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Irish Water: Wexford incident 'a serious failure' and shows system 'no longer fit for purpose'

The utility also said it was not informed of an incident in Ballymore Eustace until 10 days after it occured.

Image: Shutterstock

IRISH WATER HAS said the two recent incidents which led to 52 confirmed illnesses have shown that the current system is “no longer fit for purpose”.  

In a statement to the Oireachtas Housing Committee this morning, the utility provider said it has “legal responsibility but no direct control over water treatment plants around the country”. 

All water treatment plants in the country are to be audited following incidents at the Creagh Water Treatment Plant in Gorey, which is operated by Wexford County Council and the Ballymore Eustace Water Treatment Plant, which is operated by Dublin City Council. 

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Speaking at the Oireachtas committee this morning, Irish Water’s managing Niall Gleeson said his concerns over how the system operates “is not a criticism of the thousands of experienced water services professionals working in the local authorities”.

“The current service level agreement, where Irish Water works alongside 31 local authorities to deliver water services, is no longer fit for purpose,” he said.

The issues that have arisen at the water treatment plants in Dublin and Wexford clearly show the limitation of the present ways of working and emphasise the urgent need for change. Irish Water has legal responsibility but no direct control over water treatment plants around the country.

He added: “Drinking water incidents can, and do, occur and it is essential that we put the best possible structures and systems in place to reduce the frequency of such incidents, and to deal with them effectively when they do.”

Committee chair Steven Matthews TD of the Green Party asked Gleeson whether he felt Irish Water’s “hands were tied” and whether “a standalone public utility” would be better placed to manage water treatment. 

Gleeson said that water is delivered safely “the vast, vast majority of the time” but that a single utility would work better.

“We have really good cooperation with the local authorities, the water is delivered safely, the vast, vast majority of the time but the issue in Wexford raises gaps and the gaps we can’t afford,” he said. 

Bringing in a single public utility will allow for a single organisation responsible for water services and wastewater services in the country, with simple lines of communication, a very clear command and control structure and national support and national procedures for the staff on the ground.

“As testing gets stricter, standards get higher and equipment becomes more sophisticated. We need to bring that national approach in. So I definitely think the single public utility is the answer. The structure we have now, everyone’s making a really good effort to make it work but it works despite the structure not because of it.”

PastedImage-75500 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Gorey incident

On the incident in the Wexford treatment plant, Gleeson said the issue occurred “where the disinfection process was compromised” between 19 and 24 August. 

He said that Wexford County Council completed a repair by 24 August and that Irish Water was notified two days later on 26 August. 

“The HSE advised that a boil water notice on the supply was not necessary at this point as the incident had passed and the plant was operating correctly,” he said. 

Asked by Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan about this advice, Irish Water’s Margaret Attridge said that water going into the supply on 24 August was “fully compliant”.

“So at that stage the HSE didn’t consider it necessary to issue a public health notice,” she said. 

Gleeson added that Irish Water had received complaints of discoloured water on 23 and 26 August and that on 2 September an increased number of reported illnesses were notified to the Irish Water’s customer care centre. 

“The HSE also confirmed that there were reports of multiple illnesses in the community. Irish Water issued an update to elected representatives in the Gorey area and updated our website advising customers that an issue had occurred and to contact their GP if they felt unwell,” he said. 

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Gleeson described the incident in Gorey as a “serious failure” and said that daily plant checks are being undertaken along with “refresher training” and “further training” for staff.  

Ballymore Eustace incident

On the incident at the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant in Kildare, Gleeson said the incident occured “outside of normal business hours” on 20 August when a system failed resulting in the cryptosporidium and disinfection barriers were compromised for a number of hours. 

Gleeson said that Dublin City Council “did not report the incident to Irish Water at the time it occurred” and that the issue “came to light on 30 August”. 

“As soon as Irish Water became aware of the issue, it notified the HSE and, as the incident had passed, immediate public notification was not required,” he said. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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