The nitrates directive, 91/676/EEC, aims to protect water quality against pollution from agricultural sources, with a primary emphasis on better management of livestock manure and other fertilisers. The directive came into effect in January 1992. The nitrates directive has been implemented in Ireland by way of extensive monitoring of nitrate levels in waters, the assessment of the trophic status of waters, the development and dissemination in 1996 of a code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from pollution by nitrates and a range of other measures which operate to protect water quality from pollution by agricultural sources.
These other measures include the provision of funding under schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food, such as the control of farmyard pollution scheme, the rural environment protection scheme, and the farm waste management scheme, to support expenditure by farmers on measures for pollution control and environmental protection. They also include by-laws made by local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, a wide range of implementation and enforcement actions taken by local authorities under those Acts, the progressive extension of the integrated pollution control licensing system operated by the EPA to apply to a wider range of intensive agricultural activities, and the introduction of requirements for compliance with good farming practice in the context of agri-assistance schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
Extensive discussions with the main farming organisations and other interests have taken place since December 2001 as to the further implementation of the nitrates directive. In February 2002, my Department issued an information paper on good agricultural practice and protection of the environment, which set out the background issues and the preferred approach of applying an action programme to all areas rather than to designated vulnerable zones. The paper, a copy of which is in the Oireachtas Library, was prepared in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food and reflects its views. Consistent with the approach set out in the paper, I made the European Communities (Protection of Waters Against Pollution from Agricultural Sources) Regulations 2003 which identified the whole territory of Ireland as the area to which an action programme will be developed and applied for the purposes of the nitrates directive.
A draft action programme for further implementation of the directive, which was prepared by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Food and in consultation with Teagasc, was presented at a consultation seminar on 19 December 2003 to representatives of the main farming organisations and other stakeholders by officials from both Departments. A copy of the document has been lodged in the Oireachtas Library. A period of eight weeks is being provided for stakeholders to submit in writing their comments on the consultation document. Following the consultation process it is proposed that the action programme will be implemented on a phased basis commencing on 1 July 2004 and will be operational for a period of four years. Further consultation will take place early in 2004 on draft regulations which will be made as part of the action programme.
The consultation document provides for the making of an application to the European Commission for appropriate derogations from the limits on land application of livestock manure specified in the directive. No such application has yet been made and none of the actions taken, or proposed to be taken, by Ireland in implementation of the directive, constitute a "measure" as defined in the European Union (Scrutiny) Act 2002.
The most recent comprehensive data published on the quality of drinking water are contained in the EPA report, the Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland for the year 2001. This report, which is available in the Oireachtas Library, indicates a compliance rate of 99.1% with regard to all drinking water samples, public and private, taken and analysed with regard to the prescribed standards for nitrates. I understand the publication by the EPA of its report for 2002 is imminent.