Housing Minister apologises to 70,000 homeowners

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has apologised to the tens of thousands of homeowners affected by the water stoppage in Meath and Louth.

Speaking at the site of the burst major pipe, Mr Murphy defended Irish Water management, saying he has “full confidence” in them as they deal with the “biggest crisis” they have ever faced.

He said lessons must be learned around the communications of the crisis. He praised the response from state bodies, who were also complimented by the army, which is aiding in the distribution of water to those affected.

To the 70,000 homeowners who have been without water for several days, Mr Murphy offered a full apology, saying he understood their plight.

“I am very sorry for all of the people who have experienced these severe water shortages,” he said.

“We have had them all over the country. In my own constituency as well, we have had the tankers out on the streets, people without water for over a week.

“So I know how difficult it is for people when they face this kind of situation.”

Mr Murphy said two custom replacement pipes, one primary piece and one back-up, were arriving on site last night and work to install it will commence first thing this morning.

“They come in this evening [last night], will begin first thing [this] morning, and hopefully that will be successful by the afternoon,” he said.

Mr Murphy said it is the biggest crisis Irish Water has faced to date.

“We will learn lessons from that but a huge amount of work has gone in already,” he said. “It wasn’t expected to find the problem they found, when that third fix failed on Sunday this escalated into a national crisis and that kicked in very quickly.”

He said replacing a 2.2km piece of pipe in the area is a priority for Irish Water, but that it would take a matter of months.

“If you look at this piece of pipe, it handles water at a pressure of 600% than your normal pipe,” he said.

“It is an old pipe, that is why we are prioritising to replace the 2.2km pipe. It is a priority for Irish Water and it will take place over months, I don’t want to give false expectations. You can’t build 2.2km of a massive pipe overnight, it will take a few months.”

Earlier, and Meath West TD Damien English said situations similar to that in the north-east could happen elsewhere as Irish Water struggled to deal with a pipe network that is more than 50 years old.

“Irish Water needs to spend €13bn to €15bn on the water infrastructure, they need to spend it to ensure there are no more situations like this,” he said.

That was the reason for the introduction of water charges, he said. “That’s why Irish Water was set up. These pipes are over 50 years old and they need to be replaced.”

Mr English said there was value in the metering system. He pointed out that there was a 48% leakage problem in Drogheda.

Mr Murphy rejected criticism of him and Irish Water from the opposition about his handling of the crisis.

Fianna Fáil’s housing spokesman, Barry Cowen, said the response to the initial outage “left a lot to be desired”.

“People are worried that Irish Water seems to be unable to provide the expertise needed to spearhead the response to this crisis,” he said. “There has already been two dates missed and now it may be Friday before the damaged pipe is fixed.”

Just ahead of Mr Murphy's press conference, he was confronted by a small number of irate local residents. They criticised the lack of information coming from Irish Water about the expected duration of the water outage.

"There is no trust. Irish Water said it would be back on Saturday, then Sunday, now we are waiting til the weekend. If you had said it would be gone for a week, we would have been better off," said resident Sean Lynch.

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