Septic tank scheme causing a ‘stink’

Householders can apply for grants to upgrade their septic tanks, but only if they have had them registered before 2013, and only if the local authority has carried out an inspection certifying that they are unfit for purpose.

Local representatives on the Environment, Climate Change, Water and Emergency Services SPC want those barriers removed from the national wastewater scheme which began last year, and failing that, want to set up their own programme of works.

Director of services, David Jones, agreed that the current five-year national scheme, which provides a maximum grant of 85% of the approved cost of the upgrade, up to a maximum of €5,000, contained a number of barriers within it, preventing the uptake of the scheme, including the fact that the inspection target for Westmeath was just 35 septic tanks over the next five years.

The chairman of the SPC, Cllr Tom Farrell, said the council needed to look for a completely new policy.

“I think we should go ahead and do our own report and get it in to the department and see if we can get it changed. Look at the LIS (Local Improvement Scheme) and how they work – every county has a budget every year, we’re not going to look at every septic tank in the one year, but if there was a table set up something along the lines of the LIS, and do so many every year, and it would still be under the control of the department," stated Cllr Farrell.

“We should write to the department or go up and meet with them, and show them and I’d say we’d have the support of every council in the country too,” he argued.


Cllr Paul Hogan said the same difficulties with the scheme had already been raised in other local authorities, “So there is definitely a problem with the legislation as it is,” he stated.

“It is probable that there are domestic treatment systems that will never get an inspection because we’re saying that 35 inspections will take place in the next five years, that’s only seven per year!

“How many domestic dwellings have we that have domestic treatment systems? When is it likely that all of those will be visited?

“It’s possible,” added Cllr Hogan, “that there are domestic treatment systems that are working perfectly, but it’s highly probable that there are others that are not working perfectly and will never ever be inspected.

“So when we’re talking about the environment, and there’s loads of grants and loads of schemes – all positive, well here’s an obvious one here in terms of water table and possible pollution, but yet the resources don’t seem to be matching up to the problems.

“I’d certainly support correspondence being issued to the department, and if they were to resolve the issue, then there wouldn’t be a need for a local scheme,” he said.

“If the department reduced the restrictive nature of the grant scheme, in terms of those two caveats, the registrations and the inspections – but what is our best opportunity of rectifying the situation, is it a legislative amendment by the minister, or is it us setting up a local scheme? And which can be done sooner?" he asked.

“That’s the primary reason I suggested putting our own budget in place because if experience has thought us anything in this room, legislative change is generally very slow.”

In agreement was Cllr Johnnie Penrose, who said the scheme had been raised numerous times by the committee.

“I think we should go up and meet the minister and talk about developing our own policy, because other local authorities have the same problems as we have.”

Open to all

Cllr Paddy Hill said it was “very simple – it doesn’t take a genius to work this out – give grants to people who want to upgrade their septic tanks. You don’t need inspections. If my septic tank is not working - I know about it," levelled representative from Coole.

“Not too long ago a report came in on someone’s septic tank that was causing some pollution, and it was deemed to be, and the person who owned the septic tank had to upgrade it out of their own resources,” Cllr Hill told the meeting.

“I think it cost somewhere in the region of €8,000 to upgrade it, but because it wasn’t inspected by Westmeath County Council, they couldn’t get the grant. Now why in the name of God could the department, or whoever, not see that particular person was entitled to a grant?" he argued.

“I’m not all that mad about inspections at all, because the people who own [domestic wastewater tanks] them will know whether their tanks are sufficient because you don’t want pollution coming in to your yard, or your house, and the owner of a septic tank will be responsible and know that.

“The scheme is wrong, it should be given to all who want to upgrade,” he said.

It was agreed that the committee would write to the department seeking to have the legislation amended.