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Poor Local Authority Performance in 2021

The EPA is the national authority on environmental matters in Ireland. However, the Agency also has a supervisory role in relation to the performance by local authorities of their statutory environmental protection duties. The EPA has been measuring and reporting on local authority environmental enforcement performance since 2014. This measuring and reporting is carried out through the EPA’s Local Authority Performance Framework.

Since 2021, Local Authority performance has been evaluated with regard to the National Enforcement Priorities (NEPs), which focus on the achievement of environmental outcomes. The NEPs are separated into four areas:

• Governance Processes

• Waste

• Water

• Air & Noise

The 2021 report focuses on the outcomes achieved by local authorities as a result of the actions they have undertaken. Each NEP is assessed with regard to specific criteria such as compliance rates, appropriate site selection, the identification and follow-through of non-compliance or unauthorised activities and the demonstration of a positive environmental outcome. Each NEP is scored by the following:

• Excellent

• Strong

• Moderate

• Limited

The expectation of each local authority is to achieve the required standard of Strong or Excellent.

General Findings

The report shows that there was strong engagement with the assessment framework with 25 local authorities submitting their NEP Progress Reports within the requested timeframe. It should be noted that the overall number of inspections increased by 14% in 2021 compared to 2020. Waste and litter accounted for 68% of all inspection and enforcement activities by local authorities nationwide. 24% of inspection and enforcement activities were carried out in relation to water with air/noise/other making up the remaining 8%.

The lack of available data was a recurring issue in the gathering of information for the 2021 report. This is due to the fact that there is no overarching local authority data gathering and reporting system for environmental enforcement. As a result, a new National Environmental Management Information System (NEMIS) is being developed by local authorities. It is expected that the development of this central information system for local authorities will improve the efficiency of complaint handling, as well as the planning and implementation of environmental enforcement activities.

National Enforcement Priority Results

In total, 31 local authorities were assessed with regard to the NEPs for the environmental activities they carried out in 2021. The NEPs varied in nature and in scope, making some of the criteria not applicable to certain authorities (e.g., agriculture/farm inspections, septic tank inspections are generally not applicable to city councils).

The results show that just less than half of all local authorities (46%) achieved the required standard (Strong or Excellent) set out by the Local Authority Performance Framework. No local authority achieved the required standard across all four areas of the NEPs. Only 67% of the NEPs achieved the required standard under ‘governance processes’. In the other three areas, known as ‘the environmental enforcement areas’ (waste, water and air & noise), just 40% of the NEPs achieved the required standard.

Overall, the results of this report have highlighted a multitude of challenges that local authorities face in achieving positive outcomes across all areas. The results also indicate that stronger environmental enforcement is needed by local authorities in order to effectively implement environmental law in Ireland. However, this will require adequate resourcing, prioritising environmental enforcement and focus on the NEPs by senior management in local authorities.

For a full breakdown of the performance of your local authority, click here.

July 2023