Courts misjudge true price to pay for pollution

By Joe Gill

Once in a while, you read something that sounds incredible, but happens to be true.

Last week, I saw a report about pollution in two Cork towns and in one Co Clare town.

A court case in Dublin disclosed that the towns are Castletownbere and Castletownshend, in Co Cork, and Kilfenora, in Co Clare. All three are important assets in the Irish tourism industry, so you would imagine that politicians and the authorities would ensure they are pristine.

File image.

That is not the case. In fact, 64% of raw household sewage in Castletownbere travels through a pipe and straight into the sea. In Castletownshend, the entire town’s sewage runs directly into the sea. In Kilfenora, ground water enters the supply of drinking water.

Just reflect on these three towns. Castletownbere is one of the country’s most important ports for fishing.

Castletownshend is a beautiful village that attracts families who covet being next to the sea in summer.

Kilfenora is an important centre for traditional Irish music and sits in the middle of the ecologically-important Burren.

All three towns rank highly when our tourism and food agencies are out promoting the country internationally.

A princely fine of €9,000 was imposed in this case. Is that some sort of an Irish joke? The legal system is, effectively, saying the price to be paid for years of the worst form of pollution, in three Irish, seaside towns, is €9,000.

No wonder politicians and civil servants shrug their shoulders. Moreover, a ‘grace period’ of two years has been given to fix the issues. For another 96 weeks, the people living in, and visiting, these towns have to tolerate the damage caused by human pollution.

The natural world, which is not represented by expensive barristers, has to put up with tons of toxic waste being pumped into it.

Shellfish, seabirds, and animals that live by the shore have to perish, because no one can be bothered prioritising this matter. Is it any wonder that the judge said it was “a grave concern” that raw sewage was being discharged into these amenities and that they were tourist locations used by children.

The authorities, including the tourism bodies, will be hoping last week’s news story is quickly air-brushed away. After all, a hugely expensive, taxpayer-funded advertising campaign is underway, globally, in the run-up to the seasonal spike in tourist visitors to Ireland.

Local councillors and TDs in the areas concerned will be keen to move on, too. What an absolute embarrassment it is for any of them to preside over a water-management system that would be condemned in the third world.

Hopefully, it will be ordinary people who will take on the challenge of having this addressed. Local, constant lobbying of politicians could do the trick.

There will be plenty of excuses as to why it will take time to find the right site and build the treatment plants needed to correct the problem.

The marketing damage that this tale of woe will cause would be multiple times the cost of fixing the infrastructure.

If Ireland is serious about its tourism and food industries becoming major global successes, it has to focus on the provenance of its products.

Clean, healthy environments are the cornerstone of marketing in these critical industries. This episode, in three Irish towns, is a betrayal of that quest.

Joe Gill is director for corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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