Minister for the Environment John Gormley has asked the European Commission how the State should deal with infringements which could cost millions of euro in fines.
Ireland is the subject of 33 investigations by the commission into infringements of EU directives ranging from water pollution to the habitats directive and birds directive.
The country faces swingeing fines as early as October for violations of directives which include the overuse of nitrate fertilisers, the removal of native hedgerows and the draining of wetlands.
According to one report, more than 29 different bird species and 120 species of flowering plants are in serious decline. There has already been two rulings against Ireland in the European Court for breaches of the directives. Recently the Department of the Environment has included a shortening of the appeals process included in the legislation transposing the habitats directive. This should increase the number of sites designated as special areas of conservation. The department is also moving towards the designation of a number of new sites for the protection of the hen harrier and other bird species. Mr Gormley said he had assured the European Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas of his intention to solve the difficulties relating to Ireland's non-compliance with EU directives.
Mr Gormley said he had a "very useful and productive" meeting with Commissioner Dimas yesterday, a meeting which Mr Gormley requested to deal with numerous issues.
"I explained to him my concern and my willingness to resolve our problems particularly under the habitats and birds directives," he said. "I have asked for a road map on how we can best avoid and deal with infringement proceedings going forward."
The pair also discussed the controversial decision to go ahead with the M3 motorway through Lismullin in Co Meath. The EU Commission has taken infringement proceedings against the Government in relation to the decision to preserve by record the ancient site at Lismullin. It wants the Government to amend the 2004 National Monuments Act to include environmental impact assessments (EIAs) whenever a site of potential archaeological worth is discovered along the route. At present EIAs are only carried out before projects are begun.
Mr Gormley said: "The issues associated with Ireland's implementation of the EIA directive are complex and have been ongoing for a number of years and Lismullin has recently been cited in the additional opinion. This matter requires full and detailed consideration and we will be responding to the commission as quickly as possible."
Separately, the EU Commission announced that Ireland must cap its carbon emissions at 22.3 million tonnes a year between 2008 and 2012. The allowance is 300,000 tonnes a year less than the State had sought. Mr Gormley said: "The Government's priority now is to ensure that the necessary reductions are also made across the entire economy in all sectors, especially transport."
© 2007 The Irish Times
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