In its November package of infringement decisions, the European Commission is pursuing legal action against Ireland for failing to comply with obligations to protect wildlife.
First, some background. Where the European Commission detects a failure by a Member State to comply with Community law, the Commission may initiate infringement procedures.
In the first stage of the process, the Commission sends the Member State 'a letter of formal notice' inviting it to submit its observations on its alleged failures within two months. The ensuing exchange of correspondence between the Commission and the Member State is not normally publicised, so interested parties are not privy to what is happening.
Where the observations submitted by the Member State in response to a letter of formal notice fail to satisfy the Commission, it may proceed to stage two and issue 'a reasoned opinion'. In that case, the public is informed.
In its November package of infringement decisions, the European Commission informs us that it is pursuing legal action against Ireland for failing to comply with obligations to protect wildlife.
The reasoned opinion calls on Ireland to finalise the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). European law required that the designation of SACs needed to be carried out within a six-year period that expired on 12 December 2014. Almost four years after the expiry date, 255 candidate SACs out of a total of 423 in Ireland have not yet been designated.
Since, in itself, a paper designation does nothing to protect nature on the ground, there is also a need to establish, for these SACs, conservation priorities, objectives and measures to maintain or restore the species and habitats present in these areas to a favourable condition.
Site-specific conservation objectives have not been established for 198 SACs and conservation measures have not been established for any site. In particular, the necessary conservation measures have not been established for the priority habitat types coastal lagoons at 25 sites and blanket bog at 50 sites, and the critically endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel at 19 sites.
The Irish authorities have now two months to reply to the concerns raised by the Commission. If the outcome isn't satisfactory, the Commission may decide to refer Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU, possibly resulting in censure and fines for being a laggard in protecting the shared natural heritage of members of the European Union.
Whatever happens, the outcome should result in benefits for nature conservation and the common good.