The European Commission will refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to correctly transpose the Water Framework Directive into Irish law - despite the signing into law in Ireland last month of new water-related legislation to addresses their concerns.
The EU Directive establishes a framework for protecting inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater by preventing their further deterioration, preventing pollution as well as protecting and enhancing water dependent ecosystems and water resources.
A spokesman for the Commission told RTÉ news that the Irish Government has not formally informed the Commission that the new Water Environment Act 2022 was signed into law by President Higgins on 23 December.
Nevertheless, the Commission spokesmen said the Water Environment Act is still not sufficient to address all the issues that are outstanding relating to the Water Framework Directive, and that a strong case against Ireland still exists.
The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which is responsible for the water legislation said that, upon commencement, the new Water Environment Act will address a large remainder of the concerns raised by the European Commission and that it is currently in preparation to formally notify the European Commission of the publication of the Act.
The Department said these steps substantially respond to the issues raised by the Commission in the infringement case against Ireland.
It added that it is committed to ensuring a robust legislative framework is established and in place to protect and enhance Ireland's water environment in line with the requirements of the EU Directive.
The Water Framework Directive requires that all inland and coastal waters reach at least good status by 2027 at the latest.
To achieve this, Member States need to establish river basin management plans and programmes with measures.
This is an important aspect of the European Green Deal’s zero pollution ambition, aiming for water pollution to be reduced to levels no longer considered harmful to human health and natural ecosystems.
EU Member States were required to transpose the Water Framework Directive into national law by 22 December 2003.
Ireland initially adopted legislation, but the Commission found it to be insufficient.
Progress had been made on implementation and legislation in the intervening years, but by June 2022, over 20 years after the entry into force of the Directive, the Irish Government had still not fully addressed all of the shortfalls.
At issue were inappropriate or insufficient controls in areas such as water extraction, water impoundment, and activities causing hydro-morphological changes such as dams, weirs, and other interferences in natural water flow.
The Commission said it considers that, to date, Ireland's efforts in these areas have been unsatisfactory and insufficient, and that is why it is referring Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European union.
Although the European Commission has not been formally informed that Ireland’s new Water Environment Legislation passed into law last month it was, nevertheless, fully aware that the Bill had been before the Oireachtas since 28 September.
It was also aware that the aim of the legislation was to answer the Commission's infringement regarding creating new powers to control water abstraction and impoundment activities.
The Commission noted however that although the Bill provided for a new regulatory framework for water abstraction and infringements, the details about how it will work still need to be filled in with implementing regulations.
As a result, it said it is not clear how long it will take for full compliance to be achieved.