Gorey locals may sue over water supply failure, says Wexford-based Senator

Meeting between Irish Water and Goreybased politicians over area served by Creagh plant

The sedimentation tanks at the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant in Co Kildare. Photograph: PA

The sedimentation tanks at the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant in Co Kildare. Photograph: PA

 

Some of the people who became ill during the recent water supply failure in Gorey, Co Wexford are considering legal action, Wexford Senator Malcolm Byrne has said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week accused Irish Water and local authorities in Wexford and Dublin city of “abject failure” after unsafe water was released to the public from two drinking water treatment plants.

These were the Creagh plant, which serves the west side of Gorey, and the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant, the State’s largest drinking-water plant, which serves almost 900,000 people in the greater Dublin region.

At least 52 people in the Gorey area complained of sickness during the “failure” which took place over a number of days in August.

The EPA also criticised the local authorities and Irish Water for delays in reporting the incidents to it and the HSE, a factor the authority said negated the opportunity to take timely, corrective action and to warn the public.

On Monday, Irish Water’s managing director Niall Gleeson apologised for the incidents.

Mr Gleeson said the incidents should not have happened and that there were reporting failures at local level which resulted in a delay in Irish Water being informed.

“We should have communicated quicker and we should have dealt with the HSE and the EPA to agree necessary steps when untreated water went into the system. There was a failure there and we are taking steps to ensure that these failures don’t happen again,” he said.

Wexford County Council and Dublin City Council, which operate the plants under an agreement with Irish Water, have also apologised.

Speaking after a meeting with Irish Water and councillors from the Gorey area on Monday, Mr Byrne of said the focus must now be on those who got ill.

Mr Byrne said he had raised questions about the number of his friends and people he knew from the area served by the Creagh plant who were reporting illnesses.

“I’m not an engineer but I have been around long enough to know if people are getting sick in one area, that there may be a common [infrastructure] factor,” he said.

“There were reports made by myself and others of problems that did not seem to be taken seriously enough,” the Fianna Fáil Senator said.

Mr Byrne said a number of people had been unable to go to work due to illness and had lost wages as a result.

He said he knew the issue of legal action was being discussed by some.

“Certainly, I think it is quite possible,” given the level of anger in the town, he said. “Legal action is something people are thinking about,” he said.

“The focus now needs to be on those who became ill and ensuring that water failures do not happen again,” he said.

Separately, the Water Forum, a statutory body set up to debate issues relating to water supplies said there were “unacceptable delays in informing the EPA and HSE of this incident has clearly put the public at risk”.

The forum said there was a public right to trust drinking water supplies and health should not be put at risk by the water in their taps.

“Irish Water and the Local Authorities need to show that they are learning from previous mistakes and that the necessary checks and balances are in place to prevent future incidents of negligent management. The Water Forum recommends that at a minimum, the EPA need to consider sanctions for repeat offences that put the health of the public at risk” the forum said.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the the reference by the EPA to the “abject failure in management oversight in the control of operations and sharing of information” were among the “harshest words I have heard one agency speak to another” but added that he felt they were appropriate in this case.

He said the EPA and HSE needed to do an immediate full audit of the country’s top 20 water plants “to make sure these operational mistakes are not going to be seen elsewhere”.