COUNCILS will face prosecution through the courts and massive fines as stiff as €500,000 if they fail to maintain EU standards for drinking water.
Yesterday, outgoing environment minister Mr Dick Roche introduced revised regulations to provide for the increased penalties for contravention of drinking water regulations.
He said the increased penalty provisions are intended to be sufficiently dissuasive to ensure that they are effective.
Under the new regulations, county councils continue to be responsible for supervising group water schemes, and for monitoring all water supplies, including their own.
Local authority supplies are in turn supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency. Monitoring programmes are also subject to approval by the EPA, which is in turn required to supervise the performance by county councils of their monitoring functions.
“When I updated the drinking water regulations last March I indicated that additional provision would be made for increased penalties to reflect the potential serious consequences of offences under the regulations, as soon as the necessary legal authority became available. Following the recent enactment of the European Communities Act 2007, I am now in a position to fulfil this undertaking,” the minister said.
The new drinking water regulations provide, in addition to summary offences, for prosecution of offences on indictment. Maximum fines under the regulations will now be €500,000 following conviction on indictment, with related jails terms of up to three years.
“The monitoring and supervisory regimes provided for in the original regulations which I made last March continue to apply under these new regulations“, the minister said.
Failure to comply with requirements of the regulations or a direction issued by a supervisory authority under the regulations is an offence.
And a supervisory authority may now apply to the High Court for an injunction to direct the undertaking of a specific compliance requirement.
The regulations are an interim measure pending the implementation of the recently enacted Water Services Act in due course.
Mr Roche said the regulations place specific obligations on water suppliers to ensure that water supplies are wholesome and clean.
The new provisions have been developed in consultation with the EU Commission, the EPA and the Health Service Executive.
By Dan Collins
© Irish Examiner