Friday, 12 January 2007

State not protecting wildlife and habitats

Jamie Smyth and Tim O'Brien in The Irish Times tell us how Europe's highest court has ruled the Government is breaking EU conservation law by not protecting the State's natural habitats and wildlife.
However, the Department of the Environment said the judgment was out of date and related to a period before the introduction of necessary legislation.
In its judgment yesterday, the European Court of Justice found there was no effective national system in place to monitor a range of protected species such as the otter, the Kerry slug and various species of bats.
It also found that Irish law offered no legal protection to the breeding grounds of these species, and cited several infrastructure developments that were approved despite disturbing protected species.
The Ennis bypass, the construction of a gas pipeline in Broadhaven Bay and the Lough Rynn Estate project, which consists of a championship golf course, were all authorised by the State prior to the conclusion of environmental impact assessments that found they would have a negative impact on the environment.
The court concluded that these high-profile construction projects showed that rare species protected in Ireland, their breeding sites and their resting places were subject to disturbances and to threats which the Irish rules do not make it possible to prevent.
The court also found that sections of the Wildlife Act do not provide adequate protection for protected species because it includes derogations for certain people.
For example, it is not an offence for a person engaged in road-building, agriculture, fishing, aquaculture, forestry or turbary to interfere with or kill
protected species or to unintentionally destroy the breeding place of such an animal. This situation does not comply with EU law, according to the court.
The commission took the case against the Government because it felt the Government had not implemented effectively a council directive passed in 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.
In its defence Ireland argued it had recently amended its domestic legislation to offer protection to rare species and habitats to comply with the commission's concern.
Last night the Department of the Environment said new regulations had been enacted since the situation referred to by the court. However, the department said it was "giving detailed consideration to this judgment".
It added that "substantial progress" was continuing to be made.
"Since 2005 we have advanced the production of species action plans. Four plans have been produced covering the Irish hare, the corncrake, the pollan and the Irish lady's tresses orchid."
It said three other plans - including one covering all 10 Irish bat species - had been drafted and were at the consultative stage.

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