Ireland was fined €2m and a daily sum of €12,000 for failing to properly regulate the country’s 500,000 septic tanks, and another €1.5m for exempting far too many sensitive projects from environmental impact assessments.
It is estimated that these failures cost the economy up to €500m a year in health costs and costs to the environment. The European Court of Justice cut the fines from €9.3m.
There are no EU recognised standards or inspection procedures for these domestic waste treatment systems, which have been blamed for contaminating water and causing serious illness in people who drink it as well as polluting rivers and lakes.
The fines — the first of this kind against Ireland — should be a wake-up call to the Government to deal with a raft of similar cases pending against the country, according to Tony Lowes, head of Friends of the Irish Environment.
There are another five judgments the Government has not complied with and over the next few months the European Commission is expected to return to the courts to ask for fines to be imposed.
Ireland has traditionally had one of the worst records in the EU of adopting and implementing environmental legislation. Just three years ago there were 34 cases, with several threatening very substantial funds.
Phil Hogan, the environment minister, acknowledged that the Government had made substantial efforts to resolve the situation.
The daily fines of €12,000, which take effect from the ruling yesterday, should end early in the new year when Mr Hogan said the EPA inspection plan should be finalised.
He set up a dedicated environmental compliance union within his department to work with the European Commission and with other related government departments and agencies to tackle the long list of cases. The number of cases has been reduced to 12.
To date 290,000 applications have been received to register septic tanks and the closing date is Feb 1. Standards for domestic waste treatment systems, training for inspectors, and the appointment of inspectors are under way, as demanded by the EU legislation. There will be grants to upgrade systems that fail inspection.
The second case against Ireland dates back more than six years when the then government was warned far more developments must have an environmental impact assessment before being given planning permission.
As a result of setting the bar much too high, the impact of many developments such as land draining and rural landholding restructuring that could damage wetlands, special habitats, and water were not taken into account. While this has now been remedied the court still imposed a fine because progress was so slow.
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