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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Nov 2018

Vol. 975 No. 2

Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Deputies Pearse Doherty and Stanley.

The Bill before the House is the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill 2018. It is to deal with a situation that has developed in many rural areas over the past seven to eight years, in particular, but even going back further than that, where rural planning permissions have been denied because of the stringent approach of the EPA guidelines for rural housing.

Rural planning permission is not about pollution, or damaging the environment, or doing anything that would have any negative effect on our watercourses, or drinking water, or anything like that. This Bill is designed to enhance the level at which we treat sewage in rural areas and ensure people can live in the rural environment in a safe way because they also enjoy that environment and drink that water and want to ensure it is a safe and adequate place to live.

The standard of practice in the EPA code of practice was written in 2009 and came into effect in 2010. It stated that if the soil on a site was too dense and failed the percolation test, the result would be what they call zero emissions or zero discharge. In other words, no matter how well the treatment system on site treated the effluent, even if it treated it to drinking water standard, a cup of that water is not allowed into a river or stream. That was taking it to an extreme that I do not think anyone ever intended it to go. The other part of the guidelines said that, as an alternative, one could apply for a wastewater discharge licence. The legislation around that was difficult.

I want to go into the detail of what this has done and the effects it has had. The effect in places like Leitrim, where almost 90% of the soil will not pass the percolation test, has meant that, over the past number of years, in many rural parishes where there is no town or alternative, there can be no planning permission. People have been denied permission to build a house and to live in their own community, where they grew up, or to send their children to the schools they went to themselves and have their children play for the football club that they played for. That is the effect it has had. It has, if one likes, sterilised whole communities and, in large areas of County Leitrim and other areas in the west, rural communities are in decline. People deserve to be able to live where they choose to live. Most people who want to live in rural Ireland want to do so in an environmentally-friendly manner. In the vast majority of cases where people are building houses like that, they are doing so either on their own land or family land. When they do not have to buy a site, they usually put the additional money from the purchase of the house into building a really good quality home because it is the home they intend to live in for their lives. It is not like a developer who is going to shoot it up quickly and turn it over to somebody else. Therefore, they build a good quality home that is really well insulated. In most cases when one speaks to people in the profession, they will tell one that most of the one-off rural housing is almost to a passive standard.

The issues have had a very negative effect on County Leitrim. It is an unintended consequence of what the EPA did. I spoke to people in the EPA when I was putting this Bill together. I also spoke to people in the environmental sections of the county councils. All of them said that this was not intended. The EPA's intention when drawing up these guidelines was to improve the standard rather than to ban planning permission, but it has had that effect. In 2013 the Minister's predecessor, Phil Hogan, visited County Leitrim and met with councillors. He told them that he would come back with a solution within six months because it is wrong that people are not able to build a house in rural areas. He said we have to come up with a solution and ensure that people can live in rural Ireland again. Unfortunately nothing happened. We have had reports and assessments.

In fairness to many local authorities, and Leitrim County Council in particular as been most acutely affected, they have done an awful lot of work with the EPA and the Department to come up with a solution. They were trying to come up with a solution that produced zero effluent discharge. This meant that effluent would go through a treatment plant and into a reed or willow bed and that any waste left in it would evaporate. That waste, as I have said, would be treated to a very high standard. We live in a very damp climate however. It is a very wet country and it proved practically impossible to do that. Where it was possible, it involved a very high cost. It was not possible to do it.

What we have done here is to look at the alternative to that, which is the discharge licence. At the moment the discharge licence is really only available for very large projects or industrial units. The clear intention of this Bill is to allow a local authority to issue a discharge licence for a single house where the effluent is treated to the highest standard possible. The standard about which we are talking is bathing water standard. That can be assessed, tested, regulated and stood over by the local authority when it issues the licence. This would not put us in conflict with the EPA guidelines because they state that one can apply for a water discharge licence. The environment would be protected to a new standard, which is actually much higher than the one we have at present.

I am aware of the Minister's amendment which intends to kick this can down the road and to have us wait a year or more before coming back to assess this again. I am very sorry to say that just does not work for people who have waited almost ten years to get a solution to this problem. We really need to deal with it now. We are all happy to co-operate with the Minister, the EPA and the Department in meeting whatever requirements they want met to allow people to build houses so that they can live where they want to live.

It is not about a free-for-all. I want to make that clear. It is not about building thousands of houses across rural Ireland. There have been examples of large numbers of holiday homes being built in some seaside resorts. There are examples of towns around which an awful lot of one-off housing has been built. People have pointed to that as a problem. Excess in one place should not be an excuse for a famine somewhere else. That is really the point in this matter. This is about a small but significant sector of people who want to build houses in their own area and live where they used to live.

I want to go into our solution in a little bit of detail, but only for a minute. It is about producing high-quality effluent and clearly regulating treatment so that nobody would pollute, because we do not want to see that happen. I want to make that clear. I was on the radio a few times today and it was interesting to get emails from different parts of the country. One person would say that it would outrageous to pump effluent into our rivers and to pollute them. We want to let effluent of bathing water standard into the rivers. That is what we are talking about. It would be treated to a very high standard. Many people in urban Ireland have been fed a myth that rural Ireland has somehow destroyed the environment. The reality, of which the Minister and all of us are aware and with which we need to deal, is that up to 30% of sewage produced in many of our towns and villages goes into the rivers and the sea totally untreated. That needs to be dealt with. We all want to work with the Minister to deal with that. Wherever people live, they produce waste. The people who do not live in rural houses because they cannot get planning permission for them are living in some of those towns and villages where 30% of sewage goes untreated. We are offering a solution which helps with that problem rather than hindering it.

I am disappointed with the amendment which has been tabled which tries to kick this can down the road. It is not appropriate. The notion that the EPA and all these other agencies should be given another year to produce more reports is ridiculous at this stage. Every Department has shelves lined with reports covered in dust that have been there for years. We do not want this to go down that road as well. It is now time to deal with this issue. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy English, he has told me that he has been aware of the issue for many years and that he has been lobbied by Leitrim County Council and other councils to get this sorted out. He says he is on the same page and wants a solution. If we want a solution, let us work together and produce it. Let us do something that is right for the people and provide a solution that will allow people to simply live in their own communities. That is all they are asking for. I do not think it is too much to ask a Government to co-operate, to make that happen and to commit to it.

I know that officials in Departments can sometimes have a lot of power and stand in the way of things, but at the end of the day the Minister is the person who is elected and who is in charge. I call on the Minister to stand up for the ordinary people out there who simply want to do the right thing for the environment, for their families and for their communities.

Táim bródúil as mo chomhghleacaí gur glacadh leis an reachtaíocht anseo le cur os comhair na Dála anocht. Tá ard-mholadh tuillte ag an Teachta Martin Kenny as a shaothar agus as an obair atá sé ag déanamh ar an cheist seo le blianta anuas ar son mhuintir na tuaithe, go háirithe in iarthar na tíre. As we have heard, this is vital legislation. The amendment, if enacted, would have the effect of removing an unfair obstacle currently placed before many people who are simply attempting to obtain planning permission in their own communities and rural areas. We are not talking about large property developers, speculators or individuals who are hoping to make a killing out of housing development. As Deputy Martin Kenny has outlined, we are talking about genuine people in rural communities who want to build according to the county development plan and building standards in their own communities. They are being prevented from doing so by something which was not foreseen, and not intended, to have the consequences it has today and has had for quite a number of years now. We are talking about ordinary people, hard-working people who have, perhaps, grown up in rural communities and want nothing more than to build a home in which to live and raise their families. That is what this is about. That is what Deputy Martin Kenny's legislation is about. It is about supporting those families and ensuring that they can live in their communities.

The implications of the zero discharge rule have prevented these people from building a place to call home in rural Ireland. This problem is particularly acute in counties throughout the north west and west of our island, areas which have for far too long suffered from depopulation and rural decline due in no small part to existing rural planning laws. The attacks on rural Ireland in recent years have been relentless. We have seen successive Governments not only failing to protect these communities from attacks but, in many instances, actually being responsible for them. Just this week my own community in Bunbeg, An Bun Beag, has suffered another attack. It has been the victim of another assault on the village - the closure of the local post office. It is not alone, however. That assault has been witnessed in many areas across rural Donegal and the west of Ireland. We need an end to this Government's policy of death by a thousand cuts to rural Ireland.

Separately it is worth mentioning, as part of tonight's debate, the current process by which areas are designated as special areas of conservation, SACs, special protection areas, SPAs, and areas of natural constraint, ANCs, in a bid to restore and maintain our favourable conservation of habitats and species by restricting certain human activities. This needs to be looked at. It too has resulted in large swathes or rural Ireland being "no go" areas for development. While no one is saying that our natural environment, flora or fauna should not be protected - in fact it is crucial that they are - it is clear that the needs and interests of rural communities must not be discarded when legislators are formulating laws concerning planning and development.

I will also make the following point to the Minister. It is something I have raised with his officials and with planners in my own county of Donegal. I refer to the golden handcuffs that are placed on some individuals who have developed land, whether by constructing houses, placing mobile homes or extending a house, in an SAC. When they have done so there is no ability to apply for retention permission. In this situation planners are forced to demand the removal of such development.

In some cases, they even demand the demolition of homes. This is not right. There is a lacuna in the law and these golden handcuffs need to be dealt with. This legislation will enable rural people to live and work in their own communities and in doing so, it will ensure that rural tradition and the way of life in rural Ireland, which we know only too well, will continue and thrive into the future. I ask Deputies to support the legislation and oppose the Government's amendment, which is nothing but a deferral that kicks the can down the road. Rural Ireland has waited for long enough for this issue to be dealt with. Now we have a practical solution from Deputy Martin Kenny, who deserves our praise and support. I urge Deputies to stand with Deputy Martin Kenny, rural Ireland and the rural communities that can be found the length and breadth of this State that are suffering as a result of the rule currently in place.

I welcome Deputy Martin Kenny's Bill. It is a practical measure aimed at solving a problem in areas where there is rural decline. The previous speakers mentioned the north west, Donegal, Leitrim and such counties where there is heavy soil. There are areas across the midlands which have problems with soil types, such as the western part of County Laois including the Slieve Bloom area, Coolrain and Camross and parts of Mountrath, as well as Edenderry and the Ferbane area in north County Offaly. This seems like a small problem but the way it is being dealt with by the EPA and the Department has been a blunt instrument. It is adding to rural decline in areas where there is already depopulation. We need to try to address this problem and this is a practical solution.

As somebody who cares about the environment and is spokesperson for the environment for my party, I would not support this measure unless it was going to achieve a better outcome. The Bill as tabled will get a better outcome in what it advocates. We currently have septic tanks, which are often just storage chambers. This legislation improves environmental protection and accounts for different soil types. The blunt instrument currently there does not deal with that. The legislation gives a waste discharge licence to single householders where there would be a three-step treatment of waste: a septic tank, a filter system and finally a reed or willow bed. The Minister's predecessor came to Clonaslee in County Laois a few years ago and opened a sewage treatment plant that had a large system like this to cater for a whole village, which is held up as a model and is working perfectly. It is located beside the River Clodiagh. There have been no problems with it and there will not be problems with it because it is using the best of technology and a natural solution at the end of the process in the form of a reed bed. We are talking about using this on a smaller scale.

We need to deal with the areas where there is depopulation and which are suffering from rural decline. It must also be taken into account that rural houses are being built to a more modern standard. Several houses that I have seen being built in rural areas have been fitted with heat pumps and solar panels. We can combine this with renewable energy to ensure that rural households are sustainable and are being built to the highest environmental standards with proper use of energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to combat climate change but we should not see this as a burden. The new technology exists and we are proposing use of new technology and practical solutions to deal with the issue of septic tanks and discharge from them. There is no argument about that. We must meet the highest standards.

I note that where something fails the so-called T-test under EPA guidelines, that rules out any engineering solution, regardless of how high the standard of technology is. The only way around this is a discharge licence. On the other side of the Border, they have found a way to deal with this and are completely complaint with EU water protection directives. Across from the county Deputy Martin Kenny represents, in County Fermanagh, a different system operates, so it can be done. We must have robust planning laws. This is not an argument for wider development with houses dropped all over the place. We have seen bad examples of that. This is about areas where there is poor soil quality and where parishes have lost shops, are in danger of losing schools, are losing post offices and will lose more. It is about getting people to work in those rural areas and to allow them to live there.

I urge the Government to take this on board. The Minister has tabled an amendment. The Government keeps amending many of these Bills and is always kicking the can down the road. It says we can deal with issues some other day. Now is the time to deal with this. We must change the culture in this country to deal with issues by putting practical solutions in place that are sound with regard to the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. We need to marry these with new technologies and move ahead. I urge everybody in the House to support the Bill. I ask the Government to have second thoughts about it. The Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill as tabled is sound and we need to get behind it. As Deputy Martin Kenny said, Sinn Féin is willing to work with the EPA and the Minister's Department to make sure this is done to the highest standard.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill 2018 be deemed to be read a second time on 31 December, 2019, to allow for the conclusion of work by the Rural Water Review Group, which was established in the light of the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, given that the review group is considering issues of long-term funding and regulation of the rural water sector, a matter which is germane to the policy underpinning of the Bill, and in addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will publish a revised Code of Practice for Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems Serving Single Houses for public consultation in early 2019, which is expected to be finalised before the end of 2019, and which will contribute to the debate on the issue.”.

I thank the Deputy and congratulate him for bringing forward this Bill. I am glad that he has provided an opportunity for us to debate this issue in the House because it is important. It comes at a time when we are focusing on making improvements to rural water services in the context of the water services policy statement which I published earlier this year. That statement reflects the priorities set out in Project Ireland 2040, our national planning framework for the next 20 years. It also sets out the national policy objective, which is facilitating single housing in the countryside based on siting and design criteria for rural housing in statutory plans and having regard to the viability of smaller towns and rural settlements. Essentially we are talking about protecting our communities. This is exactly what the national planning framework speaks to. Some 75% of future growth will happen outside of Dublin. Protecting and maintaining the viability of our rural communities is a priority for this Government and the role of single housing in maintaining those communities is essential, provided such development does not have a negative impact on our natural environment. I think we all agree on that. This Government has been working with relevant rural local authorities such as Leitrim, Sligo and others to ensure, through the investigation of new technologies to treat wastewater and protect our groundwater sources, that those who need and want to live and work in rural Ireland are not being inhibited in doing so. We will continue to support the provision of one-off rural housing where it is needed and wanted and where we can ensure the protection of our natural environment and water sources.

The issue is how we manage the impact of such waste discharges in a way that does not have a negative impact on our environment. For these reasons, the Government is proposing that the Bill be deemed to be read a Second Time on 31 December 2019, to allow for the conclusion of work by the rural water review group, which was established in light of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee. This is not about kicking the can down the road. We are almost there with the work that we set out to do with an Oireachtas committee, with the establishment of the rural water review group and the work it is doing and will complete in the course of next year. It is considering issues of long-term funding and regulation of the rural water sector, a matter which is germane to the policy underpinning of this Bill. I hope that the work will be concluded earlier than set out in the Government's amendment and, in that context, and if it would gain the support of the House for the Government proposal, I would be happy for the Bill to progress earlier on the basis that it would be predicated on the work which would be completed by the rural water review group at that stage. In addition, the EPA will publish a revised code of practice for wastewater treatment and disposal systems serving single houses for public consultation in early 2019. The revised code of practice is expected to be finalised later in 2019. The public consultation will contribute further to the debate on the issue. That work is almost concluded. If the rural water review group concludes earlier in the year, which I believe it will, we already have the public consultation by the EPA under way. That will better inform what we hope to achieve in this area and what is laid out in the national planning framework.

The protection and improvement of our water quality is a key challenge facing Ireland in the years ahead. Good water quality is critical to our well-being as individuals, as a society, as an economy and as a country.

In working to protect water quality we are protecting a resource that is fundamental to Ireland as we know it. The resource is critical to our future, rural and urban. It underpins our well-being and our economy. Good water quality is a key driver of economic activity in sectors such as agrifood, pharmaceuticals and tourism, all of which rely on a safe and secure water supply.

Our water bodies are natural resources that have been passed down to us by previous generations. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to protect them. In doing so we have to find appropriate solutions to maintain and sustain rural communities and connections to the countryside. This point is equally important as we look to urban settings with a view to ensuring that we continue to build up our urban cores, as outlined in the national planning framework. The aim of this policy is to ensure compact and sustainable growth. We must do this in a sustainable way without doing harm to our environment, whether the local natural environment or our water bodies and courses and the marine environment.

The water framework directive recognises this reality and sets for EU member states the basic target of restoring all waters to good quality by 2027 at the latest. The directive stipulates that we must not allow waters currently in good status to slip back. This is a highly challenging target as Ireland continues to grow and industries and other activities with an impact on water quality continue to expand. It is also challenging because in 2014 we established a national utility to co-ordinate many of the services that had been provided by local authorities previously.

Research and analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency has shown that over the past decade the quality of our water has stood still at best and there are some concerning indications of decline in certain areas. The absence of appropriate investment and a single national utility has not helped us in this regard. Now that we have a national utility that is protected and we have investment certainty in the years ahead we will be able to make great gains in the coming years. We must ensure that, as we do so, we do not do anything to unintentionally damage water courses or water sources throughout the country.

As we look to the future we are faced with increasing demands on our water resources from a growing population and economy. It is essential that we take strong steps to protect and improve our water quality. The River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021, which I published in April of this year, sets out a range of detailed actions and implementing measures. The plan takes a fresh approach to the protection, improvement and sustainable management of the water environment. We now have a much-improved evidence base to support the development of new national policies and initiatives and to more effectively guide the deployment of supporting measures at local level. We have seen the benefit of a national utility, especially in the context of the co-ordination and research undertaken during the recent summer period when we had a severe drought. Given what we had learned through different storm events about what was happening in our water systems we were better able to manage the drought throughout the country.

Several specific actions are to be undertaken. One relates to extension of the domestic wastewater treatment systems grant scheme. The scheme will assist with the costs of septic tank remediation in high status water areas. The development of water and planning guidance for local authorities is another. This will help local authorities to consider the risks to water quality during planning and development decision-making. Another action relates to a blue dot catchment programme. The new programme will create a network of excellent river and lake areas. Agencies will work together to protect or restore excellent water quality in these water bodies.

High water quality is essential to our rural economy and I am delighted that the dairy industry is working in partnership with Teagasc, the local authorities and my Department to engage with farmers on how best to protect this most important of assets. Irish agriculture prides itself on quality inputs that produce excellent produce and water is, of course, an essential part of that equation. Protecting the quality of our waters is of equal interest to agriculture and industry as it is to our environmental sector and there is now a shared recognition of this common cause. This new collaborative sustainability and advisory support programme consists of 30 sustainability advisers who will promote best farming practice in 190 areas chosen for action for up to 5,000 farmers. The dairy sustainability initiative, which is being spearheaded by the industry to help improve water quality, will see an additional 18,000 dairy farmers receive advice on sustainable farming practices in the 190 areas for action.

The Government recognises the importance of the role of civic society in safeguarding water, whether for services to urban and rural areas or water in the aquatic environment. For this reason, and in line with our commitment in the river basin management plan, I was delighted to statutorily establish An Fóram Uisce, the national water forum, this summer. The purpose of the forum is to provide a national stakeholder-led platform for public engagement on all matters relating to water as an environmental, social and economic resource. The forum provides an opportunity to debate and analyse a range of issues with regard to water quality, rural water concerns, issues affecting customers of Irish Water and the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive in this jurisdiction.

Public awareness of and participation in increased water conservation and initiatives to protect water quality in our rivers, lakes and coastal waters is essential for our long-term sustainability. A national appreciation of the links between water and public health, economic progress and environmental protection is built and reinforced by wider civic society debate and discussion on an ongoing basis. This is happening at the moment. Earlier today in the House we were debating issues around water quality insofar as they affect not only our generation but future generations as well.

The local authority water programme was established under the river basin management plan as a local authority shared service with the aim of driving public engagement, participation and consultation with communities and stakeholders at local level. It co-ordinates these activities across all 31 local authorities. The programme works to ensure that public and stakeholder engagement will result in meaningful public and stakeholder participation in water quality improvements throughout Ireland. The programme is engaging with interested stakeholders and individuals through their ongoing public meetings throughout the country as part of their implementation strategy for the current plan.

Government is now approaching water in an integrated and holistic manner. In May of this year, I published a water services policy statement, the first time any Government has done so.

While the purpose of the legislation before the House is that of rural development, it should be viewed through the prism of possible impact on water quality in the receiving rivers and lakes as well. The discharge of effluent to surface waters presents a significantly higher risk of pollution. The appropriate mechanism for consideration of this aspect of the issue is the rural water review group, to which I referred to earlier in my contribution. The group has a broad remit. Strand 1 of the work has looked at immediate funding requirements of the group water sector, the level of private wells grants and the enhanced septic tank grant scheme recommended under the river basin management plan published in April this year. These recommendations will shortly be submitted for ministerial consideration. Strand 2 of the work will look more broadly at the future investment needs of the sector and as well as appropriate regulation of the sector.

Accordingly, I am proposing that the Second Reading of the Bill be deferred to allow for the conclusion of work by the rural water review group. At that point we can come to consideration of the Deputy's Bill.

The Fianna Fáil slot is for 20 minutes. Deputy Eamon Scanlon is sharing time with Deputies MacSharry, Ó Cuív and Eugene Murphy.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill and I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for bringing it forward. The Bill aims to resolve problems around planning permission in County Leitrim, south Sligo, north Roscommon and south Donegal following strict changes in Environmental Protection Agency rules on water pollution. These changes have had a disproportionate impact on planning permissions in County Leitrim and the other counties I referenced because of the heavy soil there. The guidelines were adopted as part of several measures to prevent ground water pollution from septic tanks but they are stopping local people from building one-off houses in their local areas. In fact, the strict rules on effluent treatment have particularly stalled the construction of one-off housing in these counties.

This Bill puts forward a change to EPA rules to allow for the granting of a discharge licence for the development of single houses in rural areas that fail the water percolation test. The Bill will forward a viable alternative engineering solution rather than the current blanket ban. The Bill would mean high environmental standards can be met without recourse to the current blanket ban. The homes will have to get a licence and put in place a wastewater treatment system. Currently, people cannot get planning permission at all due to the percolation test. In total, 87% of Leitrim land does not meet EPA T-test standards so families and couples hoping to develop family farms and build on their family land are unable to do so. All farmers are desperate to build on their family land and it is important for the proper running of the farm that they are living on the land.

In 2016, there were 22 planning permissions for houses granted in Leitrim. In 2017, only 21 houses were granted planning permission. In the first quarter of this year only one house was granted planning permission and in the second quarter there were five successful applications. That is a total of six planning permissions in six months.

More and more of our young people are finding they can no longer live in the areas of rural Leitrim they grew up in. Our communities schools shops and accompanying infrastructure are suffering as a result. We know about the housing shortages. The person who wants to build a house but who cannot get planning will end up eventually, as most do, on a housing list somewhere else. Unfortunately, this policy has impacted particularly on the counties I have mentioned because of the soil types there. The current EPA guidelines state that if the percolation test fails, there must be zero discharge of effluent. This is impossible to achieve and results in a blanket ban on planning permission. This has had a major impact in particular in areas of heavy soil. Such areas are far more likely to fail the test. Consequently, single homes have been particularly difficult to build in Leitrim and other areas in the other counties I have mentioned. In consequence, we have seen a whittling away of the population and communities have been undermined.

This part of the EPA guidelines rules out all reasonable engineering solutions or proposals to treat and dispose of the sewage effluent where it fails the T-test, regardless of how high the treatment standard proposed. However, the EPA guidelines also state that where the test fails, the local authority can issue a wastewater discharge licence. The interpretation of legislation on discharge licences is that they are for multiple houses, such as a small housing estate of six dwellings, and allow for the discharge of over 5 cu. m a day. The Bill puts forward an amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to change this. EPA officials, planning and environmental experts in local authorities and private practice agree on the appropriateness of a discharge licence for single houses where percolation tests fail. There are already provisions for a licence but it only applies to multiple homes rather than single units. The Bill expands this to encompass one-off rural homes, which are a key part of the physical infrastructure of rural Ireland. The licence can be designed specifically for single houses, where the conditions could include installing a mechanical sewage treatment system, from which effluent would pass through a polishing filter and be discharged into a reed bed and willow pond.

Fianna Fáil will support this Bill on Second Stage in order to further tease out these issues on Committee Stage and to ensure that EU standards are maintained in order to find a route towards planning permissions for the many people unable to get it at the moment. We appreciate that it is critical that the changes do not compromise core environmental standards. These issues can be teased out and clarified on Committee Stage. Supporting the Bill on Second Stage will enable this to happen; we can then get legal and technical experts to discuss the Bill in more detail. Furthermore, any weaknesses in the Bill can be amended on Committee Stage to ensure it is of top quality.

It is very important for the future of rural Ireland that people are allowed to live in their local areas. I understand that the EPA is carrying out a review at the moment, but I do not believe Fianna Fáil will agree with this amendment because it seeks merely to kick the can down the road. Six applications for planning permission were granted in my county in the first six months of this year. That is totally unacceptable.

On costs, a figure of €50,000 for planning per dwelling is being spoken about at the moment. It is truly criminal to ask that people pay that amount of money. I understand that Northern Ireland has found a solution to the problem of planning issues with septic tanks. Rural people are allowed to get planning there. We should look at the system in the North because what is happening here is unfair.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, on his innovation in bringing this Bill forward, which I wholeheartedly support. I reject the amendment and I will speak to it in a moment. I acknowledge the presence in the Public Gallery of the person who is probably most qualified to speak about this matter, namely, Mr. Francis Davitt, a planner from north County Leitrim. He is only too aware of the difficulties with policy as it stands and the opportunities that exist to reach the target set by the Government of 75% of future growth outside Dublin. Councillors Séadhna Logan and Padraig Fallon are also present. I am sure that, through their constituency work, they have come across families who have been prevented from realising their dream - and their right - to be able to build in their local area because of the interpretation of the rules as they stand and the lack of flexibility in those rules which means that technological solutions cannot be embraced.

Fianna Fáil was in government for a long time. I have been around these Houses for a long time as well so I recognise that the amendment tabled by the Government as the usual three-card trick, backed up by officials. For Private Members' legislation, Ministers give sponsoring Deputies a superficial pat on the back while the legislation is kicked down the road, never to be seen again. The reality is that the policies the Minister speaks of, including Project Ireland 2040 and the idea of 75% of future development outside Dublin, are all very well, but, here and now, people are actually living in County Leitrim. That might sound strange to some people, who prefer to see the west of Ireland as somewhere they can go for weekends or on holidays when the weather is good and expect to see Peig Sayers looking out over a half-door, smoking a pipe and drinking a pint of Guinness. The Minister should know that we have had running water there for some time. I assure him that there are also people and communities there. County Leitrim is the worst affected area, but as Deputy Scanlon and others have pointed out, the problem persists in Donegal, Sligo, west Cavan and parts of Roscommon.

The Minister is pursuing policies but, while talking the talk and sounding great in many ways, the policies are contradicted by their scheduling. The Government wants to kick the problem down the road so that the rural water review group can investigate it. It promises that there will be a new revised code of practice for the EPA. These are things that might happen at some time in the future. Why would the tail wag the dog? We are supporting this legislation, which means it will proceed to Committee Stage. My advice to the Minister is that he should contact the rural water review group and the EPA and tell them that the Parliament has passed legislation on Second Stage and that they should redouble their efforts and prioritise it. We want this Bill to proceed to Committee Stage in the short term, in acknowledgement of the fact that people do live in the north west, that young families want to build houses on their family land and that young farmers want to build houses so that they can cater to the small farms they own.

One of the real ironies is that we are promoting the very real necessity to protect our environment and address the challenges of climate change. We heard earlier about the 8 million tonnes of plastic that end up in our oceans each year. I can confidently tell the Minister that not one ounce of that comes from County Leitrim. Perhaps we owe it to the people of County Leitrim to introduce some measures to support their living there. There is a small coastline in Leitrim, and I assure the Minister that not one ounce of the plastic in our oceans can be attributed to the families who have been living there for many generations. The children of those families are entitled to live there too. The other irony is that while we want to maintain the health of our water table, which is admirable - Deputies Martin Kenny and Scanlon, among others, have supported that ambition - at the same time we are quite happy to promote the fact that over 50% of agricultural land in Leitrim is populated by an invasive species. I realise that we want to reach a target of 17% for forestry but that the current figure in this regard is only 11%. I support that, but there are 35 million Sitka spruce trees now in place in County Leitrim. Furthermore, due to airborne fertilisation, we have phosphorus, nitrogen and cypermethrin pollution, all of which are threatening the water table. They are also threatening traditional methods of farming. On the one hand, we are shoving the entire target for forestry down Leitrim's throat while, on the other, we are saying "Live horse and get grass". In approximately 150 years' time, when the "gin and tonic belt" is looked after, perhaps we will throw the odd bone of placation to the people of counties Leitrim, Sligo, Donegal and north Roscommon.

I advise the Minister that this Bill will pass Second Stage. I appeal to him, as the proactive individual I know him to be, to lift the phone and contact the EPA and the rural water review group and tell them that the Government, which is supposed to run the country, has passed this legislation and needs, by 1 January next, a revised code of conduct from the former and a report from the latter by in order that this policy can become law and in the interests of the people of the north west.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I regret that the time available to speak on this important topic is so limited. I congratulate Deputy Martin Kenny. This is the kind of day-to-day issue that we should spend more time discussing in the House. Issues of this sort affect the people.

Like many policies, this tries to fix a small problem rather than a big one. When we discussed the famous septic tank licence, the issue of the main causes of pollution arose. If we leave aside agricultural pollution for a minute, the report pointed to municipal waste being the biggest source of pollution in the country. That is obviously understandable.

We are trying our best to deal with that. Out near the Baily lighthouse there is a straight discharge into the Irish Sea. There is a straight discharge into the Irish Sea of municipal waste from Connemara, which has a pristine coastline.

There are several ironies around septic tanks. First, despite all the hullabaloo about septic tanks, minimal remediation has been required to adhere to the standard, and these are septic tanks that were built in the old days. They are not up to the standard of a modern system.

Second, the problem with impermeable soil is not that wastewater gets into the watercourse. That is a misunderstanding. That happens with limestone where the water goes straight down, and that is where pollution occurs. Looking at the water framework plans, one finds that there is very little pollution in the watercourses in places like Connemara that have impermeable soil. What happens in those locations is that it ponds. Who are the occupants putting at risk? Themselves. They risk infection. If such a person's dog goes sniffing around in it, he or she is in danger. However, I have to say I have not yet found any doctor in my area complaining that septic tanks are causing a huge amount of infections on a daily basis. I am sure the same applies in Leitrim.

The Minister has a zero-tolerance policy. There is zero tolerance where septic tanks are concerned, but the Minister allows the discharge in large quantities from commercial development. The de minimis principle would suggest going to the big end of the problem, that is, tackling the larger developments and requiring the higher standard. The odd house here and there will do a lot less damage, even if the standard is not quite as high. When I was studying mathematics, I learned to take the level of pollution and multiply it by the number of those polluting. That will equate to the total national pollution. Compared with houses that are part of schemes, the number of one-off houses is so small that the sums are obviously upside-down. As I said, it is a pity we do not have more time for this debate. It always seems to me the bar is set so high in rural Ireland not to keep the water clean but to keep the houses away. There is a fetish in the Department against rural houses.

I note that we have microbreweries, microdistilleries and micro-versions of everything in this world. If it was really concerned about this issue, the Government would investigate and invest in the development of micro-wastewater plants that would do for the individual house at an affordable cost what the bigger plants do for towns, cities and housing estates. That should not be beyond technology.

It would be very easy for rural Ireland to have a system for purifying run-off water and regular desludging of all other septic tanks by the State. At present, the State de-sludges every municipal waste tank every day. We are only asking for once every three years.

Without question, the EPA rules on water pollution have a very negative impact on planning permissions, not only in County Leitrim, but in my own county of Roscommon and other counties in that region. They are also having a negative effect on a number of midland counties. I want to compliment Deputy Martin Kenny on bringing this Bill forward because it is quite positive legislation. We can get it through. I acknowledge that his councillors are with him, as well as the planner involved in this, Mr. Francis Davitt. It could reverse a situation that is now causing quite a lot of depopulation in parts of my region and parts of Leitrim. That depopulation is affecting local schools, athletic clubs and GAA clubs. It is having a really bad knock-on effect.

A lot of money is spent by couples or individuals who seek planning permission and are turned down. It is a very expensive process. Often, people who are turned down cannot afford to go back and seek planning permission again. That should be taken into account. I would also say to the Minister that these really are not extra houses. It is the next generation that is moving in. The old homestead is there. There may be nobody living in it. It is dilapidated. It is not a house that can be done up. A lot of the people who are refused planning permission are only trying to put down their roots on what was the family farm. Very large areas of the west of Ireland in particular will be left without anybody living in them if this policy is not changed.

The Minister stated that some of the provisions contained in the Bill may be unnecessary as local authorities are not currently precluded by law from granting licences for surface discharge. I challenge that statement. It is really down to the interpretation of those laws, and in reality there is very little chance of that applying to single houses. It might be granted for five, six or seven units, but it will not work for a single rural house. Again, I very much compliment Deputy Martin Kenny and I am glad to be able to support this Bill with my party members. I ask the Minister to seriously consider withdrawing the amendment he is proposing.

This matter cannot be held up. It is a matter of time. We should not be discussing this in 12 or 18 months. In a few short months we should have moved this through the Stages so that the Bill can become law and allow some of those people who have been refused planning permission to reapply, get discharge licences and put down their roots where they want to put them down, in rural Ireland. We must not depopulate the whole area. Forestry is happening in Roscommon, Leitrim and Galway and we are driving people out of the area. We need to rebalance all this, and what Deputy Martin Kenny has brought forward is a way of doing that. There is widespread support for this within the House.

I congratulate Deputy Martin Kenny on bringing this Bill forward. I only want to say a brief few words on the matter. I welcome this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party insofar as it attempts to fix a problem that I know genuinely exists. I represent Dublin Fingal which is a Dublin constituency with a considerable rural part, particularly on the western side of the M1 motorway. As a practising public representative, I have come across the problem that this Bill is attempting to resolve. One-off housing in the countryside is governed in Fingal County Council by a very strict rural housing policy. Chapter 8 of the Fingal development plan, entitled Rural Fingal, lays out very strict conditions for building in the countryside. It recognises that Fingal is an area under strong urban influence. Policies and objectives for villages, rural clusters and houses in the open countryside are laid out in great detail in that plan. Demonstration of genuine rural-generated housing need is essential for any applicant seeking planning permission in the rural area of Fingal.

To successfully apply for planning permission in a rural cluster, the applicant must have lived in a rural area in the county for ten years or more and must demonstrate this by meeting comprehensive evidence requirements. In the case of an applicant for permission in the open countryside the time requirement is 15 years, and a maximum of one house per family is permitted in such a case. The system is very strict indeed. This can be a source of tension for family members who do not qualify to build on what they see as their own land and cannot settle in their own area. Even for some people who should have qualified under these very strict and onerous criteria, the news on their applications has been unexpected and indeed very bad. Applications have been turned down in certain areas of the county because of the soil percolation issue that this Bill is attempting to address by way of an alternative solution to the septic tank.

It is extremely hard for applicants to accept these types of decisions. This Bill is a fair attempt to resolve the issue and the technology is currently available to do the job in a non-polluting way.

Good work on technology development is taking place in Dublin Institute of Technology. Technology moves on. We can achieve clean water by alternative methods than the old percolation system. We cannot be stuck in that rut. We need to move on and accept that new technology is working and delivering, and there is good work going on.

The waste discharge licensing proposal in the Bill will form the basis of a solution in the future. It will not be a cheap solution and it may bring the costs of owning their own home beyond the reach of those affected. However, I am sympathetic to the Government amendment that in light of the fact that the EPA is working on a revised code of practice for wastewater treatment systems, the Bill would be deemed to be read a Second Time at the end of 2019. That is not what Deputy Martin Kenny would like to hear but there will be public consultation on this as well. This is essential and welcome. This would also allow for the work of the rural water review group to be concluded.

I recognise the problem that the Bill is trying to address and this approach could form part of the solution. I was tempted to say I would support the Bill earlier when I was discussing it with colleagues but, overall, it is best to accept the Government amendment and to allow the two other bodies, particularly the EPA, conclude their work in the policy area.

Were I the proposer of this Bill, I would be happy to have progressed the legislation with the approval of Government, albeit with a delay. Come the end of next year, this will be deemed to be read a Second Time. That is a positive outcome for the proposer.

It has been put to the House that the Government's amendment is kicking the can down the road. If I felt for a moment that the amendment was suggesting that new work was to be commenced, I would agree that it is kicking the can down the road but the Government is not doing that; I would not support the Government if it was. Work by two groups is currently under way. It is not as if something will commence following the debate. The work is due for completion early next year. That is why my party is prepared to wait for that outcome. At the end of next year, the Bill will be deemed to be passed and we can move on to Committee Stage.

The next slot is Solidarity-People Before Profit and they have given their time to Deputy Fitzmaurice.

I commend Deputy Martin Kenny on the Bill he has put forward. We, in rural areas, understand where he is coming from. We all see week in, week out, the problems that counties, especially in the west, experience.

In considering the current regulation, to put it simply, I would say the law is an ass. If one has an old house in the west, especially in Leitrim, and one goes to do it up, part of the planning permission will relate to the septic tank. If it is a reed bed system, the permission is accepted but if one has to build a new house, it is not accepted. I would like to know what genius came up with that.

I have worked on this around the country. In Monaghan and elsewhere, even on a large scale, one of the most successful percolating systems is the reed bed system. A group of so-called "experts" is not needed to examine this for another year. The Government's amendment is an insult to Deputy Martin Kenny's proposal because this has proved itself down through the years on both a large scale and a small scale.

People test the water where it comes out of the reed bed system or what we would call, "sallies". Some like to put a fancy name on it such as willow. Where the water comes out, it is better quality than bathing water. Those are the facts, according to the experts who have tested the water. Funnily enough, another group does not want to believe that.

This comes at a time - I want the Minister of State, Deputy English, to hear me out because he is involved in the rural water schemes that they are looking at - when the EPA has taken Irish Water to court. Irish Water has been fined €6,000, €8,000 and €10,000, respectively, for not putting in sewerage systems in towns. At the same time, Irish Water submitted applications to make those systems better. Let us remember that when these companies fine each other, it is all taxpayers' money. The EPA is hedging for the past year on deciding whether it will award an outflow licence. I have seen a situation in Glenamaddy, County Galway where there is a new upgrade being done and the discharge licence is out. One must bear in mind that, whether the environmentalists like it, 50% of the water we extract comes from designated areas and 50% of our output through toilets and sewers will have to go into designated areas. The EPA is imposing stipulations that one might have to bring a pipe seven miles down the road when one has an outflow beside it, and one is bringing the quality of the treatment from zero at present to 97% purification. The EPA seems to be a body that is accountable to nobody and it needs to be reined in.

As was pointed out earlier there might be a theory in Dublin 4 or Dublin generally that it could end up that we would have the half-door to welcome tourists and the west would be a wilderness. The dream is to go down on a Friday evening and return on Sunday, and spend the weekend surfing and walking. They are welcome, by the way, but we have to make a living and work in those areas.

There are rules. A document issued by the EPA in the past few weeks stated there were 30 places where raw sewage was being discharged. The agency does not know how to count because there are more smaller towns involved. Funding is needed. Communities will help the Government in this regard but someone needs to talk to the EPA. When one is trying to solve a problem, and the likes of Irish Water has plans in place, the EPA brings it to court. Someone needs to call a halt to this craic. Irish Water is dragged through the court using the money required for some of these schemes. Every €6,000 fine means less will be done.

Throughout the west, there is good quality land and marginal land. This is a solution that should be put out in place because it has been proven. People have been brought in busloads to the plant in Monaghan, and other plants around the country, to see the way they work. The Bill offers a common-sense solution and will make the quality of water better. At the same time, in that same county, a helicopter flies around the place spreading fertiliser for forestry that, it has been proven, damages water. The Government might think that it will get away with having spruce on every road and no people, but there will be a revolt.

There is time yet before the vote. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment. I am sick of hearing that this will happen in 2019 and waiting another year.

We are trying to ensure people live in rural areas, which is not that simple, to make villages sustainable. They need whatever help they can get. This is a proactive legislation that Deputy Martin Kenny has brought forward to solve an issue for people who want to build new houses in their areas. Is the dream to refuse planning permission in all rural areas, push people into the cities, build more ghettos and have no one in rural areas? It is unacceptable. The vote on this Bill will prove that common-sense legislation is backed in this House.

I fully support the legislation, which is an attempt to solve an existing problem. It was said earlier that the Minister has proposed we should wait until the end of next year to pass Second Stage. However, if the Bill passes Second Stage on Thursday, by the time it gets through Committee Stage and Report Stage in the Dáil and then goes to the Seanad, it will be well past the end of next year before it becomes law. The Minister knows that is the reality. It will not make any difference, therefore, to delay it. The Government should go ahead and do what it is doing and this Bill will progress through the system. If what the Government is doing sorts out the problem, this Bill can fall at any stage without any problem. However, the proposal to defer the Bill until the end of next year does not stand up. Nothing will be done between now and then to deal with this situation, as the Minister and everybody in the House knows. The Minister is just waffling to get the Government over the hump of this debate.

In supporting the Bill, some Members have said that rural Ireland does not cause any problems, or if it does, they are much smaller than those caused by urban areas, but that misses the point. All effluent causes problems and it all has to be dealt with. The fact it is not being dealt with somewhere else does not mean I should fail to deal with my effluent. This makes no sense. There has to be a system that allows people in rural Ireland to build and maintain their own systems. It would be far better if the construction of septic tanks was inspected after they were completed but nothing like this happens. The only time a septic tank is looked at is during the planning application stage of the development, which is the only time the planners and environmental health officials get any say in what happens. A completion certificate is signed off at the end, and everybody says it is grand. However, there is no expectation when a septic tank is built that there should be compliance or that the householder should be sure the contractor has done a proper job. We would be better off with the system that applies in the Six Counties, where there are three inspections, namely, inspection of the foundations, inspection of the roof and inspection of the septic tank when the building is complete. That would ensure septic tanks and treatment systems are compatible and that the effluent system is in working order. It should be part of the planning requirements prior to allowing the development to go ahead.

It was suggested it was an unintended consequence that had stopped development in County Leitrim but that is not the case. I believe the intention is to stop rural development. From the Government's point of view, if it can stop people living in rural areas, they will live in towns and everything will be solved. If the Government is serious about this, it should make land available in towns and villages for people to build on, and not give it to the private sector, which is what it normally does. For example, if somebody in a town or village catchment area wants to build on his or her own land, he or she should be given land within the town or village as an alternative. This would make the town or village viable and it would also keep people in the rural area they belong to, and give them belief and ownership. It makes total sense. This would also allow for the combining of treatment systems with other systems so that everything works, in addition to maintaining rural areas.

We have to do something. We would all like people to live on their own townland, next door to their parents and so on. However, one reason people do that is because they cannot afford anything else. Nothing we have done in this House has worked to make that happen for them. We should introduce a system that makes it happen. Until that is done in this House, and we will be a long time waiting, Deputy Martin Kenny's legislation is the correct way to proceed. We have to facilitate people to live in the rural areas they come from. For that reason, we should support this legislation and pass it through the Houses. If the Government wants to propose changes, it can work away on that. By the time this legislation goes through all the routine it has to go through to become law, the Government's system would be in place and there would be no need for the Bill.

I wish to share time with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I compliment Deputy Martin Kenny on bringing it forward and on the excellent points he made in his contribution. It is a common-sense approach. All rural Deputies are aware that the hoops and loops people have to go through to get planning permission make it nigh on impossible. While there are stringent planning guidelines, I reiterate what was said by Deputy Martin Kenny and others. We are not trying to have a free-for-all or to break any laws. However, in 2013 and 2014, Fine Gael, especially under Big Phil, the enforcer, the former Minister, tried to maintain that every house with a septic tank in rural Ireland was causing trouble. In fact, 99.9% of people with septic tanks look after them very well because it is in their own interest to do so. They maintain them, unlike people in towns. The reason the EPA report found that small towns and villages were belching sewage into watercourses, streams and the sea was to make scapegoats of people in the countryside. I listened to Deputy Martin Kenny and the director of services from Leitrim County Council on radio this morning saying that it has become so bad that people cannot build in their own county.

We have to take note of the topography of the land. Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Scanlon are from different counties, and many Deputies from other counties have also spoken. My own county of Tipperary, in particular the Golden Vale, has areas with heavy land, wet land and different topography and soil types. We must change this approach and ensure that people who want to build a house, whether to service a farm or to look after elderly relatives, can be allowed to do it. They are not looking for a house off the State. They are prepared to pay the planning and development charges and pay an architect to design the house and a foolproof percolation scheme. We have seen the reed bed systems, and Mr. Ray O'Dwyer, who was a director of services and worked with Irish Water, was involved in such a scheme in County Waterford 30 years ago. Some of these schemes are excellent but, instead, we have rules and regulations from the EPA and commonsense has gone out the window.

Effluent discharges, for which a discharge licence must be obtained under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977, include all trade effluent discharges to any water except in accordance with a licence issued by the appropriate regulatory authorities. I have stopped on the bridge in Newcastle a number of times and have seen the EPA doing tests under it.

I have asked the EPA to conduct tests 300 yd. south where the sewerage scheme - a large tank - is belching raw sewage into the water but it will not do it. The EPA is in cahoots with the council. It will not prosecute the council, but it will prosecute the ordinary person.

I welcome Deputy Martin Kenny's Bill, which seeks to allow people who have the wherewithal in terms of a mortgage and between €10,000 and €30,000 to install a proper treatment plant to build a house. It is time this Bill was enacted. Deputy Martin Kenny said earlier that he had discussions on the Bill with the Minister of State, Deputy English, and that he is in agreement with him. I do not understand, therefore, why an amendment has been tabled to delay the Bill. Allowing the EPA and other agencies to fool around with it is nothing but jobs for the boys, many of whom would not know a bog from a cornfield. They are all experts on books and they are penalising people and causing trouble for the housing crisis. I support the Bill and I hope the Government sees sense and deals with it as an effective measure.

I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for bringing this important Bill to the floor of the House. If this measure had been in place over the last number of years it would have helped many people and young couples who wanted to put a roof over their heads to get planning permission to do so. The Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Government are forever telling us what they are going to do to help people and to provide housing for them. In this instance, we are talking about people who want to build houses for themselves. They are not asking for money. All they are asking for is permission to build a home for themselves but they are being denied it. In places such as Gneeveguilla, Scartaglin, Castletownbere, Lauragh and Sneem the ground is heavy. Several proposals, whether for reed beds or otherwise, were shot down and people were refused discharge licences for rural cottages. Many people have applied for discharge licences. During a meeting in the council chamber I stood up and said that the council was robbing the people because it has not granted even one discharge licence. That is the truth. Not one discharge licence has been granted. The facility to apply exists but a licence will not be granted. We want change.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, read out a speech that had been written for him. I know that he did not understand any of what he read out. I do understand it. Propositions can be put together and once a discharge licence can be obtained people will have a chance to put a roof over their heads. The Minister of State, Deputy English, said that there is a review under way of the rural group schemes and so on, which is fine, but the review will not include the issue addressed in Deputy Martin Kenny's Bill.

Instead of opposing the Bill and tabling an amendment seeking to delay it until the end of 2019, I am asking the Minister of State to allow it to proceed to committee where it can be discussed with the EPA. The people who made the presentation in the audiovisual room today could also make a presentation to the committee. Southern Scientific, which is operated by Michael Murphy in Killarney will tell its side of the story to the committee, which is representative of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Independents, the Green Party and others. We want an opportunity to thrash out the issues to see who is right and who is wrong. We believe that we are right because we have been told by the professionals that there are systems that will work. We want to give those systems a chance. We want to allow people the chance to build, including the young man who could not get permission to build on his own farm or a couple of miles away in another townland owing to the rural settlement rules. Is this young man expected to purchase an expensive house in a town at a cost of €500,000 or €600,000? He cannot do that, because he cannot afford it. This is the reason people are homeless. All we are asking for is fair play. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw his amendment and not to hold up the Bill so that people in rural areas will have the opportunity to live in their areas.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, on bringing forward this legislative amendment, which seeks to amend the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 and make it somewhat easier for people to pursue the building of one-off housing in rural Ireland.

We have to be honest here tonight. The building of one-off housing has been halted in Ireland for a number of years. This is due to an EPA guideline which stipulates zero emissions from the sewerage system in such homes. We also have to be honest about the times we live in. Action on climate change is essential. We need to preserve our environment for future generations and their future generations and we all have a responsibility in this regard. How do we measure all of this? Rural Ireland has been under sustained attack. Rural depopulation is a serious issue. The consequences of this have been seen throughout this summer, with community hall meetings happening in every small town and village, fighting to preserve their post office network. Post office closures have followed bank closures and Garda station closures and these have followed the closure of main street retail stores in small town Ireland through the recession years. This all needs to be examined.

I refer the Minister of State to the comments in July 2017 by the former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, one of the highest civil servant positions in the State when speaking at the MacGill Summer School in County Donegal. Mr. John Moran said: "The right for children to build to house on their parents' land in rural Ireland should not be an automatic given." I will repeat this statement: "The right for children to build a house on their parents' land in rural Ireland should not be an automatic given." This is the nub of the problem. Government policy has directly created a major social issue. I find it difficult to believe that indepth discussions were not held in and around Government at that time regarding the development of measures to block the building of one-off housing in rural Ireland.

What the Government has done is wrong and damaging. We now need to look at ways of reintroducing the prospect of one-off housing as a way to repopulate rural Ireland and to allow families to dwell alongside each other in what for many has been their generational home. What else do we need to do? We need to bring in environmental experts to address communities across rural Ireland not just on this issue but on many issues. Rural dwellers are more than open to contributing to our country's commitments on climate change targets. The green economy can be built upon by repopulating rural Ireland. They are not mutually self exclusive, as some key thinkers clearly believe, including an examination of Mr. Moran's address last year.

Solutions through green technology can be found to address the septic tank issue. Let us find it together. Let us build rural Ireland again and reach out to those who feel they have been left behind. Rural Ireland, for those of us who know it intimately, is a proud Ireland, and we should all be proud of it. I urge Government and all Opposition voices in this House to support Deputy Martin Kenny's amending proposals.

All of us Deputies who come from rural Ireland have watched the terrible depopulation of rural Ireland, in particular in the west and south west, and many of us have tried to do our best to highlight it. It has been going on for decades, and the political establishment, that is, successive Governments, has done absolutely nothing to try to address it. Like my colleagues here, I come from and love rural Ireland but I have watched the population where I grew up and where I live decline. The same can be said for the entire west coast of Ireland, west of the Shannon and indeed many other areas. Successive Governments have done nothing to address this. One consequence of the depopulation of rural Ireland is the closure of shops, Garda stations, post offices and all the infrastructure that was sustained by the population that lived there.

Last night I was at a meeting with the two Deputy Healy-Raes in Dromod in south Kerry. There were about 150 people there trying to save their post office. We were told at the meeting that two post offices have closed in Kerry as a result of Government policy, namely, Knocknagashel and Gneevgullia. This is another nail in the coffin for that part of rural Ireland. I have also made contact with a number of engineers who do work for constituents, trying to get them planning permission. All the Deputies here will tell the Minister of State that the biggest obstacle to getting planning permission has always been the population problem and trying to find ways and means of addressing it. Many of these engineers will tell him they have come up with systems and ideas that can deal with the situation but they have come up against red tape and resistance, in particular from Government policies. This evening I spoke with another engineer who told me about a reed bed area in Killarney measuring 4 m by 4 m by 1 m, 122 linear m, costing approximately €3,000 to €4,000. He was entitled to a discharge licence and has done a fantastic job. This could be replicated all over County Kerry, and indeed many other parts of rural Ireland, if the political will was there.

Deputy Martin Kenny's proposal offers part of a solution to try to address this. It deserves and demands the support of every Deputy who cares about rural Ireland. It is not too long ago, about eight years ago, that Deputy Pearse Doherty and I brought out two reports on coastal communities and a viable rural economy. Right afterwards, the Government initiated the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, report with Pat Spillane, the former Kerry footballer. Where is that report now? It is gathering dust on a shelf. It addressed all the areas we had addressed in our previous report, such as trying to bring the population back to rural Ireland. Pat Spillane, I understand, would not be a supporter of Sinn Féin but would perhaps be supportive of the Minister of State's party because it gave him the job.

I question that. The Deputy should check that again.

Pat Spillane has been silenced by the Minister of State's party on that report. It offered some hope for rural Ireland but nothing was done about it. There was a big hullabaloo when the thing was launched but now the report sits there and there is no political will to implement it.

If the Minister of State has any consideration for rural Ireland, he has his chance to show it here when we vote on this Bill. He can support it or oppose it. He can table an amendment to try to push it down the road, which is the intention of the Government, in the hope that it will not be implemented but in so doing he will not be doing the service demanded of him by his constituents to try to have it implemented. I understand Fianna Fáil, the Independents and practically everyone in this House, to my knowledge, will support it. It is a question of whether the Government will change its position and support it. It will not be too long before the Minister of State will be walking the boreens of rural Ireland looking for votes. There are people out there who have concern for rural Ireland and want it to survive and be a vibrant, sustainable economy in which we can build houses and live in our own communities, where we grew up or went to school, without being forced into the cities and major towns. I hope they remember the Minister of State's decision when that day comes, and I am quite sure it will not be too long. I also hope the Minister of State will go to that room where the CEDRA report sits on a shelf covered in dust and dust it off and have a look at it.

To conclude, I will call Deputy Buckley and then Deputy Martin Kenny.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Did the Leas-Cheann Comhairle mean the Minister of State? I have no problem speaking twice.

I call the Minister of State, Deputy English.

We will wait for the Minister of State.

I am glad the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will give me an extra ten minutes for scaring me off.

I am not sure Pat Spillane will be very happy that Deputy Ferris has tried to identify him as a Fine Gaeler. The Deputy might want to discuss that with him because I would not have him on our list. It is unfair and wrong to name people in the Chamber and assume what their political persuasions are unless they want to declare them themselves. Pat Spillane's report fed into the Action Plan for Rural Development implemented by the Ministers, Deputies Humphreys and Ring, and others. Even today we saw increased funding announced by the Minister, Deputy Ring, which feeds on from some of the work done in Pat Spillane's report, so it is not sitting on anyone's desk gathering dust.

I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for introducing the Bill. While we cannot agree with everything in it, we all support what it seeks to achieve, and I recognise the genuine attempt in the Bill in this regard, as we all do. I think everyone who spoke tonight is in support of what the Deputy seeks to achieve in the Bill. To be very clear, however, and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is very clear on this too, we support one-off rural house construction. Deputy Ó Cuív is wrong on this. He said we have halted such construction in Ireland since 2010, which is not true. A change was brought in in 2010 - I have to laugh because Deputy Ó Cuív was at the Cabinet in 2010 and supported this but seems to have forgotten this - but that does not mean we halted construction in rural Ireland. It has meant it has become difficult in some areas to get planning permission. However, it is not true to say this Government or my Department is against one-off housing. An average of 5,000 or 6,000 one-off houses have been built every year for the past number of years. I am happy to debate the Bill in factual terms, not made-up terms.

Six in Leitrim.

I know, but "in Ireland" was said and I wanted to clear that up. That is not a true statement for anyone to come out with in this House. Again, I listened to Deputy Ó Cuív and the same accusation that we are against one-off houses. In Galway all the houses built in recent years have been one-off houses, so the Deputy's statement is just not true. I am happy to debate this. I know there are problems in certain areas but I ask Deputies to have an honest conversation about what is true and what is not true. The facts do not back up some of the comments that were made during the debate. It is not factual to say we as a Government are against one-off housing. It is not true. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and now I have clarified what is in Project Ireland 2040. I have debated this in this House, the other House and council chambers all around the country and we have been very clear that there are clear criteria for one-off housing to be allowed in future scenarios under the national planning framework. I, therefore, ask Deputies to not try to muddy the waters. That is different from trying to find environmental solutions, and I want to be very clear about that.

Much of the conversation tonight has been about rural decline. I live in rural Ireland, Deputy Ferris. I know all about it. I am on those laneways and roads every day of the week, so-----

Is the population going up or down?

-----again, the Deputy should check his facts before he makes accusations in the House. Some parts of rural Ireland has been in decline for many years, although not all parts. They were let decline and there was no effort to save rural Ireland or to give certain parts of the country a function or a reason to prosper, or the opportunity to prosper. It is not because of changes to one-off planning. That has not led to the decline of rural Ireland. In some areas where we see services being removed, such as a post office, the population has gone up. People choose not to use the service. That is different. Yes, in other areas, it is because of a population decline, but not in all areas. Deputies are right to do the research and the checking, but there are different reasons for different things.

Sometimes services closed because either nobody wanted to use them or they were not used enough to make them viable. That is different to a decline in population.

I reiterate what I have stated on previous occasions, namely, that I, as a Deputy from rural Ireland, have no difficulty in declaring that the saving of rural Ireland is in Project Ireland 2040. It is a thought-out plan on how to make living in rural Ireland sustainable. It concerns how to give villages, towns and cities a regional presence and build them up in order that they can serve rural Ireland and accommodate one-off housing. As Deputy Pringle correctly stated - I have also said this previously - not all of those who want to live in rural Ireland want to live in such housing. Many people want to do so, however, and we have to support them and change what we can in order to make it happen. Many others want to live in rural Ireland. They are quite happy to live in towns or villages but not necessarily out in the country. Deputy Pringle was also correct when he stated that they did not have the option previously because they could not afford to do it. I fully agree with that we should bring forward proposals to use State-owned land, where possible, and other land in order to make it easy, viable and economical to live in a village or on the edge of it. That has not happened in the past but it is envisaged in Project Ireland 2040. I will be happy to support the Deputy in that and do some of the work as well.

The other point Deputy Pringle made to the effect that it is often not cost-effective to build a one-off house is also correct. That fact was lost in the debate on water charges. It was completely and utterly lost in the context of the cost for a rural dweller of ensuring that his or her house is connected to water and wastewater services. Deputy Pringle led the charge against water charges, which was an attempt to try to balance matters a little and to fund services. We can not have it every which way. I agree that there are high costs to living in rural Ireland. One of them is putting in treatment facilities. We agree that it is important that we treat drinking water and wastewater.

People are saying that this is a great Bill and that what it proposes has to be done. It is not the full solution and that is why we have asked for a deferral for a number of months. The amendment refers to a period of 12 months but the Minister was very clear in stating that we hope to complete our work before that. There are two pieces of work under way. Deputy Pringle and many others claim that it will never happen. However, the work to which I refer is almost finished. A review group was set up by the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. It is bringing forward a policy change and recommendations. That process is under way. The EPA will also publish a new revised code of practice for wastewater treatment and disposal systems serving single houses for public consultation in early 2019.

The 12-month period I mentioned is the worst-case scenario. We are committed to trying to do it before that. Work is under way to allow this to happen. As a result, we are asking for a deferral in order to allow that work to be completed so that we can all come together to bring forward solutions. The potential licensing arrangement is not the full solution. It could possibly be part of the solution. In some cases these licences are already allowed, if they are wanted, and, in other cases, they are not used or the situation is complicated. I am just saying that it is not the full solution. What we actually have to devise is a cost-effective solution. In fairness, I have conversed with councillors from Leitrim - John McCartin, Séan McDermott, Frank Dolan and others - on numerous occasions. Deputy McLoughlin has been to meet me and has also put forward solutions. He had hoped to be here tonight to take part in this debate.

I informed to Deputy Martin Kenny that the solution to this is all of us working together. He understands that but I want to be clear that we support effective solutions. Leitrim officials in charge of planning, such as Mr. Joseph Gilhooly, have brought forward solutions. The people in the planning system are happy to try to find solutions, have engaged with our Department and the EPA and have brought in researchers from University College Dublin and elsewhere. They are trying to find a solution but it has to be cost-effective. Everyone states that a licence is needed. That is only part of the solution; we need to find the second part. That is what the research and the work we are doing involve. There are many solutions available. This Bill does not specify a particular solution. I accept that. The difficulty with the various solutions is that many of them are expensive. Others are not. We have to make sure we get this right and that was what the researchers were trying to do. We support trying to find a solution. I have attended meetings of Leitrim County Council and I addressed all of the councillors and different parties there. I said to them straight up we have to try to find solutions. We are engaged in a process and in some cases it will work. We have to make it work because we want it to be viable.

In some parts of Leitrim, only 20 or 30 one-off houses were built in many years. That was even before these changes. That is an area that can cope with one-off housing, as can other places such as parts of Cavan, Donegal and Sligo. If we can sort out these environmental issues, Leitrim is a county that can cope. We can do that and we are committed to doing it. I wish to make it clear that we want to work to find solutions. We are asking for a common-sense deferral of the Bill while we await the two pieces of work that have commenced and that are going to be completed. Then, in a logical way and with the full agreement of this House, we can bring forward solutions. We all agree we want solutions in Leitrim and other counties.

We are supportive and we all recognise the importance of the sustainable development of one-off housing in an appropriate way. That is what we encourage. We ask that the Bill be deferred but I guess that is not going to happen. People have to realise what the conversation is about here but they should not try to state that we are against one-off housing or that it does not happen at all. That is not factually correct. It is important that we get that right when we are having the conversation as well. I understand the intention behind the Bill and I listened to all of the contributions. I recognise the positive elements to the Bill. We had some engagement on it and we are hoping to have more as well.

Maintaining and developing viable rural communities, and the economy and the environment to allow that to happen, is a key challenge for the State. We have to have a sympathetic approach to achieving this. It is a challenge we are up for and it is a challenge that Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework and the investment of taxpayers' money will meet. If people want to live in rural Ireland, they need a reason to be there. They have to have access to jobs and services. We need to build up the areas that can either attract or create jobs. None of this is possible without a healthy environment. Other development efforts will prove futile in the long term if we do not get that right and protect the environment. There is a growing recognition that water quality is a great asset but also a great challenge and responsibility. That is why we want to get it right. I have no problem stating that this is taking longer than anyone thought. I accept that. This change was made by previous Governments. Some people spoke as if they were never in government. The change was made a long time ago, however. We have been focusing on solutions for the past year or two. The Department has engaged with Leitrim County Council and the councillors there across the various parties. We have made good progress. The Bill, or one like it with provision for a licensing arrangement, could be part of that but it is not the only solution. It makes common sense to defer it for a few months as we all try to work on this. It should be a non-political issue if we all agree.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend Deputy Martin Kenny on introducing it. I had many points to make but I had the opportunity to sit for a long time and listen to many of the previous speakers. To be honest, I am a bit confused. The Minister stated that there would continue to be support for the provision of one-off rural housing where it is needed and wanted and where the protection of our natural environment and water sources can be ensured. There is agreement on that.

Deputy Martin Kenny's Bill offers an ecological solution. It is not an idea, it is an ecological solution. If we amalgamate what the Minister of State, Deputy English, stated with Deputy Kenny's solution, I think we are in the same boat already. Why was it necessary for the Government to table an amendment in the first instance? I do not like the idea of kicking the can down the road. When we have solutions, why does the Government not back them? What is proposed would benefit everybody. We have listened to arguments about rural depopulation and about rural Ireland falling apart. Rural Ireland is not 60 miles from the nearest town, it could be five minutes down the road.

That is correct.

When I was a member of Cork County Council, we discussed one of the county development plans. It was called a common-sense approach. If a family and some siblings wanted to build on land, they should be facilitated if they work in the locality and are contributing to it. It was not an issue because there was a common-sense approach. The Minister of State referred to some of the specific actions to be undertaken. These could also be undertaken while the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage because it will complement the work.

This all goes back to ecological solutions - not ideas - to support people by providing grant schemes and assisting them with the costs relating to septic tank remediation. These are all the positive knock-on effects and building blocks from where sewage leaves the house, goes into the septic tank, passes through a filter unit and heads out into the willow bank. I cannot understand why, when a Member of this House - regardless of what party he or she belongs to - comes forward with a genuine solution that will benefit people, the intention is to stall the ball. The reason for such behaviour bemuses me on occasion.

We have to consider the bigger picture. People want to live near their parents. We have an ageing population. Previous speakers mentioned that we no longer have post offices, meeting places or local pubs. In some areas, we have nothing.

Many of the houses to which the Bill relates are 50 or 60 years old. The people who live in them are in their 70s. What is left for them? Reference was made to the plan up to 2040. In 40 years' time, there will be no one living in rural Ireland. The people who live there now will all be dead.

We will end up with ruins and people will scratch their heads because there will be another 20,000 ha of pine trees and what will be done with them because there will be nobody to cut them down? Nobody will do it because everybody will be living in cities or will have emigrated. There are major implications from this. Regenerate local areas and bring back local people to live in those areas. The people with local knowledge will always benefit the local area.

This is not an idea but rather a fabulous solution. If the Government is genuinely interested in doing the right thing, as the Minister indicated in stating we can ensure the protection of the natural environment and water sources and "We will continue to support the provision of one-off rural housing", Deputy Martin Kenny's amending legislation will certainly add clout. It is an ecological solution that is working, as we have seen with the underground ecosystems involving the burial of a pipe 1.5 m underground. When it is run into the base of the house, it heats the building during the winter and cools it in summer. These are solutions rather than ideas, as they work. Please think about this. The other matters raised by the Minister can run parallel to this but it will be a year or so before the rest of those investigations are done. This is certainly something that is extremely positive and beneficial. It needs the full support of this House because it will benefit everybody in the long run. There is an ecological benefit. It is a win-win scenario so I cannot understand why the Government will not support it.

I thank all the speakers from the different parties. They were mainly in favour of the Bill, although the Labour Party indicated it had some reservations. It is clear the vast majority of those who live and work with people in rural Ireland understand this problem needs a solution. In fairness, the Minister of State and many of his colleagues have said that when I mentioned this to them. They understand this needs a solution, not in a year or two but now. We must bring it into practice now.

I thank my colleagues from Leitrim who came here this evening, Mr. Padraig Fallon and Mr. Séadhna Logan. I particularly thank Mr. Frank Davitt, a planner in north Leitrim who deals with this all the time. Earlier this evening we had a little presentation in the audiovisual room. He displayed a map of the country, indicating the areas where soil was heavier. Leitrim and the north west was particularly afflicted but we could see the problem in parts of Clare, Cork, Donegal and the Minister of State's own county. It is most acute in counties where the majority of the land has this problem, which is the case with Leitrim.

The Minister of State mentioned that he spoke with people in Leitrim and many of his party's councillors there, as well as others on the country council, and they have been trying to find a solution. Some of those solutions are very expensive because the effort has been to try to achieve zero discharge. When one tries to achieve zero discharge, one ends up with a system that will be extremely expensive as much of the expense goes into checking if there is zero discharge. We want to get away from zero discharge but allow discharge of a completely treated effluent that is to bathing water standard. It is clear that a licence can have that as a condition of the granting of the licence. The wastewater licence can then be a tool the Government can use to guarantee that water will be treated to the highest possible level.

The Minister went through a lot of stuff earlier and I know from experience that most ministerial speeches are written for and handed to them. Much of the stuff was irrelevant to what we are dealing with, which is a very specific matter. It concerns a case where a percolation test is failed and the EPA guidelines stipulate that planning permission cannot be granted. We want a solution where we can get planning granted where it is appropriate and meets all other conditions. It is about allowing people to get planning permission in order that they can live in a rural area. I know the Minister of State understands this but for some reason or another, a couple of officials in some Department or other seem to tell Ministers that we must find a way of blocking this because it will not look good to Europe. We have sent EPA guidelines to Europe and this does not conflict with those guidelines; it enhances them and provides a solution with which we can all work.

One-off housing has been mentioned, particularly whether people are for or against it. We cannot have an Animal Farm attitude to this that all one-off housing is good or bad. It is about where such housing is appropriate or it works. Such building must meet environmental needs and the needs of the community and society in general. It must work that way. People are blocking it because of an ideological fixation that one-off housing is bad but they must understand that this cannot be the case any more than all rural or urban dwelling is good or bad. A mix or balance is required and we must restore that balance.

I will give the Minister of State some examples. A few years ago, a couple from Dublin inherited a piece of land not that far from me. They approached me at the time because they inherited the land from a relative and they wanted planning permission to build. I imagine from speaking with them they were strong supporters of the Green Party as they had a vision of building an ecological house with a grass roof, with an organic garden of vegetables. They were going to have a magnificent lifestyle. They went to the council but could not get planning. They were told to go away as they were not allowed there. A few years later they had to sell the land and disappear. Those people were going to enhance the community but they were not granted planning permission.

That was a local policy decision on housing.

No, the refusal came about because the percolation test was not passed. The soil was too dense.

That is different from what the Deputy said a moment ago.

It is the reason. The refusal came because of the EPA guidelines. In my parish of Aghavas, there is no town or village. It is a rural parish with approximately 600 people scattered over 20 sq. km. There is a three-teacher school but next year it will be a two-teacher school. The football club is under pressure because we do not have enough children in the parish. There are at least ten families from the parish who want to move back, build houses and live in the community but they cannot do so because of the percolation test problem. We need a solution and I want to work with the Minister of State and the Government to produce a solution that works for those families. There is a similar problem in the neighbouring parish of Drumreilly, a rural parish with no town. It is the same with Gortletteragh, a rural parish with no town either. It is the case with many areas across the country.

The Government has proposed to kick this down the road for a year but if this has to go through Committee and all other Stages, most of the year will probably have passed. There is no need to kick it down the road. I appeal to the Minister of State to withdraw the Government's amendment and support the Bill. It should work with everybody else who is on board with this so we can formulate a solution to this problem for everyone.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 22 November 2018.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 November 2018.