“That Dáil Éireann:
— 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;
— 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?