Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Pearse Doherty: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Haughey. Ba mhaith liom an scéim séireachais i gCaisleán na Finne a phlé. Tá an cheist seo ag dul siar le fada an lá. Tá fadhb mhillteanach sa cheantar, ní hamháin siocair nach bhfuil an tseirbhís ann, ach freisin siocair nach bhfuil muintir na háite in ann tithe a thógáil. Tá aithne agam ar dhaoine óga atá ag dul i mbun a saoil le chéile, ach nach bhfuil ábalta teach a thógáil sa cheantar de bharr an easpa séarachais. Tá cead pleanála á dhiúltiú ag an gcomhairle contae agus An Bord Pleanála siocair nach bhfuil an seirbhís seo ann. Tá sé dochreidte sa lá atá inniu ann nach mbeadh seirbhís chomh bunúsach le scéim séireachais ar fáil i mbaile ar nós Caisleán na Finne. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann dul chun cinn a dhéanamh anseo inniu. Ní hamháin nach bhfuil an tseirbhís sin ann, ach tá sé deacair an phríomhshráid a shiúl gan an boladh bréan a fháil. Níl an chóras atá ann faoi láthair in ann freastal a dhéanamh ar an gceantar.
With Donegal County Councillor Cora Harvey, I held a public meeting in Castlefin last week, at which the most pressing issue was the Castlefin sewerage scheme. It dates back many years and was meant to be dealt with by the interdepartmental committee established by the Government to deal with problems in County Donegal nearly five years ago, with the Gweedore, Dunloe, Glenties, Ballybofey and Lifford sewerage schemes, in a timelined manner. Half a decade on none of these programmes has been delivered. The interdepartmental committee’s report, like many others, is just gathering dust.
I accept the Castelfin scheme has been bundled with two others and that the Department is awaiting preliminary reports. However, imagination on the Government’s part is necessary to move the project on. The fact that the scheme is not in place means married couples from the area have been denied planning permission to build a house in it. The community in Castelfin must deal with the terrible stench which is particularly bad in the summer months because the existing sewerage scheme does not have the capacity to deal with current demand. One of the social housing estates close to the scheme must endure it often.
Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government make the scheme a priority in his Department? I understand there is an economic recession but the cost of upgrading the scheme will only come to €1.6 million. The scheme was originally announced in the 2005-07 water services programme for County Donegal 2005 to 2007 and it is time it was moved on. I hope the Minister of State will have some words of comfort for me and the people of Castlefin tonight.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): I thank the Senator for providing me with an opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to clarify the position on the development of proposals for and the procurement of further wastewater facilities for the town of Castlefin, County Donegal. Castlefin is a small town in east Donegal with a sewage discharge of between 1,000 and 1,200 population equivalent. The town’s effluent receives primary treatment prior to its discharge to the River Finn. Donegal County Council wished to assess the appropriate level of treatment to be applied to the effluent prior to discharge and sought approval for a brief for the appointment of consultants to prepare preliminary reports on ten towns and villages, including Castlefin. As the schemes were included in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s water services investment programme 2007-09, it approved the council’s proposal. The preliminary reports in question are being prepared.
Local authorities have responsibility for many aspects of a water and sewerage scheme, including the appointment of consultants, statutory planning and other processes, site investigations, the acquisition of lands and way-leaves, the tendering process, the appointment of contractors and the carrying out of works. The time taken to advance a scheme will depend largely on how quickly these processes are completed. It is difficult to say, therefore, when a scheme for Castlefin will be procured and constructed.
The priority to be accorded to schemes in County Donegal is a matter, in the first instance, for Donegal County Council. Last July local authorities were asked to submit an assessment of needs for water and sewerage services in their areas to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government by 23 October 2009. The Department is considering these assessments which will form a key input to the development of the 2010-12 water services investment programme. In conducting their assessments local authorities were asked to prioritise schemes and contracts for progression in the coming years based on key environmental and economic criteria.
The 2010-12 programme will be a three-year rolling plan for the provision of major water supply and wastewater infrastructure. Strategic environmental and economic objectives have provided the rationale for investment in water services infrastructure since 2000. With the changed economic climate and the completion of the first cycle of river basin management plans by local authorities in the near future, there is a greater need than ever to focus on these key priorities. The 2010 to 2012 programme will do this by prioritising projects that target public health and environmental compliance issues, support economic and employment growth and offer best value for money.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government expects to publish the 2010 to 2012 water services investment programme early this year and his Department will work closely with Donegal County Council to advance priority schemes identified in the programme.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I thank the Minister of State for his response. Perhaps he would take this directly to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, who commented after the urban waste water discharges in Ireland report from the EPA was released in the middle of last year. It was a report looking at the discharges from plants for 2006 and 2007, and Castlefinn sewerage scheme was one of these plants that were discharging directly into estuaries with just basic or no treatment. I also have photographic documentation that shows pumps one would get from a builders’ suppliers in manholes directly discharging raw sewage into water courses that flow directly into the River Finn.
Let us cut to the chase because we can deal with words such as “in the process”, etc. The reality is this has been listed as a problem by the EPA. We have evidence that there is sewage being pumped into water courses that go into the River Finn. The reality is that Donegal County Council——
Senator Pearse Doherty: ——— I am asking the question — does not have the €400,000 in funding required to progress the matter this year. The total amount of funding it must provide in 2010 to meet its contracts is approximately €32 million, and we all know that Donegal County Council does not have that. The question is, will the Minister, Deputy Gormley, of the Green Party allow such a situation where the EPA has listed this scheme as being inadequate and under which we know raw sewage has been pumped into the River Finn, which is a salmon river and an important water course in Donegal?
Senator Pearse Doherty: Will we allow that for the sake of a couple of hundred thousand euro or will the Minister think imaginatively, like the way we can for Mr. Rody Molloy and others, and deal with this problem?
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