A timely move

I was just about to write a post similar to this and then it appears in today’s Irish Times!

ACCORDING TO the polluter pays principle, those responsible for damaging the environment are required to meet the clean-up costs. The concept of civic responsibility is equally well established.

But after 90 years as an independent State, a mentality persists that regards government regulations in defence of the common good as unwelcome and unjustified interference. Arising from that attitude, plans to protect public health and the environment by registering and inspecting septic tanks are being strongly resisted in rural Ireland.

Protesters from Galway West, hurrahed on by former minister Éamon Ó Cuív, described the legislation to safeguard public health and minimise water pollution as “an injustice to rural people . . . an insult”. Apart from the emotional rhetoric, they suggested that three-quarters of all septic tanks in Connemara would not meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. That is a startling figure. It points to a complete breakdown in proper planning for one-off housing. If the projected 75 per cent failure rate is not part of a scare campaign, inspections would cause problems not just for householders but for those who encouraged free-for-all planning.

Various EU directives forced successive governments to address issues of pollution and the protection of drinking water quality. But the issue of sporadic, low-level pollution caused by some farming practices and neglected septic tanks was largely ignored. It has been two years since the European Court of Justice ruled that Ireland was in breach of its obligation to protect public health and inspect septic tanks. Legislation before the Oireachtas has been designed to respond to that ruling while avoiding financial penalties.

Ireland is unusual in that one-third of the population lives in the open countryside. It is a matter of choice. During the boom years, one of the most common complaints was that planning requirements for one-off rural housing were far too restrictive. Politicians encouraged the notion that property conveyed rights, but not obligations. An Taisce was pilloried for attempting to maintain basic planning standards, as were fishery boards that objected to damage to water quality. Many ageing septic tanks have rarely, if ever, been serviced. They pose an immediate threat to their owners and neighbours. Remedial work should be conducted on the grounds that the polluter pays and of basic civic responsibility. This legislation is both timely and proportionate.

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