The status of water quality of Irish estuaries is reviewed; this sheds light on the rationale behind the design of the national monitoring programme. Relative to other EU Member States, Ireland's coastal monitoring programme is relatively young and not as advanced. The monitoring programmes in Ireland pre Water Framework Directive (WFD) were structured on a salinity-based typology, with an emphasis on quantifying the variability of the component elements. Although monitoring is a significant obligation under the WFD, there is little guidance on developing monitoring protocols; Member States are developing ad hoc monitoring programme. The Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), responsible authority, undertook research programmes to assist design and implementation of the WFD. A substantial new national monitoring programme was developed. However, the Irish programme is not optimised; the programme is being refined to include elements not yet covered, notably the biota. New research, by the authors, aims to develop a robust approach towards monitoring integrating data and model results. This paper presents changes in Irish marine water quality monitoring policy and some of the associated research necessary to change policy. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.