The Executive today met in emergency session to discuss the serious problems with the supply of water.
There was considerable anger across the Ministerial spectrum about the shambolic response of NI Water which had let down the whole community. The Board of NI Water Board will meet tomorrow and then report to the Minister for Regional Development on the company's handling of events. Mr Murphy will bring a report to the Executive setting out his proposals for a full investigation into the organisation's response.
Throughout the course of the day Ministers have been engaging in a series of meetings, both within departments and on a cross departmental basis to receive reports on the up to date situation. Ministers re-iterated their determination to ensure that NI Water and other agencies are working at maximum capacity to ensure the needs of citizens are met.
Ministers have met with senior NI Water officials and pressed them for improvements to their recovery plan to restore water to homes, businesses and schools. Ministers agreed that the priority will be to protect the most vulnerable, maintain confidence in public health and ensure that businesses and schools can open after the holidays.
Ministers agreed a number of actions to better support a full restoration of supply and improvement to communications.
Water supply - In the last 48hours there has been a substantial reduction in the number of people completely without water. As N I Water work to restore supplies to all areas there will be no compromise on the quality of water provided. N I Water will also source containers for the public to store water.
Communications – In addition to the staff provided yesterday the Civil Service has provided call centre staff to NI Water to help with the large number of calls they are receiving. All information is also available on NI Direct http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/
Additional support – Ministers agreed to pursue the call centre support offered by the Secretary of State and this will augment the support already provided by the Civil Service to NI Water. A number of departments have also agreed to provide additional vehicles to support NI Water in the distribution of water supplies and equipment. The Executive also thanked the Scottish Executive for their offer of a second delivery of bottled water bringing the total to 210,000 bottles.
District Councils – All councils have activated their emergency plans and have helped with water distribution, support for the vulnerable and washing facilities for those without water. Working with NI Water, Councils will use Building Control Officers and Environmental Health Officers to check for further leaks.
Health – Health facilities including Hospitals and Care Homes will continue to be a priority, as will providing safe alternative supplies of water to the public to minimise the risk to public health. Despite these current difficulties the Health Service continues to deliver under significant stress.
Water conservation - in the current situation Ministers encourage people to conserve water as much as possible.
Schools and Colleges – Protecting teaching and learning is a priority and the Department of Education is working with Education and Library Boards, CCMS and other responsible bodies to identify leakages and ensure as many repairs as possible are completed before schools re-open next week. Heads of all educational establishments, including universities and colleges, are asked to check their premises.
Business – NI Water will work with Invest NI to ensure business continuity and minimise the impact on the economy. Like schools all business owners whose premises are currently closed are encouraged to check their premises before returning to work next week. Farmers requiring water should contact DARD or NI Water.
Emergency payments/loans – Ministers will raise with the Secretary of State the option to increase the Social Security Social Fund to help those most vulnerable. Officials have also been tasked to assess the damage to the homes of the most vulnerable.
Departmental Co-ordination - The Head of the Civil Service will continue to co-ordinate a cross departmental response to the current emergency.
In what is an unprecedented situation the Executive paid tribute to the work of public service staff, the engineers on the ground trying to restore supplies, the Local Government Emergency Management Group, local councils, the emergency services and the many organisations, volunteers and community groups who have been working around the clock to minimise the impact on local communities.
Notes to editors:
1. Consumers can contact NI Water’s Customer Services by telephone on 0845 744 0088, textphone on 0845 702 3206, typetalk on 0800 051 5446 or by email on mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. More information on the alternative water supplies and advice on coping without mains water can be found on the nidirect website at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/index/newsroom/news-dec10-interruption-to-water-supplies-update.htm
3. Media enquiries to OFMDFM Press Office on 028 9037 8142. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Office via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.