Bathing Waters are an important amenity, valuable for both their tourism and recreational potential. It is important that they are afforded the appropriate protections in accordance with legislation, including the European Union's Bathing Waters Directive. The Directive requires that water quality at all designated bathing waters meets stringent microbiological standards in order to protect the health of people who choose to bathe there.
The Bathing Waters Directive (2006/7/EC) is concerned with the management of bathing water quality generally, with the exception of swimming pools, spa pools and waters used for therapeutic purposes.
Article 1.3 of the Directive states that it applies to: "Any element of surface water where the competent authority expects a large number of people to bathe and has not imposed a permanent bathing prohibition, or issued permanent advice against bathing"
This Directive came into force on 24 March 2006 and will repeal the existing 1976 Directive with effect from 31 December 2014.
The Directive was transposed into Irish Law by the Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 (S.I. No. 79 of 2008). The 2006 Directive establishes a new classification system for bathing water quality based on four classifications "poor", "sufficient", "good" and "excellent" and generally requires that a classification of ‘sufficient’ be achieved by 2015 for all bathing waters. Transitional measures are in place until the new Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 (SI No. 79 of 2008), are fully implemented.
The quality of bathing water in Ireland for 2009 (EPA Bathing Water Quality Report 2009), was generally of a high standard. The number of designated seawater bathing areas was 122 and there were 9 designated inland bathing areas.
Compliance with the standards for the combined total of 131 Bathing Waters showed no change for the mandatory standard for 2009 (93% compliant) and an increase in compliance levels for the guide standard (82% compliance in 2009, up from 78% compliance in 2008).