Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Questions (63)

Mattie McGrath


63. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the oversight or review role his Department has with respect to the Shannon to Dublin pipeline project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16677/19]

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Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Housing)

What oversight or review role does the Minister's Department have with respect to the Shannon to Dublin pipeline project and would he please make a statement on the matter?

Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels, including responsibility for Irish Water’s eastern and midlands water supply project. This project has been in development since the mid-1990s, originally under Dublin City Council and under Irish Water since January 2014. This will be the largest strategic national water supply project in generations and will service communities across a wide area. The project will, of course, be subject to the relevant planning and other environmental consent processes.

The Water Services Act 2013 requires the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, in conjunction with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to provide consent for all commitments for capital expenditure above a certain threshold. This is a financial control and not a project consent. In this context, given the scale and importance of the eastern and midlands water supply project and recognising the statutory role of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities as independent economic regulator of Irish Water, including its role in reviewing Irish Water’s capital investment plans, I have requested the commission to undertake a review to support my decision in relation to the major capital commitment consent that will be required closer to construction stage. The review has commenced and I expect to receive a report by the end of 2019.

I do not know if the Minister is getting any lessons or if he is in the slow class because today we have seen the report on the children's hospital. Some time ago I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister seeking information on the proposed and projected cost of this pipeline to bring water through Tipperary to Dublin. I was told the Minister had no responsibility for this matter and that it was a matter for Irish Water, yet last February he asked the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, to carry out a review of the eastern and midlands water supply project under section 40 of the Water Services Act 2013. At that time he said he was doing this to enable the Department to have full consent for all the commitments for the capital expenditure above a certain threshold. On the one hand, the Minister seems to have no oversight of this project, and on the other, he needs to get the CRU to sign off on projects like this. Which is it? Cén scéal? I remind the Minister of another massive capital expenditure project that another Minister entrusted to the responsibility of another board, the national children's hospital. We know where that is.

I was not clear from the Deputy's follow-up question whether he supports the project or whether he thinks it is necessary.

That is an important thing to know because it absolutely is necessary-----

So is the children's hospital.

-----and perhaps attempts by the Deputy to undermine the project now that we have the motivation can be viewed in that light. Of course the CRU has a central role here and I have asked it to do a verification process to give further comfort to the different elements that are involved as part of the financial consents that will be given. I have already given consent for more than €40 million last year for the planning stage of the project, and I am in consultation on consent for additional money for 2019, up to an amount potentially of €60 million for further work that will be undertaken through the ministerial consent process for the project. There are several different consents in place between me and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as the project goes through the various stages of lodging the planning application and consent to undertake the capital improvements and everything else. As we go through that process we review the different assumptions around the capital costs of the project.

This pipeline has been described as one of the most important infrastructural projects in the history of the State. The Shannon-Dublin water pipeline will cost more than €1.2 billion, and if it is like the children's hospital, it will cost twice that. It is intended to supply 40% of Irish households unconnected with, and around, Dublin with water from the River Shannon by 2025. It will go into a leaking system that is leaking nearly 60% of the water. We should be in kindergarten. I do not deny the people of Dublin water and we are not mean spirited in Tipperary or in the Shannon region either. Fix the leaks. Sort out the water problem first.

Does the Minister have oversight or not? I tabled a parliamentary question and he said he has not. Now he says he has. This will be another national monument of embarrassment to the Minister and the Government for 2025. It will look for an extension to 2030 because it will still be leaking into the ground. Fix the leaks and preserve the very valuable resource of treated water. It is pointless pumping treated water into a creaking system. If the Minister was a householder with a well that was giving trouble and he could not keep running pumps to supply the water in the well, he would fix the leaks first, and very fast. This is public money and he can do what he likes with it with no accountability.

The Deputy should please not use what has happened with the children's hospital to try to undermine a very important capital project. Based on the Deputy's logic, we would not make any more capital investments.

Accountability. The Minister is twisting it now. I want accountability.

This project is not just for Dublin, but if it was, given the leakages that we know we have in Dublin, even if they were fixed, it would not give us the redundancy and contingency supply that we need. A total of 40% of the Liffey flow is taken into the water system. We need to reduce that. Of course we need to fix the leaks as well, but we need to think of the planned projections for populations that will come into the city and the need for between 10% and 15% headroom above what we will need to produce for that extra population.

There is no accountability.

At the moment we have less than 1% headroom. In conjunction with the money that is being provided to fix the leaks in Dublin, which will happen and will take time----

-----we also need to have a new project for water supply and water security-----

It is worse than Mexico in Dublin.

-----for the east and midlands.