Subscriber OnlyOpinion

The Debate: Should the east coast and the midlands get water from the Shannon?

Water is a key infrastructural requirement and a shortage of it would threaten the capital’s attractiveness to investors. But should fixing our leaky pipe system not be more of a priority than siphoning flow?

Gerard Brady: Yes

Last week, we saw the country hit 2.7 million people in employment for the very first time. This is almost 750,000 more workers than we had in the economy a decade ago. Over the course of that decade, the biggest challenge we have faced as a country is a failure to put in place the critical infrastructure to meet that growth.

A failure to appreciate the scale of growth in our population, in business investment and demands on infrastructure has left systems overstretched. Many of our major economic and social challenges stem from this common root of failing to invest in capacity. Quite often this is the outcome of a system which values consensus above effectiveness of delivery. It is crucial that in the coming decade we prioritise the effective delivery of critical national infrastructure projects across the country.

The Water Supply Project Eastern and Midlands Region is one such piece of critical national infrastructure. The problem of a growing gap between supply and demand of water and need for a new source to address a lack of resilience in the region has been recognised since 1996. The situation is now critical, with risk increasing year on year. Thousands of pages of feasibility studies, impact assessments and hundreds of options have been assessed, studied and consulted on over the past 28 years. We can’t spend another three decades going through the motions. Now is the time to deliver the solution.

For businesses, the project is vitally important. As it stands, more than 85 per cent of the water needed by the 1.7 million people in the Greater Dublin Area is coming from one source – the Liffey. We are currently abstracting 40 per cent of the water from the Liffey, which is beyond unsustainable. This overreliance represents a very real risk to the water supply for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.


Without a new source, we face the prospect of no new connections for homes and businesses and an increased risk of rolling restrictions or water outages. That means not meeting the region’s housing needs or allowing for economic growth. Even with ambitious plans to reduce leaks and other infrastructure investments, there will still exist a large and growing shortfall in the supply of water relative to a rising population.

The project will abstract just 2 per cent of the flow from the Parteen Basin on the Lower River Shannon, creating a water “spine” across the country with the capacity to supply communities along the route in Tipperary, Offaly and Westmeath. It will also enable water that is currently serving Dublin to be redirected to Louth, Meath, Wicklow, Kildare and Carlow. This will provide growth opportunities to the entire region.

We are currently abstracting 40 per cent of the water from the Liffey, which is beyond unsustainable. This overreliance represents a very real risk to the water supply for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses

For Ibec members, a failure to deliver a secure sustainable water supply would result in serious damage to their ability to grow and sustain jobs. The reason is simple; in a world where we continue to compete for inward investment and for export markets abroad, a stable and reliable supply of water is not just a competitive advantage, it is a basic need.

This is not just a question of our international reputation for investors. It is a question of businesses, from the largest manufacturing plant to the smallest cafe, being able to operate on a day-to-day basis. Who would want to invest in, or rely on exports from, a country that can’t guarantee a water supply to your manufacturing plant, hotel or the homes your staff are living in? For business, these risks are not theoretical.

Delaying this project further is not an option – 28 years of discussions is enough, now is the time for delivery. The need, driven by a growing population, will not go away. The solution will only get more expensive and the costs for society of not acting will get higher.

Gerard Brady is chief economist and head of national policy at Ibec

Kay Mullane: No

Uisce Éireann is proposing a mega project to pump water from the river Shannon to Dublin. Rather than replace the Victorian-era leaking pipes in Dublin, Uisce Éireann plans an environmentally dubious and wasteful €1.65 billion scheme to divert water 172km from Lough Derg to Dublin.

The Shannon Pipeline project is unnecessary (there are more realistic and cost-effective options closer to Dublin), a blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money and environmentally unsustainable.

The project, under review by the Major Projects Advisory Group, risks serious environmental harm to a river at the heart of a nation.

Dublin needs to have its creaking pipe network fixed – ancient pipes full of holes that have approximately a 50 per cent leakage rate when household leaks are counted in, according to Kennedy Analysis. Diverting the Shannon water is absurd especially when losing half the water sent.

Uisce Éireann needs to replace the pipes in Dublin, one localised area at a time. If it does this at the rate of 3 per cent a year, in 10 years, Dublin’s water supply would be markedly better

Uisce Éireann has no specific mains replacement plan for Dublin. Any pipe-replacement plan in Dublin is part of the National Leakage Reduction Plan. Uisce Éireann is currently achieving a pipe-replacement plan of just 0.3 per cent per year. This sticking-plaster approach is false economy and the wrong strategy for Dublin. At this rate, it will take more than 300 years to address the existing leaks.

If there were 10 Shannon Pipelines, it would not fix the issue that the pipes in Dublin are not fit for purpose.

Yet Uisce Éireann concludes that fixing leaks is not viable due to costs and disruptions. Uisce Éireann needs to replace the pipes in Dublin, one localised area at a time. If it does this at the rate of 3 per cent a year (as they did in London) in 10 years, Dublin’s water supply would be markedly better.

The Government now need to reallocate the €1.65 billion budget for the pipeline project to kick-start a mains-pipe-replacement programme for Dublin.

Uisce Éireann does not have to rush to the west coast for water. Dublin is awash with water, but approximately 50 per cent of it is leaking into the ground. Appropriate consideration has not been given to the use of groundwater as one of the solutions for Dublin. It is an important natural resource. Other options are the river Slaney, which is a river equal to the Liffey in terms of flow and runs within 20km of Blessington Lake; and also there are the Wicklow mountains, an area of 500sq km with run-off capable of supplying the biggest cities in the world. Why is there no mention of these options?

The fundamental implication of the Shannon abstraction proposal is for Uisce Éireann to use Lough Derg as a Dublin city reservoir. The need is only for a short period in a dry summer period, when Lough Derg is at its most vulnerable. This is in spite of the fact that Dublin has the Blessington reservoir. One of the biggest municipal reservoirs in Europe at 150 billion litres, it is now primarily devoted to electricity generation and a small fraction to water storage. This needs to be urgently reviewed. We need to reserve more for water storage – and the costs would be precisely zero.

Instead we are going to build a pipeline at a cost €1.65 billion together with ongoing pumping costs. This is to achieve the same result.

The pipeline proposal as presented by Uisce Éireann is not proven to be the only or even optimal economic and practical solution. Consequently, it would not be prudent, in the interests of the country as a whole, nor in the interests of the Shannon region to commit this major resource for all time on the basis of an inadequate proposal. Uisce Éireann needs to be publicly challenged on the databases and methodology used to progress this project. The public needs to see supporting reports and cost analysis for the project which have yet to be published.

The river Shannon is the “jugular vein of Ireland”. The river contains a number of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas of Conservation and supports the sustainability of countless forms of life.

This proposal, if successful, represents a no-turning-back scenario for the river Shannon.

Kay Mullane is a member of the River Shannon Protection Alliance