Water Utilities: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises the social and economic hardship caused by water restrictions and disruptions for families and local businesses;

recognises that an inefficient, outdated and fragmented water network has contributed to drinking water supply problems across the State;

notes that the State spends €1 billion every year in current and capital expenditure for water treatment and supply;

notes the need for significant water capital investment for the next four years and recognises the difficulty for the State in financing such investment through Exchequer funding;

condemns the vast amount of waste caused by 43% of water supplies lost through unidentified leaks; and

notes that problems associated with water shortages were discussed in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in January 2010 with little action taken since then to avoid a repeat of similar problems;

calls on Government to:

establish a single publicly owned water utility company to take over responsibility for water investment and mains management on a national basis while allowing local authorities to tender for the provision of services;

establish a new utilities commission to merge existing regulators for utilities and to take responsibility for regulating a new water utility company;

reallocate future water funding from the Exchequer to prioritise water conservation by investment in water mains weather proofing; and

examine all engineering resources of the State to ensure a rapid remedy to widespread burst water mains.

I wish to share time with Deputies Simon Coveney, Paul Connaugton, Billy Timmins, Pat Breen, Olivia Mitchell and Tom Hayes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fine Gael proposed this motion in recognition of the hardship that has been caused by water restrictions and disruptions during the recent cold weather. Our outdated and inefficient way of dealing with these problems contributed to this social and economic hardship. The lack of water conservation measures allows too much water to escape from an inadequate network of pipes. When we previously raised this issue in January 2010, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicated that he intended to take action to remedy the problems but no new initiative has been introduced since then. In preparing the motion, I had an opportunity to review the debate between Fine Gael Members and the Minister on similar issues resulting from last winter's flooding and severe weather. The Minister indicated then that he would reallocate resources to deal with water conservation and unidentified leaks. Given that he made the same statement on this occasion, I presume the €300 million he proposes to spend is the same money he announced 12 months ago.

These problems have been coming down the tracks for quite some time but there has been no planning on the part of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to deal with them. We have experienced several harsh winters, the likes of which many younger people have not previously witnessed. The shoddy workmanship during the building boom of the Celtic tiger era has been exposed by these recent weather patterns. It is now evident that the quality of building materials and our pipe network, as well as the supervision of workmanship under the building regulations, is inadequate and caused unnecessary hardship.

People are increasingly becoming accustomed to the notion that water is a finite resource that cannot be taken for granted. In the past, people left taps running, washed their cars or allowed water to flow indiscriminately around their properties. The State can no longer fund inadequate conservation of water by businesses and households. In the Dublin region alone, considerable planning will be required to develop a more certain supply of water from the River Shannon to cope with the inability of the eastern region to guarantee the water supplies needed to underpin future economic development. It is unacceptable that water supplies have not yet been restored to certain parts of Dublin city and elsewhere in the country three weeks after the crisis arose. The Minister and his Department have clearly failed to work with local authorities to plan for this issue.

Local authorities' outdoor staff have gone beyond the call of duty over the past several weeks in order to help local communities. They came out on Christmas Day to restore water supplies for vulnerable people. They are to be praised and lauded for the work they have done in appalling conditions. That, however, should not allow us to forget that leadership is required from the Department if we are to restore water supplies within a reasonable timeframe. We should be able to learn lessons from the past two winters of severe cold weather. The Minister has not learned anything from the winter of 2009-10 because he has not implemented any new initiative that would deal with the problems arising this winter. I suppose we will see action eventually.

Fine Gael put forward proposals 18 months ago to set out a new way of dealing with capacity issues and meeting our obligations under the water framework directive in order to avoid fines for poor water quality. Sewerage treatment plants cannot be allowed to continue pouring waste materials into our streams and rivers. Local authorities and the Department have failed to ensure good quality ground water and allowed this type of indiscriminate release of waste. A different approach is required to the current structure of 34 separate entities if we are to meet our obligations under the directive. We must acknowledge that the current way of doing business is not providing good quality supplies of water to the citizens and businesses of this country. The Government has belatedly acknowledged this problem in so far as it is mentioned in the memorandum of understanding between Ireland, the IMF and the EU. We will be required to attract investment into the water services programme. Fine Gael's proposals have, therefore, been favoured by the Government, the IMF and the EU.

However, the question that arises is when the Minister will finally come to the same conclusion. He alleges that we will privatise water supplies. I assure the House this is far from our intention. We want to keep the pipe network in public ownership because we are well aware of what happened to telecommunications when Eircom was ravaged by investors to the detriment of the citizen and the service. The company's failure to implement the promises made before its privatisation was due to a failure of regulation.

Fine Gael wants to restore good quality and consistent water supplies. Much of the water pipe network dates back to the Victorian era and will have to be renovated or replaced. Considerable infrastructural investment will be required if we are to modernise our systems and it will be a challenge for any future Government to provide the necessary resources over the coming years. We have identified funds from the NPRF and private sources that can be invested in a new semi-State entity called Irish water, with local authorities acting as agents in providing an essential part of our infrastructure. If we do not have good quality telecommunications services, transport networks and water systems, we will not be able to provide a good quality of life to our citizens or a business environment that provides employment.

I regret that the Government will be proposing an amendment to this motion because it was tabled with the intention of providing a constructive opportunity for agreement on a policy that has been forced on us by the IMF and the EU. For political reasons, the Minister was unable to allow the House to show unity on the provision of good quality water through prioritised investment over the coming years. Given that establishing a single publicly owned water utility company is now Government policy, I cannot understand why he cannot accept our proposal. A new utilities commission would merge existing regulators, of which, God knows, we have a lot even if some of them forgot to regulate in the past. We would support the Government if it took responsibility for regulating a new water utility regime. We would investigate the ways resources could be allocated in such a way that would meet the immediate demands of the citizen in terms of restoration of water supply and having a good quality supply while also eliminating unidentified leaks.

Water conservation measures have been successful in parts of Dublin but have not been as successful in other parts of the country given the figures produced showing that, on average, 43% of water escapes into the ground in unidentified leaks. That has been going on for a long time. Therefore, one must question how the resources which have been allocated in the past have been deployed and have had such poor effect, especially outside Dublin, in identifying leaks and implementing water conservation measures.

We have tabled this motion to highlight the difficulties the citizen has had this winter. People have had the same problems in the previous winter but the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not seem to have a plan as to how we will minimise the impact on citizens and businesses over the next few years. It seems clear that we will have the same difficult winter conditions for the foreseeable future and we must be able to plan effectively for them.

It is disappointing the Minister is not in the House considering the water crisis we have had again this winter following on from a different type of water crisis last winter which was caused by flooding. Again our water infrastructure has been exposed for what it is — outdated, inadequate and broken. Our management of water delivery systems has also been again exposed as inadequate for the country's needs.

What Fine Gael is trying to do is to put forward a solution rather than beat the Government over the head for the lack of reform it has introduced in its decade or so in government. We have been putting forward this solution for almost two years. We agree with the Minister that we need to invest significant sums of money upgrading a totally out of date water pipeline infrastructure of 25,000 km because at least 40% of it is not fit for purpose. The proof of that is that almost 50% of water in many counties leaks through the pipes into the ground before it gets to its destination. That figure has increased following the two extremely cold spells we have had. When people on radio, television and elsewhere say that supplies of water cannot meet demand, what they are saying is that part of that demand is water leaking through pipes into the ground. It is not to people's homes or businesses. A significant portion of demand for water usage, which costs us all a fortune to produce, simply leaks into the ground. That is a waste this country can no longer afford and it is also resulting in people's water being turned off while we try to contain the level of leakage in cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway and in many rural areas.

We agree with the Minister that we need to spend considerable sums of money and we need to find ways to finance upgrading the infrastructure over time. We also agree with the Minister that we should put in place domestic water meters as part of that process. What we do not agree with the Minister on is how he proposes to do that, which is to put more taxpayers' money into a management system which is neither working nor delivering. We are financing water delivery to 4 million people through 34 local authorities. How can it make sense to use 34 agencies to deliver water to a population which is the same as that in a reasonably sized European city? It makes no sense and as a result when we have a crisis, nobody takes charge or responsibility. There was a crisis in Northern Ireland and the chief executive officer of the company involved had to resign. We had just as big a crisis here but nobody resigned because nobody was in charge.

Some 34 county and city managers take responsibility for their own patch. Many of the water engineers and managers in local authorities are doing a really good job considering what they have been asked to deal with. However, one cannot have a national response to a water crisis if one asks 34 agencies to respond in their own patches without having co-ordination between all those agencies. It cannot be done. There is duplication and wastage and it does not work.

The country cannot afford the €2.8 billion the Government proposes to spend over the next three years on water infrastructure. We do not have it and we cannot borrow it, so we need to find new ways to finance this infrastructure, to put in place a national water strategy and to deliver water in a co-ordinated way through one entity. Fine Gael proposes to set up a new State company to build a new water infrastructure which we would finance through commercial borrowing and supplement it by raising money through the National Pensions Reserve Fund and selling certain State assets to help the capital expenditure programme. That is realistic and costed and it makes sense.

I cannot understand why the Minister does not agree with that constructive suggestion. The excuse or reason he gives for not agreeing with it is absolutely farcical. He says he cannot agree with what Fine Gael is saying because it is the thin end of the wedge to privatising our water networks. What a load of nonsense. If that was the case, we would never have set up a State company to roll out telecommunications infrastructure when that was needed. We would not have set up ESB when we needed to roll out electricity infrastructure when that was needed. We would not have set up Bord Gáis when we needed to roll out gas pipelines across the country to deliver gas to towns and cities.

Just because one proposes a State owned company to operate on a commercial basis does not mean one wants to sell it. Water infrastructure is a strategic State asset which Fine Gael in government will hold on to. However, we want to manage, develop and invest in it in a commercial way which makes sense.

We want to reshape the way in which we pay for water. Currently, we spend approximately €1.2 billion per year through capital and current expenditure to provide clean drinking water and 40% to 50% of the water leaks through the pipes. People can do the sums for themselves as to just how much wastage there is. Anybody who thinks water is free because a lot of rain happens to fall in Ireland is deluding themselves. Each time somebody turns on the tap to fill up a glass, it costs the State almost as much as it would cost Ballygowan if it was to give one the water for free in a Ballygowan bottle. In some cases, it probably costs the State more because it needs to treat and transport the water along a long broken pipeline infrastructure to get it to the tap. The same applies each time one flushes the toilet. One uses approximately ten litres of water each time one flushes the toilet. There are 1 million people in Dublin. How much water do they flush down the toilet? How much money and State funds do we flush down the toilet each day?

We have an insane approach to water management, delivery, conservation and valuation. Fine Gael will change that in government by putting in place a commercial entity to manage a water network and to bring large amounts of water from parts of the country which have excessive amounts of fresh water which can be treated for parts of the country which are short of water, such as Dublin. When we wanted to put a national motorway in place efficiently, we set up the National Roads Authority to do it because we could not do so through all the local authorities. We need to do the same now with water.

We agree that we need to introduce domestic water meters and we will grasp the difficult political nettle of proposing water charges in the future, but only if we put in an efficient delivery system that ensures homeowners are only paying for the cost of the water they use and not the tens of thousands of litres of water that leaks through the pipes every day on the way to people's homes, which would be an unreasonable request.

We will be up-front in telling homeowners that the taxpayer will continue to pay the majority of the cost of delivering water to their homes. People will be given a free quota of water based on the average daily usage per person, but if they go above that average on the user pays principle, the more water they use the more they pay. People who wash their cars, sprinkle their lawns or have swimming pools will need to incur the cost of that rather than asking the taxpayer to do so, which continues the fallacy that somehow water is free in Ireland; it is not. We have a broken infrastructure that we need to fix. We have a way of fixing it through a State-owned company that can manage, develop and plan for an efficient treatment and delivery system for water and the Government should listen to our proposal.

I agree entirely with my colleagues' proposal. I have been around this House for a long time and have been involved with group water schemes for many years. Can one imagine a system that tries to deliver treated water to every house in the country? It all needs to be treated and the cost of treatment is extremely high. As that water flows along the pipe, half of it is lost before it reaches the house. It is one thing to pump raw water into a house, but it is another matter altogether to pump in all the treated water with 50% of it being lost. One can see straightaway that this is out of all proportion from an economic point of view.

From an engineering point of view, there is no problem. It was possible to put water into houses 100 years ago. Let us consider what Trócaire is doing in sub-Saharan areas with the money donated from Ireland. However, successive Governments have taken their eye off the ball. It is not possible to expect a pipe laid in 1960 to be an efficient carrier of water today. Of course it will burst somewhere and that is what has happened. With pumps the pressure had to be increased dramatically, which immediately blew the pipes out of the ground.

Against that background what has been said here this evening is that we need to get an overall semi-State utility organisation so that all 34 local authorities will be singing from the same hymn sheet. In several locations there was plenty of water on the Roscommon side of the Galway border but it could not be delivered to Galway because another local authority was involved. They would not allow it to cross the border.

It is the same in Cork.

I have seen it many times. I have seen a ludicrous situation whereby people within ten miles of Ballinasloe only had their water restored yesterday. In some of the new housing developments — some of which are now under the remit of NAMA — the pipes burst and the council engineers had no alternative but to fix them to allow the water to flow out into the countryside, which gives an idea of the horrendous trouble the people on the ground had. I attach no blame to them; they did the best they could. The provision of water is one of the most important aspects of family, development etc. Somebody took their eye off the ball. Fine Gael is advocating installing a meter is outside every house, which will conserve water in itself. However, the pipes are so bad at the moment they could not take a meter in several places and that issue also needs to be addressed.

I commend the motion to the House. Flushing toilets would not be my favourite subject, if I had to pick a topic. Some people say a lot of rubbish is spoken in this House, but a lot of sense comes from this side of the House. I do not know if there is a prism somewhere in the vicinity of the Ceann Comhairle's chair, but when it filters through that prism very little seems to get through to the Government.

I commend Deputy Hogan on proposing this policy. Regardless of what body is established to manage water, there needs to be accountability. This time last year we wanted the NRA to centralise salt supplies. When we had the centralisation of salt supplies this winter the NRA would not give it to the local authorities to grit the secondary roads. What good is faith without good works? What good is responsibility without accountability?

I commend the great work carried out by local authority workers. Many houses and public buildings suffered considerable damage during the period. Every household should have a simple mechanism for turning off the water. The vast majority of people do not know how and where to turn off their water. All public buildings should have a switch. I know of schools that were destroyed with ceilings collapsing over the period. If they had a little switch at the door, when they are heading off for the Christmas holidays they could knock it off and thereby save considerable Exchequer funding on repairs.

Shortly in Government we hope to introduce proposals to install a mechanism allowing the water to be heated to deal with a decrease in temperature. I understand it costs €70 or €80 to install such a mechanism, which would alleviate considerable difficulties.

I heard Deputy Connaughton suggest that there should be a water meter outside every house. I would argue that there should be a water meter inside every house because at the moment water meters are outside business premises and the owners will not pay their water charges because they have no confidence in the mechanism of charging. They do not know where the leak is — if there is a leak; and they do not know how to read the water meter — people will not go out on their hands and knees with a torch lifting up a manhole on the side of the road shining down the torch trying to work out what is beneath them. Why can we not have meters in the house as we have ESB meters?

Without a system in which people have confidence, they will not pay their bills. Every local authority should hold seminars outlining to people in business how they are charged for water and how they can check if they have a leak. Various private enterprises installed meters a short while ago and most businesspeople do not really care about it. They do not want to know about it because ultimately they feel they will not be pursued by the local authority because the system is chaotic, which needs to be addressed.

Unlike our colleagues in Connacht, in Leinster we are very generous. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows we supply water from Wicklow to Dublin and we get lots in return from the capital — we get a lot of its waste back in return. We take that and we are glad to take it. The water systems in Wicklow that supply Dublin are in danger of collapse. They have been in place since the 1860s or 1870s and considerable funding is required to get them up to scratch. I commend the motion to the House and I hope the next Government will introduce the measures outlined.

I welcome the opportunity to speak tonight. I commend Deputy Hogan on tabling this timely motion. The importance of running water to hundreds of thousands of householders was brought home to them over the Christmas period. I am attached to a local group water scheme and was without water for eight days. It was not just householders, as farmers and businesses were also badly affected; that period was a nightmare for many people. As other speakers have said, the problem was compounded by a Third World mains infrastructure system. Much of the antiquated system is more than 30 years old and is unable to cope with the number of houses built over the Celtic tiger period. I commend the local authorities on the work they did and in particular Clare County Council in my constituency and the local fire service which mobilised water tankers and set up standpipes in the affected areas. That was done very quickly and these people are to be commended for this. Throughout the holiday period local authorities had to deal with thousands of leaks and it put considerable pressure on local authorities. I am told that in Ennis alone there were 360 breaks since St. Stephen's Day in one small area, which shows the extent of the problem. A significant number of businesses now find themselves in dire straits as a result of the bad business trading period before and after Christmas. While I am here, I appeal to local authorities to be flexible in dealing with the rate bills of these businesses which had to close during the period because of water shortages.

I want to highlight one area in my constituency. Last year we had the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, down to open the Ennis augmentation plant, on which more than €10 million was spent. In the treatment plant in Castle Lake and Sixmilebridge, which supplies the water to a considerable catchment area stretching from Kilkishen, Sixmilebridge and Shannon Airport, there is a problem at present. The obvious solution is to upgrade the Sixmilebridge plant and feed the water into Ennis, three quarters of the pipework has been already done and a new reservoir needs to be built in the Ballybeg area which would help alleviate the low pressure which residents living in that area must endure.

We need to take a more integrated approach to our water distribution network. We need direct connections. I commend Deputy Hogan's motion on setting up a State-owned water authority to co-ordinate the water networks in the country.

One of the many conditions of the IMF was, under the heading of infrastructure, that the Government would carry out an assessment of the transfer of responsibility for our water service provision from the local authorities to a national utility and would prepare proposals for implementation with a view to start charging by 2012-13, and this assessment was to be completed by the end of this year. What progress has been made on that? That time line is not a mere suggestion we might consider at some stage. This is a mandatory requirement because it is a precondition to the introduction of the universal water charging system. Without it, we will not meet the fiscal targets and if we do not meet the fiscal targets, there will be no IMF money. We do not have much choice about this. This is to what the Government has signed up. As other countries, which have been forced to go to the IMF for funding, have found out, the IMF does not hang around waiting for countries to make up their minds. If there is any dragging of feet, the IMF comes in and forces the issue. The IMF will bring in, as it has done in countries in South America, large international water providers such as Veolia Water and Anglian Water. I do not want that to happen here.

We have a plentiful supply of water. It is a basic, plentiful natural resource, albeit that we have woefully mismanaged and abused it. It is a resource which we certainly should be capable of harnessing, managing and conserving in our national interests. The Fine Gael NewERA policy is the way to go. The notion of a national utility, as opposed to the 34 local authorities of which we spoke earlier, is exactly what the IMF is recommending. It is not just the IMF recommendation. It is also international best practice that there should be a single provider.

At least here in Dublin there is a high degree of co-operation between the four Dublin local authorities. Even so, we are inefficient because we are drawing water from outside our catchment which is not best practice. Ideally, for efficient management and distribution, the water source should be the centre of one's catchment. The same applies throughout the country. We are taking water from Wicklow and, as time goes by, we will go even further to remote areas to get our water. Ideally, everybody should draw from either the same source, or at least a limited number of sources, instead of the 34 local authorities and various schemes all seeking to provide their own water sources and their own distribution networks.

The tragedy, which others have mentioned, is that during the Celtic tiger years the Government did not make an investment in the collection, storage and distribution of water. My own area of the south side of Dublin and a great proportion of Dublin city centre gets its main supply from the Victorian network which is collapsing. The local authorities are making valiant efforts to try to hold it together but we need total replacement of the system. The result is that on many occasions Ireland is like a Third World country, unable to guarantee a water supply to homes, businesses, restaurants and hotels. I hear the Government boasting that we are building a smart economy. It is laughable to speak of building a smart economy when we cannot guarantee a supply of water to our taps. There is one pharmaceutical company in Dublin that uses the same amount of water, and pays for it — I am not complaining about the company which provides many jobs — as the entire city of Cork. If another similar company wanted to set up in Ireland, we would have to turn it away. This is not just a conservation or a fiscal issue, it is a jobs issue. I recommend the motion to the House.

I am delighted the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has come to the House because I am anxious about a number of places in Tipperary that need investment before he leaves office.

I will start by mentioning places such as Mullinahone and Drangan. The Burncourt water scheme has been dragging on for ever so long. Some progress has been made, but I would ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the people of Mullinahone who have endured a very bad water supply. There is a need for new pipes to be laid and a entirely new system between Burncourt and Drangan and the Fethard area. I hope the Minister will sort out that before he leaves office.

I am sure nearly every person in the country was affected over Christmas by difficulties with the water supply. It brings home to us the need for change and why we, the people and local authorities must learn from this. That is why the Fine Gael motion tonight is timely. I commend our spokesman on the environment, Deputy Hogan, on giving us an opportunity to speak on this.

The reality is that 43% is a significant amount of water to waste nationally out of our pipes before it gets to the homes, the farms, the hotels and wherever it is needed. We are losing that amount of water. We saw the pipes breaking down in mile after mile of road over the Christmas period. Nobody could stand over such a system.

I commend the local authority workers who went out in the freezing cold and the wet and who often had water sprayed into their faces. They had to endure difficult circumstances and they worked hard for long hours. If the Minister were to ask any one of those who were down the holes trying to fix the pipes what is needed, he would be told the entire system needs to be changed. The way local authorities go about their business needs to change. What my party is proposing is the best way forward. Taking the NRA and the way it dealt with the roads as an example, if there were a single agency to deal with our water system there would be a far better supply to consumers. If a system such as this were put in place, it would attract a great deal of industry to the country.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—recognises the difficulties for families and businesses caused by the recent water supply disruptions;

acknowledges the extensive efforts by county and city councils to prepare for potential water supply disruptions caused by recent extreme weather conditions, to minimise disruptions for households and businesses and to make alternative supplies available where necessary, and to restore water supplies as quickly as possible;

recognises the importance of the work already carried out by the councils, and funded by the Exchequer, to develop water management systems and active leakage controls in identifying and repairing leaks;

notes the comprehensive review of the water services investment programme 2010-2012 completed in 2010 which:

provides for ongoing major investment in water services in the 2010-2012 period, with €495 million spent in 2010 and €435 million provided for 2011;

accords the highest priority to investment in water conservation to address the unacceptably high levels of leakage in water supply systems; and

includes contracts to the value of €320 million to commence on water conservation projects, including mains rehabilitation, in that period, which is more than double the investment in water conservation compared to the preceding seven years;

notes the proposals in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, published in November 2010, to:

commence a programme of domestic metering to be funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund; and

establish an independent regulator for the water sector; and

notes the Government's intention shortly to commence an assessment of the need for a national water authority, which will consider, inter alia, the role of such an authority, the costs and benefits of establishing it and its relationship with other actors in the sector including local authorities.”

I could not be present to listen to some contributions to the debate as an almost identical motion is being discussed in the Seanad, which I had to attend. I had a brief meeting afterwards.

Is that why the Minister wishes to abolish the Seanad?

No, but is the Deputy's party not supposed to be doing it? Many of his colleagues will have something to say about it.

Everybody is jumping on board.

I hope to see it happen and it will be interesting to see if it does.

The people will decide.

I have read the amendment into the record. Let me start by saying that I am in agreement with Fine Gael on at least two factors. First, I share the Fine Gael concerns about difficulties — in some cases severe difficulties — that the recent disruptions to water supplies have caused for families, businesses and the farming community, particularly during the festive season and following on from very harsh weather conditions in the lead-up to Christmas. It is only when supply is disrupted that the importance of this service is fully brought home to us.

Before I go into more detail on the background to this problem, the steps taken to deal with it in the short term and the longer term plans for rehabilitating defective water mains and modernising the water sector, I want to place on the record of this House my gratitude for the efforts of local authority staff and their contractors in responding to the situation as quickly as possible in what were exceptionally challenging circumstances.

I am glad the Minister left out the following sentence in the script.

The last five weeks of 2010 saw unprecedented severe weather across the country. Spells of exceptionally cold weather brought home the real difficulties we must face during such weathers, and we experienced some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Ireland, together with heavy snowfalls in places. Temperatures remained below zero for nine consecutive days in some inland areas. Many records for low temperatures were broken on the nights of 24 December and 25 December. There was a dramatic change over the Christmas period and a rapid change to milder weather during St. Stephen's Day and the following day, Monday, 27 December. An overall change of on average 20 degrees Celsius over a 24 to 36 hour period was experienced. This led to a very rapid thaw in most areas of the country, with most of the snow melted in the southern half of the country by Tuesday and the thaw taking effective hold over the rest of the country by Wednesday, 29 December.

The very rapid thaw caused movement in the ground which led to pipes bursting. This occurred not only in public mains but also at the point of consumer connections to mains and on consumer service pipes. In addition to finding and fixing leaks on the public networks, many authorities had to assist in fixing consumer side leakage or disconnect properties in order to protect the overall network and restore supply to the wider community as well as making alternative supplies by standpipes or tankers where necessary.

Significant evidence of leakage on private property was found in the greater Dublin area, necessitating a number of disconnections of private properties. The number of these disconnections in the greater Dublin area exceeded the number of required repairs to connections between public mains and consumer supplies. Outside of the greater Dublin area, the indications from local authorities are that the leaks were predominantly found at connection points to the network, with one third of the problems on the consumer side. Nationwide, over 2,500 unattended properties had to be disconnected due to leakage on the consumer side.

Almost 3,400 local authority staff and their contractors were involved over the period since 26 December in finding and fixing these leaks. Some 250,000 person hours of work were involved over the period. Many of those people had also been involved in the run-up to Christmas in responding to the severe weather. Workers who had salted and gritted roads during some of the most severe weather on record in this country then drove tankers to ensure that people had adequate access to drinking water. Staff in the water services area in local authorities were willingly assisted by roads, housing and other support staff in a combined effort which is the hallmark of public service. I commend them for their commitment and wholeheartedly thank these workers on behalf of the Government for their efforts.

As a result of this work, progressive improvements were made on a daily basis throughout the period so that restrictions could be reduced and eliminated in many places. This work continues and some restrictions continue to apply to ensure reservoirs are replenished to normal levels. It is important to highlight that this response was part of the wider response to the severe weather, which has involved many statutory, voluntary and private bodies. The close co-operation at local level of these groups and their participation in the national severe weather co-ordination group has ensured a focused response to the extreme conditions.

This did not happen without appropriate planning. Lessons have been learned from weather events in 2009 and earlier in 2010. With water services, local authorities put in place contingency arrangements before Christmas in the light of the anticipated thaw. This included demand management measures to seek to reduce demand and replenish reservoirs during the period of freezing weather, mainly through pressure reductions and night-time restrictions. In addition, authorities ensured that staff would be available throughout the Christmas and new year periods to manage production, find and fix leaks, provide alternative supplies through tankers and standpipes and provide information through websites and other media outlets. It was important to communicate with large numbers of people through various media.

Once the thaw took hold and leaks began to appear, local authorities immediately mobilised response crews to deal with the affected areas. The overall response at national level to the severe weather and to the disruptions to water supply is already being reviewed by my Department and the other Departments and agencies involved; we will learn from the experience and further develop our response mechanisms.

The second point on which I am in agreement with Fine Gael is the need for substantial investment in water services. However, the party is very much a late convert to this position and to the importance of enhancing our water infrastructure. Since entering Government, I have made water infrastructure a priority and as a result ensured record investment in our infrastructure. Since taking office, the investment has averaged in the region of €500 million a year, and a high level of investment has been maintained in 2011 despite the downturn in our economy. We have had a legacy of historical underinvestment, a legacy that Fine Gael showed little interest in addressing when it had the opportunity in Government. The party, in its motion, is also conveniently ignoring the strategies now in place to radically transform the sector in the coming years.

Ireland has a very diverse water supply system, with over 950 public supplies producing some 1,600 million litres of water daily through a network of 25,000 km of pipes. The extent of burst water mains places a particular focus on the vulnerability of the Irish water distribution system, in particular given its age, the high levels of leakage in the system and the lack of investment historically in mains rehabilitation. Water is a precious resource, with costs associated with both treatment and distribution.

While one might accept that larger networks have greater inherent risks in terms of leakage, the levels of unaccounted for water in the Irish network are completely unacceptable. Improvements have been made in the Dublin area, with unaccounted for water reducing from some 42% to closer to 30%, but many other areas have rates of more than 50%. From both an economic and environmental perspective, there must be a strong focus on addressing leakage in our water systems given the increased demands for water, greater pressures on raw water and more stringent drinking water standards. This is being addressed.

The focus of investment over recent years has been on investing to ensure compliance with the European directives on drinking water standards and urban waste water discharges and improving water supply to keep pace with population and economic needs. More than €5 billion in Exchequer resources was introduced between 2000 and 2010 in water services infrastructure. This investment has been complemented by local authorities' own resources to bring total expenditure to more than €6 billion over the period in question. Under the water services investment programme, 476 major public water and waste water contracts and schemes were completed in the period 2000 to 2009.

At the beginning of the decade of the programme, there were two paramount challenges for the water services sector. First, there were drinking water quality issues in a number of supplies, predominantly in the group water sector where there were unacceptability high incidences of e.coli detection. As a result, the European Court of Justice found Ireland in breach of its obligations under the waste water treatment directive on secondary waste water treatment at the beginning of 2000. As a result of the Exchequer investment of €2.8 billion in waste water infrastructure over the ten years since 2000, compliance with the EU waste water treatment directive on secondary treatment stood at 92% by the end of 2009. This investment has also led to an increase in secondary waste water treatment capacity equivalent to the needs of a population of 3.7 million in the same period.

This investment has been accompanied by a range of measures to support a radical transformation of water services in recent years. This has included the passage of the Water Services Act 2007 which provides a modern and comprehensive legislative framework for the delivery of water services, consolidating more than a century of legislation relating to water and waste water services.

In addition to the substantial Exchequer investment in drinking water infrastructure, the Government also put in place a comprehensive regulatory framework for the monitoring of drinking water supplies. The European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations 2007 prescribe quality standards to be applied as well as supervision and enforcement procedures for drinking water. The regulations provided for enhanced supervision and enforcement of drinking water provision and assigned the Environmental Protection Agency responsibility for the supervision of public water supplies and the local authorities responsibility for the supervision of all other water supplies within their functional area.

We have also enhanced the regulatory framework for waste water services. The Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 provide for the authorisation by the Environmental Protection Agency of discharges from local authority waste water treatment works and collection systems that are released to all types of receiving waters. The EPA, in considering applications for authorisations, can stipulate conditions to ensure compliance with standards for various substances and conformity with obligations under a number of EU environmental directives. It can periodically review discharge authorisations granted and failure by local authorities to comply with conditions attaching to an authorisation will be an offence. The agency, local authorities and my Department are working together to continually improve the quality of the services being provided to consumers. This collaborative approach has contributed greatly to improvements in the quality of our water resources.

The other marked change in recent years has been the move to a river basin catchment approach to water resource management. The adoption of river basin management plans last year marked an important step in the implementation of the EU water framework directive and provides the strategic direction for much of our future actions and investment in the sector. Continued investment in the sector is required to ensure the progress made is consolidated and plans for future improvements implemented. A greater proportion of investment in the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012 will be dedicated to improving water supply infrastructure with water conservation being accorded top priority.

The publication of the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012 followed on from a root and branch review of water services capital investment. This included a review of all projects included in the previous programme which had not substantially advanced to ensure the contracts and schemes to proceed were fully aligned with key programme economic and environmental priorities.

The 2010-12 programme sets out an expanded investment in critical mains rehabilitation with contracts with a value of some €320 million set to commence over the period of the programme. This is more than double the investment of €130 million in water conservation measures in the period 2003 to 2009.

Expenditure to date on water conservation outside Dublin has largely been in technology-based water management systems. These systems proved invaluable during the recent difficulties both in managing production and providing data to assist in leak detection. The data from these systems provide the platform for the development of mains rehabilitation strategies to guide critical mains rehabilitation whereby water distribution pipelines are relined or replaced and ensure that the greatest water savings result from such investment. While the Dublin authorities' programme of rehabilitation is the most advanced, other authorities were finalising their programmes of works during 2010 to allow for contract commencements this year.

The investment of €435 million in water services in 2011 under this programme will, in addition to prioritising water conservation, allow for the progression of priority contracts for expansion of supply or the improvement of security of supply in a number of hubs and gateways.

It is anticipated that sustained investment in line with that envisaged in the water services investment programme could reduce the rate of unaccounted for water by 10% nationwide by 2016. In addition, I have placed particular emphasis on the training of water services personnel by making available a dedicated funding stream in 2010. Through this fund, some 500 days of training on leakage detection were provided in 2010.

Investment and training can only do so much. How we use water also needs to be addressed and water charges based on usage have a major part to play in this regard. My Department is finalising proposals to give effect to the Government decision to introduce water charges in a way that is fair, significantly reduces waste and is easily applied. The national recovery plan proposes that the introduction of water charges for domestic customers would be preceded by the commencement of a national metering programme, which will be funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund, to install meters in households connected to the public water supply. While the metering programme is likely to take a number of years to complete, the objective is that it will be substantially advanced over the next three years. My Department is analysing the various options to ensure the delivery of the metering programme in the most cost-effective manner.

The installation of water meters in households connected to public supplies will encourage householders to conserve water and result in savings in the significant operational costs faced by local authorities in providing water and waste water services. It will also complement the significant increases in investment on water conservation measures in the water services investment programme.

The Government recognises that a crucial element of implementing this initiative will be the appointment of a water regulator. It is intended that the water regulator would be responsible for the economic regulation of water services to both the non-domestic sector and the domestic sector. Independent regulation will ensure greater transparency and fairness in water pricing for both sectors and provide that charges can be clearly linked to the delivery of a reliable and good quality service. In addition to overseeing the rates of water charges, the water regulator will also be responsible for establishing standards for service delivery and performance.

Consideration is being given to assigning the responsibility for regulation of the water sector to an existing regulatory body, although a final decision has not yet been taken on this matter.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the local authorities in quickly dealing with the disruptions to water supply, and the difficulties experienced by the national water authority in Northern Ireland, the Fine Gael motion still envisages the consolidation of water maintenance functions under one single national authority as originally proposed in the NewERA document published last year. This ignores the fact that our capacity to quickly respond and deal with the water supply disruptions over the past few weeks has been due in large part to local authorities being able to mobilise resources locally to deal with local problems.

Fine Gael said earlier that it does not want to privatise but it is fair to say that the party says a number of things. Looking at the NewERA document in greater detail, there is reference to the water company investing "an additional €250 million on fixing or replacing leaking water pipes". The Government has already committed €320 million to do the same thing.

Is that the same €320 million as last year?

We are spending an unprecedented amount of money and I hope Deputy Hogan appreciates it. The Fine Gael NewERA document also refers to its plan to "facilitate more rapid urban development when the property market recovers by investing an additional €1 billion in extra water delivery and waste water infrastructure for high density urban residential and commercial development, with a particular focus on NSS hubs and gateways". This Government carried out a root and branch review of the water services investment programme in 2010 and has already committed to advancing 100 water and wastewater contracts in the greater Dublin area and in the national spatial strategy gateways and hubs to the value of almost €800 million in addition to water conservation measures in all of these areas.

The NewERA document also refers to a plan to "ease the cost burden on Irish businesses by delivering economies of scale in the costs of operating and upgrading Ireland's water infrastructure (by putting the water operations and investments of the 34 local authorities under one roof) and by spreading the cost of water investment over 30 years". The Government recognises the importance of ensuring a good quality, reliable and competitively priced water service is provided to all consumers and the appointment of an economic regulator, which we are proposing, will be a key factor in ensuring this.

The IMF proposed it.

No, I proposed that.

Deputy Hogan should allow the Minister to make his contribution.

It is in the memorandum of understanding.

I bought a memorandum to Government on this very matter long before the IMF was here.

Deputy Gormley knew they were coming.

If I had a crystal ball——

Deputy Gormley knew they were coming before anyone.

I presented a memorandum to Government and Deputy Hogan knows I have been talking about these matters long before the Fine Gael Party.

Talking about them.

Deputy Hogan must admit that when his party was in Government, Fine Gael got rid of water charges.

That was an eternity ago. It was in 1997, 14 years ago, and there is a lot of water under the bridge since.

It was not a very good move.

Economies of scale and value for money have been key determinants of project development processes as evidenced through the bundling of projects and the use of public private partnership arrangements through design, build and operate contracts.

Finally, the NewERA document states that the Irish water company will provide security of supply for drinking water by providing for greater interconnection of water supplies. The Dublin area water supply, which accounts for over one third of all water produced in Ireland, already has a very high degree of interconnection and co-ordinated management, serving a population of approximately 1.4 million across seven authorities. There are appropriate connections in other cities and a number of the contracts and schemes included in the water services investment programme 2010-12 are designed to further improve security of supply.

Thank God we have the River Shannon.

What is of most concern about the Fine Gael proposal for establishing a national water company is the lack of evidence or research to back up its approach to the proposed centralisation of water functions. Admittedly, several policy reports and publications have recommended structural reforms for the delivery of water services. The reports of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes and of the high level group on green enterprise both recommended the establishment of a national water authority, while a regional or river basin approach to water services was recommended by the local government efficiency review group and in the OECD environmental performance review of Ireland.

While the Government has not ruled out assessing the need for and role of a national water authority, unlike Fine Gael it will consider this issue on an informed basis.

Make me pure but not yet.

My Department will shortly be initiating an independent assessment of the transfer of responsibility for water services provision from the 34 county and city councils to a national water authority.

That sounds familiar, it sounds very like Fine Gael policy.

This assessment will be completed by the end of this year, probably just in time for Deputy Hogan.

Deputy Gormley will not be around, although the way the Government is going, he might be.

It is intended that the assessment will review the existing structures for the delivery of water services and will determine the most effective structures for delivering high quality, competitively priced water services to customers and for infrastructure provision. The review of the current delivery structures will include an examination of the performance of local authorities in recent years in the provision of water services and will determine whether the existing structures are the most efficient and effective for the delivery and operation of water services.

The assessment will also have regard to other structural reforms that are ongoing, including the establishment of the regulator for water, the introduction of metered water charges, the implementation of the recommendations of the local government efficiency review group and of the value for money study of the water services investment programme as well as the structures necessary for the implementation of the river basin management plans.

The Government is committed to continued high levels of investment in water services. This investment is informed by a clear strategy that prioritises water conservation, improvement in water quality and provision of capacity to facilitate enterprise needs and to underpin economic recovery. Over time, this will further improve the general condition of Irish water services infrastructure. While any infrastructure will be vulnerable to unprecedented weather events, the investment should improve the resilience of the infrastructure. Combined with the Government proposals to commence a programme of domestic metering to be funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and to establish an independent regulator for the water sector, this will build on the investment already made in the sector to radically transform our water services sector over the coming decade.

I acknowledge the difficulties the unprecedented weather caused for communities, and I commend all public organisations, voluntary groups and communities that worked together throughout the five week period to ensure the social and business life of this country could continue as much as possible. We will continue to learn from these experiences to ensure that all actors are appropriately engaged to ensure optimum response and continuance of public service in such challenging circumstances.

I propose to share time with Deputies Joe Costello and Ciarán Lynch. My sympathies are with the families and individuals affected by the water shortages and restrictions throughout the country after the extreme cold weather spell. People had different experiences throughout the country and there were different causes to the problems. I spoke to people in my area for whom the water was stopped on Christmas Day because of burst pipes in their homes. That was followed by water restrictions in the following week. Some people experienced great difficulties, especially the elderly and families with children.

I commend the work of local authorities and other agencies in attempting to fix the problems that have arisen. Many local authority workers, as the Minister mentioned, were working over the Christmas holiday period, trying to locate and fix burst pipes and mains and communicate to the public information such as the times of water restrictions. Much work went on and there has been much improvement among councils in getting the message out. This may not be the case in every local authority, but many local authorities used local and national newspapers, the broadcast media, including RTE, and Internet services such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate notices. My local authority, South Dublin County Council, regularly e-mailed local representatives with updates, which I was able to communicate to some of my constituents.

Communication is important, because if people are given plenty of notice that their water will be cut off or restricted, they can take steps to ensure they have a water supply. It is important that they are told what to do if they have no water and where they can obtain water. Much work was done in this regard. I commend the media for being more informative than I ever remember them being in the past. There were good communication channels between local authorities, the national severe weather co-ordination committee and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and most of the time there was fairly good communication with the media, which was important for people who might not have had access to the Internet. I am not saying it was perfect; there are always improvements to be made. There could have been improvements in anticipating the problems that arose. We knew the cold weather spell was coming up and the circumstances were similar to those of January last year. I am not an engineer, but perhaps it would have been possible to implement more water restrictions before the shortages occurred in order to build up a surplus in advance.

This debate is timely as it is our first day back in the Dáil, and this was the big issue over the Christmas holidays. It is good that Fine Gael tabled this motion for debate. However, something is missing from the motion: it does not call for strategic investment in our water infrastructure to rehabilitate the mains, although it calls for the reallocation of future water funding from the Exchequer to prioritise water conservation by investment in water mains weather-proofing. Unaccounted-for water is a problem not only during bad weather, but all year round, as has been identified in a number of reports, including the national water study carried out in 2000. It is one of the indicators in local government reports and is a major problem.

People often ask whether there is a scarcity of water in Ireland, but of course there is not. Compared to other countries, we do not have a water scarcity problem. We use about 1.7% of our available water resources, compared to about 37% in Belgium. Our problem is not the availability of water resources, but we do have droughts for different reasons, often to do with water management during extreme weather events. If there are more warm summers we will also have problems in that regard. However, our major problem is the loss of water through our water infrastructure, with estimated losses of up to 60% in some counties. Nationally, the proportion of water lost is probably about 40% to 50%, although I have seen some towns in which the proportion of unaccounted-for water is up to 70%. There has not been major progress in the last decade in dealing with this, although there has been investment in water conservation and infrastructural projects. According to replies from the Minister to parliamentary questions I have asked on this subject, approximately 10% of investment between 2002 and 2010 in water infrastructure — about €130 million — went towards water conservation. This is a small proportion of the capital investment in water infrastructure.

According to the document detailing the programme of investment for the next three years, which the Minister launched recently, the Government will spend €320 million on water conservation, which, as the Minister said himself, is about double what was spent in the previous eight years. If that money is spent, it will represent progress. However, we must consider the record of the Government. The fixing of our existing infrastructure was not a priority over the past ten years. This problem was flagged long ago. A report carried out in 2005 — an evaluation by consultants of investment in water infrastructure under the national development plan — made the point, to the best of my recollection, that it would make sense to fix the existing water infrastructure before investing in new capacity. However, that has not happened in the past ten years. The Minister's document makes the same point that before we start investing in new water infrastructure, we should prioritise investment in the existing infrastructure to stop leaks in the system. It is good that this has been identified, but there is much emphasis in the document on new capacity. It talks about new hubs and new towns and so on. There is a feeling that we will go back to building new houses and new towns, but we should consider the money that was spent over the past ten years. A large amount was invested in new water infrastructure and connections for houses that were never occupied.

The priority, above all other things, must be to fix the existing infrastructure. All of the other aims, such as setting up a new water authority, are far down the line. How feasible is the setting up of a water authority, and is it the right direction to go? I question whether this is an appropriate priority. I also question the prioritising of water metering. These are costly projects and we do not know whether they are feasible in the short term or even the medium term. However, we know that if we spend €26 million, as Dublin City Council did, on fixing leaking pipes and mains in the existing infrastructure, we can save a large amount of water. According to Dublin City Council, this measure saved 8 million to 10 million litres of water per day from going down the drain. That is where the money should be prioritised before we do anything else. It will provide jobs and it is the most important thing we can do.

I thank Deputy Tuffy for sharing her time with me, and compliment Fine Gael on its motion on public utilities and the effect of the recent severe weather on the provision of an adequate water supply to householders and businesses.

As the leader of the Green Party, the Minister should be the first to recognise the reality of climate change. We must recognise that what we have been reliably told by the local authorities happens only once every 50 or 100 years, is now happening here regularly. In recent years, we have had flooding, in addition to the snow and icy conditions this Christmas and last January. We have also seen the extreme flooding that is occurring in Australia.

Ireland has now begun to get weather extremes, but this has not been recognised in terms of how to deal with them. All we have currently is a national emergency co-ordinating committee but we should realise that this is not just an emergency situation as such events are occurring regularly. Severe weather conditions will now be regular events in this country, as has been happening over the last couple of years. The sooner we put in place a proper national plan to deal with such conditions the better. We need more than a national emergency co-ordinating committee that sits around the Christmas period; it must be put in place on a long-term basis with proper policies and plans to co-ordinate the activities of local authorities.

Following what happened last year, the Minister for Transport put the National Roads Authority in charge of salt. Unfortunately, however, the NRA did not get its act together very well. It brought salt into Cork when Donegal was snowed in for four weeks. Salt supplies had to be driven across the entire country from Cork to Donegal and, in addition, it arrived late because of storms in the Mediterranean. It was a horrendous situation. Local authorities did their best to access salt supplies but could not because the NRA was trying to get its hands on everything available. Local authorities that showed initiative could not get grit or salt because the NRA was endeavouring to control the entire supply. That is not good enough in a situation involving multiple problems arising from severe weather conditions.

It is a shame that the lessons of January 2010 were not learned. The Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Transport and Defence attended the Dáil at that time to explain what was being done, but they did not get their act together. It is shame that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was not available. Indeed, no Minister was available until long after the event when things seemed to look up. Fresh snow falls and icy conditions, however, caused matters to deteriorate.

Even at the present time, we have not solved the problem by any means. There is a huge shortage of treated water supplies for homes and businesses throughout Dublin city. Some Dublin flat complexes do not get a regular supply, while leakages remain to be fixed throughout the country. That is the reality we face at the present time.

The problem is not a lack of water because our reservoirs have plentiful supplies. The problem is that we do not have enough treated water but that message has not got through. We hear about plans for a major infrastructural pipeline scheme to bring water from the River Shannon to Dublin, but we have lots of water here, although we are not in a position to treat it. It costs approximately €1 billion per annum to provided treated water, which is undoubtedly a scarce resource. The motion refers to 43%, but on average 40% of water supplies are lost through fractured pipes. That is the way it has been for the three and a half years the Minister has been in Government. There has been no investment in infrastructure.

The Minister said that €320 million will be invested but that is the height of what he is doing. Meanwhile, water leaks have not changed by one iota. He said that contracts to the value of €320 million are to commence for water conservation projects, including mains rehabilitation, which is more than double the investment in water conservation compared to the preceding seven years. Therefore, the Minister is admitting that the investment was not put in during the previous seven years.

When the Deputy's party was in Government, there was no investment.

Yes, there was.

The Deputy should compare what his party invested, which was nothing, with what we are investing.

The Minister is not dealing with the matter.

The Minister should not provoke the Chair to intervene in such matters.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

If the Chair was not in the Chair there might be a comment on that. I should advise the Deputy that there are three minutes left.

I admire the restraint that the Chair is showing in this matter.

The Minister's speech referred to seven years, but if he adds seven to 1997 he will find that we were not in Government during that period.

I can give the Deputy all the figures. I will look them up.

We are going on 14 years and the Minister must be responsible for the period of his stewardship. He should admit that he did not do it. It is as simple as that and as a result we have water mains that are bursting all over the place.

We did much more than the Deputy's party.

The current situation is outrageous but I am glad the Minister admits that what he is doing now is more than double what was done over the last seven years. I wonder what the figure is for the last three and a half years. He did not give us the figure for the period when he has been directly responsible. I would love to see that figure.

Why does he not give it to us?

In view of the gross neglect by the Government, no money has been spent that is worth talking about. The same amount of water is now being lost as happened long before this Government came into office. They have done nothing to rectify the situation but the first priority is to repair leaks. Let us ensure that all the water that comes into the system will reach homes and businesses. Let us also ensure that water supplies in our reservoirs can be treated before embarking on a wild goose chase to bring water from the River Shannon to Dublin.

We should have a plan to deal with a national emergency of this nature when it recurs. We do not want an ad hoc, unco-ordinated, missing-Minister plan, which happened in the most recent case. We should recognise the reality that extremely severe weather conditions are occurring here regularly. This situation must be addressed and the Minister is ultimately responsible for doing so. I have not seen any suggestion of long-term plans and policies being co-ordinated with local authorities to deal with the immediate problem of leakages from burst water mains. The situation is up in the air and meanwhile there are insufficient water supplies for domestic and commercial consumers. The Minister should come up with something that is more positive and substantial than what we have heard to date.

Debate adjourned.