Environmental defender granted permission to challenge Trump’s seawall in Doonbeg

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 28th, 2018

Ireland’s most prolific environmental litigant has secured leave from the High Court to challenge the construction of a large rock barrier at US President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf club in Co Clare.

In an affidavit, Peter Sweetman said that, having reviewed all the publicly available documents on the proposed coastal erosion management works, he could not find any reference to the Council carrying out an appropriate assessment (AA).

He added that the location of the development in an environmentally sensitive area at the northern end of Doughmore Bay requires a full AA to be carried out prior to planning being granted.

The new legal move brought by Mr Sweetman challenges Clare County Council’s decision to grant permission for the 38,000-tonne rock barrier just days become Christmas last year.

The approval was granted despite strong opposition from several local and environmental groups such as An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE).

Mr Sweetman was a key member of FiE when the NGO first challenged planning permission for the golf course back in 1999.

FiE Director Tony Lowes welcomed the decision, adding that it rightly puts the focus back on the County Council.

“Too often Local Authorities give permission, knowing that if the decision is challenged, it will be An Bord Pleanala who will ultimately be blamed,” he added.

“In this case, the Local Authority will rightly have to face up to ignoring the State and its own Environmental Officer in granting a permission that flies in the face of our nature conservation legislation.”

The High Court also imposed a stay on An Bord Pleanala making any ruling on the appeal until the case is completed.

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Photo: Gage Skidmore

An Taisce Challenge

At the end of January, An Taisce lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála over the permission granted by Clare County.

The charity argues said the Natura Impact Statement submitted by the applicant could not satisfy the requirements of the Habitats Directive.

“It has not been appropriately demonstrated that the proposed development would not adversely affect the integrity of the Special Area of Conservation,” said Doireann Ni Cheallaigh, An Taisce’s Planning Officer.

She added that neither the applicant nor the Planning Authority adequately considered alternative options such as redesigning the golf course.

Ms Ni Cheallaigh added: “It would be more sustainable in the long term to redesign the course so that the affected holes are moved away from the coastline so that the natural protection provided by the dunes can be optimised.”

In its submission, An Taisce states that the justification for the proposed protection works, which points to waves, sea level rise, and storms are the leading cause of loss of the dune frontage, is “scientifically unfounded and inaccurate”.

An Taisce’s submission instead points to the golf course itself as the cause of the loss of sand dune habitat, noting that sea defence, stabilisation works, and golf courses expansion works are widely accepted as leading drivers of sand dune loss internationally.

In 2014, the National Parks and Wildlife Service raised concern that the golf course had “impacted negatively” on the entire sand dune system.

“This is most notable at the centre of the system where the golf course extends right out to the frontline. Given the fact that this system is retreating the golf course should have been located well back from the seaward edge,” the NPWS document states.

Sand dune systems are important for both coastal environments and human populations, and support a broad range of flora and fauna, yet, a large percentage of dunes across Europe are in an unfavourable and bad condition.

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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