Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh has condemned the proposed Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 as a ‘revenue-generating exercise’. She has branded it a discriminatory attack on rural dwellers that could result in ordinary people going to jail.
Last week Mayo County Councillors discussed the controversial bill, which will make it compulsory for all rural dwellers with septic tanks and other on-site systems to register with their local authority and an EPA national register for inspection, while also paying a registration fee of €50. An interval of five years is envisaged between each registration. Approximately 500,000 people in rural areas could be affected.
After inspection, septic tanks which are judged to be below EU standards could face remedial costs of thousands of euro. Those who do not comply or cannot afford to comply could face jail, according to Cllr Conway-Walsh.
The councillor said she was particularly aggrieved that conditions of the Bill stipulate that after inspection, non-compliance with upgrade requirements could result in a fine of €5,000 for householders. She also pointed out that she was unhappy that the minister has the power to increase the €50 fee in future years.
“A recurring charge every five years is an issue,” Cllr Conway-Walsh said. “While it says now that the charge will be €50, it could be more in future years. The potential charge is a concern. The more revenue you get the more cars you clamp. I also think the €200 charge for an appeal is excessive, and 21 days to formulate this appeal leaves little time for an independent assessment.”
The Erris-based representative added that she had major anxieties about the cost of upgrading septic tanks on families, and the fine which could be imposed. “What happens if people don’t pay that? Our prisons will be full of people who cannot pay fines. There are not many families I know who have €5,000 lying around. In Belmullet, householders have waited 30 years for a sewerage system, so they would be well justified in withholding payment.”
Fianna Fail Deputy leader and Galway West TD Eamon Ó Cúiv has stated that he would rather go to jail than pay what he estimates could be costs in excess of €12,000 for upgrade works in the form of construction, planning permission and ecologist reports.
Councillors Austin Francis O’Malley and Eugene Lavin have called for some form of grant to be made available to help homeowners who are already facing reduced incomes as a result of the Budget.
Mayo County Council Director of Services Paddy Mahon also believes there should be grants in place for septic tanks that require remedial works. However, he added that the bill could bring some benefits: “If there are a lot of defective septic tanks out there which need replacing, it will create employment, so it could be good in certain areas.”