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Problems ignored as politicians focused on chasing votes

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Many reading Irish Water's long-term investment strategy this morning will wonder why it will take the company 25 years to bring the network up to an acceptable standard, including fixing leaks and addressing lead in the public mains.

The reason, as has been repeatedly pointed out, is money, or the lack thereof over the past 30 years. The failure of successive governments to invest in the most boring of infrastructure projects over decades has come home to roost, spending which was avoided because it never garnered votes in the way a new road or hospital could.

And even if some parties abolish Irish Water after the next election, as they have promised, it will have achieved one milestone - publishing the first, long-term strategy to address the appalling state of the network.

Many of the problems are well-flagged, such as boil water notices affecting 23,000 people and almost one million people drawing water from plants at risk of failure, but there's some unpleasant new surprises too.

They include properties at risk of flooding due to overloaded sewers; the sewerage systems of Limerick and Cork being no longer fit for purpose and the lack of a database of every asset including plant and equipment owned by the company, as the quality of record-keeping in the local authorities "varied widely".

Among the priorities to be tackled include the high leakage rates. This is because the more water that leaks, the more raw water must be abstracted and treated, which uses more energy and chemicals, and requires larger treatment plants while leaving less water in the environment.

But there are a "countless" number of leaks, Irish Water says, which will take decades to find, repair and prevent reoccurring. Those who believe they can tackle the problem sooner should make their views known to the company as part of this public consultation process.

The issue of lead will cause some headaches. Irish Water points out that it is solely responsible for the public mains, and not the internal plumbing of the house. It plans to treat the water with a dosing agent to reduce exposure, but the only way to solve the problem is to replace pipes in the home.

The Government has to date refused to provide any grants for these repairs, something which may change in the run-up to an election.

This strategy will be reviewed every five years, and will require detailed implementation plans. It should, over time, result in the network being operated more efficiently and at a cheaper cost.

Irish Water has, to date, shown itself to be serious about tackling the issues across the network, an opportunity denied to local authorities starved of funding.

It has provided a long-term plan to improve the system, something lacking in the recent past from politicians who instead focused on the next election.

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