Water shortage - Two sides of the country on display

Two starkly contrasting faces of Ireland — one impressively hi-tech and the other depressingly reminiscent of a third-world country — were highlighted as Enda Kenny rang a bell in Dublin to open yesterday’s trading session on the New York-based Nasdaq stock exchange.

Water shortage - Two sides of the country on display

In marketing terms, the event was undermined because while Mr Kenny basked at centre stage of the highly successful international Web Summit, many of the 10,000 delegates were wondering if they would be abler to take a shower back at the hotel following local authority warnings of severe water cuts lasting 11 hours overnight in the capital city and parts of Kildare and Wicklow.

It would be hard to think of a more embarrassing setback for a Government striving to sell Ireland Inc abroad as a modern and efficient location for the inventors and potential investors who flocked to this global gathering on information technology. When your hotel shower trickles to a dribble and a restaurateur or publican can’t wash the plates or the pint glasses, the night becomes one to remember for all the wrong reasons.

In comparison, the plight of a more than a million homeowners was even worse as officials warned them to expect very severe reductions and restrictions to their water supply from 8pm to 7am this morning across the four Dublin local authority areas. Telling people they would have no water in the cold tap in the kitchen but should have 24-hour storage in the attic tank is a bitter pill for the public to swallow.

Given Ireland’s notoriety as a rain-sodden country, the delegates were perplexed by a scenario which hit even the fire service. Engineers were flummoxed by the 25% drop in production at their biggest plant and speculated that recent heavy rain made the reservoir water more difficult to treat. As Dublin City engineer Michael Phillips put it: “The characteristics of water change from season to season and normally operate within a certain band. We haven’t experienced this, in this plant, over the past 20 years. So whether it’s due to the weather or the climate we do not know.”

If the theory holds water, surely the solution is to invest in bigger and better treatment facilities. With uncertainty still surrounding the Coalition’s domestic water metering plan, the latest incident does not inspire confidence.

Given Ireland’s annual rainfall, a visitor might expect every village, town and city, especially the capital, to have ample supplies. Plans for a vast water storage reservoir in the midlands to supply the population of Dublin and the east coast are behind schedule. Until government planning and investment become a reality, the third world spectre will continue to cast a long shadow over the image of Ireland Inc.

That aside, the Web Summit has attracted a glittering array of hi-tech companies, including many already located here. If, however, there is a weakness in Ireland’s hi-tech industry, it is the lack of women at the cutting edge of information technology. Whether this stems from girls being advised to study domestic economy rather than maths, the problem was evident in the lack of keynote women speakers. Hopefully, an emerging crop of young Irish women with degrees in science and maths will remedy this problem.

From small beginnings barely three years ago, the Web Summit has grown to be a shining example of the kind of entrepreneurship this country needs.

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