The High Court today (Tuesday 12 December, 2023) began hearings in a judicial review of the Government’s fifth Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) initiated by An Taisce.

The NAP comprises a range of measures that are intended to protect water quality from agricultural impacts in order to meet the requirements of the EU Nitrates Directive. The Directive is a key piece of European legislation protecting rivers and lakes from the impacts of agricultural pollution. Each country is required to create a new, country specific NAP every four years, with the aim of progressively reducing pollution to waters caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

In Ireland regrettably, despite the deployment of successive NAPs, water quality has continued to deteriorate over the past decade indicating that the measures taken under successive NAPs have failed in their objective [1].

There is clear evidence that agriculture is the key significant pressure on water quality, impacting over 1,000 water bodies. This ultimately has an impact on every citizen, and on Ireland’s standing as an environmentally aware and responsible society.

The Department of Housing is responsible for the NAP and is required in law to be certain ‘beyond reasonable scientific doubt’ that a plan or project will have no adverse impact on highly protected European habitats before it can be approved. The independent environmental assessment of the fifth Nitrates Action Programme, which was conducted during its preparation, acknowledged an uncertainty as to whether the main measures relied upon would adequately prevent water pollution, which could potentially impact on protected European sites. We believe accordingly that there is a clear basis to contend that legal threshold was not met for the measures proposed in the NAP.

The case is due to run for four days before Mr Justice Richard Humphreys. The IFA and ICMSA are both Notice Parties to the challenge. An Taisce is represented by FP Logue Solicitors, and Counsel are James Devlin SC and John Kenny BL.


Notes for Editor

[1] As outlined in the SEA Environmental Report for the NAP, page 110: ‘This baseline points to a deteriorating water quality trend over the period of the past two NAP highlighting that the prescribed measures have failed to sufficiently protect water quality from agricultural activity. It is important to note that this baseline trend was against the backdrop of changes to the agri-food sector and an increasing dairy herd in the past decade.’

Detailed background document.

Banner image credit: The Four Courts and the River Liffey, Dublin by Pastor Sam