Environmental group succeeds in challenge against Flood relief scheme in Co Roscommon

 

An environmental protection group has succeeded in its High Court action aimed at halting works on a flood relief scheme in Co Roscommon.

In a sinister twist, the court also heard that a threat was made by persons linked to the Provisional IRA and or Continuity IRA against Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) director Mr Tony Lowes for taking the case.

Earlier this month FIE launched proceedings aimed at quashing Roscommon Co Council's decision to allow works, including the construction of a 3km pipeline taking water from Lough Funshinagh to Lough Ree.

The court had granted FIE a temporary order halting work on the project, located some 12 Km north of Athlone.

When the matter came before Mr Justice Garrett Simons last week the court was told by Jon Kenny Bl, instructed by solicitor Fred Logue, for FIE that the matter was resolved.

Mr Kenny said that Council was consenting to orders quashing its decision permitting the works to proceed.

The Council was also consenting to an order remediating the lands the subject of the proceedings, and that it would pay the costs of FIE's judicial review challenge against the Council's decision last May to authorise the works.

The remedial works would be the subject of an agreement between the parties, counsel said. The part of FIE's challenge against the State could be dismissed, Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny also told the court that Mr Lowes had recently been informed by a third party from South Roscommon that he would be "exposed to undefined consequences" from parties in the area that had links to the Provisional IRA and or Continuity IRA should FIE to continue with its challenge.

Counsel said that this was put to Roscommon Co Co who condemned the threat.

Peter Bland SC for the council said his client abhorred and was appalled by the threat against Mr Lowes. Counsel said a threat against a litigant was "attack against the rule of law."

Mr Bland said his client was consenting to orders against it, and accepted that it had not fulfilled certain obligations it ought to have in relation to the flood relief works.

Mr Justice Simons welcomed the resolution of the action, and noted that the proposed works had not be subjected to assessments under EU directives on Habitats and Environmental Impact Assessments.

The judge also expressed his concerns about the threat to Mr Lowes and gave FIE permission to bring proceedings should there be any interference, or contempt, by any party with the orders made by the court.

The works at the centre of the challenge included the construction and laying of the pipe that would see water from Lough Funshinagh, which is a Special Area of Conservation, pumped into the larger Lough Ree.

The works were commenced because many people living in the area have been subject to flooding in recent years, and there are concerns that some may have to abandon their homes.

In its action, FIE had claimed that the proposed works, which had commenced some weeks ago, had the potential to lead to serious environmental damage and priority habitat loss.

FIE, which expressed its sympathies to those affected by flooding, said that the proposed works are not lawful, and were in breach of European law, on grounds including that the project was not subjected to the required environmental screening and assessment processes.

In its action, FIE represented by Jon Kenny Bl, instructed by FP Logue solicitors had sought various orders and declarations including one quashing the council's decision to authorise the works.

They also sought declarations including that the proposed works should be authorised by the 2000 Planning and Development, and are subject to consent procedures under that Act.

Mr Justice Simons said that he was satisfied on an ex-parte basis where only one side was represented in court to grant FIE permission to bring its action against the council, Ireland and the Attorney General.

The court previously heard that before works had commenced the Co Council was advised by Civil engineers it had retained that planning permission for the project would have to be sought under the 2000 Planning and Development Act.

As part of that process the council would have been obliged to conduct an extensive environmental assessment of the proposed flood relief works.

Both Lough Ree and Lough Funshinagh are specially designated protected areas, counsel said.

It was claimed local authority rather than seeking development consent under the 2000 Act opted to commence the works under the 1949 Local Authorities Act.

FIE claimed that the 1949 Act did not allow the council carry out the proposed works, and could only be applied in limited circumstances.

As a result of the council's decision, no assessment or environmental impact assessments were carried out before the works at Lough Funshinagh commenced, FIE claimed.

FIE claimed the proposed works are likely to have a significant effect on the environment and at the very least should have been screened for the purposes of complying with the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessments.

An expert report compiled by FIE raised concerns about the effects the proposed development may have on both lakes. There were further concerns about the impact the pipe will have on the water quality at Lough Funshinagh, on local wildlife including the Whooper Swan, and on local ecology.

It is FIE's case that the works are being carried out in breach of EU law and domestic planning laws, and should be halted.

Source – The Irish Independent