Septic tank owners may avoid upgrade, says Hogan


OWNERS OF older septic tanks will not be forced to upgrade them to the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards under the Water Services Bill, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said yesterday.

Providing what he said was “a lot of reassurance” on the controversial septic tanks issue, Mr Hogan also said he may yet introduce a grant scheme for householders whose septic tanks are found to be polluting watercourses.

He also told an all-day sitting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment that where septic tanks needed improvement work, that work would be exempt from planning permission.

It was already an offence for waste-water systems to discharge pollution to a watercourse, he said, accusing a number of politicians, including Éamon Ó Cuív and Mattie McGrath, of whipping up public concern by “spreading misinformation” on the new Bill.

Mr Hogan said Ireland had lost a case at the European Court of Justice and was now facing substantial fines.

“We are here because we lost a court case, I could blame a lot of people for the reasons we are here,” he said.

“I would remind Mr Ó Cuív this case would not be going on now if he had done his business, he and his predecessors.”

Referring to the standards for septic tanks which would be put in place under the Water Services Bill, Mr Hogan said the current EPA guidelines which date from 2009, applied “only to new build”.

He acknowledged that many septic tanks across the State were decades old and said septic tanks dating from the 1980s or 1970s, or even earlier, would not be subject to that particular EPA guidance.

“I am going for a risk-based approach,” he said, adding that this was “less onerous” than the current EPA standard or the annual inspection system in place in Co Cavan.

He would wait, he said, until the results of the first inspections to assess whether a grant system would be put in place.

“But I am not going to write a blank cheque,” he added.

Mr Ó Cuív took issue with the assertion that the 2009 Environmental Protection Agency standards would not apply, while he acknowledged that Mr Hogan’s comments provided for better progress than had been made in previous debates.

Mr Ó Cuív said the Bill provided for a national inspection plan to be drawn up. But the EPA would be responsible for making such a plan, he said, and suggested the authority would not tolerate a situation where different standards would apply to septic tanks across the Republic.

Mr Ó Cuív also said the inspection system, based on a €50 registration fee, would not pay for itself.

He said the concern was that charges would be passed on to the householder.