Sherlock demands transparency on Belvelly Water crisis

Filed under: Local News |

Cork East TD Seán Sherlock has demanded transparency on actions being taken to restore the water in Belvelly despite Irish Water lifting the Do Not Drink Notice on Monday of this week.

“I was contacted by residents of the area who told me that on Monday last Irish Water lifted a “Do not use” notice,” said Deputy Sherlock on a Topical Issue debate on the matter in Dáil Eireann.

“The company stated that customers could resume normal usage of the water for drinking, food preparation, brushing teeth and other domestic use. The notice was lifted following consultation with the HSE and the receipt of satisfactory monitoring results indicating the new water supply was safe to drink. Councillor Cathal Rasmussen and I met the residents last Monday evening after the Irish Water notice was lifted and we were given recent samples of the water. I am not a scientist, but it was clear that the water was not suitable for human consumption or other domestic use. It was very discoloured.”

“Several affected families want a solution to this problem which has been going on for 20 years. They want the restoration of a safe supply of potable water that can be used for showering and other everyday domestic use. They want a water supply similar to that enjoyed by the rest of the country. That is their right.”

“Irish Water should not have lifted the “Do not use” notice on Monday because it is very clear that the water is of insufficient quality and something has gone wrong in the system. The residents will not use the water and they have no confidence in Irish Water. They can present evidence of the fact that the water is still very discoloured, notwithstanding the flushing of the network. The Minister of State will tell the House that this has been done and that a pH correction has already been inputted into the water system. I can tell him now that the water quality is not what it should be. The “do not use” notice should not have been issued. We want a response from the Minister of State that states clearly that there will be capital investment to ensure the residents of Belvelly have an adequate and proper water supply.”

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy John Paul Phelan responded on behalf of the Government

“Water services are essential to the daily lives of our citizens and to the economy. We need to ensure the best and most appropriate arrangements possible are in place for the delivery of these vital services. A substantial proportion of investment by the State through Irish Water over the next ten years will focus on programmes to improve compliance with relevant public health and environmental standards. Deputy Sherlock was pre-empting my reply when he mentioned the flushing of the network, which is not referred to in the document provided to me. I note his comments about the visual quality of the water. I will make contact with Irish Water on the lifting of the “do not use” notice. The HSE’s monitoring showed that satisfactory results have been obtained. While I have no reason to doubt the HSE or the Department when they say that the requisite standards have been met, I can recheck the reply. I would also like to refer to the funding of Irish Water measures across the country. Since the establishment of Irish Water, Ministers have not been able to make a direct input into decisions on the funding of projects. It is a matter for Irish Water to make such decisions.”

Deputy Sherlock insisted the residents of Belvelly have no confidence in the water supply.

“We want Irish Water to be called to account for the lifting of the “do not use” notice,” said Deputy Sherlock.

“There are serious public safety and public health issues for the residents. They are being told by Irish Water that they can drink the water now, but they see clear discolouration when they look at the water. There are children, babies, older people and people with compromised health living in the community. People want to have confidence that their water supply is as it should be. We want to see an evidence base or benchmark for the quality assurance used by Irish Water. We do not know how, or against what benchmark, Irish Water is measuring what qualifies as or what constitutes good or bad water. The point I would make about the flushing of the pipes is that the water supply infrastructure is very old and Dickensian. It needs capital investment. In light of the number of people living in the Belvelly area – I have been told that up to 175 houses are affected – I am asking for a solution to be found. If we can find €500 million for a rainy day fund, I am sure we can divest a fraction of that amount to start fixing problems like this.

Minister Phelan indicated that he would endeavour to get a response from Irish Water in the context of the safety issue.

“It is important to point out that in this case, Cork County Council, the HSE and Irish Water lifted the notice together. I have no reason to doubt them. The Minister cannot directly interfere in the allocation of resources to specific schemes. Smaller schemes can be devised between Irish Water and the relevant local authorities. I know a little about the Cork Harbour area and Belvelly would fit into this. I will seek to get a direct response from Irish Water on the issues the Deputy has raised.” Said Minister Phelan

“They did not take samples from the taps in people’s houses,”stressed Deputy Sherlock.