The Managing Director of Irish Water has warned that the current arrangement of working alongside Local Authorities to deliver water services is "no longer fit for purpose".

Appearing before the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Niall Gleeson said that recent incidents in Dublin and Wexford, where unsafe water entered the public drinking water supply, have clearly shown the "limitation of present ways of working and emphasise the urgent need for change".

Unsafe water entered the public drinking water supply at the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant and at the Creagh water treatment plant serving Gorey in Co Wexford last month, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed.

There were 52 confirmed cases of illness associated with the Gorey outbreak, including bacteria linked to E. coli, with a number of associated hospitalisations.

Mr Gleeson apologised for the recent issues and insisted that his remarks were not a criticism of the "thousands of experienced water services professionals working in Local Authorities" but were intended to emphasise the need for a "Single Public Utility model", in line with Government policy.

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The committee heard that structural issues need to be addressed so that individuals "on the ground can avail of clear lines of communication".

In his opening statement, Mr Gleeson said that Irish Water was not notified in time following recent incidents at the Creagh Water Treatment Plant in Gorey and the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant, which services Kildare and Dublin City.

He said that Local Authorities have been told about the "critical need" to report incidents in a timely manner.

The committee heard that a "knowledge audit" of the largest 20 water treatment plants in the country is under way, which will involve site visits, and he said that refresher training of all "relevant water services staff" is being accelerated.

Deputy Cian O'Callaghan of the Social Democrats asked how a situation could arise where staff in a water treatment plant would not know how to respond to alarm systems.

Mr Gleeson told him that investigations are still under way but added that "people will make mistakes, equipment will fail. Its reporting of those issues" that needs to be worked upon.

He added that Irish Water would be happy to publish the results of "knowledge audits" that are currently under way in the country's 20 largest water treatment plants.

Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin told representatives from both Irish Water and the Department of Housing and Local Government that he was "sceptical" of their claim that recent incidents in Wexford and Dublin strengthens the case for a single public utility model.

Deputy Ó Broin said there was a lack of investment across several areas and many homes in rural areas were still not connected to public water supplies.

He said he could not see how this would change if water services were to be controlled and managed by one single organisation.

Niall Gleeson said that Irish Water is currently in control of capital projects and the single public utility model would help improve operational issues.