‘I paid my water charges and we don’t have any water’

After five days without water, Louth and Meath residents and businesses are angry

Two of Denise Walsh's four coffee shops in Drogheda had to close after having their water supply cut off costing her between €15,000 and €20,000. Video: Simon Carswell

 

The anger spilled out in the glare of the media as Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy landed in Drogheda to reassure locals that the State was doing all it could to restore the water supply.

The tens of thousands of residents of Louth and Meath without water for a fifth day were well represented by local residents Seán Lynch and Angela Quinn as they vented their frustration at the Minister.

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy speaks with Angela Quinn, a resident of Stameen Estate, Drogheda, which has been struck by water shortages. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy speaks with Angela Quinn, a resident of Stameen Estate, Drogheda, which has been struck by water shortages. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

“The people in Drogheda are beginning to lose trust in Irish Water. how are they going to get that trust back because you know it started off bad and it went from bad to worse?” asked a vexed Lynch at the centre of a media scrum, delaying the start of the Minister’s press conference on a Drogheda housing estate.

It was not until the third set of repairs to the burst pipe taking water to the town’s Staleen Water Treatment Plant on Sunday that Irish Water realised that what it thought was a leak was “changing into something else”, said Murphy.

“It is disappointing that Irish Water didn’t seem to take the problem seriously until Sunday evening,” Lynch replied.

Chef Brian Malone and Relish cafe owner Denise Walsh unload tanks of water from a local car wash to use in her coffee shop in Drogheda. Photograph: Simon Carswell
Chef Brian Malone and Relish cafe owner Denise Walsh unload tanks of water from a local car wash to use in her coffee shop in Drogheda. Photograph: Simon Carswell

Quinn unloaded even more on the recently appointed Minister.

A carer to her elderly mother, she said they were without water and electricity for the day, even though she had paid her water charges and her mother was listed as “vulnerable” on Irish Water’s database.

Vulnerable people

“Not only had I no water, for an 89-year-old woman who has got a very bad chest infection, we had no power here either. This is a very old estate, Stameen. Are you not aware of that?” she asked the Minister.

Murphy replied that Irish Water had told him that it was using that very database to make sure water was getting to the most vulnerable people.

She pointed to the direction of her mother’s bungalow as the Minister ended the exchange by asking his press aide to take her contact details.

In the absence of support from the Government and Irish Water, locals in Drogheda were relying on volunteer organisations on Tuesday for emergency supplies of water.

Labour senator Ged Nash and Coca Cola executives David Mulholland (left) and Paul McDonnell filling an Order of Malta ambulance with donated bottles of water in Drogheda. Photograph: Simon Carswell
Labour senator Ged Nash and Coca Cola executives David Mulholland (left) and Paul McDonnell filling an Order of Malta ambulance with donated bottles of water in Drogheda. Photograph: Simon Carswell

On the north side of Ireland’s largest town, Emma Kelly (11) tied socks around the handles of five-litre bottles of water. It stopped them hurting her hands as she carried the heavy containers home after being filled by an Order of Malta volunteer. He drove down from Dundalk with an ambulance packed with tanks.

Her mother Jennifer has imposed flushing limits on Emma and her teenage sister. Filling the cistern after each flush would take up an entire five-litre bottle and they could not waste their supply.

“If it is only a pee, don’t flush,” she has told her children.

Seán Norris filled up another five-litre bottle of water for his 92-year-old next-door neighbour around the corner. His partner, Mary Martin, says everyone is angry at the outages.

“I paid my water charges and we don’t have any water,” she said at the door of her terraced house.

Dry cafe

A short walk away, Sandra Kelly, a staff member at the Relish coffee shop, lost two customers when she told them that without water she could not serve tea or coffee. The cafe was almost empty on a morning when it is usually packed.

“You don’t realise how much you need water until it’s gone. It is just a disaster across the board,” she said.

Martin McGowan, owner of Scholars Townhouse Hotel in Drogheda, with a new water tank he is installing in his hotel to cope with the water crisis.
Photograph: Simon Carswell
Martin McGowan, owner of Scholars Townhouse Hotel in Drogheda, with a new water tank he is installing in his hotel to cope with the water crisis. Photograph: Simon Carswell

Owner Denise Walsh, whose other coffee shop outside the town in Southgate also has no water, said that she will lose up to €20,000 by the weekend if the water is not back.

She employs 75 staff across four cafes and is conscious that they have mortgages and bills to pay. She is sourcing water with regular trips to a car wash eight kilometres away so dishes can be washed by hand.

“There is no joined-up thinking between Irish Water and the local authority, because when you ring the local authority, they say they have nothing to do with it any more and you ring Irish Water and you can’t get any answers,” she said.

Martin McGowan, owner of the nearby Scholars Townhouse Hotel, estimates he will be down €15,000 if the water is not back by Monday. Part of the €250,000 he has paid in local authority rates over the past 12 years should have been invested in infrastructure for water, he says.

Irish Water has said it is hoping to restore the supply by Thursday but shortages in Louth and Meath could extend into the weekend.

McGowan has filled 20 new bins on his roof and installed a new water tank so guests in his 16 bedrooms can shower every day. He is urging staff not to sell any of his rooms with bathtubs.

“It has completely destroyed us,” he said. “People are ringing me up trying to find out if we are open or not. How many people are not coming down to us?”