The ongoing issue of sewage flowing into a Galliagh Shore housing development as a result of faulty systems, has been raised at Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, with members told the Department of Infrastructure has so far failed to respond to multiple concerns raised.

The matter appears to be in a state of limbo as the developer has gone bust and the insurer has yet to address matters.

Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh called on council to assist as: “This estate has been abandoned and residents are looking for help in every direction. These residents are paying rates and really struggling to get by, but accustomed with huge costs.”

He continued: “Last week sewage was coming out of the roads onto properties, while children were around. This is a major health concern. There is run-off into Lough Galliagh which leads directly into Lough Erne. We as a council have a responsibility to these people. I’m not suggesting we pick up the entire cost because that has to go to the insurer of the property speculator, who has now collapsed. But I propose this council commit ourselves, because it’s going to be weeks before there is some clarity around responsibility.”

Councillor O’Cofaigh called on council to cover the costs of ground sampling testing and removal of ground surface slurry.

He further proposed council to write to the Minister for Infrastructure who: “As yet has not even answered repeated emails, asking for clarity. Where is the Department’s role in this? We cannot abandon a community in the heart of Enniskillen.”

Chief Executive Alison McCullagh advised council could not contribute to the costs nor removal of the slurry but could write to the Minister around departmental responsibilities.

“This is certainly a very distressing and regrettable situation but it is a civil matter between the developer – who I accept has gone bust – the relevant competent authority, which is Northern Ireland Water and the Department for Infrastructure.”

Councillor O’Cofaigh replied: “We as a council, as a body corporate representing the rate-payers in this area, cannot abandon this community. There’s a moral right and a public health issue.  Council has a responsibility for public health. This is something in which we could bridge the gap. We have an interest in making sure the insurer covers the cost. This is a disaster in a sense. How were these people sold houses that weren’t even finished? Did we sign off on them as a council? There are a lot of questions I want to find answers. These are ratepayers needing help.”

Ms. McCullagh responded council could not legally carry out certain action however: “We can intervene by representations to the relevant statutory bodies, but we cannot underwrite costs.”

Chair Chris Smyth agreed to accept part of the proposal if the costs elements were removed, otherwise it would be ruled out of order.

But Councillor O’Cofaigh enquired: “How is it we don’t have power to do this? We have powers for general matters which fall between the stools of other authorities. I can see why, for ratepayers paying full rates on these houses, we can’t do something. It’s only a few thousand pounds potentially … We have an interest is defending our rate-payers who have been left in an absolutely horrendous situation.”

Ms. McCullagh advised this only applied: “Where there was no other statutory body. There is in this instance, albeit they have not intervened.”

She suggested, given the serious of the situation a report could be obtained as to what council may be in a position to do, particularly in public health concerns.

Seconding the proposal, Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer was “completely in agreement”, pointing out the council has a duty of care to residents.

“I’m disappointed to hear what’s coming back. Seemingly we don’t have power or ability to provide additional support where it is most needed by out residents. I’ve heard some very harrowing and distressing tales and we should be doing all we can. The burden of repairs and sorting out these issues should fall with the contractor and their insurer. Whether it’s a case of council providing assistance with a view to having it recouped financially down the line, but the health and well-being of the public should be put before the cost.”

Also, in support, Councillor Eamon Keenan, Independent pointed out while the council had taken a position: “The developer got signed off for permission. This is an urgent health and safety matter. I believe council should have a part to play. We are leaving ourselves open for further, unscrupulous private developers whether through fault of their own or they go bust. The council needs to take action.”

SDLP member Councillor Paul Blake supported writing to the Minister: “Because it’s an absolutely scandalous situation in the 21st century that any family should have to live through that. It’s totally disgraceful. We should also write to the Minister for Finance to provide additional funding to the Department for Infrastructure to deal with this.”

Councillor Blake added: “I’m beginning to lose faith. Does anyone in Stormont actually care, when the amount of people receiving correspondence from these residents and are not providing any kind of response? It’s disgraceful in terms of Stormont in not responding but also no assurances either.”

This was seconded by party colleague Councillor Adam Gannon.

Sinn Fein’s Councillor Tommy Maguire commented: “I’m not so sure the high emotions are going to get the result the residents require. When I received the email with the desperate scenes I went to the area and spoke to residents. The email was copied to the First and Second First Minsters. Every Minister has been lobbied on this. It’s a complicated, legal matter going on for nine years. The sad thing is, this is not the only street in our district that suffers n the same way. The greed of those contractors has resulted in the hardship of these poor people. There has been engagement by my party and the Second First Minister and hopefully she will get herself personally involved. That’s an assurance I was given. The blame needs to be squarely laid at the feet of these greedy contactors.”

Ulster Unionist Councillor John McClaughry said this is a problem across the entire distract and while there had been claimed n contractors; “Sometimes I have to question what solicitors are doing when conveyancing. Before somebody buys a property, a solicitor is supposed to make sure its all legal and watertight. Are they just rubberstamping, sending it on and lifting their money handy? These people have no legal recourse to get what is a totally defective sewerage system repaired That ahs to be a scandal as well. Do we bring the Law Society down and ask them what recourse they have with solicitors? It’s not just contractors – they’re bad, but solicitors are just as bad.”

Councillor Deborah Erskine, Democratic Union picked up on Councillor Maguire’s comments on how his party has actively engaged, stressing, “The First Minister is well aware of this issue and has been dealing with the residents for nine years. It’s disgraceful residents have to live like this.”

Rounding off the discussion Councillor Robert Irvine, Ulster Unionist echoed the sentiments of many members around the situation which: “Is a legacy of a time when a lot of development was taking place prior to 2007 when things were done in a different manner. Reference has been made to solicitors, the Law Society and estate agents. That practice has now changed and there are a lot more stringent controls in conveyancing.”

The Chief Executive recapped on the accepted proposals and members agreed to write to the Minister for Infrastructure and the Minister for Finance as to the ongoing problems.

The council is also to report back on what it can do as per public health issues.