Monday 12 September 2011

Bruce Arnold: Flouting Brussels rules will destroy our coastal heritage

The Roseate Tern is one of Ireland's rarest seabirds. It is the whitest of all the terns, its feathers tinged with a rose-pink hue, particularly on the breast. It differs from the Arctic Tern and the Common Tern, predominantly grey in colour. All three have black caps.

The Roseate Tern has a black bill as well while the other have orange bills. The Arctic Tern migrates almost farther than any other bird, with travels recorded from northern Siberia to Fremantle in Australia. All three seabirds have a natural habitat on Rockabill, off the north Dublin coast. Their feeding ground is the coast from Rush to Drogheda.

Our colony of Roseate Terns represents almost the entire European population, therefore a matter of concern to bird lovers throughout the European Union, which in all-important things has become our supreme federal government. This is so in respect of bird life, for the protection of which the EU requires Ireland to undertake environmental assessments.

This applies to the coastline between Balbriggan and Drogheda where a major port development is planned. It affects special protection and conservation areas where these rare birds and many others feed and breed. The mouth of the Delvin River is at the heart of the project.

Before this plan is commenced the Irish State and the companies and interests involved must carry out a strategic environmental assessment. This has to be made available for public consultation and, given the European interest, would clearly attract attention outside this country.

The Drogheda Port Company has said an assessment must be carried out, signalling that its massive proposals will have a significant effect on the environment. The assessment has not been held; instead, offshore drilling is being tendered for.

Archaeologically, the area around Bremore and Gormanston where the huge, deep-water port is to be located, is one of supreme archaeological importance. A significant passage tomb complex, with probable connection to Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne, has survived with rich potential for the further discovery of related house sites and cookery areas.

St Patrick met and christened his successor in Armagh at the mouth of the main river, the Delvin, and St Molaga, disciple of St David of Wales, founded a monastery south of Bremore headland. The area continued to have significant developments in medieval and early modern times.

Eighteen months ago, in March 2010, in response to a detailed presentation by An Taisce, the Department of the Environment referred to statutory protections for passage tombs but also referred to the absence of protective and investigative provisions for both archaeological and natural heritage issues. ''Written permission'' from the minister was claimed as protection as were other provisions.

There was no mention of the applicable EU directives. These are mandatory. Hearings must be public, properly notified and open to involvement on a Europe-wide basis. And so they should be, since bird life and the prehistoric and early historic treasures left to us, in a country only lightly touched by the ravages of modern development, are of the highest importance.

It is a curious thing that the present Government and its predecessor have humbly bowed the national back to bear completely the heavy load of debt imposed on it by the EU, a wilful acceptance of punishment, while it blithely ignores the care and protection the EU gives on issues where life and rarity, history and heritage, are at stake.

An Taisce pointed out in its Ports Policy Review submission to the Department of Transport that EU directives are already being ignored and breached. EU legal requirements must be complied with prior to any final pre-emptive site selection.

None of this was done except the "final pre-emptive site selection'' which Minister Leo Varadkar supports enthusiastically, though illegally, as he told the Dail in July, linking it to a ''masterplan'' for the next 30 years. He said: "The company is continuing to progress its plans. Drogheda Port Company has made an application for ministerial approval for a joint venture for the project, which is currently at an advanced stage of consideration.''

In addition, a tender is to be implemented by Drogheda Port Company for offshore drilling, boring and testing. The tender is for 10 boreholes with an option for a further five holes, work that "is likely to shed more light on the exact location of the port, which has been the subject of much debate".'

There is reference to An Taisce's submission but none to the all-important requirements of EU law contained therein. The only concession to fears about disturbance to the Bremore Passage Tomb complex has been the reconsideration of moving the location northwards to Gormanston.

There is no reference to the annihilation of wildlife that will inevitably follow the planned destruction of this fairly pristine coastal site.

The EU regulations are in the form of directives to protect or control each of the following: bird life, natural habitat for fauna and flora, shellfish protection, port waste facilities, noise, bathing water, the release of dangerous substances, the seabed and drinking water. These should all have been subject to public consultation. None has taken place.

The complete plan and project will wreck all of these significant assets in this currently unspoilt area of the east coast.

Belfast and Larne, both deep-water ports, together with what we already have, provide more than enough capacity for the whole island. They are an appropriate North-South cooperation venture, saving huge sums of money and rendering contemptible a plan that will destroy an unspoilt stretch of uniquely heritage-rich coastline. The EU would undoubtedly support this option.

However, it is clearly too unattractive when compared with the lavish new pollution-friendly monstrosity planned for Bremore. It also ignores the case made by Waterford Port against the concentration of new capital development all in the Dublin region.

I have no doubt that the days of the rare Roseate Tern (Sterna Dougallii) are numbered and that the Arctic Tern will depart on its heroic flight round half the world each year from somewhere else because oil, effluent, debris and filth will have destroyed its feeding grounds.

We will see no more the Golden Plover and the Bar-tailed Godwit. Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover, Knot and Sanderling, passage tombs and other ancient man-made sites as well as the beautiful creations of nature, will disappear. So, stop the drilling, Leo, come clean about the widespread state failures about EU legal requirements and let's start afresh. We're meant to be good Europeans!

Irish Independent

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