EC closer to prosecuting Ireland over sewage failures

Third deadline for upgrades to medium and small town facilities missed back in 2005

The European Commission has moved a step nearer to prosecuting Ireland over the State’s failure to provide adequate sewage collection and treatment in a number of built-up areas.

The EU required built-up areas which discharge into sensitive environments to have adequate sewerage by 1998.

Facilities for all large towns should have been upgraded by 2000, but this deadline was also missed.

A third deadline for the upgrade of facilities serving medium and small towns was missed in 2005.


Some towns such as Arklow in Co Wicklow discharge untreated sewage.

Irish Water put the cost of the upgrades involved at about €2 billion after the Environmental Protection Agency said 31 large urban areas failed to meet EU standards, while a further 45 urban areas had no treatment at all.

On Thursday, the commission announced it had issued a “reasoned opinion” condemning the State’s failure to upgrade its waste water treatment facilities under the Waste Water Treatment Directive.

Potentially large fines

The EU said further failure “to act within two months” could lead “to the case being referred to the EU Court of Justice”, where potentially large-scale fines may be imposed.

Engineers Ireland said it was clear the State’s water infrastructure was “not fit for purpose” and fixing the problems would be “enormously challenging”.

The commission named what it described as “agglomerations in breach” of requirements as: “Arklow, Co Wicklow; Athlone Co Westmeath; Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Co Donegal; Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny; Cavan, Co Cavan; Clifden, Co Galway; Clonakilty, Cobh, Ballincollig, Carringtwohill, Fermoy, Passage/Monktown, Mallow, Rathcormac, Ringaskiddy, Midleton, Rathcormac, Cork City, all Co Cork; Dundalk, Co Louth; Enfield, Co Meath; Enniscorthy, Co Wexford; Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal; Killarney, Co Kerry; Killybegs, Co Donegal; Longford, Co Longford; Monksland, Co Roscommon; Navan, Co Meath; Nenagh, Co Tipperary; Oberstown, Co Dublin; Portarlington, Co Laois; Ringsend, Co Dublin; Roscommon Town; Roscrea, Co Tipperary; Shannon Town, Thurles, Co Tipperary; Tralee, Co Kerry; Tubbercurry, Co Sligo; and Waterford City.

An EU spokeswoman said if a member state of the EU fails to conform with community law, the commission can take the case to the Court of Justice, whose judgment is binding. “ If Ireland fails to act within two months, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU,” she said.

The latest available estimates for compliance are December 2016 in the case of Ringaskiddy/ Crosshaven/ Carrigaline; summer 2017 for Killybegs and 2019 for Arklow.

Arklow and Killybegs are also on the list of urban areas which have no treatment of sewage before it is discharged into the sea.

The EPA said other urban areas receiving no treatment include Youghal, Co Cork with a population of 15,000; Cobh, Co Cork (14,400); Passage West and Monkstown, Co Cork (9,120); Rush, Fingal, Co Dublin (7,800); Kilkee, Co Clare (5,770); and Kilrush, Co Clare (5,551).

Since the publication of the latest Urban Waste Water Treatment Report, Irish Water has said new plants have been completed at two areas - Ardmore and Dunmore East in Co Waterford.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist