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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Sep 1985

Vol. 109 No. 1

Adjournment Matter. - Kells-Oldcastle Water Scheme.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment and I also thank very sincerely the Minister of State for his attendance here tonight. I know he had another commitment this evening and I am sorry that I had to take him from it. Had I know that the House would be sitting so late, I would have left this matter over until some other time. However, I will be very brief.

The grave and urgent need for proper and clean water supplies, both for domestic and agricultural use in the north Meath area, has long been recognised by both Meath County Council and the Department of the Environment. When I was elected to Meath County Council in 1967 I put on record as a major priority that a scheme be implemented to provide the supply to cater for the needs of the Kells-Oldcastle area. It was mutually agreed among all the councillors for that area that the best source of supply would be from Lough Bane, or Lough Bawn as we call it down there, which is situated on the Meath-Westmeath border. From 1967, slow but steady progress was made in the implementation of a proper scheme to cater for the needs of the north Meath area. After much to-ing and fro-ing — and, indeed, the holding of a public inquiry to determine the capacity of the supply from the source in Lough Bane — it was agreed that the entire area would, in fact, be best served from that source of supply.

When I was elected to the Dáil in 1982 I immediately pursued this matter and I was delighted to have that scheme sanctioned. Since that time, the supply to the town of Kells has been completed and it is now working satisfactorily, much to the delight of the people there. The water has been privately tested by one doctor and it is regarded as probably the best source of supply of fresh water in Ireland today.

I am concerned that stage two of this scheme might be delayed unduly. Consultants have prepared contract documents and I understand these were submitted to the Minister's Department some time in mid-July. Officials and staff of Meath County Council liaised with the consultants in the preparation of these documents. All the head works at Lough Bane for the Oldcastle scheme are completed and we now require a pipeline to serve Oldcastle, with storage reservoirs at Crossakeel and Oldcastle. The next stage is to advertise for tender and my request here this evening is to pursue this matter vigorously with a view to having this scheme implemented in early 1986.

The present supply to Oldcastle comes from Lough Creevagh, which is situated in the Knocklough area of the Lough Crew hills. It is a very small lake which tends to go dry in the summertime, at which stage we usually find ourselves with very low pressure and many times, indeed, with no water at all. The old piping in this scheme is cracked, broken and corroded and, indeed, one can read factual reports in local newspapers of wriggly things and worms coming through the taps. It is almost impossible to maintain a proper pressure from the existing supply. The fire fighting units of Meath County Council are very perturbed. With the continued development of the Oldcastle area and the extra number of houses being built there this supply could now be regarded as totally inadequate and obsolete. In the interests of the health of the community and to help further development in this area, it is imperative that stage two which is the provision of a supply to Oldcastle, should commence without any further delay. I appeal to the Minister to use his influence to have the scheme advertised for tender immediately.

The Minister came down to Oldcastle when he was Minister of State in 1981 and opened a lovely fire station there. At that time I reminded him that I hoped he would be a Minister, when I would be coming back to him to help us out with a few other problems we had in north County Meath. I am glad that the relationship that started at that time has existed since and I am sure it will blossom even further after I get a reply from the Minister tonight. I am now asking the Minister to fulfil the promise he made at that time.

As a Senator from the same constituency, I would like to concur with Senator Lynch. There is a great need to have this scheme speeded up as much as possible and everything that Senator Lynch has outlined here is correct. I join with him in the call to have this scheme speeded up.

I have listened with interest to Senator Lynch's contribution to this debate and I will take his comments into account when deciding on the scheme. I would like to assure the House that I am aware of the importance of the scheme to the people of Oldcastle. Before commenting in detail on the scheme, I would like to inform the House of the progress which has been made in the sanitary services programme in general. The provision of an adequate infrastructural network of water supply and sewerage disposal facilities is one of the functions to which I attach great importance. This Government have shown through the substantial capital provision and the record value of schemes released over the past two years, in particular, their recognition of the importance of the sanitary services programme as a whole. The exceptional progress made in recent years can be gauged from the fact that, during 1983 and 1984, the value of schemes released reached record levels of £98 million and £101 million, respectively, as compared with £34 million in 1981 and £53 million in 1982. The total value of schemes in progress or at tender stage at the end of 1984 stood at £515 million, compared with £300 million at the end of 1982. This undoubtedly reflects the increased activity in the programme that has been generated by the policies of this Government and the substantial capital investment.

The county of Meath has received its fair share of capital allocation to local authorities. The allocation for sanitary services in the years 1983 and 1984 totalled almost £5.5 million, compared with as little as over £1 million for the years of 1981-82. I have already made allocations of over £1.3 million to local authorities in the county this year on top of the funds provided in the past two years. These allocations have enabled the local authorities to complete such major schemes as the Oldcastle-Kells regional water scheme, stage 1, at a total estimated cost of £2.4 million and the east Meath regional water supply scheme, stage 4, at a cost of around £1.4 million. They have also made it possible for the local authorities to progress work considerably on an important scheme such as the Kells sewerage scheme, stage 1, at £1.2 million, the Longwood sewerage scheme at £340,000 and the Stamullen sewerage scheme at £210,000. Other major schemes which I have approved are the Rathoath sewerage scheme and the Dunshaughlin sewerage extension scheme at a combined estimated cost of £708,000.

With regard to the Oldcastle-Kells regional water supply scheme, preliminary proposals for this were received in my Department on 12 April 1977. The scheme proposed would augment supply to Oldcastle and Kells where existing water supplies were inadequate and would serve the intervening areas. Approval to the preliminary proposals and to the preparation of contract documents for stage 1 of the scheme to serve Kells was issued to the local authority on 16 September 1977. Stage 1 consisted of intake works and pumphouse at Lough Bane, rising mains and reservoir at Seafin Hill in Kells, trunk mains to Skerry, distribution mains to Kells. Contract documents for this stage were received in my Department in 1978 and were approved on 23 January 1981. As I have already indicated, work on this stage of the scheme has been completed at an estimated cost of £2.4 million.

Contract documents for stage 2 of the scheme to serve Oldcastle were received in my Department on 18 July 1985. This stage consists of reservoirs near Oldcastle and Crossakeel, trunk mains, a distribution main and a rising main. The contract documents submitted, however, are being revised to take account of design changes agreed between my Department and the council. The revised documents are now awaited from the council. It would also be necessary for the local authority to complete fully the preliminaries relating to the scheme, such as acquiring the land for the reservoir sites and publicising their intention to provide two large reservoirs in the scheme. It will be appreciated that until these matters have been attended to I will not be in a position to say when a decision may be made on the proposal. However, as I have already indicated, I am fully aware of the need for this scheme and the House may rest assured that consideration of the proposals in my Department will be expedited as soon as the council have dealt with the outstanding matters to which I have already referred. I should point out, of course, that the implementation of the scheme, when approved, is a matter for Meath County Council.

It is quite clear that there is no question of lack of will or, indeed, finance from the Department's point of view. There are matters, such as land acquisition and documents that require changes and are awaited in my Department. As soon as we receive these we will be only too anxious to serve the people of Oldcastle with a good water supply.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 26 September 1985.