IRELAND HAS lost a legal battle against the European Commission for failing to screen small-scale farm projects for possible environmental impact assessments.
In a ruling handed down on Thursday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that the Government had not brought fully into Irish law a 1985 directive requiring it to examine the ecological effects of agricultural schemes before granting planning permission for them.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley accepted the court's decision and said his department would "closely examine" the detailed judgment before giving a legislative response.
The case dates back to 2001, when the EC sent a letter of formal notice to the Government relating to a trial salmon farm on the Kenmare estuary in Co Kerry.
Court action followed in 2003, and the case came to the European Court of Justice three years later.
Under EU rules, member states are allowed to set thresholds under which certain projects can be exempted from mandatory impact assessments, but only if those projects do not have a negative effect on the environment.
In order to assess whether a development would have such an effect, planning authorities must look at certain conditions set out in the EU's directive, including the nature, location and cumulative environmental impact of the planned development.
The commission's case rested on the fact that, in allowing planning authorities to decide whether projects under a certain size required impact assessments, Ireland failed to fully take into account the individual merits of each development based on these conditions. A spokesperson for EU environment chief Stavros Dimas said that the commission welcomes the decision and "looks forward to working constructively with the Irish authorities to ensure that important ecological sites will be better protected in future".
Ireland has been ordered to pay the costs incurred by the commission during the proceedings. Poland, which intervened to support Ireland's case last year, has been told to pay its own costs.
In a separate preliminary ruling also handed down on Thursday, the European Court of Justice found that an Irish Beef Industry Development Society scheme, where some beef processors undertook to leave the processing industry, amounts to a restriction of competition in the industry.
The Irish Times