Water woes were washed out of election programme

Cantillon: Boil notices in Whitegate highlight infrastructural problems that will only grow

 In Dublin, Irish Water’s business plan estimates the supply network can only cater for a 2 per cent increase in demand. Photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells

In Dublin, Irish Water’s business plan estimates the supply network can only cater for a 2 per cent increase in demand. Photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells

 

It is unlikely to register with many recently elected TDs, but about 6,500 people in Whitegate, Co Cork, have to boil their water before using it following – hopefully temporary – problems at the local treatment plant. They are just the latest to suffer this fate.

While it is a small community, Whitegate hardly sits at the furthest edge of civilisation. It is located on the eastern side of Cork Harbour, close to the Republic’s sole oil refinery and two power plants. It is only a short hop to the State’s second biggest city yet, for now at least, residents do not have clean drinking water.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a section of railway in Dublin – used by Dart, commuter and mainline services – closed for engineering works, a regular occurrence on lines connecting the capital with centres such as Cork and Galway.

However long either problem persists, they tell you that the State needs to pay constant attention to its infrastructure. The big focus on housing and health meant that other services did not get as much attention they might otherwise have during the recent election campaign.

Creaking system

Nevertheless, they will present the next government with real challenges. That will be even more the case if, as seems very possible, the new administration builds a lot of public housing, which will need services such as transport, energy and water.

The last-named could be a particularly expensive problem. State utility Irish Water plans to spend €5.5 billion on boosting the Republic’s already creaking supply and treatment infrastructure – the Government gave it €1.1 billion in 2018.

In Dublin, where pressure for housing, and thus services, is highest, Irish Water’s business plan estimates the supply network can only cater for a 2 per cent increase in demand as it stands.

Politicians may not have considered water worth a mention during the election campaign, but it will just take a drought, or a few extra housing estates added to our cities, before the pressure begins to tell.

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