A conviction against a Limerick agricultural contractor for water pollution has been overturned on appeal.
Last October, Brendan McGrath of Knockainey pleaded not guilty at Kilmallock Court to two offences under the Water Pollution Act.
The case was taken by Limerick City and County Council, represented by solicitor Will Leahy. Mr McGrath was defended by David O’Regan BL and instructed by solicitor John Cooke.
Following a lengthy contested hearing, Judge Patricia Harney found Mr McGrath guilty of allowing polluting matters to enter waters, but not guilty of failing to report it because he “did not believe” he did anything wrong.
She ordered he pay the council’s costs of €2,000. The maximum fine a judge can impose for the water pollution offence is €3,000. Due to Mr McGrath’s good record, Judge Harney imposed a more “realistic” fine of €250.
The crux of the case concerned Mr McGrath cleaning a road after spreading slurry for a client in the Herbertstown area. The council and a witness alleged that, in cleaning the road, slurry was washed into a gully and into a stream.
Mr McGrath and his brother Seamus both denied this. They said that you do not drive on slurry while spreading it and that there couldn’t be any drips from a slurry tank on to the road because they are “completely watertight and sealed”.
They said they used water to sweep clay — that was picked up on tractor tyres — off the road.
Following the judge’s verdict in Kilmallock Court, recognisance was fixed in the event of an appeal.
Mr Cooke, solicitor for Mr McGrath, confirmed they did appeal the matter to the circuit court.
“The appeal was allowed on consent (by Limerick City and County Council). The guilty verdict was overturned,” said Mr Cooke. On the day, the council agreed to allow the appeal as the council’s costs had been discharged.
The McGrath family said: “We are delighted that the conviction has been overturned. Looking back on it, we are still convinced we were right to clean the road because that is what we always do. If you don’t clean the road, you could be fined for leaving it dirty, so what are you supposed to do?”
At the time of going to press, there was no response from Limerick Council.
The Farming Independent contacted the Local Government Management Agency, a State agency that provides a range of professional services to local authorities, to outline what farmers and contractors should do if public roads get dirty during agricultural activity.
Responding, it said there is no national guidance for farmers on this issue. “Generally, spills on public roads are a matter for local authorities, which have powers of enforcement under the Roads Act 1993.
“Where a slurry spill occurs on a road, the priority is to contain the spill to prevent contamination to local water bodies. This may require the spilled material being removed and taken to a licensed facility for treatment,” it said.