Irish Examiner - 13/04/05
FORMER Europe Minister Dick Roche has, for the second time since becoming Environment Minister claimed he did not know of court action being taken against Ireland by the European Commission.
Last January, shortly after taking the job, he complained that the commission had issued press releases before officially telling him they were taking eight separate cases over water pollution, waste disposal, and inadequate measures to reduce air pollution.
The latest three cases - one of them about a breach the Government has already been found guilty of - have elicited the same response from the minister.
Shocked commission officials in Brussels said they could not understand why the minister was not spending his energy on safeguarding people’s health and the environment rather than complaining about the procedures.
The commission confirmed it followed procedures, including alerting the Government’s representatives in Brussels in the Permanent Representation to the pending action.
The representatives have confirmed they received the notice and sent it to the department as normal.
A spokesperson for the minister confirmed officials have been in touch with the commission on these issues for some time - some of the cases refer to laws which the Government signed up to over 30 years ago.
Ireland has an appalling history of looking after people’s health and the environment. Until recently it failed to introduce a proper waste disposal system that includes reduction and recycling.
Now it has largely privatised waste disposal without a system to properly monitor it and the result is often dangerous waste dumped around the countryside or across the border in the North.
The biggest numbers of complaints about environmental and health threats to the commission come from Irish citizens and, in case after case, the Government is found guilty.
However when, as frequently happens, the Irish Government does not rectify the problem, the commission ends up taking the country to court. This is costly and time-consuming, often taking years, during which time people’s health and the environment continue to be affected.
Now the commission has taken a test case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg which it hopes will cut out the need to go court after years of unsuccessful haggling over individual breaches.
The insistence by the Environment Minister that he is not aware of cases which have been the subject of numerous meetings much correspondence between his department and the commission for five years does little to instil confidence that anything is about to change.
Mr Roche’s claims of poor communication and procedures also involve Ireland’s and the commission’s most senior civil servants working with the EU - the secretary general, David O’Sullivan, and Catherine Day, who heads up environment.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment