Watchdog calls for more power to compel Irish Water to act, after boil notice reissued to 600,000

Watchdog calls for more power to compel Irish Water to act, after boil notice reissued to 600,000

The Environmental Protection Agency has called for greater powers to force Irish Water to act on its safety recommendations after previous public health warnings failed to be acted upon.

The EPA's environmental enforcement office director Dr Tom Ryan said the increased legal support may be necessary in light of two boil water notices affecting at least 615,000 people in the greater Dublin area over the past fortnight.

Speaking to TDs during a lengthy Oireachtas housing committee meeting today, Dr Ryan said while the EPA told Irish Water in March of the need to introduce a "fail-safe" shut down of a plant in an emergency, this was not done.

As a result, he said the issues involving the Leixlip water plant and the current boil water notice were allowed to occur, an issue Dr Ryan said was avoidable.

Asked by Independent senator Victor Boyhan if the EPA's existing powers are strong enough, Dr Ryan said he would "welcome the strengthening of enforcement powers" to ensure his group's recommendations are acted on.

"Whatever powers and authorisation we have, we do so with that in mind [ensuring recommendations are acted on].

"The EPA would welcome the strengthening of its enforcement powers in that regard," he said, later repeating the view to a number of other committee members.

During the same committee meeting, Dr Ryan also gave a subtle criticism of Irish Water, saying "clearly there was an operational difficulty" at the Leixlip plant and "a window of time when alarms weren't responded to, there was a period of time when the plant was operating and clearly alarms were ringing".

His colleague, the EPA's senior inspector Dr Michelle Minihan, also told Sinn Féin's housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin her group "clearly set out" in March that an "automatic shut down of the plant" was needed in an emergency situation.

Asked by a number of committee members for the reason they believe this advice was not acted on, both Dr Ryan and Dr Minihan said they believed it was a genuine error rather than a deliberate decision by Irish Water to ignore the EPA's advice.

Asked by committee chair and Fine Gael TD Noel Rock how the EPA would "categorise their [Irish Water's] response to your March recommendations", Dr Ryan said, "we're satisfied this was a misunderstanding".

However, he added: "Our recommendation was a fail-safe; that didn't happen."

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