Missing the bigger picture on the controversial Shannon to Dublin water plan

A broader evaluation of how best to proceed with the project is required

 

Irish Water has had a bad press since its establishment in 2013. Initially, it was criticised because of high consultancy charges and wasteful expenditure. It became a political football as opposition parties campaigned successfully against water and sewage charges.

It was heavily subsidised by Government when charges were suspended and it awaits a formal report on its future. Small wonder that cost has become its primary consideration.

Doing things “on the cheap” is not usually a good idea, particularly when a project has a life span of 50 years or more. The challenge facing Irish Water in constructing a pipeline from the Shannon to Dublin involves supplying water to industry and to a rapidly growing population in the greater Dublin and Midland regions, while treating various stakeholders in a considerate fashion. The Dáil has decided Irish Water will remain a national utility; so all citizens have a stake in this.

The proposed pipeline route suggests, however, that little consideration has been given to broader issues, with cost dictating the agenda. A proposal by Bord na Mona to build a large reservoir in the Midlands that would reduce summer abstraction rates from the Shannon was dismissed because of geological difficulties. The reservoir would also act as a water park and tourist attraction.

The possibility of creating a 170 km greenway above the proposed pipeline is not even mentioned. It could provide a major impetus to local tourism in areas that need development. Yet farmers whose livelihoods will be affected are threatening resistance and preparing to lodge large compensation claims, or possibly to support a legal action challenging the project.

“Thinking outside the box” usually causes trouble. It introduces elements that are not strictly required in a project; it challenges established ways of doing things and, frequently, it questions the judgment of those in charge.

Creative long-term planning has been a poor orphan in the history of Irish administration. That must change. The proposed pipeline, although threatening to some interests, may offer opportunities to others. Those latter aspects should be developed, even where they stray outside the strict brief for the project.

The last major construction programme, involved building five motorways , and took place after 2001. On that occasion, farmer organisations demanded – and got – eye-watering compensation packages for 800 affected members. Costs were pushed up by an estimated €200million and the road-building programme had to be scaled back.

This time, some 500 farmers will be affected. Irish Water intends to purchase way-leave on a 50 metre wide stretch of land from the Shannon to Dublin. It will cover the pipe and then retain a right-of-way along a 20 metre wide corridor. This right-of-way, purchased with public money, should be fenced and developed.

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