By any objective standard, there has been remarkable progress over the lifetime of this Government in relation to the protection and improvement of water quality. This progress includes —
since 2000 an increase in waste water treatment capacity equivalent to the needs of a populations of 3.1 million
since 1997 an increase from 20% to 90% in the level of compliance with the relevant EU Directive on waste water treatment
an increase from 67% to 70% in the length of unpolluted river channel between 1997 and 2003: this represents the first reversal of a downward decline that had persisted for decades
more Blue Flag beaches: in 2006, 81 Blue Flags were awarded to Irish bathing areas: this is the highest number ever, and compares with 70 in 1997
massive investment and rapid progress in the elimination of substandard drinking water supplies in the group scheme sector.
These achievements in relation to our water quality standards will continue to be supported by large scale investment under the Water Services Investment Programme and by implementation of the Nitrates Action Programme.
Every implementation deadline set to date by the Water Framework Directive have been achieved on time by Ireland. My Department provides 100% funding for river basin management projects to support implementation of the Water Framework Directive and has committed over €68 million for this purpose. INTERREG funding is also available in relation to cross-border projects. The river basin management plans, which are being developed for adoption by 2009, will set out the specific environmental objectives to be achieved together with a programme of measures to deliver those objectives by the deadline of 2015. I am satisfied with the progress made so far in implementing the Directive and I expect that we will continue to see significant improvements in the quality of our fresh and coastal water resources, which will be reflected in EPA and EEA Water Quality Reports over the coming years.