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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 17 May 2022

Ireland is being taken to court over waste water by the European Commission

The State has failed to ensure urban waste water is adequately treated, according to the Commission.

Image: Shutterstock/UzFoto

Updated at 14.25pm 

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has confirmed it plans to take Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU for what it describes as a failure to ensure that urban waste water in 38 areas “is adequately collected and treated to prevent serious risks to human health and the environment”.

Under EU law, towns and cities are required to collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, coasts, soil and groundwater.

These are the 38 areas (or agglomerations, to use the Commission’s term) in question:

  • Arklow
  • Athlone
  • Ballybofer/Stranorlar
  • Ballincollig New
  • Castlecomer
  • Cavan
  • Clifden
  • Clonakily
  • Cobh
  • Cork City
  • Dundalk
  • Enfield
  • Enniscorthy
  • Fermoy
  • Gaoth Dobhair (Co Donegal)
  • Killarney
  • Killybegs
  • Longford
  • Mallow
  • Midleton
  • Monksland
  • Navan
  • Nenagh
  • Oberstown
  • Pasage/Monktown (Co Cork)
  • Portarlington
  • Rathcormac
  • Ringaskiddy
  • Ringsend
  • Roscommon Town
  • Roscrea
  • Shannon Town
  • Thurles
  • Tralee
  • Tubbercurry
  • Youghal
  • Waterford City

EU member states had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment of wastewater from large urban areas (with a population of over  15,000).

Countries were given until 2006 to properly treat discharges from medium-sized areas and discharges into freshwater and estuaries from smaller areas.

The Commission, which is the EU’s independent executive arm, initiated its case against Ireland four years ago and followed up with warnings in 2015 and last year.

Elsewhere in its announcement today the Commission said it was also concerned “about the failure to ensure that a correct operating licence has been issued for the treatment plants serving the agglomerations of Arklow and Castlebridge”.

A recent Commission report found that Ireland faced a major challenge maintaining investments required for water services.

Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday as it launched its annual report that “substantial and sustained capital investment is required to deliver improved water infrastructure in Ireland”.

Possible fine 

If Ireland is found to be at fault by the Court of Justice of the EU, it will be issued with a further warning to comply with the law or risk a second case being brought, which may result in a fine.

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Irish Water, established in 2013, brought together the water services of 31 local authorities. Since then, successive ministers have stressed the need for householders to pay water charges in order to boost investment in water infrastructure – however, the issue has effectively been parked in the wake of a major protest movement and is now being considered by an Oireachtas committee.

Irish Water said in a statement to TheJournal.ie that it had put in place “a prioritised range of projects to deal with historic deficits and lack of investment in wastewater treatment across the country.

The utility has identified key projects in our current and recently approved future capital investment plans to address all non-compliances in our treatment plants by 2021 in each of the areas identified by the EU as part of this ECJ case. This element of our investment programme will exceed €1 billion.
We are also carrying out detailed studies into a number of issues raised by the EU in relation to our wastewater collection systems (network overflows) and full compliance for our networks will take longer, extending into the next investment programme.


The Department of Housing Community and Local Government said it noted today’s announcement from the Commission, adding:

We have been actively engaged with the EU Commission, Irish Water and the EPA in relation to the infringement since it was first formally notified by the EU Commission in October 2013.
We provided the Commission with details of the operational and investment plans in place to ensure compliance, including the timeline for compliance for each urban area.  Significant capital investment is needed to ensure compliance. This has been identified in the Irish Water Investment Plan covering the period 2017 to 2021, and the works needed to address the infringement will be progressed during this period.
Over this period, Irish Water plan to invest €1.7 billion in waste water projects, programmes and asset maintenance. In addition, Drainage Area Plans for waste water collection systems will be completed for 44 urban areas by 2021 with the prioritisation of plans based on ensuring compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and meeting other environmental objectives.

Read: Irish Water: ‘We did not waste €70m on consultants’ >

Read: Regulator denies saying water metering programme should be abandoned >

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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