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*O’Callaghans Mills. Photograph: John Mangan

Rural communities in Clare are at risk of “dying out” with plans to dezone lands in areas without wastewater infrastructure in the upcoming County Development Plan.

An appeal for Clare County Council to let private operators construct wastewater infrastructure in towns and villages “where there is a demand, desire and need for development” was issued by elected representatives at Monday’s sitting of the local authority.

This proposal was put forward by Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) and co-signed by Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF), Cllr Joe Cooney (FG), Cllr John Crowe (FG), Cllr Shane Talty (FF), Cllr Pat Burke (FG), Cllr Joe Killeen (FG), Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), Cllr Ian Lynch (IND), Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) and Cllr Bill Chambers (FF).

Engagement with Irish Water continues, senior engineer Cyril Feeney and acting senior planner Helen Quinn stated in a written reply as they “seek to put in place a mechanism whereby Irish Water will facilitate the Taking In Charge of Privately Led Infrastructure on completion of multi-unit developments of a satisfactory standard”.

Without such a commitment from Irish Water, the Council “would not be in a position to facilitate developments dependent on privately led infrastructure”.

Currently 52 of 85 towns and villages in Co Clare do not have adequate wastewater treatment systems. They include Ardnacrusha, Carrigaholt. Barefield, Kilmaley, Doolin, Tubber, Cree, Cooraclare, Kilbaha, Meelick and O’Briensbridge.

Absence of wastewater infrastructure represents “a crisis for our towns and villages,” Cllr Garrihy stated. “It is not lightly that we bring forward this motion asking for such a leap. Welcome the engagement with Irish Water. For me, this is a choice between having no town or village or taking a leap and taking a risk, it is a risk of accepting privately led infrastructure, monitoring it and making sure it is done to the highest standard or forgetting about the small town or village and saying we’re done. Instead of cursing the darkness, let’s look for the solutions”.

Serious consideration to a public/private partnership on wastewater is needed, Cllr Murphy felt, “I don’t think we can afford to not support this notice of motion”. He added, “We cannot forget about two thirds of the county which is the reality of what is happening here”.

Plans to dezone land in the deferred County Development Plan where there is no wastewater treatment equated to “turning off the key completely” for parts of Clare, Cllr Cooney warned. “Some rural villages will be dead in the water if we do”. He informed the meeting that Ms Quinn had written to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien (FF), his reply “will be vital and very important”. The O’Callaghans Mills man declared, “I’ll be fighting the cause for the villages that don’t have the infrastructure to try keep them alive”.

Schools in the areas affected may receive big Government funding but have no future direction, Cllr Talty flagged. “It is quite clear that these towns and villages, the direction we’re travelling they are obsolete but nobody has told the people living there that, they are obsolete and will die out in the next plan or two”. Cllr Burke agreed that “the future is very bleak” for some areas with the potential of dezoned land.

Areas with “fine educational institutions in so many of our villages are crying out for people to live” there but are hindered due to a lack of proper wastewater, Cllr Killeen said. “Out of 85 towns and villages in Clare, 52 have no treatment facilities so something has to be done as Irish Water won’t do it and the Government won’t remove them, if somebody is not performing on the pitch you substitute them,” Cllr Flynn commented.

A legal challenge to force Irish Water to act was suggested by Cllr Lynch. “The reality is that some of these towns and villages are surplus to requirement because they have been failed by Irish Water. It is very difficult to sit back with Irish Water answerable and accountable to no one”. Government must provide answers, Cllr Chambers affirmed.

Confidence was not forthcoming from the Council response, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) interpreted. “The core thing is 52 towns and villages don’t have basic infrastructure, we’ll applaud funding for footpaths but we’re closing the door if we dezone lands for development. We’re at a real crisis in future planning for our county, it is a high risk to our schools, sporting organisations and communities”. Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) agreed, “there is no point having a strong core unless we have strong environs all around”. Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) feared, “we are in danger of losing our communities”.

Solutions other than Irish Water need to be considered, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) suggested as he recommended Butler Manufacturing Services Limited, a call which was backed by Cllr Pat McMahon (FF).

While he supported the request, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) was not confident it was attainable “so long as the national guidelines prevail we have no chance” as he urged for efforts to be made to amend the National Planning Framework, “at the time Irish Water was set up, the Government ran out of ability to borrow money, they couldn’t finish projects and gave Irish Water a mandate to borrow, Irish Water have failed to do their job”.

Chief Executive of the Council, Pat Dowling told the meeting he was advised by Minister O’Brien to have get as many projects shovel ready as possible. “If we don’t have Irish Water with us, we’re in a difficult position. We’re not going to give up the fight but let’s fight outside our virtual Chamber because that’s where the fight lies”. Director of Service, Liam Conneally said, “We support the servicing of all the settlements in our county which facilitates the growth and lifeblood of our county”.

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