21 September 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

With just over a week remaining in which the reduced €5 fee can be availed of, there is an alarmingly small number of people from Co Monaghan who have chosen to register their septic tank or domestic waste water treatment systems in compliance with recently introduced legislation.
Figures given at Monday’s Co Council meeting indicated that only 6.6% of people have so far registered – a mere 800 or so out of 12,000.
The reluctance of those in villages and rural locations to take this step is in no way attributable to ambivalence about the importance of preventing pollution and protecting the integrity of water sources.
Indeed, as was stated by Seamus Coyle during Monday’s Council debate, the people of rural Co Monaghan and their fellows throughout the country have been to the forefront, in terms of practical steps – often taken at considerable cost on an individual or community basis – and in vigilance, in ensuring that the precious and finite resource of clean, potable water has been preserved and enhanced in recent years when the risks to it from agricultural, industrial, and sometimes criminal, practices has intensified.
The registration recalcitrance arises, it would seem, from the requirement being interpreted by many as an unreasonable demand to make a leap into the unknown – a leap of faith, if you like, in the bona fides of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and his colleagues in government that people cannot find it within themselves to execute.
Minister Hogan has decided not to make known the details of the grant assistance that will be available to those who in due course will be asked to upgrade their domestic treatment systems until after the registration process is complete.
Given the debacle of the household charge for which the same Minister has considerable culpability, the present standoff position, which many have adopted on the septic tank issue, was perhaps inevitable.
The peremptory attitude taken by the Minister and the Government in general to the household charge, and in particular the manner in which local authorities are being compelled to pursue its collection under pain of losing vital funding to subvent local services, is generating a mounting tide of ill-feeling among sections of the public who find themselves hard pressed financially and expectant of bearing the brunt of further hardship come the December Budget.
Paying the household charge and registering a septic tank treatment system are very different matters – but the experience of one has undoubtedly contributed to the reluctance to comply with the other.
A fear has been generated that people simply don’t know what they are signing up for – and we have arrived at a situation of such strained trust in this country between the elected and the electorate that Ministers merely dismissing such fears as groundless simply will no longer do.
Those reluctant to comply with septic tank registration need more substantial assurances as to what they can expect down the line – in particular the assurance that if their systems are found after eventual inspection to require upgrading, that a realistic and accessible scheme of grant aid will be open to them to avail of in order to bring their situation into compliance.
There might be practical reasons why the Minister has remained tightlipped about this matter: how the funding required will be sourced in these difficult economic times might, understandably, be yet unclear, as might what, if any, EU investment in such a scheme can be called upon.
It is difficult, however, to see how it is necessary to wait until the registration process is over before at least some broad indication of the terms of a grant package can be indicated.
The number of those required to register is already known – and there must be existing statistical data concerning the age of systems and the increased performance requirements that have come into being since their construction to ground a reasonably accurate guess as to the number of systems that will require improvement works.
The exact detail of the process will not be revealed until the inspection regime begins – and as this is apparently to be carried out on a phased basis, with locations where issues of water source protection are most sensitive being prioritised, the funding needed can also be phased, and should not constitute an excessive burden on a government serious about the water quality issue to find and ringfence.
There doesn’t ultimately seem to be any particularly compelling justification for the Minister not to be at least a little more forthcoming about the grant scheme that will be available.
Monaghan Co Council on Monday offered him an excellent opportunity to break his silence on the matter by submitting two proposals for his consideration advocating the introduction of a 70% package of aid measures to help the public with the costs where upgrading works are necessary.
We hope these proposals – and other similar ones which are sure to come from the Council’s fellow local authorities – will lead to some clarity being brought to bear on this issue.
Sadly, this will not happen in advance of the fast approaching deadline for people to avail of the €5 registration fee, which changes to €50 following September 28 up until the ultimate registration deadline of February 1 2013.
While there will undoubtedly be an increase in registration over the coming week, it seems that a significant number of people will still miss out on the reduced fee.
Giving the very understandable reasons for registration reluctance, it is to be hoped that Minister Hogan will learn the lessons of the household charge and in this instance show himself amenable to extending the deadline for the reduced fee availability.
However, given the paramount importance of the issue underpinning this whole area of debate – the protection of our water – we would strongly urge those among our readership who are required to register to do so by Friday, September 28. As that eminently sensible public representative Aidan Murray commented at Monday’s Co Council meeting, “It would be very foolish for anyone to delay and cost themselves an extra €45.”
The registration requirement is not going to go away, and there is no guarantee of either substantial short-term clarity on grant assistance or the prospect of the reduction eligibility period being extended, as desirable as both those prospects would be.
Registration may well be a leap of faith – but the issue at the heart of this debate is far too important for any responsible member of the public not to make it.

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