The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr Phil Hogan, T.D., today (14th September) outlined the registration and inspection regime for septic tanks that will be introduced to address a ruling issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in October 2009 against Ireland on this issue. The detailed arrangements will be set out in legislation to be published shortly.
“I want to bring clarity to the more than 440,000 septic tank owners about the specific proposals in the pending legislation. The draft legislation will provide for a proportionate and risk-based approach to inspections. It is intended that inspections would be targeted to sensitive areas, for example, where drinking water sources or habitats are likely to be, or have been, impacted upon. The new legislation is being framed to minimise the impact on householders who can be assured that if their systems are working properly and are being maintained they need not be concerned. The likelihood is that inspections under the new system will commence in 2013. If we do not comply with the 2009 ECJ ruling in a timely manner Ireland will be the subject of significant fines by the Court.” The level of the fines could be a lump-sum penalty of €2.7 million and continuing daily fines for continued non-compliance of more than €26,000 per day (equivalent to more than €9.5 million per annum).
The Minister gave a summary of the key features of the proposed new system, as follows:
- All householders with septic tanks and other on-site systems will be required to register details of their system with the relevant local authority and a national register will be compiled and held by the EPA;
- Householders will be required to pay a modest registration fee (a fee of no more than €50 is envisaged);
- Following the initial registration, householders will not be required to re-register their systems for several years – an interval of 5 years is envisaged between each registration;
- The revenue generated will support the delivery of a national inspection plan which will be developed by the EPA and its roll-out will be managed by the local authorities;
- While inspections would be concentrated on areas with higher risk to the environment and public health, they will also be carried out in lower risk areas but at a lower rate;
- Inspections may give rise to householders being advised to improve the maintenance of their systems or, in more serious situations, may require the upgrading or remediation of the treatment system.
The Minister said that he is confident that the risk based model will not impose unnecessary burdens on householders in rural areas. He also said: “It is essential that we protect ground water quality to ensure we protect the environment; but also to protect drinking water supplies and prevent people from having to buy bottled water to drink. From an economic perspective it is vital that Ireland has a good quality water supply in order to attract inward investment and to protect employment.”
“This is not a money generating exercise; it is about protecting our water quality and our environment. While the majority of septic tanks may be working well, and in those cases the householders should have nothing to worry about, those tanks that are not working properly may be polluting groundwater and contaminating our drinking water supplies and must be remediated.
“In July of this year the European Commission applied to the Court to have fines imposed on Ireland for failing to comply with the original ECJ ruling in this case. Due to a lack of will by the previous Government the necessary legislation was not introduced. As I have said, if we do not comply with the ECJ ruling in a timely manner Ireland will be the subject of significant fines by the Court” the Minister concluded.