RURAL homeowners will have to pay a fee of up to €100 to register their septic tanks.
While they will not have to pay an annual inspection charge as first feared, this registration charge, first due in 2012, must be paid every few years after that, according to a spokesperson for Environment Minister Phil Hogan.
There had been fears that the registration fee would be as high as €300 so there was some relief when Mr Hogan confirmed it would not exceed €100. However, many of the 400,000 rural dwellers will have to pay thousands more to fix them if the tanks are found to be defective or leaking into water supplies.
With an annual €100 household charge and water charges on the way, these additional charges are seen by many in rural Ireland as a step too far, particularly as many already hard-pressed homeowners could be forced to replace their tanks at a cost of several thousand euro if the licensing authority decides they pose a risk to the public.
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) national president, Gabriel Gilmartin, expressed relief at the decision not to impose an inspection charge on septic tanks but said he was concerned about the planned registration charges.
"While we welcome today's announcement by Minister Phil Hogan not to impose a charge on septic tank inspections, we are also seriously concerned by his department's plans to introduce a 'modest' registration fee for when a person registers their septic with their local authority," said Mr Gilmartin.
"There should be no need for such a fee or charge to be imposed. Septic tanks are already part of planning permission applications and would therefore be on public record, it's just an easy target to apply a further tax to householders."
The minister's spokeswoman would not be drawn on the exact amount of the septic tank registration fee, when exactly during 2012 it will need to be first paid and at what intervals it will need to be paid after that.
From 2013, inspectors from local authorities will inspect tanks to ensure they comply with rules and standards to be agreed between the Government and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Irish Independent understands that not every septic tank will be checked. Instead, local authority inspectors will check those tanks closest to water supplies, or where ground- water has been contaminated by suspected septic tanks.
If a tank does not meet the standards, it will be the responsibility of its owner to carry out work on it and cover the costs .
Ireland is under pressure from the European authorities to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling by bringing in measures to improve ground water quality.
However, Mr Hogan said yesterday that the cost to farmers and householders with septic tanks would be "as cheap as possible".
He said that in order to comply with a European directive and court ruling, the Government would have to monitor and inspect them to ensure this was the case.
Service and management agreements would have to be put in place or Ireland would be back before the European Court of Justice to face a €40m fine in 2015 and daily fines afterwards.
The Irish Farmers' Association said it was opposed to any new legislation that would impose additional costs on rural households.
Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent