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Owners of pig farm given one more chance to clean up slurry leaks

THE owners of a piggery who face possible imprisonment over alleged failure to comply with a court order to clean up their facility have been given another chance to do so by the president of the High Court.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said the unprecedented amount of rainfall over the last few weeks had made it difficult for Rory and Monica O'Brien to carry out all the work they were required to do at their piggery in Killickane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, under the order made in June last year.

Farmers have been unable to spread slurry because of the wet weather, the judge was told.

The judge gave the O'Briens until August 14 to comply with the order, saying they had made efforts to comply. The court heard that, at its peak, the piggery was one of the biggest in the country with over 30,000 pigs but has since been de-stocked.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had applied for an attachment and committal to prison order against the O'Briens, claiming they had failed to empty slurry tanks which leaked into the ground water system.

The court heard the EPA had carried out inspections this month and the court order had not been complied with in a number of areas, including the draining of the slurry tanks.

An inspector found whey, a by-product of cheesemaking and a potential pollutant in itself, had been added to the slurry. The inspector was told this was being used to break up solids at the bottom of the tanks so they could be completely drained.

Inspectors also found a skip of animal carcasses along with bags of asbestos which were supposed to have been removed under the court order.

Counsel for the O'Briens said whey was commonly used to break down solids in slurry and scientific evidence could be made available to show this.

The skip with animal carcasses was only brought up to the O'Brien piggery for a day to assist the neighbour in silage making, counsel said.

Although nearly three million gallons of slurry had been emptied from the tanks since the court order, the heavy rainfall of recent weeks was one of the reasons the amount increased because the tanks were not covered, counsel also said.

Counsel added her clients were doing everything they could to comply with the court order and she urged the judge not to grant the EPA its attachment and committal application.

Mr Justice Kearns, who was told the EPA would not be able to do the clean up work itself because it is strapped for resources, said he was prepared to grant an adjournment to allow the agency to meet with the O'Briens to see if they continue the work they had already undertaken.