Portlaoise’s Mayor was the only Fine Gael councillor to support his Government’s controversial regulations on septic tanks.
“I fully agree with the new bill,” declared Cllr Matthew Keegan at Portlaoise Town Council monthly meeting last week. His was a lone voice.
All of his colleagues supported Cllr Alan Hand’s call to oppose the implementation of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill which, among other measures, envisages a septic tank registration fee.
Opposing the new rules, his party colleague Cllr Kathleen O’Brien said: “People do not have any money.”
Cllr Willie Aird: “It was handled very badly from a public relations point of view. People who can prove they cannot afford to do it (upgrade septic tanks) will have to get grants. It’s only the people who won’t do anything who are causing the problem.”
Chairman Keegan said while he fully agreed with the bill, he disagreed with the emphasis on fines and charge rather than on incentives.
He added: “A lot of country people are happy to see this coming in. If your neighbour’s tank is in bad order, it’s poisoning your drinking water.”
Also supported was Cllr Hand’s proposal that grants should be available to those who might have to upgrade their sanitary systems.
Noting that Environment Minister Phil Hogan had reduced the registration fee from €50 to a “bargain basement” €5 euros for an initial period, the Sinn Fein councillor claimed the real difficulty with the bill was the lack of information and consultation. And, he wondered, had local authorities a sufficient number of staff to inspect septic tanks?
Deputy Co Manager Michael Rainey said there’d been no word on getting additional staff. But, he added, staff could be reallocated.
Cllr Caroline Dwane: “My concern would be for people who cannot afford to upgrade their septic tanks. They could face up to €5,000 in fines.”
Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald: “People are genuinely terrified that they will be told their tank is not up to standard.”