Sinn Fein are to table a motion to the Oireachtas this evening, Tuesday the 20th November, to amend the Water Services Act (2012). This amendment would allow Local Authorities to grant waste water treatment licences to one-off houses in areas which have failed a percolation test. This is in an effort to remove the restrictions preventing families from building one-off rural houses.

If this motion were to pass, it would pose a real danger to human health and environmental quality, in addition to being in contravention of several EU Directives, which will once more bring Ireland in front of the European Court of Justice. [1]

Malfunctioning septic tanks allow untreated effluent to be released to surface, ground and drinking waters. Percolation areas are an essential part of domestic wastewater treatment, as they allow the effluent to undergo biological treatment. A layer of bacteria or biofilm uses the pollutants in the wastewater as a food source, to clean the effluent before it is discharged to groundwater. If the soil lets the water either flow through too quickly, or too slowly, then there is insufficient biological treatment, and polluting effluent is discharged to ground and surface water.

To date over 50% of septic tanks inspected under the EPA’s national inspection plan have failed, often due to inadequate percolation.[2] To allow the licensing of septic tanks which are known from the outset to have inadequate percolation would hugely exacerbate the problem.

Ireland has already fallen foul of the European Court of Justice in failing to implement a sufficient monitoring system for domestic wastewater systems as required by the Waste Directive, and introduced the Water Services Act (2012) to remedy this. If Sinn Fein’s amendment to this Act were to go through, it will then put Ireland in direct contravention of both the Waste Directive and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

Far from being a ‘vital’ piece of legislation, this would instead be an ill-advised move which will remove decades of water quality protection.

Dr. Elaine McGoff, An Taisce’s Natural Environment Officer, stated:

This motion is a myopic approach to addressing the difficulties of one-off housing, and takes no account of the broader health and environmental risks

She continued

this would be a retrograde move which would put Ireland straight back in the firing line for a European Court of Justice legal action. It is entirely illogical.


For further information, contact:
Dr. Elaine Goff, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce +353 1 707 7063
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


Note 1

The ECJ found Ireland to be in contravention of the Waste Directive 2006/12/EC. As a result of this judgement the Water Services Act 2012 was brought into legislation. Article 4 of the Waste Directive, particularly part 2 is quite explicit.

Article 4 1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health and without using processes or methods which could harm the environment, and in particular: (a) without risk to water, air or soil, or to plants or animals; (b) without causing a nuisance through noise or odours; (c) without adversely affecting the countryside or places of special interest. 2. Member States shall take the necessary measures to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled disposal of waste.

and Article 8, which says

Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that any holder of waste: (a) has it handled by a private or public waste collector or by an undertaking which carries out the operations listed in Annex II A or II B; or (b) recovers or disposes of it himself in accordance with the provisions of this Directive.

In addition, Article 3 of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive says:

Where the establishment of a collecting system is not justified either because it would produce no environmental benefit or because it would involve excessive cost, individual systems or other appropriate systems which achieve the same level of environmental protection shall be used.

Note 2

EPA Septic tanks info page:
Info on septic tank construction

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.