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State 'too slow to bring in laws to protect the environment' - judge


Ireland is paying a €15k-a-day fine for failings at a Galway wind farm

Ireland is paying a €15k-a-day fine for failings at a Galway wind farm

Ireland is paying a €15k-a-day fine for failings at a Galway wind farm

A senior judge has said Ireland had an "astonishing reluctance" to comply with EU environmental laws.

Judge Anthony Collins also said Ireland needed to improve access to the courts for activists and remove key barriers on legal costs.

His comments come as the Government is considering making it harder to bring legal challenges.

Judge Collins sits at the European Court of Justice, where Ireland has been summoned repeatedly for breaches of environmental legislation.

The former Dublin-based barrister has previously represented the State in environmental court cases and he lectures on the subject at University College Cork - for which he recorded a podcast.

He said he made his comments in a personal capacity but did not believe he was revealing secrets about official attitudes to green laws.

Judge Collins said Ireland would have had no effective environmental laws if the EU had not brought them in.

Even when EU directives became European law officially then Ireland fought against implementing them.

A prime early example was the failure to address illegal dumps, which the State argued for years was down to the actions of individuals.

Other examples included the State's failure to apply and enforce laws on septic tanks, habitats, pollutants such as nitrates and phosphates, urban wastewater as well as environmental assessments.


"The list of non-compliance by Ireland of its environmental law obligations at EU level is incredibly long," Judge Collins said.

He added Ireland seemed to pay attention only when taken to court by the European Commission and fined, as in the Derrybrien wind farm case in Co Galway where €8m in penalties has been paid and fines of €15,000 a day are still totting up.

"It was only at that stage that the law was being taken seriously by the State," he said.

"I think it's fair to say there would have been a certain reluctance towards the idea of even applying some of these rules on the part of the State.

"That's fairly evident from the defences that were put forward - an astonishing reluctance to comply with rules which the State signed up to.

"The State willingly went along with all of them and yet when it came to implementing and applying them dragged its heels."

He said citizens had been left to become "private law enforcers", going to court to make the State apply the laws "often at considerable risk to their own financial safety".

"Access to justice is a major issue in Ireland," he said.

He said the bar was low for a court in deciding whether to allow legal challenges to the State but it could be raised.

However once an applicant met that threshold then they should be indemnified against paying costs if they lost, he said in the podcast.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan accepted Ireland's record had been poor.

But he said the Government was working hard on issues such as climate, air quality, water quality and a reduction in waste.