LESS than half the essential works required on five waste water sites have been completed in the two years since the European Court brought legal action against the state, environment officials have confirmed. The government is due before the European Court in less than two weeks to answer charges that the treatment plants are below acceptable quality levels.
The European Commission brought the action in July 2006, claiming that Ireland failed to "ensure that, before discharge, waste water entering collecting systems was made subject to secondary treatment or an equivalent treatment at the latest by 31 December, 2000."
It further claims that Ireland has failed to ensure such discharges satisfied European quality requirements.
The action has been taken in specific reference to five treatment plants in Bray, Co Wicklow, Howth, Co Dublin, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Sligo and Tramore, Co Waterford.
However, despite being eight years overdue, the government has admitted that work on the plants remains unfinished.
While the Sligo and Tramore sites have since been completed, construction work continues in Howth, a contract has only been awarded for the Bray/Shanganagh project while the Letterkenny plant works have not yet gone to tender. A spokesman for the Department of the Environment told the Sunday Tribune that funding for the required infrastructure has been allocated in all cases. "Any delays that have occurred in completing individual works have generally been caused by legal or technical difficulties," he said.
"This case relates to the provision of waste water treatment facilities in five specific locations. It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on the outcome of the court proceedings but we have entered a detailed and robust defence."
The European Commission is determined that Ireland be found guilty of failing in its obligations and to pay the costs of the action. The commission noted in a legal document to the court: "Although Ireland has offered explanations as to the delays encountered in these agglomerations and has provided some indications of the state of progress in meeting the directive's requirements, it is the commission's view that these explanations and indications cannot be considered as excusing a failure to meet the deadline.
"Moreover, the commission submits that the information provided by the Irish authorities is insufficient to allow it to conclude that the installation of secondary waste water treatment plants in these agglomerations is imminent. In most cases, it appears that several further stages need to be completed before the treatment plants will be installed."