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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5

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  3 o’clock

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue Restaurants, pubs and hotels are calling for the continuation of the temporary wage subsidy scheme to be able to keep staff employed over the autumn and winter lean period. I am sure it is more important to have people working than unemployed. They are also calling for a reduction of VAT to a minimum of 9% and refer to Northern Ireland, where it is at 5%. Will the Government, from today, continue to pay the trainee nurses? All other apprentices in this State are paid while they train. Our front-line staff and nurses need to be paid properly while they train. They looked after us through the pandemic and now it is time that we stood up and paid them for the training they are doing to look after us in future.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae I am glad to get this opportunity. There was a big announcement yesterday by the EPA about septic tanks. I believe it is targeting people who want to build single, one-off houses in the country, and to stop them from doing that. I want to talk about Kilcummin. This village has been promised a sewerage scheme since 2004. It was to start in 2008. Money was announced here in 2013 by a Labour Deputy and the job was supposed to be done last year. It was cancelled last year. I ask the Minister of State to make sure it is on a programme this year and no later than next year.

I want to ask about funding for group water schemes. Kerry County Council is practically at a standstill, pushing the can down the road. One can make an application but it will go nowhere. Several groups of people such as those in Lyreacrompane, Gneeveguilla, Rathmore or other parts of Kilcummin are waiting to get approval for a group water scheme. The basic right of any householder or community is water, and many of them do not have a safe water supply at present. We have had a rates waiver scheme for many years. Where people could not pay, it was either waived or reduced. Much is happening now and I ask the Minister of State to ensure the Government compensates the local authorities, including our local authority in Kerry, because if he does not, many other services will be denied to people who are entitled to the services. I can see a problem there if the Government does not adjust and ensure it gets the funding to compensate the local authorities for the lost rates revenue they cannot get. Look at the rural publicans; they cannot even open. I ask the Minister of State to look at that.

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, on his appointment. He is a mid-west Minister of State so we hope he will deliver plenty in Clare and his home county, Limerick. I wish him the best as he gets under way with his new portfolio.

There are a number of things I wish to bring to his attention in the realm of public expenditure. The first is a sewerage scheme in Meelick which is supposed to be completed in quarter 4 of 2021. As I am speaking, there are technicians from Irish Water applying older suppressants to the sewage treatment plant. Calling it a "treatment plant" is a stretch of the imagination. It is actually an open tank, 7 ft or 8 ft deep, with a fence around it. Occasionally, children have hopped over it to retrieve footballs and have gone in. It is probably the most dangerous sewage treatment plant I can think of in the country. There is a plan to replace it and to link it up to the Limerick mains drainage. A 300 m pipeline will bring it from Ballycannon Heights to the nearby estate of Elton Court and on into Limerick city. It is simple and the design is agreed but it needs funding. Irish Water has it tentatively in its calendar but in light of everything going on there today and of the ongoing public health risk it poses, there is a need to move that forward. It is a real cause of nausea. It is headache-inducing. People cannot even hang out their clothes there, so it needs to be advanced.

I know the Minister of State has been good at calling out to the Shannon Group meetings at Bunratty and the Shannon Heritage sites. A number of long-term solutions for Shannon Heritage sites have been looked at, including divesting them to Clare and Limerick authorities and to the Office of Public Works. I have spoken with a number of workers on the ground. There is a closure looming for Shannon Heritage long after the end of August. Long after we have dealt with that, we need to look at a different management model for the sites. I think the OPW, which is the Minister of State's responsibility, would be ideal for that. If we go with the local authority model, we would end up splitting the Shannon Heritage sites across their constituent counties. There is King John's Castle in Limerick, Bunratty, Knappogue and Craggaunowen in Clare. The OPW offers a perfect fit. More immediately, we have a need for the Government to step in and help to keep these sites open beyond 31 August. It is of strategic importance that they remain open. There are 350 staff, with 145 employed year-round.

The next issue I wish to raise is flood defences in Clonlara. It has been called a 100 year flood phenomenon, yet there were serious floods there in 1995, 2009, 2015, 2018 and in February 2020. The week after the election, there was 4 ft of water in the Clonlara area, spilling into and destroying houses. It cannot be called a 100 year flood any more. It happens almost annually or biennially. In 2009, there was an elderly lady who has since passed away, Lord have mercy on her, Laura Mason, who at 80 years of age had to be lifted out of her house in the front-loader bucket of a tractor, and brought out to safety in a trailer and a boat. There is a plan for this scheme but it has been held up over the years.

There is a man, Peter Sweetman, who fronts The Swans and the Snails Ltd. He is an environmental objector. He lives in Rathmines, which is more than 200 km from Clonlara. He is a serial objector. He has objected to and held up flood defences in Clonlara, coastal defences in Doonbeg and a bridge crossing in Killaloe. In future, the Government needs to look at having pre-qualifiers for those who can object to projects. I would not dream, in a month of Sundays, of objecting to a project in the middle of Dublin or in Cork city. There is a place for environmental groups, An Taisce and for lobbyists to come in and look at the environmental implications of projects, but I believe it is vexatious for someone in Rathmines to hold up key projects that are required in the mid-west and elsewhere in the country. There is planning going on in Clonlara and I have every faith in the Minister of State, as a Minister of State in the mid-west, that he will allow for safe passage so that we can actually see that happen. We cannot go through another winter in that area without those key flood defences.

The final issue I wish to raise relates to the Inagh river in north Clare. I visited it recently on the invitation of Ger McDonagh. Ger and about 50 other landowners are flooded several times a year. Most of their landholdings are along the main road from Ennis to Ennistymon and fall from there to the Inagh river. It is prone to flooding. Unfortunately this is one of the old drainage districts that falls outside the remit of the OPW. Clare County Council gets an annual sum of approximately €20,000 to deal with the drainage districts throughout the county. It is an inoperable, unrealistic sum, yet these lands flood and are totally unviable. I saw cattle out there last week. One would want to see it in the winter. Their winter is much longer than it is for other people in the area due to the geography of their land. Will the OPW facilitate or give strong consideration to a minor works scheme application in this area?

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