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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 4

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Enrolments

I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter. I hope the Minister of State has put in for overtime, because he is putting in long hours today. We are lucky in east Cork, because Youghal has a good secondary school, Cobh has two, Midleton has four and Carrigtwohill has two, although one is in temporary accommodation. They have extraordinary staff and professional and caring principals. The education and training board, ETB, does a good job. The difficulty is that, every year, all of these schools are oversubscribed, mainly because of double, triple or quadruple applications from parents. This leads to a situation where, when places are offered, there are extremely long waiting lists. They fall off as time goes on and people choose schools. Just today, I had calls from three parents whose children were high on waiting lists in some schools already.

I acknowledge that the Department of Education has done great work over the years in making resources available to these schools. We have new buildings in CBS Midleton, St. Coleman's College in Midleton, in Youghal and at a new school that is about to start construction in Carrigtwohill. The Minister of State might arrange for information to be provided to me about when shovels will be on the ground. It is all ready to go and planning has been done. One can imagine a child in sixth class in primary school where all of his or her friends have places and he or she does not. That child then goes home to ask his or her parents what is wrong and why there is no place for him or her. Many kids are still not sure whether they will have places, despite the great work that principals are doing.

We need to ensure that schools get extra resources to provide extra classes. I know St. Coleman's already has one of those for 24 students, but I do not think that is enough. We need to expand the schools more. We also need to talk about a new second level school in east Cork. Given that Carrigtwohill's second level community college has taken 12 years to get to this stage, I contend and hope that people from the Department of Education are listening that planning for a new second level school in east Cork should start soon. The schools there are at breaking point.

I want to ensure that, when and if the schools take on extra students, they do not have to wait until the following September to get resources. They should get the resources this September. I also point out that many Ukrainian teenagers have moved into the area. They are welcome and it is great to see them. I am delighted that we are able to help and support them, but they will need extra school places. I emphasise the need for action by the Department to support the schools. Perhaps we need a common enrolment system such as there is in Limerick. I am not sure if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware of this. The Minister of State might be. There is a central application system for secondary schools, so there are not waiting lists. There is clarity for parents about where their children are going and they do not have to apply to three, four or five schools.

I want the Minister of State to pass on the message that when schools take on extra students next September, they need the resources to match. Extra classes need to be made available as required so that every child has a school place. We also need to look at this system so we are not here again next year making the same points. I know my colleague in the constituency who is here, Deputy Buckley, would have a similar concern.

Long-term planning for a new second-level school in east Cork needs to start now.

I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this important issue on behalf of his constituents. I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, who is unavailable this evening. As the Deputy may be aware, for school planning purposes, the Department of Education divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system to anticipate school place demand. Information from a range of sources, including child benefit data, school enrolment data and information on residential development activity, is used for this purpose. In addition, Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets inform the Department's projections of school place requirements. Having considered the projected requirements in each school planning area, the Department then makes an assessment of existing capacity in that particular area and its ability to meet the increased demand. Where data indicate that additional provision is required at primary or post-primary level, the delivery of such additional provision depends on the circumstances of each case and may be provided through one of, or a combination of, utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools or provision of a new school or schools. The Department's projections of post-primary school place requirements in east Cork show an anticipated continued growth in enrolments in the short to medium term.

In response to meeting the projected future demographic demand in the area, a new post-primary school, Carrigtwohill Community College, was established in 2016. A project to deliver a new, modern 1,000 pupil permanent school building for the school is under way.

The Department issued a letter of intent to the preferred tenderer on 15 February 2022. This allows the preferred bidder to put in place the bond, insurance and confirmations of all legal arrangements required under the contract. Following receipt of all the necessary documentation, the Department will be in a position to issue the letter of acceptance, which will allow the contractor to mobilise on site. It is expected that the letter of acceptance will issue shortly after receipt of all the necessary documents. Once the successful contractor is appointed, the Department's project manager will liaise with the contractor to ensure that the community college is prioritised and delivered as early as possible within the contractor's programme of works for the campus.

In the meantime, additional accommodation has been approved for Carrigtwohill Community College for September 2022, which includes six general classrooms, a home economics room, a special educational needs class, and ancillary accommodation. This accommodation is being delivered by Cork Education and Training board, CETB.

The Department's capital programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, including accommodation for pupils with special educational needs, if required, for schools where an additional enrolment need has been identified or where an additional teacher has been appointed. An extension at St. Colman's Community College, Midleton, was completed recently, which will cater for up to 1,000 pupils. A number of other large-scale building projects are also in train to cater for similar pupil numbers. This includes expanded capacity at Christian Brothers Secondary School and St. Mary's High School, Midleton. In addition, St. Aloysius College, Carrigtwohill will expand to cater for 1,000 pupils, Pobalscoil na Tríonóide in Youghal to cater for 1,200 pupils, and Coláiste Mhuire and Carrignafoy Community College, both in Cobh, to cater for 600 and over 700 pupils respectively.

Under Project Ireland 2040, the Department continues to make progress to increase the infrastructural capacity in the schools sector to meet demographic and other demands. It is expected that the enrolment pressures in east Cork, and other areas will reduce in the short term as such planned additional capacity comes on stream and as demographic demand moves past its peak.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, and the Department of Education for a very comprehensive reply. I note that the letter of intent was issued on 15 February by the Department for the school in Carrigtwohill Community College. That is almost three months ago. I would expect that this would be sorted pretty soon. The Minister is already on record stating that she wants this school to be opened by September 2023. I do not believe this is going to happen now.

The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is aware of the plans to build thousands of houses in east Cork. The Minister of State is also aware of the fact that the Minister for Transport has blocked the road project there, which puts all of these houses at risk. This is a concern to me, to my colleagues and to the people in the area because housing is at a premium. If these houses go ahead we would need extra places. This is why I am saying that we will need to start planning for a new school now. Also, St. Mary's needs clarification from the Department with regard to extra accommodation that has already been granted. This is very welcome but it needs to be nailed down pretty soon for September, otherwise we will have another problem.

These schools are doing a tremendous job. The Minister has called out the enrolment of all these schools. There are more than 1,000 pupils in some of the schools, which is very big and growing. They cannot grow much further, however, as they do not have the space. We really need to act here pretty soon and start planning for the future. St. Mary's is completely landlocked at this stage and has permission to move to a new site. This needs movement pretty soon. St. Aloysius' College in Carrigtwohill also has permission to expand and build a new school there, which is badly needed.

There is so much to be done, but I must get back to my original point that when a child does not have a second-level school place at this time of the year - and this is not just one child, it is many children - it leads to stress, worry and consternation. We can see why parents would apply to more than one school because of the worry they have of not getting any place. I also raised the issue previously about the bus. Quite often a parent will take the school place that is not the nearest school because they are told that there is not a place nearer and that they are on a waiting list, which is a de facto refusal. If they get a place in the school that is further away then they may not qualify for the school transport there. I had asked the Department about this previously, and I am asking again now, that Carrigtwohill would be made one area and one school education centre for school transport purposes. The schools are only a couple of kilometres apart. That would solve another problem.

I thank Deputy Stanton for his very well-put argument. From the briefing documentation here I am aware that the Department is at one with the Deputy's concern about capacity of the area. The Department will work closely to resolve it. A number of projects are in the offing, as we have spoken about previously. From the documentation here I know that the letter of acceptance for Carrigtwohill will be imminent. There is confidence that those documents are now coming in or are near completion.

The Deputy also raised very valuable issues about funding, which one does need in advance to prepare for the additional growth in school capacity, and also the CAO-type application process that was carried out in Limerick. Parents and students need certainty at a very stressful time when trying to get into post-primary schools. I appreciate that it can be very difficult. I will bring the issues raised by Deputy Stanton to the attention of the Minister for Education.

Special Educational Needs

Topical Issue No. 2 is to discuss the continued and consistent absence of provision of ASD classes in postal code areas of Dublin south and west, leading to no school places for some students and advice to hire a home teacher to provide a child's continuing education.

There is probably no huge reason to elaborate on that, but I will. I first raised this issue in Opposition about three or four years ago. The rate of ASD places nationally is about 94 to 1. For every 94 mainstream class places nationally, there is one ASD place. In Dublin 4, Dublin 6, Dublin 6W and parts of Dublin 16 - Dublin 6, 6W and 16 are in my constituency - that ratio is as high as 650 to 1. For every 650 mainstream class places there is one ASD place. This leads to a disproportionate amount of pressure on schools in Dublin 12, which is also my constituency, and in Dublin 24 to take students and pupils from the other postal districts. As a consequence, it can sometimes lead to these schools turning down students from within their own catchment areas and their own postal code areas. I acknowledge that I did not believe I would be back here but I was at a public meeting recently and the situation at primary school level is becoming acute again. I will not even begin on the post primary level situation.

A grandmother called me yesterday on behalf of her grandson. She was distraught and exhausted and she still has not reached the end of the process in securing a place for her grandson. Her son wrote to me and said:

I am writing to you as we are desperately trying to secure a primary school place in an ASD class for our son... He was diagnosed with ASD in 2019 and is currently attending an ASD preschool class in the Good Shepherd National School in Churchtown. [They speak very highly about the Good Shepherd National School] Unfortunately, they do not have any ASD facilities in their primary school. We have applied to the following schools...

He goes on to outline the following schools, and this is not an exclusive list: Scoil Íosa (rejected); Educate Together, Ballinteer - no place; the Marist school - no place; Educate Together Firhouse - no place [and I know this is becuase they already are taking a disproportionate number of children in their school]; Educate Together Stepaside [which is miles away] - no place; St. Damian's National School, Crumlin - no place; Scoil Mhuire - they already have two ASD classes; St. Kevin's, Kilnamanagh [which is miles away] - no place; St. Clare's National School - no place; the Muslim school in Clonskeagh - no place; Our Lady of Good Hope - no place; Educate Together, Harcourt Terrace - no place; Scoil Naomh Pádraig - no place. The list goes on. I want to be clear that some of those schools are already operating ASD classes but most of them are not in Dublin 6W or Dublin 16.

The father goes on:

We have spoken to the two special educational needs organisers, SENOs, in our area .... and they have provided the names of some of the schools above. They have mentioned numerous times the home schooling option but this is not viable as my wife will need to return to work as we are on a single income at present.

Due to the very long waiting lists and the lack of services in the public sector the family is paying for private occupational therapy and speech and language therapy at the moment, and also had to get a private ASD assessment for their son in 2019 to allow him to obtain a place in preschool.

The letter goes on and on.

I want to listen to the Minister of State's initial reply before I add some other points to it, but I think he gets very clearly the drift of where I am coming from on this.

In the first instance, I send the apologies of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. Like Deputy Lahart, I have experienced some of those same issues, unfortunately, in my own constituency. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It provides an opportunity for the Department to outline the current position regarding provision for children with special educational needs, including autism. Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government.

This year, the Department of Education will invest in excess of €2 billion, or more than 25% of the Department's budget, in the area of special educational needs support. As a result, the numbers of special education teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels. Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from 548 to a current total of 2,148 for the 2021-2022 school year.

Recognising some of the difficulties experienced by parents in securing appropriate school placements, over the past two years, the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined-up planning process. This has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special needs placements ahead of each new school year. Overall, this intensive intervention has seen an additional 300 special classes providing 1,800 new places already opened nationwide for the 2021-2022 school year.

The NCSE has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children with special educational needs nationwide. It has well-established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. The NCSE seeks to ensure schools in an area between them can cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. The Department and the Minister, Deputy Foley, and Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, continue to prioritise and support this work.

The Department of Education recognises that it can be a stressful experience where parents have difficulties in securing an appropriate school placement for a child, particularly a child with additional needs. The Department is working hard to ensure there are sufficient school places appropriate to the needs of all children available on a timely basis nationwide. It is also envisaged, in line with demographics and as part of forward planning, that special classes will be required at most, if not all, post-primary schools in Dublin.

A range of measures to meet additional special educational needs, SEN, capacity demands have already been put in place, including the utilisation of spare capacity in existing schools and delivery of additional SEN capacity within the scope of existing building projects. Additionally, it is general practice to include a SEN base in the accommodation brief for new school buildings unless exceptional local circumstances indicate it is not required. The extent of provision made at these schools is informed by the level of demand in the area as well as the size of the school.

Looking specifically to the Dublin South-West postcodes of Dublin 6W, 12, 16 and 24, there are currently 65 special classes for students with autism in this area. This comprises 54 autism spectrum disorder, ASD, special classes at primary level, including five ASD early intervention classes, and 11 special classes at post-primary level, providing 390 placements for students. Both the Department of Education and the NCSE are always grateful to schools that express a willingness to open a special class to meet the educational needs of students in their local communities.

There are special educational needs organisers, SENOs, located throughout the country who have a key specific remit in helping and supporting parents in accessing the additional education necessary for their children, including identifying suitable school placements.

The NCSE is currently engaged in a process of establishing new classes for the 2022-2023 school year and beyond and is looking at the information relating to projected demand for future special education places, especially to cater for students with autism who have associated complex needs.

The mind boggles, particularly when we look specifically to Dublin South-West postcodes, which include, in fairness, Dublin 12 and Dublin 24. The bulk of the 65 special classes for students are in Dublin 12 and Dublin 24. There are notable exceptions in Dublin 6W such as Bishop Shanahan National School and Bishop Galvin National School, which are new to the system. I would like to say I had a little involvement in that and very much welcome it. Trojan work is being done at Scoil Mhuire, Ballyboden, which has two units, but all the others are in Dublin 12 and Dublin 24. Again, they are taking a disproportionate number of students.

Going back to the letter, the parent goes on to write that:

We were forced to apply far and wide to schools that put priority on children in their own catchment areas. Preschool has made a massive positive impact on our son and our ability to handle the long days. He's very happy in preschool and it has made a huge difference to him. He's very happy going in every morning and the socialisation aspect is essential for him.

It can be seen, therefore, that this child is doing very well developmentally and for this to be brought to an end will obviously cause a setback and regression to him. As I said, I was contacted not just by his father yesterday but by his grandmother.

This is what I would like the Minister of State to do because clearly, and I would like to say I again played a little part in this, the Government is doing its job in terms of resources. I would like both the Minister, Deputy Foley, and Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, to write to all those schools in Dublin 6W and Dublin 16, some of which are very new schools, to ask them what obstacles are in the way of enabling them to provide ASD places for students in those postal codes. If every school in the four postal codes mentioned took an ASD class, we would never be having a debate in this Chamber about the provision of ASD places for children with special needs.

I absolutely empathise and understand the stress a grandmother would be under trying to secure a school place. It is not something that should be happening in society. As the Deputy alluded to, there is significant funding behind the provision of education in the State.

I think the Deputy may have put his finger on the pulse in terms of the two postcodes he referenced, however. I will raise this with both the Minister and Minister of State. Obviously, I do not have the data in front of me to give the Deputy exactly everything he needs at this point. I will genuinely bring it up with the Minister for Education, however, and in reference to the letter, the need to see potentially what obstacles are in place. The script I have been provided with also states that planning is very actively under way to ensure every student who is under pressure now gets a place. Again, I promise I will raise the issue with the Minister, Deputy Foley.

Energy Infrastructure

Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh spéis ag an Leas-Cheann Comhairle san ábhar seo. Go minic, bíonn muid ag tabhairt faoin taobh mícheart d’fhadhbanna. Seachas mealladh a thabhairt do dhaoine, leagaimid an dlí anuas ar dhaoine nach bhfuil mórán rogha acu.

The recent controversy about smoky coal, fuel and turf has focused almost totally on the distribution and sale of these fuels. The question that does not seem to have been asked, however, is who are the people who predominantly buy these fuels and why do they do it? I would like to focus in particular on a section for which the Minister of State is directly responsible, namely, local authority houses that are fuelled by solid fuel. It is fair to say many people have a stove in their house they use occasionally but have some other main source of fuel for cooking, heating water and heating the house. My experience, however, is that many local authority houses are mainly dependant on solid fuel ranges and solid fuel for heating the house and heating water. In that case, of course, people must keep the solid fuel burner going all day.

Although I cannot get the figures because no one will provide me with them, at least in my experience of dealing with my constituents, it seems a totally disproportionate number of the people in my constituency who are dependent on solid fuel as their main source of heating and cooking live in local authority houses. That is true in Galway city as much as it is true in Galway county. We cannot blame these people for buying turf, the fuel they are familiar with. There is also the issue of the cost of smokeless fuel. In any event, all those fuels produce emissions.

I suggest, and I hope I get a positive answer, that the Department find out from each local authority how many houses in its stock are dependent on solid fuel as their primary source of energy. Without that information, the Department cannot solve the problem. Having found that out, it should begin an urgent programme that would be completed within five years, allowing for the difficulties in procurement and so on, that would replace all these homes with sustainable systems and not only deal with the emissions issue of smoke but also that of carbon.

I have to say, I was disappointed when I tabled a parliamentary question in the House to get a reply stating the Department did not know, and not even indicating it would find out. Perhaps we could have a two-step programme to find out how many houses the issue relates to and then to resolve the issue. Instead of punishing people, we should assist people who are in fuel poverty.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter and allowing me the opportunity to provide an update on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Like him, I come from a large rural constituency that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so I very much understand the need to have an alternative in place before certain public policy measures are pursued. If that is not the case, we will lose people along the way and we will not reach our targets in the long run.

The Department launched the energy efficiency retrofitting programme in 2013 with the aim of funding the retrofit of social homes requiring insulation and energy upgrade works. Since the programme commenced in 2013 up to the end of 2021, more than 75,000 units of social housing stock were retrofitted, with a total Exchequer spend of €183 million under the scheme. The programme was revised in 2021, with an increased budget made available to local authorities. A significant part of the programme is focused on minimising heat loss by upgrading the external fabric, walls, roof space, windows and doors and heating systems. The funding available under the terms of this new, deeper retrofit programme does not, however, provide for fossil fuel heating systems or inset stoves in place of open fires. If appropriate, local authorities can install such systems using funding from their own resources. The revised ten-year programme will see a significant upscaling to a retrofit deeper than what has been completed by local authorities in previous years. A strong emphasis on fuel poverty and the need to improve thermal performance in the social housing stock remains a top priority for the Department.

In 2021, more than €21.7 million of Exchequer funding support was provided for retrofit work carried out on 1,584 dwellings. The Department acknowledges the difficult environment within which local authorities had to work in 2021, with a construction shutdown and supply chain problems impacting on delivery, and I look forward to significantly improved output under this programme in 2022. The newly revised and enhanced programme will benefit not only local authorities in assisting them in the upgrade and maintenance of their housing stock but also, more importantly, homeowners and householders in many ways. Their homes will be warmer, easier to heat and more comfortable, it will enhance the air quality in the home, and those currently using oil or gas will see a significant saving on their energy bills. The scheme will also stimulate employment. The retrofitting of homes is a highly labour-intensive sector that can create high-quality, sustainable jobs in local communities and it has the capacity to play an important role in our economic recovery.

The Minister of State was given a pre-prepared answer and it is the same cut-and-paste I got when I put down the parliamentary question. It does not address my first question, that is, whether we are going to ascertain how many houses in local authority ownership are fuelled mainly by solid fuel. It is a "Yes" or "No" question.

On the second issue, the Minister of State said, "Their homes will be warmer, easier to heat and more comfortable, it will enhance the air quality in the home, and those currently using oil or gas will see a significant saving on their energy bills". The question I asked related specifically to solid fuel because the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications keeps telling us that 1,300 people die every year because of particulate matter pollution, which is not caused, according to him, by oil and we know it is not caused by gas. We know those forms of energy produce carbon-based emissions but they do not have particulate problems. On the one hand, that Minister is telling us we are killing people while, on the other hand, the other side of the Government will not even find out how great a cause of pollution it is and the extent to which it contributes to the problem by insisting on not changing as a priority houses that are fuelled by solid fuel to using a much more sustainable form of heating. That seems to show a total lack of joined-up government in respect of the matter.

My questions are quite simple. Is it intended to find out how many local authority houses are fuelled mainly by solid fuel? Second, is it intended to have a special programme focused on changing the fuel source in those houses to something more sustainable? They are the two big issues. It is my observation that the vast majority of houses in Galway city that face this problem are either local authority houses or, in a smaller number of cases, private houses owned by people who are not well off and are very disadvantaged. It is time------

-----that the State put its money where its mouth was.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle ach tá mé cinnte go bhfuil sé seo chomh gar dá croí is atá sé do mo chroí agus go dtacóidh sí go hiomlán liom.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. To be clear, between 2013 and 2021, a retrofit was completed in respect of 75,000 local authority homes. Moreover, there is a scheme in place specifically to deal with local authority housing and to give them a deep retrofit, and that scheme was revised last year. It will aim to bring 100,000 houses up to a BER of B2 or a cost-optimal equivalent rating. That will give people who are reliant on fossil fuels an alternative in the future, but it will take time and the Government has to be honest about that. We are now at capacity in our construction sector, higher than in pre-recessionary times. A massive retrofitting scheme is under way, as are some of the largest ever capital infrastructural projects in this country, with a value of €165 billion to be delivered over the next decade. The Government is working at pace to deliver those 500,000 homes.

In summary, the largest retrofitting scheme in the country since the State was formed is under way and will involve 500,000 homes. A total of 75,000 homes from our local authority stock have been completed since 2013.

As for the parliamentary question the Deputy asked the Minister, I will revert to the Minister to get the figures on the specific volume of stock that is reliant on fossil fuels and will relay the response directly to the Deputy.

Water Quality

I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter.

I suppose the question is again in the heading. It is about the boil water notice that has been in place since November 2019. There was a little bit of a break of a week or two. On 25 December, Christmas Day, another boil water notice was issued. We are now into May. As far back as March, Irish Water put out a statement that "Irish Water and Cork County Council would like to remind customers supplied by Whitegate Regional Public Water Supply that the Boil Water Notice issued on 25 December 2021 remains in place". This is affecting more than 10,000 people and has been going on for a number of years.

I have submitted a number of questions to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications but those questions were unfortunately not allowed, which I found strange. I am a bit fearful tonight when the Minister of State is standing in for the Minister, who was not allowed to receive my questions a number of weeks ago. I have contacted Irish Water with him. In fairness, I will always give credit where it is due but the response was firm. These 9,500 or 10,000 people are all on the southern side of east Cork, a huge area covering Whitegate, Aghada, Churchtown, Ballycotton, Saleen, Shanagarry, Ballinacura and Cloyne. We are heading into the tourist season and this will affect businesses. It was discussed here a while ago with regard to housing issues as well. If Irish Water cannot support the people who are in situ in this area of east Cork, how is it going to deal with additional demand for water supply and sewerage in the future because there are long-term plans for the whole of east Cork and that side in particular?

Even as I speak, there is another area, on the northern side of my constituency, which is now the subject of a second boil notice. I refer to Kilavullen. Approximately 800 people are affected. I worked in sewerage and water a long time ago and at that time, you would never hear of a boil water notice. You would hear of a broken water main. Some fella in the town who was lucky enough to have a phone - an ordinary phone, rather than a mobile phone - would ring somebody to say the water was out and would be told in response that it would be fixed within an hour. The council went down with a JCB, a concrete saw and a couple of G clamps and the job would be done. For some reason, since Irish Water took over, there has been boil water notice after boil water notice.

The excuse given to the people using the Whitegate system one year was that, for some reason, additional rain was causing the problems at the plant. Irish Water should be delighted when it rains. Another time, they were told the problem was silt entering the plant. There may be an issue with height; I am not too sure. When Irish Water found out that the issue was silt, it did not have the capability to remove it. It has now said, in one of the replies I got, that "Until a long-term solution has been implemented, there is a possibility that further Boil Water Notices may be imposed" and there is also mention of "our 25 Year strategy". The gang below in Whitegate who are on this water supply may have a heart attack tonight because I cannot get a definitive answer. That is my issue here. On behalf of these 10,000 or more people, I am trying to find out whether the Minister of State or his Department can get a definitive and honest answer from Irish Water so that we can tell the people of east Cork who are on the Whitegate regional supply that, although the water supply is not working and has not been working, we at least have a final date.

I assure Deputy Buckley that we will have an honest answer for him. I thank him for raising this very important matter. This is an issue of both national and local importance and I fully appreciate the concerns of the 10,000 people in the Deputy's community whom he referenced.

The Deputy will appreciate that the operation of the Whitegate regional public water supply is a matter for Irish Water which, since 1 January 2014, has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. In turn, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, as the environmental regulator, is responsible for setting quality standards and enforcing compliance with EU directives and national regulations for the provision of drinking water. However, from inquiries I made directly with Irish Water, I understand that the boil water notice currently in place for the Whitegate public water supply was issued on 25 December 2021, Christmas Day, following consultation between Irish Water, Cork County Council and the Health Service Executive. This boil water notice was issued to protect approximately 9,500 customers in Whitegate, Aghada, Churchtown, Ballycotton, Saleen, Shanagarry, Ballinacura and areas of Cloyne.

The notice was issued as a result of increased turbidity in the raw water, which can happen at this source as it is susceptible to raw water quality issues after rainfall events. Boil water notices have been issued in respect of Whitegate public water supply a number of times over the past few years. Upgrade works to the filters began in January 2022 and these works are still under way. To complete the upgrade works, additional parts are required. These parts have been ordered from abroad. Due to the global issues with supply chains, delivery is not expected for a few more weeks. When these parts are delivered, and provided that installation is successful, a further two to three weeks of compliant operation will be required before discussions take place with the HSE regarding the lifting of the boil water notice. The current estimate for completion of these works is May or early June.

The delivery of a new water treatment plant as a permanent solution to issues at Whitegate is under way. The purchase of land is progressing and the project has been handed over to Irish Water's asset delivery team. Depending on planning and construction constraints, it is anticipated that construction could start in 2024 but completion of this permanent solution is a few years away, as we can appreciate.

My Department's priority is to ensure that people's health is protected and that adequate water is available for all customers. We want to see this notice lifted urgently and without delay, as the Deputy quite rightly points out, but only when the HSE and EPA have confirmed the water supply is safe after these works have been carried out, which we expect to happen shortly. Additional information and advice in respect of boil water notices is available on Irish Water's website.

Both our water and wastewater systems require substantial and sustained investment to bring the systems up to the quality and resilience standards required of a modern service, to provide for population growth and to build resilience in the face of climate change. As part of budget 2022, funding of over €1.57 billion to support water services was allocated. This includes €1.459 billion, comprising current expenditure of €629 million and capital expenditure of €830 million, in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a wide range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area, making a significant contribution to addressing Ireland's needs.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The devil may be in the detail or perhaps there is a hidden message in it. I welcome the fact that Irish Water has given a date of May or June for the completion of the works in respect of the silt or, as it calls it, the turbidity. However, many people will not be too happy and will be stocking up on water for the next couple of years if the completion of the permanent solution is that far away. I am surprised to have been given the answer now. I welcome it because at least it is a reply and a response, which is a lot more than I have got before. However, if these parts are to be ordered from abroad, I hope we are not getting them from the likes of Wish or Alibaba because Brexit and everything else seems to be used as an excuse when they cannot issue something.

In my brief time, I will also welcome the mention the reply makes of the capacity issues and that Irish Water is looking ahead because it is a very significant factor. Without losing the sense of what I am saying, there is an emergency in housing and so forth countrywide. I know there is not capacity. I recall that, under Cork County Council's 2012 county development plan, there were plans for a village in Monard, out beyond Blarney. The issue at the time was that Irish Water would not bring a water main in to the area. As a result of issues with capacity, the plan fell through.

The issue I want to highlight is that people are under severe pressure because of this and have been for nearly three years. It is causing issues for families with young children, people with complex needs and so on. I also acknowledge that there are capacity issues in Mitchelstown in my constituency. I welcome the progress in Mallow. The waterworks in Midleton have always been there. I live in the heart of Midleton and the waterworks are behind me, yet I get my water from the Glashaboy scheme at Glanmire, which says enough about capacity issues.

As I said, overall I welcome the Minister of State’s reply. I am certainly looking forward to working with him. I would rather work him than whichever Member I asked the last time, because at least I got a reply from the Minister of State.

I thank Deputy Buckley for again raising this issue on behalf of the community. It is a very frustrating thing, especially on Christmas Day, when you run into trouble or you are being advised of a boil water notice. I think of the four Topical Issue matters tonight, Deputy Buckley is definitely in front because he has an interim solution, which hopefully will be ready by latest at June, as I have in my briefing document. Second, the Deputy has a permanent solution, which is in the Irish Water capital budget. Upon reviewing my four Topical Issue matters tonight, to be told that works could start in 2024 with an interim solution in the meantime probably is not a bad day’s work.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 9.31 p.m. go dtí 9 a.m., Déardaoin, an 5 Bealtaine 2022.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.31 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 5 May 2022.
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