Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Ravensdale Residents reject septic tank legislation
Councillor Tomás Sharkey, Councillor Jim Loughran, mise agus Councillor Edel Corrigan
Monday night was cold. Then that could be said of most nights recently. But it was especially sharp in Ravensdale, in the Cooley Mountains, on the border between south and north.
Ravensdale is one of those idyllic places. It’s full of history and culture. A mix of mountain, forest, long walks and a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. On the north by Carlingford Lough. To the east by the Irish Sea, and to the south by Dundalk Bay.
I have been in and out of it for decades and I never tire of driving or walking its roads and lanes.
And like many rural parts of the south many local residents depend on septic tanks to deal with sewage waste and are now facing additional costs and the possibility of significant bills for upgrading or replacing these systems.
This blog wrote about this issue a few weeks ago. I return to it briefly because on Monday night over 100 people braved the cold and packed into Ravensdale Community Centre for a public meeting on septic tanks organised by Sinn Féin.
It was an opportunity for the shinners to set out our efforts on this issue, listen to the views of those directly affected by the government’s legislation and to plan for future action.
Local councillor Jim Loughran opened the community centre, turned on the heating, helped set out the seats and then chaired the meeting. Councillors Edel Corrigan and Tómas Sharkey joined this blog on the platform.
The meeting lasted just over a hour. It was clear from the outset that people are angry.
Angry that the government is foisting another charge on families already faced with a host of other stealth taxes from the household charge to the universal social charge to VAT increases and more.
Angry that urban communities have seen billions of euro put into improving or constructing new waste water systems – which rural taxpayers helped pay for – while rural dwellers are expected to carry the financial burden on septic tank improvements.
Angry that the EU Waste Directive (75/442/EEC) regarding domestic wastewater disposed of via onsite wastewater treatment systems, was imposed in 1975 and despite Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour all having been in power since then they did nothing about it.
Angry that the government, which was elected in part on a commitment to be more accountable, open and transparent, refused to listen to the concerns of rural dwellers, ignored the arguments and amendments put by the opposition parties and guillotined the Dáil debate and rushed through the Water Services legislation.
Everyone at Monday night’s meeting recognised the need to protect our environment, our water and the health and welfare of citizens. No one had any objection to registering septic tanks and inspecting and upgrading where necessary.
But to force rural households to bear the financial brunt of this when billions of public money was spent on urban systems and at a time when families are finding it difficult to make ends meet, was criticised by speakers as discriminatory and inequitable.
In my contribution to the conversation I explained that the government will publish in February the date for the commencement of a four week consultation period. Sinn Fein will make a submission to the consultation which will call on the government to:
• Provide clear standards to be applied to septic tanks.
• The need for a fully funded grants scheme.
• Withdraw the threat of criminalising rural communities.
It is very important that the government receive thousands, tens of thousands of submissions from groups and individuals. I asked those in Ravensdale to make submissions to the Consultation once the date and its remit is known and to encourage their relatives and friends and neighbours to do the same. Some said they would organise public meetings. They also agreed to lobby Fine Gael and Labour TDs, and the Minister for the Environment.
The legislation may have been passed but the campaign around the rights of rural dwellers and septic tank charges is far from over.