State fined €5 million over Derrybrien wind farm

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 12th, 2019

The Court of Justice of the European Union has fined the State €5 million for failing to ensure that an environmental assessment of Ireland’s largest wind farm was carried out since a previous judgment over a decade ago.

In its judgement released today, the Court ruled in favour of the European Commission against Ireland for failing to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Derrybrien wind farm as required under a previous court ruling in 2008.

In July 2008, the Court ruled that Ireland breached the EIA Directive environmental directive as no assessment was carried out ahead of construction of the large-scale 70 turbine project.

The European Commission brought a second action last year against Ireland for failure to fulfil its obligations in the 2008 ruling to ensure that the wind farm operator or the State itself carried out the EIA.

The Court today rejected the different arguments put forward by Ireland to justify itself for not carrying out the assessment to date. The State will also be hit with a daily penalty of €15,000 from today until the date of compliance with the 2008 judgment.

A landslide at the wind farm in October 2003 caused severe damage to the local river systems, killed around 50,000 fish, affected the water supply to Gort, blocked roads and impacted daily services and agriculture in the area.

The CJEU has previously hit the Irish Government with a €1.5 million fine in 2012 for its failure to put sufficient standards on environmental impact assessments in place as outlined in the EIA Directive in relation to septic tank issues.

The decision is likely to be seen as vindication for the Derrybrien community who raised their concerns with the wind farm development all throughout the planning process and have now waited over 15 years for action.

It was the local Derrybrien community who presented a report to the European Commission in 2004 that led the EU body to press the case.

Photo: Qimono

Case history and impact on local communities

The case arose after the European Commission brought the Irish State back to court last year over its decade-long failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment for Ireland’s largest wind farm at Derrybrien, a small rural village close to the Slieve Aughty Mountains in Co Galway.

Hibernian Wind Power – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ESB developed the site without an EIA being carried out.

The construction work on the wind farm led to a 2km landslide in October 2003. The incident caused 450,000 cubic meters of peat to slide down the mountainside, which was washed into the local river systems.

The landslide destroyed the ecology of a 20km section of a nearby river system, killed around 50,000 fish, affected the water supply to nearby Gort and caused damage to the Loch Cutra Special Areas of Conservation site.

The link road from Derrybrien to Loughrea and the main Gort to Portumna road were closed to traffic for a number of days, causing a great deal of inconvenience for local services.

Farmers were also badly impacted as boundary fences were damaged and bog and debris deposited on land. In some cases, farmers had to purchase water tanks in order to provide clean water to livestock.

There is also the issue of flooding in the Gort area which is being exacerbated by the cutting of deep drains on the Gort side of the wind farm to mitigate water issues which caused the original landslide.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London