Thursday 14 November 2019

Minister defends efforts to tackle 'Ireland's worst water crisis'

Minister Eoghan Murphy, right speaks with local man Sean Lynch
Minister Eoghan Murphy, right speaks with local man Sean Lynch

Alan O'Keeffe

Minister Eoghan Murphy vigorously defended the actions being taken to tackle "Ireland's worst water crisis."

He weathered a sustained barrage of questions on a visit to Drogheda about the hardships being suffered by so many people without water in Louth and East Meath.

Members of the public demanded answers from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on his walkabout in the Stameen housing estate where emergency supplies of water were available in roadside tanks.

He assured people he was addressing their concerns before being surrounded by a posse of journalists.

"This is the biggest crisis that Irish Water has faced since its establishment. And it became a crisis requiring a national response on Sunday when a third fix didn't work," explained the minister, referring to efforts to fix a rupture in a huge water main.

"A huge co-ordination effort has been put in nationally to ensure that water is here in a continuous supply for places like the hospital.

"We've 43 tankers coming in from across the country, including Northern Ireland. We've now over 100 water stations in place that are being manned now by the army as well who have come on site this evening," he said.

"We've the Civil Defence, we've fire stations, we've the local authorities and local representatives playing their part in communicating to the public what's going on here," he said.

Read More: Defence Forces called in to help as Louth's water crises rages on

A local man Sean Lynch (63) had told the minister he no longer trusted Irish Water and the local council because deadlines for the restoration of water were not met.

The minister said Irish Water was battling with a very difficult situation trying to fix a very big pipe deep underground that had been operating under huge pressure.

The minister said the antiquated pipework at that location was very old and the replacement section being brought to the location would be installed first thing in the morning.

He said he was "quite confident" this fourth attempt to fix the pipe-burst would be successful.

"I've made it clear to Irish Water today that the capital investment for replacing the pipe on that 2.2 kilometres stretch is now a funding priority. The capital investment is being made available to Irish Water to make it a priority now," he said.

"We're trying to deal with a warped pipe. We've had to have a new piece of pipe made from scratch...Work will start first thing in the morning and we hope it will be successful by the afternoon," he said.

He apologised to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been unable to even have a shower in recent days.

"I'm very sorry for all of the people who have experienced these severe water shortages.

"We've had them all over the country over the past numbers of years.... I know how difficult it is for people who face this kind of situation," said the minister.

He promised there would be strategic funding for Irish Water to do the vital work of renewing the old national pipe network.

He admitted there was a question around communications with the public in the early stages of the crisis.

Asked about shortcomings in the Government 's funding of Irish Water and the need to 'ring fence' funding over the coming years, he said: "The ring fencing for funding was going to come through water charges but that's for another day.

"Already this year over €500m has been allocated to Irish Water for capital investment. And that will increase next year as well," he said.

He went on to say "I've complete confidence in the management of Irish Water... We've talked of capital investment in this particular part of the country as a result of what's happened."

Asked about Fianna Fail's allegations that the Government has been 'haphazard' in the crisis and Labour's accusation that the Government was 'AWOL', he said "This was brought to my attention on Sunday afternoon, the seriousness of it when that third fix failed, and that it required a national response.

"Since then I have been working with my officials and Irish Water so make sure that everything that needs to be done is being done," he said.

He said he was very happy with all the work done to date.

It will take a few months to replace the 2.2kilometre pipe line, he said.

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