State being taken to European court over waste water

Commission says 38 towns, cities have inadequate sewage plants putting health at risk

Irish Water has estimated all sewage treatment plants will be upgraded by 2021 at a cost of €1.25 billion. Photograph: iStock

Irish Water has estimated all sewage treatment plants will be upgraded by 2021 at a cost of €1.25 billion. Photograph: iStock


The European Commission is taking the State to court over the pumping of raw sewage into rivers and the sea.

They say 38 towns and cities have inadequate treatment plants for waste water, putting human health at risk, and leaving the country potentially liable for millions of euros in anti-pollution fines.

The European Commission is taking the case to the European Court of Justice after the Government failed to meet deadlines set for sewage plants to built or upgraded by the end of 2000 and 2005.

Warnings were issued over the threatened court action last year and in 2015.

Inspectors have identified inadequate sewage treatment plants in Clonakilty, Cobh, Cork city, Fermoy, Mallow, Midleton, Ringaskiddy, Youghal, Rathcormac, Passage/Monkstown and Ballincollig, all of which are in Cork. In Donegal, Gaoth Dobhair, Killybegs and the Ballybofey/Stranorlar area are similarly classed.

In the Midlands and the east of the country issues were identified in Arklow, Castlecomer in Kilkenny, Dundalk, Enniscorthy, Oberstown and Ringsend in Dublin, Navan, Athlone, Monksland, Enfield, Longford and Portarlington.

Elsewhere, treatment plants are not suitable for the populations of Nenagh, Thurles, Roscrea in Tipperary, Killarney and Tralee in Kerry, Cavan, Clifden, Roscommon town, Shannon town, Tubbercurry in Co Sligo and Waterford city.

Authorities in Brussels said Ireland had until the end of 2000 to ensure any urban area with more than 15,000 people had adequate sewerage systems and until the end of 2005 to stop discharges from medium-sized towns into rivers, lakes and estuaries.

“One of the main challenges Ireland faces is maintaining the important investments required for water services, given the urgent need to invest in water infrastructure,” the commission said.

The case also raises additional concerns over the operating licence that has been issued for treatment plants serving Arklow and Castlebridge.

The EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires member states to ensure that towns and cities collect and treat their waste water properly. The commission says untreated waste water can present a risk to human health as it can be contaminated with baceria and viruses. It can also damage freshwater and marine environment because it contains nitrogen and phosphotous. These nutrients cause algae to grow and this chokes other living things.

Irish Water has estimated all sewage treatment plants will be upgraded by 2021 at a cost of €1.25 billion.

Timeline for improvement

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government would “explain to the European Commission the progress that is being made with a timeline for improvement.”

He was asked about the matter in the Dáil by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

“It’s often been pointed out in the past just how far behind we are in this regard with raw sewage being pumped into lake, river and seas in many locations, around the country,” he said.

“ It’s fair to say that there has been quite an improvement in the last few years in the progress being made here.”

“There is a special committee of the Oireachtas dealing with water, waste water as you’re aware, they will have the up to date figures on expenditure in the capital programme for provision of water treatment facilities around the country,” he said.