Green Party Senator Róisín Garvey has brought a motion to the Seanad calling for recognition of access to clean water as a basic human right of every inhabitant of Ireland.

The motion calls for the state to provide for the management, treatment, and distribution of safe water through systems in public or community ownership, ensuring the protection and restoration of the ecological status of water bodies.

The senator and party spokesperson for rural development said that “it’s time we valued our water and gave it the respect and investment it needs so people can feel safe drinking and using it again”.

“An ambitious plan was recently launched to redevelop and revitalise Ireland’s rural communities, but no rural development is possible without decent investment in water infrastructure,” the senator added.

“We have made commitments in the programme for government and now, we have to turn those into action.”

Essential for environment and growth of communities

Speaking on the importance of wastewater infrastructure, senator Pauline O’Reilly added that Ireland is “facing a water crisis”.

“An EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] report last year found that 19 large urban areas failed to meet mandatory standards, meaning half our waste is not being treated correctly.

“We need to invest in the infrastructure needed to protect our water for the future. This is essential not just for the environment, but for the growth of our communities.

“To build more homes, start new businesses and boost tourism, particularly in rural Ireland, we need to ensure we can meet the needs of our growing population and economy.”

Return water to natural equilibrium

Speaking in the Seanad this week, senator Vincent P. Martin said that from the studies and analysis carried out by the EPA, the “implications of overuse of fertilisers are very clear”.

“They show damaging concentrations of these nutrients in our watercourses. We must rebalance nature and return the land, our water and our ecosystems to a natural equilibrium,” senator Martin said.

“The most recent data on water quality highlighted that agricultural activities are the most significant source of pollution in Irish waters, with a direct impact on 53% of the 1,460 water bodies monitored.

“While agri-environmental schemes are helpful and to be welcomed, the issue is that there is too much fertiliser and slurry being spread across huge areas of the country.

“What is necessary is a fundamental shift in intensive farming practice and a recognition of the issues and the ambitious actions required to remedy the problem.”

The senator said that in “remedying the problem”, farmers must be incentivised.

“We have to support farmers. In order to get where we want to go, there should be no diminution in quality of life or income for farmers,” he added.

Agricultural community willing to change

Meanwhile, senator John Cummins said “we must be careful at all times when talking about the impact of agriculture on water supplies”.

“I have always found the agricultural community to be willing to change and to embrace that change,” senator Cummins said.

“They have done this for generations and I have absolutely no doubt that they will do it in future.

“There is, however, a tendency on the part of some outside the chamber to try to talk down to the agricultural community, saying it is the problem and the reason for all the ills.

“As politicians, we all know the only way we can bring people along is to have dialogue and incentivise people. I have absolutely no doubt that if we do this, the agricultural community will not be found wanting in this regard.”