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Ireland referred to EU court over ‘insufficient' efforts on water quality laws

Kayaking on the River Liffey is a great alternative way see the city's landmarks
Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Ireland has been referred to an EU court over its failure to adopt laws on protecting water quality, though the government argued it has already addressed the main issues.

Despite new water quality powers being signed into law a day after the EU deadline, the European Commission is continuing with the legal action for not fully transposing its directive into national legislation.

The directive in question, issued in 2000, requires that all inland and coastal waters reach a minimum of “good” status by 2027.

It obliges EU countries to protect all bodies of ground water and surface water – which includes rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal water.

EU countries are asked to do this by drawing up river basin management plans and programmes that aim to reduce water pollution to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and ecosystems.

Although Ireland has bolstered its water quality laws with new legislation, the Commission has concluded that the changes made are “insufficient”.

The Commission has written to Ireland on several occasions since October 2007 urging it to fully transpose the directive.

It said that despite some progress, “the Irish authorities have not yet fully addressed the grievances, over 20 years after the entry into force of this directive”.

“The Commission considers that efforts by the Irish authorities have to date been unsatisfactory and insufficient and is therefore referring Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union,” it said on Thursday.

It is understood the Commission was not aware that the government’s Water Environment Bill was signed into law a day after the deadline until it announced it was taking legal action on Thursday, as the Irish government had not formally notified them of the development.

The Bill provided for new powers to control water abstraction and impoundment activities – among the concerns the Commission had raised previously.

Despite this, the Commission said “it remains unclear” how long it will take until Ireland is fully compliant with the directive, and the legal action remains in place.

The Department of Housing said in a statement that it published four sets of regulations on water policy in 2022 “which addressed many of the issues of concern” outlined by the Commission.

“The Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Act 2022 was signed into law by the President on December 23 2022,” it said – a day after the deadline on December 22.

It said that “upon commencement, this will address a large proportion of the remainder of the concerns raised” by the Commission in October 2020.

“The department is currently in preparation to formally notify the Commission of the publication of this Act,” it added.

“These steps substantially respond to the issues raised by the Commission in the infringement case against Ireland.

“The department is committed to ensuring a robust legislative framework is established and in place to protect and enhance our water environment, in line with the requirements of the directive.”

On Thursday, the European Commission also referred Ireland, as well as several other EU countries, to court for failing to implement provisions to manage invasive alien species – plants and animals accidentally or deliberately introduced to an area where they are not normally found.

The 2015 regulation focuses on 88 species of concern, and is seen as important to implement in order to limit their ability to affect indigenous species, alter ecosystems, impact on agriculture and cause skin problems in humans.

There are at least 12,000 alien species in the European environment, of which around 10–15% are invasive.

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