all sorts of issues and disruptions for the community. Recently, I received a response from the relevant Department advising that Irish Water has no waste water infrastructure in towns and villages in Clare such as O'Briensbridge, Broadford, Cooraclare, Spanish Point and Carrigaholt. I know that, for example, Carrigaholt has been campaigning extensively for nearly 50 years for this treatment service. According to Irish Water, it has no remit or responsibility to fund such schemes under Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, funding rules.

The waste water collection and treatment facility in Milltown Malbay, for example, is maintained by Clare County Council on behalf of Irish Water under a service level agreement. Although Irish Water acknowledges that there is a need for an upgrade, it has still not stated when this will be possible. No timeline whatsoever has been provided. This is the same dead end that many treatment plants are at. They are awaiting feasibility studies with no clear answer as to when they will be upgraded. It is quite unbelievable that this was allowed to happen. The Government has clearly left these towns and villages behind, so far removed from the much-needed solution. The Government needs to acknowledge and address this issue immediately.

There cannot be talk of rural investment and regeneration unless there is commitment and action, which speaks much louder than words. The Government also needs to respond to the fact that we know that many families and individuals have had to review their lifestyle choices and have chosen to relocate to these rural communities because of the Covid pandemic in particular. We have seen, experienced and survived the slashing of rural services time and again. Just this year, Bank of Ireland branches and post offices across the county closed, such as the post office in Broadford. Even last week, the restricted route 51 service of Bus Éireann, which is an essential service, was slashed. This needs to stop and these areas and communities need to be prioritised.

I wish to support this motion and I thank the Deputies from the Regional Group for bringing it forward. Some 50% of my constituency is rural and the lack of water and waste water infrastructure there is an important issue. We are in the middle of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State.

Without investment by the Government in water and wastewater infrastructure how will houses be built in villages, towns and rural areas? The Government must invest. One-off housing is being blocked because of a lack of infrastructure.

In my constituency, in the middle of a densely residential area, there are four waste management facilities. Two of these have been licensed by Cork City Council and two by the Environmental Protection Agency. In January last year, the existence of ammonia, nitrogen and sulphate were recorded in the ground water in the Ashgrove facility, which is licensed by the EPA. This means that liquid ammonia was in the ground water. Some of the symptoms of ammonia poisoning are severe chest pains, vomiting and blindness and people are advised to go straight to the emergency department. What were the consequences of this for the Ashgrove waste management facility, which is surrounded by houses full of elderly people and young families and sports facilities? When ammonia was found in the ground water there were absolutely no consequences and nothing to answer for. The EPA has told me it cannot temporarily close facilities while an investigation takes place. It has only ever once shut a facility. Reports from Country Clean in 2018 showed it has never passed a fire inspection. As of 1 August 2018, maintenance of fire detection systems had not taken place since 2014. The EPA waited months before it notified the local authority. Today we are discussing water and wastewater infrastructure. Does the Minister think it is right that people in my constituency have serious issues with the water going into the ground? It is not right and there needs to be investment and action now. These waste facilities should be shut down.

I believe this is the first time the Acting Chairman, Deputy Kathleen Funchion, has been in the role and I wish her well.

I am delighted to have the privilege of being the first speaker on her watch.

I support the motion. I want to speak specifically about my constituency, which includes north and east Cork. In the first instance, I will speak for Mitchelstown. I have had engagement for quite some time with Cork County Council, Irish Water and local business interests in respect of the need to ensure the planned wastewater treatment plant upgrade will take place as soon as possible and, in the absence of this taking place within the next one to three years, the need for an interim solution to find capacity within the existing infrastructure so that planning and development can take place in Mitchelstown.

It is vital that Irish Water, Cork County Council and local industry interests, which are also vital to the community, come together to ensure an interim solution can be found so we can begin building houses again. If capacity could be found within the existing infrastructure, either by increasing the capacity of the existing wastewater treatment plant or by looking at the licensing arrangement on the outflow pipe, we could start to develop housing, residential properties and homes for people in towns such as Mitchelstown, which so badly needs it.

I am happy to say the quality of my engagement with Irish Water, Cork County Council and local business leaders has intensified in recent months. I am hopeful that short of building the new wastewater treatment plant an interim solution using the existing infrastructure can, in the short term, result in an agreement between all of the vital stakeholders, including Irish Water, Cork County Council, Dairygold, Ornua and the big industrial complexes vital to the future of Mitchelstown. I hope a way forward can be found under the existing infrastructure, resulting in the development of housing so that people can get on the housing ladder, footfall can be created in the town, businesses can continue to flourish and operate and more school places can be developed. If the town is to develop it needs an upgrade of the existing plant as an interim solution prior to the next investment coming down the track. If this can be done as a short-term measure it would provide massive alleviation to the people of Mitchelstown. It would also allow businesses to keep going and local developers to develop and build houses. This is what we want to see.

I am happy a solution is being worked on and it is a live process. I am hopeful there will be a positive outcome in the coming weeks that will at least allow business activity to start and allow developers to start turning sods and reignite planning applications. It would give them cover to be able to do so. If they are to flourish, towns such as Mitchelstown need an influx of new housing, new people and new generations to be created to ensure their future viability. I hope something can be done and we are actively working on finding an interim solution. I am devoting a lot of my time and energy towards giving effect to this.

I also want to speak about Glanworth. I welcome the engagement I have had so far with Irish Water in respect of the 2.3 km of water main that has been identified for rehabilitation. It is important that we acknowledge the €160,000 that has been allocated for 2021. I ask Irish Water to prioritise Glanworth. It is another important area that has been the subject of many breaks and leakages over recent years. While the citizens of Glanworth welcome the investment of €160,000, they want to see the upgrade of the 2.3 km of water main so this issue can be finally solved and put to bed. I continue to implore, ask and lobby in every way I can to ensure Glanworth is also seen to.

I also welcome the fact that works are taking place in Mallow. They will go a long way towards alleviating the sewerage issues in my home town. They will also ensure Mallow is given a chance to develop in a way that ensures no impediment is put in the way of future housing development. It is vital that towns such as Mallow, which is designated in the national planning framework, are given a chance to develop. As with Mitchelstown and all of the towns in my constituency, we want to see responsible development. We want to see proper capacity been built to ensure towns can flourish, local businesses and schools all benefit and we have the intergenerational flow that is vital and checks the balance of regional development against everything flowing towards the eastern seaboard. If towns such as Mallow are to flourish it is vital that they have the infrastructure to go with it.

I continue to work on a solution for Mitchelstown with Irish Water, Cork County Council and the other stakeholders. I hope we can find an interim solution.

It is vital that the licence is looked at in some way, shape or form in the future with a view to increasing the outflow capacity, so that when the new treatment plant is built there are no further issues down the line in relation to outflow. We must ensure that there is development in Mitchelstown, that we can build houses there and that local, intergenerational, family-run businesses are given a fighting change. We must ensure that young people who want to buy homes where they have grown up, work, live and have family links are not impeded in any way.

I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this most important motion, which the Social Democrats fully support.

The final draft of the Cork county development plan is open for consultation at the moment. Its section on water services is a stark warning of the investment needed in our drinking water and waste water treatment infrastructure. Out of 42 towns and villages, 22 are listed as having no capacity to process waste water, three have some capacity and six may have capacity, depending on the Irish Water investment plan.

It is not just an issue for small villages with limited treatment plants. Major towns are classified as having a strategic infrastructure deficit. Kinsale, with a population of more than 5,000 and plans for 2,000 more people, has no capacity. There have been problems with discharges from the Dunmanway waste water treatment plant and overflows from the pumping station going back years. In addition, future developments in Bandon, Bantry and Skibbereen are dependent on works on water treatment facilities and Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, licences.

Drinking water is also a significant issue. Clonakilty is facing considerable challenges in meeting its current water supply needs, without taking into consideration the estimated 800 new homes it needs to meet population growth. The town's population was impacted by a drought in 2018, a weather event that will only increase in occurrence with climate change. Castletownbere is also affected. The main source of water, Glenbeg Lough, is in a special area of conservation, limiting the supply, and the water treatment works have leakages and are in poor condition. The county development plan highlights this as a significant barrier to new developments in the town.

This is a snapshot of one constituency, but as my fellow rural Deputies have outlined, it is a major challenge which impacts on many communities and restricts planned developments. The motion forwarded by the Regional Group rightly calls for a strategic plan to make regional development a reality by investing in water and waste water infrastructure in our towns and villages.

I have repeatedly brought up the need for greater investment in our water services in this House. In particular, I have highlighted the disgraceful conditions in Belgooly and Shannonvale. Malodours from the waste water treatment plant in Belgooly are so bad that at times, people have to keep their windows closed and cannot let their children out to play. Many want to move, but the smell has lowered the value of their homes. In Shannonvale, there is a green space that used to be heart of the village. Now, it is unsafe and unusable because of a waste water plant that floods the area. This has been going on for so long that it is almost an intergenerational problem. The council and Irish Water have introduced stop-gap measures, but when temporary responses stretch over years and generations, it is time for action.

I have had extensive and very productive meetings with Irish Water, which has highlighted the need for more investment. It rightly has to prioritise the most pressing waste water treatment projects, but this means that the likes of Shannonvale are overlooked time and again. We need the type of strategic investment that this motion calls for to ensure that all communities receive the safe and effective services to which they are entitled. From an environmental and health perspective, the very least people should expect is the proper treatment of waste water and household sewage. However, years of underinvestment in water infrastructure have left communities and areas exposed to discharges and malodour.

The EPA's Water Quality in Ireland 2013-2018 report found that almost half of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries are ecologically unsatisfactory. Waste water discharge is listed as one of the main causes of this deterioration, after agriculture.

Proper investment in water infrastructure is essential to human and environmental health, and it is a fundamental factor in determining the development of our rural communities. We need sufficient safe drinking water. We need to be assured that our waste water is being treated properly. We need the Government to act now.

I thank the Regional Group for bringing this most important motion forward. It reflects the underinvestment in this important sector over the lifetime of many Governments and over generations.

In 2019, the European Court of Justice found that Ireland had failed to uphold EU law in respect of almost 30 waste water treatment schemes across the country, including in Arklow in my home county of Wicklow. A report by the EPA in 2019 found that raw sewage was flowing into rivers and seas in 33 places across Ireland. That is the equivalent of waste water coming from 78,000 people across the country. As a result, Ireland was threatened with heavy fines for breaching EU rules on sewage treatment. Out of that came a commitment from Government and Irish Water to put in place a waste water treatment plan across the country.

Arklow was then identified by the EPA as an area where waste water is discharged into the Avoca River without any treatment, which is causing untold environmental damage to the surrounding area. As recently as last night, I was sent some images from a resident in Arklow that showed absolutely awful conditions in the river. The images showed brown scum floating down the river, which really should be a central feature of Arklow. The river is the jewel in the town's crown and we are treating it like it is a sewer. It is completely unacceptable.

The Government and Irish Water committed to funding the construction of a waste water treatment plant - something that local residents were delighted to hear after a 30-year battle to address the problem. Anyone who has been to Arklow will note the huge potential of the area. There is a lot of work under way in the town. There are many large-scale infrastructures being developed, including off-shore wind park, the flood relief scheme and remediation works being carried out at the Avoca mines, as well as the long-awaited, much-needed waste water treatment plant. Arklow was also recently chosen as Wicklow's decarbonisation zone in recognition of its potential.

Leading in large-scale development and climate action, Arklow has a lot going for it. However, this rests on the timely construction of this waste water treatment plant. Housing development, environmental protection and decarbonisation all require that water pollution is managed and it is done so sustainably. It is also important that it is done as quickly as possible. In that context, I have been very vocal about the concerns that ministerial consent has still not been provided for this fundamental project, despite the need for it. Irish Water applied for this ministerial consent in November 2020 and plan is sitting on the Minister's desk for approval.

I welcome the Minister's assertions that he is conducting due diligence on this plan. We all expect that to happen. We know that the plan and the consent is under active consideration. However, there are a lot of steps that need to be taken before work can start on this waste water treatment plant. These steps need to be taken as quickly as possible.

With so much uncertainty in recent years about this project, it is important that there are no additional delays and that certainty and clarity is provided to the residents who are to benefit from this project. While I am conscious that this is a large-scale project that requires ministerial sign-off on all aspects of it and I believe that it is necessary for the Minister to stand over it, I hope the Minister will give this project the priority it deserves. The project needs to be delivered in a transparent manner, with continued communication with the local residents in Arklow so that they know what to expect and when to expect it.

I would also like to acknowledge other Irish Water investment in our waste water treatment infrastructure, including the recent announcement of an upgrade to Aughrim's waste water treatment plant, as well in other small towns and villages across the county. Blessington will also get a much-needed upgrade. I welcome the work that Irish Water is doing in respect of some parts of the infrastructure in County Wicklow. However, the work must be expedited. Focus should be placed on areas of the project that are within our control. In respect of the issue of ministerial consent, the Minister should focus on it, expedite it and make sure that Arklow gets its waste water treatment plant as quickly as possible.

I wish to thank the Regional Group for putting forward this motion. We need to go back a few years to the major row that occurred in this country between the Government and the population over water charges. What came out of that was a vote in this Chamber in 2017 which fudged the whole issue. The main fudging was in respect of the question of public ownership of water utilities.

There is a Bill before the House to provide for a referendum on the public ownership of water to avoid, forever, the possibility of the privatisation of water services, but that has been left sitting on a shelf.

Here is the root of a big mistake by the Government. After a major campaign to defeat water charges and the election to this House of a number of Deputies, including myself, by the communities we represented during that campaign, the Government just let it sit. Now, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage wants to rush through the ending of service level agreements for workers, which were guaranteed until 2025. He wants to end them by the beginning of next year and transfer all local authority workers to Irish Water as a single utility. It is not going to happen. I have never seen as much sentiment in resistance to being forcibly moved from a public sector job to a private utility. I will quote the workers at the recent Fórsa conference: "If workers are forced to transfer to Irish Water against their will, their anger and alienation will create a failed entity, a mortally-wounded service, and a public policy debacle to dwarf previous protests over water charges".

That follows hot on the heels of an OECD report, which states that the Government has to consider the reintroduction of water charges. Interestingly, the same OECD report also recommended, with regard to the environment, that the Government set a specific target to reduce biomethane associated with the size of the livestock herd in this country. That is not mentioned at all. All the Government mentions is the reintroduction of water charges because, yet again, it wants to make ordinary people pay through the nose so it can privatise this utility. Therein lies the problem. There is a tension between outsourcing to private entities the work that must be done on waste water and the provision of water services throughout the country and running it through the local authorities. The local authorities have been stripped of their power and their funding. To give Members an idea of what that means, the EU average spend on local authority funding is 22% of government budgets, while in Ireland it is 8%. They should think about that the next time they see smelly water running down the streets of Arklow, Cahersiveen or anywhere else. It is deliberately underfunding the local authorities in order to privatise.

There is no smelly water running down the streets of Cahersiveen.

There have been decades of underinvestment in our water infrastructure. That underinvestment continues, and the danger is that it will be used as another excuse to try to introduce water charges, which still will not resolve the underinvestment. Last week, the OECD called for the reintroduction of water charges in Ireland. In case the Government gets the wrong idea, it must be put on notice that any attempt to reintroduce water charges will be met with a massive campaign of boycott and people power that will bring the Government down. People know that water charges have nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with privatisation.

When the Labour Party and Fine Gael attempted to introduce this austerity tax, they managed to waste hundreds of millions of euro on PR, consultants and unnecessary water meters. That money would have been much better spent on fixing the creaking water network and installing district meters to detect leaks. Instead of austerity charges on working people, we must tackle the big business water wasters, including the data centres, which can use up to 4.5 million litres of water per day. Instead of greenwashing austerity, we should tax the billionaires who have profited from the Covid-19 crisis and invest that money in a green jobs programme, including upgrading the water network.

There is a question to be posed. Why is the Government refusing to hold a referendum to prohibit privatisation of our water services? This was a major demand of the movement five years ago. It was something the Government at the time said it had no problem with and supported, yet five years later it still has not been done. It poses the question of whether the Government and right wing parties are still harbouring pipe dreams of selling the water network in the future.

Now the Government is facing serious industrial action by water workers, as it attempts to force them out of their current jobs in the councils into the Irish Water semi-State body. These workers, correctly, have major fears about the long-term impact of this on their rights and conditions at work and a continuing fear that Irish Water could be sold to Denis O'Brien, Veolia or some other private company down the road. The Government should drop this hare-brained scheme, keep the workers where they are, protect their terms and conditions and, finally, hold the referendum to prohibit privatisation of our water services and invest in fixing our water infrastructure.

When the OECD recently said that Ireland should reintroduce water charges, the Taoiseach was very quick out of the traps to say that he ruled it out categorically. He did that for a couple of reasons. First, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had their fingers badly burned in the past decade when there was a mass movement against water charges. Second, I believe and hope there is an understanding that the reintroduction of water charges in the 2020s would make what happened in the past decade look like a tea party.

However, I wish to warn the Taoiseach and the Government on two matters. First, the excessive use charge can amount to a charge of €500 on a household. It also has the potential to be a water charge for large numbers of people through the back door if the thresholds are pushed in a downward direction. I can guarantee that any attempt by the Government to take that road will meet with a major reaction. Second, the OECD report did not just refer to water charges; it also called for increased waste charges and carbon tax, for people to be made to pay for their parking at work and so forth. Again, I warn the Government that any attempt to make working people carry the can for the environmental crisis that has fundamentally been caused by the big business polluters will not wash and will meet with a reaction.

Our water and water treatment services must be in public ownership. That referendum must go forward. If the local authority workers take industrial action to defend their jobs and to stay in a council, as opposed to being pushed into Irish Water, a company that could be privatised, they will have my full support and, I am confident, the support of the working people of this country.

In conclusion, we need a Covid-19 wealth tax. That would be the source of increased funding in water and water treatment services, not water charges on the backs of ordinary people.

First, I thank the Regional Group for tabling this important motion. It states that 35 towns and villages across the State continue to discharge raw sewage into nearby waters, according to a recent EPA report. That figure is far lower than I expected because many towns in my constituency of Cork South-West are suffering that sad fate. Obviously, the politicians on the ground, be they Deputies or Senators, have made a great deal of noise that something will be done, but decades later nothing has happened in some of these towns and villages.

I have serious concerns about places such as Castletownshend in west Cork. It is a beautiful place in which to live permanently or in which to holiday. There are lovely outlets and beautiful pubs. People love taking holidays there. However, its sewerage system is a disgrace and has not been upgraded. It is the same in my home town of Goleen. It is a stunning place to visit, but the raw sewage going into the sea is an outrageous situation, despite the efforts made by the community in Goleen and the community council. We spent fortunes and brought people home who had property there to try to work towards a solution.

Communities are seeking solutions. It is the same in Ballinspittle and I note that somebody is willing to work on the solution in that area. I do not know who is in charge in Irish Water as the impression I am given is that nobody is in charge. I cannot present a solution to Irish Water, despite the fact it will cost very little. Only a little co-operation is required so everybody can work together in a place like Ballinspittle, where there is a need for extra housing and a proper solution. Nothing is happening.

I am also worried about water supplies in Clonakilty, a thriving town with building ongoing. I see that if we had a very dry summer, the town could run out of water. It is scandalous that something like this could happen in one of the biggest towns in the country, leaving it on a wing and a prayer, hoping everything goes right. We must have a system that works and if communities are willing to work with Irish Water, they should be pushed up the ladder in getting water and sewerage systems in place. The motion is about raising that awareness and I appreciate this. I thank the Regional Group for allowing us the opportunity to speak to it today.

I also thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this very important motion. It is time we got our act together on this, as we need to with housing. I have been involved with this a long time and have seen schemes like Skeheenarinky, where it took 50 years for delivery. It was so slow the county sent a report to the relevant Department and it had to wait six months for a reply. The process of going up and down continued, taking six months each time. It is tomfoolery and now Irish Water has been introduced into the mix. It is a merry-go-round and the process has got slower.

There is a figure in the motion and there is a similar number in Tipperary. Sewage is destroying rivers and farmers are then accused of doing this, when the vast majority of them do their very best. They are good in dealing with the environment and nurture it. They resent being blackguarded. I have seen people from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, standing on my bridge in Newcastle, and I told them to go 400 yd below the plant, where raw sewage is going into the river. Along with Newcastle there is Burncourt, Golden, Donaskeagh, Mullinahone and Grangemockler. I could stay naming them all day. They might have a septic tank, perhaps bigger than that of a domestic house, but where 200 houses may have to go. There may be no sewage treatment at all and it goes straight into rivers. It is criminal and the EPA will not challenge the county councils. Its personnel come out quickly to anybody else if there is an accident.

I resent a previous speaker talking about smelly water running through a village. Does she know about it? She does not. The people in rural areas are being stigmatised. It was the same with septic tank charges that were introduced. Most people I know of want to keep their septic tanks working right but the arms of the State are incompetent and too unwieldy or slow. There is another plank with Irish Water.

Public private partnerships were good and delivered schemes in my area, including in Ardfinnan, Clogheen and Ballyporeen, as well as Cahir town, but they are at capacity and we cannot build another house in those villages. We need to look seriously at this. We must get real and have departmental officials cutting out half the red tape. There are multiple stages and Government politicians announce each of them but nothing is happening. People have been so frustrated but they want to pay their way. All the private houses must pay for their water, particularly if they have pumps and their own septic tank systems.

The idea that water is free is a myth because we know it is so hard to get it treated and pumped. Now we have the madness of taking water from the Shannon through Tipperary and many other counties to Dublin, which will destroy the environment. There is 50% leakage in Dublin. Kindergarten children would not put up with this.

I thank the Regional Group and Deputy Naughten for giving us the opportunity to speak about this very important matter. At the outset I will contradict a comment made by Deputy Bríd Smith to the effect that smelly water is running down the streets of Cahersiveen. She can look after her constituency and I will look after the people of Cahersiveen.

Irish Water is only obliged to keep current schemes up to standard and nothing compels it to build new schemes. Irish Water has said it does not have the money to do it. We were promised a scheme for Kilcummin and after 22 years we will get part of it. There is no scheme in Currow, Scartaglen, Caherdaniel, Beaufort or Cromane. Several schemes must be extended and improved, including Castleisland, Brosna, Kenmare and Fenit. Commercial and housing developments are all held up because of a lack of proper infrastructure.

Water is a basic human right in a civilised world. People who want to get water through a group scheme can end up paying anything up to €13,000 and that is after getting the grant. There is a scheme in east Kerry and each house in it must pay €10,692 to Kerry County Council. Lo and behold, Irish Water is now looking for €2,262 on top of that. We are talking about water but this is what the people must pay in a group water scheme. There are five schemes in mid Kerry, east Kerry, north Kerry and even south Kerry. They are all over the county. We must look at how these people are being charged on the double because it is not fair.

There are antiquated water systems in other places, with pipes breaking day after day. If not for Mr. Freddie Bartlett and his team working day and night to restore water in these places, there would be no water in mid Kerry in places like the board of works road, Pallas and Faha. We welcome 1.2 km of pipework will be replaced on the board of works road but another kilometre must be done and we must get funding for that.

These are very serious matters and I ask the Minister to take this to the Cabinet to ensure infrastructure in Kerry is brought up to standard. The people in Kerry are entitled to good clean water from an uninterrupted source the very same way as the people in Dublin 4.

The next speaker is Deputy Harkin, who is sharing time with Deputy Catherine Connolly.

I thank the Acting Chairman and wish her good luck in her new role. As a Member of the European Parliament, I received a constant stream of complaints from all over 15 counties about a totally inadequate system of water and wastewater provision. Ireland was dragged kicking and screaming to the European Court of Justice and heavily fined for basically allowing its own people to be poisoned. Subsequently we handed over a seriously underfunded and wholly inadequate water and wastewater system to Irish Water, which does not have adequate resources to upgrade these systems. In that context, I fully support the proposal in this motion that the Government must put in place a transparent cost structure for new and extensions to existing water and wastewater treatment plants.

Another crucial matter for so many people is the provision of waste water systems for rural one-off houses. In many parts of the constituency I represent we have the march of Sitka spruce across the horizon. In County Leitrim in particular, it is virtually impossible to get planning for a one-off rural house. Almost 87% of the soil in Leitrim fails to meet the accepted percolation tests required by the EPA. The number of one-off houses being built in Leitrim could be counted on one hand. As Deputy Martin Kenny mentioned earlier, outside Carrick-on-Shannon, there is a case of raw sewage entering the Shannon from a housing development.

A football club in south Leitrim, Ballinaglera, has issued a stark warning about the future of rural clubs in Leitrim. It has said the current position is sucking the lifeblood from communities like Ballinaglera and its analysis indicates the number of clubs in the county could halve in the near future. There is an initiative under way that is being pushed by Leitrim County Council and all four Oireachtas Members representing the county.

We met the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, who was in the House earlier, to explore the unacceptable situation in Leitrim where basically no one-off housing can be built. The proposal is to look at a fresh design of the willow-based evapotranspiration system to solve the problem. He expressed his willingness to work with us and to share costs. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to convey to the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, that this matter is of the utmost urgency. An EPA research programme must be put in place immediately, along with a pilot programme for homeowners to start building. This would be a minimal step forward, but at least if that was happening now people would have something to hold on to. This has been one of the most important issues for County Leitrim for the past 20 years. If the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, was here, I would ask him to finally be the person to bring forward a workable solution.

I thank the Regional Group for the opportunity to contribute on this issue and for putting the spotlight on sustainable development for our regional and rural areas. I will start from the motion's last sentence, just as Deputy Harkin did, which calls for the Government "to put in place a transparent cost structure for new, and extensions to existing, water and waste water treatment infrastructure". It is an absolute necessity and it must be done urgently. I support the motion in general, although if I have time I will return to one part where there is a call for "a development lead infrastructure scheme to fast track infrastructural development in our towns and villages". I may come back to that aspect, although I have only four minutes. I express caution regarding what that term means. If I read it in a benign way, it is excellent. However, if I interpret it differently, it is to get around a planning process, and I would have serious concerns in that regard.

Turning to Irish Water and the comments made in that regard, I proudly co-signed a Bill in November 2016 to ensure that water was owned by the people of Ireland. That and subsequent Bills have gone nowhere, but that will be the first step in creating confidence and trust. If the Minister of State has any influence, it would be a wonderful legacy if we had a constitutional amendment stating we own the water. It belongs to all of us, and it is as essential as air and we cannot live without it. We have all quoted the EPA. I am ashamed that we are still quoting the EPA. In my town, raw sewage is released into our waters every day from 35 towns and villages, including Spiddal, Carrowroe, Roundstone, etc.. Progress has been made in some places, but not in others. Treatment at 19 of the State's 172 large urban areas failed the EU's mandatory standards set to protect the environment. Those 19 plants generate more than half of Ireland's sewage. We could go on.

What has happened? First, we should not have a kind of ground-zero memory. We should go back and realise that development was going in a particular direction, one which was unsustainable and has had detrimental effects on our country. We must learn from the pandemic to go a different way. We talk about transformative change, and, indeed, we are now hearing that we are working from home and we have gteics all over Connemara and other rural areas. Those are very welcome, but with that we need a commitment from the Government for balanced regional and rural development, which is not evident on the ground. It is certainly not evident in Connemara or in Kilmaine and Shrule, south Mayo, which is part of the Galway West constituency.

I am tired of the blame being attached to Irish Water. It should never have been created. Now that it has, we must ensure the water is owned by the people of Ireland. If Irish Water is going to manage it, then so be it. It must have transparency so that it comes under the auspices of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is no monitoring of Irish Water now. It was set up so that it could be distant from us and we could blame it. We ran down the local authorities. County Galway has the local authority with the lowest level of funding in the country. It has no manager but has had an acting manager for years. There is no one to lead. That is what we have done to our local authority system. We have handed over to Irish Water all the expertise and memory that existed, and we are now left with a mess.

Therefore, I support this motion. I hope it is the start of a frank and open discussion and not the demonisation of those people and organisations that make submissions in respect of planning applications, such as An Taisce, for example. The planning system has worked, as long as it is resourced and adequately funded. Everybody, including An Taisce and myself, is entitled to make submissions on any planning permission application. The planning system should be so robust that it will be capable of dealing with those submissions in a timely manner.

I thank the Acting Chairman and I wish her all the best in her role. It is great to see a constituency colleague taking the Chair.

I will address some of the issues raised since I took over this part of the debate. Deputies Sherlock, Whitmore and Cairns commented regarding specific deficits in Mitchelstown, Arklow and Kinsale. Those points are noted. Deputies Connolly and Bríd Smith raised the issue of the public ownership of Irish Water. Certainly, Irish Water is a public utility. The issue of a referendum will hopefully be dealt with in the context of the programme for Government. Once the electoral commission is established later this year, it will be tasked with considering the various referenda scheduled in the programme for Government.

Issues were also raised regarding the situation in Clonakilty by Deputy Michael Collins and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. Deputy Healy-Rae is correct, and I hope we will meet with that body soon. Deputy Harkin then brought up the matter of one-off rural housing, specifically in County Leitrim. The preference should be to cluster housing developments around village settlements where they will be connected to sustainable water and waste water infrastructure. A pilot for that willow-based evapotranspiration system is being considered. Those are some of the issues which have been raised since I joined the debate.

I thank the Deputies for providing their insights on water and waste water services, particularly in the context of supporting the sustainable growth of towns and villages. Secure, resilient drinking water supplies and sustainable waste water treatment for households and businesses are not just critical to public health, the environment, economic output, biodiversity and quality of life; they are also fundamental to underpinning the growth of sustainable communities. The availability of water and waste water services is a basic necessity. It facilitates growth and development, the successful delivery of housing and the protection of water and our environment.

Since its establishment in 2014, Irish Water has developed long-term approaches to strategically address the deficiencies in the public waste water system. It is optimising investment decisions to ensure that it utilises capital efficiently by making investments that deliver the best possible improvements for communities. Building water treatments plans and upgrading or building necessary sewerage networks will require significant and intensive long-term investment.

The programme for Government commits to funding Irish Water's capital investment plan for drinking water and waste water infrastructure on a multiannual basis and to deliver the €8.5 billion funding package that was committed to for water investment in Project Ireland 2040. Ensuring substantial and sustained investment by Irish Water over several investment cycles is important in respect of addressing existing infrastructural deficits, accommodating population growth and building resilience in the face of climate change. It is also critical if we are to ensure compliance with relevant EU directives, which is an area where Ireland has struggled. I am determined to steer Ireland on a more sustainable path in that regard, and I know we are eager as a people to get it right.

The Government's second-cycle River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 set out new measures and implementation structures to improve water quality in our groundwater, rivers and lakes, estuarine and coastal waters. The new revised third-cycle river basin management plan in 2022, must ensure strengthened protection for Ireland's water quality and that we have a well protected environment and vibrant communities for future generations. By working coherently, we can achieve better environmental outcomes together.

Having adequate water and waste water infrastructure that is properly maintained and enhanced on an ongoing basis is an essential component of delivering sustainable housing for all, as set out in the programme for Government. By ensuring that the right water and waste water infrastructure is in place at the right time, we can meet the housing objectives of the programme for Government. Irish Water is continuing to work closely with local authorities across the country, ensuring investment supports the growth of identified settlements, where these are prioritised in line with local authority development plans.

The significance of the small towns and villages growth programme is that it is led by local authorities from the ground up. This is a key element of the programme because the local authorities have the expert knowledge of the local areas, and more importantly, the elected members decide on how they are strategically planning for the local areas through the development planning process. I know the role of local authorities has been raised. I believe this is significant.

Irish Water intends to make further announcements as it continues its analysis of projects submitted by local authorities. Importantly, Irish Water will also be proposing a continuation of this programme to the CRU for the next regulatory control period, from 2025 to 2029. There is, therefore, a funding plan for progressive upgrades to waste water treatment plants in small towns and villages.

The Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025, published by my Department, provides clear direction to strategic planning and decision-making on water and waste water services in Ireland. The statement's three thematic objectives of quality, conservation and future-proofing are aligned with the national development plan, the national planning framework and the river basin management plan for Ireland. Irish Water's investment plans are framed in this context.

The national planning framework 2018 to 2040 supports proportionate growth of rural towns and a programme for new homes in small towns and villages, with local authorities and public infrastructure agencies providing the serviced sites with appropriate infrastructure, to attract people to build their own homes and live in these areas. Ensuring funding for the provision of water services under the national development plan to the end of this decade will be key in realising both the national planning objectives and strategic outcomes of the national planning framework.

As mentioned by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, my Department is responsible for the formulation and delivery of funding for the rural water programme. This programme, through Exchequer funding, delivers improvements to private domestic water and waste water services in areas of rural Ireland where there are no public water or waste water services. A total of €75 million capital funding has been committed for the programme under the national development plan. This supports significant capital investment to support group water schemes in rural areas, a grant scheme to support rural communities to link the public drinking water and waste water network and financial support in respect of domestic waste water treatment systems and domestic wells.

Under Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025, my Department has committed to "Review the situation in relation to water services for towns and villages that are not currently on the Irish Water network". The Department is currently preparing a report on this topic for submission to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, later this year. The report will include an analysis of the results of a survey which is currently being completed by all rural local authorities. The purpose of the survey is to establish the numbers, size, national distribution and other environmental impacts for villages and smaller settlements that do not have waste water collection and treatment infrastructure provided by Irish Water. These rural towns and villages are vital hubs for local commercial and social activity and are a part of the wider fabric of Ireland's unique settlement pattern. The Department's initiative is significant in the context of the important work currently under way to finalise the review of the national development plan.

We move now to the Regional Group to conclude. Deputy Tóibín will be followed by Deputy Shanahan.

First, I want to give full credit to the Regional Group and Ms Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh for developing and bringing this really important Private Members' motion to the Dáil.

Water is a building block of life and the provision of adequate water infrastructure is the building block of a functional society. Waste water treatment services are vital for nearly every part of Irish society. The political heat has obviously gone out of water since the days of the Fine Gael and Labour Party water tax but it is still incredibly relevant for many people's lives. I was chair of the Meath water rights campaign back in the day and I echo the call for funding for water infrastructure to come from central government and not from water taxes.

Ireland is in a housing crisis, and yet, significant housing developments in many parts of the country are being held up by the lack of water services. A significant portion of housebuilding is not happening right across towns and villages in Ireland due to the lack of water services. This is particularly acute in rural and regional Ireland. People also forget that investment in infrastructure is significantly dependent on a functional water infrastructure. Vast swathes of regional and rural Ireland simply do not have that infrastructure, and therefore, do not have the necessary investment in jobs and development. It is often an invisible reason for the lack of jobs going into regional and rural Ireland but it is a significant element of that.

Even the housing estates that are built are still waiting for connections to the water infrastructure. More than 500 estates are currently waiting for connections to public water mains. Ireland is developing into a city-state. We have had significantly lopsided development in Ireland for the last 20 or 30 years. Some 50% of the population, and more than 50% of the industrial output of this country, will actually come from the greater Dublin region soon. Much of Ireland is being turned into a commuter belt. Unless we get real with regard to the provision of water services around the country, this will continue to happen.

The existing water services are creaking at the seams. It is a shocking situation that 35 towns and villages have raw sewage flowing into rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Another 78 treatment plants are currently overloaded and regularly discharge into the system. Some 40% of the water in Dublin is leaking out of the pipes at the moment. The Government's unbelievably crazy solution to that is bringing water from the Shannon river basin right across the country into Dublin. Mark my words, it will be a children's hospital mark 2 with regard to runaway budgets into the future.

In my own county of Meath, unbelievably, a meat factory is currently seeking to discharge waste into the River Boyne. Even though the river is a source of water for approximately 25,000 homes in east Meath, this factory is seeking to discharge its waste into it. The river is also a wonderful centre of wildlife. I have been campaigning for approximately 13 years for it to be created into a heritage greenway. Can anybody imagine the damage that putting further pollution into the river would do? I thank Mr. Peter Whelan, the Slane Aontú representative, for his work against that particular proposal.

I recently tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, and perhaps the Minister of State might help with this, on whether the effluent being discharged from Tara Mines into the River Boyne on a daily basis is within the public health limits. Tara Mines is a really important source of jobs for our county but we need to make sure its impact into the water system does not negatively affect people living around it.

My own town of Navan was for years known as "Alice Springs" because every year we could be guaranteed that water mains would burst, streets would be closed and houses would be flooded. Aontú's Trim representative, Mr. Jack Lynch, and I have been in contact with Irish Water on several occasions because the whole of south Meath is under major pressure with regard to water. Ballivor was without water for much of the winter and Trim was the same. Incredibly, when we contacted and met with Irish Water, it told us the reason there is so little water is that people are working from home and there is a 15% increase in demand for water in homes. This was at the same time that the River Boyne - the source of the water - was bursting its banks.

Investment in water infrastructure is often ignored, especially coming up to elections. Capital investment in infrastructure is massively important for the development of our country in the future, however. It should not take second place in the debates or in the Government's focus. I support wholeheartedly the Regional Group's call for this Government to get real with regard to investment in water.

I thank all Members of the House and all political parties this morning for supporting this motion, and the Government for agreeing to accept it.

Will the Ministers of State, Deputies Noonan and Peter Burke, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, facilitate a meeting with the Regional Group further to this motion where we might be given an unvarnished and unbiased assessment of Irish Water and how we might help?

The past 15 months have proved challenging for the country. Covid has exposed many national vulnerabilities. One of the burning issues that were topical in the pre-Covid economy was water. It is now back on the agenda. Global warming advances the value of water as a national resource. In Ireland, we have had a casual relationship with water, believing that it falls from the sky and just meanders into our faucets, but that is not the case. Water is a resource and it needs to be managed and paid for. We need not make a scientific conundrum of the issue, but we nevertheless must not think of it as a simple activity that can be achieved for nothing. Water and its supply, filtration and treatment have significant implications for the future economic well-being of the population.

We have an overburdened water supply and sewerage infrastructure that is creaking at the seams. We have continuing problems in trying to manage water hygiene for domestic and commercial purposes as well as providing efficient waste water capture and treatment. All of these activities require ongoing investment. The adequate provision of clean water and the associated management of waste water treatment is having a significant effect on the budgets and development plans of our local authorities. Water and waste water services provision is now dictating housing location, housing densities and housing affordability and is having a detrimental impact on rural planning and development, as new regulations are significantly adding to the cost of building houses, including one-off developments. I am aware of a builder in my constituency of Waterford who was asked to pay a connection fee of €30,000 per unit by Irish Water to add extra housing to an existing developed site. The reason given was the cost of upgrading sewerage piping. When the developer told Irish Water that this would make the development unviable, he was told that Irish Water's remit was only to recover the costs of its project. This scenario is playing out in every county and is having a significant effect on regional planning.

I do not fully understand the cost structures that exist within Irish Water, but I understand that there is a cost price after which the value of something has to be questioned and often cannot be justified. Water provision is not a luxury purchase in this country. Rather, it is a necessity and its competitive provision is directly related to our economic competitiveness nationally, particularly as an exporting nation. We need adequate water treatment and its provision to be economically competitive and socially sustainable. We need a transparent cost structure in Irish Water that underpins water service provision regardless of in which part of the country one lives. We must never privatise our national water services, but we must utilise all of the learned efficiencies and intersect with private sector contractors to ensure that the State gets maximum value for money in the provision and development of water and waste water services.

In regional and rural Ireland, we need planning authority acceptance of private water schemes and private effluent treatment systems and a willingness to incorporate reed bed filtration as a suitable effluent treatment for small housing clusters. "Homeworking" is the new buzzword in the economy, but we cannot have suitable homeworking without addressing many of the country's infrastructural gaps. The provision of water and waste water services is a significant such gap. We need to reassess the importance of adequate and well-managed water systems in our towns, villages and communities. We need the Government to reassess the investment it is willing to make in this precious commodity such that the commodity can deliver the greatest financial and social benefits to the people of Ireland regardless of where they live. This is the basis of the Regional Group's motion. I thank all Members for respectfully accepting it and I look forward to engaging with the Government and Regional Group colleagues on the matter.

I will make a final comment. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had an efficient waste water and water supply management system. Surely with all of the technology now available to us, we can achieve the same outcome.

Words of wisdom, Deputy Shanahan.

Question put and agreed to.