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Ireland referred to EU court for failing to upgrade wastewater infrastructure

The European Commission (EC) has announced it is taking Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to ensure that urban wastewater in 38 towns and cities across the country is adequately collected and treated to prevent serious risks to human health and the environment.

Under EU law (Council Directive 91/271/EEC), towns and cities are required to collect and treat their urban wastewater, as untreated wastewater can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil, coastal and groundwater.

The 38 agglomerations with inadequate wastewater infrastructure are Arklow, Athlone, Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Ballincollig New, Castlecomer, Cavan, Clifden, Clonakily, Cobh, Cork City, Dundalk, Enfield, Enniscorthy, Fermoy, Gaoth Dobhair, Killarney, Killybegs, Longford, Mallow, Midleton, Monksland, Navan, Nenagh, Oberstown, Pasage/Monktown, Portarlington, Rathcormac, Ringaskiddy, Ringsend, Roscommon Town, Roscrea, Shannon Town, Thurles, Tralee, Tubbercurry, Youghal and Waterford City.

The referral decision also raises additional concerns about the failure to ensure that a correct operating licence has been issued for the treatment plants serving Arklow and Castlebridge.

EU member states had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment of wastewater from large agglomerations (population equivalent of more than 15,000), and until the end of 2005 for discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations.

The commission initiated the infringement against Ireland in September 2013, followed by warnings in September 2015 and September 2016.

According to a recent Commission report on the implementation of EU environmental policy and law in member states, one of the main challenges Ireland faces is maintaining the important investments required for water services, given the urgent need to invest in water infrastructure.

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