Ireland needs to do more to tackle waste water problem
The European Commission has called on Ireland to take steps to ensure that urban waste water is adequately treated in 38 cities, towns and large suburban areas around the country.
Apart from the obvious need for all of us to manage our waste sustainably, EU law requires that authorities in towns and cities collect and treat urban waste water. Untreated waste water can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil, the sea and groundwater.
We all know of instances in the past where human settlements turned their backs to rivers and used both them and the sea as dumping grounds for waste water, untreated sewage and industrial effluent.
It is primitive and unacceptable in this day and age that waste water, sewage and industrial effluents are discharged untreated into waters that food is harvested from, that people swim in and/or that support rare and endangered plants and animals.
The problem is not a recent one; there has been lack of both action and investment over a long number of years by successive governments.
Ireland joined the European Union in 1973. Member States had until the end of 1998 to ensure stringent treatment for urban waste water discharging into sensitive areas. They had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate collecting systems and treatment were in place for discharges from treatment plants serving large urban areas discharging into undesignated waters.
The last deadline elapsed at the end of 2005 and required the setting up of collecting systems and treatment for discharges from medium-sized and small urban areas discharging into freshwater and estuaries.
Thirty-eight settlements are presently in breach of these requirements, in alphabetical order: Arklow, Athlone, Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Ballincollig New, Carringtwohill, Castlecomer, Cavan, Clifden, Clonakilty, Cobh, Cork City, Dundalk, Enfield, Enniscorthy, Fermoy, Gaoth Dobhair, Killarney, Killybegs, Longford, Mallow, Middleton, Monksland, Navan, Nenagh, Oberstown, Passage/Monktown, Portarlington, Rathcormac, Ringaskiddy, Ringsend, Roscommon Town, Roscrea, Shannon Town, Thurles, Tralee, Tubbercurry, Youghal and Waterford City.
A letter of formal notice was sent to the Irish authorities in September 2015. A reasoned opinion, the second formal step in EC infringement proceedings against Member States, followed in September 2016. Ireland now has until the end of this month to respond to the warnings from the European Commission. If the Irish authorities fail to act before the end of November, the next step is for the Commission to consider whether to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.