It is nice to see the former Minister (Eamon O’Cuiv) walking out just as I rise to speak. He had a little rant for a few minutes. It has been suggested that we are thumping the EU by blaming it for this measure. A little research will reveal that the waste directive was introduced in 1975. Septic tanks in Northern Ireland have to be registered under legislation that was introduced in Northern Ireland and the UK in 1973. We have done nothing since the 1975 directive was amended in 1991.
The party opposite – I will call it the Laurel and Hardy party – has left us in another environmental mess. We have to act on a ruling of the European Court of Justice that was issued in 2009. The Green Party was in government for a number of years, but its members must have had their heads in the compost heap when they allowed this environmental crisis to continue year after year. A total of 31 environmental issues relating to Ireland are before the European Court of Justice at present. Each of them is a legacy of the Laurel and Hardy party.
I am surprised that Deputy Ó Cuív is taking such an intransigent stance. When his party was returned to office in 2007, the programme for Government contained a commitment to improve water services by addressing the problems associated with septic tanks. When that programme was reviewed in 2009, the then Government said “we will introduce a scheme for the licensing and inspection of septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems”. It did nothing to follow up on that. Last August, Deputy Ó Cuív said he was willing to go to prison rather than pay the registration fee. I assure him that if he goes to prison, no one on this side of the House will help him to escape as one of my predecessors did when his grandfather was in prison many years ago. Perhaps some of the Deputy’s party colleagues will visit him when he is in prison. Alternatively, they might support Senator Ó Domhnaill’s view that County Cavan should be treated as an independent entity and not like the rest of the country. I am sure Deputy Ó Caoláin of Sinn Féin would approve of that. That party’s two Deputies from County Donegal might be slightly jealous, however.
I am sure all Members are aware of the concerted e-mail campaign that is being conducted by people who are worried about the inspection of tanks. They are concerned that as a result of this Bill, rural dwellers will be treated unfairly by comparison to their urban neighbours who can access subsidised sewerage systems. Anyone who purchases a new house in an urban area of County Kildare has to pay a levy of up to €3,600 to cover the cost of sewage treatment. Organisations like the IFA have claimed that people might not be in a position to pay the registration fee. When the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government sought submissions on the proposed Bill on 19 October 2010, the IFA failed to respond. Responses were received from many of the key stakeholders that were invited to make submissions, including county councils. I was disappointed to learn that Kildare County Council failed to make a submission. I will conclude by emphasising that the whole House supports environmental issues and reiterating that each individual householder will be responsible for ensuring his or her septic tank is suitably provided for in the future.