Dublin, 23/11/2020 - The High Court this morning granted An Taisce permission to bring a legal challenge against a decision by An Bord Pleanála to green light the construction of a large cheese manufacturing plant in Bellview, Co. Kilkenny. The Court agreed that An Taisce had raised substantial grounds for contending that the planning permission was invalid.

This challenge has echoes of a case that An Taisce took in 2014, when it successfully argued that the environmental effects arising from peat harvesting had to be assessed by An Bord Pleanála before it could grant permission for the continued operation of a peat-fired power station in Edenderry, Co. Offaly.

An Taisce argues that the impact of the agricultural activity arising from the production of the estimated 450 million litres of milk needed to supply the plant should have been assessed by An Bord Pleanála, particularly the resulting ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions and likely deterioration in water quality.

The Kilkenny plant is being promoted by the large Dutch dairy processor Royal A-ware, in partnership with Glanbia, which will supply the milk. Facing legal restrictions due to excessive pollution impacts in the Netherlands, it now appears that Dutch companies are looking to countries with laxer regulations and more politically powerful agriculture industry lobby groups to allow them to facilitate the very intensification of dairy production in Ireland that they are being blocked from undertaking in the Netherlands.

Emeritus Professor John Sweeney described the cheese factory proposal as

...a form of pollution dumping. They are moving a business that is being discouraged under Dutch environmental regulations, and shifting the burden, in terms of fines and the cost of wastewater treatment, onto the Irish taxpayer.

According to An Taisce’s estimates, the milk produced to supply this plant on its own would lead to a 2.5% increase in ammonia emissions - at a time when Ireland is already in breach of its commitments to limit ammonia emissions and has a legal obligation to meet lower limits in the future.

An Taisce has also raised concerns about the effects on water quality and protected habitats in the South East, which are already degraded due to run off of fertiliser and slurry into rivers and lakes in the region.

According to Ian Lumley of An Taisce:

It beggars belief that permission has been granted for a plant aimed at bypassing strict environmental regulation in the Netherlands that will put us further over our EU legal limits for emissions and water quality. It is almost inevitable that this decision will lead to enforcement action from the European Commission as well as fines.

Ireland has already accrued more than €10 million in fines for failure to obey a judgment from the Court of Justice to remedy defective environmental assessments at the Derrybrien wind farm in Co. Galway following a landslide that polluted local rivers and resulted in significant fish kills. Ireland has also been fined for lack of regulation of septic tanks, which are polluting drinking water. Most recently we were found to have breached EU law by pumping untreated sewage into the sea around our coasts.

According to Mr Lumley:

At a time when we are struggling to meet environmental standards at home, it is deeply concerning that Dutch companies are now choosing to locate huge dairy processing installations in Ireland because they have been told that their activities are too polluting for their home country. The strategy behind Ireland’s decision to attract such dirty industry and to put massive pressure on our environment is hard to understand.

While references in Ireland's draft Climate Bill to “carbon leakage” were intended to point to a risk of businesses transferring out of Ireland because of our climate policies, the proposed cheese plant under appeal is an even more worrisome spectre: carbon “leaking” from a country (Netherlands) with higher environmental standards to a country (Ireland) prepared to turn a blind eye to these same standards.

The matter returns to court on 2nd February 2021.

Press contact: Ian Lumley, Head of Advocacy, An Taisce (01-4541786)