THE European Commission is prosecuting Ireland for failing to stop raw sewage from being discharged into waters.
Despite being warned in 2005 to tackle pollution and address the public health risks, the State has failed to provide waste water treatment facilities in 38 areas across the country.
The move comes after the Government was warned in September 2015 and again in September last year that failure to put in place wastewater treatment facilities in areas including Arklow in Wicklow, Ringsend in Dublin and Cork and Waterford cities would result in prosecution.
The European Court of Justice could impose steep fines it if rules in the commission’s favour. It has previously fined Greece for failing to comply with a 2007 judgment on a similar matter, with a €10m fixed sum imposed and daily fines of up to €20,000.
In a statement, the commission said it was taking Ireland to court for its failure to ensure that urban waste water in 38 areas was “adequately collected and treated to prevent serious risks to human health and the environment”.
It also raises concerns about the failure to ensure that a correct operating licence has been issued for the treatment plants serving Arklow and Castlebridge.
Member States had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment of wastewater from large areas with populations of more than 15,000, and until the end of 2005 for other areas.
“According to a recent Commission report on the implementation of EU environmental policy and law in Member States, one of the main challenges Ireland faces is maintaining the important investments required for water services, given the urgent need to invest in water infrastructure,” it added.
Some works are already under way or in planning, including an upgrade of Ringsend and treatment plants in Clifden and Arklow.
Irish Water said that works required to comply with the directive would cost in excess of €1bn.
“Since taking over responsibility for water services in 2014 Irish Water has put in place a prioritised range of projects to deal with historic deficits and lack of investment in wastewater treatment across the country," it said.
"The utility has identified key projects in our current and recently approved future capital investment plans to address all non-compliances in our treatment plants by 2021 in each of the areas identified by the EU as part of this ECJ case. This element of our investment programme will exceed €1bn."
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the legal action should be focused upon by the Dáil committee on the future funding of water services, which meets today.
“It’s a critical issue for the Water Committee as it reaches the end of its deliberations.
"The question is how are we going to fund this? We have to make sure it doesn’t come out of housing, or education or our transport budgets. We’ve forgotten about water for years, and we can no longer ignore it.”