Raw sewage leak in Carrick exposes Irish Water law flaw

A councillor has spoken out about the difficulties he experienced getting a serious raw sewage leak on Carrick-on-Suir’s Main Street cleaned up and fixed because it happened on a Saturday.

A councillor has spoken out about the difficulties he experienced getting a serious raw sewage leak on Carrick-on-Suir’s Main Street cleaned up and fixed because it happened on a Saturday.

The incident highlighted by Independent Cllr Kieran Bourke at a meeting of Carrick-on-Suir Municipal District Council last Thursday has exposed the practical problems the transfer of responsibility for water and wast water services to Irish Water is posing when leaks and breakdowns arise at weekends.

It also highlights how property owners are now being slapped with the cost of repairing sewage and water service breakdowns if it’s found they originated in infrastructure from their property.

Cllr Bourke detailed at the Council meeting how he spent several hours from about 12.20pm on Saturday, February 21 trying to report the raw sewage leak and get it cleaned up and repaired. After several phone calls to Irish Water, he was told there was no one available to deal with the problem and he was given a Council engineer’s number. He was told by the engineer the problem was the responsibility of the owner of the property where the sewage pipe causing difficulty came from and Irish Water was only responsible for mains sewage pipes.

Cllr Bourke was later in contact with another Council staff member and asked him to get the raw sewage cleaned up.

“He advised me to look up the Irish Water website and look at the legislation. I got quite annoyed and left the phone down.”

Eventually at 3.40pm, Council staff cleaned up the sewage on the footpath but didn’t fix the underlying problem. Cllr Bourke said the problem persisted throughout the weekend. The smell of sewage was “unbelieveable” but luckily it rained on Sunday and washed a lot of the excrement away.

Cllr Bourke said early on Monday morning he brought the Council’s District Administrator Martin Nolan to the site of the leak and to his credit he got the problem sorted out straight away.

“I believe this should never happen again and a protocol should be put in place where the personnel on duty should be allowed make the call.

“People are now asked to pay property taxes and water charges and rate payers affected by this leak will be asked from next year to pay increased rates for nine years to bring them in line with the rest of Co. Tipperary.

“As last weekend proved they are getting less bang for their buck,” Cllr Bourke continued. “Two years ago if this happened Carrick Town Council would have dealt with it immediately. To be fair to the Council staff on duty last weekend they carried out their duties to the letter.”

District Administrator Martin Nolan responded that Irish Water was now responsible for the maintenance of sewage infrastructure. The local authority was a contractor for Irish Water and could only carry out work when instructed to do so.

He explained the problem in this case arose in a drain that was the responsibility of the owner of a premises on the street not the local authority.

However, he said the Council reviewed what happened in this case and had reiterated to all its staff that where emergencies arise the person responsible will be asked to take responsibility for the problem and if they are unable to do so the local authority will act and later recover the costs from them.

Mr Nolan stressed if a sewage blockage like this occurred again on a main street it will be dealt with more quickly than it was on February 21.

“I would regard what happened last week as an aberration rather than reflective of the level of service the local authority is providing,” he stressed.

Cllr Bourke said he was delighted with Mr Nolan’s response but he didn’t accept that sewage pipes under public infrastructure on Main Street were the responsibility of private property owners.

“I believe the legislation is flawed and to my understanding it’s a huge grey area. If the pipe is under public infrastructure it’s not the private owner’s responsibility.”

Mr Nolan responded that it was best to deal with these issues on a case by case basis and promised a bill wouldn’t be sent in this case until the Council was satisfied the private property owner was responsible for the leak.

District Director Pat Slattery said Cllr Bourke had raised a good question and he felt it would be worth seeking clarification on this issue.