Following an extended period of review, An Taisce last month (May 2022) made  an application to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the fifth Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) announced by the Government in March of this year. 

The application is rooted in the undisputed evidence of continuing deterioration of water quality in Ireland, where all the indicators are negative and continuing in a downward direction. These figures are damning proof that previous NAPs have failed to meet their purpose which is to enable Ireland to fulfill the objectives of the Nitrates Directive.

In that context, we could not responsibly stand by and do nothing. Our decision reflects the core remit of An Taisce to advocate for choices by, and in, Ireland that provide for a more environmentally sustainable future for the country as a whole. The NAP as proposed simply does not provide the level of protection that is needed for water quality in Ireland. 

The Nitrates Directive – which first came into force in 1991 – is the central legislative framework, emanating from Europe, that protects our rivers and lakes from the impacts of agricultural pollution. It requires member States to devise and implement a Nitrates Action Programme setting out specifically how water quality will be protected from agricultural impact for the next four years. 

The NAP provides a basis for binding regulations over agricultural practice - known as the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) regulations. The effectiveness and implementation of these measures and regulations is critical given that intensive land use is the principal cause of the pollution of Irish waterways. To date, this approach has not worked, with agriculture negatively impacting on more than half (53%) of Irish waterbodies1.

 In the period leading into the March declaration of the NAP: 

  • An Taisce repeatedly challenged the new measures being put forward by Government in draft documents. Those proposed actions were based on a paucity of evidence that they would be any more effective than previous Nitrates Action Programmes, which the Government themselves admitted had failed
  • We also flagged up the legal weaknesses in the environmental assessments for the NAP. 
  • We repeatedly highlighted the scientific evidence which clearly makes the case for more ambitious and far-reaching measures, and far more rigorous assessment. 

To address those shortcomings An Taisce made a number of recommendations in the consultation process for this NAP. In particular we advocated for a NAP that provides for catchment and site-specific measures and assessment, rather than a programme of general one-size-fits-all measures without accountability.

These concerns were not addressed at all. Regrettably, instead of putting in place something that could help halt and reverse water pollution, the government has chosen to sideline the science and the law in framing a weak and inadequate NAP.  

Accordingly, and based on the evidence of an inevitable further deterioration in water quality – which has to be the ultimate measure of what is right here - An Taisce has no option but to challenge this approach. 

This legal step may be misrepresented as some form of attack on the farming community. This application is not against  people or communities. On the contrary, it is born of a longstanding commitment to ensure that the essential ingredients for flourishing rural life and agriculture - i.e. clean water and uncontaminated soil - are preserved for future generations. It is targeting misguided  legal and regulatory structures  that are actively contributing to water pollution and which thus must be challenged.

We cannot ignore the evidence of harm to our water courses by farming activity which has a direct impact on every citizen, and on Ireland’s standing as an environmentally aware and responsible society. 

An Taisce supports sustainable farming and we accept that farmers want to work in sync with the environment. That can only be achieved by working with the evidence and guidance of science, and not against it. 


Read more about the background to this case.