Poolbeg and drinking water

While I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why you do not need a foreshore license if you own land, An Bord Pleanala has cleared the Compulsory Purchase Order and construction of the Poolbeg seems set to continue (according to the Irish Times).


While a lot of effort was spent (in vain, it appears) to stop incineration in one particular constituency, there is a warning about the quality of drinking water. We said roughly the same thing over a year ago and the EPA issued warnings before that. Although there is an investment deficit, it is not likely that drinking water quality can be improved without institutional reform. There is no sign of that.

28 replies on “Poolbeg and drinking water”

“it is not likely that drinking water quality can be improved without institutional reform”

Couldn’t agree more.

In fact I have a general rule of thumb that it is always better to take things away from our incompetent local authorities and invest them just about anywhere else.

I thought polluted water was a life-style choice of one-off house dwellers and rural types who have inadequate group schemes

I never imagined that the Poolbeg incinerator could be tarred with the same brush though. Non-sequiturs never cease.

Dear Richard

I hope this helps

Section 2 of the 1933 Foreshore Act

2.—(1) If, in the opinion of the Minister, it is in the public interest that a lease shall be made to any person of any foreshore belonging to Saorstát Eireann, the Minister may, subject to the provisions of this Act, demise by deed under his official seal such foreshore with the buildings and other structures (if any) thereon to such person by way of lease for such term, not exceeding ninety-nine years, commencing at or before the date of such lease, as the Minister shall think proper.

There a limited number of cases where the foreshore is privately owned and not owned by “Saorstat Eireann”. Presumably if the foreshore is CPO’d by a local authority the state no longer owns it and cannot require a lease of the foreshore.



JD, I’ve been puzzling about this. I think you are on to something there, but perhaps there is a little more to say on it.

The issue is with the need for a foreshore license (rather than a lease), which is addressed by Article 3. The license is only required where the foreshore belongs to Saorstát Eireann. The land in question seems to have a patchwork of owners, most or all of which are part of the State.

The CPO will cut the number of owners involved to one, which might resolve the issue by itself. Or if Dublin City Council is regarded as part of the State, selling the land to the joint venture company might then eliminate the need for a license.

I’m not sure if I get the point of including Poolbeg and water in one post, perhaps Prof Tol’s intention is to imply that Minister Gormley should spend more time on water standards and institutional reform than on the Poolbeg issue. My limited understanding is that Minister Gormley has ensured an increase in spending on water infrastructure even when we are in recession, in his attempt to repair years of neglect of the system, he has levied second homes to try and recoup some ofthe costs of one off housing, he has introduced new robust planning legislation and he aims to introduce legislation on local government reform. That to me sounds like someone who takes water infrastructure and institutional reform seriously.

The issue is that many counties are simply too small to support the expertise required to run drinking and sewage water facilities. There are various ways to solve this, including outsourcing operations to a national water company. None of the institutional reforms currently under discussion envisages a solution to the current problem. The extra funds may well be good money thrown after bad.

@ Richard
I’m not a lawyer but think that the Crown owns the foreshore under common law however not all of the foreshore is owned by the state. For example the St Laurence estate owns foreshore around Howth Head. Not sure how they got to own it maybe they were granted it or stole it in the far distant past from the Crown.

I would have thought that the outfall (or is it intake) pipe would have to be on the foreshore perhaps the foreshore along the great south wall is a vertical surface infinitessimally small.

Thanks for clearing up what you were getting at in your post – I had a quick look at your paper from last year and the main points appear to be -1) there is not enough public recognition and discussion of the water quality monitoring that is done by the EPA and 2) local authorities don’t have the expertise to monitor and deliver clean water. Your suggestion is outsourcing the water management function to a national water management company.

I notice that you tagged your post with Dublin Mayor. If you have the time, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts as to whether you see a Dublin Mayor as an institutional reform that could drive better water quality management, or not?

I just had a quick look at the DoEHLG website and scanned the Exec Summary of the Local Govt Efficiency Review Group (available from the homepage – left hand side – I really wish Govt depts would embed PDFs on websites instead of requiring users to download them!). There is lots in there about driving efficiencies in water management, joint procurement, bringing together various local authority regions. There is even a section entitled “Consolidating Water Functions”. Your post seems to disingenuously imply that Minister Gormley is doing nothing on local govt reform to improve water infrastructure. While the review group does not appear to have recommended a national agency as you suggested, it reads to me like a definite step in the right direction. In my view Minister Gormley deserves credit for the efforts he has made to bring these issues to the fore after years of bad planning and neglect. But as you intimated in your paper from last year, the public doesn’t care. Anger is not a policy as Colm McCarthy has said.

Adequate access to Potable water? Without food a human can survive (sort of) for about 40 days. Without water? Say 3 – 5 days – you’d probably be pushing Daisies after 7!

Potable water is a strategic resource. Its production, supply and the protection of sources, must be under the control of the legislature.

Watch this space. Real supply and demand problems ahead.

Brian P

The issue is a pipe with cooling water that needs to flow from the incinerator to Dublin Harbour.

The shore is rather steep, so it may indeed be that there is no foreshore. Therefore, they do not need a foreshore license regardless of who owns the land.

If they CPO’ed a piece of foreshore that is not owned by the State, they did not need a foreshore license in the first place.

You cannot CPO the foreshore; you cannot CPO the State; and in any case, the State is represented by DEHLG in such a case.

It just does not add up in my mind.

Government websites are filled with great plans.

Minister Gormley has invested his political capital into stags, dogs, Dublin mayors, and incineration. There is no legislation being prepared to reform water quality management.

That is your assessment. No mention of the planning legislation that was passed this year, which as i understand is a signficant departure from the way things have been done in the past. No mention of civil partnership bill. No mention that the plan on the website will hopefully lead to the local govt reform bill. No mention of the significant investment in water infrastructure. You really seem to have it in for Gormley. So much so that you don’t come across as objective but as someone with a personal vendetta. The media has focused on stags, dogs, mayors and incinerators. You contribute to that skewed view. I would still like to hear your views on the Dublin Mayor, if you have the time.

I’m not sure that it’s necessarily the case that there is no foreshore being purchased. There are a number of possible angles on this.

One is that I’m fairly sure the land involved was reclaimed. Perhaps there is a precedent that this brings the law on foreshores into play.

Another is that I’m fairly sure the plan of areas being purchased published in the Irish Times included a sliver of river just upstream of the existing outflow, right around where I think the new inflow is planned to be.

A third is that at least part of the area of existing outflow channel being purchased looks from the satellite imagery as if it is tidal, which would appear to make it foreshore.

On the issue of whether you can CPO the state, it appears that it is possible to CPO property that is owned by state organisations. Perhaps there is a precedent that such land is owned by the state for purposes such as foreshore law.

If you provide me with a link to the draft legislation or public consultation which reforms responsibilities for drinking water and sewage, I’d be happy to reconsider my position.

My position on the Mayor of Dublin is that we have more urgent things to worry about.


Thanks for your response. As I understand it the Efficiency Group’s report I mentioned earlier will feed into the Local government reform bill. I’m no expert on the legislative process but as I see it there is within that report proposals to reform the way local govt handles water management. I’ll try to get back to you soon on where the legislation is at at the moment – it may be a few days as I don’t have unlimited time to spend on this blog.

Thanks for your comments on the mayor although i think you muddy the waters in your response – dublin mayor – good idea/bad idea? – better prospects for water management (half the topic of this post, and one of the tags you used) – or little chance it will improve water management in Dublin? You are so fond of gnomic responses I don’t know. My interpretation of your response, is that Minister Gormley should be fixing the national economy instead of introducing plans for a mayor in Dublin. That may be so and don’t we all wish he could but I would still be interested to know if you think the legislation on the Dublin Mayor is good or bad. Again if you have time to respond that would be great. I appreciate the time you take to interact. If I don’t respond soon you can take it that I’m busy but I will return to this discussion. Thanks.

I now read the documents you referred to: http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/LocalGovernmentEfficiencyReviewGroup/

The report of the efficiency group skims over drinking water quality and sewage. It does suggest regional design offices to perform technical support to the county councils. That is a sound idea.

In the green paper, however, regional design offices are limited to transport infrastructure.

There is no white paper yet, so we don’t know whether it will follow the green paper (which is oblivious to water quality) or the review (which gives very low priority to water quality).

As there is no white paper yet, it is unlikely that legislation will be introduced before August 2012.

I’m not sure I would agree with creation of a national water company. This could end up being another semi-state high cost monopoly.

That said the current system certainly needs reform.

I would look at taking the funding and regulation away from the local authorities and putting it into an arm of the EPA. Perhaps the funding could be a seperate entity on a national or regional basis.

At present local authorities are hugely inefficient. They are however using private engineering companies such as Earthtech, EPS, Response Eng, Celtic Anglian water more and more to actually carry out the provision of the water because they can operate way more efficiently. These companies have no power with regard ownership or control (just to calm any fears that state infrastructure were being sold to private interests).

Actually I suppose I agree with you, so long as the national water company avoids carrying out the actual work itself, thereby maintaining the competition between the engineering companies who have a decent amount of expertise and provide good value for money.
Metered water charges should cover the full operating cost of funding the national water company.
Similar or same national water company could cover wastewater also.

As for John Gormley, he has mantained capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure at about 500m per year most of which now is mostly spent in the form of DBO contracts. Compared to most public spending I would not characterise this as ‘ good money thrown after bad’.

Well, if someone had a lease on the foreshore (perhaps granted a long time ago) then that lease could be CPO’d (I suppose). The problem with doing this would be the terms of the lease. If you get a lease on something like a part of the beach, it will usually put some sort of constraint on what you can do with the land. It really depends on what the lease says. These terms, to my mind, would probably still be binding on the compulsory purchaser. I cannot see how you could CPO the freehold interest in a leased piece of the foreshore, but perhaps it is possible.

The legal foreshore line may be different to the actual physical foreshore line. The land may have been banked up, for instance, but it legally remains part of the foreshore. (See http://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/tce_faqs.htm , third-last question)

@ sam

thereby maintaining the competition between the engineering companies

Hmm. Has economics come up yet with a term for the capture of a supposedly competitive contract system by well-connected favoured private firms?

@ sam

They are however using private engineering companies such as Earthtech, EPS, Response Eng, Celtic Anglian water more and more to actually carry out the provision of the water because they can operate way more efficiently.

It is my understanding that the issue here isn’t “efficiency”, but rather a lack of technical expertise among local authority engineers. The ending of the dual structure (and rise of the competency-based promotion system) bears a heavy burden of blame for this modern trend (and it is only a modern phenomenon).

In Ireland, the legal foreshore is what the OSI declared to be foreshore in its most recent maps of the area.

Maybe they CPO’ed a piece of land with a license to discharge cooling water. But if they knew that, why did they CPO’ed the other 60+ pieces of land as well?

As stated by others the foreshore belonged to the Crown and then to Saorstat Eireann etc except where it was in private ownership through either a grant from the Crown or a long period of squatting.

I always understood that the corollary of this was that the area of a County Council therefore excluded the foreshore area. So how is Dublin City Council entitled to use its CPO powers to acquire land outside of its administrative area?

@Muhammad Omar

Planning and Development Act 2000

Acquisition of land etc. on foreshore.
227.—(1) The powers of a local authority to compulsorily acquire land under the enactments specified in section 214 (1) shall, where the local authority concerned is a planning authority and for the purposes specified in those enactments, extend to that part of the foreshore that adjoins the functional area of the local authority concerned.

(2) The functions of a road authority under sections 49, 50 and 51 of the Roads Act, 1993 , shall extend to the foreshore adjoining the functional area of the road authority concerned.

(3) The functions transferred to the Board under section 214 shall be performable by the Board in relation to any compulsory acquisition of land to which subsection (1) applies.

(4) The functions transferred to the Board under section 215 shall be performable in relation to any scheme approved under section 49 of the Roads Act, 1993 , relating to the foreshore.


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