Northern Ireland in the dock

Friends of the Earth (Northern Ireland) has made an official complaint to the European Commission which could see Water Service being hauled before the Court of Justice over its appalling record on sewage.

An abysmal 35 per cent of Northern Ireland's sewage works comply with the European Union's Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive compared with 95 per cent in England and Wales. Put another way, tonnes of raw and badly treated sewage is pumped into Northern Ireland's waters every day.

The complaint is really a formal request to take the Government to court and marks the start of a long legal process. If the European Court of Justice rules against the UK the Commission will have the power to impose hefty fines if the breach is not rectified.

It is expected that the fines will be calculated using the UK's GDP but will be paid out of Northern Ireland's budget and will be in excess of £100,000 per day.

Meanwhile £160 million of critical sewage infrastructure work has been left to languish in limbo, waiting for private funding.

Northern Ireland's sewerage network needs a hefty cash injection to correct years of chronic neglect under direct rule. The threat of legal action and fines should be just the wake-up call required.

To view the complaint click here (PDF format).