by Tom Tuite
Irish Water has been fined €10,000 over levels of sewage pollution at a treatment plant in Co. Laois and a popular headland in Co. Wexford.
The water company was prosecuted at Dublin District Court by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It pleaded guilty to two charges connection to excessive emissions in water at Portarlington, Co. Laois from October 31 until December 31 last year.
It also faces a charge that between January and November last year it allegedly failed to complete improvements, which were set out in a licence granted by the EPA in 2013, at Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford. Another charge alleges that waste water had excessive emissions between January and November at the same location.
Judge John Brennan heard that the company had five prior convictions for environmental protection offences.
He was told that at Kilmore Quay a sewage pipe which discharged into the Irish sea was particularly close to a beach.
Upgrading work there had been due to be completed by the end of 2015 but that deadline was passed, and now it will not be completed until 2021. The licence had been granted by the EPA to Wexford County Council in 2013 and months later it passed to Irish Water which then became responsible.
EPA inspector Eimear O’Keeffe agreed with prosecuting solicitor Maeve Larkin that it was close to a beach and there was a risk to bathers in the area. On November 3 last she witnessed raw sewage going into the sea.
One beach to the west of the headland was blocked off with rocks and a warning sign that it was not suitable for bathing. There were excessive levels of ammonia, suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand and chemical oxygen demand found in the water there.
Judge Brennan noted that it was possible that a strong swimmer coming from the eastern beach area which had been unaffected could have also come into contact with the pollutants.
Defence counsel Eoghan Cole said that for reasons unknown the original licence to complete improvements at the treatment plant only dealt with domestic waste in the area and did not take into account waste from industrial activity in the area, and a lot of it was a bi-product of fish processing which had a serious affect on the levels of sewage in the water.
That will be taken into account in Irish Water’s improvements works, he said, adding that there was no attempt to mislead the EPA.
He also said that Irish Water could have moved to shut down a local business but did not pursue that option.
Judge John Brennan imposed fines totalling €5,000 for these two charges.
Fines totalling another €5,000 were also imposed for the offences of failing to properly operate a waste water treatment plant at Portarlington and the level of emissions in the water there.
Judge Brennan noted that Irish Water is now fully compliant and had spent €1m in upgrades there.