Earlier this month two important judgements of the European Courts of Justice were referred back to the Courts by the European Commission which went unreported in the media. Both cases are likely to have a significant bearing on the future implementation of EU environmental law in Ireland and result in very significant costs to the taxpayer.

Ireland has the unenviable distinction of having one of the worst compliance records with EU environmental law in Europe. However, while Ireland has lost pretty much every ECJ case it has ever faced, never before has Ireland received fines or been to a stage in the ECJ process where fines are inevitable. This has emboldened successive governments to continue a liberal approach to enforcement and constantly seek endless derogations to delay implementation in order to pander to various sectoral interests. However, now the Commission has lost patience and the chickens have come home to roost. In the case of C-188/08 (License and Inspection of Septic Tanks) the Commission has sought a lump sum fine of €2.7 million and €26,173 for every day of non-compliance. In the case of C-66/06 (Implementation of the EIA Directive for ‘on-farm’ developments) the Commission has sought a fine (by formula) of approximately €3.8 million and a further €3 million in legal costs. The Commission argued in both cases that the judgements were now two-and-a-half years old and Ireland does not appear to be close to achieving full compliance. Interestingly a week after these cases, the EPA launched a public consultation on a National Inspection Plan for Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems with a tight deadline of just 3 weeks for comments.

Minister Hogan has been desperately trying to close off the fifteen or so current ECJ cases against Ireland before he takes the reins as the de facto minister of environment for Europe during Ireland’s forthcoming presidency commencing in January 2013 (See here for a useful overview prepared by Friends of the Irish Environment). However, while we will have to of-course await the final ECJ judgement, fines now seem certain and based on the experience of recent cases against other EU countries, fines are generally imposed by the ECJ six months after the hearing. So in these cases we can potentially expect fines around April 2013 – right in the middle of the Irish presidency. This is likely to be of significant embarrassment to the Government but, more importantly, a cause of further distress to the hard pressed tax payers who face the prospect of a further bill of at least €10 million.

The predicament faced by the government is stark. Both of these cases relate to contentious rural issues with very significant opposition to the introduction of septic tank registration and charges, in particular. In order to placate the public and encourage registration the Government has reduced registration fees, is stressing that a ‘risk based’ approach to site inspections will be applied and retrofitting costs will be minimal. However, this has failed to assuage the public and with fines from the ECJ applied on the basis of each day of non-compliance the final bill could potentially be much higher. It is also unlikely to satisfy the European Commission. Given the sheer scale of new unsewered ‘one-off’ dwellings permitted during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ (170,000 since 2001) in locations where soil characteristics are likely to be unsuitable for an on-site waste water system together with the complete abandonment of any proper risk assessments; it is very unlikely that the retrofitting of septic tanks to comply with EU water quality legislation will be inexpensive.

A study in 2005 by Trinity College Dublin in 2005 of 74 randomly located septic tanks in Leinster found that just 5% had soil conditions suitable for the installation of a septic tank. This would appear to be corroborated by the River Basin Management Plans published in 2010.  For example, the North West River Basin Management Plan states “In the North Western IRBD there are approximately 60,000 unsewered properties located in areas where the hydrogeological characteristics mean that inadequate percolation is available.” Again, in the Shannon IRBD ‘there are approximately 83,950 unsewered properties located in areas where the hydrogeological characteristics mean that inadequate percolation is available.’  A detailed study of five selected on-site systems by the National Centre for Freshwater Studies in 2008 found that in each case the on-site systems were either poorly maintained, non operational or poorly installed; and the majority of sites are unsuitable for conventional septic tanks. Is it possible that one of the key reasons why successive governments have dragged their feet on this issue is because the actual cost of complying with this judgement and EU water quality legislation could run to hundreds of millions of euro, if not more?

From an environmental perspective the implementation of multi-million euro fines are welcome and will hopefully force the government into addressing Ireland’s woeful environmental record, poor enforcement of environmental law and to stand up to vested sectoral interests. From the tax payer’s perspective it is just a further reminder of the horrendous legacy costs associated with Ireland’s failed experiment in deregulated neoliberalism in land-use planning policy.

Gavin Daly

Today saw the publication of Measuring Ireland’s Progress 2011 by the Central Statistics Office.  Based on 109 indicators, the report provides a fascinating summary of (a) how Ireland has changed over the past decade as it has transitioned from the Celtic Tiger to the crash; (b) a comparison of how Ireland is performing with respect to 32 other European countries.  The full report is here and a short, but detailed, summary is here.

In total, data is provided with respect to 109 indicators covering 10 domains and 49 sub-domains.  I’ve list all these domains, sub-domains and indicators below to illustrate the richness of this resource for making sense of how Ireland was faring economically, socially and environmentally in 2011.  The report is well illustrated with graphs and maps, and provides data in table form.  Well worth a read if you want to get a synoptic overview of the country vis-a-vis the past and our neighbours.

1. Economy

Gross Domestic Product

1.1 Ireland: GDP and GNI
1.2 EU: GDP and GNI at current market prices
1.3 EU: GDP growth rates
1.4 EU: GDP per capita in Purchasing Power Standards

Government debt

1.5 Ireland, EU and Eurozone: General government consolidated gross debt
1.6 EU: General government consolidated gross debt
1.7 EU: General government consolidated gross debt map

Public balance

1.8 EU: Public balance map
1.9 Ireland and Eurozone: Public balance
1.10 EU: Public balance
1.11 Ireland: Central and Local Government current expenditure

Gross fixed capital formation

1.12 Ireland and EU: Gross fixed capital formation
1.13 EU: Gross fixed capital formation

International transactions

1.14 EU: Current account balance
1.15 EU: Direct investment flows

International trade

1.16 EU: Exports of goods and services
1.17 EU: Imports of goods and services

Exchange rates

1.18 International: Bilateral euro exchange rates
1.19 Ireland: Harmonised competitiveness indicator

Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices

1.20 Ireland and EU: Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices
1.21 EU: Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices

Price levels

1.22 Ireland and EU: Comparative price levels of final consumption by private households
including indirect taxes
1.23 EU: Comparative price levels of final consumption by private households including
indirect taxes

2. Innovation and technology

Science and technology

2.1 Ireland: Mathematics, science and technology graduates

graduates

2.2 EU: Mathematics, science and technology PhDs awarded

Research and development expenditure

2.3 Ireland and EU: Gross domestic expenditure on R&D
2.4 EU: Gross domestic expenditure on R&D

Patent applications

2.5 Ireland and EU: European Patent Office applications
2.6 EU: European Patent Office applications

Household Internet access

2.7 Ireland: Private households with a computer connected to the Internet
2.8 EU: Private households with Internet access

3. Employment and unemployment

Employment rate

3.1 Ireland: Employment rates by sex
3.2 EU: Employment rates by sex

Labour productivity

3.3 Ireland: GDP in Purchasing Power Standards per hour worked and per person employed
3.4 EU: GDP in Purchasing Power Standards per person employed

Unemployment rate

3.5 Ireland and EU: Unemployment rates
3.6 EU: Unemployment rates by sex
3.7 Ireland and EU: Long-term unemployment rates
3.8 EU: Long-term unemployment rates by sex

Jobless households

3.9 Ireland: Population aged 18-59 living in jobless households
3.10 EU: Population aged 18-59 living in jobless households

Older workers

3.11 EU: Employment rate of persons aged 55-64 by sex

4. Social cohesion

Social protection expenditure

4.1 Ireland and EU: Social protection expenditure
4.2 EU: Social protection expenditure in Purchasing Power Parities per capita
4.3 EU: Social protection expenditure by type

Risk of poverty

4.4 EU: At risk of poverty rates
4.5 Ireland: At risk of poverty rates by age and sex
4.6 Ireland: Persons in consistent poverty by age and sex
4.7 Ireland: Persons in consistent poverty by principal economic status

Gender pay gap

4.8 EU: Gender pay gap

Voter turnout

4.9 Ireland: Numbers voting in Dáil elections
4.10 EU: Votes recorded at national parliamentary elections

Official development assistance

4.11 Ireland: Net official development assistance
4.12 EU: Net official development assistance

5. Education

Education expenditure

5.1 Ireland: Real current public expenditure on education
5.2 Ireland: Student numbers by level
5.3 EU: Public expenditure on education

Pupil-teacher ratio

5.4 EU: Ratio of students to teachers
5.5 EU: Primary and lower secondary average class size

Third-level education

5.6 Ireland: Persons aged 25-34 with third-level education
5.7 EU: Persons aged 25-34 with third-level education by sex

Literacy

5.8 Ireland: Student performance on the reading, mathematical and scientific literacy

scales by sex

5.9 EU: Student performance on the reading, mathematical and scientific literacy scales

Early school leavers

5.10 Ireland: Early school leavers by labour force status and sex
5.11 Ireland: Proportion of the population aged 20-64 with at least upper secondary education
5.12 EU: Early school leavers

6. Health

Health care expenditure

6.1 Ireland: Current public expenditure on health care
6.2 EU: Total expenditure on health as percentage of GDP

Life expectancy

6.3 Ireland: Life expectancy at birth and at age 65 by sex
6.4 EU: Life expectancy at birth by sex

7. Population

Population distribution

7.1 Ireland: Population distribution by age group
7.2 Ireland: Household composition
7.3 EU: Population
7.4 EU: Population change

Migration

7.5 Ireland: Migration and natural increase
7.6 Ireland: Immigration by country of origin
7.7 Ireland and EU: Rate of natural increase of population
Age of population 7.8 Ireland: Age dependency ratio
7.9 EU: Young and old as proportion of population aged 15-64

Fertility

7.10 Ireland and EU: Total fertility rate
7.11 EU: Total fertility rate

Lone parent families

7.12 Ireland: Lone parent families with children aged under 20 by sex of parent

Living alone

7.13 Ireland: Persons aged 65 and over living alone by sex

Divorce

7.14 EU: Divorce rate

8. Housing

Dwelling completions

8.1 Ireland: Dwellings completed
8.2 Ireland: Nature of occupancy of private households

Mortgages

8.3 Ireland: Housing loans paid
8.4 Eurozone: Interest rates for household mortgages (new business)

9. Crime

Recorded crimes and detection

9.1 Ireland: Recorded crimes by type of offence rates

9.2 Ireland: Detection rates for recorded crimes

Recorded incidents

9.3 Ireland: Recorded incidents of driving/in charge of a vehicle while over legal alcohol
limit per 100,000 population
9.4 Ireland: Recorded incidents of burglary per 100,000 population
9.5 Ireland: Recorded incidents of controlled drug offences per 100,000 population

Murder/manslaughters

9.6 Ireland: Recorded victims of murder/manslaughter

10. Environment

Greenhouse gases

10.1 Ireland: Total net greenhouse gas emissions
10.2 EU: Net greenhouse gas emissions and Kyoto 2008-2012 target

Energy intensity of economy

10.3 Ireland: Gross inland consumption of energy divided by GDP
10.4 EU: Gross inland consumption of energy divided by GDP

River water quality

10.5 Ireland: River water quality

Urban air quality

10.6 Ireland: Particulate matter in urban areas

Acid rain precursors

10.7 Ireland: Acid rain precursor emissions

Waste management

10.8 Ireland: Total municipal waste generated, recovered and landfilled
10.9 EU: Municipal waste generated and treated

Transport

10.10 Ireland: Private cars under current licence
10.11 EU: Passenger cars per 1,000 population aged 15 and over
10.12 Ireland and EU: Share of road transport in total inland freight transport
10.13 EU: Share of road transport in total inland freight transport
10.14 Ireland and EU: Index of inland freight transport volume
10.15 EU: Index of inland freight transport volume

 

Rob Kitchin