Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Water crisis: Most Northern Ireland schools plan to re-open

Cliodhna Maguire aged 6 from Belfast , takes a drink of water from a water tap at Olympia
Alan Lewis - 28/12/2010Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin KernoghanFamilies queueing for the last few crates of bottled water at NI Water in Ballymena today. NI Water in Ballymena ran out of bottled water after lunchtime today. The thaw is revealing an unprecedented number of burst water pipes.Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland are still without water on Tuesday.Northern Ireland Water has said it is dealing with interruptions to supplies across a number of areas as a result of the severe weather and ongoing thaw.An unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw have been putting "big pressure" on its systems.NI Water is giving out bottled water but there is growing criticism of the company's performance.

Most schools in Northern Ireland are hopeful of re-opening on time after the water leaks crisis, it was claimed today.

Supplies to up to 40,000 homes still affected by the disruption are likely to be rotated for another couple of days, mainly in the greater Belfast area.

Fewer than 1,000 properties have yet to be fully reconnected.

But fears that hundreds of schools might have to stay shut after the Christmas and New Year holidays because of burst pipes have eased.

Pupils are due back tomorrow and Wednesday. Many schools had to close early before the break because of the heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

Northern Ireland education minister Caitriona Ruane said she expected to know by lunchtime the list of schools where classrooms remain shut until repair work has been completed.

She added: "We are hopeful the vast majority of schools will be able to open."

Regional development minister Conor Murphy, who heads the department at the centre of the fiasco which left tens of thousands of families without water, today faced fresh demands to stand down.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott said Mr Murphy had to take responsibility for the emergency.

But pressure is likely to remain on Laurence MacKenzie, the £250,000-a-year chief executive of Northern Ireland Water whose initial handling of the crisis provoked public outrage after homes had to go without proper washing and toilet facilities, some for 10 days.

Mr Murphy said the water company was not fully under the control of the Northern Ireland Executive and that needed to change.

A major external investigation is to be carried out to identify the failings.

Mr Murphy told BBC Radio Ulster today: "I am not satisfied with the arrangements where NIW is at the arms length.

"Whatever the misery people have endured, I hope one of the lessons coming from this is that it's too vital a service to leave at arms length from government. We have political responsibility and we should have full responsibility for it."

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