A number of Uisce Éireann waste water treatment projects in Cork county are behind schedule. Photo: Facebook/Uisce Eireann

Protest heading to Irish Water?

At Monday’s full meeting of Cork County Council, elected members agreed that if Uisce Éireann’s chief executive would not meet face to face, they would have no choice but to send a delegation of councillors to the company’s Dublin headquarters.

In 2020, Irish Water announced the Small Towns and Villages Grow Programme under its Capital Investment Plan 2020 to 2024. The plan saw 7 wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) upgrade projects approved for Cork county.

The 7 projects were approved for Lisgoold, Ballineen/Enniskeane, Ballinspittle, Belgooly, Castlemagner, Kilumney/Ovens, and Glanworth.

However, county engineer Kevin Morey informed councillors on Monday that all 7 projects are yet to move beyond stage 2 of the 4 stage planning and construction process, with 3 projects still languishing at phase 1.

Fine Gael Cllr John Paul O’Shea told his colleagues he is certain that none of the projects will be completed by 2024.

“That means not one house can be added to the existing waste water infrastructure that's currently in place in any of these 7 villages. The money has been provided by Government, the information has been provided in detail by Cork County Council. This is solely at the fault of Uisce Éireann,” said Cllr O’Shea.

The Kanturk councillor asked that Cork County Council write to Uisce Éireann, Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brian TD, and Minister for Public Expenditure Pascal Donohoe TD to outline the council’s disappointment at the lack of progress on the 7 projects.

Fianna Fáil’s Bernard Moynihan was the first to suggest councillors travel to Uisce Éireann’s Dublin headquarters and “protest outside the door” until a satisfactory response is given.

“If the problem is with Irish Water, or Uisce Éireann as they're now called, I would think that we need to go to Uisce Éireann and protest,” he said.

Mayor of the County of Cork Cllr Danny Collins strongly agreed with the suggested protest and questioned the timing and expense of Uisce Éireann’s recent branding change.

“Is this what they're spending their money on? I'd like to know what that cost. Millions I'd say. Ridiculous money,” said the mayor.

Fine Gael’s Kevin Murphy added: “If we don’t stand up to this and take a posse up to Irish Water and picket, we’ll be to blame ourselves for not taking this issue higher.”

One of the main concerns voiced by councillors was the impact the delays will have on crucial housing development in towns and villages around the county.

Fine Gael Cllr Susan McCarthy said: “It's unbelievable that we're actually even here today discussing this in the middle of a housing crisis.”

Uisce Éireann respond

A spokesperson of Uisce Éireann said: “Supporting growth and development across Cork city and county is a top priority for Uisce Éireann. Our programme of work for wastewater infrastructure upgrades in county Cork is one of the largest in Ireland.

“In 2021 and 2022, Uisce Éireann announced seven of Cork county’s top priority sites. Given the timescale involved for these projects to move through the various project stages, they weren’t going to be completed during the current Capital Investment Plan 2020-2024 but will continue to be progressed through the next investment cycles as quickly as possible.

“Uisce Éireann recognises the importance of housing and is committed to playing its part in the national drive to provide homes to people who need them. In 2022, Uisce Éireann issued positive connection offers associated with 36,989 housing units. This includes supporting planning applications and facilitating connections in Glanworth, Kilumney/Ovens and Ballinspittle.

“Since 2014, when Uisce Éireann assumed responsibility for public water services, 60% of raw sewage discharges by volume have been eliminated through targeted investment in new sewerage infrastructure where none existed previously, and we are on target to eliminate nearly all of the remainder by 2025.

“In 2021, Uisce Éireann completed the Cork Lower Harbour Main Drainage Project, signifying an investment of €144m to address the issue of raw sewage discharge to the harbour. Since the project was completed, wastewater from over 200,000 homes and businesses in Ringaskiddy, Crosshaven, Carrigaline, Passage, Monkstown and Cobh is collected and fully treated before being safely discharged to the sea. This means that 40,000 wheelie bins of raw sewage is no longer discharged daily into the harbour, safeguarding not only the environment but also human health,” it concluded.