Sanitary Authorities

The public health legislation designates most councils as sanitary authorities. Town councils which were formerly Town Commissioner towns were not sanitary authorities.

Most of the powers functions and responsibilities of sanitary authorities are now exercised by Irish Water. The legislation has been modernised.

Sanitary authorities have full powers to receive store disinfect distribute and dispose of sewage. For such purposes that they may construct works, purchase, lease or use land and enter contracts for the provision of sewage services. Sanitary authorities may enter arrangements with other authorities for the for sewage disposal


All present and future sewers are to be vested in the sanitary authority. A sewer is constituted when two or more separate buildings other those on a septic tank or cesspit are serviced.

Certain other limited categories of sewers are excluded from being sewers which the sanitary authority owns and for which it is responsible. In particular, a combined drains which is a pipes serving a distinct and limited number of premises is excluded.

Sanitary authorities have duty to provide and repair sewers. Sewers may be altered, discontinued, or expanded.

They may lay a new sewer under land after giving the requisite notice to the occupiers. If property rights are affected, compensation may be payable.

Sewerage System

Sanitary authorities must purify water before discharging it into a stream. They must keep sewers properly cleansed so as to they don’t become a nuisance or injurious to public health.

Urban sanitary authorities must maintain a map of the sewerage systems. Rural sanitary authorities may do so. The map is to be available for public inspection.

The owner or occupier of premises has a right to connect to the sewage system of the sanitary authority, subject to obtaining planning permission to do so. The conditions of connection are specified by the authority.


It is an offence to build a new house, rebuild a house without providing a sufficient water closet. The sanitary authority may require by notice that the owner or occupier of the house provides a sufficient water closet.

Sanitary authorities have power to ensure all drains, water closets, sinks, lavatories and public conveniences within its district are constructed, ventilated and kept so as to not be a nuisance or injurious to health.

It is an offence for a person within urban area to build over a sewer without the written consent of the authority. It is an offence to interfere with sewers or in a roadway or streets without consent.

It is an offence to use a gutter for conveyance of foul sewage from a toilet. It is an offence to use any water pipe for purpose of conveying surface water as it drained or ventilation shaft for the drain.


Local authorities have powers to inspect drains if they believed them to be defective, to be injurious or dangerous to health. Generally, consent or court order is required. If the drains are defective, the owner may be required to remediate them within the specified time. If the owner fails to do so, the local authority may undertake the works and recover the costs.

The local authority may require a drain which is not connected, to be connected to the public sewer. The local authority surveyor must certify that the drain may properly be connected.

The sanitary authority may require a domestic waste disposal facility serving any premises house which is used as a factory or for trade or business. The local authority may require the provision of toilets as are required. If the owner fails to comply with the requirements, the local authority may undertake the works and recover the cost.

The local authority may require any septic tank or cesspits be filled or removed. They may require drains connecting it to be removed and destroyed. If the works are not done it may undertake works and recover the cost.

The local authority may require the provision drains of the purpose of carrying off waste water. If the owner or occupier fails to comply with the requisite notice, it may undertake the works and recover the cost.

Requiring Connection

Where the local authority has provided a public sewage system and it is of the opinion that premises is its district are not drained satisfactorily and are capable of being served by a sewage system by means of a connection within not more than 100 feet, it may require the owner to make the connection.  A similar power is given where the premises do not have a satisfactory supply of water.

The owners affected by notices may appeal to the District Court within a month.  It may confirm or cancel the notice.

The owner is obliged to complete the connection work.  Where the connection requires bringing pipis through lands not owned by the owner, the local authority may be required to do the work.

The local authority has power to provide or contribute to the cost of providing service pipes or water mains to a premises.  Equally it may provide the cost of drainage pipes from any premises to the source. The above powers apply to connection to public’s water system and sewage systems.

Where the local authority may not serve the notice because the sewage or water pipe system is over 100 feet away, the local authority may use its general powers to lay pipes from a source to bring the system to a point between 50 and a 100 feet from the premises.  In the case, the local authority may be obliged to pay compensation to the owners affected by the works.

Defective Systems

The Local Government (Sanitary Services)Act 1948 deals with sewage and drainage of premises.  Where the local authority believes that a sewage system or drainage system is defective or neglected or may become a nuisance or injurious to health, it may cause the system to be opened up and examined.  It must give seven days’ notice to the occupier of the land although it may act without notice in an emergency.

If on examination the system is not defective, the local authority must make good any damage caused.  If it is defective, faulty  or neglected, such  that works are necessary to repair or remove the nuisance, the local authority may carry out the works and recover the cost from the owner or occupier.  It may recover the cost from the owners of various premises, affected who may be charged proportionately.

The local authority may serve notices on premises which are not drained properly to the effect that it will proposes to make drainage order in respect of the premises. Similar provisions to those above apply.


Various instances which make constitute a public nuisance are prohibited by the Public Health Act. These include:

  • allowing stagnant water to remain in a dwelling house when required to remove it;
  • allowing the contents of a water closet or cesspit to flow into the ground;
  • keeping pigs in a dwelling house.


Where the sanitary authority fails to provide to adequate water or sewerage (where it is providing this service), a complaint may be made Department of the Environment. If the Department is satisfied that the authority is failed to provide and maintain adequate sewage system of water supply or enforce public health duties, the Department after holding an enquiry, may order the authority to do so.


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