Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 23 Nov 2011

Vol. 211 No. 11

Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
In page 4, to delete lines 28 and 29, and substitute the following:
"legislation made by the Oireachtas under section 70B;".
—(Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill).

This amendment relates to the advisory notice. We propose a change in the Act by a regulation. This notice will be a notification to water services authorities that a treatment system is causing or is likely to cause a risk to human health or to the environment. The authority must issue an advisory notice within 21 days. I assume the inspector would make a visit prior to the notice being issued. The advisory notice would set out in detail the considerations for the particular treatment system and whether it posed a threat to human health or to the environment. The notice will direct the owner to take the necessary remedial actions and will specify a timeframe for completion of those measures.

The Bill does not outline the timeframe. For example, in France in 2007 a similar system was introduced to register septic tanks but the timeframe permitted for owners was four or five years during which they were to bring their septic tanks up to standard. It may be unfair to make this comparison given that France is a more urbanised country and there are thousands of hectares of unoccupied land while our countryside is well populated.

We have an issue with the advisory notice and the timeframe. These should be discussed by the Oireachtas prior to the enactment of the Bill. It is wrong to criminalise people or to make non-compliance with the advisory notice an offence. There are many reasons for non-compliance. People will be unable to comply with the advisory notice if substantial works are required to upgrade septic tanks to the necessary standard. According to the Department's own financial breakdown accompanying the Bill, a septic tank would cost approximately €4,000 and more advanced work could increase the cost up to €17,000 when installation of the system is taken into consideration. How is it reasonable to expect someone to carry out such work without the assistance of a retrofitting grants scheme?

The advisory notice and the work agenda is set out along with a timeframe for the work to be completed and it is to be compulsory for local authorities to issue the notice within 21 days of a notification from the agency. This needs to be discussed further. Instead of signing the timeframe under regulation, the Minister should allow for a discussion in this House and more specific details about the advisory notice should be provided. We will press a further amendment to provide that non-compliance with an advisory notice should not constitute an offence under the Bill, given that many people are struggling financially and they will not be able to meet the rigid specifications under this legislation.

I am only introducing what is standard practice in legislation. In addition, all matters relating to regulations are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and each House has an opportunity to accept or reject them within 21 days.

I know there was a regulation. A very odd process was adopted for a regulation that was signed by the two Ministers, Deputies Hogan and Coveney, on 8 September 2011, whereby the wetlands directive was signed into regulation.

That has nothing to do with this amendment.

That is an example where public consultation began afterwards. That is putting the cart before the horse.

We are pressing the amendment. We believe it is only right and proper that the specifics in regard to this will be discussed before the Oireachtas. A situation cannot be left wide open and open-ended regarding the signing of a regulation. I do not point the finger in particular at the Minister, Deputy Hogan. Any Minister of the day is able to sign regulations and bring in new dates or new criteria. In this instance it was dates relating to the advisory notice and the manner in which the advisory notice in question might lead to an offence later on by an individual who cannot meet the demand of the price.

The Houses will have an opportunity to accept or reject it.

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.
  • 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.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Cullinane, David.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Susan O’Keeffe and Pat O’Neill; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 4 is out of order because the subject matter is outside the scope of the Bill.

I would like it to be noted that I do not agree with the Chair's ruling.

Okay. That is no problem.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 37, after "systems')" to insert "apart from county Cavan".

I am suggesting an amendment to the proposed new section 70B(1), which provides that "each water services authority shall establish and maintain a register of domestic waste water treatment systems situated within its functional area". In general, we have no problem with that. If the register system is to operate effectively, a system of registration will be needed at local level. I will not go into the technical detail of the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the case of Commission of the European Communities v. Ireland, other than to say the court found that Ireland, with the exception of County Cavan, was not in compliance with the 1975 directive, as amended in 1991. The judgment set out the various sections with which Ireland was failing to comply, namely, sections 4 and 8.

The point we are trying to make is that the European Commission has recognised that Cavan County Council is complying with the directive as a result of a by-law it adopted in 2004. The by-law was based on the 1996 guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency. Can the Minister clarify if the same guidelines will be adopted for this legislation? As a result of the action taken by Cavan County Council in 2004, some 25% of septic tanks in the county were found not to meet the standard. The average cost of upgrading the one in four tanks that did not meet the Cavan standards, which were based on the 1996 Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, was approximately €2,500. I guarantee the House that if we adopt the 2009-10 Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, significantly more than 25% of septic tanks will not meet the standard. My learned colleague from County Cavan, Senator Wilson, will be able to speak in much more detail about the approach that was adopted in his county and was later found to meet the standards used by the European Court of Justice in its judgment. Why should a county that meets the requirements of the judgment of the European Court of Justice, and faces no fines as a result, be covered under this legislation? Why should further financial burdens be placed on people who have upgraded their septic tanks since 2004?

It is relevant to mention that when the European Court of Justice ruled on the case that was taken by the European Commission against Ireland, it pointed out that the introduction of a registration system is required. That is what the Minister is trying to achieve in this section. It also pointed out that a desludging programme would be relevant under Article 12 of the European directive. Therefore, we are proposing that each septic tank should be eligible for free desludging each year, in line with Article 12 of the 1975 directive. Such a programme should be put in place before we proceed further, even if it would have cost implications. Some of our amendments were ruled out of order because of the cost implications associated with them. It would be better to try to correct deficiencies in septic tanks by putting in place a desludging programme. The Environmental Protection Agency recognises that septic tanks that are desludged on a periodic basis work more effectively. They operate more effectively if the sludge is taken from the top of the tank. Would that not be considered before legislation is passed to force people to bring tanks up to standard?

Perhaps the Minister can advise the House whether he is willing to accept this amendment. Can he clarify whether Cavan County Council is meeting the current standards as we speak? Will the standards the Minister is proposing to introduce by regulation under this legislation be the same as those being applied by Cavan County Council? Does the Minister intend to adopt the only other guidelines he can adopt, which are the 2009-10 Environmental Protection Agency guidelines? Will every one of the 475,000 septic tanks in this country be dealt with retrospectively under those guidelines? I am a little confused about whether this will be implemented retrospectively. This Bill suggests that it will. If that is the case, the implication is that every septic tank in the country will have to meet today's standards. If I am correct, the ruling of the European Court of Justice means that water courses from all septic tanks should be kept clean from today onwards. If that objective is to be achieved, then it would——

The Senator could talk about this on the section. This amendment is specific, however.

I am referring to the services authority, the register of domestic wastewater treatment systems and whether Cavan met the directive's standards. The 1996 guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, would satisfy the European Court of Justice. It actually referred to this arrangement in its ruling. It would also be less of a financial burden on the taxpayer if a grants scheme were introduced to meet upgrade costs.

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.

Senator Wilson, the eminent expert.

I thank Senator Landy for that but he should reserve his judgment until after my contribution.

As Senator Ó Domhnaill stated, Cavan was exempted from the European Court of Justice ruling. The court cited the example of Cavan County Council which introduced by-laws in 2004 on water pollution to implement a complete system of management of septic tanks and individual wastewater treatment systems, both old and new. The by-laws include a requirement that every wastewater treatment system comply with the EPA manual on treatment systems for single houses and that inspections be carried out at least every seven years. The Commission, in taking the case against Ireland, had conceded that these by-laws in Cavan had constituted an adequate legal mechanism for complying with the directive and, therefore, excluded Cavan as part of the subject matter of the legal action.

The Minister will be aware of these by-laws. I will not go through them in detail, line by line, unless he wishes me to do so.

The Cavan County Council by-laws state that it is prohibited to discharge any wastewater or effluent from any on-site wastewater treatment or disposal system to any ditch, stream, pond, lake, watercourse, drain, surface water or, where discharge exceeds five cu. m in any 24-hour period, into groundwater, other than in accordance with a valid discharge licence. County Cavan has plenty of lakes and rivers and these by-laws have been very effective in protecting them. As Senator Ó Domhnaill outlined, initially 25% of septic tanks inspected failed. The by-laws stated, "A person who contravenes a provision of these by-laws shall be guilty of an offence pursuant to section 40 of the Local Government Act 1994", making them liable on summary conviction of a fine of up to €1,270. Under the 2010 Fines Act, this fine will become a class C fine. Once that Act commences, the fine on summary conviction will be €2,500. That is half the maximum fine proposed by the Minister in this Bill.

Why does the Minister not compel each local authority to introduce similar by-laws instead of introducing this legislation? It would be a more sensible approach and achieve what is required under the ruling without the heavy-handed approach this Bill will visit on the 475,000 septic tank owners and 1.2 million people covered by it.

While Cavan is unique in many respects and is one of the finest counties of the 32 and certainly of the 26 over which the Minister has jurisdiction, it is only fair the other 25 counties have the opportunity to introduce their own by-laws. County Cavan has already proved this can be successfully done. I respectfully request the Minister takes this amendment into consideration.

I do not know as much about County Cavan and its by-laws as Senator Wilson does, but it does sound peculiar that in this relatively recent decision of the European Court of Justice, Cavan was found not to be in breach of the directive. Europe has given a gold star to Cavan for implementing its by-laws in 1994. I envy the council and its public representatives for going down that road then. Obviously, other councils should have done so.

The kernel of this issue is which particular guidelines will be followed in the legislation. Three sets of criteria can be applied to this Bill, the EPA guidelines from 2009 and 2004 and the Cavan County Council by-laws. If the latter is a good benchmark for implementing the directive, why then in these difficult times should the Department go the extra mile to be best boys in the class rather than comply with the Cavan guidelines from 15 years ago?

My main concern is we are somewhat in the dark as to which criteria will apply with this legislation. The information I received from the EPA is that it will insist on the most modern, technical and up-to-date criteria available to it. These will be far more stringent than the ones used successfully in Cavan. They will also mean costly upgrades of septic tanks and wastewater systems for property owners.

The criteria to be used must be declared now. The criteria successfully used in Cavan, which comply with the EU directive, are a good benchmark and should be adopted by other local authorities. Under the Minister's proposals, maximum fines stand at €5,000 whereas under the Cavan by-laws, the maximum fine is €2,500. If the EPA criteria are used — I fear they will be — then the bar will have been raised for over 400,000 septic tank owners and will be much higher than the one contained in the Cavan County Council by-laws. It would be refreshing if the Minister declared his hand now and confirmed the 2009 EPA guidelines will be the template for this legislation. The most recent EPA guidelines will be the template for the new proposals. If that is the case, the bar will be considerably higher. People are worried about how much this will cost and where the tanks will go, etc. It is a valid argument. Perhaps it is correct to go down that road and use the most efficient and up to date guidelines.

Cavan County Council was given a clean bill of health under the EU directive. Where do the remaining 25 counties stand? Have their local authorities been neglectful in not going down the same road as Cavan County Council? If so, why did they not do so? I recall attending a meeting of county managers where progress was discussed. Why did the other local authorities not follow what was done in County Cavan? At the time, it was a brave move. Several hundred beautiful lakes in Cavan were polluted and there was deep concern about damage to fish stocks and so on. The local authority was steered to take action to protect the environment, which it did successfully. Perhaps it is not appropriate to the amendment but why did the other local authorities not follow the lead of Cavan County Council? It is not fair to say successive Governments neglected to force them to do so. Councils can be proactive sometimes.

Putting on my legal hat, local authorities will not be exempt from blame when the mud hits the fan down the road. When reality has to be faced, some local authorities will have questions to answer because if they granted planning permission ten, 15 or 20 years ago and said the septic tank and the percolation system on the site were appropriate and met proper standards, they cannot come along and say the legislation has changed and the system has to be upgraded. Local authorities are not exempt and if they are in difficulty, that will rebound on the Department. That is why the Minister should reflect on where this will lead down the road because each householder has constitutional rights. This is another diminution of rights. Under the Constitution, landowners have immense powers to protect their property. This rolls further in more ways than one and I will revisit this later.

I have raised a number of issues. Senators Wilson and Ó Domhnaill have put their case on the amendment better than I have but there are questions about where we go and what guidelines should be followed in future.

I knew if I waited long enough in this debate that Fianna Fáil Members would eventually contradict themselves and that has happened with this amendment.

There is a long way to go yet.

I have now discovered a total lack of sincerity on their part about doing anything on this legislation. They started out totally opposed to the Bill, inspections, charges and compliance with the European Court of Justice judgment and in favour of desludging as long as somebody else paid for it. Senator Wilson did not outline what people are paying in Cavan for an inspection. They pay €200 every seven years to have inspections carried out to comply with the European Court of Justice judgment. Why did he not tell us that?

The people are not complaining about that. They were clearly exempt from the judgment.

Under the by-laws in Cavan, it costs €200 per household for every septic tank to be inspected every seven years and desludging is paid for by the homeowner. Am I right or wrong?

The Minister should proceed and I will reply later.

The Minister should not invite trouble.

I am including County Cavan in the legislation because we need to know the location of the septic tanks and the Bill provides for a register of them. According to Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment, it will cost householders €4,000 on average to improve their septic tanks if they have a problem under the 1996 guidelines and there will be a €200 inspection charge every seven years.

On a point of order, that is misleading and false. The Minister is going away from the facts.

That is not a point of order.

The Minister is way out of line. He has not listened to a word we said.

The cat is out of the bag once and for all. Fianna Fáil want us to adopt the 1996 EPA guidelines and by-laws in Cavan County Council, which provide for a €200 inspection charge on all households every seven years and a charge of €4,000 on average to upgrade septic tanks if people have a difficulty.

The Minister should read our amendments. We propose grants, not fees. He is disallowing them anyway.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

What was the grants scheme——

We are proposing an 85% grant for all the people of the country, including those in County Cavan. The Minister should read our amendments.

This is embarrassing for the Senator because he is responsible for tabling the amendments. He has let down his party and he has let himself down.

I am not embarrassed.

The Minister should refer to the amendment. Is the amendment being pressed?

I challenge Senator Ó Domhnaill to press the amendment.

Cavan County Council was exempt from the European Court of Justice ruling.

The Senator asked that the council's by-laws be implemented.

Senator Wilson to continue, without interruption.

I stated clearly that since 2004 we have had a successful registration and inspection regime for septic tanks in County Cavan.

Correct. Is that why the Senator dislikes the Bill?

I did not interrupt the Minister.

Senator Wilson to continue, without interruption.

It has been a successful registration and inspection regime.

County Cavan does not have a registration system.

We have. Perhaps the Minister's officials will clarify that for him.

The council does not.

And the council imposes a €200 charge.

I know what I am talking about. We have had registration of septic tanks in County Cavan since 2004.

Senator Wilson to continue, without interruption. The Minister will have an opportunity to respond.

Given that Cavan County Council was exempt from the European Court of Justice judgment, we took the situation into our hands successfully in 2004. The reason for the amendment is that the remaining 25 local authorities should be given the opportunity to bring in their own by-laws. Despite the bully boy tactics from the Minister and his officials on this Bill, we will continue to outline where it is flawed. The legislation is draconian and there is no need for it. Cavan County Council has proved there is no need for it because all the Minister needs to do is oblige the other local authorities to bring in by-laws.

I welcome the Minister to the House. As spokesperson for the Labour Party, I have listened to Fianna Fáil Members for two hours and 49 minutes putting forward amendment after amendment. Having been questioned on them, they have back-pedalled faster than one could go down a hill.

We are on amendment No. 5.

I know that. The Cathaoirleach has given a great deal of latitude to other Members.

I have ensured Senators stick to the amendments under discussion.

The County Cavan model is referred to in the amendment. Will Senator Wilson indicate who was responsible for introducing the by-laws in Cavan? Was it the elected representatives or was it the executive board of the local authority?

It was the elected——

The Senator should allow me to finish. If it was the elected representatives, did they knowingly and willingly impose a charge of €200 on the citizens of Cavan?

Am I correct in stating that Senator Wilson has indicated that they did not do so?

They did not do so.

Fine. They introduced by-laws but did not make include any financial implications in respect of them. Was it the case that because a degree of political courage would have been required in respect of implementing the charge, the elected representatives handed over responsibility for the decision to the executive board?

Only on this one.

What we have been presented with is ridiculous. Senator Wilson was described earlier as the expert on the Cavan model. It is obvious that the Cavan model should be consigned to one of the lakes in that county because it is absolutely disastrous for the people who live there. In his expert description and analysis of the scheme, Senator Wilson neglected to mention the most important element, namely, the charge imposed on the people of Cavan. Earlier, I described the Senator as an eminent expert. When he spoke, we expected that he would provide us with full details of the scheme. However, he did not do so. As a result, his entire argument is flawed and it will be extremely difficult to sit here for another three or four hours and listen to the debate on later amendments.

In the context of the Cavan model, the Senator referred to desludging being paid for by residents or those who own houses. His colleague urged the Minister to introduce free desludging. The Cavan model has been put forward as the greatest thing since sliced bread but the residents of that county have been asked to pay for their homes to be desludged. This is absolutely laughable.

Tá an cosúlacht air go bhfuil——

The Senator should speak in English as well.

Is Éireannach mise. I am an Irish citizen——

——and I am entitled to speak in Irish in the House if I so wish.

That is fine. However, I would like to hear this particular contribution from the Senator in both languages.

I will also make my contribution in English——

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

——given that the Minister objects to me speaking in Irish.

I asked the Senator to speak in both languages.

The Minister requested that the Senator speak in both languages.

Is the Minister objecting to me speaking in Irish? An féidir liom glacadh leis go bhfuil an tAire i gcoinne mé a bheith ag labhairt i nGaeilge i dTeach an Oireachtais?

Níl mé. Ar aghaidh leis an díospóireacht.

Tá lúcháir orm go bhfuil soiléiriú faighte air sin. Tá an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh ag éisteacht leis an soiléiriú sin chomh maith. Tá Gaeilge mhaith aige-sin agus ag go leor Seanadóirí anseo. Tá pleidhcíocht agus cluichí ag dul ar aghaidh anseo. Tá leasú fíor-thábhachtach molta agam féin agus ag mo chomhghleacaithe ar an mBille seo i dtaca le Comhairle Contae an Chabháin. Tá comhairleoirí contaethe de chuid Fhine Gael ar Chomhairle Chontae an Chábháin agus iadsan atá i gcumhacht ar an gcomhairle sin agus atá ag láimhseáil thar cionn an Chomhairle Chontae sin faoi láthair.

There was a Fianna Fáil Party majority on the council in the period 2004 to 2005.

Is ag comhairleoirí Fhine Gael a bhfuil na huimhreacha ar an gcomhairle sin. Cén fáth, mar sin, nach bhfuil na comhairleoirí céanna sin sásta an táille €200 a ísliú go €50? Cén neamart atá déanta de chomhairleoirí contaethe Fhine Gael i gContae an Chábháin, mar sin.

Why did the Senator table the amendment?

Tá mé ag iarraidh é sin a mhíniú.

Why did the Senator table it?

Bhí an treoir a tháinig ón chás a bhí ann idir an Choimisiún agus Éire an-soiléir go raibh an Chúirt ag rá nach raibh Éire ag cloí leis na rialacha faoi ailt 4 agus 8, ach go raibh Contae an Chabháin ag cloí leo. Bhí Contae an Chabháin ag cloí leis na treoirlínte a leagadh síos ag an Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, i 1996. Níl aon soiléiriú faighte ag an Teach nó Baill an Tí ar cad iad na treoirlínte a bhfuil an tAire ag dul a úsaid san mBille úr nuair a thiocfaidh sé i bhfeidhm. Ach an tuiscint atá againn ó na daoine proifisiúnta san earnáil phríobháideach agus san earnáil phoiblí ná go bhfuil an tAire ag dul i dtoil leis na treoirlínte a tháinig ón Choimisiún i 2009 agus a cuireadh i bhfeidhm ag an EPA i 2009 agus 2010. Sin iad na treoirlínte a bhfuil an tAire chun glacadh leo. Dá rachadh an tAire leis na treoirlínte atá á úsáid i gContae an Chabháin ní bheadh siad chomh holc le treoirlínte 2009 nó 2010.

An mbeadh Seanadóirí ar thaobh an Rialtais sásta na moltaí go léir atá ins an mBille a fheiceáil? Tá sé molta againn-ne go mbeadh baint sloda aonuaire ar fáil do gach teach sa tír, nach mbeadh táille ar aon teach agus nach mbeadh aon táille ar sheirbísiú a dhéanamh agus go mbeadh deontas suas go dtí 85% ar fáil do dhuine a bhfuil dabhach shéarachais aige chun é a thabhairt suas go dtí an chaighdéan.

Bheadh sin go léir molta do gach teach sa tír, ach amháin i gContae an Chabháin. Bhíomar ag iarraidh soiléiriú a fháil ón Aire.

What the Senator is saying relates more to the section than to the amendment. The latter is specific in the context of the Cavan model.

Cén fáth go bhfuil Contae an Chábháin le bheith clúdaithe faoin mBille seo má tá Coimisiún agus Cúirt na hEorpa sásta leis an obair atá acu i gContae an Chabháin? Cén fáth go mbeadh na treoirlínte úra de dhíth?

I will now speak in English in order to explain the position to those who may not have understood what I said in Irish.

We do not understand what the Senator says in English either.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

What was said earlier in respect of Senator Wilson was very disingenuous. The Senator was trying to refer to the position in Cavan, the county in which he lives. The point he was making is critical in the context of the legislation. The Minister was being disingenuous in respect of those of us on this side of the House. We are not objecting to the legislation.

The Senators opposite are doing so.

We are objecting to the fees and the monitoring system that are being introduced and to the sweeping powers being given to inspectors. We also object to the powers the Minister is giving to himself in the context of signing regulations whenever he sees fit.

Those opposite voted against the Bill on Second Stage.

Of course we did because we do not agree with the Bill in its current format.

Those opposite are against the principle which underpins the Bill.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

We do not agree with the Bill in its current format. What we might do is introduce our own legislation in the new year if the Minister's stealth tax agenda continues.

Now we have it.

Senator Ó Domhnaill should adhere to the debate on the amendment.

We know why the Minister wants the Bill to be passed prior to the introduction of the budget.

Now we have it.

The Minister is concerned with collecting money next year. The point of the amendment is that Cavan County Council introduced the by-laws in 2004. Those who control that council at present are members of the Fine Gael Party.

Why did the Senator table the amendment?

Why have they not reduced the fee of €200?

Why did the Senator table the amendment?

Perhaps the Minister might talk to some of his colleagues on Cavan County Council——

I am talking to the Senator and I am asking him why he tabled the amendment.

——and encourage them to consider reducing the fee from €200. That might be a worthwhile step to take, particularly if the Minister is so concerned about the fee which applies in Cavan being so high.

The Senator should stop digging.

Perhaps the Minister should give consideration to my proposal.

The point I am trying to make is central to the Bill, which relates to the monitoring of domestic wastewater treatment systems. Cavan has had a system in place in this regard since 2004 and the Commission's judgment recognises that fact. Why, then, would Cavan be requested to re-register? The fact that the Minister is including County Cavan would have one believe that this matter does not really relate to wastewater treatment and is more about collecting revenue for the State. That is the point we are trying to make with the amendment. What happens in Cavan is a matter for the county councillors there.

Those who invested money in Cavan County Council to bring septic tanks up to the 1996 criteria will now be asked to start all that work again, possibly to meet higher standardsaccording to the RIAI, as attached with the legislation published by the Minister'sDepartment.

That is the point we are trying to make. We are not being disingenuous. We take exception to that because we are trying to be constructive on behalf of the 475,000 householders throughout the country who will be penalised as a result of this flawed and discriminatory legislation. That is why we raise these issues.

The Senator is being repetitive.

We need to know the criteria on which the Minister is basing the legislation. Senator O'Donovan also referred to this. We are like pigeons flying in and out through a window. We do not know the criteria.

The amendment is specific. I call Senator Keane.

I already complimented County Cavan on what it has done. What we are trying to do now for the people of Cavan is to reduce their fee from €200 to €50. Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment goes against that. In case he has forgotten, it states "apart from County Cavan".

You are proposing to raise the amount to €250.

No, we are not.

Do not be disingenuous.

We are telling the people of Cavan they will not have to pay as much under this legislation as they did under previous legislation.

On the previous amendment, Fianna Fáil Members spoke of the competency of persons engaged in inspections. County Cavan is very weak in that regard. Subsection (2) states:"shall submit an assessment by a competent person [the text does not define competent person] which assessment shall include capacity, water-tightness, construction soundness and general workings". That is very loose. Our text is much tighter. It will——

That is why the cost will be greater. The Senator is arriving at the point but in a different way. The people of Cavan will pay hundreds and thousands of extra euro under this legislation.

Senator Ó Domhnaill, please allow Senator Keane to speak without interruption.

No wonder Senator Ó Domhnaill is upset. When the people of Cavan——


Senator Keane should talk to her party's councillors in County Cavan.

I say "Well done" to the people of Cavan for bringing in the regulation. What Fine Gael and the Labour Party are now trying to do for the people of Cavan is to reduce their fee. If Senator Ó Domhnaill is against that, he should push it.

Do not fool the people.

There is just one thing before the noble Minister rises to his feet and dazzles us again. Fair play to the Minister, he is a dab hand at creating confusion, like the Kilkenny hurlers who sidestep us with the swift action of the hurley and the ball.

It is an open goal.

Constructive good opposition can never be confused with what the Minister considers to be total opposition. We have many constructive proposals if the Minister will bear with us.

Where are they?

Through the Cathaoirleach, I warn Senator Keane it would be very unwise to tell her colleagues on Cavan County Council that nothing will befall them other than a reduction in the fees as a result of this Bill. If they are under that illusion or persist so, the Senator will get a rude awakening in the coming years. I refer to Cavan although I have no experience of it in regard to this area other than the judgment of Europe. My colleagues tell me that under the new legislation there will be adverse financial effects. Ní foláir do mo chara bheith cúramach ar an bpointe seo.

Táimid an-chúramach.

The cat is out of the bag, lads.

The Minister has a lot of cats.

The Opposition Senators have given us the open goal.

A cat retired the other night.

We have so many with whom to replace him.

A charge of €200 is mentioned by Fianna Fáil Party Members as well as inspections every seven years, costing another €200. According to Senator Ó Domhnaill, there is an upgrade costing €4,000 if we adopt the Cavan system.

I did not say that.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

It is because these regulations are so onerous——

That is the Minister's system. I will point this out at the end.

——I reject the amendment.

On a point of order——

Is it on a point of order or on the amendment?

I apologise for confusing the Minister.


The Senator has confused himself.

The Senator is caught.

I stated the average cost in County Cavan was €2,500. Under the Minister's Bill, under the RIAI, the average would be €4,000 for septic tank upgrade or up to €17,000 for the package treatment system.

The Senator has not yet seen my regulations.

I will talk all night to the Minister about the work that must be done because I spent the weekend in the company of——

The Senator is talking nonsense.

As a point of record, today I talked to a member of Fine Gael from County Cavan, who is competent, qualified and has read the Bill. That member fears the Bill and is happier with the current system.

Did the Senator tell the truth?

By extension, I am sure the councillors in County Cavan will be looking for Seanad votes in some years' time and will realise the full implications of the measures the Minister proposes tonight.

The way the Senator is going so will he.

Does the Minister wish to add anything?

No, I rest my case.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes. The Minister will kill the people in County Cavan.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 32.

  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • 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.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 6 has been ruled out of order as it would impose a charge on Revenue.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following:

"(3) Any other information required will be specified before the Bill is passed and will be of no cost to the owner.".

I am very disappointed amendment No. 6 cannot be moved.

I hear there has been a split in the Opposition since I left.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, is now the one caught because in that amendment we are proposing the de-sludging plan and the grants, which would resolve all the issues throughout the country, including in County Cavan, but it has been ruled out of order.

The Senator must speak to amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 7 relates to most of 70B(3) in section 4. Under the legislation as it is currently construed costs will be imposed on septic tank owners. When they get the provisional notice from the local authority they will be forced to apply to the water services authority in whose function area the treatment system is situated to have the treatment system, which includes a septic tank, entered onto the register of domestic wastewater treatment systems which will be maintained by the local authority.

I refer to section 4(3)(a), (b), (c) and (d). We are proposing that any information the local authority will provide will be at no cost to the septic tank owner or the householder because there is an array of hidden charges built in to this legislation that could result in substantial costs to the individuals who may need to seek information. The Minister has acknowledged that he will make planning an exemption for the septic tank charges and he has not ruled out the possibility of ecological costs for persons who have a septic tank in a natural heritage area, NHA, a special protection area, or a special area of conservation, SAC. I checked the costs with an ecologist in Donegal and they generally start at approximately €750 for an ecological report. If one is located in a wetlands area — under the Minister’s directive signed on 8 September most of the west is now a wetland area — the cost could include an environmental impact assessment if the land is within certain a certain zone.

It is planning exempt. It does not come into it.

It overrides SPAs and everything.

In case the Senator does not know, it is part of a planning application.

We will want to see that written into the legislation. We will want to make sure, line by line, that environmental impact assessments and any environmental assessments or ecological reports are exempt for any works that have to be carried out. If that is the case I am sure the Minister will have no difficulty in accepting this amendment to the effect that the householder will not be expected to bear any further costs apart from making the application, for which we propose there will be no registration fee, and that there will be no other additional costs hidden in this section.

Section 4(3) states:

An application under this section shall—

(a) be made in writing or by electronic means, [we have no difficulty with that because if it was only by electronic means it would make it very difficult for people who may not have access to a computer]

(b) specify the name of the applicant and the address at which he or she normally resides, [we have no difficulty with that]

(c) specify the address at which the domestic waste water treatment system is situated, [we have no difficulty with that]

(d) contain such other information as may be prescribed, [we have major difficulty with that because that is as long as it is wide] and

(e) in the case of the application under subsection (2), be accompanied by the prescribed fee.

We have tabled another amendment on that because we are not in agreement with it. The information must be specified before this Bill can be passed, regardless of any other relevant information the householder would be required to send to the local authority.

The Minister might clarify when he intends to introduce a Government amendment to the effect that there will be no planning charges, no environmental impact assessment charges and no SPA, NHA or SAC implications in terms of any septic tank located in or near an SPA or a wetlands area. If that is the case questions may arise in terms of the classification of those areas, and I am sure we will have people such as those in An Taisce jumping up and down. The alternative that we would accept is that if there is a requirement to have those reports the Department would pay for them. However, we favour no charges or cost in this area to the householder or the consumer.

Except in County Cavan.

Senator Ó Domhnaill wants the County Cavan experience in the entire country.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

It is Senator Landy's councillor colleagues in County Cavan who can make the decision.


Fine Gael councillors in County Cavan, the Senator's colleagues, will not relish the prospect of a €250 fee instead of the €200 they currently pay.

A Senator

Why is the Senator telling untruths?

The difficulty in County Cavan——

The Senator should table an amendment.

——is the extra thousands of euro it will cost each septic tank owner as a result of the new guidelines being brought in by the Minister. That is where the difficulty lies.

The Senator is being repetitive.

The Minister is tinkering around the edges if he is talking about €50 or €200. We are proposing the amendment because we believe there should be no charges. There is a way of doing it. There is €431 million in the Minister's budget this year for the maintenance and servicing of urban wastewater treatment systems. Some of that money should be diverted to rural Ireland. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to put forward our de-sludging plan for every house in the country that would come out of that fund. We are asking the Minister, in terms of the retrofit scheme, to scrap the €2.7 billion project in north County Dublin——

Senator, you are moving from the amendment.

——and put that money into the upgrading of septic tanks in rural Ireland to make sure that the ordinary people of this country who work hard in rural Ireland will not have to pay the costs of this draconian legislation.

I hope the Minister will reassure the House that the form of registration, when it eventually sees the light of day, will not win the prize for difficult English. Whenever most Departments get their hands on forms, irrespective of whichever party is running the Administration, I always have the impression that there is a group of people who gleefully look on form creation a little like getting sweets for Christmas, in other words, they try to make it as difficult and complicated as possible for the ordinary citizen. The Minister has spelled out in good detail exactly what will be required under the registration but I would like an assurance that the form of registration will, in the interests of clarity, be simple, straightforward and will not have any addendums, appendices or references to subsections.

I am concerned about that because there is a reference in the Bill to the phrase "contains such information as may be prescribed". The Minister might enlighten us as to his thinking on what other information might be involved. I can think of one item of information in the context of this debate on the amendment. I am not an expert on septic tanks but we have had septic tanks since the early 1960s and treatment plants have changed considerably in that time. The more modern septic tank is a much more efficient machine than those of a few decades ago. Does the Minister believe it will be of benefit to the various water authorities, which are the local authorities in this case, to have information on the type of septic tank or is that something that will follow later in terms of the inspection?

I am not sure how the inspection will identify the type of septic tank, and whether the Minister believes that will be relevant. If technology has moved on to the point where there is now little or no pollution from the more modern septic tanks, the inference is that there are older septic tanks that are leaking and causing pollution. Is that the type of information about which the Minister is concerned?

I am concerned — I suppose this is inevitable as it happens in almost every Bill of this type — with the phrase "prescribed fee" in respect of an application under subsection (2). That is a great get-out clause for Ministers. I appreciate the registration fee will be made clear but why did the Minister not prescribe it in this legislation and state what he has been outlining? It raises the issue of whether successive Ministers for the environment will use this as another tax raising method or another form of revenue for the Department.

I oppose the amendment. If Senator Ó Domhnaill does not tell the people of Donegal that he proposed a €200 charge, I will not tell them.

Apart from County Cavan. The Senator should read the amendment.

Senator Harte, we dealt with that in a previous amendment.

The Senator has not read it right.

I wanted to make the point. In fairness to the Sinn Féin Party we saw the own goal. We do not always agree on issues but we do agree on an issue that is clear and straight.

That was on the previous amendment. We are on amendment No. 7.

I agree but I could not lose the chance.

I call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I am delighted. I will not tell the radio station about that.

Is mór agam deis a fháil labhairt ar an rún seo. Tá cuid de na rudaí faoin mBille seo sách doiléir . . . sin an pointe a bhí mé ag iarraidh a dhéanamh.

I welcome the robust debate that is taking place and the clarification and bona fides of the Minister. I believe he is telling us how he sees it and how it will play out. In recent years we have had different Ministers for the environment with different opinions. What is written in the legislation is how it will be interpreted and it can be interpreted in two ways. How the Minister intends to interpret may be one way. We need to future proof the legislation in order that people cannot be caught out and that Ministers with a different agenda might take a different meaning. Although the Minister has clarified a certain number of points in the legislation, what we hear when discussing this issue with people at all the public meetings across the country is that this is a very complicated Bill. When one tries to read through the EU directives on which it is based, they are complicated and point one from one directive to another. It is a complicated process to go through.

Our job as legislators is to make the Bill as simple as possible for the people whom it will affect. The system to be put in place must be clear. Therefore, the information that has been alluded to, specifically around the specification that will be expected of the ground water in the vicinity of the domestic water treatment system that is in place, should be made clear before the Bill is enacted. The Minister should tell the House his intentions for those specifications so that if people want to conduct their own test tomorrow morning they can get somebody to come out and check the water to ascertain whether it is up to standard. We need to remove any vagueness around this issue so that people are clear where they stand on it.

I suppose we have a good deal of misinformation about this legislation, starting with a €300 annual inspection charge. It is a while ago since we heard that but it was dropped. Now we have the Cavan Fianna Fáil €200 inspection charge, arising from an amendment tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party, whereas I am seeking no more than €50 for a registration charge. At least we have clarity on that issue.

The purpose of the guidelines to be drawn up is to ensure the septic tank is working, minimum standards apply, and there is no danger to public health, the environment or groundwater quality. There are no guidelines in place that meet those requirements. If I were to adhere to existing guidelines I would make the requirements too onerous, unlike Senator Ó Domhnaill who wants to make the requirements more onerous. The 1996 EPA guidelines provided for a €200 inspection charge but I do not want to do that, hence I opposed that amendment. We are interested only in meeting the basic requirements of the ECJ judgment in having an inspection and monitoring system in place that meets that judgment of good practice in regard to public health and the environment. That argument will not suit everybody especially those who go around in the Senator's constitutency and others talking about regulations that do not exist. They speak about introducing measures that I have no intention of introducing but I cannot stop those people. If people want to perpetuate this type of nonsense I cannot stop them.

I cannot stipulate a fee in the Bill — no Government does that. The fee will be no more than €50 for registration purposes. There is a standard catch-all phase included in legislation for the same purpose. I am doing no more or no less than what is standard practice in law. I have no other particular proposal in mind. The planning regulations to implement that will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and one has 21 days, as part of a statutory instrument, in which to deal with them. The planning regulations, about which Senator Mooney is concerned, will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I do not consider the amendment before the House to be appropriate. The details to be requested, when registering, are under consideration by the Department and the EPA. The registration will be kept as simple and as straightforward as possible. I agree with Senator Mooney that there is a temptation to seek more information than that relating to septic tanks or households when sending notices to the door or filling in a form. I will look at that form before it is disseminated to households.

I appreciate the Minister's reply. It strikes me as strange that if we have been found to be in contravention of an ECJ ruling, which obviously lays down a certain standard for water quality, that the ruling did not indicate a proper water quality standard to be adhered to. Therefore, it is strange that officials in his Department would not have said that when the water quality is checked, this is the standard we should be looking at. It is not unreasonable to ask that be made available to people in advance, as part of the discussion around this Bill — it is quite fair. Some 36 years have elapsed since this directive was introduced in 1965 and successive Governments failed to implement it. Cavan has introduced some regulation which states that water quality is at a standard that would not contravene the ECJ ruling. It must be clear from that what the water quality level should be and that should be made available as part of the discussion on the Bill.

Sin go díreach an pointe céanna a bhí mé féin ag dul a dhéanamh faoin treoir a bheidh ag teacht ó thaobh an chreitéir a bheidh á leagadh síos ar gach dabhach shéarachais nach cuid de scéim é ó thaobh na hoibre atá an Roinn a lorg chun an dabhach a thabhairt suas go dtí cibé caighdeán a leagfar síos. Cuireann sé iontas orm nach bhfuil na treoirlínte foilsithe agus nach bhfuil eolas ar bith againn sa Seanad ar na treoirlínte sin a bhaineann leis an reachtaíocht. Sin bun agus barr an scéil. In respect of what Senator Ó Clochartaigh has said, I do not mean to keep harping back to Cavan County Council which is adopting 1996 guidelines. For anybody who did not read that section and our amendment fully, part of the section reads:

Each water services authority shall establish and maintain a register of domestic waste water treatment systems situated within its functional area (in this Part referred to as a ‘register of domestic waste water treatment systems').

That should apply except for County Cavan which has that system in place. It is a matter then for Cavan County Council to reduce the €50 registration fee which the Government wants to introduce. The councillors in Cavan, the people who voted for some of the Fine Gael and Labour Party Members on the Government benches — might not try to reduce the fee to €50.

The Senator is trying to salvage his mess.

Has the Senator so little faith in the councillors who voted for members of Fine Gael and the Labour Party in Cavan that she believes they would carry on regardless? It is unfair to those councillors. They may not have voted for me but I would have enough respect for them to acknowledge——

They did not vote for the Labour Party.

They may not have. The point I are trying to make is a genuine one. I am not trying to be argumentative but I am trying to establish what maintenance standards will be established for septic tanks. Can I take it the Minister is scrapping the most recent 1999-2000 EPA maintenance standards and that he will look at something else that has not yet been drawn up? What are the maintenance standards?

Yes, for the purpose of complying with the judgment.

How are we expected to vote on something if we do not know what the criteria will be? The Bill provides that the Minister will take it in by regulation which would mean that after the Bill is passed the Minister will sign in by regulation, maintenance servicing and operating guidelines to be agreed, I assume, between the EPA and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. How can we go forward on the basis that some time in the future, a Minister will sign a regulation that will take in the standards with which 475,000 septic tank owners will have to comply? If the bar is set too high, we are in trouble. If the bar is set too low, Europe will come after us again in the courts, but there is no grant aid available to meet any update costs. That is where the problem lies with the Bill.

We agree with a registration system because it is needed. We do not agree with the fee attached to it, and this can be seen from our amendments. Before a registration system in the Bill is brought in, we want to bring in a de-sludging system, which is referred to in article 12 of the European directive. Any costs should be borne by the Department under the retrofit grants scheme up to a maximum of 85%. There is nothing in the Bill on that. Our amendments were ruled out of order.

This amendment relates to costs that can be passed on to individuals. For example, the ordnance survey maps or others may be required. As Senator Mooney has outlined, we do not know what will be on the application form. Will the individuals living alone be able to fill in the application form? Even though they do not need planning permission, will they need to go to a solicitor or a REPS planner to fill in the form? If that is the case, they could be charged at least a couple of hundred euro to get a form filled in, maps attached and sent to the local authority. There are hidden charges built into this that are not clarified.

The Senator should send them on to me. I will look after them.

I will look after them as well, as I always do. There are 475,000 people with these systems and they will not all come to me, Senator Harte or other Members of the House. If they did, we would not be in here. The Irish Rural Dwellers Association has raised this as major fear. The IFA has also raised this as a fear and I had a long discussion with its environment committee chairman on this issue today. These hidden costs could accumulate over years and the prescribed fee, referred to under the regulation, can be increased at any given time by the Minister by signing a regulation to increase it. The €50 registration can be——

I will answer that in a minute.

Perhaps he might clarify that. There is still an issue with hidden costs associated with making an application when we do not know what the application form is yet. We have the application available in the North of Ireland that must be filled in and sent to Northern Ireland Water. There is much to be filled in on that form, but the form we expect people to fill, if this Bill is passed, would be much more onerous because it is a registration system. There is no registration system in place yet in the North of Ireland, although I understand they are looking at bringing in such a system, but the form is still quite onerous. We are expecting many elderly people in rural Ireland to fill in an application form that could be onerous, but we do not know what standards they are expected to meet thereafter. We are proposing this amendment to the Bill to defray additional costs for people when those costs could accumulate through information they may need to provide and which may not be readily available to them.

If I am making a matter like this exempt from planning, then there are no fees. I must apologise to Senator Mooney for doing a very unusual thing. I have ensured in the primary legislation that the registration fee will be no more than €50, so that will reassure Senator Mooney, whatever about Senator Ó Domhnaill.

I was not thinking about the Minister, but about his successors.

It will require an amendment to the Act in these Houses——

I am sure he would have some input——

I might not be around to reduce it.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked about guidelines. These are listed in section 70C of Part 4A of the Bill, which states the following.

The owner of a premises connected to a domestic waste water treatment system shall—

(a) comply with regulations made under section 70L,

(b) ensure that the system does not constitute, and is not likely to constitute, a risk to human health or the environment,

and, in particular does not—

(i) create a risk to water, air or soil, or to plants and animals,

(ii) create a nuisance through noise or odours, or

(iii) adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest,


(c) ensure that the system is entered on a register of domestic waste water treatment systems in accordance with section 70B.

This amends the principal Act to set out the principles with which we will comply. As I have said several times, these are new regulations, in conjunction with the EPA and the local authorities, which ensure that we have good quality ground water, that we are not contaminating groundwater sources, that we are not contaminating water to an extent of risking public health, and that we are protecting the environment. These are set out quite explicitly. The Senator will have to accept that the prescriptive nature of including what he is asking cannot be put in the legislation, but will have to be put in the regulations that subsequently follow.

They should be part of this debate so we are clear——

The regulations will subsequently be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Senator will then have an opportunity to debate them.

Will that happen before or after the Bill is enacted?

The Bill comes first, then the regulations.

I am grateful to the Minister. That is common sense. As he outlined, specific fees are not always included in legislation, so this will go some way to allaying fears out there that there is some hidden charge on the registration fee as currently prescribed.

The date by which the treatment system must be registered will be specified in regulations to be made by the Minister. In light of the previous debate and in order to reassure those who may have difficulty in filling out the form, will the Minister request any response from the local authorities to assist people in filling in the forms? He has yet to specify the date. It could be two or three weeks from the time the notice is sent out. How does that system work? Is it about self-compliance? Do people have to contact the local authority? At the moment, there is no register. I am not too clear on this. It is a little bit vague on the information that is already with the local authorities. Perhaps there might be some obligation on the local authorities to provide assistance.

Senator Harte has spoken about a certain of category of people. In the past 20 years since European money started coming in, bypassing elected politicians in many cases, an industry of consultants sprang up. They went around charging community groups and others for filling in forms in order to access funds. I am sure the last thing the Minister would want is to create another cottage industry that will levy an extra charge on people.

Will there be a registration period? Will it be obligatory on local authorities to provide the service, rather than discretionary?

I thank the Minister. I still feel it would be great to make it clear to people what the regulation and the inspection should be in advance, but I appreciate his answer. However, it raises another question. If a person built a house 20 years ago and since then the area has been designated an SPA, an SAC, an NHA or whatever, the Minister states that there will be a planning exemption in place for such a house. Will this also cover the exemptions that would relate to an NHA, SAC and an SPA?


In answer to Senator Mooney's question, people will have 12 months to register. They have the entire year in 2012 to register. I am sure that when public representatives, community groups and neighbours get notification of this particular matter, they will be able to assist the people next door. Some 475,000 people seem a lot but they are scattered around the country. For example, there are about 11,000 in Kilkenny. I am sure I will be able to notify them properly about what the requirements are and help them in any way I can.

Deputy John Paul Phelan will do it anyway.

It will be easy for them to find help online.

With regard to the question of assistance with form-filling, many people are quite capable of filling in forms, as we know from our own clinics. Sometimes people are much sharper than the local politicians. I imagine the local authorities would have information days on this. Local community groups should be encouraged to do this also, in conjunction with local authorities. This will be a new system for everyone. There are people who are afraid of form-filling, but local authorities and community groups have a background and an interest in helping them. I do not think it will be a big issue. If they cannot get the Senator on the telephone they can telephone me in Donegal. Between the two of us we can look after them all.

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

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • 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.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, to delete lines 7 and 8.

Baineann an leasú seo le alt 70B(3)(d) den mBille. Ta sé leagtha síos sa Bhille gur féidir aon eolas breise a chur leis an iarratas agus gan é a lua i reachtaíocht. Tá sé seo tromchúiseach ionas go mbaineann impleachtaí móra leis ó thaobh costais, mar a dúirt muid cheana. Beidh an EPA, an t-údarás áitiúil nó an tAire in ann aon eolas breise a leagan síos ag aon am sa todhchaí. Má táimid chun an chumhacht seo a thabhairt don Roinn — aon eolas breise a chur leis an iarratas ag aon am sa todhchaí — cruthóidh sé deacracht mhór. Beidh impleachtaí ann ó thaobh eolais a chur ar fáil agus eolas a fháil. Beidh impleachtaí ann ó thaobh na coinníollacha a bhaineann le hiarratas a dhéanamh. Beidh impleachtaí ann ó thaobh an chostais a bhaineann le hiarratas a dhéanamh. Téann sé ar aghaidh agus ar aghaidh.

This refers to a wide and sweeping subsection of section 4, that is, 70B(3)(d), which states “contain such other information as may be prescribed, and”. We touched on this point earlier. If I heard the Minister correctly, he stated that if a septic tank or wastewater treatment system is located in a special protection area, a special area of conservation or a national heritage area, then no septic tank upgrade works, irrespective of whether they put in on any of the special protection areas, heritage areas or surrounding areas, would require an ecological report or other scientific report. Is that correct? How, therefore, would this meet the criteria set down in the special protection area classification? Will the Minister explain this?

The Senator need not worry about that.

No. That is great. I welcome the fact that there will beno——

I realise some of the information does not suit Senator Ó Domhnaill.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

No. It is excellent and I welcome it because the implication is——

Good. It is the first time Senator Ó Domhnaill has used that word tonight.

If the Minister is suggesting as much, I cannot understand why he will not agree to the amendment.

What amendment?

The amendment proposes——

Is that the Cavan amendment?

The Minister can explain his situation to Cavan but I have no wish to be in his shoes when he goes up there.

Senator Ó Domhnaill has been caught.


Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

The Minister might ring some of the Cavan Fine Gael councillors and ask them to reduce the fee from €200——

Senator Ó Domhnaill tabled the amendment.

The Minister is agreeing with the Fine Gael councillors by not asking them. As the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government he has an obligation to direct the local authority.

Let us not forget the €200 Fianna Fáil charge.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption, please.


Fine Gael is in power in Cavan, not Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin.

Senator Ó Domhnaill on the amendment, please.

Perhaps the Minister will talk to the councillors in Cavan. Deputy O'Reilly was a former Member of this House.

Senator Ó Domhnaill got caught.

If the Minister agrees that there will be no planning charges, architect charges or charges relating to special protection areas, heritage areas or wetlands and no additional costs in these areas then I welcome the change. However, if this is the case I do not understand why the amendment cannot be accepted because the amendment states, "contain such other information as may be prescribed". What other information could be prescribed? It would be helpful to have an outline of what other information the Minister is referring to. The reference in section 70B(3)(d) is open-ended. If it could be tied down, we would accept it but there could be significant cost implications for householders by leaving it open-ended. We should get the matter tied down.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an méid atá á rá ag an Aire. Tá sé ag gealladh go leor agus ag tabhairt an-soiléiriú anocht. Sílim go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo go maith agus thar a bheith cuimsitheach. Is iontach an rud é deis ceart cainte agus deis ceart labhartha a fháil ar cheisteanna tromchúiseacha den chineál seo. Tá mé amhrasach faoin alt beag a deireann "contains such other information as may be prescribed". Sílim go bhfuil sé ag fágáil rudaí i bhfad ró-oscailte i gcead an Aire atá ann faoi láthair. Beidh an Roinn ábalta rudaí breise a chur leis an reachtaíocht seo nach bhfuil i gceist fiú ag an Aire. B'fhéidir go dtiocfaidh Aire eile ó pháirtí eile——

Not for a long time.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh saol fada ag an Aire atá againn faoi láthair. Tuigeann sé an pointe atá á dhéanamh agam. Sílim nach bhfuil gá leis an alt seo sa Bhille. Tá sé ag fágáil rudaí i bhfad ró-oscailte. Má tá rudaí breise le cur le hAcht, ba chóir go dtiocfadh an tAcht sin ar ais go dtí Tithe an Oireachtais — an Seanad agus an Dáil — ionas go mbeimid in ann na rudaí sin a phlé. Mar shampla, an rud a chuireadh beagáinín imní orm, possibly, is that this is very broad and leaves it wide open for Ministers or future executives who might want to add things in which are not envisaged. We all know how that can happen.

One of the outside influences we might not have mentioned in the debate is the European influence. What if directives come from Europe which decide to designate all of Ireland as a special area of conservation or make it a national park? Some people think that will happen. Does that then become prescribed information which has to be included in this type of legislation?

I appreciate from where the Minister is coming and his bona fides. I welcome the promises he is making on the record because they clarify the situation to a certain extent. I do not agree with all the points he made. We will table amendments on Report Stage to solidify some of the promises made. This goes a step——

The Senator does not have to worry about the promises I made.

I worry about the promises made by the Government, in particular the pre-election promises.

What I say goes.

If the Minister wants to go that far, let us talk about some of the pre-election promises that have been made and reneged on. We will not bring that into the debate. It is important that the Minister reconsiders his decision and supports the amendment. It leaves things far too wide open in terms of responsibility and if changes to the Bill are to be made their implications should be discussed fully in the Houses.

Ba mhaith liom rud amháin a rá. Molaim Seanadóirí Ó Clochartaigh agus Ó Domhnaill mar tá siad ag caint sa teanga Gaeilge. Molaim é sin agus ba cheart dúinn go léir bheith á dhéanamh sin. Ach, tá rud amháin le rá agam. Dá gcuirfeadh gach éinne na gutháin cluasa orthu nuair atá Seanadóirí ag caint i nGaeilge bheimís amuigh as seo i bhfad níos tapúla mar ní bheadh orthu rudaí a rá ach uair amháin.

I say that for the benefit of people do not have their earphones on. I congratulate Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Ó Domhnaill for speaking in Irish. To speed up matters anybody here who does not understand Irish——

We are discussing amendment No. 8.

——should put on their earphones and speak once only. They are doing a disservice to the language and abusing the situation.

That is a disgrace and an outrage.


We are on amendment No. 8.

I want that comment withdrawn.

Senator, there is nothing personal in it.

A Senator

It has to be withdrawn as Gaeilge.

Do not be over-sensitive.

There is nothing personal.

We should send her to the Gaeltacht for a month.

The reason this provision is included in the Bill is that the provision of any additional information could include such issues as the type of system that is already there, when it was installed and whether it is serviced regularly. It will help the EPA and local authorities to come up with what they regard as an appropriate national inspection plan. There is a catch-all statement in the Bill to allow us to get that information in order that we can have a reasonable interpretation of what the general requirement is for people as part of the inspection plan. It is not mandatory but it allows us to ask for that information.

Is the amendment being pressed?

It will be pressed. Can we have verification on the mandatory nature of the provision?

It will not be mandatory.

I appreciate what the Minister said and that the information may be of use to the EPA. However, the information required will have implications for householders.

No. The householder already has the information. On a point of clarification, we know the householder has this information because he or she lives there. When we get the information from the householder and give it to the local authorities, we are informing them of what type of inspection has to be carried out, taking into account what is already in situ.

Our previous amendment stated any additional information which was required would have no extra cost to the householder.

This will not either.

Why was it not accepted?

I do not know.

It was nothing to do with the €200. It stated any additional information required would have no additional cost to the householder. The amendment should have been accepted if there is no additional cost to the householder, as the Minister just outlined.

There is no additional cost to the householder.

While I appreciate what the Minister is saying, I cannot accept it. We would not have to press this amendment if our last amendment was accepted. There seems to be some——

There are a number of other speakers.

On amendment No. 7, to which the Senator referred, any other information required will be specified before the Bill is passed, which is what he wanted me to do. I was not prepared to do that.

The response of the Minister raises an interesting scenario. He mentioned the information sought will be on the design of the facility, basic information on its maintenance——

I thought that is what he said. That was my understanding. Will people be asked when they clean the glass and keep records over a number of years? Will that be the basis for the selection of inspections?

He indicated to us only a small proportion of those with septic tanks will be selected for inspection. How will inspections be selected? Will it be on a random basis or on the information supplied?

It might inform the fact we will not have to inspect them at all. It might help local authorities. They, with the guidance of the EPA, will pick the places to be inspected on a risk-based assessment, something they already know and are doing under the Water Services Act 2007. The basic information supplied in this case about the type of system to be registered may inform a local authority that there is no need to inspect it because it is modern and is working, based on the manufacturer's certification.

That raises another question. I made the point on Second Stage that I would have preferred if we took a more focused and targeted view on the registration and inspection regime. We should look at areas where water courses are at risk. Such areas could be identified. Such a system works in other jurisdictions.

That is what we are doing.

No. The new system will register everybody.

We are on amendment No. 8.

My point deals with the specific additional information that will be prescribed. What purpose will the information be put to? I understand, from the response of the Minister, that the risk based assessment or evaluation by the EPA will be based on risks to water courses. It already has that information because geographic areas have been identified. The only information they will get from the new system will be the address of the householder. I am anxious to know how the other information obtained will be used and can affect the individuals supplying it.

It will be used for the purpose of informing local authorities of how best to draw up the national inspection plan, no more and no less.

The amendment is about the application form to get on the register. The Minister indicated, when pressed, that he would seek clarification of the types of information the EPA will seek, and offered some examples. Why then did he subsequently opt for a catch-all provision? Why not define the information in order to make clear the intention of this provision? There is a concern that a future Minister could misuse this legislation, for example, with title deeds, proof of ownership——

I would not misuse legislation.

I am not referring to the Minister. The amendment seeks to remove the word "prescribe". My point is that the Minister should define exactly what information the EPA can and should seek rather than going for a catch-all provision.

I do not want to delay proceedings, but I predict that the Minister will be hoisted by his own petard on this issue. He has been very clear in regard to other sections and subsections as to how the prescribed form will be rolled out. Therefore, I cannot understand why he has chosen not to spell out what is envisaged in this particular provision. What is out there that we do not know about? What is the assumption or inference behind it?

We will not know what is out there until the inspections take place. That is the point.

I cannot understand why, having gone to the trouble of making other provisions which are very detailed in regard to the application form, the Minister has thrown in this canard in regard to additional information. It is reasonable that we should seek to establish what precisely is involved here. As I said earlier in respect of the various types of septic tanks, none of us has any difficulty with ensuring the authorities get as much information as possible. All we are seeking to clarify is whether there is a hidden agenda.

The Minister indicated that there may be a need to provide some form of drawing. I assume this refers to a drawing of the location of the septic tank and percolation area relative to the property. If that is required — I am merely giving an example of what might be envisaged in this — the likelihood is that the homeowner may not have the necessary skills to provide that information, in which case one is looking at an additional cost. My concern is that the EPA, under pressure from groups such as An Taisce, might, in its prescription of the additional information required, go far beyond what is envisaged in the legislation. That is the difficulty I have with this section.

While I appreciate what the Minister is saying, it would be far preferable to specify precisely what is being sought under this provision. He indicated that this provision might lead to lower costs for homeowners. Given that there are no fees, as the Minister outlined, how could the inclusion of these additional requirements possibly lead to reduced costs? Surely they would cost nothing additional at best while, at worst, there is certainly an implication that there would be additional responsibilities and, by extension, costs on the individual. That is the source of concern in these provisions.

The Minister's last response provided some clarification on this issue in so far as he explained that the additional information will be used by the EPA to develop a national plan. The purpose of the Bill, as the Minister indicated and with which we all agree, is to ensure we have safe watercourses and a safe water supply. There is both a public health and an environmental perspective. However, if we are looking at a hierarchy of risk to watercourses, we must consider that many of those affected by these provisions do not live close to a water course which might be vulnerable to pollutants from their septic tanks. I have heard nothing about the main polluters. For example, despite the millions of euro invested in water treatment systems, Dublin and Limerick city councils are still unable to comply with the regulations.

That has nothing to do with this amendment. It is a matter for the local authorities.

The point I am making is certainly relevant to these provisions. They relate to the gathering of information which will, as the Minister said, inform the authorities on how the national plan should be targeted. My point is that the people from whom we are seeking this information are the wrong people. The river basin management plan revealed that the main polluters are local authorities. I accept there is an issue in regard to septic tanks that are proximate to water courses. That problem must be addressed. However, I would argue that, at a guess, one third of people with septic tanks are within those catchment risk areas while the other two thirds are not. However, we are bringing all of them into a bureaucratic system which will have significant costs for the State and for the individuals concerned in respect of inspections and probably issues of non-compliance——

For whom will it involve costs? There is a standard registration fee of €50.

There are local authorities which have decided only in recent years that percolation tests should form part of the process of granting planning permissions. People who sought permission, went through the process set up by the State and now find themselves in great difficulty, perhaps unable physically and financially to comply, will be put through the hoops. That is unacceptable when the State is the largest polluter.

They will have to renew the system they installed at great cost to themselves.

If the system is working, there is no problem.

It may not be working.

In which case it will have to be fixed.

I am saying that the worst culprit in regard to pollution of watercourses is the State. The State is not prepared to get its house in order but is seeking instead to pass the burden onto individual rural dwellers. It is typical of how the State operates. I am not blaming the Minister or the Government specifically; it is typical of how the apparatus of the State functions. Standards are set down with which individuals must comply while the State itself is not so obliged. That is unacceptable and if the Minister does not address it, he will run into serious difficulty.

I agree that local authorities are responsible for pollution. We are trying to do something about that. The Senator's party had 14 years in which to take action but failed to do so. I will have €400 million under the capital programme for 2012 and I intend to secure great value for that money.

In fairness, the previous Government spent millions of euro on this.

We will look after the sewerage treatment systems in Glenmore, Ballyhale and all the other places his crowd neglected.

A Senator

What about Tullaher? Will it be left out?

As there is not much activity there, it is not needed.

There is €431 million in the budget this year.

We are discussing amendment No. 8.

They say all politics is local. We have made significant progress this evening in terms of clarifying some of these amendments. However, issues of no significance are also being raised. When the Minister replies, Opposition Members do not listen. If a Government spokesperson conveys the same information, it eventually sinks in and we can move on to the next amendment. If that is the strategy we must adopt tonight, so be it. It is a good one.

We are discussing amendment No. 8.

As the Minister said, all properties must be subject to inspection; whether they are in a high-risk area or otherwise is irrelevant. We cannot make fish of one and flesh of another. Properties in high-risk areas will be inspected, while those which are not may not be.

Senator Ó Domhnaill seems to be hung up on certain aspects of this provision. To reiterate, the information being sought is not mandatory. In other words, if the person happens to have built the house within the past 20 years and has a copy of the planning permission for the house, the site map will show the position of the septic tank and of the percolation area and this can be submitted with the application for registration. This is the type of information referred to by the Minister, as I understand. The second port of call for a site map would be the local authority which will have a file on all applications as far back as 1963. It is not mandatory to have a site map and there will be no penalty for not having one. Perhaps Senator Ó Domhnaill will accept this as an explanation.

I agree with Senator Landy that this has been a very good debate and the clarification is very useful. It seems that the Government representatives create more questions than answers. I seek clarification on the Minister's statement that all houses are covered under the information to be gathered in respect of this amendment.

Yes, he said that.

It relates to one of the amendments we put forward which were ruled out of order. The Bill as it stands refers to domestic wastewater systems. I ask the Minister to clarify the information that will be gathered on these registration forms. What is classified as a domestic wastewater system? The definition being used in the Bill might be a tad loose. The debate in the media and in the public arena has been about septic tanks and people have possibly jumped to the conclusion that we are talking about a house connected to a septic tank in a rural area. The Bill actually refers to domestic wastewater which is why I would have questioned the Minister's ruling. I imagine the use of the word, "domestic", means that somebody lives in the house. A wastewater system is a system for taking away the wastewater. If I live in a house in a terrace which has a pipe going from it into a system that deals chemically and biologically with the waste, does this qualify as a domestic wastewater system? Therefore, are we talking about all houses in the State? Are we saying that every house in the country could potentially be open to these charges? It is not necessarily an urban-rural divide——

That is another red herring.

I am just asking for clarification.

We will be able to have our breakfast here soon.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption.

I am making a very valid point and I wanted to raise it. I am being quite honest.

Are those houses connected to public sewers?

They are domestic and they have wastewater——

Are they are connected to public sewers?

I am not sure. The question is whether a group scheme——

The Senator is not sure what he is talking about.

In fairness, I am talking about the interpretation that could be taken from a domestic wastewater system——

I could interpret it if I knew what the Senator was talking about.

Could it be misconstrued?

For example, the Minister said earlier it would be good to encourage group schemes where a number of houses come together. Is that a domestic wastewater system or is it a group scheme? What is the difference? Does there need to be a little more thought applied to the definition of a domestic wastewater system? I ask these questions because I do not wish to——

I have allowed the Senator a little latitude. We are dealing with amendment No. 8.

My question is about the information to be gathered. I would imagine that one of the questions on this prescribed form would be whether a person's house was connected to a domestic wastewater system, to a group scheme or to a local authority scheme. What is the difference? I accept the bona fides of the Minister if he tells me it is not intended that anybody on a local authority scheme would be included. However, could a future Minister take a different meaning out of this?


In fairness to Senator Landy, a septic tank is only mentioned in one or two places in the Bill. The references in this Bill are to a "domestic wastewater system". This is why I raise the issue. I will find the reference for Senator Landy later. It is important to clarify this specific issue. Is the Minister completely certain that he is not referring to every house, all houses, in this State which are domestic houses?

I have good respect for Senator Landy as we know each other a long time. I do not fully agree with the point he made. The inclusion of all houses with septic tanks goes beyond what is necessary to protect our water courses which is a priority. Some people are getting anxious because even if their septic tanks were not functioning perfectly, they would still not cause a problem. This proposal is actually putting our water courses at risk because the scarce human resources available to monitor and inspect will be too thinly spread over the full range of septic tanks whereas a focus on tanks which constitute a risk to the water courses would be more effective.

I agree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh. For example, if the Minister's house has its wastewater system connected into the public system which, due to the failure on the part of the local authority, is flowing into and polluting the river and I have a septic tank which is not affecting a water course, I am punished and the Minister gets off scot free. This is completely unfair. I think every house should have to comply. This is the point being made by the Sinn Féin Senators. If their amendments had been in order they would have provided a very valuable input into this debate. There is an element of unfairness in the manner of the debate and it is somewhat bureaucratic. I do not wish to accuse the Minister because I regard myself as almost a friend of his——

The Senator should be very careful because he is a Wexford man and they do not win too often.

Would this have anything to do with the forthcoming budget and the €23 million or so which will be collected in registration fees?

This is not included in the amendment.

I wish to be helpful. The Members of the Opposition are in danger of tying themselves into linguistic knots and Senator Cullinane is talking about hypothetical houses. I will try to add some clarity to the debate. Senator Ó Domhnaill and Senator Ó Clochartaigh ask whether a future Minister could abuse this Minister's legislation for some nefarious or perfidious function and this is always a possibility. No law can bind a future Minister; the next Minister can do what he or she wishes, such as introducing another new law. Whether this law is tied up or tied down does not matter because a new Minister can bring in another law to repeal this law. Therefore, the Senators' concerns are completely irrelevant and unfounded.

That is a very weak argument if I ever heard one.

I probably need to be more prescriptive in my delivery of my deliberation. When I referred to all houses, I mean all houses in the context of this particular legislation, the houses with septic tanks, of which Senator Ó Domhnaill informs us, there are 475,000 in the country. I wish to say this for the sake of clarity. When I speak in future I will be a lot clearer for those who may misinterpret what I might be trying to say.

I thank Senator Landy because he has brought clarity to the matter. The Minister seemed to imply that only houses affecting water courses within the 475,000 would be inspected and requested to upgrade. This is how it operates in County Cavan. I am informed by my learned colleague that not all the houses in County Cavan are included.

Senator Wilson is the Cavan man.

All the houses in Cavan will now get €50; therefore it is getting worse——


Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

Legislation should be tight, irrespective of what Government is in power. Legislation should come before the Oireachtas if changes such as those proposed in this Bill are to be regulated by a ministerial regulation.

Senator Walsh made a very good point on the pollution threat caused by urban wastewater systems. In my constituency and throughout greater Donegal there are sewerage treatment plants operated under the control of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government which flow directly into rivers and out into the sea. When some of those plants——

The Senator is a long time looking at that.

I would prefer a system which dealt with that matter first. We do not all live with the luxury of a sewerage treatment system. Not all of us live in Dublin. Some of us have to travel to the country and we live in very rural and remote areas where roads may not be as good as in other areas. However, I am proud to live in the rural countryside.

The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will look after the Senator. Leave it with us.

The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, may have a great deal to look after because most of the septic tanks built in the rural part of Gweedore, the most densely populated rural part of Europe, are built on sites of roughly one fifth of an acre.

He is for public health. He will sort it out.

In certain circumstances septic tanks were built on other people's land. Those people will now effectively be criminalised.

Leave it with us.

A Senator

Who passed that kind of development?

Without leaving the point——


Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption, please.

The point I am trying to make is that in very many urban wastewater treatment systems, under whichever local authority, when the plant fills up the slush gates are opened and raw sewage flows into rivers and lakes. I know this and so does the Minister.

We are discussing domestic schemes, not local authority schemes.

A domestic scheme might belong to any house. Just because one has a sewerage scheme does not mean one's house is classed as non-domestic. A sewerage scheme is different from that of a domestic dwelling. It is either a domestic sewerage scheme or a publicly funded sewerage scheme in the town or village.

In a report in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that "due to the complexity of environmental issues effective environmental policies and solutions must be underpinned by a good knowledge of the science". What science is being used to determine the new monitoring systems and the pollution being caused by septic tanks in rural areas?

The department of microbiology at University College Hospital, Galway, stated that comprehensive science does not exist in the case of alleged pollution from septic tanks. If that is the case on what are we basing our strategy? On what is the Minister basing his monitoring strategy? The EPA further recommended in its 2008 report that standard septic tank properties, sited with good percolation, are the best way of dealing with waste water treatment systems. The best wastewater treatment system is a domestic septic tank; it is over and above that offered by the public infrastructure within this State.

Figures for population density in rural Ireland show that very often only ten people live within a square kilometre, with a possible rise to 25 persons per square km. Those figures are based on the 2011 census. If those are the figures for rural Ireland, how can those ten to 25 people be compared to the numbers of people living in Senator Keane's constituency which has massive population densities, apartments and houses built very close together? Population density there would be ten or 20 people in an area no bigger than 100 sq. m.

We must be real about this issue. Europe may be crying up and An Taisce and Friends of the Earth and all the others may be reacting and sending all sorts of memos to Europe, but we must live in the real world. People living in rural Ireland are not the prime cause of pollution in this country and they should not be penalised accordingly. Why are we subsidising people just for living in cities? I have nothing at all against people who live in cities but why——

The Senator is moving away from the amendment.

Why should we subsidise people in urban areas? Even if a person living in the country has planning permission from the local authority——

This amendment has nothing to do with subsidies.

It does, because——

I see nothing about subsidies in it.

This amendment covers a great deal.


Senator Walsh is making me laugh.

Please stick to the amendment, Senator.

It mentions prescribed costs but we do not know what they are. They could be anything. The Minister has not clarified this and I do not expect him to do so because he may not know the answer. As he mentioned, it will be up to the Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with his Department, to decide at a future date what those prescribed costs will be.

We cannot accept those two lines in the Bill and must press the amendment unless we get absolute clarification.

For the benefit of Senators Walsh and Ó Domhnaill, we are where we are because of the failure of their Government to win a court case in the European Court of Justice in 2009.

Ireland was defeated when the Senators' party was in government, and defeated ignominiously.


Their Government was unable to persuade the European Court of Justice that septic tanks were not a contaminant of groundwater.

Was it the case or the legal team?

The Government prosecuted the case.

The case was made and the Government lost.

It was in May this year.

It was lost in 2009. It was re-entered in May this year because the previous Government failed to implement the outcome of the court case.

What attempts were made this year?

Please allow the Minister to speak.

I brought proposals to the Government to deal with this. Otherwise we would have to pay. As a taxpayer, Senator Walsh does not want to pay out €26,000 per day but that is what we will be faced with if we do not have an inspection and monitoring system to deal with this in a risk-based model.

The legislation I propose is on that basis, not on having a universal inspection of every house, as the Fianna Fáil Party claimed. I was able to negotiate against us having to do that and was able to use the Water Services Act 2007 introduced by the Fianna Fáil Party in order to deal with areas with high risk water courses. I merely comply with that Act in order to ensure we have good ground water and a good environment.

The Fianna Fáil Party voted against this Bill on Second Stage, yet the Senators say they are in favour of having good ground water. They voted against the principle of this Bill.

Yes, we did because we do not agree with the way in which it is currently constructed.

They voted against good public health issues, good groundwater and a good environment. They voted against the commitment made in their party's revised programme for Government——

It was not against the objectives but rather the structure of the Bill.

We will introduce effective septic tanks.

We will not criminalise anybody in rural Ireland.

They have gone against——

We were not consulted about that.

The Senator was not consulted? He was a member of the parliamentary party but he did not have any say?

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

I want to bring in good quality groundwater and standards and a public health environment which the Fianna Fáil Party opposes. I want to do so in a way that complies with the judgment of the European Court of Justice concerning which the Senators' Government failed to deliver for us. Ireland was defeated in the court because of the Fianna Fáil Party's inactivity and inaction.

Just like today.

I am referring to the issue before the House.

We are obliged under the urban wastewater directive to comply with local authority plants that must be brought into line. Otherwise we will face fines under the water framework directive in 2015 and 2016. I have a programme in place to ensure that will not happen to us. All over County Wexford——

It is possible to comply without imposing a cost.

I did not interrupt Senator Cullinane.

The Minister did.

We are where we are in regard to the European Court of Justice judgment and that is why we are here. Perhaps Senators can offer me a different way to resolve these issues without having an inspection and monitoring system for septic tanks.

I will clarify this point for Senator Ó Domhnaill. What we are dealing with, specifically, are individual houses with septic tanks. We are not dealing with public sewers or group schemes. I hope that clarifies the matter.

We have already had 16 different contributions on this amendment. I call Senator Ó Domhnaill.

It is important that those contributions are heard. I thank the Chair for giving us an opportunity to make them. I would like to clarify Fianna Fáil's position on this Bill. We voted against it on Second Stage because even though we agree with the overall objective, which is to try to protect this country's water courses, we disagree outright with the manner in which the Bill has been constructed. The Government is proposing to criminalise people. The biggest bone of contention in the context of this Bill is the Government's failure to provide for a grants scheme to allow people to meet the cost of upgrading their septic tanks.

We are on amendment No. 8. I ask the Senator to confine his remarks to the amendment.

Senator Ó Domhnaill does not seem to understand the purpose of Committee Stage.

We have had 16 contributions already and four more Senators have indicated.

I have clarified our position. We will press this amendment——

I am not surprised.

——because we have not received clarification on the matter.

I call Senator Walsh.

The amendment is being pressed.

We support the concept underpinning this Bill.

Why is the Senator's party not supporting the Bill itself?

The Minister is coming some of the way. When he tells me that inspections will take place on the basis of risk——

I am disappointed with the Senator.

No. That is exactly what I am encouraging the Minister to do. Why is the Government taking a scattergun approach by bringing everybody in to register them, even if they are in areas where they cannot be of risk? My concern is that people who are struggling will be tested and inspected on this basis. They will not be able to comply because of the physical nature of their site, because of soil conditions or because of their financial positions. I spent a considerable amount of time in the Minister's constituency as a young lad. My grandparents lived in the marble city of Kilkenny. I also spent time in south Carlow at the butt of the mountain. The Minister is sending us back to those days, when wastewater was treated wherever one got short taken, hopefully as near as possible to a bunch of dock leaves so that one could clean oneself. That is what the Minister will force people to do. It is not acceptable.

I have never heard such nonsense in all my life.

I appeal to the Minister to take a much more focused approach to what needs to be done here.

It is time to call it off now anyway.

He should focus on where there is a risk.

It is getting late.

He is not doing it.

It is almost 10 p.m.

If he is honest, the Minister will admit that this will become a bit of a financial bonanza for local authorities. It is a stealth tax. That is what is happening.

Is that why the Senator voted against it on Second Stage?

The Minister should rethink it.

He is not interested in the environment.

This is getting a little ridiculous, to be honest. An enormous amount of nit-picking is going on at this stage. We should compliment the Minister on the tremendous job he did in negotiating with the EU.

That has nothing to do with the amendment before the House.

It has nothing to do with amendment No. 8.

In relation to the——

On amendment No. 8.

It would be useful if Senator Mullins could outline to us what the Minister negotiated with the EU. That would be important.

Senator Walsh has spoken already. We are on amendment No. 8.

I know that. The Minister has indicated that basic information will have to be supplied to the local authority by the owner of each septic tank. That will facilitate the making of decisions on where inspections should take place, as well as on the volumes of inspections that will be necessary. After months of scaremongering, the Minister has made this measure acceptable to many people. The registration fee will be small. It will cost just €20 to appeal a decision that one does not like. At this stage, we are really clutching at straws. We should accept what the Minister is saying. He is a man of his word. If we pass this legislation and a future Minister attempts to alter it, I am sure people in this House and the other House will have an opportunity to tease these issues out again. I appeal to Fianna Fáil to accept the Minister's bona fides with regard to the system of registration we are talking about. There is nothing sinister involved. I do not doubt that the information that will be gathered will help to inform the local authority on where inspections need to take place.

I thank the Minister for the clarification he has given regarding houses. He said that individual houses, rather than public authority or group scheme houses, will not be connected. In fairness, that is not written into the Bill. The definition of "domestic wastewater treatment system" in the Bill is "a system involving physical, chemical, biological or thermal processes, or a combination of such processes, utilised for the treatment or disposal of domestic wastewater, or the sludge derived from domestic wastewater".

That is a septic tank.

The Leader should wait to hear the rest of the definition.

The definition includes "all septic tanks and wastewater tanks and systems receiving, storing, treating or disposing of domestic wastewater and all drains associated with such tanks or systems". It is clear.

That is what a septic tank is. It is very clear.

The Bill says that it is a "system".

It is a definition.

It includes "wastewater tanks and systems". Is a public scheme not a system of some sort that takes away domestic waste?

I have clarified all of that already.

This is the point I am trying to make. In fairness, I honestly feel this is a serious issue. It needs to be examined by the Bills Office. I believe the potential exists for the definition to be misconstrued. It could be argued that it covers all houses, as has been mentioned. I appreciate that Senator Landy was talking about houses connected to septic tanks. I do not think that is what is written in the Bill. When one reads the Bill, one finds that it refers to "systems". I think this needs to be clarified. It could be misconstrued as a reference to group schemes and local authority schemes and, as a result, they could be covered by this Bill.

I would like to clarify——

I call Senator Cullinane.

As a proud Waterford man, I would like to correct what the Leader said.

The Senator is living in Kilkenny.

He should be on the register in Kilkenny at this stage.

I have no difficulty——

How many years has he been living there now?

I never knew there was something wrong with people from County Waterford living outside the county.

There is nothing wrong with it.

The Senator is welcome in Kilkenny.

There are many Waterford people living outside Waterford. I never knew there was something wrong with that.

I hope the Senator is on the register in Kilkenny, where he is living.

No, I am not. I am registered in Waterford.

The Senator does not live there.

Senator Cummins should get his facts right.

We can leave local battles out of this.

As a Waterford man, I have no difficulty——

Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

I was lambasted by a Minister who was in this House yesterday for standing up for Waterford.

We are on amendment No. 8.

The local battles can be fought elsewhere.

The Minister, Deputy Howlin, lambasted me for protesting about the disgraceful decision that was made to locate the headquarters of the amalgamated VEC outside County Waterford.

Senator Cullinane, please.

I am happy for the House to know I am a proud Waterford man.

I ask the Senator to address amendment No. 8.

I am getting to the amendment.

There is no getting to it. We are on it.

I have to respond to the charge that was made by the Leader. As a proud Waterford man, I have no difficulty accepting the bona fides of the Minister, who is a man of his word. The Minister made another broad and sweeping charge against the Opposition when he inferred that our opposition to this Bill means we are not in favour of clean ground water, proper disposal of wastewater or the protection of the environment. Nobody is opposed to registration, inspection or the carrying out of remedial works. We are opposed to the charge.

The Senator and his colleagues have opposed everything.

We have not opposed everything. We are opposed to the bad policies that are being implemented by the Government. We are not opposed to everything.

The Senator should say what he is in favour of.

On Second Stage, I mentioned that free desludging is offered in the North.

I ask the Senator to concentrate on amendment No. 8.

I will do so, if I am allowed.

I am allowing the Senator to do so.

The point I am making is that nobody is arguing against registration, inspection and remediation. We are arguing against the charge that is being brought in and the failure to provide for a grants scheme in the event that people have to carry out remedial works. That is the substance of our opposition to this.

That is not the subject of this amendment.

I am responding to the broad and sweeping charge that the Minister made against us a couple of minutes ago.

I would like to clarify for Senator Ó Clochartaigh that the same definition is used in the principal Act, which is the Water Services Act 2007.

That may well be, but it is not the case that it could be misconstrued nonetheless?

It provided the same clarity on that occasion that it is providing on this occasion. It is the same definition.

That does not mean it is right.

The Senator knows what I mean by that.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 32; 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.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • 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.


  • Cullinane, David.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • 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.

Amendments No. 9 and 10 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, to delete lines 9 to 11 and substitute the following:

"(e) in the case of an application under subsection (2), there will be no fee required.”.

Tá an leasú seo agus leasú Shinn Féin beagnach mar an gcéanna agus tá an bheirt againn aontaithe ar an leasú seo. Táimid ag tarraingt aird ar an táille atá nochtaithe sa Bhille seo, an "prescribed fee" mar atá sé leagtha amach sa Bhille agus an táille a rachfaidh leis sin agus na himpleachtaí a bhaineann leis ó thaobh tamaill síos an bóthar nuair a thiocfaidh leis an táille sin a fháil i bhfad níos airde ná mar atá leagtha amach sa Bhille. Tá sé leagtha amach ag €500 in aghaidh an tí. Má chuirtear an €500 sin in aghaidh gach teach i gcomhthéacs go bhfuil 475,000 teach sa tír atá dabhach shéarachais ceangailte leo, ciallódh sin go mbeadh beagnach €24 milliún, €23.75 milliún, ag teacht isteach as an táille seo. Glacaim leis go bhfuil an tAire ag iarraidh an Bhille seo a bhrú tríd an Teach de bhrí go bhfuil an deis ann an Bille a bheith glactha ag an Seanad agus curtha tríd an Dáil roimh an cháinaisnéis sa dóigh go mbeidh an Rialtas in ann €24 milliún breise a fháil sa cháinaisnéis agus gur sin ceann de na príomh phointí a bhaineann leis an mBille seo. B'fhéidir go bhfuil smaoineamh eile ag an Aire, ach sin an dóigh a amharcann sé ón dtaobh seo den Teach.

Táimidne ag cur i gcoinne go mbeadh aon táille ceangailte leis an mBille seo, mar go bhfuil na daoine atá ina gcónaí i gceantair tuaithe faoi láthair, cosúil le duine ar bith atá ina chónaí in aon cheantar eile, faoi go leor brú airgeadais de bhrí go bhfuil morgáistí agus billí acu. Maidir le duine ar bith nach bhfuil ag obair, tá costais mhóra orthu agus a n-ioncam íslithe de bhrí, b'fhéidir, gur chaill duine sa bhaile post. Ar an dtaobh eile den scéal, duine ar bith atá ag obair, tá táillí móra orthu de bhrí morgáistí, cúram páistí agus go leor táillí tí eile agus go leor rátaí eile atá ag dul le teach a choinneáil ag dul ar aghaidh.

An rud is mó faoin táille seo a chuireann imní mór orainn ar an dtaobh seo den Teach ná go bhfuil an Rialtas ag moladh táille chláracháin a thabhairt isteach do ghach duine a bhfuil dabhach shéarachais acu. Aontaím go gcaithfidh dóigh éigin a bheith ann chun clárú a bheith ann, ach ní chóir go mbeadh táille ceangailte leis sin de bhrí go bhfuil——

The Senator has repeated exactly what he said on the last amendment. He is saying it all again.

Nice try by Senator Michael D'Arcy.

Senator Ó Domhnaill is saying the same thing as Gaeilge.

Is mór an trua é nach bhfuil Gaeilge ag an Seanadóir.

It is just the same thing over and over again.

It is an awful pity one cannot speak in one's native language in the House without being accused of misleading the House.

A translation service is provided. The problem is we have to listen to the Senator twice saying the same thing in Irish and then English.

It is the same crap.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

There was a point made by a Senator opposite.

It was French.

It was French, not German.

It was a strange remark.

Senator Ó Domhnaill, I am going to call the next Senator. Can the Senator continue?

Insults are being thrown, a Chathaoirligh.


A Senator

I did not hear any insults.

I did. There was an accusation made that I was talking crap. I would like it withdrawn.

I did not hear it. However, if the Senator does not continue I will call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I am speaking the language into which I was born — the Irish language. I went to national school without a word of English. I find it ridiculous in the extreme that I am accused by Members opposite of misleading the House and trying to speak twice.

Senator Ó Domhnaill did not say it twice but 12 times.

Senator Michael D'Arcy, please do not interrupt.

I find it insulting but it is not surprising. Fine Gael in government is doing everything to betray the principles of the Irish language.


Can Senator Ó Domhnaill speak to the amendment?

Does he have something to say?

Yes I can but I find it highly insulting——

Senator Ó Domhnaill has said that twice already. Will he stick to the amendment?

He is saying the same thing over and over again.

I am just making a point about an accusation made.

You have made your point. I did not hear what was said.

There is a translation service available to every Member.

Can we have Senator Ó Domhnaill without interruption?

He is only interrupting himself.

Does he have something to say?

Senator Ó Domhnaill, if you cannot speak to the amendment, I will call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I can. Perhaps, if I can get the opportunity to speak without interruption——

Senator Ó Domhnaill, I have asked you to speak to the amendment. If you do not speak to the amendment, I will call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

Labharfaidh mé a Chathaoirligh. Is mian liom tagairt a dhéanamh don leasú atá istigh againn don mBille i dtaobh an táille chlárúcháin de €50 atá molta sa Bhille. Ní féidir leis na daoine an táille sin a íoc. Níl an t-airgead ag na daoine chun an táille sin a íoc. Cén fáth an mbeadh táille chlárúcháin ag teacht isteach do ghrúpa amháin a chónaíonn sa Stát go bhfuil dabhach shéarachais acu nuair atá daoine eile ina gcónaí sa Stát atá ceangailte le scéim shéarachais atá díolta fá na gcoinne amach as póca an cháiníocóra? Cén fáth go bhfuil grúpa amháin sa tír ag fáil an chúitimh sin ón Stát agus go gcaithfidh na daoine atá ina gcónaí i gceantair tuaithe, áiteanna nach bhfuil an t-infreastruchtúr iontu chomh maith agus a bheadh sna cathracha agus sna bailte móra, an táille chlárúcháin a íoc?

In real terms the registration fee is very discriminatory in nature. It is unfair to the people who are being asked to pay it. In urban areas, there is a pumped sewage scheme and there is no necessity for a registration process or a registration fee. We have no objection to the registration process but we have a fundamental objection to the registration fee, which at €50 per house would yield almost €24 million to the Exchequer. It is said that the Bill is revenue neutral, but I am not sure that is the case because inspectors must be paid and I do not know who will pay them if the Bill is revenue neutral. The registration charge is €50.

It is £115 in the North, a few miles over the road from where the Senator lives.

Will Senator Sheahan allow Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue?

Senator Ó Domhnaill is giving out about the fee. A few miles over the road it is £115. That is the equivalent of €150.

Will Senator Sheahan allow Senator Ó Domhnaill to make his contribution?

On a point of clarification, there is no registration fee in the North.

We are not talking about other jurisdictions. We are discussing amendment No. 9.

The Senator cannot throw out silly remarks that are without foundation.

We are not talking about other jurisdictions. We are discussing amendment No. 9.

There is no registration fee in the North. There is a fee for——

Senator Sheahan will be allowed time to make his own contribution.

The Fine Gael Party will be arguing that it is built into the tax on property in the North, but there is no specific registration fee in the North. It applies in other jurisdictions but not in the North.

We are not speaking about other jurisdictions. We are speaking about the situation here.

We are speaking about the registration fee.

The registration fee here.

We are totally and fundamentally opposed to the proposed introduction of a registration fee. We believe it is unfair and discriminatory in nature. It is a stealth tax being introduced by the Government to bring in €24 million, in order that money can be added to the budget. That is the reason the legislation is being rushed. There will be another €24 million available in 2012.

On a point of order, was it not stated in October 2009, in the programme for Government rewritten by the Fianna Fáil Party, that it was going to bring this in?

That is not a point of order.

Did the Fianna Fáil Party not state that it would bring this in?

Will Senator Sheahan, please, resume his seat?

It was a point of clarification.

There is no such thing as a point of clarification. I call Senator Ó Domhnaill.

Senator Ó Domhnaill should be in order.

There was not and there would not be any registration fee attached to any legislation that we bring in. We believe——

That you are angels.

——the people living in rural Ireland deserve the same respect as people living in any other part of the jurisdiction.

Will the Senator confine his remarks to the amendment?

It is important to point out as well——

I am asking Senator Ó Domhnaill to stick to the confines of the amendment.

Absolutely. The amendment has been tabled by the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin parties and we ask the Minister to consider accepting it. I appreciate the need for the registration system but I ask the Minister to consider accepting the amendment and having no fee attached to that process. There might be more of a buy-in to the Bill among the public if there was no registration fee. There are obviously other costs to contend with and we have dealt with them in other sections of the Bill. The registration fee seems to be a cash cow for the Government. As everybody knows, if a fee is introduced, no matter whether it is €5 or €50, it is inevitable that it will go up. We saw that earlier this year with the plastic bag levy and the bin levy.

I have it in the Bill.

For five years. Regulation, regulation.

It states in the Bill that it will not be more than €50.

As I will speak in Irish, Members may wish to put on their earphones.

Is dóigh go dtagann ceist an táille go bun an scéil maidir leis an gcur i gcoinne atá ag Sinn Féin i dtaobh an Bhille seo. Táimid glan i gcoinne an táille seo a bheith curtha ar ghnáth mhuintir na tíre ar an mbunús gur dóigh linn nach bhfuil siad in ann é a iompar faoi láthair. Ceapaim go gceapann an tAire nach mórán é €50, ach don dream atá muid ag labhairt leo amuigh ansin is fadhb an-mhór é go mbeadh €50 sa bhreis le n-íoc acu. Feiceann siad é mar cháin bhreise agus tá sé seo ag teacht sa mullach ar na costais bhreise atá buailte orthu, mar shampla an universal social charge, an táille breise atá le chur ar theach cónaithe, an costas breise a bheidh ar málaí bruscair agus mar sin de, costais atá ag ardú. Is ceist eacnamúil í seo agus is bunphointe fealsúnachta é idir muide agus an Rialtas.

Tá muide tar éis moltaí a chur chun cinn maidir leis an gcáinaisnéis a thaispeánann go bhfuil muide i Sinn Féin ar son na cánach a ghearradh ar na daoine atá ábalta í a iompar, sin iad na daoine a bhfuil maoin thar na bearta acu, atá os cionn €1 milliún acu. Táimid ag iarraidh go gcuirfí cáin mhaoine ar na daoine sin, go ndeanfaí gearradh siar ar na tuarastail sa seirbhís phoiblí agus go mbeadh uasmhéid de €100,000 orthu sin. Tá go leor moltaí eile againn agus tá siad sa mholadh a chur muid chun cinn ó thaobh ——

Is this part of the amendment?

Absolutely. Baineann sé leis an táille. Baineann an táille seo le hairgead a bhailiú don Stát. Táthar ag caint ar €50 breise a chur ar ghnáth mhuintir na tíre atá ag cónaí i Luimneach, i gConamara agus ar fud na tíre. Bhí cruinnithe poiblí ar siúl agus an pointe mór a bhí ag daoine ag na cruinnithe sin ná nach mbeadh siad ábalta é seo a íoc. Níl siad in ann chuige agus nílim ag magadh faoi sin. Dúirt siad go bhfuil an oiread buailte sa mullach orthu, go bhfuil poist caillte ag daoine agus go bhfuil costais bhreise oideachais orthu, go háirithe ar dhaoine atá ag iarraidh páistí a chur chuig an ollscoil. Tá siad ag rá linn nach bhfuil seo ceart ná cóir.

Tá mise ag rá gurb é tuairim Shinn Féin ná gur córas breise é seo le hairgead a bhailiú don Stát. Bheadh muide i bhfábhar córas chlárúcháin muna mbeadh táille i gceist, ach níl muid i bhfábhar an táille. Is ar an mbunús sin atá muid ag cur i gcoinne an Bhille. Sa leasú seo, táimid ag iarraidh ar an Aire fáil réidh leis an táille, agus dar linne gur ceart glacadh leis. D'iarr mé níos túisce, ach ní bhfuair mé freagra, cén costas a bheadh leis an córas seo. An bhfuil meastachán déanta ar sin? Ní bhfuair muid freagra ar sin, mar baineann an méid atáthar ag baint amach leis an táille. Má tá sé ag dul ag costáil €5 milliún in aghaidh na bliana leis an gcóras seo a riaradh, tá bealaí eile ann do Rialtas ar bith a bheadh i gceannas sa tír seo le €5 milliún a fháil, seachas costas breise a chur ar ghnáth dhaoine ar fud na tíre. Sin an bunphointe.

How would they do that?

Sin an pointe a bhí á dhéanamh agam a Sheanadóir nuair a bhí mé ag caint faoi na moltaí atá déanta ag Sinn Féin maidir leis an réamhbhuiséad. Bhí muid ag iarraidh díospóireachta faoi sin. Baineann an díospóireacht le cé as a bhfuil muid ag fáil an airgid agus cá bhfuil muid ag cur béime. An bhfuil muid ag cur béime ar tuilleadh chostais a chur ar ghnáth dhaoine nó an bhfuil muid ag rá, ó thaobh fealsúnachta de, gur ceart gurb iad na daoine a bhfuil neart airgid acu sa tír seo a bheadh ag iompar an ualaigh seo. Sin an bunphointe atá againn agus seasann muid leis sin. Ar an mbunús sin, táimid ag moladh an leasaithe seo.

Bhí mé ag léamh "An Droma Mór" aréir agus mhothaigh mé rud éigin nuair a léigh mé an ráiteas "Tá dhá ceann ar an aimsir." Mothaím go bhfuil dhá cheann ar an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh. Uair a chloig ó shin chuala mé é ag moladh táille €200 ar na——

We dealt with that issue already.

Ní aontaím leis an leasú seo ar chor ar bith.

We are on amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

Tá a fhios agam. Tá an Seanadóir ag moladh nach mbeadh táille ar bith ann anois, nach bhfuil sé? Tá siad ag moladh nach mbeadh táille ar bith ann nuair a bhí siad ag moladh táille €200. Sin an rud atá mise ag rá. Tá an táille seo iontach íseal ar fad — €50 ar shláinte na bpáistí, na ndaoine agus na timpeallachta. Chosnódh sé i bhfad níos mó don teaghlach dá mbeadh orthu dul chuig an dochtúir dá mbeadh breoiteacht ar na páistí toisc nach raibh na septic tanks seo folláin. Ní aontaím ar chor ar bith leis an leasú seo. Ní raibh daoine ag maslú na teanga ar chor ar bith, níor mhaith go ndéarfadh duine ar bith é sin, ach bhí siad ag rá go raibh siad ag cloisteáil an rud céanna, cosúil leis an lon dubh agus an port céanna á chanadh an t-am uilig anseo. Sin an rud a bhí siad ag maíomh agus ní aontaíom leo ar chor ar bith.

The amendment concerns the €50 registration charge. A previous speaker said €50 is a small amount but that is a large sum for many people who are struggling. This amount may not be a lot of money to some Senators who had or still have well paid jobs outside the House. Many people do not have well paid jobs. The Government is looking for many €50s and it wants to cut child benefit by €10.

Many people are concerned about the impending water charges, property tax and other charges. The €50 registration fee must be seen in the context of all the other charges.

It is the cost of one visit to the doctor.

Cumulatively, all these charges have an impact on people who are struggling.

We should charge nothing for everything.

It is not that we oppose the thrust of what the Minister is doing because we accept he has to deal with——

I was accused earlier of interrupting Members and every time I stand up, everybody wants to interrupt me.

Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

I have been asking for the past two weeks for a discussion on pre-budget alternatives and where money can be found. A Government Senator recently asked where are the alternatives. If the Government gave us the opportunity to discuss the budget and the alternatives, he might be enlightened.

Will the Senator return to the amendment?

We pay taxes to ensure we have what the Minister says we should have, which is good clean groundwater and proper disposal of waste water in order, which, in turn, protects the environment. There is an unfairness in this charge which goes right to the heart of our opposition to it. Many people who are connected to local authority water systems do not have to pay and this charge penalises those who are not connected.

We do not oppose registration, inspection or remedial works. The €50 charge is important and the bigger fear many people have in counties Kilkenny and Waterford is that if remedial works are needed, no provision is made in the legislation to make grants available. The Minister should acknowledge such works could be necessary and it would cost householders. Why should they bear that cost when they pay taxes? There is an inherent unfairness in what the Government parties are trying to do. They are using a good European court ruling, which ensures we comply with proper environmental and sustainable planning standards, to extract more money by adopting a registration fee that is solely intended to get more money out of people who may not have it to give. They are cynically using the European court judgment to get money from people.

Sinn Féin is not opposed to the broad thrust of what the Minister is trying to do. Mention was made of what is happening in the North. There is no registration fee and free desludging is provided, to which I referred on Second Stage.

Courtesy of Her Majesty's government.

Government Members should at least be informed before they come into the House. Many of them are misinformed about what is happening in Northern Ireland. They come into the House throwing accusations around without being informed.

The Senator should stick to amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

I accept some people do not like debate and scrutiny and that is fair enough.

We believe this is an exercise on the part of the Government to collect revenue from people who may not have it to give. This is unfair because it will result in a two-tier system where people who are connected to mains systems in urban areas will not have to pay and those who live in rural communities and on the fringes of towns and cities will be penalised. People living just outside my own city of Waterford are not connected to the mains system. That is not their fault but they will be asked to pay this charge.

The Minister said the charge will be set for five years but there is nothing to prevent the Government returning to the House at some stage to amend the legislation to increase the charge to €100 or €150.

Yes, the Senator can oppose it.

I am opposing it now and look at where that is getting me.

It will get the Senator nowhere.

The fact that the charge has been set for five years does not prevent the Minister from returning in six months or two years to increase it to €100 or more.

When Sinn Féin is in government, it can reverse the decision.

I hope we will be in government. Given all the factions and friction in the Government currently, that is a real possibility. Sinn Féin has three Members in the House but we may well reach the magic number of five. I am sure a number of Labour Party Senators may want to come to our side of the House and stand with a party that protects rural Ireland, working people and those who are struggling and being scapegoated because of other people's problems.

The job of the Government at the end of the day is to balance the books and that is not an easy task. Hard choices will have to be made and people have many questions and concerns. Even though the Opposition is small in number, it is vital that we use the opportunity we have in this debate to tease out every issue. I would not like too much grandstanding but there are issues and they are being discussed.

I come from rural Ireland and I have been approached about issues in this Bill. One of the reasons I was approached by people was they do not have a great deal of knowledge about what is involved. That is understandable given the debate on the legislation is just under way. However, reflecting on the correspondence I have received in the past number of days, it is clear there is a great deal of interest in what is happening here. I was asked earlier why this Bill is taking so long to go through. The message we are getting is there is a perception among the public that it will amplify the urban-rural divide. In the past quarter of a century, we have tried to minimise this divide by ensuring fair play for urban and rural communities when an issue is raised.

The Senator's comments are more appropriate to the section rather than the amendments.

That is not my understanding of Committee Stage. This is my first contribution.

We are discussing amendments. I will allow the Senator to contribute on the section. However, we are dealing with amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

I will not even make the point I was going to make.

I am merely pointing out to the Senator that we are dealing amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

We are all tired. At the same time, however, this is an important matter.

I understand that.

I originally lived in a rural area — we did not have a septic tank — but I currently reside in an urban area. As I informed the Minister of State last week, there are many urban dwellers who pay management fees in respect of their estates, etc., and who are now going to be obliged to pay fees for sewerage pumps. These people will be of the opinion that they are paying fees in respect of what is basically a water treatment system. If we state that rural dwellers should not pay anything, the former individuals will feel hard done by. It has not been indicated, in any correspondence I have received in recent weeks, that people are opposed to a €50 fee. They understand that it is to be imposed and they also understand the logic which underpins it.

When those in Sinn Féin are asked to identify from where the money should come, they state that a wealth tax should be introduced. Their version of such a tax is based on the French model.

We will debate that matter next week.

According to Sinn Féin's spokesperson on finance, the French wealth tax——

A member of the Minister's party appeared on Vincent Browne's show and there was a great debate on the matter.

We are not dealing with wealth taxes, we are on amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

I expect the same latitude in respect of this matter as that which was afforded to Senator Cullinane.

Senator Harte on amendments Nos. 9 and 10, without interruption.

Not on Sinn Féin's proposals, on the amendments.

The French system taxes citizens——

We are not discussing other jurisdictions.

The Senator opposite did so. I want to clarify the position in respect of wealth taxes, which discriminate against citizens who live outside the country.

We are not discussing wealth taxes, we are concerned with the prescribed fee to which amendments Nos. 9 and 10 refer. The Senator should confine himself to commenting on the amendments.

I will do so. However, the discussion has focused on how those opposite see this as a revenue-raising mechanism. I am of the view that someone has to pay. Those in Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are experts at stating that no one should pay. That is great and I would love to be in a position to inform the people in the constituency in which I live that this is the case. Life is difficult——

People pay taxes.

——and people pay taxes. However, they do not get their petrol for free.

Senator Harte should address his remarks through the Chair.

We have a tax system which Fianna Fáil dismantled and left shattered.

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which relate to a prescribed fee, and I ask the Senator to speak to them.

It is getting late.

I know that. The Senator should speak to the amendments.

I do not believe that a fee of €50 is prohibitive. Fianna Fáil has indicated that people should not be obliged to pay it. As Senator D'Arcy stated, Senator Ó Domhnaill is seeking the introduction of a fee of €200.

We already dealt with that issue.

We did and I am making a comparison.

What the Senator said is a fabrication.

I am sorry I had to say it. A fee of €50 is not exorbitant. It is not nice to be obliged to inform people that they must pay €50. The position was much the same when the NCT was introduced. Many people complained about the latter at that time. Now, however, one would not hear anyone saying a word about it.

The €50 fee is giving rise to a great deal of trouble. Senator Ó Murchú referred to the urban-rural divide. I must remind Senator Cullinane — because it appears to have slipped his mind — that it is not discriminatory to charge someone in a particular area €50 when one is also imposing development charges on those who live in urban and semi-urban areas. Members of Sinn Féin have not been heard shouting or roaring in respect of the latter.

It is clear that the Senator was not listening.

Those who own houses that were built since the introduction of development charges are obliged to pay such charges, either directly or indirectly. Developers pay the charges in the first instance and then pass them on to householders. Ultimately, it is the householder who pays. Sinn Féin has not been advertising that fact. There is a need for balance and honesty in respect of this debate. It is terrible to hear Members use the word "discriminatory", which is incendiary in nature. Utilising language of this sort does not enhance the discussion. Let us, therefore, try to keep the debate honest and balanced.

In the context of the amendment, I wish to make a point for the benefit of those who have been Members of the House for a short period but who have had long experience at local level. It is legitimate for those of us on this side to question both the concept behind and the amount of a charge. I do not accept the argument that people can throw €50 around like snuff at a wake as if it makes no difference to them. One need only read the newspapers or walk around one's community to realise that the development charges to which Senator Gilroy refers are now, sadly, history. We are in a completely new economic environment where €50 means something to people.

People continue to pay those charges.


Senator Mooney to continue, without interruption.

It is legitimate for those of us on this side of the House to question the nature and amount of the charge. If I was on the Government side, I suppose I would also be attempting to defend the indefensible. That is the nature of politics. I reiterate that it is acceptable for the Opposition to question both the concept and the amount of a charge. A registration system is already in place in this jurisdiction but there is none North of the Border. The UK Government has not even reached agreement in the context of introducing registration.

There are massive rates which apply in the UK.

Rinne Seanadóir faoin méid a bhí le rá agam trí mheán na Gaeilge agus go raibh mé ag rá an rud céanna sa Ghaeilge agus a dúirt mé i mBéarla. Ní fíor sin, bhí mé ag déanamh pointe i nGaeilge agus pointe eile i mBéarla. Ní fheicim cén deacracht atá ann má tá duine ag iarraidh an phointe céanna a dhéanamh i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla. An bhfuil aon rial ina éadan sin sa Teach seo? Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil. Ó thaobh an méid a dúradh faoin €200 i gContae an Chabháin, the point has been made, in respect of the €200 charge in County Cavan, that we are trying——

All those points have been made previously.

This is the second occasion on which the Senator has spoken in respect of these amendments. The Minister has not even made his contribution yet. Is the Senator going to adhere to the debate on amendments Nos. 9 and 10?

Yes. The point I am making relates to the fee. It has been wrongly suggested by those on the Government side that we are proposing a registration fee of €200. That is a total fabrication. Fine Gael councillors are currently in control of Cavan County Council.

On a point of order——

It is a matter for Fine Gael councillors to decide on the level of the fee.

——Senator Ó Domhnaill said it was those on the Government side who indicated Fianna Fáil is proposing a €200 registration fee. It was actually Sinn Féin which did that.

That is not a point of order.

Well it is certainly a point. Senator Ó Domhnaill is misrepresenting Sinn Féin.


I will have to take Senator Harte out for a six-mile run in order to expose him to the fresh air. It is getting late and he is becoming weary.

Senator Ó Domhnaill on amendments Nos. 9 and 10. There can be no repetition.

In the current climate, a €50 registration fee is a burden too many for people.

The Senator has made all these points before.

The fee was compared with development charges which, I accept, were unfair. The comparison between the two is interesting because people living in rural areas of Donegal paid a €300 sewerage connection fee as part of the development charges imposed on them. Now, they will be asked to pay a sewerage registration fee.

Which Government introduced development charges?

Why is there a need to introduce the €50 registration fee?

Which Government introduced development charges?

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

What will the Minister and his Department do if every householder in rural Ireland writes to indicate that he or she wishes to be connected to the nearest sewerage scheme? Why should people living in rural areas not be connected to the nearest such scheme?

This has nothing to do with the amendments.

It relates to the fee.

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

I have put a question to the Leader and I would like an answer in respect of it.

Senator Ó Domhnaill knows quite well that the matter to which he refers has nothing to do with amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

We are completely opposed to the fee. However, we agree with the concept of a registration system. Why not introduce such a system? If the Bill is purely related to protecting the environment and water supplies, why is there a need for a €50 registration fee? Why is it not possible to introduce the registration process and use a system of grants to bring matters up to standard? If we are going to be fined by Europe, then we will save money in the long term. Why is it necessary to have a registration fee?

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.