Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Belmullet is a small town just over 200 miles from here at the western end of the most westerly constituency. It is one of the most westerly towns in Europe. It has been ravaged by unemployment and emigration over the last century and the people in the town and surrounding areas have always struggled for their existence.
There is a double problem here. One concerns the condition of the streets of the town and the other the upgrading and upsizing of the water mains. In the last few years a substantial amount of money was spent by the Department of the Environment on regional water schemes in the area and this has provided the basis for a satisfactory supply to the town environs and the town itself. However, the pipes are the old cast iron type which are over 50 years old and unable to take the increased pressure from the new regional scheme. This has resulted in corrosion on the inside of the pipes. This, naturally, causes health fears, disruption of business and great inconvenience.
Over 12 months ago Mayo County Council sent a preliminary report for approval to the Department of the Environment and has since requested £310,000 to upsize and replace the mains throughout the town. Nothing has been done about the report. In reply to a Dáil Question yesterday the Minister indicated that this matter is still being considered. I ask him to confirm that this report will be adopted by the Minister and authorisation given to Mayo County Council to go ahead. I remind the Minister that there will be no tenders and no tender documentation required because the job  will be done by Mayo County Council itself. I am informed by senior sources within the council that if authorisation is given in the next few days work can start on replacing the mains within the next month and that the work will take two and a half months to complete.
This brings me to the second problem, that of the roads. At this moment the main street in Belmullet is more akin to Medicine Bow, Wyoming, than to an Irish town in the 1990s. It is nothing short of disgraceful and it is the cause of great inconvenience to shoppers and local people. They are used to putting up with hardship but this has gone beyond the beyond.
Again Mayo County Council have requested moneys from the Department of the Environment to the extent of £1.5 million to £3 million under the heading of grants for non-discretionary roads to come from the funds of £33 million proposed by the Government some time ago. If this is allowed, £300,000 could be taken from the fund to carry out these works. It would be impractical to expect the council to do the streets in the town and have to dig them up again if approval is given in respect of upsizing the water mains. There is to be a meeting between the county engineer and his officials and officials of the Department within the next few days and I expect that authorisation will be given under the non discretionary road grant. However, it is necessary for the Minister to authorise the preliminary report for the water scheme so that the council can proceed to replace the mains. That can be followed by improving the streets of the town which will involve co-ordination between Telecom Éireann and the ESB in regard to burying the cables.
With the co-operation of the traders in the town, Belmullet Tidy Towns Association has erected signs in the vicinity of Belmullet and is collecting rates from ratepayers and lodging the money in the bank. This is the first time this has happened. Those people are used to the  vagaries of life and the harsh economic hardships. Those rates are being collected and will be paid when the work is completed. The busiest months of the year in that little western town are July and August and the people there need every penny of economic development they can get. Will the Minister resolve this problem immediately so that the works can be completed and people can get on with their lives?
Mr. Browne: (Wexford): I thank Deputy Kenny for raising this matter. Primary responsibility for maintaining the streets in Belmullet in a satisfactory condition lies with Mayo County Council, using its own resources and the discretionary block grants provided by my Department for the maintenance and improvement of non-national roads. For 1994, Mayo County Council received discretionary grant allocations totalling £3,492,000. This amount includes £942,000 as a supplementary grant for maintenance works from the additional £15 million provided in the budget to assist councils generally in carrying out works arising from adverse weather conditions. It also includes a supplementary grant of £200,000 for improvement works. A grant of this kind is made available only to a limited number of county councils who need additional assistance to restore roads to a satisfactory condition. It is entirely a matter for Mayo County Council to determine how best to use the very substantial resources allocated to them for non-national roads and to select the projects to be undertaken this year, whether in the Belmullet area or elsewhere.
As regards water, Belmullet town is served by the Erris regional water supply scheme. The treatment works for this scheme and the trunk main to Belmullet were completed in the mid-1980s at a cost of around £5 million.
Phase 2 of this scheme will provide essential storage and fire fighting requirements for Belmullet, a treated water  supply to the Mullet Peninsula, and bring treated water into existing group water schemes which are experiencing water quality problems. Phase 2 is currently nearing completion and is expected to cost in excess of £3 million.
The most recent report on the quality of drinking water in Ireland, published by the Environmental Protection Agency, confirms that the quality of all public water supplies in County Mayo, including Belmullet, is of a high standard. I am aware, however, that the town distribution system is quite old and is contributing to problems of insufficient pressure and quality variation. My Department will be taking up the matter with Mayo County Council in order to ensure that these problems are minimised through good housekeeping and ongoing maintenance.
Given that we are still involved in construction and financing Phase 2 of the regional scheme, I cannot anticipate when it may be possible to approve further phases. I appreciate the Deputy's concern that the next phase should proceed as soon as possible and this will be borne in mind when decisions are being made about the allocation of the overall resources available.
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