Well thank you Darragh, for the introduction. Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
distinguished guests, welcome to Trinity College, Dublin.
I am sure many of you have been here before.
But it's a particular pleasure for me to welcome you to this International Symposium on
Domestic Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems, which Trinity is co-organising
with the National Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA.
Now the title of this symposium, when I saw it first I said, well, that's very dry and academic,
and I don't suppose I need to go to open that particular one.
But actually I am very glad that I have.
And indeed, as Darragh has just said, the issue is so important and so topical
that really it's anything but dry and academic.
Our visitors from abroad may not be aware how much the issue of wastewater
has dominated the national media all year.
But if you do a search for wastewater in the newspaper archives a lot comes up.
And even much more if you put in the phrase septic tanks of course.
This issue of onsite wastewater treatment and disposal has stirred up passions in the country,
ever since the government began to draft legislation in response to the
European Court of Justice's Judgement against Ireland.
The Court reserved particular criticism for the lack of any national registration system.
Accordingly the government is now trying to put in place, through the EPA,
a national inspection plan, which will use a risk-based approach
to prioritising areas of higher risk to human health and water quality.
Obviously this is desirable.
But rural dwellers are concerned that they will have to pay to have their system inspected.
And they are concerned about the cost of any remedial work
which will be required as a result of such inspection.
And I know this from my own case, because my mother,
who is 75 and in Wexford in a place called Oulart, has such a septic tank,
which she is worried is too close to the house.
And of course when it was built in the 1960s there was no real…
I don't think there was any real regulation. You here would know better.
So people who live in the country, as we say,
point out that most people in towns and cities in Ireland do not pay directly
for disposal of wastewater at present.
And that the government has spent millions on upgrading centralised
wastewater treatment plant over the last few years.
So septic tanks have become a topic of hot political debate.
And there is need for the professionals involved, mainly engineers, I suppose,
to inform the debate, and put some shape on it.
This would be doing the country a great service.
In this regard there have been significant advances in research
in wastewater disposal over the last ten years.
A new code of practice has been developed for onsite wastewater treatment and disposal.
This code of practice has defined a lower limit on subsoil permeability,
below which it is not possible to provide adequate percolation for onsite systems.
This has caused some problems in places that have very heavy clay soils
like Leitrim, Monaghan and Wexford, as they claim that this will effectively stop development.
Now I understand that this is not necessarily the case, as this conference will explore.
But areas of low permeability clay subsoils now have their own specific regional concerns
to add to the national rural concern about septic tanks.
So the proceedings of this conference I am sure will be of great interest,
and in great interest in the media.
And I do hope it will be recognised that it is important to have informed debate.
And, complex as the issues are, and indeed very few people understand
the concept of permeability or its relationship to percolation for example.
Complex as the issues are they can and must be understood
by those attempting to lead the national debate.
In fact the proposed national inspection plan,
which is Ireland's answer to the European Court of Justice ruling,
will be described for the first time, I understand, at this symposium.
Other papers will look at solutions for sites in areas of low permeability clay subsoils.
Still other papers will look at the environmental impact and the regulatory framework.
So this symposium should be the subject of sharp focus and interest by the Irish public.
I know that as experts in your field you will welcome such scrutiny.
And, of course, it's precisely because Ireland is at such a turning point
with respect to the issue that the EPA and Trinity felt the time was right
to hold this symposium, to gather together a panel of national and international experts
in order to present recent findings, to discuss the content and context of new legislation,
to gain constructive feedback and to share experiences
and best practice from other international jurisdictions.
This is a really vital conference.
And I congratulate the EPA and Trinity's Department of Civil, Structural
and Environmental Engineering for organising it.
Over the next two days you will hear papers from experts from Denmark, the U.S.,
Scotland, Australia, London. I see South Africa, as well as, of course, many Irish experts.
I would like to thank the organisers and in particular Dr. Lawrence Gill of Trinity College
for inviting me to give these few words of welcome to you this morning.
You have a particularly full two days ahead.
I think, when I was looking at the website, I counted 26 papers in total.
I don't know how much time you will get to enjoy Trinity.
But I hope that new visitors to our university will get a chance to walk around our beautiful campus,
and perhaps visit the world famous Book of Kells and the Science Gallery.
It's a particularly busy period for Trinity in September.
And if I may say, particularly busy for the School of Engineering.
Three days ago I launched the Bridge and Concrete Research in Ireland Conference.
And on Wednesday I will address the International Conference on the Biomechanics of Injury.
So as an engineer myself, and I can't help being particularly pleased
with such a level of impressive activity.
Tomorrow the World University Rankings will be launched here from Trinity.
I will be talking in my welcome address about the importance of high-ranking universities,
of research-led education, and cutting edge collaborative research with peer institutions.
Universities now have to think globally, which means putting faith in the
free movement of ideas of research and of people.
Trinity's mission is to make this country an educational hub.
And I believe that Ireland has real potential to develop in this way,
and that it provides the best hope for the future.
Being an educational hub requires many things.
It means excellent universities, and, of course,
efficient and well publicised collaborations between research and industry.
But it also means a socio-political emphasis on the importance to society of university research.
And this conference brings home, like nothing else,
the importance to society of university research
in forcing informed debate on issues of current importance to all in society.
I conclude by thanking all attendees for travelling to be here in Trinity,
some from very far afield.
And I look forward, like many around the country, to the findings of this conference.
Thank you very much.
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Dr. Patrick Prendergast, Provost, TCD
Introduction & Welcome