Thursday 17 October 2019

Anger starts to bubble over boil water notice

'Forgotten' and frustrated Avoca and Ballinaclash residents face into a third week of their water warning, writes Niamh O'Connor

Residents and business owners in Ballinaclash and Avoca expressed their instense frustration as a Boil Water notice issued on March 25 entered its third week.

'It's only through Facebook that people are finding out,' said Trisha Phelan from behind the counter of Phelan's Licensed Groceries in Ballinaclash, adding, 'but some people don't use the internet.'

Trisha, who was born in the room above her shop, said in the old days Wicklow County Council used to hand deliver the notices so people were informed.

'We're forgotten out here,' she said, adding that the water quality is so bad that even when there is no notice in place, she tends to use bottled water. 'You can smell the chlorine in it and, in the basin after doing the dishes, you can write your name in the silt that's left. I was one of the people who paid my water charges. You can't even brush your teeth. You have to boil a cup of water and have it ready to use. It's a fecking nuisance,' the shopkeeper and publican added.

The big issue for local homeowner Robert O'Doherty is also the lack of notification.

'I think there should be a letter through your letterbox because a lot of people are not tech savvy,' he said, adding that he hadn't found out through social media, but through word of mouth. 'The pets have to be looked after too, it affects everything,' he said.

Another resident, Cathy Rowden, agreed that there had been 'absolutely no notification at all. I found out through my daughter's's very inconvenient.'

Ms Rowden, who has been living in the area for 20 years, said that even doing a white wash is affected because 'the water is a browny yellow.'

Local builder John Driver said he hasn't consumed the water in Ballinaclash for several years. 'I got sick a few times and that put me off it for good,' he said.

Business owners in nearby Avoca also expressed their anger. In The Farrier's In, Joseph Tobin said it was embarrassing to have to refuse tourists asking for a drink of tap water because some didn't understand the exact reason why, because of language barriers. 'You have to charge them €2.75 for a bottle of water instead and they don't really get why.'

He said that livestock owners have been badly hit and are using water from the river for their animals.

'It affects everything in a business. Even the dishwater is scummy and scaly and you can't even use the water for tea or coffee,' he added.

In The Meetings, Avoca, the issue was having a knock-on effect on the bar, restaurant, and on the B&B, Derek Fullham said.

'We contacted them [Irish Water] to find out how long it was going to last. And it was a complete joke. Eventually someone called me back and said they would have to ask me some questions before they could give me a reference number so as to discuss the situation. So, they asked me what colour the water was, and I said, "It's water, it doesn't have a colour." They asked me if there was a smell from the water, and I said, "It's water, it's odourless." Then they asked me what the water tasted like, and I said, "I don't know I can't taste it - there's a boil water notice! I'm not answering any more of your stupid questions."'

Mr Fullham said that one guest had reduced their stay from two nights to one, citing the water issue as one reason. 'It's not a positive way to welcome guests to have to say: "by the way, don't drink the water".'

Mr Fullham also said he has had to spend €200 to purchase a special, counter-mounted ice machine, 'because you can't put ice cubes that have been made with tap water in the gin and tonics.'

He also took issue with the lack of notice. 'We heard about it from a guy drinking in the bar on Tuesday morning though the notice had been issued the previous evening.

'The only contact we have had about it has been from the Wicklow County Council Environmental Health Officer, because we are a business and we have the potential to do harm if we're not aware of the situation. When you consider that we pay €600 a quarter, around €2,500 a year on water rates, we should be getting some kind of service. Even the website isn't telling us anything.'

Some local politicians are also of the opinion that the community was not being adequately informed.

Pat Kennedy (FF) said Irish Water 'has a responsibility on inform people what's going on. Some elderly people are not on the internet and many mothers of babies don't have time to be looking things up,' he added.

Mary McDonald (Ind) said: 'We [six Arklow councillors] have been in consistent contact with Irish Water for the last five years and are constantly asking them to improve their communication skills. We would also like them to let people know when the finish date is.'

Pat Fitzgerald (FF) agreed it is 'very concerning' because there is 'no end date in sight and we still don't know what the issue is,' he said.

Wicklow People