The European Commission has today announced that it will be returning to the Courts seeking fines against Ireland for not adopting legislation to protect our countryside heritage. The Irish government will have to pay €26 million to start with, followed by a daily penalty of more than €33,000 per day. Fines are being sought because Ireland has not yet complied with a ruling delivered in November 2008 which found that the thresholds applied here for undertaking Environmental Impact Assessments were too high and do not take account of sensitive environments. This has led to systemic losses of wetland habitats, losses of biodiversity and destruction of archaeology which could have been avoided if Environmental Impact Assessments were applied properly.

The EIA Directive and regulations are designed to ensure that projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment are assessed in advance so that people are aware of what the likely impacts are and how to avoid them.

The fines should not come as a surprise, according to An Taisce, The national trust for Ireland, as the multiple warnings have been sent to the Irish Government over the years about this case, most recently in March 2010. More than two years after the judgment, Ireland has failed to adopt any legislation to resolve the issue. The €26 million fine being sought is for the failure to implement the first court ruling, at a rate of €4000 per day for the period between the first Court ruling and the second Court ruling.

Apart from the immediate legal cost, the ecosystems services provided by nature to the Irish exchequer are worth at least €2.6 billion per anum[1]. Anja Murray, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce An Taisce, says “healthy natural ecosystems provide us with food, with clean water, with flood prevention services, fertile soils and pollinators necessary for maintaining agricultural productivity”. Ireland has long been the worst offender in the EU for breaching European environmental laws. An Taisce and others organisations ENGO community have been seeking to rectify this situation by promoting improved compliance with the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive, the EIA Directive and regulations, yet Ireland has been prosecuted by the courts for failure to implement and comply with every single one of these directives, on several counts each. Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer with An Taisce has stated that in the interest of Ireland’s environment, our common heritage, the commission’s intervention in seeking fines is welcome, as this may help to bring about a situation in which the environment is actually protected in Ireland. Fines are a last resort for showing that the short sightedness of greedy developers and lobby groups in bed with incompetent authorities will no longer tolerated. Protecting the environment, as laid out in the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, is in everyone’s interest, financially, socially, and environmentally.

Environmental groups in Ireland are pursuing a number of further complaints of failures to correctly apply Environmental Law in Ireland. This includes continued accommodation of turf cutting in protected bog habitats, failure to subject forestry licencing to appropriate assessments of environmental impact, and continued failures under planning enforcement.
ENDS For further information please contact:

Abby McSherry public affairs officer on 087 9598767