The issue of water has emerged as a highly contested one in Ireland in recent years. There is a high level of agreement that a lot needs to be put right with regard to drinking water and waste water treatment. What we seem to be unable to agree on is how to do it, and particularly, how we will pay for it.
Decades of under-investment in infrastructure , network maintenance and public awareness mean that we now face considerable challenges on these fronts in the immediate and long term future. Climate change, environmental pressures and increasingly stringent EU regulations further exacerbate the investment challenge such that more is necessary just to stand still.
Additionally, the economic development agenda is predicated on a future safe, secure and abundant water supply. Ireland’s food, tourism, farming and ICT industrial sectors are each based on such an assumption- as is the expectation of continued population growth into the future. A ready supply of fresh water is indeed a key component of Ireland’s competitive advantage both in the development of indigenous economic activity and in attracting foreign direct investment.
For all of these reasons it is of great importance that a national strategy capable of addressing each and all of these challenges is developed and agreed. A broadly based consensus concerning the management and development of such a key national asset is a fundamental requirement of practically every other national development objective .While agreement about water may not be a sufficient condition for the realisation of all other national development goals , it is certainly a necessary condition for their realisation.
The Public Water Forum, established under the Water Services Act (2014), aims to provide a site and a process whereby different approaches and positions concerning the management and development of the water resource in Ireland can be explored and interrogated. A broadly representative body, consisting both of domestic and commercial consumers, the Forum aims to increase public awareness and vigilance concerning such a scarce, necessary and vulnerable resource; to explore innovative approaches to meeting the diverse and sometimes competing demands of water conservation and supply; to draw on international experience in dealing with some of the challenges that Ireland must now address and to ensure that the citizen voice is heard both in Irish Water and the Commission for Energy Regulation.
This Forum is an essential part of the institutional framework necessary in a democratic society for resolving divisive issues around key strategic decisions. I greatly look forward to working with all my colleagues on the Forum over the coming three years and to ensuring that we contribute in every way possible to bringing cohesion and collective resolve to the many tasks which lie ahead.
Prof Tom Collins,