Inishowen councillors let rip on issue of septic tank charges

County councillors this week voiced opposition to the government’s proposed septic tank charges, supporting motions from three different parties that slammed the proposal as an attack on rural communities.

Calling the fee “a discriminative form of collecting revenue,” Fianna Fáil Cllr. Paul Canning brought forward a motion calling on the council to refrain from collecting any charge that may be imposed on septic tanks.

Sinn Féin Cllr. Jack Murray brought forward a multi-layered motion, calling for central government grants for improvements to septic tanks, for a free desludging service, similar to that in the north, and for the establishment of a hierarchy of threats to ground and surface water.

Independent Cllr. Ian McGarvey’s motion called on the council to address the issue of EU regulations of septic tanks in the county as well as of sewage treatment plants and waste disposal.

“Registering septic tanks does not improve the quality of water,” Cllr. Canning said. He also said that he believed the improvements required to bring septic systems up to 2010 EU standards, “are going to put people in a serious financial situation”.

Fianna Fáil Cllr. Dessie Larkin, who seconded the motion, and Cllr. Canning also questioned council’s authority to test septic tanks.

“Once someone has complied with planning conditions, what authority have we then to go out and try to deal with that particular aspect?” Cllr. Larkin asked.

Cllr. Muray said Sinn Féin agreed with the European directive to improve water quality, but disagreed with the minister’s interpretation of how the work should be financed. The fee is “clearly another form of taxation on rural communities,” he said.

“The directive is to be welcomed, but don’t stop at the septic tanks. Look at the whole issue of water tables being affected,” said Sinn Féin Cllr. Mick Quinn, who seconded Cllr. Murray’s motion. “People simply do not have and will not have the money to replace their septic tanks,” he said.

Cllr. McGarvey called on the council to write to the minister, saying he recommended “that no charge be placed on septic systems, particularly for rural dwellers”. Cllr. O’Neill said the minister told him the department was considering options for providing financial supports to property owners whose septic systems require remediation or upgrading, and said he would encourage the minister to make those supports available.

Fine Gael councillor, Barry O’Neill also said the registration and the inspections are needed to keep Ireland compliant with the EU water directives and to avoid costly fees for non-compliance.

“Because the previous government didn’t deal with it, this government has to deal with it and that’s the situation,” Cllr. O’Neill said.

Disparity

But many councillors pointed to the disparity between the impact of the initiative on rural dwellers and their urban counterparts.

“I think we need to call spade a spade and a septic tank fee is a rural property owner’s charge,” said Sinn Féin Cllr. Marie-Therese Gallagher.

“The question is very clear: What is the registration fee going to do, how much is it going to cost to collect it and how do we know it’s not going to become an annual thing,” Cllr. Gallagher said.

Labour Cllr. Martin Farren said he was pleased with Cllr. O’Neill’s report of his conversation with the minister, though he said he also took on board Cllr. Gallagher’s concerns.

“Obviously we’re part of government now, and we will do our utmost to take the concerns of everybody on board,” Cllr. Farren said.

The council will be obligated to administer any scheme in line with statutory requirements, said Joe Peoples, council’s acting Director of Service for Water, Environment and Emergency services. But he said significant legislation was still required to give effect to the proposals.

The acting director said he believed it would not be appropriate for him to comment at that time, but he added, “I do share the concerns in relation to the capacity of individuals to comply with this, and would suggest that some of these ideas could be brought to the minister’s attention.”