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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Jan 2012

Vol. 752 No. 4

Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Report Stage

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 20, after "Directives" to insert the following:

"and publish a set of agreed standards for septic tanks and treatment systems".

This amendment proposes the inclusion in the Bill of a reference to "a set of agreed standards". This is very important. We have discussed the standards for septic tanks with the Minister. We are in the dark at the moment. We do not know what standards will apply or what regulation will flow from them. We welcomed a commitment the Minister gave on Committee Stage. I hope he will restate it in public in this Chamber today. He said he intended to provide for a four-week period of consultation on the issue of the standards and regulations applying to septic tanks. That is important. It would have been helpful if that had happened during the run-in to the introduction of this Bill, in advance of the debates on the various Stages. The argument on the vexed question of providing grant aid to assist those who will be forced to comply with these standards has swung back and forwards. After all the debate on the matter, it is clear to me that the Environmental Protection Agency will set out the standards. Those standards will be enforced by inspectors and local authorities, rather than by anybody in this Chamber. We cannot criminalise people in rural areas by imposing fines of up to €5,000 on them if they do not have the wherewithal to upgrade their septic tanks.

Sinn Féin supports the whole notion of having clean water and protecting ground water. There is a need to proceed in a careful way, however. I support the Minister's proposal to adopt a risk-based approach. We agree with him in that regard. The next step should be to set out the standards clearly. We should use the consultation period to make sure people are clear about where this is going. The public should be informed in a clear way of the regulations. They have to be fair. A scheme of grants must be put in place to assist people. Many people in rural areas are in negative equity. They are suffering as a result of increases in the cost of rural transport, home heating oil and car taxes. People in rural areas pay bin charges. I do not know whether they will pay the household charge, but they are facing the prospect of having to do so. This Bill will introduce the septic tank charge. People in group water schemes that have been taken into charge by local authorities are also facing water charges. The problem is that this string of charges is as long as a big shopping list. We have to make a commitment to give some assistance to those affected. This legislation is being pushed through and guillotined. The debate on it will conclude tomorrow. I would like the Minister to outline his pitch on this at some stage today or tomorrow. Kilkenny has a habit of keeping all the surprises until it gets to the final stages of the big match in Dublin.

We are in Dublin now.

I hope the Minister, as a Kilkenny man, will outline some surprises for us today.

It will be embarrassing for Deputy Stanley.

He should assist people in rural areas, particularly those on low incomes who are living in houses that are served by old septic tanks, by putting measures in place to help them to upgrade their facilities. We should not criminalise them.

I would like to support Deputy Stanley's amendment. I do not think it is right to wait until the legislation has been passed before publishing the standards. We will be asked tomorrow to vote for a Bill without knowing what standards or guidelines will apply to any remedial works that will have to be carried out under it. The Minister is aware that the standards and guidelines that apply to percolation tests, when planning applications are made for the installation of septic tanks or biocycle units, have been changed on many occasions over the last 47 years. Depending on the guidelines and standards that are put in place, people who received planning permission between 1975 and 2009 might not meet those guidelines or standards. In such circumstances, remedial work will have to be carried out in accordance with whatever the new standards will be. I assume they will be consistent with the 2009 requirements, or close enough to them. Those whose systems do not pass the percolation test will find themselves having to carry out remedial work, which can be quite costly. Some of the Minister's officials have said the cost of such work could be as high as €17,000. That would depend on the type of land on which percolation tests were done and in respect of which planning permission was granted in the past. Obviously, that would be a frightening and alarming set of circumstances for people in rural Ireland.

When the standards are in place, Sinn Féin will fully support the carrying out of all remedial works to ensure the water table and water sources are protected. It would be an injustice if people who have done nothing illegal were compelled to carry out remedial works that could cost a great deal of money. They were given planning permission when they applied for it at the time and they have complied with it, including the guidelines regarding percolation and septic tank arrangements. They are now finding that they will not be in compliance with the guidelines. It might cost them a large sum of money to bring their systems up to the required standard. It is not their fault. It is certainly not the fault of anyone who applied for planning permission since 1975. The fault lies with successive Governments that failed to comply with the EU directives or regulations. There is no point in crying over spilt milk. We need to move forward by meeting the requirement, as determined by the EU, to protect water sources and water tables. While I fully support the carrying out of the necessary remedial works, it has to be conditional on people not being out of pocket as a result. The standards that applied in 1975 might not be in line with the standards that will be initiated as a result of this legislation. This needs to be borne in mind and a common-sense approach is needed. The Minister should indicate what those standards will be. All of us who represent rural communities are inundated with queries regarding the situation. Significant concerns and fears are being expressed. I have been involved in organising meetings to outline the content of the legislation and explain it to people who attend those meetings in large numbers, over 2,000 people in the four meetings I have attended. There is fear and we want to allay those fears and to reassure people that they will not be out of pocket again. They are being caught for every type of stealth charge. Rural Ireland is again being effectively discriminated against. All of us taxpayers have contributed to the cost of upgrading urban water treatment units and it now seems that rural Ireland will be held responsible and accountable for any funding necessary to bring its septic tanks or treatment units up to scratch. In my view this is unfair. The people of rural Ireland need to stand together on this issue and the Minister should be aware of this. The Minister represents a very large rural community and he is well acquainted with the views the Opposition is expressing. We want to be constructive and we want a situation where this can be addressed. All of us are very committed to protecting our water sources and the water table and to having a proper and adequate sewerage system in place for rural housing. It would help if the Minister would publish those standards and give us an opportunity to debate them in the House rather than deciding to publish them for public consultation after the standards have already been put in place. This is the wrong way to do business.

I acknowledge that the Minister agreed during the Committee Stage debate that he would engage in a four-week period of consultation regarding the standards and this is to be commended. We need to have meaningful engagement. During Committee Stage my party proposed that the representatives of the various stakeholder organisations, including the EPA, Engineers Ireland, local authority managers and Irish rural dwellers, would be afforded an opportunity to give their views. I take this opportunity to ask whether the intent of that proposal can be considered during the four-week consultation period. I hope we will be afforded an opportunity to meet the EPA in particular because it will be the lead organisation, the main driver for setting the standard and the roll-out of the inspection and enforcement regime. I ask for an assurance from the Minister that those organisations will be asked to appear before a committee so we can have face time, as they say in the United States, with these groups in order to tease out the issues. It is broadly acknowledged that the nub of the issue is what will be the standard, along with some other important nuances such as how the inspections will be carried out. People are concerned, primarily, as regards the potential cost arising.

I echo what has been said by Deputies Brian Stanley and Martin Ferris. Everybody in rural Ireland wants to play their part in promoting clean water and a better water standard. There has been much political debate on this issue. It is not a case of the great unwashed beyond the Pale and Dublin who do not seem to give a damn about water quality. People in rural Ireland are as concerned about the environment as anyone else. The point has been rightly made with regard to the urban-rural divide. Many people living in all parts of urban Dublin own septic tanks in their holiday homes down the country so this is as pertinent an issue for many people living in Dublin as it is for the many people living in the countryside. I ask for clarification regarding our proposal and I ask for an assurance that these organisations, primarily the EPA, will be brought before a committee during the four-week consultation period to help inform us on the issue.

I support Deputy Brian Stanley and I wish to compliment a number of people, in particular, Deputies Mattie McGrath, Martin Ferris, Éamon Ó Cuív and others, who organised information evenings around the country on this subject.


I appeal to the Acting Chairman-----

If the Minister had turned up for the meetings-----

If he turned up he would learn something.

The next group meetings-----

I will take the Minister on now about his information evenings or his misinformation evenings-----

We will have one in Kilkenny for the Minister.

Deputy Healy-Rae should know that his father signed up and voted with other Deputies for a charge.


Deputy Hayes, please. I will have to ask the Deputy to leave the House if he continues that behaviour. Deputy Healy-Rae has possession.

I must reply to the Deputy. I ask him to show a small bit of respect to a person who is gone from this House-----

Deputy Tom Hayes will have to live for many lifetimes before he will achieve for his constituents what the former Deputy he referred to achieved for his.

Hear, hear. I agree. He was here for 14 years.

When we were bring brought up, we were told to have respect for our elders-----

What about the Kilgarvan sewerage scheme?

-----so I ask the Deputy to have a small bit of respect for a person that has gone before him.

Nothing for Tipperary.

That is the truth. What did the Deputy deliver for his constituents?

If I may carry on-----

It would be more in Deputy Tom Hayes's line to look after the barracks in Clonmel.

Deputy Healy will look after it.

And the Bansha post office.

A bit of respect for Deputy Healy-Rae, please.

The Minister accused some of these Deputies whom I have complimented for their information evenings of misinformation. The funny thing is when I asked the Minister last week on Committee Stage to give me clarification as to exactly what standard, he replied that the tank has to be working. A child going to national school would not have given me that answer because-----

The Deputy is not a child.

Sorry, now, Minister, you can talk in a while.

I ask Deputy Healy-Rae to address his comments through the Chair.

I apologise. I will just ignore the Minister for a while.

If you can, please. Thank you.

I would like if the Minister showed a bit of respect for the office he holds by not interrupting me.

I wanted information from the Minister on Committee Stage on exactly what standard was being applied. He gave me a hopelessly pathetic nonsensical answer. As everybody knows, it is not enough for a person to say, "That tank is working" because one engineer can assess a tank as working while another engineer can come along and say it is not working. The two of them can be professionals but if they are not working to a set standard or regulations, how do they know what standard they are to apply? This is why the people the length and breadth of rural Ireland are worried and concerned. This is why when Deputy Martin Ferris called a meeting that 500 people turned up because they wanted information and they wanted answers. The Minister and his Government were not providing answers so that is why they wanted information. To say the Government has made a bags of this is to be very kind. It has handled the issue in a shoddy, unprofessional, hopeless and shambolic fashion. I make this accusation because the Government is terrorising people in rural Ireland. We all know that virtually every local authority has towns and villages that either have no sewage treatment plants or inadequate plants.

What about Kilgarvan?

What about Golden and Thomastown?

When we seek funding to upgrade those schemes, we are told local authorities do not have the money to fund the upgrades. If it is all right for a local authority to argue that it cannot upgrade a sewage treatment plant in a town or village, or if it can continue to pollute in such a fashion, how can the Minister tell a householder that his or her system must be upgraded? That person may not have the money to upgrade and people in rural Ireland are today struggling with unemployment and children at home who have not found work. People are in a desperate position and they may never have believed they would find themselves there, as we got away through the 1950s and 1960s, and we survived the 1980s. People are now in a financial position that they never saw coming. In its infinite wisdom, our Government thinks it is all right to impose this new regulation at a time when people can least afford it.

As we are discussing rural Ireland, we should understand that no person respects the countryside more than the people who live in it.

It is the same with farmers, who over the years have seen all types of accusations with regard to environmental protection. It is odd as nobody cherishes and appreciates the land and waterways more than a farmer or a person living in the countryside. The Government does not seem to understand that logic at all.

The majority of people have tanks which are working properly but our Government is going to send out inspectors. It is codding the people into registering so it can form a database, and the Minister can charge whatever he likes for re-registering. I will give the Minister credit as he told me last week there would be no new re-registration fee.

I gave a parliamentary reply to you yesterday on that. You should read what it stated.

Does the Minister know how it works in this House at all? He is supposed to address the Chair and only when called upon by the Chair.

Yes, he is being disruptive.

The Deputy is scaremongering.

I thought the Minister had learned that at this stage. He has been here for much longer than I have been.

Deputy Healy-Rae, without interruption.

I apologise and perhaps I can carry on.

Without interruption.

At a time when people can least afford it, they are already overly regulated. A farmer in the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme, REPS, has all types of inspections and on top of everything else, he will have a person coming around the back of the house to peer into the septic tank and inspect the ground around it. At the same time, people are being misinformed by the Government. They are not being given information about what an inspector will look for; the Minister has only said that the tank must be working.

We were misled in the Dáil some two weeks ago by a Minister, Deputy Quinn. He told us that from early February, there would be a fine of €26,000 or €27,000 per day, which is the reason the Government was to rush this legislation. Apparently, there was no choice as the taxpayer could not be exposed to this fine. I compliment Deputy Ó Cuív and others working with him who discovered afterwards that the Minister misled the Dáil. The following day Deputy Ó Cuív showed us how the Commission had indicated that we would not have to possibly - not even definitely - pay a fine until the summer months. There would have been plenty of time to debate this matter further and for the Minister to give out the proper information, letting the people know exactly what standard would be applied.

This will have an implication for people living in rural locations. A person who built a house in 1970 would have applied to the local authority and got planning permission, which would have contained rules and guidelines that would have been strictly adhered to with regard to the treatment of waste water. Some 39 years later there are the new Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, guidelines, which are far removed from what was required in the past. Will we tell those people who put in legal systems many years ago - complete with planning permission - that the system could be wrong and must be ungraded to meet the 2009 standards from the EPA guidelines? We do not have the required information so we do not know what guidelines are involved. We know the people, in good faith, did what was required of them by the local authority which granted permission. It is extremely unfair to tell those people that they must upgrade to meet today's guidelines.

From the start, the Minister has handled the issue very poorly.

The Deputy told us that already.

He has shown poor political judgment and the people who are advising the Minister are also slipping up. It is unfair to bring this Bill through the Dáil today and tomorrow without proper information being given to the people. When the Minister attacks me and tries to make soundbites at my expense, he should remember he is not attacking me - I am only one small person - he is attacking the 500 people who were at a meeting with me and Deputy Ferris. He is attacking the 800 people at a public meeting a couple of weeks ago attended by Deputy Mattie McGrath. The Minister should not mind us with his sniping as we are the representatives-----

I have given the Deputy much latitude but he should refer to the amendment.

Most certainly.

I will but I must defend myself, as I am entitled to do.

I have given some latitude.

The Minister should not believe that if he is looking down his nose at Deputies Ferris, Mattie McGrath or Healy-Rae, he will get away with it. There are many people behind us and the Minister is looking down his nose at them. It is not nice, and no Deputy or Minister should do it. The Minister should know better. I would not have to say anything to him if he did not draw me on him. That is the Minister's fault.

I am totally opposed to what is going through today and tomorrow. The people with the septic tanks should be left alone and the polluters - such as the local authorities - should be dealt with. Every town and village in Ireland should have a system that is 100%, with not one inch of pollution. If that could be done, the Minister could start talking about septic tanks and other issues. We all know it is not the person living in a rural location with a septic tank who is causing pollution in our waterways. The Minister is going after the wrong people and imposing an expense that is totally unnecessary. He is ignoring the elephant in the room, which is our local authorities. What is going on in some of our villages around the country is shameful. Having spoken to other Deputies, it appears that is the case in the majority of towns and villages.

There are Deputies who support the Minster but who return to their constituencies to argue that they are with the people. I wonder what those Deputies will do when we have votes today and tomorrow on the issue. Will they stand with the people who elected them or with the Minister in the folly he is pursuing? Deputies will vote on this issue.

They should give serious consideration to what they are doing. It is not just the people in the Chamber who are looking at them - the eyes of Ireland will be on them today and tomorrow in terms of what they do. They can stand with the people or stand with the Government, but I remind them that they cannot do the two things. One is either with the Government on the issue or one is against it. I remind Deputies not to try to be all things to all people because that is not going down so well in the constituencies either.

One would never know.

I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak. I hope that when it comes to votes in the course of the debate Members will see that people in rural areas are being hounded. The only thing we are short of at this stage is an inspector going up the stairs and going underneath the bed to see what is going on there. At this stage we are not far away from that.

The only other thing I wish to highlight, which again shows the wholly incompetent way the Minister has dealt with the issue, is the fact that he ignored the calls at public meetings to deal with cases where a person is deemed to have to carry out remedial work but who does not have money to carry out the work. What provision will be made for such people? Does the Minister intend to make proposals to provide financial assistance? Surely be to God, we did have that, and we are grateful that was the case-----

Deputy Healy-Rae reminds me of Columbo with "Just one more thing". He has used that phrase repeatedly. Could he wrap up please?

I am finishing now. When we wanted to carry out upgrades to farm waste water management systems to prevent pollution a grant system was put in place that allowed farmers to build slatted sheds, concrete yards and collect waste water in a proper manner. Now we are telling people they are in limbo because there is no proposal coming from the Government on how people will be assisted. I remind the Minister who has lost touch with reality that people do not have money. They do not have spare money under the bed or in a box that they can call upon at any time a calamity befalls them. Since the Minister came into office many onerous additional expenses have been imposed on families to such an extent that they certainly do not have spare money. How does the Minister propose that people should pay for an upgrade if they do not have the money? I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak on this matter. I hope I will get a further opportunity to speak in the course of the debate.

Deputy Healy-Rae certainly will.

Tá áthas an domhain orm chun bheith an seans cúpla focal a rá ins an Chamber inniu. I am delighted the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, is present and that he is giving fair play to Members. I commend him on that. It is very important.

Ar an céad dul síos, I tried to raise something on the Order of Business and the Ceann Comhairle got very irate at me. I acknowledged that I was not blaming him for the situation. I received a letter last night from the Ceann Comhairle's office on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011, Report Stage. It stated: "Dear Mattie, I regret to inform you that amendment No. 36, tabled by you for Report Stage of the above Bill, must be ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer." It reminded me of a programme "Dear Frankie" that I used listen to on the radio when I went to school. She would have replied back "Dear Mattie", in her eloquent voice. This is a joke.

Just like the broadcasting editor I will have to tell Deputy McGrath that he is now speaking out of order, because if the amendment has been ruled out of order it cannot be discussed in the House.

I am just talking about the letter.

Yes, but the Deputy is referring to the amendment.

I am not. No. I did not mention it.

Deputy McGrath should just indulge me for a second. I am trying to keep him in order but if steps out of order-----

In fairness, I am nearly always in order.

-----I will then have to ask him to stop speaking.

If Deputy McGrath refers to the amendment that has been ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle, he is out of order.

I will turn the letter upside down and I will not refer to it anymore.

The Taoiseach informed the House this morning, again, in a demeaning kind of way that we wanted more time. He said he understood that the committee adjourned a couple of hours early last week. We got on fine on Committee Stage in the morning last week but when we came back after dinner, Deputy Coonan, who was Acting Chairman, had eaten something that did not agree with him. I do not know if it was the spuds, the cabbage or the salmon. I am sure the officials informed him that amendments Nos. 12, 20, 24 and 25-----

I hope he has a good septic tank.

Deputy McGrath should not talk about his constituency colleague in such a manner.

Deputy McGrath may continue.

Several amendments I had tabled on Committee Stage were ruled out of order for the nonsensical reason that it might result in a cost to the Exchequer. The argument does not stand up. The fact that I am speaking in the House today is a cost to the Exchequer. The Acting Chairman being in the Chair is a cost to the Exchequer. The water I drink is a cost to the Exchequer. It is patent nonsense. If that is to be the cornerstone of our democracy we might as well all stay at home and save the Exchequer and give it to Anglo Irish Bank. We are giving it €1.25 billion today. We could give it another €0.5 billion as well. The reason is farcical and I object strenuously to it. I do not blame the Ceann Comhairle but I wonder who is dreaming up these rules. Is this the transparency and open government we were promised? The lads opposite spent a long time on the Opposition benches but they learned a great deal very fast. They must have written down all the things for which they blamed the previous Government and gave it to spin doctors to amalgamate it and mush it up. It is a shame.

To return to the Bill, it would be worthwhile to discuss the amendment if we were to do nothing else today. We need proper answers.

We would be better off without laughter from the few on the benches opposites. Deputy Tom Hayes invited his colleague from Mayo, Deputy Michelle Mulherin, to come to the front bench to sit beside him and make it look good, whether it was for reason of aesthetics or laughter, I do not know. I welcome Deputy Mulherin. Last week in the committee she said she got tired of looking at proceedings on the monitor and she came down to lecture us. I took her to task for it. She is elected in the same way as I am but I was very shocked that she came down to lecture us on the issue.

To what amendment does Deputy McGrath refer?

What amendment are we discussing?

Deputy McGrath should speak to the amendment.

Yes. We are dealing with Deputy Stanley's amendment. I said it is important to discuss it even if we discussed nothing else today. If the Minister wanted to be fair, honest and up front with people the very first thing he should have done was to publish a set of agreed standards for septic tanks and their treatment. That should have been the basic start of the matter. That is the kernel of the problem.

The Minister is probably aware by now that I was on his local radio station this morning explaining the situation to people in Kilkenny because he has not held a public meeting there to inform anyone of what is happening. I recently found out that Deputy Hayes is bringing him to Dundrum in County Tipperary, a nice big estate with a big tree-lined avenue. That is the kind of place people in Fine Gael prefer - the landed gentry. He can have it. Many people will be up in the trees and around the trees waiting for him, as they are waiting in the long grass.

This is a patent nonsense. It is an insult to people in rural areas to pass such a Bill. I will not vote for it. As Deputy Healy-Rae said, the Minister expects his own Deputies to say one thing in the country. When Deputy Hayes is asked about a tank in Golden which we know is running straight into the River Suir, he says it will be fine, that it will pass the test. When Deputy Hayes comes to Dublin he will pass a Bill with no standards. Dúirt bean liom go dúirt bean lei go raibh ag Tiobraid Árainn a bhfuil póca ina léine aige. There was a great deal of dúirt bean liom and dúirt bean lei in this. Tá súil agam go mbeidh a lán mná agus fir - there will be - at the meeting in Dundrum if it takes place on 6 February. I want that to be broadcast. I hope it is a public meeting. I asked the Minister if I could go. He said it is up to Deputy Hayes. I do not know who it is up to but I have another engagement that night in west Limerick but I will come back to it.

No. We do not want Deputy McGrath because he is telling lies.

Can Deputy Hayes use the word "lies" in this Chamber?

That is outrageous. Deputy Hayes should withdraw what he said.

He should read it into the record that he said what he said.

Did he say he withdrew it?

No, he did not say he was withdrawing it.

Deputy Hayes did not withdraw the word "lie".

Deputy Hayes did not. He should just say it for the record. It happened last week with a Minister. On the day Deputy Healy-Rae became unwell the Minister refused to withdraw his comment. He muttered something and I challenged him on it. He said he was talking to a Deputy coming into the Chamber. That is the arrogance with which we are dealing.

On a point of order-----

Could Members just give Deputy Hayes a bit of space, please?

Deputy McGrath complains about things that are happening week in and week out. He is giving a bad view of our constituency. It is time for someone to tell the truth. All I want is for him to tell the truth. I do not want him to be running around the constituency telling untruths and scaring people.

I am not hiding from anyone.

He was part of a Government some years ago that voted for all of this. For the past few months, it has been difficult for me to listen to-----

Am I in possession? On a point of order-----

I will allow Deputy Mattie McGrath in again.

We never discussed this Bill.

-----all of these untruths. This is the basic reason for my comment. Deputy Mattie McGrath is continuously telling untruths.

Before I call on Deputy Mattie McGrath, I wish to comment. This is the Members' first opportunity to contribute on this Stage. Hence, I am allowing a degree of latitude. I hope we will complete one amendment before lunch. I hope Deputy Stanley gets to decide on whether he wants to press his amendment. When we move further into the debate, I will tie Members more tightly to the amendments under discussion.

I appreciate that and am not blaming the Acting Chairman, who is fair.

The Deputy is in possession.

I blame the Minister, Deputy Hogan, for applying the guillotine. We were misled by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. In fairness, the Taoiseach told Deputy Ó Cuív and me in the corridor yesterday that he would try to have the record corrected, as it was patently untrue that fines would be levied by 2 or 3 February. What we must do by that date is enter a defence to a charge that might appear before the courts in late summer or early autumn.

Had the Minister published standards, we would not accuse him of anything. There are standards for everything. When I took part in Pat Kenny's radio show, I told the Minister that my tank was built in 1984 and he replied that it would be judged on the 1984 standards. When I asked about houses built before 1963 when there were no planning standards, he replied that no standards would be applied now. This is patent and utter nonsense. There are standards for everything. I must abide by standards in the Chamber. I stray sometimes, but the Acting Chairman brings me back, which I appreciate. There are standards for buying a shirt, a pair of shoes and so on.

As Deputy Healy-Rae pointed out, households do not know what the costs will be. I cannot be honest with people in my constituency because I do not know what standards will be applied. The Minister claims there will be no standards, but that is not true. Groups such as An Taisce and rural preservationists will ensure standards, and rightly so. I agree with Deputy Healy-Rae, in that rural Ireland and clean water are valued the most by fishing clubs, ordinary farmers, hill walkers and communities, not by local governments, which are polluters.

Deputy Healy-Rae asked whether the Minister had lost touch with people or whether he knew that people had no money. I will remind him of one year or 15 months ago, when the Minister, then just a Deputy, stated that he could not afford to take a wage cut. Can he remember that? He was no worse paid than I was. Before the election, the Government promised people-----

I do not know what relevance this has.

Of course it has relevance.

The Deputy is supplying misinformation again.


If the Deputy wants to get personal about anything, in that he is now introducing personal matters, I will have no difficulty in introducing personal matters.

You can, by all means, if you want to be personal, but I am stating facts.

Deputy Mattie McGrath should-----

Why did you not sue the newspapers that printed this information and the radio station that broadcasted it?

Is the Deputy going down that road? He should withdraw his remark.

I will go down any road I have to, to get-----

One second, please. I am sure Deputy Mattie McGrath wants to participate in this debate and he has much to say. I do not want to suspend him from the Chamber.

I appreciate that.

Doing without the Deputy's commentary in the Chamber would be a terrible loss. I ask you to address your comments through the Chair. From here on in, you should refer to the amendment.

I am referring to it.

If you do not, I will rule you out of order.

He is not able to. That is his problem. He cannot refer to any amendment specifically.

He has obviously tabled amendments.

Deputy Tom Hayes should assist the Chair.

Likewise, Deputy Mattie McGrath.

I have tabled 32 amendments to the Bill. Deputy Tom Hayes has been a Member for 17 years and has hardly tabled an amendment to any Bill. If he did table any, I did not see them.

This is more of it.

I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to refer to Deputy Stanley's amendment.

I am referring to it. It relates to the kernel of the situation, namely, the standards applied to septic tanks. On Committee Stage on 18 December, Deputy Collins tabled a motion and I commend him for doing so. Discussing seven amendments took a long time. Today's debate would not be so long had there been fair play on Committee Stage as was supposed to have been the case. The Minister told us that he would bring us back in two or three days-----

The Acting Chairman is the committee's Chairman.

Yes. The second session of Committee Stage finished under time. There was plenty of time to-----

Last week. I will address that issue as well, but I am referring to before Christmas.

We gave it a full six or seven hours.

No. There was plenty of time because the Government plucked out nine or ten of my amendments last week and ruled them out of order as being a cost to the Exchequer. That was really stretching-----

If the Deputy does not refer to Deputy Stanley's amendment-----

-----from here on out, I will rule him out of order and move on to the next speaker. Come back to Deputy Stanley's amendment, please.

I will. Standards are the kernel of the issue. We supported Deputy Collins's motion - unfortunately, we were voted down 7:3 in every vote last week - to invite the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the County and City Managers Association, CAMA, the Irish Rural Dwellers Association, the county engineers association, the architects of Ireland association, An Taisce, the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and so on to discuss the standards that would be necessary. It is fine for the Minister to claim on Committee Stage that no standards will apply, but I want that written into the Bill. It is fine for him to claim there will be an exemption from planning permission, but I want that written into the Bill. When that is done, he can show the people of County Tipperary clarity. People will not be fooled. They were promised so much last February, they will not be caught again. What is the saying? Catch me once, shame on you. Catch me twice, shame on me. The people are out there waiting. I will give Mr. Austin Crowe a call, as he will need many of seats in the room in the Dundrum House Hotel that night.

I compliment Deputy Stanley on his amendment. We need little discussion on this issue, as we all want clean water. No one's family wants an odour from the septic tank. People want tanks to work properly, as they paid to have them installed, received planning permission and adhered to the conditions. It is for local authorities to know what standards applied at the time of a tank's installation, as there was no EPA in the 1970s or early 1980s. After arriving on the scene, the EPA has grown bigger and more powerful and has become involved in everything. We need it in certain cases. My colleague, Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan, is not present, but he got sick of reporting his local authority in Roscommon for polluting the river in Castlerea - he can correct me on that, as I am not sure of my geography - by redirecting sewers. When he contacted the EPA, the EPA rang the county council and was told the council would check on the issue. This is the type of policing of county councils that is being done. We do not know who the inspectors will be. We do not know what standards they will apply. If I want to appeal, an inspector will visit.

I thank the Minister for accepting amendments. I have acknowledged that the Bill has been hanging around for a long time. The last Government should have dealt with it. Deputy Tom Hayes stated that I voted for this Bill, but it was never before the House. The Minister need not act like a bulldozer. He is not Brian Cody and cannot beat everyone off the field.

The Bill contains no standards. The Minister should put the horse before the cart and consider its running form. Tá sé ag gáire arís. The best thing he does in the Chamber is ag gáire. Béal mór ag gáire. The Minister cannot laugh at the people of south Tipperary. They are sick and tired of him, given St. Luke's and St. Michael's hospitals, the Army barracks, Cluain Arran, banks and post offices.

Speak to the amendment, please.

If the Minister wants to laugh, he can. Ag gáire í gcónaí. There is nothing for Deputy Tom Hayes to laugh about, as he well knows from meeting people.

Sit down. You are making a show of yourself.

Ag béal mór ag gáire í gcónaí. The Deputy is hiding from the people of Tipperary, but there is nowhere to hide.

Thank God, an inspector from the council will only visit a house by arrangement. Home owners will not wake up in the morning to see inspectors in their back gardens. The Minister has acknowledged that they cannot get away with that, as someone would have been shot or hurt. Common sense was displayed. They would not have been hurt by violent people, but one's home is one's castle. We are discussing people going into the back of a person's house without that person's knowledge, but another Bill means that the owner can use physical force to restrain anyone breaking into the property.

If there is a problem, an inspector can tell an owner to do X, Y or Z to correct it. If there is no problem, everyone can be delighted. If there is, though, a person can appeal. Under duress and following amendments tabled by the Opposition, the Minister changed the cost of the appeal from €200 to €20. Under duress as well, I thank him for doing so. However, another inspector will then come out, presumably also from the local authority. One of the problems, of course, is that we do not know who the inspectors will be. I assume they will be local authority employees, but my own county council has not been able to confirm this for me. The second inspector will hardly condemn the actions of the previous inspector, who we assume will be a colleague from the same office.

If the householder is not satisfied with the findings of the second inspection, he or she must then appeal the matter to the District Court. That is ridiculous. People can be brought to court by the Garda for speeding or whatever, something of which I have experience myself, and one can fight one's case. One must go to the District Court to obtain a public service vehicle licence or pub licence. Are we now to expect ordinary householders to go to the District Court to appeal a decision relating to the standards with which their septic tanks must comply? That amounts to criminalising people.

It also begs the question of what expenses will arise. The District Court might only be the start of it. Solicitors and barristers will be engaged to argue both sides and, before one knows it, the matter could progress on to the Circuit Court and thereafter to the High Court and Supreme Court. It is outrageous. There should be a third party arbitrator, such as An Bord Pleanála in the case of planning issues, which can make decisions in these matters. Driving people into the courts system amounts to a criminalisation of rural householders. There are major issues such as this to consider within the scope of this amendment.

As Deputy McGrath knows, the debate is scheduled to conclude at 1.30 p.m. tomorrow. Six Deputies have indicated their wish to contribute on this amendment. I will allow the Deputy to come back in later, if he so wishes. I ask him, with respect to other Members, to be as tight as possible in his contributions.

I appreciate that. However, some of the Deputies who wish to speak today could have participated in the debate in the committee last week instead of coming in at intervals, as several Fine Gael Party Members did, merely to make up a quorum. The exception was Deputy Michelle Mulherin, who came in from her office to lecture us all.

It is patent nonsense and arrogance of the highest extreme, but that is not unusual for the Fine Gael Party. Will the Minister, at this late stage, have some respect for the people who put him in office? There is a great deal of important work to be done in his Department and, in fairness to the Minister, he has already done some good work. I ask him to have sense and to include the standards in the legislation. He promised last week on Committee Stage that there would be a consultation process. What is the point in consultation after the Bill is passed?

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I am finishing. It was the same last night in respect of the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, with the regulatory impact analysis taking place only after the Bill is passed.

It bears repeating what several Members have said, that everybody agrees pollution must be tackled to ensure clean drinking water for every household in the country. There is no dispute about that. However, there is a view out there, fuelled by this legislation, that our drinking water is, if not the worst in the world, then certainly the worst in Europe.

In that context, it is important to state precisely the position in regard to the pollution of water by septic tanks. The Environmental Protection Agency's report, Water Quality in Ireland 2007-2009, found that 85% of ground water bodies were of good status. Moreover, of the 15% that were of poor status, the EPA found that the greatest proportion of contamination was caused by the input of pollutants, mainly phosphate, probably from agricultural activities, with on-site waste water treatment systems being identified as possibly a minor source. The report of the eastern river basin management plan, which covers the north-eastern, mid-eastern and eastern counties of Louth, Cavan, Offaly, Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, was similarly clear in its findings. It estimated that 75% of the costs associated with effecting improvements in water quality to the required levels by 2015 relate to the municipal and industrial sectors, with septic tank improvements amounting to only 5% of the total costs. While we are all agreed on the need to ensure supplies of clean, fresh drinking water, the suggestion that drinking water in Ireland is anything but good is simply inaccurate. The independent reports from the EPA and others are there to prove that. Moreover, those reports make clear that septic tanks are responsible only to a very minor degree for water contamination.

There is huge opposition to this legislation among rural dwellers. I spoke at several meetings in south Tipperary at which up to 1,000 people attended. One of the main queries arising is the question of standards. It is an entirely reasonable query. As it is, we are effectively being asked to buy a pig in a poke. The Minister tells us he knows what the standards will be, but nobody else seems to know. I certainly do not. As such, I support Deputy Brian Stanley's amendment No. 1. It is a reasonable and commonsensical proposal. For the large numbers of people who are affected by this legislation, it is a proposal that is of key concern. They want to know the standards to which their septic tanks will have to conform and who will pay for the remediation measures that may be required.

Quite apart from the question of whether one supports this legislation, and I do not, the demand that there be transparency in regard to standards is reasonable and sensible. Rural people, irrespective of what the Minister or my colleague from south Tipperary, Deputy Tom Hayes, says, are confused and concerned. They have a right to know what the standards will be, and that information should be included in the legislation. I support the amendment.

We would all agree that science and technology have moved on since the Local Government (Planning and Development Act) 1963 was introduced. However, some of the contributions today would suggest that the knowledge arising from scientific developments has been lost on certain people. When we consider that we send money to other countries to help people there to maintain clean water supplies, it is difficult to see how some of the suggestions we have heard today represent any form of forward thinking. They can only be described as representing political thinking in the form of feeding at the trough of people's misery.

We must get back to basics in addressing the problem of water contamination. I completely understand that people are concerned about these proposals and cynical about the intentions of politicians. Sometimes it is good to take a step back and go to the tooth of the issue at hand. What it comes down to is that there is a problem that must be tackled. This problem was brought to a head by the judgment of the European Court of Justice in October 2009. We know that as a result we were going to be fined €2.7 million and €26,000 daily thereafter until measures were taken to address the problem.

It has been stated most septic tanks are functioning properly. However, we do not know if that is the case. Various EPA reports have identified faecal contamination of groundwater which, as we know, is caused by malfunctioning septic tanks and, in some case, malfunctioning local authority sewage treatment plants. We all know the risks associated with septic tanks.

The EPA stated they were only a minor source.

This is not rocket science. Local authorities, as water authorities, issue boil notices. Is it being suggested they are plucking standards from the sky? People have been prosecuted under the water pollution Acts for contamination caused by malfunctioning septic tanks. The idea that a problem has arisen suddenly and that if we all ignore it, it will go away-----

Who prosecutes councils?

It has been stated by opponents of the legislation that people are not responsible, which is an atrocity. From where is this suggestion coming? People are responsible. A person whose septic tank is contaminating groundwater has a legal and moral responsibility to his or her neighbour. Will Deputies who are visited by constituents about the contamination of their water supply tell them to leave their neighbour alone because, after all, his or her septic tank was grand when it was built in 1969 or 1975? Where is the leadership is this?

That is what the Government is stating.

Let us have a debate based on the facts. Members opposite should not be grasping at straws to find reasons to oppose the legislation.

Where are the facts from the Government?

That is what those sitting beside the Deputy are saying.

All they are doing is instilling fear in people in rural Ireland whom, like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I represent and care about.

The An Taisce green school flag system operates throughout the country. It is a wonderful endeavour on the part of primary and secondary schools and some third level colleges to encourage young people to make the connection between people and the environment. Years ago people turned a blind eye to dumping, the sources of pollution and so on. We now know, through education, that we are connected with the environment and it is important that our legacy is worthy. Children know much more about littering, pollution, energy conservation and so on and it is a joy to listen to them. It is a credit to communities that they are being brought up to have respect for their environment.

I commend the Minister for introducing the Bill. Deputy Mattie McGrath has left the Chamber and, unfortunately, Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív is not present. I learned from----

The Deputy should return to his seat.

I can hear Deputy Mattie McGrath, even if I cannot see him.

The Deputy is unsettled and does not know where he stands or sits.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin said I was not here.

We established five minutes ago that the Deputy was still here.

I ask the Deputy to withdraw her remark.

If I have to refer to the Deputy once more, I will formally warn him.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin said I had left the Chamber.

If the Deputy continues to interrupt, I will have to ask him to leave the Chamber, which I do not want to do because he has a great deal to say on this matter. I ask him to refrain from interrupting and allow Deputy Michelle Mulherin to complete her contribution.

On a point of order, Deputy Michelle Mulherin said Deputy Mattie McGrath was not in the Chamber. He was responding to let her know he was here. That could not be out of order-----

Or be an interruption.

It was a rude interruption.

Deputy Mattie McGrath was simply correcting Deputy Michelle Mulherin.

The debate on Committee Stage ran three hours shy of the time allocated at the select sub-committee meeting last week. However, many of the points that needed to be made and others which did not need to be made were made. It now appears that Members on the opposite side of the House were only getting started and needed a break in order to get going again today.

I was astounded by Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív's remarks during that meeting. We all know what happened during the cryptosporidium outbreak in Galway. We know that a malfunctioning wastewater treatment plant at Terryland was identified as one of the prime causes of the outbreak. Some €3.9 million was spent in Galway at the time. Some €133 million will be under the water and sewerage investment programme this year. We know that other cases of cryptosporidium have since been identified, although not on the same scale as that in Galway.

In response to my pointing to the problems with septic tanks Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív said that while the wastewater treatment plant had been identified as the cause of the outbreak, septic tanks or animals might also have been responsible. What he was actually saying was that we really did not know the extent of the problem. This legislation will help us to get to the bottom of it. It provides for identification of the location of septic tanks and states that where a septic tank malfunctions, it is the responsibility of the owner, in the public interest and common good, to solve the problem, whether there is a cost involved. To suggest, therefore, this legislation should not be enacted is irresponsible and short-sighted.

No one is saying that.

I was at the meeting last week when Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív said this.

Nobody is saying it.

Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív said it last week.

The issue is one of the standards to be applied.

It is unfortunate that Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív is not present today. He did not return to the meeting.

He will be here later today. He is attending a funeral this morning.

I ask Deputy Michelle Mulherin to speak to the amendment.

She should not be quoting Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív out of context.

On a point of order, statements have been made here about a person which are totally inaccurate.

The Deputy does that all the time.

Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív is attending a funeral.

Therefore, he cannot be here.

I ask Deputy Michelle Mulherin to confine her remarks to the amendment.

Deputy Martin Ferris does that all the time in Kerry.

Previous speakers were given a great deal of latitude. I have not spoken for as long as many other speakers. I appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution and I am speaking on an issue raised at the committee meeting. I am sure because I verified it of what Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív said at the time, which was an untenable position for any politician to take. We are trying to sort out a problem. There are a lot of people in rural Ireland-----

That is a disgraceful comment to make.

On a point of order, Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív, like every other speaker who has contributed to the debate, has stated on many occasions that we need to provide for groundwater quality.

The Opposition is doing nothing about it.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin is trying to create the impression-----

The Opposition is doing nothing about it, apart from bluffing.

That is not fair.

Deputy Seamus Healy is the only one who has addressed it.

Will Deputy Niall Collins please desist?

Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív has been up-front in what he said.

Yes. He has debated the issue of standards.

Deputy Seamus Healy is the only one who addressed it.

I ask Deputies on both sides to stick to the amendment.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin should at least be honest in her contribution.

Was the Deputy at the meeting?

Some honesty would do Deputy Niall Collins no harm.

I ask Members to stick to the content of the amendment to this important Bill.

During my time on the county council many people living in towns in rural Ireland received planning permission. I witnessed this and I am sure it was repeated in many parts of rural Ireland. They would have done anything------

The Deputy is wrong.

I did not interrupt the Deputy.

The two heroes sitting beside the Deputy Mulherin have done so at every opportunity.

Please allow the Deputy in possession to continue without interruption.

I will get have chance to answer Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

I look forward to it.

Despite all the scaremongering, most right minded people will register their septic tank. Moreover, most people who chose to move out from the towns would have been happy to pay €100, if not a lot more, to get planning permission.

They paid the fees.

The Deputy, without interruption.

Environmental considerations always have been a factor and as our knowledge has advanced-----

They paid thousands.

-----the effects of such pollution are better known.

The Deputy should speak on the amendment.

In fairness, given all the interruptions, it is hard to speak in the Chamber.

I had to put up with it.

The Deputy should proceed on the amendment. Has she completed her contribution?

Essentially, my point is that I wholeheartedly support the Minister, Deputy Hogan, in this regard. I refer to what has just been described by Deputy Healy-Rae as poor political judgment and the reason he does not recognise this type of political judgment. It is about responsibility and telling people that if one's septic tank has a problem, it must be addressed in a responsible manner. This is not overkill, as the measure proposes that people will be charged a once-off registration fee of €50. This constitutes responsible Government and as it is the type of idea one tries to impart to one's children, why can the adults not take the same approach? If our children are being taught one standard, why can the same standard not be upheld in this Chamber?

I again remind Members that we are on Report Stage and not on Committee Stage. Consequently, we cannot have points being put from the other side of the House while a Member is speaking. If a Member wishes to make a point, he or she should do so in his or her comeback contribution, because we have such a limited time to discuss an important amendment to an important Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this amendment and I note this issue arose on Committee Stage. At the outset, I acknowledge all Members want people to have access to clean, safe water when they turn on their taps and the Minister is committed to doing this. Much of the debate on Committee Stage pertained to the void that exists with regard to the statutory instrument and the standards that will be introduced. I do not dispute the Minister's comments on Committee Stage in respect of the standards that will be introduced on foot of this legislation and I believe they were made in good faith. However, my concern is that once the primary legislation has been enacted, the Minister's own objectives will end up being watered down within the Department or on foot of decisions made by the European Commission. The best example in this regard relates to legislation introduced to this House a number of years ago by the current President, Michael D. Higgins, on special protection areas. Both at the time and subsequently, the then Minister made it clear he was banning the use of sausage machines on bogs nationwide but large tracts of land have been sterilised on foot of that legislation.

Consequently, it is important that Members should have sight of the aforementioned statutory instruments, which should be debated on the floor of the Chamber. Moreover, there is precedent in this regard. I refer to the legislation pertaining to Aer Lingus, with which the Acting Chairman is familiar. During its passage through this House, the then Minister, Seamus Brennan, included an amendment specifying the need, even on enactment of that legislation, for a positive affirmation of the disposal of Aer Lingus. Precedent also exists in respect of planning regulations, some of which require the approval of this House and the Upper House before they can be enacted. I ask the Minister to include an amendment in this Bill to allow for the statutory instrument to be debated in this House. The Minister should clarify the issues that are being raised at present and should then allow for the enactment of the statutory instrument through the positive approval of the House.

The Minister's proposals in respect of consultation on the regulations are highly positive and will clarify many of the issues and concerns expressed by the public. However, given this consultation will take place and given the Minister's clear view as expressed on Committee Stage regarding the type of regulation he wishes to put in place, he has nothing to fear by including an amendment in this Bill to allow the House to debate the aforementioned statutory instruments and vote approval of them, rather than the current mechanism whereby they must be rescinded within 21 days, which is not an effective tool with which to deal with legislation that can have a far-reaching impact in the short to medium term.

Another point in respect of these regulations is that they will deal with the retrofitting standards. The regulatory impact assessment has shown that in some extreme cases, families could face a cost of up to €17,500 to retrofit their septic tanks. While the Minister mentioned the issue of grants on Committee Stage, he should clarify for Members that no family will be put under undue financial hardship by any regulations that will be introduced on foot of this legislation. He should clarify that in such circumstances, grants will be made available to families to prevent them from experiencing financial hardship when addressing such significant costs. There is strong justification for so doing when one considers the funding that has been put in place for villages, towns and cities to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities and because a significant proportion of the moneys used in this way would revert quickly to the Exchequer through VAT, tax and so on.

Another concern with the regulations pertains to the sludge timebomb as I do not believe local authorities have the requisite desludging capacity at present. First, the frequency with which people will be obliged to desludge their septic tanks is not known. Similarly, the locations of the desludging treatment facilities are not known but significant transport costs will be incurred in consequence. It was suggested on Committee Stage that the requisite capacity to deal with sludge is not available in County Galway. This would mean it would be necessary to transfer such sludge to County Roscommon for treatment and for someone from the west of County Galway, so doing would entail a massive transport cost in addition to the associated treatment cost.

The final point I wish to make regarding these regulations is that in many cases, it is feasible for rural householders on those farms on which thousands of euro have been spent to install slatted tanks to divert the effluent from their toilet facilities into the slatted tanks. This would comply with the current regulations in respect of land spreading and so on because of the dilution factor that is involved. In his response, the Minister should clarify whether the future regulations could inhibit the possibility of landowners using this mechanism, rather than being obliged to operate what might be substandard septic tanks. This mechanism would provide a significant solution for many homeowners in rural Ireland, on top of the Minister's commitment to review the group sewerage grant scheme, which in itself would remove a significant cohort of people from the ambit of this Bill. The Minister should consider this issue and I again urge him either to publish the regulations or to amend the legislation to allow for a positive vote of this House, following a proper and full discussion of the statutory instrument, which would allay a great number of the fears that exist at present.

It had not been my intention to speak on this Bill but having listened to so much rubbish over the last few days, I thought I should add my tuppence worth to the debate. I believe people will look back in 12 months and will ask what all the fuss was about in this regard. If I have a criticism of the Minister, it is that he is probably being too responsible and that he should perhaps have directed local authorities to bring forward by-laws similar to those introduced in Cavan in order to address this matter. If that had occurred, we would not have witnessed the grandstanding and showboating that have taken place in the House on Second Stage and at the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government on Committee Stage.

If a person's roof springs a leak or if a window in his or her house is broken, he or she will, if possible, have it fixed. If he or she does not possess the financial resources necessary to have it fixed, the State will, in general, provide him or her with assistance in that regard. Likewise, if someone has a difficulty with his or her septic tank, he or she should, in the first instance, have it repaired. The ill effects of a defective septic tank are not as tangible as having water flowing down through the ceiling as a result of a leak in the roof. In the light of this, people will often let the matter pass and not carry out the necessary repairs.

I have every confidence that a pragmatic and reasonable approach will be adopted. I am sure the standard that will be set will relate to whether a septic tank system, regardless of whether it is pre-1900 or pre-1999, actually works. I am also sure that where people encounter difficulties in getting a defective septic tank back into proper operation, they will be provided with some level of reasonable assistance. Deputy Denis Naughten referred to farm families, the vast majority of whom have carried out far larger works in recent years than those that will be required in this instance.

The legislation may have afforded the members of some semi-dormant political parties an opportunity to stalk the countryside creating fear where it did not exist and masquerade as being interested in solving, rather than adding to, the problem. The contributions and interjections of Deputies Mattie McGrath and Niall Collins prompted me to wonder whether they were tempted to audition for the new McDonald's advertisement for its eurosaver menu in which the Ireland of the year 2222 is depicted.

What about the Minister's interruptions?

The Deputy will not tell me to shush.

I was reminded, in the context of what the Deputies had to say, of Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing". If Members want to make positive contributions and address people's concerns, they should do so in a reasonable and fair manner and stop uttering the unnecessary waffle that belittles the institution of the Oireachtas.

To some extent, the moment of truth has arrived. This problem has been hanging over us since 1975. Deputy Michelle Mulherin referred to the taking of responsibility. I certainly do not need any lectures on responsibility in respect of environment which I have spent my life working to protect and improve. However, I agree with the Deputy that there is a responsibility on Members and all citizens to protect it. This is the fourth occasion on which Fine Gael's has been in government since 1975, but it has never taken action to solve this problem. Fianna Fáil was in power for even longer and also failed to take action. Sinn Féin fully recognises that the problem has been growing and must be dealt with.

The Acting Chairman is an urban dweller, but I accept that there might be some septic tanks in his constituency. I have visited houses-----

I may have a Dublin accent, but I first assisted my father in putting in a septic tank when I was six or seven years old.

Therefore, the Acting Chairman completely understands the position.

It is good that there is someone in the Chamber who knows something about this issue.

I wish to provide some background information. Within the dimensions of the Chamber one could have a house located where the Acting Chairman is sitting, a septic tank located where the Clerk is sitting, a soak pit where the Labour Party Deputies sit and a watercourse at the boundary of the Chamber. Deputies, particularly those who live in rural areas, will be familiar with systems in which the effluent runs from the house into a septic tank, from which the overflow runs into the soak pit, from which the overflow runs into the watercourse. Such systems operate to pre-1963 standards, but many of those put in place in the 1980s are similar and I accept action must be taken in respect of them. However, last year the Minister informed me in this House that once a system worked, it was okay. One could state a system such as that to which I refer is working. While it is working, however, it is also giving rise to pollution.

We cannot inform people that they will be obliged to upgrade their system and meet the standards that will be set down. The Minister knows as well as I do that such standards will be stringent. The Bill proposes the insertion of a new section 70K into the principal Act:

70K.—(1) The Agency shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this section, but not later than such date as may be prescribed, make a national plan (in this Part referred to as ‘the national inspection plan') with regard to the inspection and monitoring of domestic waste water treatment systems.

(2) When making the national inspection plan, the Agency shall have regard to—

(a) relevant risks or potential risks to human health or the environment, and, in particular—

(i) risks to water, air or soil, or to plants and animals,

(ii) nuisances through noise or odours, and

(iii) risks to the countryside or places of special interest,

(b) relevant available information in relation to specific types and locations of domestic waste water treatment systems,

(c) appropriate and specific qualitative and quantitative criteria, targets and indicators for inspections, and

(d) any incidental or ancillary matters or such matters as may be prescribed by the Minister.

This is a wide-ranging provision which I will not discuss in detail at this point. I understand what is envisaged in the Bill must be done. However, the agency to which the new section refers, namely, the Environmental Protection Agency, will ensure both the legislation and the regulations that will emerge on foot of its enactment will be complied with to the letter. These are the facts. The new section 70I states, "The Agency shall supervise a water services authority in the performance of such of its functions as the Agency considers appropriate".

The Minister has been involved in the political scene longer than I have and a Member of the House for over 30 years. I am only in the place a wet week. However, taking a common sense approach, I know what the provisions to which I refer involve. I am aware of what will be the implications and know how the legislation will be interpreted by the EPA. If it is to do its job and, as Deputy Michelle Mulherin stated, ensure groundwater is protected from pollution which must be the case, it will be obliged to enforce stringent regulations on foot of what is set out in the legislation. These are the facts.

I remind the Deputy that this is the second round of contributions. I will allow him to make a further contribution at the end.

The purpose of the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin is to ensure a set of agreed standards for septic tanks and treatment systems to inform the framing of the guidelines would be published. That is the key point.

I was visited at my clinic on Saturday last by a retired garda whose pension was his and his wife's sole source of income. They built their house on the outskirts of a town in my constituency in the 1970s. The house is located on a small site and they have had difficulties with their septic tank. As a result of various factors which I will not outline, the water table in the area has risen and the man in question was obliged to have, with the permission of the landowner, a percolation area outside his site. Major promises were made to this individual by previous Government Ministers who are no longer Members of the House to the effect that they would resolve the difficulties relating to his septic tank in the context of a Government-sponsored development that was to proceed nearby. However, this development has been scrapped because there is no money for it. The husband and wife to whom I refer are, to all intents and purposes, trapped.

We must take account of cases such as that I have outlined when passing legislation of this nature. The people concerned are in their mid-70s. They do not want to pollute the environment and I do not want them to do so. We must consider the position of people like them. We must also clearly outline the standards that will apply and put in place a system of grants in order that those who need to carry out works will be provided with assistance. Successive Governments have engaged in a fudge in respect of this matter since 1975. I know the party of which I am a member is criticised for many things. Nonetheless, it believes in trying to solve problems. We are at last trying to find a solution to the problem of septic tanks and all I am asking is that the Minister be up front in respect of the standards that will apply and cater for the needs of the elderly couple to whom I refer and others like them. We should put in place a scheme of grants-----

In view of the fact that the Deputy is the proposer of the amendment, I have given him a degree of latitude. However, I must proceed to call Deputy Martin Ferris.

I thank the Acting Chairman for granting me some latitude.

I wish to return to some of the comments made by Deputies on the Government side of the House about taking this issue seriously. Deputy Brian Stanley has outlined Sinn Féin's position. We take this matter seriously and are absolutely committed to ensuring the protection of waterways, etc. However, we have serious concerns about the legislation in terms of its ambiguity, particularly in respect of the standards that are to apply. We do not know what will be the nature of these standards. The legislation will be passed tomorrow and the relevant people will then try to figure out what it involves.

A comment was made about these public meetings that I attended, along with Deputies Healy Rae, McGrath, Collins and many others around the country, and that we were scaremongering and putting out misinformation. At any meeting I attended and at any meeting organised by Sinn Féin, all we did was deal with the legislation and its implications.

The Deputy went further than that.

If the Minister knows anything more, will he please tell me?

I have evidence.

I can say that we had a legal person there to go through the content of the legislation. It was done absolutely accurately. What is in the legislation is quite frightening. It is the implementation of the legislation and the standards being put forward by the Minister that people are examining. That is what we need to see.

I am aware of single rural cottages put in by the county councils. I worked on the buildings one time doing subfloors and foundations. I have seen county councils putting in single rural cottages. They put in the septic tank without any soakaway, and the overflow in the septic tank goes straight into the drainage and by extension, into the watercourse. There is no hope of percolation in such cases, so that is a huge problem. I know of other houses built with 65 feet frontage, so they have no hope whatsoever to keep the soakaway and the septic tank away from the boundaries. I am aware of septic tanks and soakaways put in to adjoining property because the site was too small. I remember quarter acre sites going back to the 1960s, perhaps even smaller. These will cause huge problems. There are fears out there and we are only articulating them here.

Comments were made about the registration fee. I would not care if it cost nothing, not to mind €20. It is all there. Every person who got planning permission since 1975 is registered with their respective county councils. I go back regularly for people to check things out. The big issue is the cost factor. I accept that remedial works have to be carried out, but if people were compliant with the standards applicable in their day but now they find for whatever reason they are not compliant with new standards to be published by the Minister, this means they will have to spend a lot of money to get it right. Is the Minister telling me that if there is no percolation, people will not have to spend money?

Wait and see.

I am absolutely certain. I know people who have upgraded their sewerage systems. I know people who got planning permission on a half acre site 20 years ago and people who got permission on the site next to it 20 years later, and they could not get percolation. I know people refused planning permission next door to those who got it, because they could not get percolation. All of these issues are out there and that is why people are afraid. That is why people need to have the facts. They need these things to be explained in great detail and they need to see the standards.

We are being asked here to accept the legislation without knowing the standards. We need to know that. For any remedial works that will be carried out, the Minister should give a firm commitment in this House that the Department will fund them.

I inadvertently left out Deputy Coonan on the first round of contributions.

I had the experience of chairing Committee Stage of this Bill. We had a vigorous and a mostly positive discussion for approximately eight hours. I compliment the people who contributed to it and acknowledge the positive contributions made by Deputy Collins, Deputy Ó Cuív and Deputy Stanley. I particularly acknowledge their contribution because they succeeded with amendments that were brought forward. I also compliment the Minister because there was compromise and give and take, and I have no doubt that the Bill will be much better as a result of that. I hope this continues today.

I would like to correct some inaccuracies and statements made by Deputy McGrath about my chairing of Committee Stage. I would like to point out the facts, because I do not want to be misrepresented. At that meeting, a total of 13 amendments were ruled out of order, nine of which were due to a charge to Revenue. Deputy McGrath said that all-----

I remind the Deputy that on Report Stage, the important thing is to speak to the amendment.

I accept that, but this allegation was made on Report Stage before you took the Chair, and I want to respond to it. First, Deputy McGrath had no amendments down that day. However, he was associated with two amendments that were ruled out of order in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy; not over 30, not several, just two. Second, Deputy McGrath went on public radio to say that I steamrolled the meeting and did this, that and the other. I will leave it up to the other committee members to decide that.

Amendment No.77 in the name of the Minister was accepted that day, and it sought to reduce the charge from €200 to €20. Deputy McGrath wanted the charge held at €200. At that meeting, he also wanted a €15 million fine imposed on South Tipperary County Council.

Deputy McGrath makes accusations against me and the manner in which I chaired that meeting. These are the facts of that meeting and I will leave it up to committee members to decide. The amendments are here and I am leaving an official copy of what we dealt with on that day. We succeeded in eight hours in making substantial changes and corrections to the Bill.

There are many positive things in this Bill. Is it accurate to state that there is an opportunity here for people who have difficulties with sites and septic tanks, perhaps due to the size of the site or percolation problems? When this Bill is enacted, they will not require planning permission now. If these problems are discovered on inspection, they will have an opportunity to remedy them, something that could not happen were it not for the Bill.

Sludge is now becoming a very valuable commodity when we look at the proposals that are about to take off for anaerobic digestion. This will provide an opportunity for people and I cannot understand why Deputy McGrath is running scared of sludge when there are so many positive proposals to establish anaerobic digestion plants in his constituency.

I have outlined a typical example of how, even in this Chamber, Deputy McGrath comes in to misinform people who have the facts in front of them. Can the Acting Chairman imagine the misinformation the Deputy is spreading around the country? In respect of the 800 or so people he claims have turned up at meetings - that is totally exaggerated - I have met many people who said they went along for the entertainment. They wanted to see the comedy act that was being provided by Deputy McGrath. They are waiting to see-----

I ask the Deputy again to stick to the amendment.

I compliment the Minister on bringing forward this amendment. I sincerely compliment the colleagues opposite who were positive and who acted in a proper manner in debating and teasing out this Bill. If we had more of that and less of the antics of Deputy McGrath, we would have a much better Bill at the end of the day.

An t-Aire indicated that he wanted to respond.

I have to respond to that.

I will give the Deputy an opportunity in a few minutes. An t-Aire wants to go through the arguments made by all the Deputies.

After almost two hours, I am entitled to respond to the amendment before us. I could respond to many things that are not in the amendment, but I will respond to the amendment first.

The reason we are here with this Bill is to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland which was lost in October 2009. My predecessors in government failed to win a case in the European Court of Justice and it had legal and other advice available to it.

The advice was that it was an arguable case.

Arising from this ruling, the then Government sought to do something about the matter; it promised the European Commission and the European Court of Justice that by the end of 2010 it would introduce a system to comply with the ruling. Otherwise we would be paying a fine of €26,000 a day or an annual fee of €9.7 million.

The commitment was given to do this before the end of 2010 by the previous Government.

When were the fines going to be payable?

The renewed programme for Government agreed on 10 October 2009, agreed to by Deputy Mattie McGrath and Deputy Michael Healy-Rae's father, included a commitment to introduce a scheme for the licensing and inspection of septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems. On 29 October 2009 the European Court of Justice ruled against Ireland and we had to introduce a system. The previous Government agreed that the legal obligation on Ireland required new legislation to be brought forward to provide for the setting of standards for the operation and performance of septic tanks and other on-site wastewater treatment systems and the monitoring and inspection of the performance of such treatment systems. It agreed that to address the ruling it would be necessary to bring forward legislation to provide for the setting of standards for the operation of septic tanks, particularly older systems. It also agreed that legislation would be required to provide for the monitoring and inspection of the performance of such treatment systems and set out the responsibilities of all householders served by these systems, including requirements to carry out remedial actions, where necessary, without cost to the Exchequer.

According to the previous Government, without prejudging the final shape of the monitoring and inspection regime, it was likely to include a requirement for householders to allow access to their on-site wastewater systems to ensure they were being operated and maintained correctly; the frequency with which these assessments were to be carried out would also be detailed; households would be required to take immediate action if considered necessary to bring their systems up to the required standard; the timelines within which such works should be undertaken would be set out; the details of any offences or penalties for non-compliance would be included; and a supervisory system to ensure assessors could carry out assessments fairly and consistently would be introduced.

According to the previous Government, one critical element of the ruling was related to the establishment of performance standards for all on-site wastewater systems. A subgroup of the task force comprising professional and technical experts from the EPA, the Department and local authorities examined this issue and prepared a draft standards document to finalise the performance standards to be applied. To inform the drafting of the legislation to fully comply with the ruling of the European Court of Justice, consultation with key stakeholders commenced on 19 October 2010 and local authorities were to be included in the consultation process. The closing date for receipt of submissions was 26 November 2010.

There is a lot of hypocrisy today, particularly when I consider what I have been landed with because of the inactivity of the previous Government and what it was prepared to do. I do not know where or on what planet the Deputies have been. Perhaps they were not aware of this.

They did not do it. The issue was never discussed during my time here.

The Deputy voted for it.

In addition, the previous Government had draft standards - I may be able to get them for the Deputies - which it proposed to introduce.

At least it had standards. The Government has none.

The previous Government also stated every septic tank had to be inspected. I am not doing this as I intend to use a risk-based approach. The Department is in consultations-----

Every septic tank registered will be liable for inspection.

No. I am adopting a risk-based approach.

Of course, it will be liable.

The Minister should not try to say otherwise.

Will the Deputy confirm that all tanks would have had to be inspected under the draft regulations to be introduced by the previous Government?

Will the Minister confirm that they will not have to be?

Answer the question.

The Minister must answer it. Will he confirm that they will not be subject to inspection?

The Deputy is almost as two-faced as Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Answer the question.

The Minister is making great play of what was done by the previous Government. He is now in government and the man responsible.

We are cleaning up Deputy Mattie McGrath's mess. He voted for it.

Tell us what tanks will not be inspected.

Be sensible. I expect a lot more from Deputy Niall Collins.

I did not hear anything from the Deputy.

What can we expect from him?

In response-----

I ask the Minister to speak to Deputy Brian Stanley's amendment.

Deputy Tom Hayes is just a cheerleader.

In response to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I am disappointed to see him take such a line on this issue because his father was a Member of the House for 14 years and his family has been involved in national and local politics for a long time. During that time, when money was plentiful, they failed to have Kilgarvan sewerage scheme included for upgrading.

Fine Gael had control of the local authorities.

I made inquiries.

A period of 14 years.

I am glad there is such interest in the village from which I come.

The Minister has responsibility here.

There are two or three Healy-Raes on the county council. The Deputy has a couple of brothers on the county council.

I made inquiries about the position in Kilgarvan.


I will tell the Deputy something he might not know.

Even though family members were members of Kerry County Council, they did not have it included as a priority project in its wastewater treatment system programme.

Who controls Kerry County Council?

I thought the Healy-Raes controlled everything in Kerry.

That is a terrible remark.

It is nice-----

This is a pathetic performance by a pathetic Minister if that is the best he can come up with.

The Deputy is the biggest windbag I have ever heard.

I ask the Minister to speak to the amendment.

If he is going to launch a personal attack on me like this-----

And the Deputy's father.

-----he badly needs to grow up and deal with the issue. He continually brings my father into debates. That is a disgraceful carry-on.

Stating facts does not amount to a personal attack.

If the Acting Chairman were in my shoes, he would take offence.

I expect much better from a Minister than speaking about a person who has retired. The Minister is a disgrace.

Yes, I will sit down.

I ask the Minister for the last time to speak to the amendment. I will give Deputy Michael Healy-Rae a chance to respond.

Yes, and ask him and his cheerleader to show some respect to past Members. They should show some respect to people who worked very hard here.

I will give the Deputy a chance to respond.

Is Deputy Michael Healy-Rae including John Gormley in the past Members to which he has referred?

I remind the Minister that the amendment refers to publishing a set of agreed standards for septic tanks and treatment systems.

I remind Deputy Michael Healy-Rae who was then a councillor that he failed to ensure his local authority-----

We will give him a chance to respond.

He was only one member.

The Minister is wrong and I hope to have an opportunity to correct him.

A lot of information was imparted on stakeholder consultations and suggestions were made that we should bring in representatives of An Taisce, among others. An Taisce took part in the consultations carried out by the previous Government in 2010.

Why does the Minister not have standards then?

The previous Government brought it in.

Bring it in again.

We know where it stands, as it made a submission at the time.

Where are the standards it compiled?

The stakeholders mentioned have been in as part of the consultation process. Deputy Mattie McGrath was an independent Deputy at the time and might not have known this. Fianna Fáil might not have told him about everything that was going on.

Deputy Martin Ferris has said he likes to tell people the truth, to be upfront and have full information. He did not tell anyone in the House about what he was peddling in north Kerry on charging for private wells, for which he said I would introduce a charge.

When did I say that?

The Deputy said it at a public meeting.

I challenge the Minister to prove it. I never said such a thing.

The Deputy did.

I never said such a thing.

I challenge Members opposite, if they want to be consulted, to tell me how I can sort out the problem with the European Court of Justice judgment in order that taxpayers in urban and rural Ireland will not have to pay €26,000.

I will tell the Minister.

I look forward to hearing the solutions. It was a problem when they were in government.

I accepted that earlier.

No, the Deputy did not.

It is on the record.

The Deputy did nothing about it.

I accepted there was a problem.

I have stated the age of a property or septic tank is not relevant. It is a matter of whether the system causes pollution or is damaging public health and the environment. That is the net point of the court's judgment that we must address.

Like the councils.

Inspections will be objective and evidenced and risk-based. They will not be universal as planned by the previous Government. There will be no question of imposing the 2009 EPA standards.

Let us wait and see.

There will be no question of it and you will wait and see.

We know what happens.

The EPA code applies to new build only and it was introduced in 2010.

I agree with Deputy Seamus Healy that our drinking water is of a very high quality and compares favourably with other EU states. However, the ECJ ruling highlights a deficiency in our legislation, namely that we have systems in place to ensure risks to public health and the environment are avoided. I want to stress the word "risk". The legislation will focus on the risks and ensure any risks are avoided because even though our water quality is very good, the risks to public health if a drinking water source is contaminated are extreme.

Deputy Stanley spoke about standards, and we know what they are in Northern Ireland. I am surprised the Deputy, and Deputy Ferris, does not mention more frequently what is happening in Northern Ireland.

I can have that discussion with the Minister if he wants to have it.

I believe there is a registration charge in Northern Ireland.

And the county council desludge septic tanks every year.

It is ST£115.

Northern Ireland homeowners-----

It is a different regime.

If the Deputies want a united Ireland they will get it.

We will have that debate, Minister.

Northern Ireland homeowners-----

Does the Minister know where it is?

Did they tell the people that at public meetings?

Does the Minister know where the Six Counties are?

Deputy Ferris, did you tell the people at the public meetings what happens in Northern Ireland in terms of the way they deal with this problem?

Absolutely. I have no problem with that. I stand over-----

Did you tell them about the ST£115 charge they have to pay?

Yes, and that the septic tanks-----

Did you tell them it was ST£115, which is the equivalent of €150?

The Minister should tell them about all the benefits.

That is what they pay in registration fees in Northern Ireland.


They are entitled to a free desludge but they have paid the equivalent of €150.

And the other benefits.

What are the other benefits?

I assure Deputy Naughten that there will be no financial hardship for people if remediation is required.

Is it Santa Claus or St. Vincent de Paul?

In section 16 of the 2007 legislation there is provision for grant assistance if required. We do not need an amendment to this Bill.

Of course we do.

It is already in the primary legislation.

Is the Minister stating that there will be no charge for people if they have to do remedial work?

There will be no financial hardship.

There will be no financial cost-----

The Minister should be clear about it. Will there be financial hardship or not?

There will be no financial hardship on people. I know that what I am saying does not suit the agenda-----

That is because the Minister is making different statements each time.

Regarding Deputy Stanley's amendment, I gave an undertaking at the committee in good faith, which I thought everybody was happy with, that I would publish the regulations as soon as the legislation is enacted, that they would have to be approved by the House and that I would put out those regulations for public consultation for a period of four weeks. I thought that was very reasonable.

After the Bill is passed.

I will do that. I give that undertaking again on Report Stage. That is what I will do but before they come into effect they have to be approved by this House.

What is the Minister's definition of "financial hardship"? He throws out the remark that he will not allow anybody to suffer financial hardship-----

Another teaser for the Deputy.

-----but we need to nail that down.

In the political commentary there have been accusations with regard to misinformation. Any public meeting I have attended, any utterance Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív from my party has made and any of the Independent TDs and the Sinn Féin Members I have heard speak at public meetings have all indicated that we want clean water. We have all said that we recognise the intent of the legislation but that we want it done in a fair and reasonable manner yet the Minster wants to disregard that-----

Did the Deputy not tell them he lost the case?

-----and push us all into a corner where it appears we do not care about water quality. The Minister is not being fair to people.

I am being very fair.

The debate on this Bill reminds me of the debate on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. Does the Minister remember that?

I remember it well.

And the stag hunting Bill.

That Bill was to do with the regulation of puppy farms and the Minister travelled around the country scaring people in fishing clubs, coursing clubs, shooting clubs and anybody else to whom he could talk. Am I correct that it was the Minister who commenced that legislation-----

I did not do any meetings on it.

-----when he found himself in the job he now holds?

Deputy Collins should speak to amendment No. 1.

The Minister should take a long look in the mirror before he starts-----

That is another myth.

-----accusing people of spreading misinformation. I want to knock that one on the head.

Is Deputy Collins for or against puppy farms?

To sum up what Deputy Collins stated, we had the dog breeding establishments legislation. The Minister of State from Meath, Deputy McEntee, promised to reverse the legislation and now he is running scared from it. I had to put up with all that scaremongering for the three and a half years I was a backbencher and the 12 months I was an Independent but that is neither here nor there. The Minister asked us to be generous, accept this Bill and he will give us the standards but he is now telling us that they have already discussed the standards and we will have consultation after the fact. Who is he trying to cod?

Regarding Deputy Coonan, I did not criticise his chairing of the meeting last week. I had 32 amendments down through Deputy Catherine Murphy because she is the only member of my group on the committee. We had to operate that way. I had approximately 12 amendments ruled out of order because of this ridiculous clause that they cannot be moved because they would impose a cost on the Exchequer. The Minister is contradicting that letter because he is saying that-----

On a point of information-----

No. I did not interrupt Deputy Coonan and therefore I intend to continue.

There is no point of information. It is a point of order.

I did not interrupt him.

Two amendments were ruled out of order. Amendment No. 65 and-----

Deputy Coonan, please. Deputy McGrath is entitled to make his contribution.

There is no point. Misinformation is coming and God knows what misinformation will come next week.

I want to read a letter into the record-----

I ask the Deputy to speak to the amendment.

It is about the amount and the standards. I received this letter on 10 January 2012. I read the letter into the record of the committee last week and asked the Minister to do something about it but I did not get an answer from either the Chairman or the committee. The letter states:

Dear Sir

I heard you speak on radio. My septic tank was registered in 1973 when a man from the Environment examined same for a grant of £25.

Deputy Healy-Rae wrote that.

How dare you? This is a sensitive matter. I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark. I am about to read out this person's name. The Acting Chairman should not accept that. The letter further states:

It was newly built. He removed the manhole cover from the centre of the tank & left the tank wide open. My 2 1/2 year old little boy was drowned in it that evening.

I could go on & on. No satisfaction from the state.

Yours sincerely

I will read his name into the record because he asked me to do so. It is Declan Cronin. He further stated:

Dear Sir

You have my full permission to broadcast or publish this matter all over the country any way you want. My wife is dead, she was never right since that day.

It is signed Declan Cronin, and he gives his telephone number. I ask Deputy Coonan to withdraw the remark that Deputy Healy-Rae wrote that letter.

Withdraw the slur now.

It is outrageous. These are the fears people have about this legislation. There have been Ministers in the Department since then, and I am not blaming him for that, but he is the Minister now. He is the strong man they tell us about who the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, praised the other day. He said the best Minister we have is Deputy Phil Hogan who can drive the household charge legislation and this Bill through the House. It is a case of to hell with the people - to hell or to Connacht. I ask the Minister to be honest and fair. He is telling us we will have legislation next week and that there will be consultation after the fact. I ask him to take a copy of the letter I read out and try to deal with it?

Deputy Coonan wants to interrupt me but I had tabled amendments in good faith. I did not come in here shouting and roaring. I had amendments down.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. It is obvious he is wedded to the current position and will not clarify the standards that are required. That is unacceptable. It is reasonable and common sense that before Members of this House vote on any legislation we should know exactly what it contains. It is reasonable and common sense that the members of the public who are affected by the legislation should be aware of the position also. It appears there is a deliberate attempt to fudge the standards and allow for a situation whereby people will be affected by this legislation down the road, so to speak, in terms of the introduction of the most up to date standards. A significant number of people will find themselves in a position where remedial works will have to be carried out to their systems.

In recent years quite a number of treatment systems have been put in place in cities and towns, as the Minister mentioned. That is being funded mainly through general taxation. Rural dwellers who have septic tanks have contributed through general taxation to the remedial works and the upgrading of systems in villages, towns and cities.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.