Louth councillors unhappy with Uisce Eire refusal to allow them visit water treatment plants

Stock image.

Margaret RoddyThe Argus

Councillors from Drogheda and Dundalk voiced their frustration at the monthly meeting of Louth County Council after being told earlier on a Zoom meeting with Uisce Eire (formerly Irish Water) that they wouldn’t be able to have site visits of the water treatment plants serving the two towns because of health and safety issues.

Cllr Joanna Byrne said when asked about the possibility of a site visit, it was ruled out of order  over health and safety issues. He felt that councillors should be able to see the progress being made when major works are being carried out and asked how would they go about getting permission for a site visit.

Cllr Sean Kelly said that  Dundalk Municipal District had made a request in January that they visit the Cavan Hill Treatment Plant and were told it was not possible.

They had since been told that the person responsible for Cavan Hill is an employee of Louth County Council who works for Uisce Eire.

“There is precedent for a visit,” he stated.

Cllr Joanna Byrne agreed that there was precedent as councillors had visited the plant at Stameen in the past and had been given health and safety guidelines.

“I don’t buy that as a reason,” she said, describing the refusal to afford councillors a site visit as “very unfair”.

She contrasted Uisce Eire’s approach to councillors with that given to TDs, pointing out that Deputy Imelda Munster had spoken in the Dail for just 72 seconds and they came back to her the following day.

"It’s shocking how they will answer TDS but won’t engage with councillors.”

Cllr Kevin Callan recalled that over the years Louth County Council staff would have visited the water treatment plants. “I think it’s total nonsense that elected representatives can’t visit the site.”

He was also dissatisfied that the meetings with Uisce Eire had to take place over Zoom.

Cllr Kelly said that Uisce Eire ahd said they had no knowledge of the motion from Dundalk Municipal District seeking a site visit but he knew that the meetings administrator had sent it on two occasions.

Cllr John Reilly wondered if another Zoom meeting could be organised as they had ran out of time and a lot of questions were not answered, as there were issues about the water quality, brown water and manganese in the water.

"It’s getting embarassing,” said Cllr Kevin Meenan describing how he met with a film crew in Dundalk.  While they said that the town was a great location they wanted to know what was the story with the water as they were trying to cater for 150 people.

He was concerned that this could have implications for companies visiting the town and was grateful that the water issues didn’t come up during discussions with the IDA and other bodies when a delegation from the county travelled to New York for St Patrick’s Day.

Director of Service Bernie Woods aid that while site visits didn’t happen in the past, the local authority didn’t have any control over them.

"We are managing Cavan Hill and we can request a site visit,” she said. However, she said that Irish Water will shortly take over total control of the service and at that point, the Council won’t have any involvement.

"We will have to say at all or presence at their meetings.” she said, adding that she had been raising these issues for the last two years.

She also believed that it will be difficult to arrange Zoom meetings for councillors but if there were particular issues that they wanted to raise, she will pass it onto Uisce Eire.

Chief Executive Joan Martin said that Irish water will be taking over sooner rather than later, and will have complete control of the staff, and Bernie will no longer be involved.

However, there wouldn’t be anything preventing councillors to raise a notice of motion and for the officials to write to Uisce Eire on their behalf, as they do in relation to other bodies.

Now was the time for public representatives to raise issues at a national level before the formal agreement is signed off on.