ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley has promised to close a loophole in Irish law that allows developers to begin work on large construction projects before the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as required by EU legislation.
The Green party leader is also expected to bring proposals to cabinet in the next few weeks that will remove the ability of developers to seek retention permission for unauthorised developments that would otherwise have been subject to an EIA.
It follows yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg that the Government had failed to comply with an EU directive by not ensuring that domestic legislation required EIAs to be carried out on all building projects that were likely to have an impact on the environment before actual work began.
The court examined several projects where EIAs were conducted after work had commenced.
They included quarry developments in Offaly, Galway, Waterford, Clare and Monaghan as well as the Citywest Hotel in Saggart, where construction work was carried out on a large conference centre without proper planning permission.
In particular, the court ruled that the Government had not fulfilled its obligations under EU law by failing to check if a proper EIA had been carried out before planning permission was granted for one of the largest wind farms ever built in Ireland at Derrybrien, Co Galway.
The removal of peat at Derrybrien led to a landslide in October 2003, which dislodged 450,000 cubic metres of soil, polluting the Owendalulleegh River and resulting in the death of 50,000 fish.
Although the Government argued the landslide was caused by poor construction methods used by the developer, the court ruled it was due to the absence of an adequate EIA on the site.
Responding to the ruling, Mr Gormley admitted the issue of retention of planning permission had caused him concern since becoming minister for the environment.