EC starts legal action over roads and incinerators
The European Commission has begun legal action against the Government over the approval of large industrial projects such as incinerators and the rules governing the removal of important archaeological sites during road building.
The Commission confirmed in a statement this morning that it was referring the Government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a ruling in the two matters, which it says breach an EC directive.
The decision will provide a boost to campaigners who are trying to force Minister for the Environment John Gormley to consider re-routing the M3 motorway, which is being built near the Hill of Tara in Co Meath.
It is also good news for anti-incinerator campaigners following the decision by An Bord Pleanala yesterday to grant the company Indaver Ireland permission to build an expanded plan in Carranstown, Co Meath.
The legal move is not expected to halt the construction of either project but may force the Government to change legislation and may see it fined by European authorities.
The Commission's case refers to shortcomings in Irish legislation used to implement the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
In the case of the treatment of archaelogical finds, the Commission believes the Republic's National Monuments Act does not offer enough protection for important archaeological sites.
The Government's action at the Hill of Tara is cited as a prime example of how Ireland fails to conform to EU law.
The commission believes a decision not to order a second environmental impact assessment when a potentially significant archaeological site was discovered at Lismullen, close to Tara, was "in contravention of the directive".
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I am disappointed that Ireland has not accepted the Commission view that improvements are needed in its legislation on impact assessments in order to better safeguard, and give the public more say in decisions affecting its rich archaeological heritage, and to better guarantee that industrial projects will be comprehensively assessed."
On incinerator projects, the Commission says that because of weaknesses in Irish legislation that splits decision-making between An Bord Pleanala and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it poses "risks that outcomes required by the directive will not always be achieved." Planning authorities do not take environmental impact into account when reaching decisions.
The commission decision to start legal action will force the Government to defend its position at the ECJ in Luxembourg.
If it loses the legal case and does not amend its laws to conform with the relevant EU directive, it could eventually face heavy fines. Ireland currently faces 37 infringement proceedings for breaching environmental directives.
Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party welcomed the decision of the Commission and said that an ECJ ruling would clarify the legal discrepencies surrounding the M3 motorway.
"All of the legal advice available to Minister Gormley since taking office has been that Irish law does not provide any means for him to affect or change the decisions on the routing of the M3 made by the previous government."
"We urgently need a decision from the ECJ on the question of further environmental impact assessment when discoveries of major archaeological or heritage value are made once a major construction project has commenced," Mr Cuffe added.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment