Tuesday, 4 December 2012
Water and Sewerage Schemes
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government when the Environmental Protection Agency is due to publish their National Inspection Plan under the Waste Water Services Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54194/12]
The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 provides that the Environmental Protection Agency will make the national inspection plan for domestic wastewater treatment systems. A public consultation on a draft plan was publicised by the agency on 11 October, and submissions received are being reviewed. A training course for the water services authority personnel who will be appointed to carry out inspections is also being finalised and this is being overseen by the water services training group. I understand the plan and the training course will be finalised shortly.
The training course for inspectors will be extended to suitably qualified local authority staff in early 2013. This will be followed by the commencement of inspections, which will be based on the national inspection plan. Prior to inspections commencing, an extensive information campaign to advise householders of how to comply with the legal requirements regarding operation and maintenance of on-site wastewater treatment systems will be undertaken.
Does the Government plan to fund rectification works for those who may fail the testing the Minister of State mentioned? As taxpayers - God knows how much they will be paying after tomorrow - do they not have the same right to water and sewerage services as somebody living in the middle of a town? They deserve the same level of facilities and services from the State. To that end the Government has responsibility to have in place means and mechanisms for those who through no fault of their own may find themselves at the wrong end of this inspection.
That being the case and in the absence of any rectification funding being available, the Minister is abandoning them. In doing so, he is not respecting their rights which they have by virtue of the fact they pay their taxes the same as anybody else who has those facilities at his or her doorstep.
The Minister has stated repeatedly that he is prepared to consider all possible options to provide financial support to householders whose systems are deemed, following inspection, to require substantial remediation or upgrading. Any financial support will have regard to the overall budgetary situation and the financial position of individual households. I understand this matter is under active consideration in the Department.
I would hope it was under active consideration within the Department many months prior to today and that, in coming forward with a proposal for next's year budget, funding for this purpose would be set aside under the auspices of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Can the Minister of State confirm this? If he cannot, he need not tell us it will be forthcoming next year because there is not a red cent to do it. If that is the case, where stand those people who through no fault of their own find themselves at the wrong end of this implementation? Is the Minister of State concerned by the fact the Commission is pressing ahead with the court case in this regard?
The reason this was brought in by the Minister was to avoid potentially quite severe and continuous penalties under the Commission's legislative role. In an effort to avoid that but primarily to protect drinking water and water courses, it is very important that and issues around contamination of drinking water in particular are addressed.
In a separate and different category, there was an outbreak of cryptosporidium in County Galway some years ago which meant it was not possible to drink water from the taps in Galway city for months. One must balance two things: the health impact of faecal contamination and the improvement of the quality of the water supply. The Minister was very clear in what he said and while I will leave it to him make his statements at the proper time, his intention and commitment in respect of the matter raised by the Deputy are clear.