Wexford Senator Malcolm Byrne has said that reports of people becoming ill from drinking water in Gorey were ignored by Irish Water and Wexford County Council.
Problems at treatment plants in Wexford and Dublin led to contaminated water posing a risk to the public recently, with parts of Gorey town badly affected.
Contaminated water from the Creagh treatment plant led to a number of people being hospitalised.
Irish Water and Wexford County Council have since apologised for the issues, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) described as “abject failures”.
Senator Byrne told BreakingNews.ie: “From late August on, I and local councillors started to become aware of people asking was the water off, complaining of not feeling so well.
“We contacted Irish Water and Wexford County Council, it’s fair to say that their initial approach was that they weren’t acknowledging there was a problem.
“There was evidence mounting that there was a problem, we were getting reports of people going into hospital, not feeling well. A lot of it was coming from the western side of town which is serviced by the Creagh treatment plan, people on the eastern side town weren’t impacted, so the evidence was mounting that there was a problem.”
The Fianna Fáil senator has now met with the county council and Irish Water with both acknowledging a “systems failure”.
“Everybody understands a system can fail, there had been a storm that knocked out the electricity on the treatment plan, and it does seem over a period that contaminants did get into the water supply and obviously what we saw is following on from that to late August when people became sick.
“I totally understand things can go wrong, but we place our trust in these bodies and as the evidence started to mount it was very clear that there had to be a problem somewhere.”
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was in the town on September 2nd for a briefing in relation to the Housing for All plan and Mr Byrne informed him of the water issues then.
“He’s taken on the issue in a big way and ordered a review of the systems in all the treatment plants across the country to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mr Byrne said.
He said there was a “communications error” on the part of Wexford County Council and Irish Water as people were not informed of the issues after the initial complaints.
Asked whether there could be legal cases pursued, Mr Byrne replied: “It’s a matter for every individual, but a number of people were hospitalised for a number of days, there were people who lost time at work and earning capacity due to illness, so it would be a matter for them to explore their options.
“There has been a welcome apology from Wexford County Council and Irish Water, but we have to go beyond that by asking what actions will be taken to address the problem, make sure it happens again, and also to improve communications mechanisms.
“It’s very hard to dispute the evidence when we started hearing of lots of cases. We trust the professionals, Wexford County Council and Irish Water, to make sure that we have a good, clean, reliable water supply and certainly public trust has been damaged, including the trust from us as local public representatives, because we were clearly disbelieved when we were raising very specific concerns around this issue.”
He said rebuilding trust should be a priority.
A lot of people here become quite ill. There were people with cramps, people vomiting, people passing blood.
“We’ve been told the water is safe now, but I certainly know people who are reluctant to drink it, there is a challenge for Irish Water and Wexford County Council to build back confidence in the water supply in the area.
“A lot of people here become quite ill. There were people with cramps, people vomiting, people passing blood, it was not a pleasant experience.”
Mr Byrne said he will raise the issue in the Seanad tomorrow morning with Minister O’Brien set to attend for discussion on the water problems and his response to them.