Thursday, 1 May 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister to the House. I want to draw attention to the need for the Minister for the Environment to inform Seanad Éireann if, and when, he intends to provide funding for the construction of a feeder main for the Ballagh-Ballybeg water scheme in County Roscommon. This is not the first time I have raised this matter in the Seanad and I would like to outline a brief history of the position of the Ballagh-Ballybeg water scheme. The people in these two areas have been seeking a public water supply for more than ten years.
Roscommon County Council, after consultation with the Department of the Environment, decided to attempt to have part of the scheme funded on a capital basis. In 1993 an application was submitted to the Department seeking departmental approval and funding for a 14 mile feeder main which would allow the groups involved to complete the scheme. That application was lodged with the Department in 1993 having been approved by Roscommon County Council and having been costed by them. Plans and specifications were drawn up and sent to the Department and £1.1 million was sought for the construction of the scheme.
Senator Mullooly and I tabled a motion in the Seanad some 12 months ago requesting that the funding be provided. At that time the Minister indicated that money was not available in 1996 and that the matter would be considered in 1997. A delegation from the area, together with the county engineer, met with the Minister for the Environment a year ago and I understand that the Minister inquired then when the council would be in a position to proceed with the scheme. The interpretation the delegation took from that was that they had received a favourable hearing and that there would be clearance given for the scheme. Unfortunately nothing has happened and no funding has been made available.
A public meeting was held in Ballybeg last Monday night and the people concerned — there are some 200 connections involved — asked that this matter be raised again and that pressure be put on public representatives to obtain sanction for the £1.1 million feeder main. Senator Mullooly and I undertook to raise the matter in the Seanad. I do not need to explain the difficulties which the people in those areas experience. At a time when it is generally considered in Europe that Ireland has made huge advances, it is extraordinary that an entire section of the countryside,  from just outside Roscommon town as far as the Shannon, does not have a public water supply in 1997. These people have been trying to get a public water supply for more than ten years, and that is, to some extent, an indictment of all the powers that be at council and Government level.
Since 1993 when the new application for the feeder main was submitted, there was no option but to fund the scheme on a capital basis. Three years have passed since that application was made and I ask the Minister to indicate to Roscommon County Council that the money will be provided for this scheme in 1997. I am sure that not all of the money will have to be spent in 1997 given that 14 miles of pipe must be laid. I am requesting that an allocation be made to start the scheme otherwise these people will be left for another year without a public water supply. Even when the main is in place, they will still have to organise themselves throughout the little villages along the course of the main in order to complete the scheme. I am asking that the Minister give the go ahead and allocate money for this scheme which is number one on the priority list of Roscommon County Council.
Mr. Mullooly: I join with my colleague in welcoming the Minister to the House to listen to our case and I look forward to receiving a positive response. With many of my colleagues of all political persuasions I attended the meeting last Monday night about this issue. The Acting Chairman, Senator Belton sent his apologies for not being able to attend the meeting and the people of the area know they have his full support. We were invited to attend the meeting as the people in these areas want to know if, and when, finance will be provided for the construction of the main pipeline required to enable them to obtain a public water supply. Approximately 200 people attended the meeting and they were very angry indeed. That is understandable as they have been seeking a public water supply in the area for almost 20 years.
These people have been using poor quality water from wholly unsuitable sources, such as roof water tanks, for most of their lives. Many of the bored wells, which were provided in the area over the years at considerable cost, have proved to be very unsatisfactory due to silting and the general poor quality of the water. The proposals for the construction of the main pipeline, as Senator Finneran pointed out, were prepared, costed and submitted to the Department in 1993. At that time the estimated cost of construction was £1.1 million. We are not talking about a huge amount of money here.
As the people of Ballybeg and Ballagh see it, this Government did not seem to have any problem abolishing domestic water charges and residential property tax. It did not appear to have had any problem meeting the demands of the various pressure groups which surfaced over the past six months but unfortunately, it would appear it cannot find the £1.1 or £1.2 million required for  this much needed project in a rural and disadvantaged part of County Roscommon. There has been much talk of equity in recent times, particularly in relation to water and payment for water. The people of Ballagh and Ballybeg do not see much equity when they have no public water supply at all and some of the wealthiest people in the country have an unlimited supply of free water for their jacuzzis, fountains, swimming pools and so on.
I hope approval will be given for this scheme in the near future. In February 1996 a deputation from the area, accompanied by the Roscommon county engineer and the Oireachtas Members for the constituency, met the Minister for the Environment. The members of the deputation were very hopeful following that meeting that it would only be a matter of weeks or, at worst, months before the project would be approved.
When the project did not receive approval in the following six months, Senator Finneran and I raised the matter in an Adjournment debate. We were told the council's proposals would be given due consideration in the context of the 1997 capital works programme. However, it is now May 1997 and so far no approval for the project has been forthcoming. I also appeal to the Minister to provide positive news at last for the people of the area.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I thank Senator Finneran for raising this matter. The Senators will recall that the Ballagh-Ballybeg water supply scheme was raised in the House in July last year. I do not intend, therefore, to outline again the scheme's planning history to date except to say that Roscommon County Council submitted a preliminary report for a project to serve the Ballagh and Ballybeg areas costing an estimated £1.6 million. This scheme, however, would not provide the smaller distribution networks needed to serve all houses within the catchment and it is intended that group schemes would provide the necessary infill.
Notwithstanding the fact that this year's capital investment programme for water and sewerage projects, amounting to over £150 million in total, is the largest ever, it has not been possible to include the Ballagh-Ballybeg scheme in the programme for the current year. County Roscommon as a whole is faring very well as far as capital investment in water and sewerage projects is concerned. Four major sewerage schemes at Monksland, Boyle, Ballaghadereen and Roscommon, costing £10 million, are being advanced to construction under the water and sewerage services capital work programme for 1997. The £3 million Boyle-Ardcarne water supply scheme will reach  substantial completion this year and a further two water supply projects are being advanced through the planning stages — Tarmonbarry water supply scheme, costing £850,000, and the north-east Roscommon scheme, costing £2 million.
It may be helpful to examine how these schemes are being funded. All schemes in the county which are at construction or approved for construction are being supported by the European Regional Development Fund or the Cohesion Fund. The ability of a project to attract EU co-financing greatly improves its prospects for approval. Regrettably, it has not been possible to secure EU co-financing for the Ballagh-Ballybeg scheme.
Senator Finneran will appreciate that many demands are made on the limited Exchequer resources for new water and sewerage projects. It is essential that funding is provided for water and sewerage projects which are needed to maintain existing employment and to support new job creation initiatives. Economic justification and the impact of investment on economic activity generally is a key consideration in prioritising schemes for approval. For example, Tarmonbarry water supply scheme is urgently needed to support tourism development associated with the expansion of the cruiser and other river based tourism activity locally.
The strong case for the Ballagh-Ballybeg scheme is fully appreciated. The possibility of authorising Roscommon County Council to advance the project will be kept under review. I am mindful of the Senators' concern in this regard and I will ensure that the Minister is made aware of it.
Mr. Finneran: The Minister of State said: “Regrettably, it has not been possible to secure EU co-financing for the Ballagh-Ballybeg scheme.” Will the Minister of State clarify that point because it is strange that the area does not qualify for EU co-financing, or is there a problem in that regard? I ask the Minister of State to clarify this aspect because it would be serious if the scheme did not qualify under EU guidelines.
Ms McManus: I will provide that information to the Senator. I presume economic considerations are the reason the scheme does not qualify. I do not wish to comment on that difficulty without full details but I will be happy to supply that information to the Senator.
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