end corruption,stroke politics, & incompetent administration

Oireachtas vote down anti corruption bill proposal.

Vote number:243
Date/time:09/12/2015 20:54:00$vAllByUNID)/80257A38004E2D6380257F17004E94AC?opendocument

Níl 40
Other 56

The following motion was moved by Deputy Catherine Murphy on Tuesday, 8 December 2015:

    That Dáil Éireann:

        recognises that corruption in public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State;

        finds that culturally ingrained concepts of patronage, clientelism and favouritism have pervaded political institutions and have led to serious failures in corporate governance, particularly where inappropriate links between business and politics have been exploited;

        concludes that such failings have eroded public confidence that politics and commerce operate to benefit the many over the few;

        notes that Bunreacht na hÉireann places in the care of the Oireachtas a responsibility to ensure that the operation of free competition shall not be allowed to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment; and that the Oireachtas has failed to adhere to this guidance in recent years;

        recognises that the State has no effective means of preventing, investigating or prosecuting corruption or white-collar crime as responsible agencies are too disconnected, lack appropriate powers, or lack necessary resources;

        further notes:

           — that prosecutions arising from cases of proven corruption have been rare;

           — the failure of the Government to adequately act on the findings of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal) nor the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters (Moriarty tribunal);

           — that there have been eight tribunals of inquiry in the past 20 years, and where they made findings of impropriety in public or commercial life, very few consequences, if any, have arisen; and

           — that five commissions of investigation are currently in operation, and that in some cases, commissions have sought additional powers to ensure they can fulfil their terms of reference; and

        recommends, in order to effectively address these matters, that the Government:

           — establish a permanent, independent anti-corruption agency to, initially, assume the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission; the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; the Registrar of Lobbyists and the Competition Authority, but not confined to these bodies;

           — mandate the anti-corruption agency to act as a standing commission of investigation;

           — confer the anti-corruption agency with powers of:

                — investigation;

                — compellability and testimony-taking;

                — court-authorised search and seizure, including access to bank records;

                — prosecution at District and Circuit Court level only; and

                — arrest;

           — empower the anti-corruption agency to initiate and conduct investigations and sectoral reviews of its own volition;

           — consolidate and reform legislation tackling corruption, official malfeasance and white-collar crime, and place the anti-corruption agency at the apex of the State’s legislative architecture countering corruption;

           — confer the anti-corruption agency with a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities, both ongoing and historic;

           — mandate an advisory role, initially upon the anti-corruption agency in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces; the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation; professional bodies and any future Electoral Commission, but not confined to these bodies;

           — draw on the experience in other jurisdictions in establishing an anti-corruption agency, in particular the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission, IBAC, of Victoria, Australia, the Serious Fraud Office, SFO, of the United Kingdom, and the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption;

           — create a new joint Oireachtas oversight committee, to be called the Public Interest Committee, a majority of whom shall be Opposition members; and

           — establish annual reporting by the anti-corruption agency to both Houses of the Oireachtas, and ensure reports are debated in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.”

 Amendment No. 1:

        To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

           “condemns all instances of corruption, anti-competitive behaviour, breaches of ethics legislation, breaches of the Companies Acts, and all other forms of white-collar crime;

           recognises the need for a robust system of public standards legislation and enforcement to prevent wrongdoing on the part of elected and public officials;


                — the significant programme of reforms introduced by the Government to protect whistleblowers, reform lobbying and increase transparency and oversight, which includes the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, and the Freedom of Information Act 2014;

                — the major overhaul and reform of companies legislation introduced by the Companies Act 2014;

                — and approves of the reform of competition and consumer protection regulation by the amalgamation of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission;

                — the significant improvement to legislation enabling investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime occasioned by the Criminal Justice Act 2011;

                — the further legislative improvements in regard to the prevention and prosecution of unethical and corrupt behaviour, including measures recommended by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal), including those to be introduced by the forthcoming public sector standards Bill and the criminal justice (corruption) Bill; and

                — the reform of planning legislation undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal) including the forthcoming planning and development (amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 which is to be published shortly; 

           recognises and strongly supports:

                — the work of the Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in tackling and investigating white-collar crime; and

                — the work of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; 

           acknowledges the close co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the significant success in terms of recent convictions for white-collar offences;

           recognises and strongly supports the work of a range of other specialised bodies who are charged with the investigation of elected and public officials and commercial activities including the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission;

           acknowledges the vital independence of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in bringing prosecutions for complex white-collar offences;

           recognises that the Government is strongly committed to ensuring that the necessary measures are in place to effectively combat corruption and recognises the significant investment in Garda resources through investment in information communications technology, vehicles, buildings and most importantly through renewed recruitment which will see 600 new trainee Gardaí enter the Garda College in 2016;

        further notes:

           — that Ireland is a party to a number of inter-governmental conventions which set international standards in the fight against bribery and corruption;

           — that Ireland is subject to ongoing external evaluation of the effectiveness of its anticorruption measures under a number of international evaluation mechanisms including the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption, GRECO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, the Implementation Review Group of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the European Union Anti-Corruption Report;

           — the significant work done and currently being undertaken by various commissions of investigation; and

           — the engagement by the Taoiseach with Opposition leaders to seek a consensus on how best to address certain challenges that have arisen in relation to a commission of investigation; and

        supports the Government’s programme of legislation and reform to improve standards in public office and the private corporate sector, tackle corruption, anti-competitive behaviour and all forms of white-collar crime.”$vAllByUNID)/80257A38004E2D6380257F17004E94AC?opendocument
those on the left opposed the bill:

Stephen Donnelly


Who voted to pick the citizens pockets before they get their wage cheque.?

So we don’t forget, here is who voted for the bill for the money to pay for the outrageous quango that is "Irish Water" to be taken directly from wages and pensions:

James Bannon
Joan Burton
Ray Butler
Jerry Buttimer
Catherine Byrne
Ciarán Cannon
Joe Carey
Paudie Coffey
Michael Conaghan
Paul Connaughton
Ciara Conway
Noel Coonan
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy
Joe Costello
Jim Daly
John Deasy
Jimmy Deenihan
Pat Deering
Robert Dowds
Andrew Doyle
Bernard Durkan
Damien English
Frank Feighan
Frances Fitzgerald
Peter Fitzpatrick
Charles Flanagan
Eamon Gilmore
Dominic Hannigan
Noel Harrington
Simon Harris
Tom Hayes
Martin Heydon
Heather Humphreys
Kevin Humphreys
Paul Kehoe
Seán Kenny
Seán Kyne
Anthony Lawlor
Ciarán Lynch
Michael McCarthy
Helen McEntee
Gabrielle McFadden
Dinny McGinley
Joe McHugh
Tony McLoughlin
Michael McNamara
Olivia Mitchell
Michelle Mulherin
Dara Murphy
Eoghan Murphy
Gerald Nash
Dan Neville
Derek Nolan
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
Kieran O’Donnell
Patrick O’Donovan
John O’Mahony
Joe O’Reilly
Jan O’Sullivan
John Perry
Ann Phelan
James Reilly
Michael Ring
Alan Shatter
Emmet Stagg
David Stanton
Joanna Tuffy
Leo Varadkar
Jack Wall
Alex white

Our Councillors-rotten to the core.

Editorial:"Village magazine" 2014.

Gerard Convie is a whistleblower, but you won’t have heard of him. Over the last few years Village has helped a number of other whistleblowers whose cases are to varying degrees unassailable but have not been championed by the media or pursued by the authorities: Jonathan Sugarman on Unicredit Bank, Noel Wardick on the Red Cross, Paul Clinton on Treasury Holdings and Dublin City Council, Séamus Kirk on planning appeals withdrawn after a 1m payout in Louth, Colm Murphy on solicitor fraud and Law Society ‘skulduggery’.

As Frank McBrearty, the whistleblower whose attempted framing for the murder of Richie Barron led to the instigation of the Morris Tribunal, told Village this week: “without whistleblowers you can’t expose corruption”.

But the lack of official interest in these brave citizens, or action on their allegations, bespeaks an overwhelming cynicism veiled only by the correlative rush to be publicly perceived as welcoming of whistleblowers such as the gardai who revealed the penalty-points scandal. As one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, so one man’s whistleblower is another’s deluded obsessive. You only really become a whisleblower once your whistle has been heard by the ‘political correspondents’ and the party spokespersons. When you are at your most vulnerable they won’t seek you out or even answer your letters.


Convie worked in Donegal County Council as a senior planner for nearly 24 years. He claims it was well known in Donegal and beyond that he would not capitulate to the “goings-on in planning” by certain councillors and senior officials in Co Donegal. He tried to control one-off housing, produced the first design guide, and used to appeal to An Bord Pleanála on his own behalf and at his own expense all decisions to grant planning permission via the infamous S4 motions. This was controversial. He claims one councilor constantly referred to him as a ”wee shit from the North”.

Convie has claimed, in an affidavit opened in court, that during his tenure there was bullying and intimidation within the council of planners who sought to make decisions based exclusively on the planning merits of particular applications.

In the affidavit, Convie alleges another planner:

1) recommended permissions that breached the Donegal County Development Plan to an extent that was almost systemic

2) submitted planning applications to Donegal County Council on behalf of friends and associates

3) dealt with planning applications from submission to decision

4) ignored the recommendations of other planners

5) destroyed the recommendations of other planners

6) submitted fraudulent correspondence to the planning department

7) forged signatures

8) improperly interfered as described in a number of planning applications

9) was close to a number of leading architects and developers in Donegal, including the head of the largest ‘architectural’ practice in Donegal, with whom he holidayed but the relationship with whom was undeclared.

His affidavit also refers to irregularities perpetrated by named officials at the highest level in the Council as well as named senior county councilors. The Minister and Donegal County Council made no defence of any averment in Convie’s Affidavit.

Convie had a list of more than 20 “suspect cases” in the County. As he reverted to private practice he claimed that there must be many more, perhaps hundreds, “a cesspit”. His complaints to various Ministers for the Environment and to the Standards in Public Office Commission went nowhere.

After the Greens got into government, Environment Minister, John Gormley, announced “planning reviews” in 2010, not of corruption but of bad practice – in seven local authorities including Donegal. Convie’s case studies comprised all the material for the review in Donegal. But when the new Fine Gael and Labour government took over they very quickly dropped the independent inquiries. A lazy 2012 internal review stated: “The department’s rigorous analysis finds that the allegations do not relate to systemic corruption in the planning system…Nonetheless, they raise serious matters, ranging from maladministration to inconsistency in application of planning policy or non-adherence to forward plans, such as development plans”. As regards Donegal, the Department, extraordinarily and scandalously, decided – according to Minister Jan O’Sullivan in the Dáil, that: ‘’ … the complainant [Convie] has failed at any stage to produce evidence of wrong-doing in Donegal Council’s planning department”.  

Convie felt this left him in an invidious position and, in the absence of any defense of him by from any source, he successfully sued. In the High Court Order all the conclusions by the Minister were withdrawn, including reports on the matters prepared for the Minister by Donegal County Council.

The government has been forced to reinstate the planning enquiries. But it will be important to see the ramifications for the civil servants who concluded that Convie’s complaint did not constitute “evidence”, and for the Minister who accepted the conclusions. While some of the council officials who are named in the irregularities in Convie’s Affidavit have retired, some remain in the Council’s employ and have seen their careers soar.

The Convie file has been referred to the Attorney General for direction and she has now reported back to the Minister. The Department will report its review before the summer. Meanwhile a taint hangs over the administration of planning in Donegal, and a whistleblower twists in the wind.


As Village was going to print, things were finally heating up in Donegal County Council. The Director of Housing and Corporate Services told Village the Council would be responding to Convie’s reported allegations, shortly, and Ethics Officer, Paul McGill, said the matter was being examined by management.    As regards County Councillors, the current mayor of Donegal, independent Ian McGarvey, while making it clear he did not wish to be involved in anything ‘scurrilous’, said he would refer the issue to the county secretary. Independent Donegal County Councillor Frank Mc Brearty noted it was difficult for current councillors to ascertain the truth of such matters because of difficulties getting files – even last year when he was mayor. While complimentary of the current incumbent, McBrearty felt ethics registrars should be independent of the Council. He said lessons should be learnt from the planning tribunal. As with the Garda, these include that government must ensure an independent investigation, providing for natural justice. He notes of Donegal, “because the County is so isolated, allegations seem to take longer to be investigated, and then are not investigated independently. The political will is not there”.

Since the Departmental review is about maladministration, not impropriety, it is legitimate and imperative for Donegal County Council to probe the allegations, now. So far it has refused to carry out any investigation into any of Convie’s complaints. Meanwhile Minister O’Sullivan has serious questions to answer. While the media pontificate about whistleblowing in the gardai, and in the abstract, in Donegal the whistle blows into a gale.

Irish councillors nation wide-rotten to the core.

the rot is widespread-but not investigated.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) has been ‘investigating’ or rather ‘reviewing’ bad planning in a number of local authorities. In June 2013 the           Department agreed to a High Court order overturning its own findings of no evidence
of wrongdoing in the planning department of Donegal County Council
on dates mostly in the 1990s.
It apologised to former senior planner, Gerard Convie, who had made
those claims and paid him €25,000 damages, for findings in the
Department’s report put before the Dáil in June 2012 dismissing allegations
by him of irregular planning decisions within the Council.

It recently [2015] appointed a senior counsel to look into the allegations on a non-statutory ie makey-uppy basis. There is no commitment to publish this report.

The review  reached conclusions on the other Counties as long ago as July 2015 but they have not been published.

Here’s what happened:

In 2009/2010 An Taisce requested that the DoE conduct investigations
into planning practices in three councils – County Cork, Dublin City and
County Galway. Taking An Taisce’s material together with other complaints,
the then Minister John Gormley sanctioned independent investigations
into six councils in early 2011.In late 2011 – the Department acting
through former Minister of State Willie Penrose rejected the option of
proper investigation in favour of a shallow in-house ‘internal review’.
The result was a report with no credibility issued in June 2012. The
Department then retained an external consultant (Mr Henk van der Kamp)
in late 2012 to undertake further study but with no more investigation
than the original internal review. And with just as little credibility behind
it, the van der Kamp report must now also be withdrawn. In June the
Convie case exposed the shallowness of the Department’s surface ‘investigations’
and ‘findings’. There will now be an outside investigation.

Here’s what it will look at:

Carlow County Council
The allegations concern, to a very significant degree, Seamus (or Jimmy)
O’Connor, the then Carlow Director of Planning. In a report into the
allegations by former Louth County Manager, John Quinlivan, published
in Oct 2010, O’Connor was described as having broken the law
for failing to keep notes of meetings with developers, and for engaging
in the “unacceptable practice” of meeting such developers alone, unaccompanied
by other Council officials. However, there has been no real
examination of the consequences of O’Connor’s actions, and in the wake
of the Quinlivan report, O’Connor was merely shifted sideways within
Carlow County Council, retaining the same very comfortable salary as a
Director of Services as before.

Cork City
The main complaints with regard to Cork City Council’s planning stem
from the ‘closed’ nature of its pre-planning meetings. First, many of the
meetings were not classified as pre-planning meetings. Classification of
such meetings is highly important because notes of meetings between
Council officials and developers must be published by the Council in
the event a planning application is later submitted after the Council has
made its decision on the proposal. In order words, pre-planning meetings
ultimately become part of the public record, whereas meetings
deemed not to be pre-planning don’t. Essentially, the DoE found that
attempts to play fast and loose with the classification of meetings were
outside the legislation. In a common theme, however, no-one was held
accountable and the consequences of failing to categorise meetings as
pre-planning meetings was never properly examined.

Cork County
The main complaints with regard to Cork City Council’s planning stem
from the ‘closed’ nature of its pre-planning meetings. First, many of the
meetings were not classified as pre-planning meetings. Classification of
such meetings is highly important because notes of meetings between
Council officials and developers must be published by the Council in
the event a planning application is later submitted after the Council has
made its decision on the proposal. In order words, pre-planning meetings
ultimately become part of the public record, whereas meetings
deemed not to be pre-planning don’t. Essentially, the DoE found that
attempts to play fast and loose with the classification of meetings were
outside the legislation. In a common theme, however, no-one was held
accountable and the consequences of failing to categorise meetings as
pre-planning meetings was never properly examined.

Cork County
The allegation is that so-called ‘liaison officers’ were appointed as go-betweens
on planning applications, feeding back news of ‘progress’ or
‘resistance’ on individual planning application to interested councillors.
The practice had or has no statutory basis but it appears Cork County
Council defended it unreservedly to the DoE. In rather weak language,                                                                             the DoE told Cork County Council to discontinue. Again, however, no-one was
found responsible for putting in place an unlawful system nor was there
any investigation into the consequences of many years of ‘liaison’.

Donegal County
Senior Planner Gerry Convie who controlled planning in Donegal for 20
years claimed that there was bullying and intimidation within the council
of planners who sought to make decisions based exclusively on the
planning merits of particular applications.
Convie was suspended in 1999, allegedly for not following procedures
in relation to his involvement in a parcel of land at Magheroarty,
near Bloody Foreland. Convie has a list of 10 “suspect cases” in the
county and said there was a “cess pit” in the county’s planning.
After he won his High Court case in June 2013, the Department conceded
that his allegations were never really investigated, and covered all his
legal costs estimated at several hundred thousand euro.

Dublin City
The allegations concern city officials who – during the property bubble
– encouraged developers to apply for buildings far higher than allowed
under the city development plan. An Taisce has published a considerable
volume of material to substantiate the allegations, but to date officialdom
has been in denial. Regarding the years 2005 – 2009, Dublin City also
stands accused of the same jiggery-pokery in relation to pre-planning
meetings as Cork City.

Meath County
The allegations against Meath County Council relate to rezoning decisions
contrary to the Council’s own development plan. According to An Taisce
and others, the public interest was subverted in favour of lobbyists, interested
parties and the preferential treatment of certain landowners.

Galway County
Galway County Council is accused of systematic disregard not only for its
own development plan, but also for environmental impacts on protected
sites, nature reserves, failure to observe recommendations from the
National Road Authority, and even ignoring Bord Pleanála decisions.

Not a corruption investigation, a planning review…
After all the abortive and revived effort, this is what the Department of the Environment is pursuing:
“An independent planning review to assess the application of planning, legislation, policy
and guidance within the development plan and development management systems at local
level in Republic of Ireland (using as ‘a key input’ issues in Carlow, Cork, Galway and Meath
County Councils, and Cork and Dublin City Councils). The planning review is to consider
what measures may be required to ensure a consistent approach to these issues across
all planning authorities, and to improve the delivery of planning services generally”.

The focus is on procedures and practices within planning authorities rather than individual
planning decisions by either the authorities themselves or An Bord Pleanála.
James Nix is a former Policy Director of An Taisce.

This is an updated version of an article published in Village Magazine in August 2013

Systematic pollution threat in Ireland from "one off" housing.

Courtesy of the "Village Magazine"
In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems. The National Inspection Plan (NIP) sought to encourage the correct management of domestic wastewater treatment systems (DWWTSs) throughout Ireland by means of an annual allocation of septic tank system inspections in areas acutely vulnerable to contamination, and an extensive citizen-engagement strategy. It was proposed by the EPA that the plan’s instigation would help minimise the potential for environmental and health impacts stemming from defective DWWTSs.
The NIP has now been in place for over two years and recently entered its second cycle (2015-2017). However, the progress made by the plan thus far is believed by close observers to be insufficient. Only slightly over half of the septic tank systems inspected under the plan in the first year achieved a pass grade and there is evidence to suggest that any wider shift in attitudes and behavioural change among DWWTS users has been marginal at best.
Although the onus is on the relevant public to adhere to their responsibilities and demonstrate good practice, their failure to do evidences several inherent flaws of the NIP that require urgent remediation – in particular, its citizen-engagement strategy.
The ramifications of exposure to untreated domestic wastewater are well documented – especially where effluent is allowed to enter drinking water supplies (e.g., private wells and group water schemes) and public waterways. The resulting contamination of ground- and surface water can engender outcomes such as pronounced environmental degradation, widespread odour disturbance and proliferation of waterborne diseases such as VTEC (a pathogenic strain of E. coli) and cryptosporidium. The appropriate installation and maintenance of DWWTSs is thus vital.
Given the sheer number and volume of DWWTS in Ireland, the risk of contamination is high.
There are currently over 500,000 DWWTSs (predominantly septic tanks) located across Ireland, the majority of which are concentrated in rural Ireland due to its largely dispersed pattern of settlement.
Furthermore, over 80% of Irish households in rural areas treat and dispose of wastewater on-site (accounting for over one third of the national population) with a similarly high percentage also availing an of onsite groundwater source for drinking water. These figures confirm that rural households are potentially a formidable source and receptor of water contamination and underscore the importance of the NIP in potentially reducing this threat.
However, despite the NIP’s questionable performance and the ensuing repercussions, the plan’s implementation has received limited media attention and criticism since its instigation. This can largely be attributed to the pervasive perception of DWWTSs as being a minor, rural-only issue. However, a mounting body of evidence suggests that septic tanks are beginning to constitute a principal cause of water contamination in rural Ireland and play a significant role in the rising number of VTEC cases documented throughout the country.

In order to fully identify and affirm the NIP’s shortcomings, it is necessary to recount the origins and development of the plan.
The NIP was first put forward by the Irish government in 2011 in response to the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over Ireland’s longstanding circumvention of its obligation, under the 1975 EU Waste Framework Directive, to properly regulate domestic wastewater generated in unsewered (primarily rural) areas. Ireland had previously been rebuked by the ECJ for the breach in 2009 but the government’s slow pace in initiating an appropriate registration and inspection system for DWWTSs resulted in a second, harsher ruling to which the NIP responded. The inception of the NIP was evidently reactive rather than proactive.
The purpose of the NIP was outlined in the government’s 2012 Water Services (Amendment) Act, which satisfied the ECJ’s criteria. The NIP’s core aspects would be informed by the guidelines set out in the act and the EPA would be given the job of preparing and expanding the plan. In most cases the guidelines were firm and incisive, yet in others they were markedly lenient, neglecting to mention any binding provision for correct DWWTS design and construction or consistent metrics for the NIP. As a result, these facets were given little attention in the finalized plan.
The delivery of the bulk of the NIP was assigned to local authorities, with the EPA acting in a primarily supervisory role. Local authorities would be held responsible for initiating a register of DWWTS, administering the annual septic-tank inspections and overseeing citizen engagement at the local level while the EPA would direct and supervise local authorities, nominate and train inspectors and help instigate citizen engagement at the national level.
The government would meanwhile play a smaller, albeit significant, part by providing funding for the plan, enforcing policy and administering a grant scheme for septic tank repairs for homeowners chosen for local authority inspections.
It was decided by the EPA that a minimum target of 1,000 septic tank inspections would be undertaken each year. The EPA availed of the S-P-R (Source-Pathway-Receptor) model and GIS maps to establish the areas most vulnerable to septic-tank-contamination and subsequently apportioned inspections to each county accordingly.
As to the NIP’s engagement strategy, following a period of consultation with a number of representatives from environmental, farming and rural organisations, the EPA elected to centre citizen engagement on a public information campaign stressing the importance of clean water. To this effect a variety of engagement mechanisms would be used – ranging from informative television segments on a national scale to radio advertisements and school visits at a local level.
The NIP’s engagement strategy was rolled out in early 2013 with inspections beginning on 1 July. Given that the inspections would be situated in high-risk areas, the results of first full year of inspections would act as a useful barometer to gauge the overall progress of the NIP.
Unfortunately, out of the 987 inspections completed between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014, only 511 (52%) of septic tanks passed. The failure on the part of EPA and local authorities to encourage a significant shift in the behaviour of septic-tank owners living in the areas most predisposed to contamination represented a disappointing blow and posed worrying connotations as to the broader, national level of behavioural change attained.
The inspection results can be attributed to several questionable policies. For instance: the grant scheme for system repairs only catered for septic-tank owners who had registered as a DWWTS user before 1 February 2013 and consequently would have greatly reduced the inclination for septic-tank owners who had not registered by that date to properly maintain or remediate their septic tank on their own initiative. However, the NIP’s citizen engagement strategy must ultimately shoulder the bulk of the blame as it has patently failed to adequately communicate the degree of risk and provide adequate information regarding septic-tank maintenance.
When formulating a citizen engagement strategy and appended public information campaign, it is imperative to take account current public attitudes and knowledge gaps. By discerning the proclivities of the target public a baseline can be established, providing scope for how the requisite information might or might not be best communicated. If this information is subsequently transmitted to the audience in a manner sympathetic towards or conscious of their stance, the likelihood of compliance will be maximised. In the case of the NIP’s first cycle (2013-14), there is scant indication that the EPA gave any concerted thought to the existing knowledge gaps and attitudes among ordinary DWWTS users – despite having access to recently accumulated data on the subject.
Shortly before the start of the NIP’s engagement strategy, the EPA became aware of an academic study involving the circulation of survey questionnaires to DWWTS homeowners to ascertain their views regarding all aspects of DWWTS. The survey served as a useful insight into the current attitudes of DWWTS users and pinpointed issues such as: a lack of consistency concerning desludging, a lack of information outlining system maintenance and a belief that recent DWWTS legislation was motivated by EU compliance and government revenue rather than protection of human health and the environment. The study was published online in 2013 and funded by the EPA which commissioned the authors to devise and disseminate a further set of similar questionnaires midway through the first year of the NIP’s instigation.
The second set of questionnaires would serve to indicate the degree of change accomplished by the NIP’s engagement strategy so far. However, regrettably for the EPA, the questionnaire results registered only a marginal (6%) increase in support for DWWTS regulations and a similar increase in the amount of respondents who claimed that they had received DWWTS maintenance information.
The results also indicated a stasis in attitudes pertaining to desludging which, tellingly, was the main reason for failure among septic tank inspections according to the EPA. Further scepticism of the NIP’s engagement strategy could be accrued by reading the EPA’s reports on the progress of the plan, which contain a palpable lack of detail and suggest the inconsistent use and application of engagement mechanisms by local authorities.
To the EPA’s credit, the proposed measures for the second cycle of the NIP (2015-17) have placed a more considered focus on citizen engagement.
The EPA has recently established a working group comprising a number of representatives from relevant organisations such as the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) in attempts to compose a better-organised, holistic citizen engagement. The EPA has also introduced a metric that determines compliance by tracking the collection of DWWTS sludge by waste collectors.
These recent measures represent a step in the right direction and a concerted effort to improve the NIP’s efficacy. However, these steps must by followed by discernible results. With the Minister of the Department of Environment and Local Government’s recent announcement that the NIP will be reviewed at government level in early 2016, it is clear that the NIP will be thrust into the spotlight again sooner rather than later. •

The risk posed by domestic wastewater treatment systems to human health in Ireland

The ramifications of exposure to untreated domestic wastewater are well documented – especially where effluent is allowed to enter drinking water supplies (e.g., private wells and group water schemes) and public waterways. The resulting contamination of ground- and surface water can engender outcomes such as pronounced environmental degradation, widespread odour disturbance and proliferation of waterborne diseases such as VTEC (a pathogenic strain of E. coli) and cryptosporidium. The appropriate maintenance and regulation of domestic wastewater treatment systems (DWWTSs) is thus vital.
In the case of Ireland, there is a mounting body of recently conducted research that suggests that many DWWTSs across the country have been incorrectly installed or maintained and pose a very real and widely experienced threat to human health.
A 2005 study undertaken by Trinity College, Dublin of 74 randomly located septic-tank systems in Leinster revealed that only 5% were situated in soil conditions conducive to adequate wastewater treatment and indicated the likelihood of similar figures elsewhere in Ireland. The prevalence of such systems was confirmed five years later by the EPA, who discovered that approximately 25,000 DWWTSs in Ireland posed a risk to groundwater while approximately 120,000 posed a risk to surface water.
A study carried out by Trinity College researchers between 2008 and 2010 analysing the quality of groundwater in 262 private wells discerned that DWWTSs posed the greatest contamination hazard for private wells in rural Ireland. The study identified septic tank location as a significant factor towards the occurrence of VTEC in private wells. The brisk exacerbation of this threat could be attributed to a combination of a longstanding lack of regulatory enforcement regarding private well and septic-tank siting and a glut of poorly constructed one-off rural dwellings built during the 2000s decade.
Tellingly, a year after the completion of the Trinity College study in 2011, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) reported a sharp surge in VTEC cases in Ireland, with 37% linked to exposure to a private well. The overall national VTEC incidence rate recorded the same year was almost eight times higher than the EU average and the number of annual cases has since continued to rise.
It is likely that the increased promulgation of such evidence outlining the causal link between the growing frequency of episodes of water contamination and disease and defective DWWTS in Ireland, would result in a more rigorous scrutiny and media coverage of DWWTS maintenance and regulation throughout Ireland. Nevertheless, much of this data remains largely unpublicised.