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

SECTION 4
Debate resumed on amendment No. 27:
In page 7, to delete lines 18 and 19.
- (Deputy Niall Collins).

On the last occasion the Minister mentioned the Water Services Act 2007 a number of times. There is a fundamental difference between that Act and the Bill because the Act makes provision for the Minister to make grants to any person. Does he intend to introduce an amendment on Report Stage similar to the provision contained in the Act to provide for the making of grants?

The Minister has said planning permission will not be needed for the upgrade of septic tanks. Will this require primary legislation or can it be done through statutory instrument? If it can be done through statutory instrument, will the Minister point out under what primary legislation the statutory instrument can be introduced so we can inspect the proposed method of exemption from planning permission and be satisfied it will be robust and not open to challenge? I also hope that prior to the Bill being enacted, we have a draft of whatever the statutory instrument is used - if a statutory instrument is used - to allow for the exemption from planning permission of the upgrade of waste water systems in private dwellings. If primary legislation is required, I suggest the Minister table an amendment on Report Stage to leave it beyond any shadow of doubt that planning permission is not required.

We now come to the next very vexing question. By definition, if somebody is asked to upgrade a waste water system, be it a septic tank or any other system, it is for the purpose of improving the environment. In large parts of the country which are adjacent to a national heritage area, a special protection area or a special area of conservation, people are required to do environmental screening, and in some cases an environmental impact analysis. Has the Minister discussed with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, this issue of environmental screening and environmental impact analysis possibly being required for the upgrade of septic tanks? Will the Minister assure us that no environmental screening or environmental impact analysis will be required if someone must upgrade a tank on the instruction of the relevant authority?

The next issue that arises is that of the professional indemnity insurance required under the Bill. Every inspector is required to have professional indemnity insurance to be eligible to carry out the work. When someone takes out insurance, the insurance company will require that person to follow certain instructions which are laid out in the policy. An issue which is germane to this debate and which has not been resolved is whether the insurers will insist on the EPA guidelines for upgrades to new and existing septic tanks. Appendix G of the guidelines covers the maintenance of these systems. Will the insurers insist these guidelines are the bible in terms of standards for which they will insure the inspectors?

The Minister mentioned the outbreak of cryptosporidium contamination in Galway. If he checks the record he will find that cryptosporidium occurs naturally and comes from animals and humans. There were two treatment systems in Galway. One is a modern system, and like most water treatment systems it deals with a possible threat of cryptosporidium and eliminates it from drinking water. However, there was also an old system in Galway which did not have this technology to the same level and what happened was that system failed. Some level of cryptosporidium is in most water and it can come from animals. Furthermore, I point out to the Minister for his information that what happened in Galway had to do with significant flooding in east Galway - not in Connemara which did not flood in November 2009 - where many waste water systems ended up under six feet of water. Even if they had been inspected and found to be up to full standard, and I presume they were, it would not have prevented cryptosporidium getting into the water where the total flooding occurred.

For the Minister to state there is a connection between the Bill and cryptosporidium is incorrect and I am sure the EPA will be able to advise him on cryptosporidium. If we examine pollution problems, the evidence is that 80% of the difficulties in the latest EPA report on water pollution comes from either public sewage systems or agriculture, with only 20% coming from private systems. Private systems are being painted as the biggest problem we face, whereas despite the €4.4 billion investment in waste water systems since 1990, the reality is there is still much to be done with the public systems. They, along with agriculture, are still the big polluters. The Minister should give realistic and fair answers to questions and not make comments in the media that do not stand up to analysis.

With regard to the last remark made by Deputy Ó Cuív we are here because we are not implementing a judgment of the European Court of Justice. We are here because we lost a court case. This is the principal reason we are here and we are dealing with trying to overcome this particular issue. I think Deputy Ó Cuív accepts this, does he not?

Absolutely. We all accept this.

Yes, nobody is blaming anybody. I could blame a lot of people for the fact we are here.

I could blame many more.

Speak through the Chair, please.

The fact that the cryptosporidium issue is mentioned in the EPA report does not negate the fact that according to the report, possible sources of contamination were sources close to Lough Corrib with regard to septic tanks.

On the Claregalway side-----

Yes, but you are accepting that there was possible contamination-----

But it was not-----

-----that could have resulted in cryptosporidium for the people of Galway.

But it was not caused-----

Allow the Minister to respond, please.

Farmyard run-off directly accessed by animals and failing septic tanks have been identified as possible sources. Nobody is blaming anybody; we are just reflecting the fact. However, the people of Galway had to suffer because of it. After an investment of €40 million and plenty of bottled water was bought, the matter is resolved.

The fundamental issue is that Deputy Ó Cuív wants to implement the 2009 EPA code of practice. This is how he would solve the court judgment against Ireland. His entire premise of argument is based on the fact that the State must implement the 2009 EPA code of practice. Is this correct?

I remind the Minister to address the Chair.

I am asking Deputy Ó Cuív to confirm this in his further remarks.

That is fine. We will seek that confirmation.

He has stated publicly that he accepts the EPA 2009 code of practice.

That is not what I said publicly.

You did. You said it on RTE radio.

No, what I said was-----

May I continue?

You asked the question.

You can answer it. The Vice Chairman will ask you to answer it.

May I be allowed in?

I will allow Deputy Ó Cuív a brief response.

Under planning law the Minister can implement exemptions to the requirement for planning permission, and I am telling Deputy Ó Cuív what I am prepared to implement with regard to planning permission exemptions in respect of septic tanks. No planning permission will be required and, accordingly, no environmental impact assessment will be required.

Can we get that in writing?

You have it already. I indicated this in my Second Stage speech but it does not suit Deputies to read it.

With regard to grants, as the Deputy correctly pointed out, section 16 of the 2007 Act provides for grant assistance. The Bill amends this Act. Therefore I do not have to provide an amendment in writing to consider grant assistance because the provision already exists. On many occasions I have stated that if there is a problem in 2013, we will then consider financial assistance for people to upgrade. I have not ruled it out.

I will allow Deputy Ó Cuív to make a brief response.

The first matter is that of the EPA. What I have stated is that this is based on the 2007 framework directive and the EPA guidelines. I have asked the Minister to facilitate the EPA coming here to explain satisfactorily to us what advice it will give the Minister under section 70L of Part 4A to be introduced by the Bill, and if this will differ from the guidelines to explain how two very different standards for clean water can apply, with both giving clean water.

The second matter to be resolved is that if a lower standard is introduced, it will not comply with the 2007 framework directive. In 2004, An Taisce complained that SR6 was not sufficient and I have documentation to prove this. New build or old, it still gives the same answer which is clean water. What we all need is an open approach from the Minister, giving us the details and correspondence proving that if he does not have to apply this, and I would be delighted if that were the case, there would be immunity to challenge from Europe. The Minister is arguing that a standard lower than that set by Europe will work. We do not have any detail of what the Minister is saying as the best he could give us the last day was that a certain standard was required in planning permission, and that left a significant question about pre-1963 structures, built when there was no planning process. I presume the Minister was not arguing that no standards would apply. Nobody has yet indicated what standards apply in that case.

A second issue is that allowing that a system might pass at a lower standard than that stipulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, if pre-1963 systems must be upgraded, what standards would apply? Would it be the new or old house standard if the entire system must be reconfigured? The Minister might be able to refer to the planning law giving him the power for these exemptions. We do not have the same research facilities as the Minister. We could then be given the opportunity to examine whether such action will stand up to a challenge. The Minister might refer to the legislative or other provision which would allow him to make the exemption.

The Minister indicated the environmental impact analysis, EIA, is not relevant because there is not a planning process. Is he satisfied that those in Europe will accept that no EIA is required? The Minister knows we had certain laws exempting certain acreages from EIAs and screening, etc. but Europe turned those on their head. I have no doubt that the non-governmental organisations mentioned by the Minister will be looking for the deluxe version and if they do not get it here, they will be off to Europe on the next plane looking for it. That has been my experience with all these environmental issues. Has the Minister discussed with the Department the issue of EIAs and screening? Has it been discussed with the Attorney General and has that office given him confirmation that there will be no EIA or screening? If that issue has been copperfastened absolutely, it can be taken off the list of issues we need to clarify and perhaps we are making some progress.

With regard to grant assistance, even the Minister has admitted that some people will have to upgrade their systems significantly. There are many very old systems from before 1963, as many houses built before that date have septic tanks that were never upgraded. No matter what regime is introduced, people in such buildings will face significant costs. The regulatory impact analysis indicates that extreme cases requiring major upgrades or even complete replacement of on-site systems may occur, and households falling into this category will incur high costs. For example, a new septic tank and percolation area could cost up to €4,000. To be honest, that might be true in Kilkenny but, ironically, it would not be true in the clean water areas of the country which require much higher standards.

I am delighted they have been cleaned up, especially those in Galway.

The Minister persists in talking about Galway.

Yes, the Deputy would be familiar with it.

I have a map indicating, effectively, that everything is hunky dory in Connemara, although on the detailed maps the problem seems to be with the public sewerage system. There is a problem where there are limestone plains in east Galway, as very quick percolation occurs through limestone. Near Cong, we move from-----

I remind the Deputy we are speaking to particular amendments. I will not allow this to become a Galway or Kilkenny issue.

The Minister persists in bringing up Galway.

I ask the Deputy to consider the other members who wish to contribute. I will not allow the Deputy to hog the meeting all day. He should at least have a bit of respect for his colleagues and allow somebody else to address the issues. Other members want to contribute.

Does the Deputy understand that other members want to contribute?

The Minister repeatedly comments on what I have allegedly said. If the Vice Chairman controls the Minister, I would be more than happy to follow his lead. More technically advanced package treatment systems can cost up to €12,000, with additional installation costs of €5,000.

The Deputy should read the next sentence in the report.

Yes. It states that the number of properties which require this level of expenditure is considered to be extremely low. If a person is in that group, the cost is still €17,000. Whether the upgrade costs €2,000 or the €17,000 for those people who may be poor and living in old houses, is the Minister willing to give the capital costs of the upgrades, as he is the cities?

We have clarity with regard to the registration fee. If a system fails, will there be a window of opportunity for a household until a grant system is put in place? Often, local authorities move fairly quickly if a system is not functioning properly, so a person could be liable to a fine. How soon is it envisaged that a grant system will be put in place? The Minister mentioned that funding will be made available and we have indicated that we want to see people in rural areas treated fairly and equitably, similar to those in urban areas with a feed to a sewer system. We do not want a position where people would be prosecuted by local authorities if they are unable to act because of a shortage of funding. We know a significant number of people are in a dire position with mortgages, for example, and these people would not have the required funding. It may not be possible for such people to upgrade a system that has failed without financial or grant assistance.

There are areas where sites are quite small and people may have to find alternatives. People may not own the property suggested by a local authority.

That will not apply.

No. Those circumstances will not apply. I have said on several occasions that the EPA guidelines which Deputy Ó Cuív and others wish to implement will not be the guidelines used. The EPA guidelines are for new builds and are much more onerous than what I want. An amendment has been tabled with regard to the Cavan model of universal inspections on all septic tanks but that is unnecessary. That is why I am pursuing a risk-based approach. As I mentioned earlier, I am not in a position to say what grant assistance will be required because the inspections for 2013 have not been carried out. We can discuss the issue when we see the level of inspections. There is provision in the legislation to allow grant assistance to be given and it will be considered by the Government.

Local authorities have a tendency to react quickly and if that happens, people could suffer a double whammy. They could be prosecuted-----

The Minister is saying such people will have opportunities.

The Minister has repeatedly indicated that Deputy Ó Cuív and others are trying to get the 2009 EPA standards implemented, which is an unfair assessment. We are not trying to do so. I know from dealing with local authorities that such guidelines are not limited to new builds. If a person looks to build an extension or upgrade a tank, the 2009 standards are being implemented. An Taisce objected in 2004 to the SR6 tests and there was a change. The Minister is making verbal commitments but will the actions stand up in Europe? They will not, as somebody will take a case on the matter. There was a case of contaminated water in Clonmel two years ago, so the issue is not just with Galway.

A question to the Minister would be much more helpful.

I am making the point that the Minister is telling us "Live, horse, and you get grass". The Minister knows this is not the case on the ground. A septic tank system could not be installed anywhere in the country for €4,000. One could not do it on the driest land in the country. I am aware of a case where a person applied for planning permission in County Wicklow to upgrade an old schoolhouse. The land is in a good part of Wicklow. The cost was €25,000 for the new treatment system. It is fine for the Minister to say what he did but he might not be in office in a couple of years' time. None of us knows how long we will be here. The Minister is making commitments but it is a waste of breath. It is no good because we know it will be challenged by An Taisce and other bodies. The European Court will not be fooled. We must comply with the terms of the European Court ruling. It will not be long before we have another court case if the Minister thinks he can get away with having one system here and another system there without any standards. That would not be acceptable anywhere.

The fear about the standards is real. I asked the Minister a question on the standards in the Dáil in October. He basically said the regulations would be light touch. The first issue is that the Minister will not implement them. There are many houses in rural areas with septic tanks. They may not even be pre-1963, as they made have been put in after that, and are based on a run-off into a soak pit. Because of a high water table there may be a further run-off into a local water course. The Minister's response to me was that once there was not an odour from it, the system would pass. That is hardly credible. I do not accept the Minister's answer. I do not envisage that An Taisce, the EPA or European bodies would accept that. I expect that the occupiers of a house with such a system would have to upgrade it. Their system will not be tolerated because there is a clear problem with ground water. We all want to protect ground water. There must be more definite information on standards. This goes to the crux of the matter. Every debate we have had on the subject in the past four months has been characterised by a lack of information on standards. I have never seen anything like it. I have never been in a similar situation before. It is the same as driving a car with a blindfold. We do not know where we are going.

The Minister referred to the Cavan experience where inspections have taken place of all septic tanks. Even on that basis there has been a high compliance rate there. The Minister's approach here is a risk-based one where considerably smaller numbers of inspections will be carried out than was the case in Cavan. In light of that, surely there should be a mechanism where a grant-based system could be put in place to facilitate householders who do not have the necessary financial resources available to them. Sadly, that number is growing by the day.

Currently, local authorities are inspecting existing septic tanks on a risk-based approach, usually following a complaint or direction by the Environmental Protection Agency. A number of those households must upgrade their septic tanks - some to a small extent and others to a far greater extent. No assistance is being provided to those families. The number involved on a countrywide basis is small. I suggest that a pilot scheme could operate to examine the scale of what would be required for the overall roll-out of the system. Those families are currently under significant financial pressure in that regard. Has the Minister considered further increasing the group sewerage scheme grant because it could take many septic tanks in the vicinity of urban areas out of the system altogether? Many of them are on restricted sites with poor ground conditions. It is a pity that the grant for group sewerage schemes was not increased during the time when we had significant money in the country as it could have addressed the issue to a great extent.

I wish to raise the capacity of de-sludging. Currently the required capacity does not exist within the local authority system to treat the sludge that is coming out of septic tanks. What scale of investment will be required at local authority level to deal with that? Much of the discussion that has taken place today and yesterday relates to the regulations that will be introduced on foot of the legislation. I accept that just as the Minister was reading himself into his ministerial brief the EPA was circulating draft regulations. Draft regulations are available in regard to what is proposed. Would it be possible to circulate the members of the committee with a copy of those draft regulations so people could see the type of thinking that is involved? Alternatively, as I suggested on the previous day, the Minister could introduce an amendment that would require a positive vote of the House for the regulations to be implemented rather than the current situation that is in place. There is precedent for that. If the Minister cannot do that, we will have to examine the matter further on Report Stage.

We cannot let the perception go out from the committee in the form of a loose statement that local authorities will not proceed to roll out the inspection regime and not implement what is contained within the Bill should it be enacted. I could direct the Minister to one or two examples of householders around the country who have been visited by local authorities and asked to upgrade their treatment plants to the highest of standards at significant cost. Deputy Bannon has raised a real concern. We cannot allow the message to go out that local authorities will not proceed in that manner in the absence of a grant scheme. We must clarify the position.

Reference has been made to the EPA code of practice and the standard of new builds, but it is not only for new builds as page one of the code of practice provides guidance to local authorities on where an existing system is proposed to be upgraded. That is the first point about local authorities and the pace at which the inspections and the requests for upgrade work will move forward in the absence of a grant scheme. Local authorities will move forward; they will not wait for the Government to implement a grant scheme.

Will the onus be on a householder to comply with the standards when they are published whether an inspection has been carried out? I would welcome clarity on the matter.

I very much welcome the Minister's statement that he would consider a grant scheme when an assessment has been carried out. In considering a grant scheme for septic tanks I remind him that several people in urban areas have been inflicted with bills for thousands of euro to upgrade their sewerage pipe work on the outfall, for which they are responsible. Several court cases have ensued where people had to pay up to €6,000 to upgrade the old clay pipe system. Poor and hard-working families were expected to pay.

I thought ordinary people were not affected.

That is typical of the Minister's comments. That is what is making a sham of the Bill. I object to it. He is playing games with us. This is outrageous. We know urban people are affected as well.

I did not call on the Deputy to speak.

The Vice Chairman did not call the Minister either. He is just adding in glib remarks. He has made a farce of the Bill. It is disgraceful.

I invite the Minister to respond to the questions.

Deputies Ó Cuív and Stanley referred to the planning code. We will get the references for the planning code. My official will get it and we will revert to the Deputies during the course of the day.

Deputy Naughten referred to grants. I have not ruled out grants. It would be nice. We used to be able to write blank cheques for everybody at the time when we had a great deal of money but we cannot do that now thanks to your Government and what you did.

What about the promise to burn the bondholders?

Thanks to what you and your Government did, we do not have that luxury anymore of writing blank cheques.

That is old talk now.

There is €1.5 billion in the water services programme.

Will the Minister address his replies through the Chair?

The funding was available in your time too.

No, it is available in your time.

I appeal to the Minister to address his remarks through the Chair. He should consider other members. I do not wish to make this an Ó Cuív, McGrath and Hogan show. The other members who are present should be respected.

I respect everybody. I hope they respect me. It is not appropriate to give solemn commitments given that, in effect, the French and the Germans are running our economy, financially, because of the activities of others.

The Minister has €1.5 billion available.

I remind Deputy Ó Cuív-----

The Minister should be allowed to speak.

-----that this court case would not be going on if he and his predecessors had done their business.

The Minister knows that is nonsense. His Department-----

In regard to Deputy Naughten-----

I wish to correct what was said.

The Deputy will have ample opportunity.

The Minister keeps making inaccurate statements. When I telephoned the Department I was told that when a court judgment is made one has two to two and a half years to deal with the issue.

The Deputy has made that point.

The Minister keeps repeating it. When one adds two and half years to October 2009 one gets to 2011 or March 2012.

Deputy Ó Cuív should allow the Minister to reply. He is replying to Deputy Naughten's question.

What that means is that it is on the Minister's watch that the due date fell, not on our watch.

Will the Minister complete his response as we want to move on?

The Lisbon treaty changed all that. Deputy Ó Cuív was probably aware of that at the time.

On Deputy Naughten's query on grants, as I said to others I do not rule out a grant scheme but we will assess in 2013 if there is major difficulty and what the level of it is. We will then be in a position to consider a grant scheme. I have never ruled out a grant scheme but I will not write a blank cheque for anybody. Such a scheme would have to get approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and the Minister for Finance.

Except for Kilkenny people.

If I said that, there would be a problem. I am reviewing group sewerage schemes and seeing how we can rebalance matters in order to help people to get additional grant assistance. That is particularly important where there is ribbon development on the edges of villages and towns. That has been on the stocks for a number of years and nobody has done anything about it but I am prepared to review the matter.

The desludging that has taken place in Cavan dates back to 2004. It is probable that if the scheme had been implemented everywhere at the time we would not be in court. I do not consider the universal inspection system as an issue. I propose a risk-based assessment. Desludging is an option on which we are in discussions with the European Commission. I cannot publish draft regulations because we are in discussions with the European Commission about the implementation of a court decision. It is not the same as if one were introducing legislation in the normal way. We are responding to a court decision. In the normal way, as Deputy Ó Cuív would be aware as a former Minister, regulations are published after legislation has been enacted because one cannot know what the regulations are until such time as one knows what is in the primary legislation. We are in discussions with the European Commission about the regulations and how we can comply with the European Court of Justice judgment. I accept Deputy Stanley is a new Member but it has always been the practice that regulations are published and approved after primary legislation has been enacted.

I am aware of that. It is standard.

Deputy Stanley might not have been aware of it because he mentioned it a good few times.

I assure Deputy Bannon and others that I have not ruled out a grant system. The type of information that is being outlined is far more onerous that what will be the case in terms of the implementation of the regulations.

I raised a question about EIA and whether there had been discussions with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Deenihan, and if the issue had been checked legally. Is the Minister able to provide a copy of the documentation?

Yes. I will give the Deputy an assurance on the matter.

Could we get copies?

The Minister did not answer my question on whether he would consider a grant scheme for urban areas for the replacement of the clay pipe system as well?

Deputy Humphreys can make representations to me and I will consider everything in the same way as representations were made for grants for rural areas.

Is the Deputy pressing amendment No. 27? I have provided adequate time for discussion. Each Deputy has spoken at least three times.

Yes, but we did not get answers.

I will press it.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 7, lines 20 and 21, to delete "ensure that the system does not constitute" and substitute the following:

"make a practical effort to ensure the system does not constitute".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 7, lines 20 and 21, to delete "ensure that the system does not constitute" and substitute the following:

"make an effort to ensure that the system does not constitute".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 7, line 26, to delete "noise or".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 7, to delete lines 28 and 29.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 7, to delete lines 35 and 36.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 7, lines 37 to 43, to delete all words from and including "(1) A person" in line 37 down to and including "premises." in line 43.

This amendment relates to section 70D on the sale of premises connected to a domestic wastewater treatment system.

I will support Deputy Niall Collins in putting the amendment to a vote, as this provision could have serious implications in the sale of homes.

It is difficult to respond to Deputy McGrath's comment. The purchase of a house is an important investment and a purchaser would like to know the wastewater treatment system was working. That is the aim of the section.

A person seeking a mortgage - most purchasers need one - needs to employ a qualified and insured engineer to check every aspect of a house, from the site boundaries to the kitchen fire.

Including the septic tank.

Of course. One would hardly expect the tank to be located on someone else's land.

Is the Minister telling people that septic tanks can be placed wherever they like, for example, in a neighbour's field, and that there will be no standards applied?

No, I did not say that.

The Minister is constantly suggesting it.

Responsibility for registration lies with the owner of the property who should be in a position to provide confirmation of registration on selling the property. It is similar to the building energy rating, BER.

I am sure a competent engineer will be able to figure it all out.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 34, 59, 63 and 99 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 7, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

"(2) That residents currently located in Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas be exempt from their obligations under those programmes for the purposes of this section.".

The amendment is self-explanatory. The question of standards was raised in our previous discussion and I have been waiting to raise it again. In the Chamber the Minister told me that where a house, built pre or post-1963, was connected to a septic tank which was simply a square chamber in the ground, with a run-off to a soak pit and a further run-off to an added watercourse, the house would be okay as long as there was no odour. Before we vote on these amendments, will he clarify whether this remains the case and that the Environmental Protection Agency, county councils and the European Union will be satisfied?

I can so confirm.

If it is running into a watercourse-----

Under the 1977 and 2007 Acts, if there is no pollution of a watercourse caused by seepage, there will be no difficulty. That was the issue about which the Deputy asked in the Dáil.

An issue has arisen several times today. In advance of signing regulations post the legislation's enactment, will the Minister consider engaging with the committee, the EPA and so on? Will the EPA be encouraged to make its proposals available for public consultation in advance of being signed by the Minister?

While I accept the Minister's comments which he also made in the Chamber, I am amazed by them. Where a watercourse is contaminated, be it in terms of odour or colour, ordinary interested citizens will report the matter. They are rightly expected to do so, as we all want clean waterways. If someone reports a polluted county council's village system to the EPA, the EPA will ask the council to check its own system. However, if Seán Citizen is reported where there is contamination of water, the EPA and the fishery authorities will check, as is only right. However, this differentiation will not stand up. The EPA and the European courts will not accept it. If they do, why are we enacting this legislation?

The Minister mentioned the pollution of watercourses. In rural Ireland there could be several septic tanks in close proximity to watercourses and pinning down the culprit would prove difficult. We must be clear, in that we cannot have a blanket ban on the placement of a septic tank close to a watercourse. We must, therefore, be more specific as we cannot assume any one person's septic tank is the source of a watercourse's pollution when there are 16 or 17 others in close proximity. We must refrain from introducing any measure that would lead us to say every tank in a region was causing a problem, since some might be of a higher standard than others and should not be victimised by a blanket ban. I want to ensure people are safeguarded against such a measure.

If we are trying to clean up our waterways and stave off a threat to water supplies - the people want clean water - the Minister should visit County Kerry, where I would not take him to the people with septic tanks but to the local authority which is allowing raw sewage to enter rivers. I could take him to many villages-----

Will the Deputy put a question to the Minister, please?

We are going after the wrong people. For this reason, I am attending meetings on the subject of septic tanks and standing with the people on the issue. Uncertainty is being foisted upon them.

Does the Deputy have a specific question?

I will be specific. We are discussing the introduction of a €50 registration fee, but no one is saying what the fee will be in five years time. How much will it be when someone must re-register after the first term?

I will ask a straight question to which I would like a straight answer. Is it fair or right to go into people's yards to look at their septic tank while the local authority is allowing raw sewage to enter waterways and pollute rivers? The vast majority of septic tanks comply with the regulations which applied when they were put in place. If a person obtained planning permission in the 1970s and if his or her septic tank complies with the rules and regulations which obtained at that time, is it correct that the new EPA guidelines on wastewater, which are much more restrictive, should now apply?

In the first instance, there will be no reregistration fee.

So the €50 fee will cover the second-----

Deputy Healy-Rae should allow the Minister to reply.

The 2007 and 2009 EPA guidelines and regulations will not apply to septic tanks put in place in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or whenever. The question that will arise is whether a system is working. There will not be a need - as some people want - to upgrade systems in order to comply with the 2007 or 2009 guidelines and regulations.

The potential contamination of groundwater is a problem for local authorities and individuals. Under the current legislation, one cannot pollute surface water or discharge surface water in a polluted state. If one contravenes the provisions of the Act in this regard, one will be fined. This matter is already dealt with under the 1997 and 2007 Acts. All I am doing is complying with a court decision handed down against Ireland. Rather than paying the EU money in the form of fines, we must put in place a monitoring and inspection regime. The previous Government, which the Deputy's father supported, also wanted to put such a regime in place.

The Minister stated that he does not want waterways to be polluted. What does he intend to do about local authorities that are polluting such waterways on a daily basis?

I agree that there is a problem with regard to local authorities. We are investing a considerable amount of money each year in this regard. I am sure the Deputy has made representations on behalf of Kilgarvan, Kilcummin and other places in his constituency, which are still badly off and which were not dealt with in recent years. I thought action would have been taken in respect of them before now. Local authorities' treatment plants are authorised and supervised by the EPA under the 2007 wastewater discharge regulations. The EPA issues licences and sets down conditions in respect of which local authorities must comply. Such conditions may include requirements to upgrade plants or address issues relating to them. Some €380 million is going to be spent on some of the schemes during the current year.

Deputy Bannon appeared to be trying to give the impression that some of the inspectors would be out of control and that people in high-risk areas would be in a position to do what they like. That will not be the case. I assure the Deputy-----

I did not say that.

-----that no one will treat the owners of septic tanks in one area differently from their counterparts elsewhere. Particular areas will not be discriminated against. EPA guidelines will be laid down and local authority staff will be obliged to comply with them. I assure the Deputy that such staff will be trained to the necessary standard in this regard.

The Minister obtained the wrong impression from what I said. If 15 or 16 houses are located in close proximity to a particular watercourse, identifying the culprit responsible for polluting that watercourse will be difficult. We do not want a situation to develop whereby individuals would be discriminated against or where certain areas would be subjected to a blanket ban as a result of the actions of one individual. It should not be necessary for everyone to upgrade in order to try to establish the identity of the culprit. There is a need to be more specific.

I welcome the clarification from Deputy Bannon. However, it would be in everyone's interests to discover the cause of a problem in a particular area. Otherwise, pollution will occur there and this will give rise to a risk to both public health and job creation. I do not believe that a local authority or its staff would be in a position to come down heavy on one individual without first being in possession of information which indicates where the problem lies. We will ensure the latter is the case when drafting the guidelines.

Deputy O'Donovan inquired whether it would be possible to publish the EPA guidelines in advance of the regulations being signed. I would be prepared to do that. I will consider the position in respect of this issue and perhaps provide a more definitive statement during the course of the day. I accept that fears are being generated by certain individuals in respect of this matter. People are being presented with a great deal of misinformation in respect of both the guidelines and the standards that will apply. I will give consideration to whether people might contribute to a public consultation process on the regulations before they are signed. I will also consider whether the EPA should produce its guidelines in advance and bring them before the select sub-committee or at least make them available for public consideration. I will reflect on the matter for the next couple of hours and come back to the select sub-committee on it at that point.

I wish to pose three questions. I accept the concerns which Deputies who represent rural constituencies might harbour. I certainly have such concerns and I am sure the Minister, who represents a vast rural constituency, would have sympathy with them. I also accept that Deputies must seek reassurance in the context of, as far as is possible, protecting the interests of their constituents. However, taking steps in that regard is quite different to the type of scaremongering being engaged in and the false information being put about by some individuals. It was initially reported - many of the Deputies present made statements in this regard - that registration would cost €500 or more. I welcome the clarification from the Minister to the effect that there will be a once-off €50 registration fee and that people will not be obliged to pay any more money, even after the conclusion of the five-year period. It is important that those members who raised concerns in respect of the matter should place on record the fact that they welcome the clarification provided by the Minister.

Deputy Coffey should address his remarks through the Chair.

It is important that the debate should be balanced.

Of course.

I would like to hear someone welcoming the clarification the Minister has provided.

I welcome it very much.

Will planning permission be required if it is discovered that a septic tank is not operating properly? Is there any detail available in this regard or will the matter be dealt with in the regulations?

I am sure the Minister has been fully briefed by his officials. In that context, will he indicate the plans the previous Government put in place to address the problem that exists? If such plans were brought forward, why were they not implemented? What information was the Minister given by his officials in respect of that aspect of this matter? It is important that we should discover the exact position in this regard, particularly as certain people are engaging in a great deal of scaremongering, etc., in rural areas in order to make political capital. That is not acceptable. The previous Government probably had exactly the same plans as the Minister in respect of this matter. The only difference is that it did not implement them.

On a point of order, members have invested a great deal of effort in drafting amendments but the debate is wandering all over the place. Almost every contribution relating to this amendment has failed to address its substance. We should adhere to our agenda and discuss the amendments that have been tabled in order that the debate might proceed in an orderly fashion. I ask everyone to respect the work that has been done in the context of the drafting of the amendments.

I thank the Deputy. If he had been present when the meeting commenced, he would be aware that I sought the co-operation of members in that regard.

I accept that but, unfortunately, almost every speaker has drifted away from the substance of the amendments with which we are dealing.

Would it be possible to comment on the amendments tabled by Deputy Stanley?

The amendments put forward by Sinn Féin suggest that treatment systems located in special areas of conservation or special protection areas should be exempt from the legislation. I do not believe it is the intention of Sinn Féin to allow certain tanks which might not be working to pollute the environment.

That is not what the amendments involve.

The Deputy may get the opportunity to clarify the position.

It is our view that there should not be a need to comply with two sets of standards, namely, those relating to special areas of conservation and those that will be set down in the regulations made by the Minister.

Special areas of conservation or special protection areas differently to other areas in the context of implementation. It is not possible to exempt the owners of properties located in such areas from their obligations under the Bill and that is why I cannot accept the amendments.

This is going to have massive implications for certain parts of the country.

Will the Deputy outline the nature of those implications?

It will have major implications for particular homeowners who will be obliged to comply with the regulations the Minister will make and also with which relate to special areas of conservation.

The Deputy has not seen the regulations yet.

That is part of the problem.

I accept that we cannot be given sight of the regulations. It was for this reason we requested that information on the standards that will apply should be provided.

In such circumstances, the Deputy cannot arrive at a conclusion.

I hope the Minister will, during the course of the day, make the statement to which he referred earlier in order that we might obtain an indication of the direction he proposes to take in respect of this matter.

I will reflect on that.

In the context of what Deputy Kevin Humphreys stated, when I was a Minister the chairpersons of select committees were usually very tolerant if the debate on a particular amendment became very general in nature because this helped to speed up the process in respect of disposing of later amendments.

I think the Minister has answered the query in respect of this amendment. The problem with the SACs, SPAs and NHAs is the risk that Europe would require an environmental screening or environmental impact analysis. The Minister has given commitments - I take him at his word - that this will not be so. An environmental impact analysis or environmental screening will not be required for any upgrade, even though they are provided for in the law and the EU is insisting on them. The Minister has also promised to give us the references on planning permission. We are making much more progress today than we did the last day.

It is important to get the record straight here. I have been using a document since the start of these meetings. The document outlines what the Minister must change to get Fianna Fáil support for the Bill. As far as we are concerned, the fees must go, for the very simple reason that urban people do not pay fees for registration or any fee in respect of the public waste water systems. The Minister does not say how we will fund the ongoing inspection regime and the ongoing maintenance of the register, because the €50 will not last forever. I understand that the Minister has said that this is coming under local authorities, so all local authorities should beware.

The regulations for the maintenance of household waste water systems must be published before the Bill is passed. The Minister has said that before he commences the Bill, these will be published, which is a step forward. Will he bring the draft regulations into the House for debate before he signs them? The next issue is that clarification must be given on the standards to be applied by inspectors under the Bill. Will the Minister confirm that before the Bill is commenced, irrespective of any pressure from Europe, he will publish draft regulations and that before he signs them, he will bring them into this committee for debate?

It is important in that context that we have absolute clarity from Europe that whatever standard set down by the Minister is immune from any challenge in the European courts.

The Deputy is straying from the amendment again.

I will be very brief, but I have to correct the record because so many things have been said about me. This document is very clear about what we need.

The next issue is that all mandatory upgrades and maintenance costs must be grant aided. I believe that is so because that is what happens in the cities, and I do not see why one third of the population should be discriminated against. I am fully supportive of Deputy Humphreys' proposal that if an inspector forces somebody to upgrade his or her pipe to the road, then the person should be supported.

We have answered the next three questions I had. All mandatory upgrades must be exempt from planning, environmental screening and environmental impact analysis. The Minister gave an assurance on that, which is progress. The final question I raised at all of these meetings was a very reasonable question. Where planning was granted previously on a site for effluent disposal, or where a house was built before the introduction of planning, there must be no requirement to acquire extra land to comply with the requirements of the Bill. That is everything I have sought at the meetings.

I went through this before.

The Minister did not. We still do not have-----

Thank you, Deputy. I call on Deputy McGrath.

Like Deputy Ó Cuív, I also have a document and it is on the website, so anybody can see what I have been saying. All I have been saying is that this discriminates against rural dwellers. Like Deputy Humphreys from Dublin, I am in favour of assistance for those who have a problem with the situation in Dublin. I said at the outset today that there are houses in urban areas, especially in the periphery of urban areas, which have septic tanks. People on the periphery of towns have septic tanks, and I was shocked to see that.

There are towns in the country areas as well.

There are houses with septic tanks in Dublin 4, which is in Deputy Humphreys' constituency.

That is correct.

That is progress from the last day, because Deputy Humphreys was saying we were anti-urban. That is not the case. We are anti-discriminatory legislation.

Deputy McGrath has made that quite clear.

I cannot accept the €50 charge, which is only a token at this stage. Why should we have to pay €50 to register for something that has already got planning permission?

The Deputy has already made those points.

I want to get back to Deputy Coffey. It is not progress. There should be no charge. He also mentioned that we were saying it could be €500. We have no idea. It could be raised at any time, so let us be honest about it.

The Deputy is repeating himself.

I am not. The fee could be raised at any time.

The Deputy has made his points very well.

If a decision is appealed and the appeal fails, I accept that. However, a second appeal has to go to court. This is making criminals of the people in Dublin 4 and in rural Ireland who have septic tanks. The Minister is making criminals of them, driving them into an already overcrowded legal system that cannot cover what they have. These are law-abiding people in the main. Why should they have to go to court to appeal something?

We covered that the last day.

We did not cover it the last day.

We got no satisfaction, though. It is still going ahead.

The Deputy has special reason to remember how we did that.

Have I? What is the special reason?

The Deputy was not happy with------

It is still a case of driving ahead with discriminatory legislation that is trying to make criminals of people who provide their own systems and who pay their way.

The Deputy accepts that we debated it the last day.

We got nowhere. The Minister made a statement and he will tell us the same thing again. It is a case of: "Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean leí go raibh fear ó Thiobraid Árann a bhfuil póca ina léine aige." That is what it is like.

Go raibh maith agat.

I would like to go back to the original suggestion I made a while ago. I welcome the Minister's reply. If we could get that much, it would address the majority of our fears. People would like to have interaction with the Department and with the Minister in advance of the regulations being signed, and I welcome the commitment he gave to consider it. I trust he will come back to us in the afternoon with a positive reply.

It is no wonder that there is so much upset and uncertainty. The Minister said to me that a person who built a house in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s or the 1970s would not necessarily have to comply. In my short time in politics, EPA guidelines and the rules on waste water have changed at least five or six times. However, the Minister said to me that these houses would not have to comply with that standard. All they would have to be is working. What does "working" mean? One engineer can look at a situation and say that it is working. Another engineer can come along with the same qualifications and he can look at it and say that it is not working. We have to operate to a standard or a regulation. The Minister is on the record as saying that there is no such thing; it just has to be working. How vague and uncertain can he be? He should tell this to an elderly gentleman living in a rural area. What does "working" mean? That is a very valid question.

The Deputy will get an answer to it.

I attended a meeting the other night with 500 rural dwellers, and they were extremely upset and angry. I apologise if this is hurting people who support the Minister, but they were upset because of the uncertainty, and the Minister is not helping the situation. I would like to see him explain this properly so that he would remove the uncertainty. I would welcome being told clearly that, for example, there will be no further registration fee. Can we get that out to people and let them know that?

Let us have the Minister's answer.

It is nonsensical to say that once a tank is working, it is all right. With the utmost respect, that is rubbish because it means nothing.

Doctors differ and patients die.

Yes, and engineers differ as well.

And plant hire contractors.

I have given much reassurance to people on Second Stage and on Committee Stage, but it does not suit people to disseminate that information for political reasons.

If the Minister does not mind-----

I am not saying anything for political reasons. I am being honest.

The Minister listened to the Deputy.

Deputy Healy-Rae got those answers before and I am surprised he was not able to tell them to the people in his constituency. I would like to go back to a question raised by Deputy Ó Cuív about the planning references. Section 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for the power to exempt specified developments from planning. Works arising from the implementation of the Bill will be added to the exemption list in the same way works are often added under fire safety regulations. It provides the power to add this legislation to the exempt list for planning purposes.

If something which does not require a licence or permission is done with regard to special areas of conservation, it will involve environmental impact assessments and environmental impact statements. My experience-----

I clarified that for you.

You are saying you clarified it.

I gave you the reference.

This is the subject of the amendment. The Sinn Féin amendment has to do with environmental impact assessments and environmental impact statements. Will the Minister double check this? If he is right I will be delighted because we will have received the clarification we sought on another item. The problem I see is that matters which do not require a licence will come under direct European law through the habitats directive and the same steps will have to be taken even though a licence is not required. Will the Minister tell us how we are absolutely immune from any challenge from An Taisce or anybody else in Europe with regard to environmental impact assessments and environmental screening? If I know this, I can eliminate it from my list and we can sort it out and park it.

Will the Deputy allow the Minister to respond?

I have in front of me annexe G on the operation and maintenance of septic tank systems. I will not read it out because it would take a long time but it is obvious that if one has the type of tank discussed by Deputy Healy-Rae, one cannot comply with the maintenance regime. It will not be possible because it involves measures one cannot take, such as checking pipes when many systems have soakaways, or checking a distribution box. Is the Minister willing - I hope he is so we can tick another two items off the agenda, at least for the meantime - prior to commencing the Bill to publish the draft maintenance regulation and the draft regulation that will apply to passing the test or to upgrading if the test is failed?

Allow the Minister to respond. Every time he responds the Deputy interrupts him.

Will he agree to publish the draft regulations and bring them to the House prior to signing them? I did so with regard to Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003. It was a very good exercise and I gave the Opposition a fair chance to make any comments they wished on the regulations.

I am surprised Deputy Ó Cuív does not know that every regulation made by a Minister with regard to an Act shall be put before the House and can be annulled within 21 days.

I am asking whether the Minister will undertake to bring it before the committee for debate.

I said to Deputy O'Donovan that I am prepared to consider this request and I will come back to the Deputy later. Every regulation that is part of any legislation is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and Members have 21 days to annul it. It can form the basis of the debate, as has happened in the past.

Will the Minister facilitate such a debate? The Government has the ability to ram through legislation if it wishes.

I will reflect on it. To be helpful, as always, I will come back to Deputy on this matter.

This is very welcome and I thank the Minister for reflecting on it. I hope he will reflect positively on it.

I still want to know what a working septic tank is.

Hold on and allow the Minister to answer.

It will be in the regulations.

Could the Minister not have let people know what the regulations were in advance of all of this?

Prior to Deputy Healy-Rae's arrival I answered many questions on the regulations and standards. He may have missed it. I had stated the regulations-----

I am very sorry but I do not miss too much.

You missed a fair bit.

Allow the Minister, without interruption.

I stated I am prepared to reflect on what Deputy O'Donovan asked with regard to the regulations and see whether we can put them out for public consultation and bring them before the House prior to commencement of the legislation. Then committee members will know whether the definitions of what they seek to do will be compliant.

This is very significant progress and I am the first to admit it. I am delighted it is being considered.

I am prepared to consider it and I will come back later with the answer. With regard to the amendments, Deputy Stanley must provide clarification. As framed they seek to exempt from the legislation people living in special areas of conservation or special protection areas and I cannot accept this.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 35 has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 8, line 4, after "persons" to insert "from within its own staff".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 36 tabled by Deputy Catherine Murphy has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 8, lines 4 and 5, to delete "as it considers appropriate" and substitute the following:

"being employees or officers of a water services authority".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 37 has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 8, to delete lines 8 to 21.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 38 tabled by Deputies Niall Collins and Catherine Murphy has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 8, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(c) takes up employment or begins to provide professional services in the field of waste water treatment services.”.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 39 tabled by Deputy Stanley has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 8, line 33, after "writing" to insert "by way of registered post".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 40 tabled by Deputy Collins has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 8, lines 38 and 39, to delete ", with the consent of the Minister,".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 9, line 3, after "section" to insert the following:

"and shall be prohibited from engaging for gain, profit, employment or service in the provision of, or advice relating to, domestic waste water treatment systems during the period of appointment as an appeals officer and for a period of six months after the expiration of his term of appointment".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 9, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

"(a) categories of employment or professional services which an inspector is prohibited from engaging in during his term of employment,”.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 10, to delete lines 14 to 27.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 44 is in the name of Deputy Niall Collins. Amendment No. 45 is an alternative which cannot be moved if amendment No. 44 is agreed to. Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 are related to amendment No. 44 and alternatives to each other. Amendment No. 54 is also related to amendment No. 44. Therefore, amendments Nos. 44 to 47, inclusive, and 54 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 10, line 29, after "may" to insert the following:

"without the authority of a warrant issued by a judge of the District Court under subsection (6) or without the prior written consent of the individual".

This amendment relates to inspectors' powers.

This has implications for amendment No. 46, under which an inspection of premises could only be carried out with the owner's prior permission.

Amendment No. 45 is in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy. Does Deputy Mattie McGrath wish to discuss it?

Not yet, but I will move it.

Amendment No. 47 is self-explanatory, in that the main change would be the requirement that the owner would have to give permission before the actions in question could be taken.

Has amendment No. 44 been debated?

People are concerned about others entering their land. We do not know how intrusive the inspection process will be. The Minister is correct, in that land can be entered under the 2007 legislation but only in a case where a complaint is made or there is clear evidence. This is slightly different. We are caught in a problem, as we do not have the draft maintenance and inspection regulations before us. Therefore, we do not know what is involved in inspections.

I draw the Minister's attention to Annex G of the EPA's code of practice on the operation and maintenance of septic tanks and wastewater treatment and disposal systems serving single houses with a population equivalent of ten or fewer people. The annex refers to the inspecting of tanks and so on. It also refers to the emptying of tanks, as their structural soundness must be checked. It mentions baffles and screens, septic tank pumping and de-sludging, which one must do oneself, the distribution device and inspecting the aeration vent pipes. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae stated, many tanks do not have pipes and were instead built with soak areas, a situation that has not been provided for in the EPA's code of practice. A great deal of intrusive work will be done on one's property if tanks are to be inspected in the same way the guidelines require owners to inspect them. It seems heavy-handed that inspectors can do all of this work on one's property without permission or without an owner having recourse to the courts.

I am concerned about this matter, given the prescriptive nature of the regulations Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív cited. Engineers employed when houses are being built or upgraded must have indemnity insurance. What indemnity insurance and responsibility will inspectors have? Previously they were to appear unannounced. It is welcome that the Minister has changed this in order that they must notify owners of visits.

There was always going to be notification.

I stand to be corrected, but while I will not argue the point, I was given to understand there would be no notification.

The Deputy should address his comments through the Chair.

I am speaking through the Chair. The interruption came from the Minister.

I have said the same to him.

I am concerned about the intrusiveness of inspections. First, the tanks will have to be de-sludged before they can be inspected. Second, accessing the outlet pipes will usually involve digging up the lawn. The pipes are usually located in an area of grass at the back of the house, but, in some cases, they may be covered in concrete or located under the road or another building such as a shed. This is where the question of insurance comes into play. We have no clue who the inspectors will be. What if an inspector, in the course of an inspection, inadvertently causes damage to a property? Although this has been a very mild winter, land topography means that, in general, many places are inaccessible from October through to March. What if an inspector makes a number of probes to find the outlet pipes and there is something amiss afterwards? What if he or she leaves a tank open after he or she has completed an inspection? Who indemnifies the householder against resulting damage or harm?

Will the Vice Chairman allow me to read a letter?

How long will it take?

What does the Deputy mean by "not long"?

Two minutes at most. It is a very sad letter which I received on Monday and it relates to precisely what I am talking about. It is very relevant.

The Deputy may give us the bones of the letter.

The letter writer explains that he built a septic tank in 1973. When it was almost completed, an inspector from the Department examined it for the purposes of assessing his eligibility for a grant of IR£25. After finishing the task, the inspector failed to replace the manhole cover on the tank, leaving it wide open. Later that evening the letter writer's two and a half year old son was drowned in the tank. The person concerned has received no satisfaction from the State for his terrible loss. His letter states I have his full permission to broadcast or publish this matter in any forum. His wife never recovered from the loss and is now dead. I have his name and address. It is an awful tragedy.

We all agree and empathise.

I am sure the person in question did not leave the tank open deliberately, but such things can happen through human error. This is an extreme example of the consequences that might ensue.

It was an unfortunate accident.

Yes, but the person concerned received no compensation from the State.

I have some sympathy with the amendment. Similar guidelines were provided for in legislation in the past in order to allow agents of the ESB and other semi-State bodies to enter people's property without notifying the owners. Such inspections can, particularly in very wet weather, result in damage to property. That legislation was introduced in the 1940s and 1950s and some of it is still applicable. In many cases, septic tanks are located at the back of people's homes and there is no access other than through a neighbour's land or property. I would like to see safeguards built in for property owners, whereby inspectors cannot intrude on land or property during a very wet spell.

The Minister said householders would receive notice of inspections. How much notice will they receive?

It will amount to 20 working days.

Does the Minister wish to respond to the concerned expressed by members?

Yes. First, the inspectors will be trained and insured and indemnified against any damage caused to property.

By their insurance provider. The local authority will ensure they have the necessary professional indemnification. The powers of entry set out in the Bill are the same as those included in the 2007 Act.

Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned various "what ifs", but I have one of my own. What if there is contamination in an area which could have serious implications for an entire community? We must have powers of entry in order to identify and deal with such problems.

Damage was done to people's property in the past for which they were not compensated. The OPW's arterial drainage scheme in the 1960s and 1970s left huge mountains of spoil in cleaning drains and caused permanent damage to properties close to rivers. We must safeguard against a recurrence of such damage. This happened to people in my own parish and across south Longford and they have not been compensated. People further back from the watercourse welcomed the initiative, but it caused lasting damage to properties close to the water.

The general position on the responsibility of agents of the State or a statutory agency who enter onto somebody's property arising from a statutory obligation or right is that they must make good any damage to property. If land has been dug up, for example, it must be restored. We can talk about individual interests, but in order to have a balanced debate, we must also talk about the public interest, which is what the Minister referred to, that is, the necessity to safeguard groundwater, as set out in this legislation.

We must take on our responsibilities to avoid problems such as the contamination of the water supply which occurred in Galway as a consequence of an outbreak of cryptosporidium. Similar outbreaks would result in similar costs, the same public outcry and people being trapped in their homes without water. We must take a responsible approach, instead of scaremongering and frightening people. What is proposed in the Bill is measured and proportionate. We must face up to the legal responsibilities arising from a judgment against the country which should have been acted on before now. It is costing the taxpayer money.

We have dealt with that issue. Does the Deputy have a question for the Minister?

I have referred to the State's responsibility to make good any damage caused to private property arising from its exercising of its statutory obligations or rights.

We had a debate on the cryptosporidium outbreak in Galway; that discussion will not be reopened.

We all have a great interest in this matter and stated clearly that we want to ensure there is clean water. We do not want lectures in this regard; I certainly will not take any from Deputies-----

The Deputy made his point clearly. Will he put a question to the Minister?

I certainly will. Like Deputy James Bannon, I have experience of problems encountered in the past, most recently in respect of the OPW's drainage works in Clonmel. In fairness, it seems a fine job was done in that instance, although it has yet to be tested. However, there have been many cases in which the State has not met its obligation to compensate homeowners for damage caused to their property. Many householders might as well be talking to a stone wall. There is no fairness or transparency on the part of the OPW. I have also had dealings with the ESB. We all accept that power lines must be installed. However, when ESB contractors carried out works in my area in the middle of the winter five or six years ago, they ruined sections of land.

We are not talking about the ESB. Will the Deputy, please, put a question?

We are taking about the safeguarding of properties and the requirement on the State to compensate people for any damage caused. I accept that State agents must be allowed to access certain areas in the public interest and people generally are happy to allow such access. However, we had the case recently of a woman who was imprisoned for refusing to allow trees to be cut down on her property. There must be provision for redress for those who are dissatisfied with the State's exercise of its obligation to compensate for any damage caused to property.

I will copy the letter to which I referred to the Minister, even though the incident described occurred in 1973. Surely, it is the responsibility of someone in the Department to redress this on behalf of the unfortunate family concerned.

The Deputy has made his point and can take up that incident with the Minister.

I am asking on the record that the Minister at least ensure the letter is acknowledged.

The Minister is correct that the right to inspect is already enshrined in law. This is important in the context of ensuring one is not blocked from gaining access to bad systems which are causing nuisance. The Minister will have noted that I have never before raised this issue. The common good must be provided for. However, the problem that arises is the lack of any indication of what the inspection regime will involve. We are again falling back on the Environmental Protection Agency 2009 guidelines as the only guideline in terms of inspection. This could, for example, require the lifting of lids on septic tanks and so on, which brings us back to the problem highlighted by Deputy McGrath in relation to security and so on. It could also require the digging up of lawns, etc.

A further problem arises, one on which I continually come back to the Minister, namely, inspection of the part of the system built on another person's land. In the past people often got way-leave to put the soap pit-----

People still do it.

They would not get away with it in Galway. I am disappointed that Deputy Mulherin did not while watching the proceedings on the monitor hear what I had to say in regard to cryptosporidium. What actually failed in Galway was -----

We cannot open up that debate again.

What happened is that one of the treatment systems in Galway failed to do the job for which it was designed because it was an old system. Cryptosporidium is a naturally occurring phenomenon, which comes from animals as well as humans. It could have come from the public sewer. At one stage, there was a concern that it had come from Oughterard. It might have come from septic tanks. If it did, the likely cause is the 6 ft. flood over ground level in Claregalway in autumn 2009.

That is already on the record.

Therefore, regardless of how good a septic tank is, when it floods there is a danger of contamination with cryptosporidium. What would solve that problem is ensuring that all systems, in order to protect human health, include a system to eliminate cryptosporidium, from which one is always at risk given it is a naturally occurring phenomenon in our country. We do not know what caused the problem. If it was caused by septic tanks then it was as a result of the flooding. It could also have come from the animals. It was not conclusively determined that that was not the case. If it was caused by the animals, one cannot stop cows doing what they do and, therefore, must ensure this is addressed in the treatment plants. That is the answer to the cryptosporidium problem. What is proposed will not do anything to address the cryptosporidium problem.

Perhaps the Minister will respond at this stage to the points made.

The provision of significant and wide-ranging powers for inspectors reflects the seriousness with which we regard public health. The conditions attached in relation to inspections and right of access to property are the same as those contained in the 2007 Act.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Is Deputy McGrath pressing amendment No. 45?

Yes. I move amendment No. 45:

In page 10, line 29, after "may" to insert "only with the written consent of the owner".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 10, to delete lines 30 to 47 and in page 11, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following:

"(a) to inspect any premises connected to a domestic waste water treatment system, only with prior permission of the owner,

(b) inspect, examine or test the course or condition of a domestic waste water treatment system, including any fixture, fitting, appliance, plant, drain, service or process associated with treatment system, only with the prior permission of the owner,

(c) monitor any domestic waste water which is contained in or discharged from a premises or domestic waste water treatment system, only with prior permission of the owner,

(d) take samples of any substance or thing associated with or discharged to or from, a domestic waste water treatment system, only with the prior permission of the owner,

(e) take photographs, only with the prior permission of the owner,

(f) carry out surveys, take levels and measurements, make excavations, take samples and carry out examinations of the depth and nature of subsoil, only with the prior permission of the owner,”.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 11, line 4, after "subsoil," to insert the following:

"at no cost to the owner, and only with the consent of the householder,".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 11, line 14, after "documents" to insert ", or valid duplicates".

This is a simple amendment, which provides that valid duplicates would suffice.

Does the Minister wish to comment?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 49, in the name of Deputy Niall Collins, has been ruled out of order as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time and amendment No. 50, in the name of Deputy Stanley, has been ruled out of order as it is a potential charge on revenue.

Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.

If the question on amendment No. 51 is agreed to, amendments Nos. 52 and 53 cannot be moved. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are alternative to amendment No. 51 and amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 53 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 11, to delete lines 41 to 53 and in page 12, to delete lines 1 to 4.

Does the Deputy wish to comment on the amendment? That is a dangerous thing for me to ask of the Deputy.

Is it? No, I will leave it at that.

The Deputy should explain the amendment.

Did the Deputy not read it?

Through the Chair, please.

Through the Chair, perhaps the Deputy will explain it.

No, that is okay.

Perhaps the Deputy does not understand it.

Briefly, amendment No. 52 seeks to provide that people be notified by registered post. Amendment No. 53 seeks to provide people with a reasonable length of time. No commitment has been made in respect of financial assistance and if one considers how people must engage builders, carry out works and so on, I consider 90 days or three months to be a reasonable length of time.

Does the Minister wish to comment on the three amendments?

As I stated previously, provision is required within the legislation for powers for inspectors to reflect the seriousness of the risk to public health in the event of a problem. This also is in line with what was provided in the 2007 legislation. The inspections must be carried out to the extent necessary to ensure that on-site systems are not endangering human health or the environment in accordance with the directions of the Environmental Protection Agency. The offences provided for in the Bill are necessary for the proper implementation of the registration and inspection systems.

May I speak on the amendments?

Briefly, as the Minister already has responded.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are reasonable. Notification by registered post will avoid any argument as to whether one received it. The other amendment pertains to the question of time to rectify the issue. Depending on the size of the work, the availability of contractors and so on, 90 days is not an unreasonable period for a once-off upgrade. The Minister might at least give Members a commitment that he will consider both amendments before Report Stage. Perhaps he will accept them on Report Stage or include alternative amendments with the same protection. These amendments are reasonable and seek notification by registered post, as well as a 90-day rectification period, which makes allowances for older people and all the problems that can happen. While I do not support amendment No. 51, I support amendments Nos. 52 and 53, which the Minister should consider seriously. He should at least undertake to consider them and to revert to members on Report Stage with them or with alternatively-worded amendments.

Does the Minister wish to comment further in this regard? Were he to agree to consider them before Report Stage, they could be withdrawn.

In respect of amendment No. 52, I understand where the Deputies are coming from with regard to ensuring there can be no dispute about the fact one received notification and I will reflect on that for Report Stage. As for amendment No. 53, if there is an immediate danger to public health, it must be dealt with immediately. I do not wish to be prescriptive by specifying "shall be given 90 days". High and low risk factors are built into a particular problem that someone might encounter. If there is a low risk to public health arising from what is found, then I expect it could take considerably longer than 90 days to remedy the issue but a high risk must be dealt with immediately. It is proportionate to the risk to public health and the environment that is found rising from the inspections and members should not be prescriptive about it. Some common sense definitely is required in this regard.

With respect, common sense appears to have disappeared in the administration of many things in this country. For example, when in government Fianna Fáil had problems in respect of NERA inspectors and so on because there was a lack of common sense in respect of how matters were dealt with. Unfortunately, my experience is that for many matters, once a measure leaves this House for implementation, common sense goes out the window. I acknowledge the Minister's point, which is why I suggested he revert to members on Report Stage and perhaps introduce an amendment to the effect that unless a significant threat to human health or the environment exists, a person shall have 90 days to rectify the issue, or similar wording. I am sure the Minister's parliamentary draftsperson could come up with the wording to deal with this issue. I ask the Minister to consider the spirit of what is proposed, particularly because this pertains to many people who are not so young, who may have their own issues and who find it difficult to do things within strict guidelines. I ask him to revert with a protection for ordinary people who are not causing a significant problem but whose systems will not pass the strict test I believe the Minister will apply.

As Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív stated, common sense appears to be very scarce at times. It was definitely scarce when the nitrates directive was implemented. As the Vice Chairman will be aware, it only became possible to start spreading slurry again on Sunday last. Surely climatic conditions, as well as calendar dates, should apply in dealing with matters of this nature. This winter has been particularly dry. If, however, problems with flooding, etc., occurred during a wet winter as a result of poor percolation or soakage conditions, it would not be possible to work on the affected land until March or April. The land surrounding that which was flooded might have better drainage and it might be possible to bring machinery onto it, but that is beside the point. I am somewhat familiar with this matter and aware that it would not be possible to work on the flooded land until spring or early summer. If there is a run-off or leakage into a watercourse, immediate action must be taken in order to stop it.

The relevant section of the principal Act contains the phrase "carry out surveys, take levels and measurements, make excavations, take samples and carry out examinations of the depth and nature of subsoil". It is not necessary to do these things because most planning permissions during the past ten to 15 years have involved the drilling of test holes in order to determine the nature and topography of the ground. The relevant information would, therefore, be on file with the applications for planning permission. As stated, we must use common sense. However, this goes out the window with some inspectors because they believe they are all powerful. Everything depends on an inspector's personality, how the initial visit goes, etc. Both inspectors and householders can become stressed when dealing with matters of this nature.

Common sense was not applied in the case of the nitrates directive, particularly when one considers that farmers in County Fermanagh can spread slurry across ditches.

The Deputy is wandering.

I am not because what I am saying relates directly to the amendments. I was removed from the Dáil Chamber recently when I became involved in an argument about the fact that, as a result of new directives, it was not possible to drain certain wetlands, etc.

We are discussing septic tanks.

Yes and I am stating common sense is required.

The Deputy's point is noted and the Minister will respond to it.

The reason common sense obtains in County Fermanagh in respect of the spreading of slurry is the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North, Michelle O'Neill, MLA, is a member of Sinn Féin.

I accept the Minister's statement to the effect that he is willing to consider the position on the 90 day period specified in amendment No. 53. I also accept that there is a difference between what is regarded as high risk and low risk. Much of what is involved would be low risk in nature. Those who will carry out the work will be contractors who are both registered and competent. Financial and meteorological conditions will have to be taken into account. If one drives a JCB into someone's back garden at this time of the year, one could do a great deal of damage. In such circumstances and if the risk to public health was low, the work could be postponed until March. Perhaps the Minister might return to us at a later stage with some clear guidance on what constitutes a high risk and a low risk. This would be a reasonable approach to take.

I am prepared to undertake a review of this matter. I understand from where the Deputies are coming. Report Stage amendments must be submitted before 11 a.m. tomorrow, but if I cannot take action on the matter before then, I will consider it in the context of the regulations. I am in a position to have two bites at the cherry with regard to how we might proceed. I have an open mind on the matter and hope I will be able to deal with it in the context of prescribing a proportionate response and a time limit that will both be based on the risk involved.

Does Deputy Mattie McGrath wish to withdraw the amendment?

I do not fully understand what the Minister meant when he stated Report Stage amendments must be submitted by 11 a.m. tomorrow.

In order to ensure the legislation is put in place in accordance with my wishes - I accept that this may not be in accordance with those of the Deputy - the latest time by which amendments for Report Stage must be submitted is 11 a.m. tomorrow.

When will Report Stage be taken?

As we are proceeding with the Bill with indecent haste, I am pressing the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
Amendment declared lost.

In the light of what the Minister stated, does Deputy Stanley propose not to move amendment No. 52?

Amendment No. 52 relates to people being notified by registered post and I intend to press it.

Will the Deputy, therefore, move it?

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 11, line 41, after "notification" to insert "in writing by registered post".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 12, to delete line 4 and substitute the following:

"shall be given 90 days to rectify the situation.".

I am prepared to withdraw this amendment on the basis that the Minister will return with some good news on the matter to which it relates.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 12, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

"(6) Where satisfied on the sworn information of an inspector that he is required by law to inspect a domestic waste water treatment plant in a private dwelling, a judge of the District Court may issue a warrant authorising the inspector to enter, on production of the warrant, the private dwelling or the part of those premises used as a dwelling, at any time or times within one month after the date of issue of the warrant, for the purpose of exercising there the powers given under this Act, where the District Judge believes based on the sworn information before him that there is a threat to public health or a threat to the quality of any watercourse or water supply.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 55 to 57, inclusive, are related are related and may be discussed together. If amendment No. 55 is agreed to, amendments Nos. 56 and 57 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 12, to delete lines 5 to 8 and substitute the following:

"70H.—(1) (a) An inspector shall inspect such domestic waste water treatment systems as he or she is directed by the Agency, or a water services authority, to inspect.

(b) The Agency or a water services authority shall notify in writing the owner of a premises connected to a domestic waste water treatment system of a proposed inspection at least 10 working days before such inspection.”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure householders receive adequate notice of an inspection of their on-site wastewater treatment systems. Section 70H(1)(b), contained in the amendment, was not previously included in the Bill.

Amendment No. 52 in the name of Deputy Brian Stanley offers the solution to this problem because the phrase it contains could be included in the latter part of amendment No. 55 in order that it would read, "The Agency or a water services authority shall notify in writing the owner of a premises connected to a domestic waste water treatment system of a proposed inspection by registered post at least 10 working days before such inspection". Perhaps on Report Stage the Minister might bring forward an amendment containing the term "by registered post" and thereby get himself out of jail and resolve the issue. Difficulties will arise if it is not stipulated that people should be notified by registered post.

Does Deputy Mattie McGrath wish to contribute on amendment No. 57?

I will be pressing that amendment.

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 55 to 57, inclusive. The Deputy cannot move amendment No. 57 at this time because amendment No. 55 has been moved.

The Minister promised that he would consider certain matters, particularly the issuing of notifications by registered post. However, nothing is definite.

If amendment No. 55 is agreed to, amendments Nos. 56 and 57 cannot be moved.

Did the Minister refer to a period of 20 working days?

Amendment No. 55 refers to a period of at least ten working days. However, I will be giving the matter further consideration.

I request that the Minister consider amending this provision on Report Stage in order that people will be notified of inspections by registered post at least 20 working days before such inspections take place.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 not moved.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 12, to delete lines 9 to 12.

I will wait until the Minister has replied before I comment on the amendment.

The approach to be taken regarding inspections will be set out by the EPA in the national inspection plan, with the result that inspections are focused on risks to human health and the environment and are carried out in a consistent manner. This will ensure the effectiveness and consistency of inspections throughout the country.

In the explanatory guidelines, it states specifically that the inspections would take place in high risk and low risk areas. I accept that it is not in the Bill, but it does state that an explanatory guideline is meant to be a reflection of the Bill. It states that the plan will have to be drawn up and that it will draw up a plan of inspections on high and low risk areas. The idea that it will only be in high risk areas is negated by the Minister's own explanatory memorandum.

This is based on high and low risk areas. The consequences of a high risk and a low risk situation are very different and proportionate responses will be made based on whether it is high or low risk. It is a risk-based approach.

The explanatory memorandum indicates that there will be inspections in low risk areas.

However, the Minister has been saying that it will only be in high risk areas.

It is a risk-based approach. I did not say that.

Yes, but he also said categorically-----

I clarified that for Deputy Ó Cuív. If he wants to misinterpret people, I will clarify again that there is always a risk no matter what, but we have a risk-based approach, and the proportionate response will be based on where the risk is highest.

It will be in high and low risk areas. This raises another issue that is germane here. If somebody complains about the Minister's system - this is common enough - will that be considered as increasing the risk of a problem and will it increase the chance of an inspection? The most likely people to complain in my part of the world is an organisation called An Taisce. That organisation complains about everything and it insists on systems that are not the optimal solution but the most expensive solution. An Taisce insists on treatment plants when in many cases people would be better off with septic tanks, or so I have been told by the engineers. However, if people do not do it An Taisce's way, that organisation appeals to An Bord Pleanála which forces people to install a treatment plant and might not grant planning for another reason. If An Taisce complains, as is its wont, will that then be considered as a factor when assessing risk?

The opportunity for An Taisce and others to complain to the courts was already included in the 2007 legislation.

I am talking about complaining now to the inspectorate.

That is a separate issue.

If the inspectorate complains to the county council-----

It will be treated on the basis of what I have outlined in the Bill, and we will not accept complaints along the lines mentioned by the Deputy.

And that will clearly be in the regulation.

I am just giving the Deputy my assertion. I will consider the regulations in due course. I have already answered the question. If Deputy Ó Cuív was minded to ensure that organisations like An Taisce were not involved in complaining to local authorities or the courts, he had an opportunity to do so in the 2007 Act.

Anybody has a right to object, and we cannot say that everybody can object except An Taisce. If somebody was causing serious pollution, then of course it is right that people can object. We know from practice that there are serial objectors in our society and we have all come across them. It is very hard to legislate against them because there must be a right of objection. Since it is already possible to complain to the courts, will the Minister write into these regulations that third complaints will not be considered in the evaluation of risk and the risk-based plan? The answer to that is either "yes" or "no".

I will not write them into the regulations because it is not necessary in the legislation. The national inspection plan will deal with how we will inspect, on a risk-based approach, septic tanks. We will not be entertaining any third party complaints in that process.

Will the Minister eliminate them legally?

Under the 2007 Act, there are many occasions where a complaint can be justifiably be made on the basis of local authorities, businesses or individuals contaminating a source. The 2007 Act stands, but the national inspection plan, which will be drawn up under this Bill, will stand as well and it will not take account of third party-----

In this separate plan-----

There are other members who want to contribute. The Deputy has had more than his fair share.

I appreciate that, but we are here until 9 p.m. In this separate plan, will the Minister eliminate legally any risk of local authorities or the EPA taking third party objections into account when they are drawing up the risk-based plan? Will he require them to base it utterly on science?

I did not hear correctly what the Minister said in his opening remarks about this.

The Deputy should listen carefully.

I was listening carefully, but I did not think in. Can he repeat what he said about the EPA at the beginning of his remarks?

Has the Deputy any other comment or question?

I may have. I missed what he said about the EPA at the start of his reply.

There will be a national inspection plan drawn up in conjunction with the EPA.

In that case, I have comments to make. The EPA guidelines are the enforcers. They will not go back to the 2007 guidelines or to the 2004 guidelines, but to the 2009 guidelines. How can they be allowed to contradict themselves on any standards?

They will be drawn up in conjunction with the EPA. We did not say the EPA was drawing them up.

We know that means the 2009 guidelines. The EPA will be running the show here. The Minister can make all the verbal promises he likes, but if what the EPA cannot do is not prescribed in the Act, it will do it.

Just to continue-----

I thought I had the floor.

Allow the Minister to respond.

I was just about to continue with my remarks when the Deputy interrupted.

I did not interrupt. The Vice Chairman allowed me speak.

Will the Deputy allow the Minister to continue now?

Did I interrupt? The Minister said I interrupted.

The Deputy is interrupting now.

I was not interrupting. I had indicated and the Vice Chairman called me.

I asked the Deputy whether he had any further question or comment to make, and he said that he did not.

I said I might have.

I said that we should hear from the Minister. When the Minister was responding, the Deputy came in straight away.

I would like to clarify this issue for Deputy McGrath, who is peddling it all the time. There will be no 2007 or 2009 EPA guidelines on this matter. How often do I have to say it?

The Minister said it a minute ago.

I said that the national inspection plan will be drawn up in conjunction with the EPA, but I did not say anything about the 2007 or 2009 guidelines. If the Deputy wants to peddle that, that is fine, but I want to refer to the Bill. It states that when making a national inspection plan, the agency shall have regard to relevant risks or potential risks to human health or the environment and, in particular, does not create a risk to water, air, soil, plants and animals, or cause a nuisance through noise or odours or risks to the countryside or places of special interest. This means that the national inspection plan will be the plan. We will not be entertaining any third party matters that were raised by Deputy Ó Cuív. This is a separate Bill, but the 2007 Act is still in place. People could have removed that at the time, if they had been of a mind to do so. Deputies should not blame me for the fact it is in the principal Act.

I am now-----

Vice Chairman, please.

The Deputy has had-----

No, I have not. I will not be accused of peddling by any Minister or by anybody else. I am representing my constituents in rural Ireland, and if the Minister was not so ambiguous about the whole thing, we would have the details and we would not have to go back to this. He is now blaming Deputy Ó Cuív's 2007 Act. He will blame all and sundry when he introduces a Bill with indecent haste.

It is in place and the Deputy voted for it.

I know it is in place. I am not saying it is not. I am saying the Act is in place.

The Deputy has made his point.

I have not made my point. I will not be accused by the Minister of peddling anything. I am trying to discuss this Bill and table amendments. The Minister, with indecent haste, misled the Dáil and guillotined this Bill, which is unprecedented. I want him to withdraw the accusation that I am peddling anything. I am not peddling anything. He is peddling and being disingenuous.

I have afforded a lot of latitude today to discuss-----

The Vice Chairman is allowing the Minister to be insulting. We are not peddling anything.

Deputy McGrath should steady himself.

I am steadying myself. Excuse me, I will not take such flippant comments. I am quite annoyed by the tenor of the debate. The Minister tells us he will tell us this or include this-----

The Deputy has made his point.

The Minister accused me of peddling something. What did he accuse me of peddling?

Do not continue to interrupt.

I have the floor.

Other colleagues want to contribute.

What did he accuse me of peddling?

It is you who was saying that.

I was not saying anything.

Amendment No. 58 in the name of Deputy Niall Collins-----

No, excuse me, I am not finished. I do not want anyone to accuse me of peddling.

I think I heard it said that the EPA would advise on the preparation of the plan. This is not correct. Section 70K(1) of Part 4A to be introduced by the Bill states:

The Agency shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this section, but not later than such date as may be prescribed, make a national plan [...] with regard to the inspection and monitoring of domestic waste water treatment systems.

In other words, it makes the plan as opposed to advising on it and the Minister has no control over it. It is quite clear the agency has a free hand in making the plan. It is important to correct on the record that it is not a matter of it advising on the plan. It advises on other guidelines under section 70L but under section 70K it will make the plan and it is important that this is corrected on the record.

To correct the record also, you know I set down what it has regard to in the inspection plan.

It is set down in the legislation and not set down by the Minister.

Do not give a half-hearted and half-baked side of the story. Finish the sentence when you are answering.

No. When making the national plan-----

The agency-----

-----the agency shall have regard to the relevant risk potential-----

Allow the-----

I will come back to the Deputy. I will decide.

We have to finish it.

The Deputy should let the Minister respond and then he will have his chance.

Of course the EPA will be involved in drawing up the inspection plan but when we are outlining-----

No interruptions, please.

When it is making the plan, the Act sets out what it has regard to.

You are peddling interruptions.

You have been calling for votes for the past hour-----

If you listened to the man you might learn something.

We move amendments and you call "Vótáil" and then vote against them.

Silence, please.

You are peddling interruptions.

I will not have this.

No interruptions from either of the Deputies.

I will not have this. I am not peddling anything. I am discussing the Bill logically to the best of my ability. If this is not good for some people, fine, but I am representing rural people.

I apologise for peddling an interruption.

I thank Deputy Keaveney.

Excuse me, I am not peddling interruptions. What do you mean by peddling interruptions?

The Minister, without interruption.

You called for votes several times on our amendments. You are the one who needs to stop peddling.

Does Deputy McGrath want me to read out the rules to him?

I do, but I do not want the Minister to accuse me of peddling anything.

I will implement them in a few seconds if he is not careful. He should not be-----

I do not want the Minister to accuse me of peddling anything when he is telling us blatant untruths. The EPA will be making the regulations and he is just trying to blot over everything else.

The Minister has the floor.

He can try it without using demeaning language and accusing us of peddling this and that. He is the man who fumbled and flustered the Bill and caused confusion, not us.

Deputy McGrath, please.

He is the man who told me last week he had not had a complaint about it.

I will call on Deputy McGrath to leave the meeting if he is not careful.

We will all be leaving shortly, will we not?

The Deputy will be leaving for good for the day.

What time is the news on?

The Minister, without interruption.

I have finished my contribution.

I reiterate that I did not want to delay the House by reading the full section 70K but it states that the agency is not merely involved, as the Minister again repeated, in making the plan, it makes the plan. In making the plan it has to have regard to subsections (2), (3), (4) and (5) of section 70K.

What does it say?

It is not involved; it makes the plan. Section 70K(2) to be inserted by the Bill states:

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

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

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

(ii) nuisances through noise or odours, and

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

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

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

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

This simply means it makes the plan and must have regard to all these factors, which is obvious. Although these powers are very wide-----

It states "such matters as may be prescribed by the Minister".

The Minister can add to these powers-----

-----and include more matters to which it must have regard. However, if having regard to these it makes a plan the Minister thinks is over the top, since it is not only involved in making the plan but makes the plan, there is nothing anybody can do about it except come back to the Dáil.

In the past there was a problem whereby an impression seemed to be given here that it advised and was involved but did not have the final say. It has the final say and all the Minister can do is add to the number of criteria. He cannot subtract from them. If its plan is over the top in the Minister's view, there is damn all he can do about it. We know the problems Ministers had in the past when people told them they could do nothing about a particular issue because it was in an Act.

I thank the Deputy.

That is clarification.

I know Deputy Ó Cuív might have had problems in dealing with officialdom and agencies in the past but I take a very serious view of the engagement the Department and I have with the EPA in drawing up a national inspection plan as prescribed in the legislation the Deputy has just read out. I have an input under section 70K(2)(d) whereby “any incidental or ancillary matters or such matters as may be prescribed by the Minister”. I am involved. Deputy Ó Cuív stated I had no involvement whatsoever but then read out that I did.

No, can I once again explain-----

We are in discussions with the EPA.

I know we are breaking up but on a point of information as a reasonably new Deputy, will the Minister notify me during the break or after it, assuming he has the research facility to do so, who gave those powers to the EPA according to the description outlined?

Is Deputy Ó Cuív pressing amendment No. 58?

Do not jump the gun.

With respect, he was jumping it all day, particularly over the past hour.

The Deputy can ask Deputy Ó Cuív if he can take over his amendments but I will honour them.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 12, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(c) and where the premises is not located in Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 12, lines 30 and 31, to delete all words from and including "the", where it firstly occurs, in line 30 down to and including "inspection" in lines 30 and 31 and substitute the following:

"the inspector shall, within 12 months of the inspection".

The sub-committee has been discussing inspections in my absence.

We have. We made some progress on them.

I saw that. I kept an eye on the screen. The amendment puts a timeframe on inspections.

The provision deals with inspections where the outcomes are that the treatment systems are functioning properly and are not causing a risk to public health or the environment. The section requires the inspector to notify the householder of the satisfactory conclusion within 21 days. The amendment proposes that this time limit should be extended to a full year. This would put considerable stress on a householder who, having had his or her system inspected, would have to wait for communication of the outcome of the inspection for up to 12 months. I do not think that was the intention.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 61, 62 and 64 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 12, lines 41 and 42, to delete "or is likely to constitute,".

To be helpful, I could mention what is in my speaking note.

The wording in the Bill is consistent with the wording of section 70 of the principal Act which sets out the duty of care of owners and occupiers. It is also consistent with the provisions of the EU waste directive. It is necessary to place responsibility on owners and occupiers to monitor the systems on an ongoing basis and not just when they are having it maintained or desludged.

I thank the Minister for the clarification. The issue is the phrase "or is likely to constitute" which is wide-ranging. What it means could be argued from one court to the next. If it constitutes a risk that has to be dealt with and the period is prescribed, we accept that. However, "likely to constitute" could mean anything. How can one define it?

The wording is consistent with the principal Act and the directive. It is an evidence-based system so if an inspector does not find anything, that is fair enough. If there is the likelihood of finding something, he or she has to report that. There is also an appeal system if people are unhappy.

That is part of the problem. If an inspector finds that a tank is likely to constitute a risk, that is too open-ended. A householder has to go to court to appeal the finding. If he or she appeals to an official in the county council, he or she will probably get the same answer because the official will not change his or her mind and cannot go back on what he or she said. The word "likely" is too broad. I could be likely to fall asleep in half an hour.

That is highly unlikely.

It could happen.

That is wishful thinking on your part, Deputy

It could happen.

That is highly unlikely.

My amendment is related to amendment No. 60 which I withdrew.

I have a practical question on inspections, following on from the amendments before us. What is the legal situation regarding access to third party properties? As the Minister knows, in many cases, especially quarter acre sites, percolation is outside the property. A landowner may have sold a site and there may not be legal access to it. In some cases the septic tank is located on the property of a third party. I know of one case where a householder cannot access his or her septic tank to desludge it because the adjoining property has changed ownership and the landowner will not allow access. There is no wayleave in place. What is the legal situation of a householder who finds him or herself in such a predicament and of the inspectors for that matter?

In response to Deputy Naughten, there is sufficient case law to allow access to such tanks. The person concerned should get legal advice. The owner of the septic tank serving the dwelling has to take legal responsibility for it.

A person may have to go to court to allow an inspector access to carry out an inspection.

In that situation, the person might have to go to court for the purpose of clarifying his or her responsibility and willingness to deal with the matter. It would be an exceptional case.

Is Deputy Stanley referring to a part of the appeals process?

No, I am referring to the-----

The site visit.

If someone fell out of terms with a good neighbour who was quite good to him or her or if there was a change in ownership, as outlined in Deputy Naughten's example, there could be difficulties. However, there is plenty of legal precedent and case law to show that access to the tank, notwithstanding the fact that it might be on someone else's property, can be done.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 62 in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy has already been discussed with amendment No. 61.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 12, to delete lines 46 and 47.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 63 in the name of Deputy Stanley has already been discussed with amendment No. 34.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 13, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(c) and where the premises is not located in Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas,”.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 64 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 65 to 67, inclusive, are out of order because they incur a potential charge on revenue.

Amendments Nos. 65 to 67, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 68, 69 and 71 are related and may be discussed together.

I seek clarification. One would not want to fall asleep. The Vice Chairman proceeded so quickly, one would not even want to have been dozing. Why did the Vice Chairman rule amendments Nos. 65 to 67, inclusive, out of order?

They involve a potential charge on revenue. A Member cannot move an amendment if it puts a charge on revenue.

There is no discussion on an amendment that involves a potential charge on revenue. This is in accordance with the House's Standing Orders.

Did you come up with this at lunchtime?

Who is in the Chair?

We have moved on.

No. I want an explanation.

The Deputy has been given the explanation.

That it is a charge on revenue.

It is a Standing Order of the House that a Deputy cannot move an amendment if it incurs a potential charge on revenue.

May I get a copy of that Standing Order or be enlightened on the matter?

The clerk will provide a copy. As the Member tabling the amendment, Deputy Murphy was given an explanatory letter. It should be in Deputy McGrath's possession.

I move amendment No. 68:

In page 13, lines 24 and 25, to delete ", or is likely to constitute,".

We are back to where we were a while ago. The section is too vague. A shower of rain or snowfall in a field at a certain time of year could be likely to constitute contamination of a stream or water course. No court could stand over a provision as open-ended and broad as this. For example, a garda could not stop a driver for being likely to constitute an accident unless the driver was misbehaving.

Regarding amendment No. 70-----

No. We are on amendments Nos. 69 and 71.

The Minister should accept these amendments with open arms, given that he is constantly telling us that the standard that applied when the premises or system was granted planning permission or constructed would be the standard applied now. During our debate on "Pat Kenny Today", he told me that my 1984 house would be held to 1984 standards. The Minister has an attitude of whatever people are having themselves. Deputy Healy-Rae tried to clarify what constitutes a working system or septic tank.

This has been a misleading debate. Before lunch, the Minister tried to place the blame on Deputy Ó Cuív, who was the Minister during the introduction of the 2007 EPA guidelines, but that game will do no good for householders in Tipperary, Kilkenny or anywhere else when the inspectors are out and all hell breaks loose about differences of opinion over what is "likely to constitute".

If we are discussing clean water, why are we referring to odours and noise? They have nothing to do with clean water. The Bill is a real pig in a poke, and the element about applying the original planning permission standards does not stand up factually. Since there was no planning permission before 1964 or 1963, no standards will apply to those houses. It beggars belief that any elected representative would be asked to listen to this balderdash while the Bill is bullied through the House. The Minister has misled the Dáil and insisted that we guillotine Committee Stage. That is a precedent. I could be wrong, but my information has led me to believe that no Bill has ever been guillotined on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

I support the amendment, which cuts to the heart of the matter and seeks to enshrine in legislation that the standards that applied at the time of construction will apply now.

Amendment No. 69 relates to odours. At our meeting prior to Christmas, the Minister stated that he would revert to me on the matter of the spreading and removal of effluent. During our discussions this morning, it was suggested that the Minister would lose the power to make regulations on other issues that may arise. I have not heard from the Minister since Christmas and was hoping that I would hear from him today. I asked about the disposal of sludge in particular. Will those de-sludging percolation areas need to be licensed, will sludge need to be disposed of at certain facilities and will the practice of spreading it on land be stopped?

We will get an answer for the Deputy in a moment.

Section 70H(1) states: "An inspector shall inspect such domestic waste water treatment systems as he or she is directed by the Agency, or a water services authority, to inspect." This provision should be amended to read "where notification has been issued to the owner" so that the owner is aware that an inspection will occur. This would streamline the inspection process. The intention is for there to be notification, but we should clarify the matter in the Bill.

I will turn to the advisory notice. Under section 70G, a decision is taken purely on the basis of the inspector's word, in that he or she need provide no documentary evidence. According to subsection (4), an inspector's word is "evidence, without further proof". In section 70H(6)(b), the reasons for an inspector’s opinion should include evidence. In many cases, this could constitute photographic evidence. An inspector should be required to bring a digital camera to have photographic evidence of an inspection. We do not want people to be victimised. Although there are no examples of victimisation in the local authority system, there have been difficulties in the past.

The advisory notice should state that the water services authority is available to advise on the works to be performed. At the end of the day, the authority wants to see the issue resolved. It should be made clear in the advisory notice that officials from the local authority are available to visit the home owner and advise and assist him or her in terms of the works required to remedy the situation. That should be included in the notification.

A great deal of the material Deputy Naughten seeks to include will be contained in the national inspection plan to be drawn up by the Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the Department. Primary legislation is not the appropriate place for that material.

I accept what the Minister is saying; we are essentially splitting hairs here. However, I reiterate my concern regarding the provision that an inspector's word constitutes proof without the requirement for further evidence. That provision, as currently worded, is open to abuse and I ask the Minister to reconsider it on Report Stage. It is easy, where, for example, there is water lodging on a particular site, to take a digital photograph of it. Such a requirement would protect the inspector and the householder and would ensure there is no victimisation. We have all heard stories regarding the special investigation unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We do not want a situation like that in this instance. The inclusion of a simple phrase such as "where feasible, photographic evidence" in this subsection would clarify the situation and safeguard everybody.

I take on board some of the issues raised by the Deputy. However, they are more appropriate for inclusion in the national inspection plan rather than in primary legislation. I will take a keen view of the matters raised in light of the Deputy's observations.

The current wording leaves the situation ambiguous.

In regard to Deputy McGrath's amendment, he is the one who has been constantly talking about the 2007 and 2009 guidelines. I am not talking about them at all; it is he who is looking for them to be implemented. He has said it often enough.

I have not. Here we have more untruths.

Deputy McGrath will have his chance to speak. The Minister should be allowed to respond.

The 2009 code applies to all systems installed after the code came into effect. On 5 January 2010 my predecessor issued a circular to all planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála advising them of the new arrangements to apply for the assessment of on-site waste water disposal systems for single houses. Also in 2010, following a public consultation process, Part H of the building regulations were amended to call up the code of practice by the EPA. My predecessor did a great deal of work in this area.

The key standards against which any treatment system, regardless of its age, will be measured are simple and straightforward.

(Interruptions).

The Minister, without interruption.

The key standards against which a treatment system will be judged, regardless of its age, will be simple and straightforward. The basic question is whether it causes a risk to public health and the environment. These are the standards set out in the waste directive.

I indicated earlier today that I was willing to consider a consultation process before finalising regulations to be made under section 70L to provide for performance standards, including requirements for maintenance and desludging. Having reflected on these matters, I am prepared to go along with that suggestion.

I cannot hear what is being said because people are talking in the background.

Vice Chairman, it is very difficult to conduct a meeting with these types of interruptions.

I have asked the Deputy repeatedly not to interrupt.

I cannot hear what the Minister is saying.

If the Deputy stops talking, he might hear.

I was not talking; the talk was coming from over there. Does the Vice Chairman need glasses? I was listening. I said to the Minister when he was speaking to Deputy Naughten that I could not hear him because he was speaking away from the microphone.

Following enactment of the legislation, draft standards will be prepared by the Department in consultation with the EPA. These will be the subject of a public consultation process for a period. As part of that, members' concerns regarding standards and all of the issues raised by Deputy McGrath can be taken into account. This will also address the issues raised by Deputy Stanley regarding sludge. I will also be able to deal with the issue the Deputy mentioned before Christmas; I apologise for not replying to that. The issues he raised are valid and we can deal with them at the same time as the public consultation process which I expect to take place over a four-week period.

Will the Minister clarify when the public consultation process will take place?

Once the legislation is passed we will have a four-week consultation process on the guidelines and regulations we intend to implement.

Surely the Minister has some notion at this stage as to whether, for instance, contractors who are removing effluent from septic tanks will require a licence to do so and, where it is being disposed of, whether that will require a licence.

That is the position at the moment. Local authorities already have those requirements under the 2007 Act. I would like to be more helpful than that, but that is the position.

Once the consultation period has taken place, if there are proposals that need to be enforced to the standards, will we have to go back to Europe to seek permission to allow that to happen?

We are in constant consultation with the European Commission because we are before the European Court of Justice on this matter. As such, this is not the regular, simple legislation where there is toing and froing with Members. Rather, this must be dealt with in conjunction with the courts. We must have approval for what we do from the European Commission as part of our defence in the European Court of Justice case.

Will it approve the standards?

We are in discussions with the European Commission on an ongoing basis. Many people expected, when this legislation was first mooted in the summer of 2011, that we would have a universal inspection system for all tanks, an annual inspection charge of €300 and so on. There was a great deal of that type of information being put about the place. We were able to deal with the European Commission on a very pragmatic basis in that regard and we succeeded where others had failed.

Does Deputy McGrath wish to press amendment No. 68?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

Is Deputy McGrath pressing amendment No. 69?

Yes. I move amendment No. 69:

In page 13, to delete lines 30 and 31.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Phil Hogan.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Nash, Gerald.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 70 has been ruled out of order as it could have a potential charge on revenue.

Amendment No. 70 not moved.

Amendment No. 71 has already been discussed with amendment No. 68. Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes. I move amendment No. 71:

In page 13, line 42, after "relates" to insert the following:

"to the standard that applied at the time that the premises was granted planning permission".

May I speak to the amendment?

The Deputy has already done so. The amendment was grouped with others, on which the Deputy has spoken at least three times.

The Vice Chairman is steam rolling now.

That remark is totally out of order.

The Vice Chairman is steam rolling.

Yes, you are. It has been happening since we returned after the lunch break. The Vice Chairman cannot get through the amendments quickly enough.

Deputy McGrath should refrain from behaving like a schoolyard bully.

Excuse me, I am not behaving like a schoolyard bully. The Vice Chairman should look in the mirror if he wants to see a bully. We are being bullied in terms of the manner in which this Bill is being dealt with.

Excuse me, Deputy, the amendments were grouped.

I cannot hear the Vice Chairman.

What is the Deputy doing now?

It appears everyone else can talk and joke and do whatever they like while we cannot do anything.

I will ignore those remarks and ask the Clerk to continue.

No, the Vice Chairman cannot ignore me and move on. I have a right to be here.

I did not say the Deputy did not have that right.

The Vice Chairman said that we must move on. Can everyone else joke and laugh while we cannot?

I ask Deputy McGrath to have respect for his colleagues, even if he does not have it for the chair.

I have respect for my colleagues. The Vice Chairman is not showing respect in terms of what is going on. The Vice Chairman said he would be fair but he is not.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 72 has been ruled out of order as it could have a potential charge on revenue.

Amendment No. 72 not moved.

Amendment No. 74 is an alternative to amendment No. 73 and both may be taken together. However, if amendment No. 73 is agreed amendment No. 74 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 14, to delete line 5, and substitute "notice may, within 12 months of the date".

To be helpful, we had a similar debate approximately half an hour ago on an amendment which proposed to change the timing from 90 days to 12 months for, in this respect, an appeal. It would be unacceptable to leave the appeals mechanism open up to 12 months, in particular where a serious problem arose.

What does the Minister propose?

The Bill provides that the owner of the system must lodge an appeal against an advisory notice within 21 working days.

In regard to the appeals procedure, am I correct that a person can ultimately end up having to appeal to the District Court?

Yes, under the principal Act.

Has the Minister given consideration to putting in place an appeal forum one step removed from the District Court stage?

Yes, we are doing that. We are putting in place an administrative appeals system. Ultimately, a person has the right to go to court.

Yes. Is that provided for by way of an amendment?

No, it is already provided for in the legislation.

Amendment No. 74 is reasonable. Twelve months is excessive. Ninety days is a reasonable length of time in this regard.

To leave an appeals system open for longer than 21 days where a serious risk is posed to public health is not right. If something is wrong it must be put right.

The appeals to which I and the Minister refer are appeals within the local authority. In other words, the Minister is saying that where an inspector carries out an inspection, following which a dispute arises in relation to findings, the appeal will be with the local authority. I am asking if the Minister has given consideration to a non-judicial appeals system, removed from the local authority which is in dispute with the householder.

I have not because that would add to the cost. There is an appeals system in place which provides for a different officer to examine the findings. I understand from where the Deputy is coming in terms of both being located in the same building-----

Or organisation.

People will not want to let each other down. However, there is a basic appeals system in place which costs €20 per appeal. We are prepared to review that system if it is not working satisfactorily.

An issue arises where a person is required to appeal to the same body with which it is in dispute.

A different officer will be involved.

I understand the Deputy's concern. I am prepared to go ahead with what is in provided for, namely, an administrative appeals system following which people will ultimately have the right to go to court.

I, too, am deeply concerned about appeals being dealt with by the same organisation with whom people are in dispute. People who are not happy with this will be forced to take up the matter in the District Court. The Minister knows as well as I do that the District Court is already clogged up. Issues such as speeding fines and publicans' licences are dealt with in the District Court. People do not like to have to go to the District Court unless they have to. Why should they be forced to take their appeals to the District Court? Also, does the Minister have any idea of the cost of taking an appeal before the District Court?

Perhaps the Minister will consider proceeding with the administrative appeals system as provided for in the legislation but will set out therein for Deputies a timeframe within which he will review how it is operating.

An appropriate time to review it would be five years. On Deputy McGrath's question in regard to cost, much depends on whether the person engages solicitors, barristers and so on. The cost will be determined by whom one-----

A person who believes he or she is being wronged will probably engage an engineer or technician who will advise them on whether to go to court. People will have to meet like with like. The county councils engage barristers, the costs of which are added to the bill of the householder. There could be enormous costs involved. This is criminalising ordinary people who take an appeal to the court based on the opinion of agents they engage. Such appeals could go all the way to the High Court. It is completely loose. The Minister suggests it may be reviewed in five years time, but that is totally unacceptable.

The rights of individuals are the same under this legislation as under any other legislation. One can go to the Supreme Court if one wishes.

No, it is different. In other appeals systems, including the planning appeals system, one can go to An Bord Pleanála if one is unhappy with a decision of the planning authority, after which one may go to court if one must or can secure an oral hearing. However, under this legislation, one must go straight to the District Court.

No, one does not.

I refer to what will happen after the original appeal to the county council is heard, if one is unhappy with the result. I note the same office, albeit not the same person, will be dealing with-----

I remind the Deputy that after going through the An Bord Pleanála process, one still has an opportunity to seek a judicial review in the High Court.

In other words, one could still end up in the courts.

No, that is only on a point of law.

It is not only on a point of law.

No, it is not.

It is - or an oral hearing - it is on a point of law only.

Procedures also come into play.

All procedures involve points of law. My point is that households will be forced into the District Court when they should not be so forced. The District Court has enough issues to deal with and attempts are under way to clear obstacles and put in place a different system for people to pay fines, without having to go to the District Court. This is daft.

Had the Deputy got his way on the Environmental Protection Agency regulations of 2009 many people would be in the District Court.

What does the Minister mean by that?

That is what the Deputy McGrath wanted.

I seek clarification. The Minister should explain what he means by that remark.

The Deputy wants to implement the 2009 code.

The Minister and I are both aware that, as Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív pointed out before lunch, the EPA will be drafting the guidelines, not the Minister. While he may be able to have some input, the Minister knows it is not true that he can change all the systems that have been in place for years. The Minister is trying to deal with the Bill flippantly, which is a disgusting and outrageous perversion of democracy. Both he and I are aware the latest guidelines, not the oldest ones, will apply. That is total baloney.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 14, line 5, to delete "21 days" and substitute "90 days".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 76 cannot be moved if amendment No. 75 is agreed to. Amendments Nos. 76 and 77 are related and alternatives to amendment No. 75 and each other. Therefore, amendments Nos. 75 to 77, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 14, lines 14 and 15, to delete all words from and including "accompanied" in line 14 down to and including "€200," in line 15 and substitute "without the necessity of any fee".

This straightforward amendment pertains to the appeals fee. Essentially, I seek to delete the provision relating to the setting and levying of an appeal fee which in the original draft of the Bill was €200. The intention is to not have any appeals fee.

I am also opposed to having an appeals fee because last week and before Christmas the Minister told members the €50 fee would cover everything. While I know this is not the case, the Minister will have fun in that regard. As he has already cut the local government fund, I do not know how county councils will pay for this process. It appears as though they will be doing so and will incur expenses in the courts.

In the same vein, amendment No. 76 seeks to remove the €200 fee.

Amendment No. 77 fulfils a commitment I gave to review the appeals fee which will be reduced from €200 to €20. Amendment No. 77 will give effect to this reduction.

On a point of order, should this amendment not be ruled out of order, as were my amendments, because it entails a cost to the State?

It is totally different.

How is it different?

The Deputy is not the Minister yet.

Is the Deputy arguing for a fee of €200?

He appears to be.

No, my point is the Chair has dismissed several amendments tabled by me and others because there would be a cost to the State. I am uncertain about the terminology used, as he indicated Deputy Catherine Murphy had been informed. In the same way, however, the Minister proposes to write off money as though it was confetti. Surely it must be the same.

The Deputy cannot have it every way.

Is the Minister allowed to dispose of money-----

The Minister will clarify the point.

Is Deputy McGrath serious in this regard? Is he requesting that the appeals fee be left at €200, rather than being reduced to €20?

That is not my point.

That is what the Deputy is saying.

That would be the result.

My point is the Minister cannot have it both ways.

Nor can the Deputy.

I accept that. I am merely seeking fair play.

The outcome of the Deputy's argument would be the retention of the €200 fee.

Several amendments tabled by me and others were ruled out of order because the Chair came in with new information after lunch - at least I did not hear it in the morning. While I have not seen the explanation, I accept the Vice Chairman's statement that it was forwarded to Deputy Catherine Murphy. However, I do not understand the ruling by which the amendments were ruled out of order because of the cost to the State. There are thousands of septic tanks and while the Minister might state only a few cases will be appealed, unfortunately, he has informed members today that the system will be in place nationwide. As he has proposed reducing the appeals fee from €200 to €20, surely that is a cost to the State.

The Minister's proposals do not involve a charge on Revenue because the measure has not been passed.

None of it has yet been passed.

The previous amendments would have made a difference in respect of the revenue raised from measures already passed.

The Vice Chairman should repeat that.

I will call on the Minister to clarify the issue.

The proposal will reduce the cost to the householder.

It has nothing to do with the State.

Since the household will pay €200, it will be State money.

No, this proposal will reduce the cost to the householder to €20-----

----- and the Deputy is against it.

Please allow the Minister to reply without interruption.

While Deputy Mattie McGrath obviously is against it, I am trying to make it more reasonable for people to have an appeals process. Some wish to pay nothing; as far as I can ascertain, they do not wish to pay for anything. That is fair enough and is their right, but as the fee of €200 was onerous and unacceptable, I propose to reduce it to €20.

Does Deputy Niall Collins wish to press the amendment?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 14, lines 14 and 15, to delete all words from and including "accompanied" in line 14 down to and including "€200," in line 15.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 77:

In page 14, line 15, to delete "€200" and substitute "€20".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 3.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.

Níl

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 78 not moved.

I move amendment No. 79:

In page 14, line 24, after "writing" to insert "by way of registered post".

The amendment is very simple. It aims to remove any future arguments by way of the use of registered post.

I indicated earlier that I am prepared to examine the issue for Report Stage. I give an undertaking to do that. I am not saying one way or the other what the outcome will be but I am prepared to examine the matter.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 14, to delete lines 38 to 42.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 14, to delete line 48 and substitute the following:

"(b) the day specified on the notice but not sooner than 12 months after the notification date.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 82:

In page 14, to delete lines 49 to 51 and in page 15, to delete lines 1 to 10 and substitute the following:

"(9) A person aggrieved by an advisory notice may within 12 months request an on site advisory consultation with a suitably qualified person from the Water Services Authority at no cost to the individual.".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 14, to delete lines 49 to 51 and in page 15, to delete lines 1 to 10.

The matter relates again to a person being brought to court. I totally disagree with the fact that a person should be forced into the courts system whether they are owners, occupiers, householders or whatever.

The result of what Deputy McGrath is proposing is that people would not have the right to go to the District Court.

How does the Minister maintain that?

The amendment relates to the proposed deletion of the right of a person aggrieved by an advisory notice to appeal the notice to the District Court. I do not agree with it. People have a right to go to court. Deputy McGrath is proposing that they would not have that right.

I do not agree with the court system being involved at all at that stage.

Be that as it may, I am informing the Deputy of the outcome of his amendment, namely, people would have no right to go to the District Court.

I seek an appeal system that is different from the county council or whoever is responsible for the inspections, and that people would not be forced into court.

That might require a different amendment but this amendment means that they would not have recourse to the courts at all.

They could have recourse to other courts in any case.

I do not agree with that.

I am disappointed that Deputy McGrath is not standing up for the rural dweller. We all support the right of the rural dweller to demand fairness. It does not appear that Deputy McGrath is supporting them.

We are dealing with the amendment.

What I said relates to the amendment.

I gave up on the ghost. Since the Government came in, famously, it went out the window. All bets are off. There is no point in depending on any fair play from the Government because one will not get it.

Does Deputy McGrath want a job as a commentator?

I thank the Deputy. As amendment No. 84 is linked to amendment No. 83 I invite Deputy Stanley to discuss his amendment.

The purpose of amendment No. 84 is to change the reference to "14 days" to "90 days". I will vote with the Minister on amendment No. 83. I wish to keep the recourse to the District Court in place. That avenue should be open to people if they are not happy with an internal appeal system or with a local authority system.

The removal of the right of a person to have access to the courts would probably be illegal, apart from anything else, and contravene a person's basic constitutional right to have access to the courts. It is remarkable that someone would be opposed to a €180 reduction in the appeal fee and at the same time to remove one's recourse to the courts.

I have indicated my response to Deputy McGrath's amendment. I do not agree with it. On Deputy Stanley's amendment, we have had a discussion previously about 90 days. My view on it has not changed in the past half hour.

Does Deputy McGrath wish to press amendment No. 83?

I do. On a point of information for the learned Deputy beside me. If he had attended a meeting to which he was invited in his constituency he might be aware of some of the points made and the feelings of the people but he chose not to go. It is none of my business as I did not issue any invitation. He made an excuse since to me that he was attending an event elsewhere.

That has nothing to do with the amendment.

He told the chairman, his own namesake, that he would not be attending the meeting.

Is Deputy McGrath pressing amendment No. 83?

I am because I want an appeal system that is outside the inspection system, not for an appeal to go to the same person who carried out an inspection or someone else in the same office. I am only exposing those who are brought in to overrule amendments. I hope the Deputy will not be out talking to Miriam Lord this evening, as he was on the last occasion we had a conversation.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 14, line 51, to delete "14 days" and substitute "90 days".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 15, to delete lines 11 to 14.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 86 in the name of Deputy Niall Collins has been ruled out of order as it involve a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 86 not moved.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 15, to delete lines 28 to 35.

Regarding grant aid, will the Minister clarify the position he outlined this morning? He stated he would look at it at some point in the future and that the measure could not be written into primary legislation now.

It is already included in primary legislation - in section 16 of the 2007 Act. I do not need another amendment because it is already included in that Act. I am prepared to consider the question of grant assistance when I see some results from the inspection process in 2013.

I welcome the reiteration of that statement by the Minister, but-----

It is included in the 2007 Act.

I know that, but why were other amendments ruled out of order?

We are on amendment No. 87.

No, amendment No. 86.

No, amendment No. 87.

For Deputy Mattie McGrath's information, it is already included in primary legislation. It is not necessary to table another amendment.

I accept that, but has amendment No. 86 been ruled out of order because it would involve a cost to the State?

We are discussing amendment No. 87.

Amendment No. 87 was moved by Deputy Niall Collins. Does he wish to-----

No, excuse me. We are on amendment No. 86.

I was asking for clarification.

We have passed amendment No. 86-----

Excuse me, Deputy-----

We were having a debate on amendment No. 86.

Please, Deputy-----

Ask the Minister the amendment to which he is replying. Deputy Niall Collins asked for clarification. I put up my hand and the Vice Chairman allowed me to speak on amendment No. 86.

Does Deputy Niall Collins wish to press his amendment?

No, we are on amendment No. 86. I strenuously object. The Vice Chairman cannot hoodwink everybody.

Amendment No. 86 was ruled out of order.

I am asking why it was ruled out of order when the Minister has repeatedly said that the matter can be considered under existing Acts.

Because of a potential charge on the Exchequer and Deputy Niall Collins would have been so notified.

I am asking-----

The Deputy is out of order.

I am not. The Vice Chairman was trying to tell me I was discussing amendment No. 87 when I was dealing with amendment No. 86.

The Deputy is out of order.

I am not. I object.

I told the Deputy that he should not behave-----

I had my hand up to speak on amendment No. 86 and you allowed me to do so.

The Minister has said grant aid can be provided under existing legislation.

If the Deputy wants me to suspend the sitting, I will do so.

I do not. I want honesty.

The Deputy is getting it.

I am not. We are being shoved around the shop, so to speak; live horse and you get grass. The Minister has said-----

Do not try to shout everybody down.

I am not accepting this.

I am chairing the meeting.

Yes and you are trying to tell me-----

I ruled amendment No. 86 out of order and moved to amendment No. 87.

No. I was on amendment No. 86, although you said I was on amendment No. 87.

The Deputy did not table amendment No. 86.

I had my hand up-----

The motion was in the name of Deputy Niall Collins.

He sought clarification. I indicated that I wanted to speak-----

On a point of order-----

-----and you allowed me to do so.

I will adjourn the meeting if the Deputy continues to be unruly.

You allowed me to speak on amendment No. 86.

On a point of order-----

To be helpful to Deputy Mattie McGrath, there is a general principle on grant assistance included in legislation. It is included in the principal Act. The only person who can table an amendment that involves a cost to the Exchequer is the Minister. This is not a money Bill.

Sorry, the only person-----

The only person who can put a strain on the Exchequer in terms of the provision of additional resources is the Minister.

I have to rule Deputy Mattie McGrath out of order. I am asking for his co-operation. Does Deputy Niall Collins wish to press amendment No. 87?

Why did you try to tell me I was on amendment No. 87 when it had not been moved?

The question is that the amendment be made-----

Amendment No. 87 had not even been moved. Since we came back after lunch you have been going through the amendments with a hop, a skip and a jump. You have been using other things also.

I will have to adjourn the meeting if the Deputy will not allow us to continue.

You can if you want to. I do not know who has advised you but since we came back after lunch you have hopped, skipped and jumped through the amendments.

Sitting suspended at 3.50 p.m. and resumed at 3.55 p.m.
Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Collins, Niall.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

On a point of order, when the Vice Chairman suspended the sitting, he instructed me on a certain matter. Deputy James Bannon could hear his remarks and was cheerleading. Was that in order?

I had no discussion with Deputy James Bannon. I did not say what I had to say to Deputy Mattie McGrath in front of Deputy James Bannon.

Was that in order?

I do not know why the Deputy is referring to Deputy James Bannon.

I am asking for clarification.

Anything I did was in order.

The Vice Chairman told me that I would be suspended if I continued to disrupt the meeting. Deputy James Bannon obviously heard the Vice Chairman's remarks and agreed with him. He used the words, "Hear, hear." Was that in order?

On a point of order, the sitting was suspended and there is no point discussing what happened afterwards. May we continue?

We will move to amendment No. 88.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 15, to delete lines 36 to 39.

This provision provides a local authority with an option to extend the period for an advisory notice in circumstances where a householder does not dispute the inspector's original finding but does dispute the advisory notice issued by the local authority. It gives the local authority a flexible option in such circumstances. I cannot accept an amendment that would remove that option.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 89 is in the names of Deputies Niall Collins and Catherine Murphy. If the question on amendment No. 89 is agreed, amendment No. 90 cannot be moved. Amendment No. 90 is an alternative and related. Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 15, line 43, to delete "shall within 10 days of completion of the" and substitute "shall within 12 months of completion of the".

Vice Chairman: Does Deputy Collins wish to speak.

I will defer to Deputy Stanley.

Suffice to say that we believe 30 days is a reasonable period; ten days is too short and 12 months would extend the period too far, for obvious reasons.

The reason we suggested ten days is that it was specified in the Bill. As I said, depending on the climate, topography of the land, time of year and many other aspects, 30 days would not be enough. Twelve months may be too long but in most heavy land, from October to March, one could not work in a garden adjacent to a house where there are lawns, especially if the area around a tank is clogged owing to poor drainage. One would not have a hope of completing the work within 30 days. If we cannot get 12 months we certainly need six months.

Does the Minister wish to respond to amendments Nos. 89 and 90?

I am perplexed by these amendments. Where a householder has carried out the work, we are asking that within ten days he or she should notify the local authority that everything is in order and have the advisory notice closed off. Why would one want to extend that period to 30 days or 12 months? If the work is carried out and if people are worried about it and want to know if it complies with the regulations, the sooner one notifies the local authority the better.

That could fool the law. I know from experience that it takes a number of months for the percolation in the system to bed in and function properly or cause trouble. If a person is hired to do the job and it does not work, it can take a number of months, depending on the number of people using the system, especially if there is little usage, possibly 12 months before a problem arises.

I think Deputy McGrath is confused on this issue.

I am not confused

He is confused.

I am not confused

If the Deputy listened he might understand what he is trying to achieve.

It may not be appropriate to this section. This subsection provides that were a householder has been the subject of an advisory notice and has carried out the works, he or she should inform the local authority in writing within ten days that the works have been completed. That is all. Why would one want to drag out the process?

For one's own satisfaction to ensure it works properly. The main item I want from this Bill is self-compliance in that matter. For a person's own satisfaction he or she could notify the local authority within ten days that the work has been carried out satisfactorily. If he or she had any account to claim with the supplier or the person who did the work he or she was ruined because they had submitted documentation stating the work had been carried out satisfactorily. They would cut off their nose to spite their face.

Does Deputy Collins wish to press the amendment?

Does the Deputy wish to withdraw the amendment?

I will move and withdraw.

I wish to move it.

I am advised that is in order.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • McGrath, Mattie.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Stanley, Brian.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 15, line 43, to delete "10 days" and substitute "30" days".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 91:

In page 15, to delete lines 48 to 50 and in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 3.

As I have only just returned, perhaps the Minister could give his reply.

To what amendment?

Amendment No. 91.

Following notification by a householder that remedial works have been carried out it will be necessary for the local authority to satisfy itself that the works have been completed satisfactorily and that the risks to public health and the environment have been addressed. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

The Minister has a point. I accept that.

Does Deputy McGrath wish to comment?

No, I accept that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 93 cannot be moved if amendment No. 92 is agreed to. Amendment No. 93 is related and alternative to amendment No. 92. Therefore, amendments Nos. 92 and 93 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 16, to delete lines 9 and 10.

I would like to hear the Minister's comments on this amendment.

Before I call on the Minister I must ask Deputy Stanley to speak on his amendment No. 93.

As Deputy McGrath is proceeding with amendment No. 92, I do not wish to proceed with amendment No. 93.

The offences provided for in the Bill are necessary for the proper implementation of the legislation and the registration inspection systems. They are proportionate because the maximum penalty for an individual is up to €5000, but there is no provision for the imprisonment of persons for offences committed.

The Minister made this point during the debate on the earlier sections of the Bill. This is not factual and the Minister knows that. On five occasions during the previous debate I put this point. I know and everybody knows and the Minister finally admitted it after I had asked the question five times, that if one does not pay the fines imposed by a local authority, ultimately one will go to prison for a period of up to seven years. That sentence will be on a person's record and when one leaves prison, one must pay the fines.

It is outrageous that the Minister should again say there is no provision for imprisonment. That is not true. The Minister, Deputy Hogan is trying to be all things to all people, big Phil, nice Phil, pleasing Phil.

The Deputy can call me anything he likes in the bar, but he must respect that we are sitting in public session.

I accept that and apologise to the Minister. I called him that affectionately.

There is no affection in here.

There is certainly disaffection, infection and dissatisfaction. This is blatantly untrue. The Minister knows that I would like to call it a three letter word. If fines are not paid, ultimately one will have to go to prison. It is not true to say there is no imprisonment.

The Deputy has made his point.

There are provisions in the principal Act for fines of up to €15 million and five years in prison.

For industrial plants.

Yes, it could be anything, but that is the maximum. That is not contemplated in this legislation. If one fails to register there is a fine of up to €5,000 but there is no provision for imprisonment.

If one continues to fail to pay any fine, one will end up-----

The Deputy has made that point already. The committee will decide.

No. It is disingenuous of the Minister. It is a lie.

That is unparliamentary language. Will the Deputy withdraw that remark?

No. It is a lie.

The Deputy must withdraw that remark. Unparliamentary language is not allowed. Is the Deputy withdrawing that remark?

I am, but it is not true.

The reason I am not moving amendment No. 93 is that amendment No. 92 in the names of Deputies Niall Collins and Catherine Murphy is clearer.

The problem is that when one commits an offence, there is a fine, of up to €5,000, which is a harsh penalty on people who may not have the resources to upgrade the septic tank in the first place. My concern is that we are leading people into a situation, where they may not have the financial wherewithal to upgrade and then they are being brought through a legal process and a fine of up to €5,000, which is a significant penalty on people.

When one observes the court system, many people are up for very serious offences and come out with fines of a couple of hundred euros. Law abiding people who work hard may not have the resources to carry out works on septic tanks because they are struggling to try to make ends meet. All elected representatives, when they return to their constituencies, hear how people are being crucified. We are leading people into a situation where there is a possible fine of €5,000. I think a fine of €5,000 is excessive.

What we are actually debating is whether a person who contravenes a requirement of an advisory notice commits an offence. It is self evident that if one does not have such a provision there is no Bill. Having had an inspection, if one does not comply with the notice, there must be an offence. I support the Minister on this point as this is a basic provision of legislation.

In legislation, the provision often states, "a fine, or imprisonment, or both", but in this Bill, it provides only for a fine. If one does wind up in prison, it is not because the court sentenced the person for the offence but because he or she did not comply with the order of the court, which was to pay the fine. The fines Bill will allow one to pay it off in instatements. It is only when one gives the two fingers to the court that one will wind up in prison. The offence is a refusal to comply with the order of a court, not the initial offence. Therefore, the Minister is correct in what he is saying.

Is Deputy Ó Cuív pressing amendment No. 92?

No. Amendments Nos. 92 and 93 are being discussed together. I am speaking on amendment No. 93. It might be reasonable to ask the Minister to consider making the maximum fine less than €5,000, because that is a significant sum for a household to find. However, that is not the subject of this amendment.

Is Deputy McGrath withdrawing amendment No. 92?

No. I am not withdrawing the amendment, because failure to pay the fine can result in imprisonment.

Will the Minister fine the local authorities for breaches of environmental legislation, which Deputy Michael Healy Rae outlined today? Will the Minister fine my local authority of South Tipperary for polluting rivers by sending the effluent from villages and small towns straight into the rivers? When a member of the public reports these incidents to the EPA, it phones the county council to go out and inspect the incident. The inspector from the county council might call the constituent, asking why he or she advised the EPA, and thus getting him into trouble. This is a charade. The Minister knows that. It is a faceless charade. We are trying to get money from ordinary people in these recessionary times - I can speak for my own county, and I have heard from people in counties Limerick and Kerry.

The Deputy can speak for part of his own county.

I am a Tipperary man and I speak for my own county.

The Deputy is not speaking for north Tipperary.

I can speak for parts of north Tipperary.

Not for North Tipperary County Council.

We are not going to split hairs. If the Minister gets his way, it will be one county the next time in spite of the fact that he has been throwing millions into Ferrybank in Waterford for Kilkenny. Double jobbing as well as everything else.

Will the Minister clarify that ordinary people will pay fines effective from early February? Does the European Union intend to impose fines on this country?

Before the Minister's final reply, I wish to clarify for Deputy Stanley in regard-----

I wish to clarify the issue raised by Deputy Keaveney that if we do not join the legal people who are advising the Government and the Attorney General in making a defence, which is this legislation by 3 February, we will be in serious difficulties facing fines of €26,000 per day going back to 10 October 2009 and lump sum fines.

The Minister-----

Will the Minister clarify this issue?

We must clarify this issue.

The actual process is that the Minister has to send an answer by 3 February. In that answer he will obviously make it clear that the Bill is going through the Houses of the Oireachtas and he will make sure it has gone through. At that stage he will not have the regulations, therefore he will not be able to commence sections. If I understand this matter correctly, from my dealings with these issues, the Minister will say he will implement all the provisions as fast as possible. The earliest date the Commission could get the Minister into court is June but more likely the autumn, by which time the Minister would hope to have the whole Bill operable. When it comes to court where a fine might be imposed, my understanding is that there never has been a fine on this or any other issue. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was always trying to rush everything through at the last minute citing the threat of fines. The reality is that the Minister would be able to go to court and say that everything has been done and the chances of being fined at that stage are slim. It would give him a rap on the knuckles and tell one to be a good kid and go off.

I wish to bring to the attention of Deputy Ó Cuív that the French Government was fined €20 million in lump sum fines not so long ago. The position is that we must have a defence in court on 3 February.

On 3 February.

We are in court already, since last July.

The Minister-----

May I finish? Therefore, we have to get legal advice from the Attorney General, and abide by it in terms of our defence and our discussions with the European Commission. If we do not have the legislation in place to show we are serious about implementation of the court judgment we are then clicking fines.

No, the Minister is not.

They have told us very strongly-----

Who has told the Minister?

The EU Commission.

It cannot pre-empt the court.

Sorry, Chairman, I wish to respond to other queries. This is a class A fine. I do not know whether Deputy McGrath has experience of these matters but Deputy Ó Cuív agrees. A class A fine is an amount up to €5,000, there is no discretion. The Deputy wanted to abolish the District Court having any involvement in anyone taking a case. The court and the judge will have discretion in regard to the fine imposed to a maximum of €5,000 but it could be only €50 or €500.

It is in proportion to the offence.

Local authorities are fined up to €15 million under the 2007 legislation, if brought to court by the Environmental Protection Agency or the State in respect of contamination of water or wastewater, or contamination of streams and water quality, for which I am sure Deputy Ó Cuív voted.

There is no problem with that.

Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

I am but I seek clarification. Was any local authority prosecuted?

Just to clarify the issue, it arose last week. The people who decide the fine in the court-----

Does the Deputy want-----

Through the Chair, please.

The problem is that all of us on both sides of the House suffer the consequences of rushed legislation. One regret I have from my time as Minister was inserting Report Stage amendments that appeared quite innocuous but caused considerable grief to many people afterwards, including myself. I regret I did not say "No". Even though it is very desirable we should do it from the beginning of the system in separate legislation. My understanding of what we are trying to do is that the Minister must reply by 3 February. It appears likely that he will reply on 3 February to the effect that Committee Stage is completed and the Bill returns to the Seanad and is expected to be completed in a fortnight. By the time the Minister gets to the court in the autumn that would appear like dead history. Even when the primary legislation is in place - all the Stages will not be complete by 3 February - to make it operative one has to make the regulations to ensure the legislation works. The Commission cannot say on 3 February that everything is in place to make this work and start the registration.

Departments have a habit of producing a memo at 5 p.m. on Fridays which is said to be urgent. I always asked why it was urgent and when it was received? If I was told it was received a year ago I always put it aside. I was able to deal with issues quickly in the normal way but those issues I delayed for a fortnight, to teach people a lesson not to play the trick of coming in at the last minute.

The Minister must have known that his Department had agreed a date of 3 February before Christmas. I do not understand the reason we did not take the Bill last week or the previous week. To tell us today that Report Stage amendments will be taken at 11 o'clock tomorrow is disadvantageous.

It is not due to be taken tomorrow.