Ireland in the dock over drinking water

Court action launched over "widespread" failure to keep sewage contamination out of supplies

Marking a decisive move to clamp down on persistent Irish failure to comply fully with the 1980 EU drinking water directive, the European Commission is to launch a court action against Ireland, the EU executive said today. Ireland has faced long-standing problems in complying with the directive, largely due to a unique system of farmer-led, private local supply companies known as group water schemes. These have proved resistant to change and largely impervious to legal or political pressure (ENDS Daily 17 September 1998).

Under the directive, Ireland and other EU member states should have ensured by 1985 zero levels in drinking water of the sewage organisms total coliforms and faecal coliforms. The Commission complains that there is nevertheless in Ireland a "widespread persistent microbiological pollution of group water supplies," including the presence of coliforms.

According to the Commission, "the evidence points to the need for much greater" efforts to ensure that livestock and human sewage effluents do not leak into drinking water. It welcomes increased spending by the government to address the problems, but stresses that "many key measures are envisaged rather than actually in place, and what ultimately counts is the quality of the water supplied".

A second complaint levelled against Ireland is that national legislation fails to properly implement the directive by not forcing group water supply schemes to comply with quality standards. The Commission notes that Ireland has recently adopted new legislation (ENDS Daily 12 November 1999). But it complains that this still does not "reflect the binding character" of the EU standards, while its proposal to set lower population thresholds to be covered by new rules has no legal basis in the directive.

Follow Up:
A European Commission press dated 11/1/00, (IP/00/13) is posted on Rapid.

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