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European Commission - Press release

Commission takes Ireland to Court for failure to upgrade waste water treatment infrastructure

Brussels, 15 February 2017

The European Commission is taking Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU for its failure to ensure that urban waste water in 38 agglomerations across the country is adequately collected and treated to prevent serious risks to human health and the environment.

Under EU law (Council Directive 91/271/EEC), towns and cities are required to collect and treat their urban waste water, as untreated waste water can put human health at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil, coastal and groundwater.

The 38 agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) with inadequate wastewater infrastructure are: Arklow, Athlone, Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Ballincollig New, Castlecomer, Cavan, Clifden, Clonakily, Cobh, Cork City, Dundalk, Enfield, Enniscorthy, Fermoy, Gaoth Dobhair, Killarney, Killybegs, Longford, Mallow, Midleton, Monksland, Navan, Nenagh, Oberstown, Pasage/Monktown, Portarlington, Rathcormac, Ringaskiddy, Ringsend, Roscommon Town, Roscrea, Shannon Town, Thurles, Tralee, Tubbercurry, Youghal and Waterford City.

The referral decision also raises additional concerns about the failure to ensure that a correct operating licence has been issued for the treatment plants serving the agglomerations of Arklow and Castlebridge.

Member States had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment of wastewater from large agglomerations (population equivalent (p.e.) of more than 15 000), and until the end of 2005 for discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations. The Commission initiated the infringement against Ireland in September 2013, followed by warnings in September 2015 and September 2016.

According to a recent Commission report on the implementation of EU environmental policy and law in Member States, one of the main challenges Ireland faces is maintaining the important investments required for water services, given the urgent need to invest in water infrastructure.


The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC) requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses, presenting a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, promoting excessive algae growth that chokes other living organisms, a process known as "eutrophication".

For More Information:

-   General information on infringements proceedings in the areas of Environment.

-   On the overview of implementation of EU environment policies and laws in Member States, see Environmental Implementation Review.

-   On the key decisions of the February infringements package, please refer to the full MEMO/17/234.

-   On the general infringements procedure, see MEMO/12/12 (an info graph).

-   On the EU infringements procedure.


Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email

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