Septic tanks

Minister Hogan appears to have waived the septic tank registration fee. That is fair and proper. The sewage bill in cities and towns is picked up by the taxpayer too. Either everyone poos for free, or no one. I favour the latter.

The minister has also indicated that inspections of septic tanks will be “risk-based”, and has redefined that concept as “if pollution is found nearby”. Commonly, risk is an ex ante concept. Inspections are supposed to prevent pollution.

Article 13 of the waste directive (2006/12/EC) specifies that inspections be periodic. Unless the department intends to periodically find pollution near each and every septic tank, the proposed inspection regimes will breach EU law.

That would not be a first. Friends of the Earth reviews the history of Irish waste water and EU law. Ireland has been in breach of EU waste law since the original waste directive (75/442/EEC) of 1975. No wonder that the Commission is seeking to impose fines.

UPDATE: The minister is in a particularly generous mood this week: There will be grant aid to upgrade faulty septic tanks.

80 replies on “Septic tanks”

Just why are we spending a ruddy fortune treating water at source when a secondary tap can be added to the sink for drinking water. The amount of water that needs treatment is a tiny fraction of what’s currently been done.
On the rural tanks, I see no reason why we don’t seal the things from the surrounding soil then transport the result to the new treatment plants in the towns. No one is beyond a tractors drive to such a plant.

It is not possible to follow the logic that we should all pay and receive the same things regardless of where we live. It is a standard that is way beyond us here.

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for years to get a water connection, yet I still have to pay taxes to a state that gives water for free to urban dwellers. I laughed at the fuss about bin charges; I long for a bin collection, free or otherwise. There is no Garda for 20 miles, no hospital for 60 miles, no fire brigade for 25 miles (who refuse to cover us this far out of town anyway). No museums, parks etc.

But I choose to live here. I am happy without all of those things. There is a constant agitation from the insular media that rural dwellers are a drain on the state, but apart from education and a road which is barely maintained I don’t see what the state has spent on me in the last decade.

Nor do I think it is practical for the state to provide anything and everything to all citizens. I’d rather have a lower tax burden in recognition of the state’s inability to provide comparable services in remote locations.

This “debate” is driving me mad.

Some points from the rural perspective.

Declaration: I live in an evil one-off house. We have our own well and a device which is not a septic tank but comes under the registration.


1. Vincent

What we have, and what has been the standard installation in new houses requiring independent sewerage treatment for ten years is a device called a Sealed Waste Water Treatment System. It is essentially a concrete box that breaks down waste based on anaerobic principles. Every few years it is emptied (the cost a few months ago when we had it done was about €200). A chap in a tank pulls up, sticks a hose in and sucks it all up and drives off. I presume various licences are required and he disposes of this in some environmentally friendly way.

Extra information: In order for the tank to work efficiently we were advised not to use either biological washing powder or bleaches. Fortunately I am allergic to biological powders so using non-bio was our default anyway. I occasionally break out the domestos, but day to day I would say our usage is miniscule. I can’t help noticing the liberal use of phosphate based household chemicals by my urban peers.

2. We are delighted that a registration and inspection system is being introduced because that aforementioned well exists and while we have our fancy new system, we have to trust that our neighbours are as conscientious. I want my well water protected from the negligence of others.

We do have a second tap connected to a filter, but this isn’t just about drinking water, but water that could pollute the land and public waterways. Think of the fishies.

3. Despite the best efforts of RTE and Mattie Mcgrath to turn this into a MAJOR RURAL ISSUE, I haven’t met one single neighbour or member of our rural community who objects to the proposals. They all see it as being entirely sensible and necessary. Keeping septic tanks/WWTS etc in good working order is essential to drinking water and the public water way safety.

4. The only thing we do object to is the Green narrative that rural dwellers are feasting off the taxes of the urbanite when the opposite is the case. We pay the same taxes as urban dwellers yet pay too poo (as Richard says 🙂 ) and pay for water provision (though the water tax will eliminate that disparity). During inclement weather, we aren’t ringing the council shrieking about lack of water supplies – we’re sorting out our own infrastructure at our own expense.

btw, I’m not complaining. We have a lovely lifestyle and I’m happy to pay for it. But we ARE paying for it and our taxes are subsidising urban infrastructure, NOT the other way round. (We also pay extra electricity charges, paid a levy for road maintenance on receipt of planning permission and wouldn’t dream of things like public lighting (in fact we resent the glow from the motorway lights).
Bear in mind that many rural dwellers are in group water schemes which they also pay for privately.

To that end, Eamon O’Cuiv does have a point – of all the money spent on water and sewerage by the government, none of it is spent on us. So the €5 reduction, is actually kinda fair.

Finally, the local county councillor (ahem) tells me he can’t keep a sufficient supply of forms for the new taxes. Lots of people in and out finding out how they can pay and register.

But as usual, that sort of story doesn’t make for dramatic reporting on the 9pm news. Conflict is news. Compliance is terribly dull.

“Nobody pays” is not an option. Art. 9 of the WFD 2000 specifies that everyone should pay for water services whether urban or rural.

The “periodic inspection” requirement may be finessed by ensuring that all tanks are inspected at some point every 5 years but that known polluted areas are inspected first. Re-registration is required every 5 years. It won’t be €5 in 2017. Calling the fee a ‘registration charge’ is a device to claim there is no inspection charge. Similarly there are no tuition fees in an Irish university, just an annual registration charge.

It does seem wasteful to use treated drinking water for washing clothes, flushing toilets etc. Simple rainwater harvesting systems (drainpipe plus barrel) should have been mandatory in the Irish building code for these purposes.

For the purpose of actually spending money on something useful, rather on highways to nowhere, I’d actually be in favour of County Councils setting up their own means using approved guidelines, taking on manpower, carrying out the structural works, a licensing system carrying out improvement works on a once off basis. Thereafter, maintaining these plants eg every 5yrs with the issue of a similar cert to that provided to cars by the NRC and fee based. There could be an annual charge to provide for this service. IT might provide some of those phantom jobs FG/LB talk about. But given the mess of our public finances, unless we can turn our septic tanks into banks, the money to do this will be hard come by. On the other hand, we already know how to turn banks into septic tanks .

SarahC; Your system has an outflow into a soak area, there the microbes do most of their duty not within the tank itself. However, even with hi-tech stepped plant percolation with a sealed floor you cannot guarantee in a ‘for sure, for sure’ way what’s going out the other side.
But I don’t believe that the older tanks are within any code whatsoever. They are nothing more than a block box in the ground with a soak directly into a field drain/ditch/dyke. However with the older tanks rain run-off rarely if ever gets into the tank.

Your lifestyle is made viable by a Global Imperial Navy that keeps the oil lines flowing – Independence or semi independence amongest the rural population is now a illusion as no agarian subsistence farmers remain in Ireland.
I don’t begrudge you your hobbit lifestyle & I don’t really care about septic tanks – I would just raise the excise on oil by 10 cents.

Two more points:

1. Remember, Cavan County Council introduced this system some years ago and it appears to be working very well. Amazingly the sky did not fall in.

2. My husband tells me an engineer was just on Pat Kenny explaining that some people may have to invest considerably in upgrading 50 year old septic tanks that are no longer fit for purpose. They might have a case to seek some sort of grant to do so, but I think Phil Hogan is right not to make any commitment in that regard. Let’s diagnose and cost the problem before figuring out who should pay for it.

3. Of course the fee will go up. I expect the 100 property tax to increase, possibly up towards a grand. I expect the inspection cost to increase too. I expect everything to be more expensive and me to be poorer. But what can you do? Stuff has to be paid for.

Its been my experience that many people in the west get their water from higher rough grazing ground above the house line.
I have seen little lakes for group water schemes with no fencing around them – any sick old sheep would just plonk himself down into it.
A little scheme like that in the Beara comes to mind – I remember a Dutch man living below getting quite agitated about this………………

Sometimes its the simple things & not defective septic tanks.

@Richard Tol

Have any of us ever really pood for free Richard? Ever?

Will we ever poo for free in the future?

Is all the pooing and froing now done with this septic tank issue?

Have to laugh, or rather snort, at the Independent headline

“taxpayer to pick up bill after Hogan septic tank u-turn”.

Because rural people don’t pay taxes obviously.

Well they pay less than the urban dwellers since most of the national wealth is generated in Dublin – that’s a no-brainer.

Ireland is one of the most car dependent nations on the planet.

Thanks to the distributed population pattern it has the second most miles of road per capita in Europe (taking second place to Austria)

It follows that it has more electricity grid network per capita

Do you really believe that the infrastructure was funded purely by the isolated beneficiaries?

“The only thing we do object to is the Green narrative that rural dwellers are feasting off the taxes of the urbanite – when the opposite is the case. ”

Good description of a tapeworm.

Taxpayers, of whatever species, pick up the bill for our out of control money addicts (politicians). How about these addicts agree to only spend what they can steal, rob, plunder, or loot from their taxpayers. But then their sky would indeed fall on top of them. And we would get to hold them by their testicles (mind and heart, and all that!).

“Because rural people don’t pay taxes obviously.” Obviously! 😎

The power grid is paid for by a tiered structure of standing charge for rural and urban users.

The road network I grant you, but that scarcely cancels out all the imbalance in the remainder of public expenditure.

Tax is based on income, not location.

I think the reason this debate is so sensitive is that it has been used (abused) by those who do not want to see any rural housing being constructed.

Septic tanks have been regulated intensely in recent years as a means of preventing rural houses from securing planning permission. An Taisce (a group I am actually a member of, but who I disagree with intensely on this issue) are opposed to rural housing, dispersed settlement and Bungalow Blight. They have used the issue of septic tanks as a stick to beat those who would apply to build a home in rural Ireland. They have had a lot of success in changing the regulatory environment and a lot of people I know opted for urban housing (against their preference to remain at home), because of the hassle that now follows from trying to get planning permission in a rural area.

When an Taisce bemoan the proliferation of housing estates around rural towns, I am apopleptic with rage as they have engineered a situation where literally tens of thousands of young couples were compelled to leave their own communities to move into towns. It is no exaggeration to say that the proliferation of sprawling estates was a direct result of an Taisce lobbying.

Similarly, they have cynically taken up arms against the building of standard bungalow cottages. They want each new house to have an architect and a unique design. Again, their motivation is I believe to pressurise planners to deny permits to rural houses on any grounds (though thankfully, they have had less success with this than with the tanks). I would also disagree with this anyway, because I believe it is insensitive to interfere with a customary design. You wouldn’t dream of telling an italian town planner to stop people from building mediterranean style houses. You wouldn’t tell an Elizabethan English town to prevent the use of exposed structural timbers in new buildings -why then are we so keen to shun the customary appearance of our own building style? Is it so objectionable in practicality or appearance? There is no good reason, only to obstruct construction altogether.

Idem -the extension of the national spatial strategy from merely being a plan for infrastructure to being a plan for population redistribution. The creep of this particular plan is very worrying to me.

People just don’t get the seismic inversion of the rural / urban relationship especially since the end of the 19th century / beginning of the 20th century.
Before Industrialisation energy (food) flowed into the city from rural areas where it was processed , traded exported etc.
After industrialisation & especially since the beginning of the oil age energy no longer primarily came from agriculture.
So cities bypassed their local hinterlands almost completly.
Cities must always remain in energy defecit – when they cannot, they fail.
But even now cities are more effiecent in their resourse usage as a massive amount of energy is needed to sustain a modern lifestyle in a rural area.
The rural areas receive money / second hand oil transfers from the modern city / oil field matrix.
The most effiecent mechanism to increase efficiency is to increase oil taxes & the like – if people wish to live alone in their hobbit holes I say let them – many can get on their rothar & burn turf in their fires again.
There is no need for land taxes and taxes pretending to be environmental in nature.
We need to get away from this Duncan Stewartisation of the countryside – it does not sit well with the populace – many of whom are still very independent.


I understand what you are saying re the independent headline but it is a fact that the taxpayer will pick up the bill.

I agree that should be the case, but the indo headline is correct and suits their target market. I thought Phil Hogan made a bit of an eejit out of himself on radio when he said he couldnt understand the indo headline when it is so obviously true.

I used to live in the second last house in Luxembourg.
Between us and the next village were things called fields.
One off housing is virtually an alien concept there.
(Richard Tol can wade in with his observations about the proliferation of one-off housing in Holland)

One off housing is a direct result of the speculative land bubble which was facilitated by clientalist political system which benefits the individual at the cost of society (PR guy may take over here). An Taisce did what it could to damn the dyke but the number of holes exceeded their fingers.

How much is spent altogether by local authorities on the provision of water and sewage treatment for domestic users? How many users are connected to public water and sewage schemes?

I would like to know exactly how much taxpayers like us who have to provide our own water and sewage treatment are paying to subsidise the water and sewage costs of all those who don’t pay.

I’ll have to check with Eamon O’Cuiv on the figures, but his fundamental point is that of the Xmillion spent by the government, central and local, on sewerage, ALL of it goes towards the urban infrastructure. ALL.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable of rural dwellers to suggest that some of these costs be picked up by the state, since we are all taxpayers.

Now personally, I’m content with the situation that living where we do, as Our Great Leader said today, is a privilege and that if I want to live in my little independent republic then I should pay the costs for that. In other words, I don’t MIND subsiding town poo, just don’t tell me it’s the other way round.

However, if there are isolated cases of say, 50 year old septic tanks that require major refurbishment (e.g. extending percolation area etc) and there is a low income involved, then a taxpaying rural dweller can make a case that they are entitled to some sort of grant or subsidy.

Again, please let’s keep in mind this HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE. In Cavan, I think the failure rate was about 10% and Cavan is a county with very particular problems. That failure rate would not necessarily be replicated elsewhere. So Hogan is right – let’s assess and cost, before we start the row on who pays.

The Goverment should look at Turkeys energy strategy – especially with regard oil
See Part 11 chapter 5 Oil.

Oil taxes have always been a vital part of Turkeys fiscal structure – given the wage rates oil is very very expensive in Turkey – I remember using funny looking mini buses called Dolmuses which may be very efficient transport vehicles for the subrural parts of Ireland.ş

What has the taxpayer got to do with it ?- why not concentrate on where the collective money supply is going / leaking ?
Hint ………..its not water that causing the leak in our domestic money supply subsequently causing a domestic demand crisis.

Be careful who you get to empty the tank.
We had ours done recently and it cost E450. A few days later we got a cert to show it had been sent to Ringsend for disposal. If they bring in a inspection regime you will need to be able to show this cert. The lads said that companies in Cork are shipping the stuff to Ringsend because the treatment plants are refusing it.
I talked to a waste treatment engineer lately and he said that very few tanks are up to standard and most rural houses will not have the space to have proper drainage /soak areas.
There will be fun and games about this alright

Thanks for direction to earlier discussion. It saves me the work. The estimated costs in that discussion to provide sewage and water on public schemes seemed to vary from €300-650 per household. In any case it does cost and there is a benefit. I used to pay for water and sewage in a small town house in America and inflation adjusted it was in that range.

I have my own well and septic tank now in a new build. But I had to pay ~€1,500 to put in a water disinfection system after my daughter nearly died of renal failure from an E Coli O157 infection in the water. If everybody had to pay the economic cost of providing water and sewage services it would be easier to bring in charges and inspections to ensure that private water and sewage systems meet standards.

However, the country is financially f$%^ed. This makes it all the more annoying that the attitude seems to be to give grants to fix septic tanks rather than charge all the people who are now benefiting from taxpayer funded water and sewage the economic cost of providing these services. I wouldn’t mind paying a septic tank inspection charge if Joe Higgins and all his supporters who want expensive services for nothing weren’t sponging from me.

PS I thought I saw you loading up a removal van on the news over Christmas!

Face facts, this is simply another revenue raising initiative by the government. Many people with modern ‘septic tanks’ probably have an annual contract with a supplier which includes changing filters, checking percolation, etc. Why pay again for an inspection?

The cost of a well plus water treatment is as long as piece of string but I would estimate there isn’t much change out of 15k if lime, iron, sulphide and even manganese plus a UV unit for bacteria have to be catered for on top of drilling lining, piping and a submersible pump.

Add up all the costs and the urban dweller is getting a hell of lot for free.


“I used to live in the second last house in Luxembourg.
Between us and the next village were things called fields.
One off housing is virtually an alien concept there.
(Richard Tol can wade in with his observations about the proliferation of one-off housing in Holland)

One off housing is a direct result of the speculative land bubble which was facilitated by clientalist political system which benefits the individual at the cost of society (PR guy may take over here). An Taisce did what it could to damn the dyke but the number of holes exceeded their fingers.”

I’m afraid I don’t see that any of this is relevant to the debate on one-off housing.

One off housing is a natural consequence of a dispersed settlement pattern. It is an older form of settlement pattern that has been wiped out in other parts of Europe (most systematically in Scotland). We fought a Land War against the landlord class partly to prevent them from doing it here. (No landlord’s grassland There is nothing wrong with it simply because other countries decided to urbanise.

I don’t see how a recent speculative land bubble was a factor in this. Indeed that bubble was if anything skewed towards housing estates.

I don’t see the relevance of Luxembourg to this debate.

I don’t see the cost to society of having people living independently of the State.

I don’t see what the problem is with one-off housing. Why is it evil? Rural communities, living where their ancestors have lived for centuries. There is something far more pernicious about splitting up families and prescribing the location and lifestyle of others.

Just because some pundits think it would be utopian if we all lived on top of one another, doesn’t mean we should all upend our lives in deference to their supposed wisdom. Much of this debate is sophistry and ego; just because paper won’t refuse ink, doesn’t mean we have to do what every eccentric writes in the papers.

Finally, I can assure you it is all moot. People cannot be controlled like CGI armies. They will live as and where they want -and though planners can influence the decisions of some, there will always be people who simply won’t bow to moderate pressure from others. Unless you’re prepared to use force (like the Scottish landlords), you won’t shift people from their homes.


Check your email of the 19th of March 2010 following your article Re: ‘Country life Contributes More Than An Urban Dwelling’ (March 17th 2010))‏

You continue to deny that the fiscal subsidy is predominantly urban to rural. The 160,000 one-off houses granted planning permission since 2001 was a matter of choice (for those fortunate enough to purchase/inherit land) on the part of the applicant. It is precisely because we have generally flat opportunity costs for urban and rural dwellers that we have so much urban generated rural sprawl. Urban dwellers (including small rural towns and villages) paid for sewerage connections through s.48 levies (not full operational cost) in built in to the price of their dwelling. This has been explained to you previously.

If you go down the road of saying that it is reasonable that ‘urban dwellers’ subsidise polluting septic tanks you will open a pandoras box of competing claims – like why shouldnt your postage stamps cost more? why shouldn’t you pay higher road tax? why should inefficient group water schemes be subsidised? Why should urban dwellers subsidise rural school transport? etc etc. This is plain stupid.

It is for precisely this reason that most countries who seek to provide a welfare state with high quality services seek to group their population in some rational manner. This does not occur in Ireland leading to the eventual closure of many rural services. Unlike you, I do have a problem subsidising inefficient and bad public services and infrastructure.

The latest figures on Water Services Investment are here. Also required under threat of EU fines…,22735,en.pdf


ah yes..I wondered when someone would mention the Scottish highland clearances! and the landlords!

For the record I dont believe it is utopian for people to be living on top of each other. I grew up in a one off house (with a septic tank). The problem is centuries ago people did not have the services demanded by the population regardless of their geographical location. This is a valid criticism of dispersed settlement.

Here are some references for you

You are not living in 1930s rural Ireland where all you needed is a few Bob for tea from Kenya & sugar from Cuba.
Get real mate , the Irish state could not even afford to import sugar back then.
The clans drove Highland cattle to Market , they did not nip down to supervalu for some croissants – they were cleared to make way for more lucrative sheep.
The dynamics are somewhat different now although I accept the Dutch banks are still powerful.
Your one off house is at the end of a vast & tenuous supply chain.
You should get a Swiss cuckoo clock for the land you are now living in.

@ Richard Tol

“That was staged. The movers did all the actual loading.”

Why did you allow that?

@ The Alchemist

Very off topic. I’m interested in your take on rural Ireland. In which direction, agriculturally, should Ireland go?

Our nearest neighbour is in the midst of a massive energy crisis……….
TPES Y2005 : 234.53MTOE
TPES Y2006 : 231.13 MTOE
TPES Y2007 : 210.06 MTOE
TPES Y2008 : 208.45 MTOE
TPES Y2009 : 197.06 MTOEe

Thats 2 and a half * 2007 Irelands subtracted from the UK

We are in a worse position by many metrics.

Do you have access to the IEA 2011 energy balance figures ?
What was the TPES for the UK in 2010 ?

Ireland will have property taxes and they will be around 2 grand for the average residence. The Gov’t’s debts will be paid and it cannot all end up on personal income taxes.

The two chamber septic tank conquered rural Ireland in the fifties thanks to a generous grant from the natural governing party. On final acceptance the cheque could be picked up at the local TD’s office. Nobody told the people about pumping them out (solids accumulate over time). These are the tanks that failed due to lack of maintenance forty years ago. Thank God for the EU who have now lessened our chances of dying from Cholera and Typhoid.

There is one important issue and that is demanding payment to dispose of toxic waste. I remember when tyres could be put out and taken away as regular garbage. Then a bright Gov’t decided to charge a small disposal fee per tyre, the country side quickly became littered with tyres. The Gov’t then imposed a disposal fee at point of sale which solved the problem. The pump out from septic tanks should be placed in settling ponds and the outflow filtered to make it safe. The solids are processed and sold off. If there is a charge the waste will be scattered all over the country from small streams to large streams to farmers fields. The so called solution will be worse than the status quo.

Our Gov’t has a lot to learn and needs an electorate that knows which end is up and the guts to act on that knowledge. Instead we have the usual rural/urban rant with no thought about what is good for the country as a whole.

@ Richard Tol

I’m reminded of the old country music song title: “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”.

Who would have thought the septic tank issue would highlight the complex issues in urban and rural economics we’re seeing here?

@US: “…if Joe Higgins and all his supporters who want expensive services for nothing weren’t sponging from me.”

If only. Its virtually the whole feck*** lot of them (politicians in Dáil) Ulick. And, unfortunately they are not spongers – they’re addicts: addicted to your money! And like really desperate addicts they go about the countryside and snatch folk’s wallets, bags and purses and loot the cash. They have this fundamentalist idea that they can promise all sorts of subsidies, incentives, tax reliefs – and whatever your having yourself, and its costless! Well it sure is not!

Mind you, some voters seem to have a somewhat similar idea about entitlements. Some folk are set to get a real nasty suprise any day soon.

@MH: Yep. Distract them with ‘style and storey’ – would not want them to cop on to the ‘content and fact’ – now would we!

@mickey hickey

The sludge is a problem, no matter how theoretically efficient the system. Using a slurry tanker to ‘desludge’ a system is far from ideal, deplorable, but for many rural dwellers, in the absence of convenient settling ponds (and good luck to you with your planning permission application on that front) spreading the sludge on arable land is the only option.

@ Gavin Kostick
Cheaper labour hopefully, and post elimination of milk quotas more small farms coming into the market. Cheap labour cheap farmland. Cattle in Paraguay stand in grass up to their horns. It just won’t be that easy post-CAP to compete without big increases in scale. Hats off to the pig men by the way for standing on their own two feet (or four) considering Ireland has to import all its soya, the major source of lysine. Probably one of the most efficient and tightest margin businesses in the country.

Most of these houses not a farm will have to be abandoned anyhow – trying to make them viable is a waste of resourses.
Yee guys are not seeing the bigger picture ………..meanwhile very little capital is used to reduce our energy dependency & vulnerability to external demand shocks.
Forget about them – its a distraction.
The entire OECD is in major trouble – with the strongest eating the weakest to stay on top of the food chain.
Y2005 : 5554 MTOE
Y2009e : 5171 MTOE
Where did that 383 MTOE go ??
Its as if the Germany(348Mtoe) & Austria(34Mtoe) of 2006 just disappeared………..

@ The Alchemist

In developed countries other than Ireland some of the biggest scandals have involved spreading partially treated sewage on food producing land. The words pathogens, viruses, bacteria, heavy metals are bandied about. The raw food sector suffers, particularly cabbage, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, turnips. green onions.

Where I have real difficulty is in trying to get my head around a Gov’t of a country where they have wrapped themselves up in legislation, rules, policies and regulations to the point where they are paralysed when it comes to building infrastructure that is essential to the health and safety of the population. No doubt about it, we are different and not for the better.

You are making the mistake we are now a developed country – large parts of the country will have to be abandoned although if some people want to live a 1930s like lifestyle with much less inputs we should not try to stop them through land or”environmental” taxes as agarian people are generally more self sufficient people.
These taxes have nothing to do with the envoirment – its just a method to mark territory for future higher taxes.
I honestly think the guberment has got it wrong here – Rural Ireland is more like Turkey then Holland – at least in the western parts.
A more natural tax on inputs will give people the option of freedom if they so wish.
This tax on Land & prohibition of peat burning just strikes me as dangerously authoritarian & will just not sit well in the west.
I feel Turkey has got the balance right when dealing with its rural poor.

“Either everyone poos for free, or no one. I favour the latter.”

Fair enough, but in the case of the latter shouldn’t the charge reflect the cost?

Surely the only way to incentivise the kind of densities that would begin to make state service provision affordable again is to pass on the cost savings.

@ Dorkş

All of the less prosperous countries in the Middle East run that system. It’s the only way most people living in the Delta in Egypt can get to Cairo

Say you want to go from Bandon to Cork boy. There’s a fleet of minibuses hanging around some square in Bandon and as soon as it’s full the bus goes. They all drop passengers at the same place in Cork and then pick up the return crowd.

I would like to congratulate Sarah Carey’s tank on breaking down foul waste according to principles. There is some integrity in the sewer of Irish public life?

Where is the evidence that An Taisce or other groups have abused the septic tank debates. An Taisce’s public pronouncements on this issue have been very pragmatic. even calling for a hardship fund.

As far as I am aware An Taisce are not opposed to rural dwellings per se. They are opposed to urban generated rural housing sprawl. It is simply an argument of lazy convenience and vilification to say otherwise. Where is your evidence?

c.170,000 one-off houses have been permitted in Ireland since 2001. The highest of any decade since the beginning of last century. This is hardly having a lot of success in changing the regulatory environment. What changes are you referring to? [by the way a very significant proportion are vacant]

The record shows that An Taisce have appealed more ‘sprawling estates’ nationwide during the boom and stood full square against overzoning and the property bubble madness [and often villified for doing so]. It is a complete fabrication to say that they have engineered a situation where tens of thousands of young people have been forced to move to towns because of An Taisce. As noted above 170,000 one-off houses have been granted since 2001. Where is your evidence?

An Taisce have nothing to do with rural design guidelines. These are adopted by councillors and incorporated into their development plans. Where is your evidence for this?,27812,en.html

Where is your evidence of the ‘creep’ of the NSS. All the evidence shows it was routinely ignored.

Yeah , my experience in Turkey was that there was some leeway on where the driver would drop off people……. and it was very very cheap.

I guess because so many people were using the system as petrol prices per capita were very very expensive.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the number of comments on this thread and on Philip Lane ‘fiscal compact’ thread. The latter has just crept ahead – mainly because it’s heading off-piste, but it is interesting.

For me, this little storm in a toilet bowl is just another example of the total failure of Ireland’s system of parliamentary democracy. And the failure is at a number of levels.

First, insofar as it might be an issue for a national parliament, there seems to be no parliamentary process to address it sensibly – apart from the opposition scoring politcial points – where a debate might be conducted on the basis of facts, evidence and analysis, some common ground secured and government directed to do its job.

Secondly, in the absence of any effective parliamentary process, the Government was forced to engage directly with the irate punters, but there is no forum where a rational consideration of costs and benefits might be conducted. It descended to a slanging match and reason vanished. And, despite all the resources at the Government’s disposal, the executive dominance it enjoys and the leading role of the Cabinet’s ‘enforcer’, it was forced to back down in the face of concerted opposition from a disparate and diffused grouping that were able to focus on a single issue. The lesson will not have been lost on other, but more well-organised, narrow sectional economic interests and the prospect of any meaningful structural reforms recedes even further. If ‘Big Phil’ is forced to back down what chance will his weaker-kneed (and more compromised) cabinet colleagues have.

Thirdly, the absence of effectively empowered and resourced local governance has meant that this issue, which in most respects should be namaged and admininstered locally, has become a hot issue for central government – and by forcing this response it has weakened government.

But the most interesting thing, perhaps, is that this Government, given the extent of its executive dominance and the lack of effective, formal restraint has more in common has much more in common with authoritarian regimes, such as the Chinese government, than it might care to acknoweldge – and certainly more I suspect than most people seem to realise.

Under authoritarian regimes it is often the case that relatively small incidents involving the arbitrary exercise of state power can trigger a reaction that is hugely disproportionate to the action that caused it. It’s as if pressure has been building up and very little is required to release it. And so it seems in this case.

But Governments never seem to learn. Rather than focusing on ways to reduce the pressure, every effort is made to secure the vessel even more to minmise the possibility of further eruptions. But all they do is make these eruptions more likely and more damaging.


he he 🙂

btw, for those concerned – Shaun and OneOff – I have confirmed with McBreen Environmental that their disposal of my waste water is all above board and properly certified. Whoever paid €450 was robbed. Unless their tank was bigger or their waste was fouler 🙂

btw, Stephen Donnelly did a good interview on Newstalk – between 9 and 9.30 this morning. Summary: country people subsidising urban infrastructure – both capital and maintenance.

So look, swings and roundabouts.

Bottom line- septic tank inspections and charges are a good thing and as usual have to be beaten into it by EU.

unfortunately Stephen Kinsella didnt give a good interview.


Urban dwellers [incl. small rural towns and villages] paid c. 5 times as much and rural dwellings cost about 3- 5 times as much for the State to service.

Sarah – This is not that simple at all – development levies were collected on new developments over the last decade or so. Those would have paid for some if not all the capital costs of the water and sewerage infrastructure needed to service new developments (so at least some urban dwellers made a contribution). And let’s not forget that there used to be residential rates which presumably also paid for the Opex and possibly the Capex involved.

In addition there is a substantial general transfer of resources, primarily from Dublin (see

As for the location of septic tanks – they are obviously outside urban areas (you don’t need a map for that). Much more interesting is where they have increased most – Galway (1991 – 2006). Now wasn’t there a problem with the water in Galway not so long ago????


Development levies paid by new houses it’s true.

That Galway problem was caused by municipal sewage wasn’t it? Not private septic tanks. I think Galway had failed to upgrade the plant there even though finance was made available for it.


Just another cost issue to consider – grey water.

Grey water is the water from kitchen sinks, bathrooms etc which is supposed to go into a system such as yours. BTW I too have a system like yours and it was installed when we moved into this house 18 months ago. I estimate the cost was c€7,000 which includes engineers cost, the unit itself, contractor and importantly (and rarely mentioned in any ‘debate’ – the unit requires a power supply, and therefore requires an electrician and in our case a separate fuse box)

The issue at the time of installation was that the groundswork specialist told me that there was NO requirement for grey water to run off into the septic tank/percolation unit. He said he always ensured that any projects he was involved in always had grey water running into septic tanks and my system is designed that way but importantly it was not a requirement as far as he was concerned.

Now whilst we can all estimate the costs of upgrading septic tanks relatively easily the costs involved of re piping grey water into upgraded sepctic tank units could be enormous. Why I hear you ask. Simply because the majority of house owners haven’t the foggiest clue where his/her run off grey water pipes actually go when they leave the house and more importantly in 90%+ cases involved these grey water pipes run under foothpaths or around houses or under tarmacadam / stone work around the house which would in theory have to be lifted and relaid.

Without knowing where the grey water pipes are flowing to the costs here are literally a finger in the air job or simply put – it ain’t go to happen unless Big Phil is willing to repay householders the restoration costs noted above which could be many thousands per house.

@Sarah Carey,

Re “Adolescent politics”. What do you expect? It’s a Minister, mustering all the powers and resources he has at his disposal, imposing a charge or making a change in regulations vs. a grouping of the people affected. Government TDs will either spout the ‘party-line’ or dive for cover and let the Minister take the flak and the opposition see an opportunity to wound a Minister and seize it gleefully, irrespective of the pros and cons of what’s being proposed. For goodness sake, that’s what the Dail is for – to thrash out issues where the interests of some group are other will be affected by proposed changes deemed to be in the broader public interest. But the Dail is totally incapable of functioning in this manner and that’s the way the Government wants to keep it.

I sense that there are lots of people spoiling for a fight on specific issues that affect them. The Minister has backed off on this one, while technically maintaining the ‘principle’, but it sets a dangerous precedent.

This is only going to get worse across the board, but particularly in this Minister’s area. The property charge issue and the water charge and metering issues are simmering nicely. But the Government only has itself to blame. This farcical ‘Irish Water’ public consultation which is open for public submission until the 24th expects people to buy a pig in a poke. The Minister’s consultants did a financial analysis analysis indicating various options for financing the business, but it has been ‘redacted’ from their report because it is ‘confidential’.

The people who will ultimately own the business and who will pay for it via water charges can’t be given any indication of how it might be financed. I’ve done some calculations based on the limited data published and if the CER pulls the same stunt it pulled for the ESB and BGE networks it all looks a bit scary for households on the public network.

There’s no point in my making a submission, but I’m tempted to report them to the UN Cttee dealing with the Aarhus Convention for failing to conduct a proper public consultation.


“This is only going to get worse across the board, but particularly in this Minister’s area. The property charge issue and the water charge and metering issues are simmering nicely.”

Actually, I don’t see a big need to worry. It’s easy for the broadcasters to attend a protest meeting and put the Shinnors and Mattie McGrath on the radio. But as I think I said earlier, a county councillor of my acquaintance (cough) has not received one SINGLE complaint about either charge and instead cannot keep registration forms in his office due to demand. In fact, he told me this evening he doesn’t know why they bothered reducing the charge to €5. I guess Hogan can say this tax has to have an extra incentive due to the legal process. Honestly, I’m convinced most people see the sense in this.

In Arklow (pop >10k) there is no sewage treatment whatsoever, it just flows into the Avoca and out to sea, except during flood tide, when it flows up the Avoca

No one in Arklow will have to register or pay to fix this.

Regarding development levies paying for urban WwTP, the Greater Dublin Drainage project is expected to cost at least 2.5*10^9 euros, which will be funded from central govt (dept of Environ) according to Fingal Co. Co.
Or about 500 per person living in the country(state ;))


Having some feedback given to me most days on what people are posting about in various financial sections of the media etc. are people aware that most of the world are laughing at Ireland and it’s “Government U-turn on septic tanks” thing? Those Paddies… etc.

sincere apologies again if you perceived the information I posted was private. You will note that as a matter of courtesy I redacted the Ref. No. However, this information is publicly available with the information you have volunteered.

The information I posted is publically available and not private with 3 clicks of a mouse from this site. All of the financial figures I presented are not specific to an individual. As you have censored me and therefore butchered my point I have chosen an entirely random county to reiterate my point- Wicklow (Stephen Donnelly’s county)

One of House c.200sq.m constructed after 2000

Water & Sewerage: Eur 0
Roads: Eur 3,300
Amentity: Eur 1,600
Part V (effective): Eur 0 [Exempt -unzoned land]
Stamp Duty: Eur 0 [Exempt – local need criteria for original applicant]

Total Eur 4,900 [also favourable Capital Gains Taxes]

Urban Dwelling c.200sq.m constructed after 2000

Water & Sewerage: Eur 10,000
Roads: Eur 14,300
Amentity: Eur 2,400
Part V (effective): 20,000 [Based on 20% of Eur200,000 house price divided in half to be conservative]
Stamp Duty: 14,000

Total: 60,700 [all included in price of urban dwelling when purchased]

This data is available here –

Same result – this exercise can be repeated nationwide.

@One-Off Ireland,

Facts and figures! Well I’ll be blowed. Many thanks for this. (I doubt Ms. Carey will be excessively discombobulated.)

What ever about the one-offs (which I see are your main concern and which, by any international comparator, would be hilarious if they didn’t impose so many externalities), it does show how so many different interests colluded to create such a property bubble. In this instance, local authorities had no real recurring revenue base and generated a lot of revenue from these fees on a one-off (in the sense of a one-time charge with no further recurring charges) basis on new properties. Allowing and encouraging the building of more and more houses was the only way to ensure a recurring revenue stream.

It is, of course, extremely unlikely that these one-time, up-front charges reflect the present value of the stream of costs they were expected to defray. But those who have paid them will be totally opposed to any recurring property charge to pay for on-going services as they will claim, and with some justification, that have paid for them already up-front.

What a total mess.

And to think that Ireland was gifted with a system of local governance at the foundation of the atate which could have been adapted and developed over time… and all we’ve managed to do is to create this mess.

@Sarah “That Galway problem was caused by municipal sewage wasn’t it? ” – the independent report on the outbreak seems to be well hidden, but I would doubt that you could identify the exact source given that contamination appeared to be quite widespread.

I can’t understand why the Cavan model is not simply copied in every county – I have not heard any uproar from the good people of Cavan!! Indeed the regulation of individual treatment systems seems to be pretty uncontroversial in other EU countries (and lets face it there are bigger issues to debate).

By the way am I the only one who is puzzled by the focus on human poo. It would appear that slurry tanks won’t need inspection despite the larger volume and the fact that they do not require planning permission (except for very very large facilities). Farm slurry can be a source of E-coli and cryptospiridium too yet all we have is a few nice guidelines from the Department of Agriculture!

That’s true for small farmers. Large farmers are subject to EPA rules but one can’t help but suspect that enforcement is lax.

Cow, pig and chicken poo is dangerous, but not as dangerous as human poo.


You write that “We [rural dwellers] pay the same taxes as urban dwellers”

I’m not so sure. I looked at the numbers for ‘tax on income’ by county from the CSO’s County and Regional GDP release for 2009 ( and divided them the 2011 population numbers.

Dubliners paid on average tax on income of €6268 per head, almost double that of Leitrim dwellers who paid €3367. I’m picking extremes to make my point here of course. But the contention that rural dwellers pay (on average) the same taxes as city folk just isn’t true.

@Richard – “That’s true for small farmers” – these are relative terms. The majority of farms are not be big enough to need a licence, and one has to remember that even relatively small number of large animals will create significant volume of waste. Pig and poultry producers tend to be bigger but nevertheless not all are covered by licences.

Yes, human poo is more dangerous than animal poo, but that primarily relates to standard transmitted deseases. However there are a number of deseases that can spread from animals to humans e.g. e.coli, cryptospiridium, salmonella etc. Poultry waste in partiuclar is of concern due to the widespread use of antibiotics i.e. the development and spreading of multiple resistent strains of bacteria.

Here is some detail on the exemptions:,1587,en.pdf

@Examiner – You are right about taxes but expenditure also varies across countrie/regions. Have a look at my link:
I can give you more detail and an update if you are interested.


Well, I didn’t mean in nominal terms. Obviously I meant in % terms.
In hard cash of course rural dwellers pay less because rural incomes are lower than urban ones – both farm and non farm.


re Cavan – Totally agree. This has all been done and with little fanfare. That’s why I think the opposition to this is being exaggerated.


You know politics!

I can only imagine how Minister Hogan would be playing it if he were in opposition and John Gormley was still Minister for the environment – rural ethnic cleansing, green taxes etc etc. I would imagine he would be having a field day with this.

As a proponent of the registration system, I can actually see to a certain extent why people are so nervous. The septic tank site characterisation industry (T/P Tests etc] was an unregulated cowboy industry for years. These people would put anything in their report in order to satisfy their clinet and get paid. Upwards of 90% of sites in the country in some regions would not comply with the new EPA Code. Many sites will require very significant costs and may NEVER be suitable.

I have included below a randomly selected link to a Water Management Unit [WMU] Action Plan for the North West Region. As you can see there are 8743 septic tanks in this WMU, 1087 tanks in 19 river water bodies are posing a risk to water quality due to their density, location and unsuitable hydrogeological conditions.

For many of these dwellings there will be no technological solution other than installing piped mains.


“As you can see there are 8743 septic tanks in this WMU, 1087 tanks in 19 river water bodies are posing a risk to water quality due to their density, location and unsuitable hydrogeological conditions.”

So a failure rate of 12% in one of the most vulnerable regions – not 90%.

It’s amazing sometimes how people on one side of an argument really really need disaster just to prove a point. It’s like the guys on the other thread who really need the government’s bond strategy to fail, because otherwise, they’re wrong.

I checked with relations in Cavan btw whose tank failed the test – very minimal investment required. Two pipes sorted it out.


ah that gotcha moment must feel sooo good! maybe introducing data/technical detail is too much for this debate. My mistake!

If you read the document [which I assume you haven’t] it says

‘Septic tanks – The 1087 at risk septic tanks are to be prioritised for inspections. Subsequent upgrade or connection to municipal systems depends on inspection and economics tests.’

This is the ‘risk based approach’ Min. Hogan has been speaking of. THIS DOES NOT IMPLY A FAILURE RATE. I thought that you might be more outraged that we may have to spend tax payers money running new drains to 1087 dispersed dwellings. Any idea of how expensive that is?

As you can see above the quote says ‘river water bodies’. The bulk of septic tank pollution is to ground water. The point I was making that these dwellings should not have been there due to unsuitable hydrogeological conditions and may never pass an inspection. Actual failure rates can only be determined through tests.

This too nuanced for here I admit but it does not imply a failure rate of 12% convenient to your argument [but would still be mightly expensive for the 12%]. Sites with favourable hydrogeological conditions could also be failing due to poorly site/maintained tanks.

It is amazing sometimes how people on one side of argument jump quickly on figures that appear to justify their argument but don’t and then fail to respond [or have censored] other facts that undermine their argument [included above]

The Cavan tests are not comparable to the tests required under the WFD.

Anyway, there will be no meeting of minds here, but at least I have tried to bring evidence, facts and figures to the debate and not hearsay from the relations up in Cavan!


Did your relations in Cavan have a’grey’ water issue as I mentioned above?

I checked with some of my neighbours today – none of them had a clue where their grey water was actually going ! and importantly none of them knew where their pipes were located other than what they could see above the ground. Fun and games ahead me thinks.

There’s absolutely nothing I really enjoy more than coming to this website each and every evening following work. Thanks for most of the nice articles!!

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