Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee Stage

SECTION 1
Question put: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 13.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 2
Question put: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 13.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Is mian liom glacadh leis an deis seo cur i gcoinne alt a 3 mar atá sé leagtha amach sa Bhille. Is mór an ábhar díoma domsa an dóigh a bhfuil an Bille seo ag dul tríd an Teach seo, agus fiú an tagairt a bhí déanta don Bhille sa Dáil níos luaithe inniu nuair a rinne an Teachta Paul Kehoe, Aoire an Rialtais, tagairt don mBille. Dúirt an Teachta go mbéadh an Bille os cómhair na Dála Dé Máirt seo chugainn. Ar ndóigh, táthar ag iarraidh é a bhrú tríd an Teach seo an tseachtain seo agus tríd an Dáil an tseachtain seo chugainn, nuair atá eagla ar mhuintir na tíre faoin cháinaisnéis atá ag teacht aníos i gceann cúpla seachtain eile. Tá an cosúlacht air go bhfuil an Bille seo á chur trí Thithe an Oireachtais nuair atá béim na meán cumarsáide ar an cháinaisnéis. Táthar ag iarraidh an Bille a thabhairt tríd faoin radar, chun nach mbéadh an pobal ag éirí amach ina choinne.

Tá brón orm go bhfuiltear ag iarraidh an Bhille a chur tríd ar an mbunadh seo agus go bhfuil an cuma air nach mbeidh oiread ama agus is ceart ag gach Seanadóir. B'fhéidir go bhfuil mé contráilte, agus má tá, tá sin ceart go leor.

Dúirt an Ceannaire go mbeadh go leor ama ag gach éinne.

B'fhéidir go bhfuil mé contráilte ó thaobh pháirtithe an Rialtais a bheith ag iarraidh an Bhille a bhrú tríd an Teach. Má tá mé contráilte glacfaidh mé leis sin. Tá súil agam go bhfuil mé contráilte agus nach bhfuil páirtithe an Rialtais ag iarraidh an Bhille a bhrú tríd an Teach.

Tá leasaithe molta ag Sinn Féin agus ag Fianna Fáil ag déanamh moltaí sonracha i dtaca leis an mBille. Ta súil agam go mbeidh deis againn go léir labhairt ar na moltaí sin agus nach mbeidh aon bhac curtha ar na pointí a bhfuil muid ag iarraidh a chur chun tosaigh. Má chuirfear bac ar na pointí sin cuirfidh sé go huile agus go hiomlán in éadan daonlathas na tíre, agus ní bheadh sé sin ceart ná cóir.

We are on section 3. The Senator should not make a Second Stage speech.

We will accept the Leader's proposals, if they are acceptable to the Government side, that every amendment in this Bill would be debated in its entirety, that every Member of Seanad Éireann would be allowed speak on the issue if they so wish, that the Bill will not be guillotined in this House, and that democracy will not be stifled here this week as it was last week. That may not be relevant to the section but it is important to point it out at this stage.

It alarms me that when one rings the Office of the Government Chief Whip one finds out the Bill is scheduled on the Order Paper for Dáil Éireann for Second Stage next Tuesday. That is assuming the Bill goes through the Seanad this week.

I am reluctant to interfere but that is not relevant.

That is appalling and outrageous——

It is not a matter for this House.

——and it is holding this House in contempt.

That is not relevant to section 3. Please address section 3.

He has not said anything relevant yet.

It was my first opportunity to speak on Committee Stage and I wanted to point that out at the outset.

What is relevant to section 3, however, is the issue of the inspectors being appointed under the legislation. We have tabled a number of amendments to section 3 on the role and the work of inspectors as outlined in the legislation and I hope they will be considered because it would protect people in their homes.

Section 3 refers to an inspector appointed by the agency. That is alarming because we are dealing with private citizens who are not responsible to any public agency but because they complete an application form to apply to become inspectors, having paid the registration fee of €1,000, they will become inspectors of septic tanks throughout the country.

According to the Bill those people must comply with certain conditions which include a minimum qualification to be held — I would like clarification on what is a minimum qualification — and training to be completed. I understand the Environmental Protection Agency runs a training course for inspectors but the Minister might outline to the House the exact content of that training programme and whether he believes there are competent people within the local authority structure or the Environmental Protection Agency who could carry out this work without having to employ what is effectively an army of private inspectors who will have no public accountability. The Bill states that indemnity insurance is required and any other requirements. The Minister might outline how wide or varied those requirements would be.

The powers of inspection the inspector would have under the Bill not only alarms me and those on this side of the House but also people up and down the country. I have attended at least six public meetings in my constituency on the issue of septic tank charges. Almost 1,000 ordinary people living in rural areas attended those meetings and all of them disagree with the Minister's Bill because they have been educated on what it contains. These are ordinary people living in rural communities — farmers, housewives, public servants, people working in the private sector and those who do not have jobs. The Irish Farmers Association, and I am delighted the chairman of the environment committee is present in the Visitors' Gallery——

Senator, I want to steer you away from making a Second Stage speech. I ask you to address the specifics.

It is relevant to the section because——

With respect, the latter part of the Senator's contribution was not relevant.

——it relates to the powers of inspectors. Regarding the private inspectors to be appointed by the Environmental Protection Agency having paid the fee and obtained the insurance standard, we do not know the level of qualification they must have, the number of inspectors to be appointed or who will pay for them. The Bill does not outline who is paying for them or how much each inspection will cost. What is outlined, however, are the powers of the inspector and those powers include: entering and inspecting any premises served by a wastewater treatment system; the examination of any wastewater treatment system; the monitoring of any domestic wastewater stored in or discharged from a wastewater treatment system; and the taking of samples. These private inspectors also have the power to take photographs of any element of the wastewater treatment system and request that any part of the premises be left undisturbed during the course of an inspection.

The inspectors also have the power, under another section but it is relevant to this section, to carry out excavations. Does that mean they can come onto a site with a bulldozer or a JCB and carry out excavations on somebody's private land or lawn? They have the power to carry out surveys and examinations of subsoil and to obtain information and inspect records pertaining to the maintenance, servicing and operation of wastewater treatment systems but the Bill does not outline what are those maintenance, servicing and operation standards.

The Bill states also that an inspector cannot enter a premises without the prior consent of the occupier but what is even more alarming is that if, for example, somebody in the west is notified that an inspector will call to inspect their wastewater treatment system it will be an offence under the legislation for that person to: prevent the inspector entering their premises; obstruct or impede the inspector in carrying out their duties; or provide false or misleading information on a wastewater treatment system for an inspector, the Environmental Protection Agency or the water services authority. The Minister can imagine an elderly person living in a rural part of Ireland who has a septic tank and a so-called inspector representing the Environmental Protection Agency knocks on the door. That inspector may have a card but one must imagine all the crime being committed by people calling to people's homes in rural Ireland. The private inspector calls to carry out an inspection of the wastewater treatment system attached to the dwelling house. If that elderly person obstructs or tells the inspector he or she does not want the inspector to carry out those inspections, having received the written notification prior to the call from the water service authority, he or she will face sanctions. Under the provisions of the Bill it is an offence to impede, obstruct or not to allow the private inspector to carry out his duties. In that case, that person can be taken to court by the water service authority and face class A fines of up to €5,000. What will happen is that people will be criminalised because they are afraid to allow the private inspectors into their houses. Without being alarmist on this issue, the Minister needs to go back to the drawing board in respect of the inspectors and the manner in which they carry out their functions and the sweeping powers being given to these private inspectors.

Is it that the Minister does not have faith in local authority staff who are employed under the water section of local authorities, or the Environmental Protection Agency staff that they cannot carry out those functions? At least those staff are responsible to local authorities, local authority members and to the Houses of the Oireachtas, by extension, and they are also public servants. We are going down the wrong road if we are to have an army of private inspectors, up and down the country, carrying out these inspections. It is a wrong way to go. I will deal with the advisory notice and so on when debating different parts of the Bill.

We oppose this section and are tabling amendments to following sections. I appeal to the Minister to have faith in the public sector staff employed in local authorities, in the Environmental Protection Agency and in his own Department. His argument may be that he does not have the numbers — I accept that argument — but if not he needs to go back the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and seek a derogation under the moratorium to employ additional people who would be responsible to local authorities, councillors around the country and the Environmental Protection Agency. I attended a public meeting earlier in the week where a councillor from the Minister's party and a councillor from the Labour Party were opposed to the army of inspectors being private inspectors also. It is worth pointing out that there is massive disquiet.

At one of the public meetings I attended in Donegal a pensioner in his 80s, who lives with his wife, was present. They live in a remote area where the nearest house is three quarters of a mile away. Their big fear is an inspector calling, even though they would have received written notification. Some people in rural parts may find it difficult to read the notifications they receive. The Minister should go back to the drawing board on this issue.

Without reiterating what my esteemed colleague has said on this important issue I am concerned about section 3 which provides for the appointment of authorised persons or inspectors. Senator Ó Domhnaill asked how they will be recruited, whether they will be independent of the local authority and will training be provided. The reason I am concerned is that we have had unhappy experiences with private operators in the clamping system and in other areas. I fear inspectors will be appointed who may not have the technical expertise or knowledge of dealing with inspections of septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants. It is perceived in the old council electoral area that I represented, a peninsular area as the Minister will be aware, having visited the area recently to perform official opening ceremonies in Bantry and elsewhere, that approximately half of all septic tanks pre-1990 would not pass an inspection. If that is the case and is replicated around the country the Minister will need a substantial number of inspectors with appropriate qualifications. Apart from their expertise and how they are trained they must have the capacity to deal with the public.

I recall dealing with inspectors appointed by the south western regional fisheries board, some of whom were painters. It was a case that anybody could apply even though they had no knowledge whatsoever of a salmon or of fishing. I am worried that people will be recruited to carry out this work and may be appointed as inspectors, without having the necessary expertise, and may not have the capacity to deal with those in isolated rural areas. People are afraid of inspectors of any description, including those seeking television licences. Even in this day and age many people hide.

If an inspector is calling who is likely to find the septic tank at the bottom of a garden out of order, we must be sure he knows his job and is in a position to negotiate with the houseowner or landowner in question. I am also concerned that it will be an offence for a person to prevent an inspector from entering a premises to issue a warrant authorising that person, accompanied by another authorised person or a member of the Garda Síochána, as specified in the warrant, to enter the premises. In this regard, why is it necessary to issue warrants? Will a prior notice of inspection be served on the landowner?

That is sensible. If a person has an issue with the inspection of a property — most people guard their houses as if they were guarding their castle — the person may be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána, as specified in the warrant. The section is being amended to allow an authorised person to be accompanied by an inspector appointed by the EPA for the purposes of the Bill. A situation could arise where a person for good reasons or, through ignorance of the law, does not co-operate with an inspection and, if I understand this correctly, a member of the Garda Síochána, along with the inspector accompanied by an inspector appointed by the EPA, may arrive and force their way onto the premises and carry out an inspection against the will of the owner. If that does not work out properly, the owner of the property may end up in court. I am deeply concerned as to how this section will apply in practice.

I also believe that every septic tank will be inspected. I concur with Senator Ó Domhnaill's statement that there should be somebody from within the local authority to ensure that there is accountability at local level. I heard the Minister state recently that he has great respect for local councils when rumours were circulating that they might be abolished. Local authorities must have control over these inspectors. They should also have responsibility so that if an issue arises, the local representative can, through the local authority or the local director of services or management, make a case to defend the issue.

As I have a number of concerns and some of them cut across other sections, I will make more points later. I hope that the Minister recognises that these concerns are made in good faith.

While this is not one of the more important sections of the Bill, there are still issues like aptitude, attitude and attributes that arise in respect of the people appointed. Effectively, they are all-powerful positions. Ultimately, their opinions cannot be challenged in the normal way. I know we will come to the section dealing with the restrictions on what can be appealed to the courts, but I understand there are only two grounds on which a case can be taken. First, the appellant is not the person on whom the notice should have been served. Second, there is some substantive or procedural illegality. What is not challengeable is the opinion of the inspectors themselves. Therefore, if we do not have people with the attitude and impartiality required to administer this properly, we will run into difficulties. By extending it beyond those in the public service, we are running into issues such as people who may have had previous difficulties with the person whose septic tank they are inspecting.

There are serious issues pertaining to this and opinions should be challengeable. It strikes me as very odd that if a person is being inspected, he cannot get his own expert to make a professional evaluation that would have some status. Such an evaluation cannot even be used a foundation for a legal challenge. That is highly questionable. If this is the case, it puts a lot of emphasis on recruitment and the people who will be involved in these inspections.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá Sinn Féin i gcomhar leis an Aire, i bprionsabal. Tuigimid go bhfuil gá le glanadh a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí uisce, ach tá rudaí áirithe ins an mBille a bhfuil fadhb againn leo agus táimid ag iarraidh iad san a árdú. Ní bhfuair muid deis na ceisteanna seo a árdú le linn na díospóireachta ar an Dara Céim. Mar sin, caithfimid iad a árdú anois.

Tagaim le cuid mhaith des na pointí a luaigh na cainteoirí a chuaigh romham, maidir leis na cigirí a bheidh ag plé leis an gcóras seo. Tá fadhbanna bunúsacha, fadhbanna dlíthiúla agus eile, leis an gcóras atá molta. Ba mhaith linn na ceisteanna a árdú leis an Aire agus a fhreagra a fháil orthu.

Ceann des na bun-cheisteanna ná an ceart bunreachtúil atá ag an duine ar a gcuid talamh féin. An bhfuil sé de cheart ag an duine daoine a choinneáil amach as a chuid tailte féin agus cá seasann sé sin i gcomhar le ceart an Stáit cigire a chur isteach ar thalamh an tsaoránaigh? Cén treoir a fuair an Rialtas ón Árd Aighne ar an gceist sin, má fuarthas treoir? Ach an oiread leis an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill, bhí mé i láthair ag cuid mhaith cruinnithe poiblí ar an ábhar seo agus tá daoine atá go láidir i gcoinne an Bhille agus i gcoinne na moltaí atá á dhéanamh. Tá daoine ag rá go bhfuil siad chun seasamh ina aghaidh agus go dtiocfaidh siad chomh fada le príosún, más gá sin. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigfeadh muid cá seasann an Stát ar an gceist seo. Cá seasaimid go dlíthiúil idir cheart an duine ar a chuid tailte féin chun daoine a choinneáil amach astu agus an ceart atá ag an Stát brú isteach in aghaidh an ruda sin? Sin atá sonraithe san chuid sin den mBille atá os ár gcomhar. Tá sé ráite go bhfuil ceart agam diúltú do éinne teacht isteach ar mo chuid tailte. Ar an dtaobh eile, táthar ag rá gur coir é má dhéanaim é sin. Má fhaighim litir a rá go bhfuil cigire ag iarraidh teacht chun iniúchadh a dhéanamh ar mo dhabhach shéarachais agus muna bhfuil mé sásta an cead sin a thabhairt dó déantar coirpeach díom má dhiúltaím dó. Tá mé ag iarraidh treorach ar an gceist dlíthiúil sin. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach, mar tá mé den tuairim go mbeidh dúshlán á thabhairt ins na cúirteanna. Tá sé tábhachtach é sin a chinntiú.

An bhfuil sé i gceist príobháidiú a dhéanamh ar an gcigireacht? Bheadh imní orainn faoi sin mar ní dóigh linn gurb é sin an bealach le dul. Bheadh imní ormsa go bhféadfaí cigirí ar thuarastal, nó mercenary inspectors, a chruthú. Chonaic muid rud den chineál seo ag teacht isteach cheana leis an gclampáil a bhí a dhéanamh ar charranna. Bhí fadhb leis an gclampáil i nGaillimh, mar shampla. Bhí na daoine a bhí ag plé leis iontach géar. Bhí siad ag fáil táille ar gach carr a bhí clampáilte agus dá bhrí sin bhí córas cóta in úsáid. Bhí siad ag clampáil gach duine a bhí i gceist agus bhí an pobal iontach ciaptha faoi. Chuireadar ina choinne agus cuireadh deireadh leis an gcóras. An é sin atá i gceist leis an gcóras atá molta ag an Aire?

Cén táille atá i gceist? Má tá duine le dul amach le cigireacht a dhéanamh cén luach saothair atá an Státchiste chun fáil as? Tá rudaí luaite anseo faoi na táillí a bheidh á ghearradh ar an bpobal, ach cén costas atá measta ag an Roinn a bheidh ar an Stát ar an gcóras cigireachta seo? Cén chaoi a dtéann sé sin i gcomparáid leis an ioncam a bheidh ag teacht ar ais? Má tá duine fostaithe go príobháideach mar chigire agus má thagann sé go dtí mo theach-sa ag déanamh cigireachta ar mo dhabhach shéarachais, cén luach, nó cén táille, a bheidh le fáil aige nó aici? An bhfaigheadh sé €200, €300, €500 nó pé rud? Má bhíonn ar an gcigire teacht ar ais arís, má tá ath-amharc nó an dara tástáil i gceist, cé mhéad a chosnódh sé sin? Cén meastachán iomlán in aghaidh na bliana atá i gceist?

Cé mhéad cigirí a bheidh ag teastáil leis an obair seo a dhéanamh ar fud na tíre? An bhfuil sé sin oibrithe amach? Cén cháilíocht a bheadh ar na daoine a bheidh ag déanamh na cigireachta? Bheifear ag ceistiú cé chomh cáilithe is atá na daoine seo agus an bhfuil siad in ann an obair seo a dhéanamh. Cén tréanáil a bheidh á chur ar fáil dos na daoine seo. Má tá buíon chigirí le cur amach ag obair cén tréanáil a bheadh i gceist, cé bheadh freagrach as an tréanáil sin agus cén chostas a bheadh ar an Stát as an tréanáil? An fáth a bhfuil mé ag lua seo ná go bhféadfadh costas oll-mhór a bheith ag baint le scéim den chineál seo ar an Stát agus nach mbeadh an t-airgead atá á thabhairt isteach mar luach saothair sách maith le haghaidh íoc as sin.

Cé tá ag íoc as an iniúchadh? Cé mhéad a chosnódh sé? Céard atá i gceist le "false or misleading information". Tá go leor daoine amuigh ansin, innealtóirí agus eile, atá an-tógtha le cúrsaí tógála agus a bhfuil cáilíochtaí acu. Dá gcuirfí ceist orthu cén chineál dabhach shéarachais atá acu bheadh siad ábalta sin a insint. Dá gcuirfí ceist orm, nó dá dtiocfadh cigire chuig mo theach ag fiafraí díom cén sórt dabhach shéarachais atá agam, ní bheadh mé chomh hoilte sin le go mbeinn in ann a rá go díreach. Céard a chiallaíonn "false or misleading information"? Muna bhfuil mé iomlán 100% cruinn maidir leis an eolas a thugaim don chigire céard a bheidh i gceist?

Tá olc ar an bpobal faoin gceist seo. Tá an cheist seo árdaithe ar fud na tíre agus tá daoine imníoch faoi. Tá daoine imníoch agus trodach faoi. Ní gá ach breathnú ar chéard a dúradh ag an gcruinniú a bhí i Ros a'Mhíl oíche Dé hAoine seo caite nuair a fuair ionadaithe ó pháirtí an Rialtais, greadadh ceart ón bpobal maidir leis na táillí agus eile. Má thógann daoine cásanna cúirte, cé chomh fada agus a bheidh muid sna cúirteanna leo sin agus céard a chosnóidh sin ar an Stát má chailleann muid na cásanna? Tá ceist eile ann maidir le fógra nó "prior notice". Céard atá i gceist ag an Rialtas maidir le "prior notice"? Cé chomh fada roimh ré an mbeidh sé le tabhairt? An mbeidh litir cláraithe i gceist agus an gcaithfidh an duine síniú ar son an litir cláraithe nó an díreach litir sa phost a thagann chuige? Tá fios maith againn go mbíonn daoine as baile ar feadh tréimhse den bhliain agus go bhfuil daoine ann a chorraíonn ó theach go teach, mar shampla daoine a bhfuil tithe saoire acu. Tóg mar shampla daoine a bhfuil teach saoire acu in áit éigin agus nach mbíonn siad ann ach faoi Cháisc, sa samhradh agus mar sin de. Má tá "prior notice" i gceist le cúpla seachtain agus má tharlaíonn nach raibh siadsan ag an teach idir an dá linn, an mbeidh siadsan ag sárú an dlí agus an mbeidh fíneáil agus cás dlíthiúil á thabhairt ina gcoinne? Tá soiléiriu ag teastáil uainn faoi sin. Cén ceart atá ag an duine athchuairt a lorg ar na ceisteanna seo ar fad?

Tá an Bille seo ag teacht anuas an-trom ar an saoránach agus ar an duine beag agus tá an Stát córas ag cur iomlán a gcuid cumhachta taobh thiar dó. Tá sé iontach heavy handed dar liom. Ba cheart go mbeadh muid ag tabhairt cothrom na féinne don phobal. An pointe deireanach ag an bpointe seo ná cé dhó an bhfuil na h-iniúchóirí freagrach? Tá muid tar éis a fheiceáil i réimsí eile den saol, mar shampla i gcúrsaí slándála, na clampers agus an córas sláinte — mar a luaigh mé cheana — cad a tharlaíonn nuair a tugtar daoine isteach ar chonradh go príobháideach nó ag oibriú ar son eagraíochta. Má tá fadhb ann nó má bhíonn duine éigin de na hiniúchóirí seo nach feidhmíonn go hiomlán gairmiúil, an féidir leis an duine sa bhaile cás a thógáil in aghaidh an duine aonair sin nó an ceart an cás a thógáil in aghaidh an EPA nó in aghaidh an Roinn Comhshaoil? Mar shampla, má bhíonn duine éigin beagáinín borb, glórach agus trodach le duine atá ag a theach nach bhfuil ag iarraidh go dtiocfadh duine isteach chun cigireacht a dhéanamh ar an dabhach shéarachais agus má tá sé ag sárú na rialacháin, an bhfuil muide mar Stát freagrach as sin nó an bhfuil an duine aonair freagrach as? An mbeidh árachas ag na h-iniúchóirí féin a chlúdóidh aon chás a thógfar ina n-aghaidh.

Bheadh imní orm faoi mercenary inspectors ag imeacht thart, daoine atá ag déanamh an iniúchta ar son airgid agus atá dá bhrú, agus imní orm faoi, mar a fheiceann muid i gcásanna eile, dá mbeadh siadsan beagáinín heavy handed ó thaobh an chur chuige a bheadh acu. Dá mbeadh na daoine sin fostaithe faoin EPA nó faoin gcomhairle contae bheadh freagracht i bhfad níos mó i gceist. Tá go leor ceisteanna timpeall an chuid seo den mBille maidir leis na h-iniúchóirí agus na cigirí. Caithfear soiléiriú a fháil ar na ceisteanna sin agus bheadh mé fíor bhuíoch don Aire as sin a dhéanamh.

Listening to some of the comments, I think the Senator has bypassed some of the Bill without reading it, because what he is asking is for measures to be prescribed in primary legislation that are more suitable for regulations. On the appointment of inspectors, the inspector is a holder of prescribed professional or technical qualifications. One of the Senators — I think it was Senator Walsh — mentioned attitude, aptitude and suitability. In the name of goodness, who would expect that to be in primary legislation? That is for regulations. In addition, it is stated that the person must have completed a satisfactory training course——

——and complied with any other prescribed requirements. There will be many prescribed requirements.

Does the Senator want them all in primary legislation?

Before we vote on the Bill.

I was just listening to the discussion on the last Bill and the Minister who was here before Deputy Hogan said that something was not suitable for primary legislation. I ask the Opposition to consider what is suitable for primary legislation.

I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, but there is nothing in the Bill that says one cannot have an inspection carried out voluntarily. However, we all know — we said it ourselves when we were members of local authorities — that if one asks a consultant to carry out a report, the answers will depend on how the questions are put. That is why it is important to have the legislation. I remind the Fianna Fáil Senators that the last Fianna Fáil Government stated it would introduce a scheme for licensing and inspection of septic tanks and wastewater treatment. Did they expect angels with wings to fly over a house and inspect it? How do they expect an inspector to get in if he or she is not allowed? I ask them to come up with some suggestions for getting around that one.

I remind Senator Ó Domhnaill, who is from a fisheries area in Donegal, that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine carries out many inspections of boats.

That is part of the problem.

Another problem. They brought that problem on themselves.

The Senator does not live on a farm.

The other problem is that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine can go in and inspect slurry tanks.

We will bring the Senator to Donegal some time. She might familiarise herself with rural Ireland.

Senator Keane to continue, without interruption, please.

I will sit down. I ask the Senators to bring real amendments to us and we will look at them.

The Senator has a sewerage scheme in her area. She is okay.

In welcoming the Minister to the House, I will say that he is fortunate to have Senator Keane as a spokesperson here in the Seanad, because she normally answers all his questions for him and does not give him the opportunity to give us the official version. No matter what we happen to be talking about, that seems to be the case.

I do not think the official version will matter today.

I regret that this legislation is being rushed. As my colleague Senator Ó Domhnaill has already indicated, we have submitted 75 amendments to the Bill, and the Sinn Féin Senators, I understand, have submitted another 22. That is a total of 97 amendments, which warrants time for each and every one of them. I hope this Committee Stage will not be guillotined. As my colleague Senator Ó Domhnaill mentioned both as Gaeilge and in English, the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, has listed Second Stage of this Bill for discussion next Tuesday in the Dáil, which is treating this House with contempt, if the Acting Chairman does not mind my saying so. I have the height of respect for the Leader of this House, who is an honourable man, and I believe he is being put under undue pressure to get the Bill passed in the House, which is unacceptable.

To clear up one other thing, Deputy Kehoe's statement in the Lower House this morning that we had no other speakers offering during Second Stage of this Bill last week was notcorrect.

It is on the record of the House.

There was some confusion with regard to how the Acting Chairman interpreted the situation. I put it on the record of the House last week that we did not accept that there was nobody offering to speak. I was to be the last speaker, with three colleagues speaking before me, and two of them were present and willing and able to speak. I want to set the record straight. Maybe somebody would be good enough to put Deputy Kehoe right on this matter.

We are on section 3, Senator.

Section 3 is part of the Bill and I am discussing the Bill, Acting Chairman, with respect. I am just putting the record straight and asking that others put the record of the other House straight also.

With regard to the inspectorate, if Senator Keane does not mind, maybe the Minister would answer the question of what qualifications are necessary to allow somebody to act as an inspector. Can he clarify the exact cost of becoming an inspector? There is a bit of confusion in this regard. I understand it will cost €1,000 to register as an inspector, but how often does an inspector have to register? Is it only once, or will he or she need to register every five years, every six years or whatever? I ask the Minister to clarify that. I further understand that training, insurance and so on will cost another €3,000 to €3,500, giving a total of perhaps €4,500 to qualify initially as an inspector, with another fee every time he or she re-registers. I ask the Minister to clarify how often inspectors must register. Is one registration sufficient and what basic qualifications are needed?

Is Senator Wilson thinking of applying?

Not at the moment. If the manner in which business is dealt with in this House is anything to go by, I would not have time to do anything else. It appears we will be here until the early hours of tomorrow morning if the Government insists on pushing through this legislation. Fianna Fáil is determined that each and every one of the amendments will be dealt with and that each section will be dealt with appropriately. Perhaps when the Minister responds to questions he will explain why it is necessary to rush this legislation. It could take a further two days in the House, be it next Friday or Monday, or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of next week. Any of these days could be used to finish the Bill without having to keep everyone here until the early hours but if that is what is needed then, unfortunately, that is the way it will be.

Senators Ó Domhnaill, O'Donovan and Ó Clochartaigh referred to the matter of prior notice. Will the Minister elaborate on what is meant by this? Does someone get a telephone call in the morning explaining an inspector will be there in the afternoon or is there a seven day or 14 day notice? What notice is given? The powers to be vested in an inspector are draconian. Those of us brought up in the countryside were taught to believe that the only people who could enter one's premises without a warrant were officials from the Customs Service and that even the Garda had to have a warrant to enter one's premises. If the power is to be given to an inspector of septic tanks that is not available to the Garda then we have serious questions to answer.

We have tabled amendments and perhaps the Minister can offer a comment on this point. In Northern Ireland everyone is entitled to one free de-sludging per year. As a minimum, this should be offered to people in rural Ireland who do not have access to sewerage works as those in towns and cities. Senator Keane alluded to the regulations. What is the problem with our examining those regulations in conjunction with this legislation?

The Minister is welcome. I stated previously that Fianna Fáil is totally opposed to this Bill being rushed through. We understand that our water must be up to the highest standards for human health and for the pharmaceutical industry here. However, let us focus on the inspector issue. Each inspector must pay a registration fee of €1,000 and must pay the same fee each time they re-register. This money is to cover the costs of the Environmental Protection Agency largely in the preparation and control of the national inspection plan. It is unclear how often the inspectors must re-register or how many inspectors will be allowed on the register. Therefore, it is not clear how much revenue will accrue to the EPA. How much will this process cost someone who wishes to be an inspector? If one must pay a registration fee of €1,000 and carry professional indemnity insurance amounting to approximately €1,500 as well as attend a certified training course estimated to cost €2,500, then it will cost at least €5,000 to become an inspector and between €1,000 and €2,500 annually to renew the registration. This is a considerable burden and one would need to be confident that the investment of time and money would reap a reward for the inspector.

Unfortunately, the Bill gives no detail on how the inspectors are to be engaged by the EPA or local authorities for individual inspections. Once an inspector is on the register, will they be required to quote fees for individual assignments? How will such fees be determined? Some inspections may be purely visual while other may require opening up works or laboratory testing of samples. If inspectors are on the register will they be guaranteed a certain minimum amount of work? Will they get a return on their investment given the cost of becoming an inspector?

This legislation is about protecting ground-water which, as someone involved in employing people, I am sure Senator White would agree with. It is important that we have good quality water from the point of view of protecting public health and the environment and creating jobs. I am sorry that the Senator opposes it for this reason.

The problem is the rushing through of the legislation.

I am sorry that Senator White opposes these matters and that Fianna Fáil has decided to oppose such laudable objectives. I put it to Senator Wilson that the powers of section 22 of the Water Services Act 2007 dealing with the appointment of authorised persons was brought in by his Government in 2007.

Perhaps Senator Ó Domhnaill did not read it. It is already there. I am sorry but that is the fact.

The Minister is disguising the fact.

I realise it does not suit Senator Ó Domhnaill and I realise Senator Wilson has deeply held views about this matter but the powers of inspection are already in place and Fianna Fáil brought in further powers of inspection under the Dog Breeding Establishments Act.

No, it is not different. Fianna Fáil allowed people from the ISPCA onto the premises of other people. Senator Ó Domhnaill voted for it.

There is no comparison.

Fianna Fáil allowed people from outside the public service to enter premises as part of the building and energy rating legislation.

That is only upon the request of an individual applying for the grant. This is totally misleading.

I am trying to deal——

The Minister does not like the truth.

I did not interrupt Senator Ó Domhnaill.

I seek the protection of the Chair.

I have been trying to give you that protection. In fact, I was attempting to give it as you were speaking.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I can see that he was trying hard. Senator Ó Domhnaill should note that I dislike hypocrisy and if he wishes to be valid in respect of the arguments he makes he should examine the precedent he and his party created under the legislation I have outlined. The Senators have nothing to worry about now since they have voted through similar legislation in the past.

The reason for the rush with this legislation is that the Government was brought back to the Court of Justice of the European Union last July and is being charged €26,000 per day for non-compliance with a court judgment relating to contamination of ground-water by septic tanks. Ireland was originally brought to court in 2009 when this judgment was issued and the previous Government did nothing about it. This is why we are subject to a €2.7 million lump sum fine and this is why €26,000 per day since July is overhanging the Government decision to ensure we introduce this legislation. This is the reason we must rush it. We are saving the taxpayer money and we are protecting groundwater, public health, the environment and job opportunities. The regular registration of inspectors will cost up to €1,000. Inspections are a matter for the local authorities.

I expect that 95% of the staff dealing with this will be local authority people and this is the way I want it. However, an employment moratorium is in place at the moment which was brought in by my predecessors in government and compounded by the Government and we must deal with this situation. We are in an EU-IMF programme. If they wish to introduce other inspectors, local authorities have the opportunity to do so. This option will be in place and such people will be able to register for up to €1,000. I assure Senators there is aconsiderable level of interest from people wishing to become inspectors on the panel and who wish to get involved. However, unfortunately, we will not be able to get them involvedbecause local authorities will be doing most of the work. I realise Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to a meeting in Ros a' Mhíl at which Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív referred to the 2008 regulations.

That was the first meeting.

There is no such thing as the 2008 EPA regulations dealing with planning matters, although that is what he referred to. This work will involve planning exemptions so that if one received planning permission in 1967, 1975 or 2010, one need not apply for planning permission. We simply wish to know whether the system of septic tanks in the country is working and, if it is not working, we must carry out some work with it. This is a risk-based assessment to protect groundwater in high risk areas well known to the local authorities. These inspections are taking place at the moment under the 2007 Act. People in Donegal are already subject to inspections in areas of high risk.

They are. The Senator obviously does not know what is going on in the environment section in Donegal County Council. Whether one is on a river, stream, lake or an area of high risk, one is currently subject to inspection under the powers introduced by the previous Government in 2007.

There are no inspections in Donegal.

There are inspectors.

A Senator

There were two in Leitrim.

A training programme will be put in place by the EPA and local authorities to train people who will conduct inspections. One does not send out people who do not know what they are doing. I am sure we do not do that under any legislation. The Senator should respect the fact that, under regulations, we are in a position to develop the necessary training and expertise to do the job, otherwise we will be in contempt of our legislation. I do not think any state would try to do that.

In regard to the offences under the legislation, the principal 2007 Act refers to a fine of €15 million and five years in prison for not complying with proper standards on the contamination of water. That is very draconian. We will amend the Act on the assessment of groundwater in the context of septic tanks to €5,000 with term of imprisonment. I rest my case.

I reassure the Minister that it has always been my unfailing duty and obligation to ensure he receives the due respect that any Minister——

Donegal might be difficult.

The Minister has outlined the issues on section 3. The Bill is creating great concern in rural areas. The cost of once off registration is €50 and is another expense. We have had massive investment in sewerage and water schemes but no contributions were made. I live in a very rural area. We have septic tanks.

I was a member of the RIAI but I am not currently practising. I am not applying for a job as an inspector.

The Senator has not paid his fee.

I have paid my fee and have my certificate to practise but I am not practising because I am too busy in the Seanad. The Leader will not have much time today because of all the votes.

I am familiar with septic tanks because I designed many houses. Septic tanks are an imperfect science. They were built during difficult times and if the environment was right they worked very well. In some areas they did not work well. It is a question of separating wastewater coming from baths and taps into a septic tank. In the majority of areas they operate very effectively.

I accept the greatest difficulties we have are close to sources of water servicing towns and villages. It is obvious those situations would have to be examined. The Minister said he could not anticipate what funds would be available in four or five years time. He said he would be very well disposed to funds being made available if a large bill was imposed on a small minority of people.

I am very conscious of protecting the water supply on my farm. We do not have a pump but we have facilities for water extraction. I understand Ballygowan has frozen all the land surrounding its well in County Limerick for safety purposes. A small operation was built quite close to septic tanks and extracted water for sale. It can be risky. The charge is causing concern and people are very worried.

The charge has come about because of a European directive which did not get enoughdebate in this House. There is not enough scrutiny of European legislation. It has created a problem with bogs. I accept the Minister has responsibility for this area. He transferred responsibility to the county councils. He said he does not see many inspectors beingappointed.

As former county councillor I have a lot of faith in local engineers, sanitary engineers and other qualified technicians who are in a position to examine septic tanks. The number of planning permissions has reduced dramatically. The Minister can see that in his Department. He can get a report in the morning from Kilkenny and compare the numbers for 2011 to 2008 or 2007. A number of staff are now underutilised and would be well qualified to carry out inspections when required.

I do not think every septic tank can be inspected but inspections can be carried out if needed. If trained personnel are not available inspectors could be employed. Inspections should be carried out within each local authority because there is a surplus of qualified people. I would appreciate if the Minister considered that suggestion.

Councillors in Roscommon approached me about the Minister's comments on Second Stage that he would exempt any septic tank which had to be upgraded from planning permission, which is welcome. We need to make sure this is not tied down with bureaucracy and makes things more difficult for those who are affected. We would prefer if the Bill was not required but it is. I have confidence, from dealing with my local authority over the years, that inspectors will be able to operate. They would have a different role to play than local authority staff who know their areas very well.

If there are two septic tanks in an area one registration should be enough. I hope my colleague will include that in his amendment to the Bill. The situation is like that of the water troughs years ago. There are some exceptional circumstances where two septic tanks have been connected to one property, such as a granny flat. My point will save a lot of bureaucracy. A septic tank may have been upgraded and the old one left in place.

A person should not be prosecuted because he or she did not register two septic tanks, especially where a house is being extended to accommodate a granny flat. In many cases I recommended such families install a second septic tank to take the pressure off the first. Adequate property around the house is needed for such situations. Most houses have only one septic tank.

Some of the septic tanks installed today are far better than those in the past and are made from PVC and have different chambers. They are more effective than the older ones. People installing septic tanks are now are very conscious of the prevailing situation. We should strive to make the best of this Bill. My colleague is doing his best to pass amendments which would benefit our constituents.

We have constituents in rural Ireland and this will become a major issue in the 2014 elections. It will be like the land tax proposed by Fine Gael in 1979. It did not go down well then. This is a tax on rural Ireland.

That is what we will call it and what the campaign will involve.

I apologise for not mentioning prior notice. It is a very valid point and I am prepared to consider it, in terms of an amendment on ten working days to give advance notice to people.

There are various scenarios in which notice should be given. It is appropriate to include that in the primary legislation rather than by way of regulations. Ten working days, which is two weeks, is a reasonable notice period.

I thank Senator Leyden for his constructive view on the legislation. I would prefer not to have to bring forward these provisions, but we are obliged to do so on account of the State losing a case at the European Court of Justice. It falls to me to deal with the matter and I intend to do so as constructively and pragmatically as possible.

That court decision is fortunate for the Minister and unfortunate for the rest of us.

It is not a bit fortunate for anybody that this must be done, but we are where we are.

The Minister's party is in power now.

The Senator will not get any credit for the fact that he was anti-public health, anti-environment and anti-groundwater quality. I will get credit in that regard at the end of the day.

We had a Green Party Minister.

The Minister should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Farmers, business people and householders want good quality water.

In the regulations, I have allowed for the fact that local authority staff will administer the scheme and the local authorities will be in charge of it. In this section, I am including a provision which will allow local authorities to take on additional staff if necessary. Not all of them will have to do so. This provision takes account of the Senator's point that some local authorities may have surplus staff. Not every local authority is the same. Under these provisions, county councils will use existing staff in the first instance, and it is in their interest to do that. However, where they require additional staff, they will be in a position to hire them. There are large numbers of qualified people interested in doing this work because, unfortunately, they are not busy on other fronts.

I intend to take a pragmatic approach in those cases to which the Senator referred, where two tanks are serving one property, particularly where they cater for the same family or an extended family.

I thank the Minister for that.

It is a reasonable proposal.

In regard to investment in rural areas, I am sure the Senator has heard of group water schemes and group sewerage schemes. They did not come about by accident; there was significant support from the State.

Successive Governments, including Fianna Fáil Party Governments, have invested an enormous sum, amounting to some €500 million, in these schemes.

I brought the first such scheme to my home village of Castlecoote.

What the Senator is now saying flies in the face of his earlier claim that rural communities have not been assisted by the State in improving their water quality. Some €500 million has been invested in the last ten years and group water and sewerage schemes continue to receive an annual subsidy from the State. There is currently an anomaly whereby group water schemes receive grant assistance of €2,000 per household, in my area, while the corresponding figure for group sewerage schemes is €6,000. We may consider rebalancing that for a period in order to help people in ribbon development areas to come together and have one communal tank. That would deal with those exceptional cases where there are problems. It is a reasonable approach and I am prepared to consider it.

We have exhausted section 3 at this stage. Unless Senators have further points to make, I would like to move on.

I wish to address several points which I raised. I try my best to speak Irish in the House as much as possible and I appreciate that some of my points may have been lost in translation. I welcome the Minister's comments regarding prior notice. One of the issues I raised was the situation of people with holiday homes, who may not be in them for weeks or months in a given year. Such home owners might argue that they were not given prior notice because they do not reside on a full-time basis in the properties in question. That issue must be addressed.

The Minister mentioned allowing scope for local authorities to take on additional staff. I disagree with Senator Leyden on this point. He seems to be of the view that there are local authority staff hanging around the place with little to do. I very much doubt there is a great deal of slack. Does the Minister's undertaking in respect of staff mean the moratorium on public sector recruitment will be lifted or will there be a special dispensation for this specific purpose?

Additional staff will come from outside and will have to register with the inspection panel.

I heard on Radió na Gaeltachta that Kerry County Council recently privatised its refuse collection service. Many county councils are pushing for privatisation, which I do not support.

I did not mention that.

I appreciate that, but if it is left to the local authorities I am concerned they may go that route.

On the planning exemption, will some new mechanism have to be put in place?

Will the Minister clarify the situation in regard to the right to appeal prior notice?

I also asked about the cost of inspectors. Has a cost-benefit analysis been done in this regard? How many inspectors will be needed throughout the State and what are the budgetary implications of that? How much is the scheme expected to take in?

There must be greater clarity in regard to which regulations will be covered and how far back we can go. For example, if a person had a house built five years ago, were the regulations in place at that time good enough or will he or she be obliged to upgrade the tank? It is important to put people's minds at ease by indicating that if they complied with the regulations in, say, 2005, they will generally be fine. I accept that the Minister cannot give a blanket guarantee, but we should be able to reassure people who built homes in recent years that they will not have to replace their septic tanks.

The Minister is rowing back somewhat in regard to private inspectors and is now prepared to consider our suggestion regarding local authority staff. I agree with most of the points made by Senator Ó Clochartaigh. I know something of this coming from a local authority background and talking to local authority members. There have been massive staff reductions in every local authority in recent years, with contract staff, in particular, being let go. Any county manager will say that staff are finding it difficult to cope with demand. I appreciate what the Minister said in regard to the moratorium on recruitment. There is scope in this regard in the four year fiscal agreement with the European Commission, the EU and the IMF. There is nothing in that agreement which binds us in regard to the moratorium. If we are employing additional public servants in order to satisfy the requirements of an EU directive, surely a meeting should be arranged immediately with the European Commissioner and the EU and the IMF to discuss the matter. If, as the Minister suggested but which I do not accept, it is the EU, the IMF and the Commission which are preventing recruitment, then the first logical step, given that we are aiming for compliance with the European directive, should be an urgent meeting with the troika officials and an urgent meeting with the European Commissioner.

In regard to what the Minister said about the previous Government introducing private inspectors, he mentioned two items of legislation. The Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 makes provision for private inspectors, but one cannot compare that legislation with legislation on septic tanks. One cannot compare protection of dogs — living, breathing animals — to septic tanks.

The Senator is barking up the wrong tree.

(Interruptions).

Senator Ó Domhnaill wants it every way.

How many dog breeding establishments are there in the country?

The Senator's party introduced that legislation. He should tell me.

I do not have the figure but my guess is that there areapproximately 200. In this case, we are talking about 475,000 septic tanks. There is no comparison.

On the building energy rating certificate, the first step an individual must take in order to secure a certificate or a grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is to fill in a form and apply for the grant. There is no comparison. I am only making the point because it was raised. I refer to the provisions for compliance and the issue of the inspectors inspecting a person's private property. The European Court of Justice ruling found every county in breach except for County Cavan which has been implementing a by-law since 2004, based on the 1996——

On a point of order, that is the subject of another amendment.

I am about to point that out to Senator Ó Domhnaill.

It is relevant. If I may argue——

The Chair is ruling at this point. Unless the Senator has a further point to make——

A Senator

This is getting ridiculous.

——we have exhausted section 3, with all respect. The Senator has made his point at this stage.

I will bow to that. If I may make a clarification, I will accept what the Leader says but I was going to talk about what the inspectors will implement when they call out to a site. I refer to the T test and the P test as regards percolation areas. These are important technical aspects of the Bill which must be discussed.

A Senator

Nobody is digging holes.

I fail to understand why Members on the Government side would vote for this Bill because they would be voting for a pig in a poke if they vote it through. That is what I am afraid of.

We must deal with section 3. I ask the Senator to conclude.

Unless the Minister is willing to withdraw this section and favour local authority staff then we cannot agree.

I am favouring local authority staff.

Then remove section 3.

I am sure the Senator has heard my argument but it may not suit him to listen to me——

——but with respect, I have already stated that this is a matter primarily for local authorities. Some of them will not be in a position to have the necessary staff to deal with this work themselves but if they have the staff, this is the way they should go. This is erring on the side of allowing local authorities to be in charge of the scheme with EPA guidelines. This is what they do in the planning process. I want to see this extended to this issue where fewer than 20% of the people will be inspected.

As regards allowing private inspectors onto premises this only applies to a small number of people in the Dog Breeding Establishments Act. At present, a property cannot be sold or rented without a BER certificate There are approximately 250,000 to 300,000 rental properties in the country so this flies in the face of what the Senator has stated. The principal position he has taken is that the Dog Breeding Establishments Act is small beer. Already, under the rental properties scheme, private inspectors are inspecting houses and dwellings before being sold or rented under the BER scheme. They are able to cope with the amount of work involved when dealing with such large numbers in the same way as they will be able to cope with this. I regard local authority staff as being the people who will do 90% of this work and nobody should have anything to fear.

In answer to Senator Ó Clochartaigh's question about planning, I will repeat that all we want to find out is whether a septic tank, no matter when it was installed or by whom, is working. It does not matter under which planning conditions the tank may have been installed, for instance, in 1967, 1975 or 2011.

How are they categorised——

The local authority staff will inspect tanks under EPA guidelines to ascertain if they comply with public health standards and good environmental practice as laid down in those guidelines. The planning issues are exempt.

Will the Minister clarify which EPA guidelines are under discussion because that is the——

We are not talking about guidelines. If planning permission was granted in 1967 I am not going to second-guess the conditions of the permission. There was no EPA at that time. All we want to know is whether a septic tank is working.

I appreciate that the Minister is talking about the quality of the water.

Yes, the quality of the groundwater, public health and protection of the environment.

All of which is currently inspected by the EPA.

The EPA guidelines do not come into it and neither does planning because it is exempt. There is no reason for people to worry on the basis of planning alone. I think the Senator is asking whether a septic tank granted permission in 1967 would have to be brought up to today's standards. This is not the case; all we want to know is whether the septic tank is working.

With respect, I ask the Minister to clarify which planning specifications is he considering at the moment.

Guidelines will be set down.

Which ground water specifications will be used?

That aspect is not being considered. We want to know whether the ground water quality is sufficient to protect public health and to protect the environment.

I think the Minister has made clear his answer to the question.

On a point of order. I did not want to interrupt the Minister. However, it is unfair to draw a parallel between the BER certificate for a property being rented or sold and someone living in his or her private home. There is a big difference. A person living in his or her own private home is not selling or renting it——

This is not a point of order.

(Interruptions).

I must put the question on section 3.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 13.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

I welcome Councillor Joe Leonard from County Sligo to the Visitors Gallery.

SECTION 4

Amendment No. 1 is out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill. I am sorry, Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

On a point of order, I would like clarification on thatissue. To date, in discussions with the Minister on section 3 he clearly outlined there is a connection.

We are not discussing that issue. I can discuss it with the Senator outside the Chamber.

The Minister clearly suggested that there is a connection between the local authorities and this Bill.

I have ruled the Senator's amendment out of order.

Will the Chair clarify why it has been ruled out of order?

It is outside the scope of the subject matter of this Bill.

Does the Senator wish to speak on section 4?

Yes. I would like clarification on why the amendment has been ruled out of order.

I have ruled on this. It is outside the scope of the subject matter of the Bill. We will move on to amendment No. 2, in the name of Senator Ó Domhnaill.

I would like to speak on the section.

No, we will deal with the amendment first.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, to delete lines 23 and 24, and substitute the following:

" ‘Inspector' means a person appointed by the Agency from within its own staff in accordance with section 70E;".

I regret that Senator Ó Clochartaigh's amendment was ruled out of order. There was so much talk about the importance of local authorities to this process——

We are not discussing amendment No. 1. We have moved on to amendment No. 2.

Okay. Amendment No. 2 relates to a matter that is similar to that we have previously discussed under section 3. We are seeking to ensure that inspectors are appointed from within the staff of the agency or local authority, in accordance with section 70E of the Bill. The Minister has said he appreciates that local authority staff are sufficiently competent to carry out this work. He has also said he will seek, as far as possible, to ensure local authority staff carry out this work. However, he does not seem to have the confidence to put that into the Bill. No legal provision is being made in the Bill for local authority staff to play a role. While I acknowledge what the Minister has said, it is regrettable that he is not backing up his words by including a provision of this nature in the legislation. Perhaps it is a reflection of the lack of local authority staff. The Minister does not seem to be willing to explore the possibility of increasing the number of local authority staff under the memorandum that was agreed with the Commission, the EU and the IMF.

I would like to speak about the role the inspectors will have when they visit one's property. Many people are concerned about this. We need to reflect on the role played by septic tanks on one's land. As the Minister knows, percolation areas are attached to septic tank systems. When an inspector comes to one's property, he or she will inspect one's septic tank and one's percolation area under the legislation on the basis of any regulations the Minister might sign regarding the maintenance, operation and servicing of septic tanks. It is unwise and unjust to this House that we are being forced to introduce this legislation without knowing what the maintenance, servicing and operation standards will be. We can only assume the Minister is proposing to introduce the 2009-10 standards of the Environmental Protection Agency. We could be wrong.

The Senator is wrong again.

Perhaps the Minister can clarify which standards will apply. I have seen the current Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which are available on the agency's current website. One of the matters covered by the guidelines is the size of a percolation area. The guidelines also specify the trench length that should be associated with a percolation area that feeds off a septic tank. This is what the inspectors will inspect when they come out. These are the guidelines the inspectors will be using, not according to Brian Ó Domhnaill but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is mentioned in the legislation. If there are eight people living in a house, under this legislation a trench with a minimum length of 144 m will be required. If one has a four-bedroom house, with eight people living in it, one will have to install a trench of 144 m from the percolation area of one's septic tank. The percolation area, the trench and the percolation pipes will have to be at least 2 m apart, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They will have to be at least 5 m from a surface water soakaway; at least 10 m from a water course or a stream; at least 10 m from an open drain; at least 50 m from a lake, foreshore or coastal area; at least 7 m from a house in the case of a septic tank and at least 10 m away from a house in the case of a percolation area; at least 3 m from the site boundary; at least 3 m from any trees on the site; at least 4 m from a road; and at least 4 m from any slope breaks or cuts on the site. If the Minister had 144 m of pipes, and the percolation area and pipes had to be the distances I have mentioned away from——

On a point of order, I am sure the Seanad record will reflect the fact that Senator Ó Domhnaill is talking about the old Environmental Protection Agency legislation rather than the regulations being introduced in this Bill.

That is not a point of order.

It is important for those who might read the Official Report.

That may be the case, but it is not a point of order.

In response to the point of order, I would like to clarify that I am referring to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. According to Environmental Protection Agency staff whom I have consulted——

The amendment is specific.

The Senator is talking about guidelines that have nothing to do with the——

I am making a specific point about the work the inspectors will be doing when they call to each site. I am trying to gauge whether the Minister will follow these guidelines.

That matter should be raised in the context of the debate on the section as a whole, rather than the debate on this specific amendment.

I am referring to the powers of the inspectors. If the inspectors make their inspections on the basis of those Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, I presume they will tell many people with septic tanks that they do not meet the required standards. They will be saying that on the basis of the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. A site of at least three quarters of an acre will be required in the case of a four-bedroom house, for example, according to the percolation requirements set out in the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. That is what I have been told by architects and site assessors, who are professional experts with indemnity insurance. What will happen to people in four-bedroom houses that were built on sites of half or quarter of an acre? What will become of those people?

I ask the Senator to stick to the amendment.

I apologise if I am running overboard.

The Senator is leading people astray.

I am trying to point out that we are giving private inspectors the power to make determinations and judgments on the basis of the current Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which presumably will be signed into regulation by the Minister. If the Minister were to follow the 1996 Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which are being adopted in Cavan and are acceptable to the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we would be dealing with something entirely different. The Minister needs to clarify for the purposes of the record which guidelines he is talking about signing into regulation at this stage.

I appeal to the Minister to specify whether the inspectors will be private, or public as we are proposing in our amendment. We are suggesting that the inspectors should be employed from agency staff or local authority staff. We need to know how many inspectors the Minister envisages will be required to inspect this country's 475,000 septic tanks. I understand from what the Minister said earlier that just 20% of septic tanks will be inspected.

That is outside the scope of this amendment.

It relates to the inspectors.

My reading of the amendment is that it is specific.

Can I raise a point of order or clarification?

I will allow the point of order.

I apologise for not tuning into the debate earlier. This amendment, unless I am misreading it, simply relates to the definition of "inspector".

I have pointed that out to Senator Ó Domhnaill on a number of occasions. He needs to stick to the amendment.

That is fine. I accept the Chair's ruling on that. The legislation proposes that a private pool of inspectors will be appointed by the agency. What we propose is that those inspectors would be local authority staff, whether new or existing, or staff of the Environmental Protection Agency, whether new or existing. There should be public scrutiny of, and a public link-up, with those inspectors. If, as the Minister suggested, most of the inspectors will be local authority staff anyway, then he should agree to the amendment.

I support the point made about the inspectors because of what I said previously about our fear of privatisation of the inspection service. It would be better if this was done by county councils or the agency. It raises the question of accountability and who is responsible from a legal perspective. I believe I mentioned that earlier. Fracas might ensue as there is much heat in regard to this Bill. People have said they will prevent anyone from doing an inspection. If somebody is prevented from doing an inspection, where does that leave us legally? I asked earlier about the Attorney General and the advice on that. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that because it is important in regard to the inspectors. At least if the inspectors are part of the apparatus of the county councils or the agency, these issues might not arise.

In response to Senator Ó Clochartaigh, local authorities will appoint the inspectors and they will be responsible for those appointed. Those inspectors will be answerable to the local authorities, so there is no difficulty legally. It is standard practice. All of what Senator Ó Domhnaill read out were introduced under the Water Services Act 2007 and are in the 2009 EPA guidelines. They relate to new build and not to this.

I do not know what point the Senator is making then. The Bill provides that the Minister can make regulations in regard to the performance standards for the domestic waste water treatment system. I will make regulations on that basis. They will not deal with what is in existence and the EPA regulations. They will be new regulations. All we will ask the regulations and the inspections to do is to ensure the system there is working. We must establish an inspection and monitoring system in order to comply with the ECJ judgment. For the purpose of this legislation, the inspections will focus on the performance of the systems along the lines of the Cavan regulations.

I was quite surprised the Minister said that 90% of the inspectors would come from the local authorities. Is that stated in the Bill? I do not believe it is.

I do not know of any legislation enacted by the Houses which prescribed in detail for county managers the number of staff they should have and what they should do.

This is a serious issue.

There are a lot of serious issues.

The last day the Minister was in the House I said that, in principle, I agree with what he is doing in that we need fresh clear water.

The Senator does not.

Currently, the local authorities enforce——

Anti-environment.

The greatest polluter of drinking water is the pumping of sewage. County councillors have been part——

We are on amendment No. 2.

Polluting drinking water by pumping sewage into rivers, lakes and the sea——

I will let the Senator in on the section.

A large proportion of it receives no treatment whatsoever.

That is not related to the amendment. Is amendment No. 2 being pressed?

Yes. On the point the Minister made, I appreciate it is for new build and that it came in under 2007 legislation. That is being implemented by local authorities now with the trial hole system. Everyone is in the dark in regard to this legislation because we do not know what maintenance, servicing and operational standards are attached to it and the extent of retrospection in terms of their application.

That is a different issue.

No, it is not. It is the key issue in regard to this legislation.

No one is in the dark other than the Senator. He is the one in the dark.

The Minister is missing the point.

That has more to do with the section or other sections. We must stick to the amendment.

That is the key element of this Bill, otherwise we are voting for a pig in a poke.

It may well be but the amendment is specific.

We are voting for a pig in a poke. The Minister said it is not relevant.

With all due respect, the amendment is specific in regard to inspectors.

The Minister referred to it. I was only trying to get a response.

It relates to the workings of an inspector.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 12.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, to delete lines 28 and 29, and substitute the following:

"legislation made by the Oireachtas under section 70B;".

This amendment relates to the powers under regulation for the Minister to make a prescribed date for registration. We have major difficulties with the prescribed date as outlined in the Bill. It means a date will be set for an individual to register his or her septic tank or wastewater treatment system. The Bill does not state what the date will be with the Minister allowed to sign a regulation to bring in the date at any given time. Accordingly, people cannot forward plan. Nobody will be sure when that will be once the legislation is enacted.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.