THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (EC) has said that Ireland will not face thousands of euro of fines if legislation to register septic tanks is not in place by 3 February, despite the government claiming yesterday it would.
It comes amid a row between Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesperson Éamon Ó Cuiv over legislation which will require homeowners to register septic tanks at a cost of €50 per tank in order for inspections to be carried out to ensure the tanks comply with EU regulations.
Concerns have been raised that the measure unfairly targets rural Ireland and that owners of septic tanks – of which there are over 400,000 – will face further costs if remedial works need to be carried out on their tanks.
Earlier Ó Cuiv accused the government of misleading the Dáil and the public when Education Minister Ruairí Quinn said the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 was being guillotined – expedited – at Committee stage, as Ireland would be subject to a €26,000 per day fine if the legislation was not enacted by 3 February.
“We no longer have the time to deal with it now, because on 3 February we will face a fine of €26,000 a day,” Quinn told the Dáil during the Order of Business yesterday.
However, the European Commission has subsequently confirmed to TheJournal.ie that this is not the case.
Ó Cuiv has said the government are “using scare tactics by falsely threatening EU fines from next month if they do not get their way.” The government “strenuously rejected” this.
The Commission has taken Ireland to the European Court of Justice over its failure to adopt necessary measures to ensure septic tanks are complying with regulations preventing contamination of ground water and subsequently drinking water.
The EC is asking the court to impose a lump-sum fine of €2.7 million and a daily penalty payment of € 26,173 on Ireland for its failure to comply with the EU Waste Framework Directive.
However, an EC spokesperson told TheJournal.ie today that Ireland would not face daily penalties if the legislation is not in place by 3 February contrary to what the government claimed yesterday.
The spokesperson did stress that the matter is urgent as Ireland risks such penalties if the legislation is not adopted and in place before the ECJ makes a ruling – but this ruling is not expected until the summer at the earliest and most likely not until the autumn.
A statement from the Department of Environment this evening said:
The central strand of Ireland’s defence in this case will be that the necessary legislative measures have been put in place. It is for this reason that the deadline of 3 February for enactment of the legislation is so important.
The Minister is determined to ensure the necessary measures are in place by the time Ireland submits its rejoinder [reply to the prosecution] to the ECJ in order to support the defence being presented to the Commission’s application.
Ó Cuiv has previously been accused of “frightening people” by Hogan who insists that while he does not want to implement the legislation, it must be done to comply with European regulations.
But the Fianna Fáil TD said that while he is in favour of legislation, he was against “this Government’s attempts to push the entire cost of this process directly onto septic tank owners and to ignore their questions about inspection standards and resulting costs.”
Ó Cuiv told TheJournal.ie earlier today: “Phil Hogan will not address any valid issues being raised. Never in all my life in the Dáil and Seanad have I seen a Minister show more contempt and suspicion and such total refusal to deal with issues raised by the opposition.”