Ireland referred to European Court over failed conservation efforts

Ireland has been referred to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) following its longstanding failure to designate Special Areas of Conservation. 

Over 400 sites in Ireland do not have “the necessary conservation measures” according to the European Commission and the State has missed the relevant deadline for the designation by over five years. 

Irish authorities did not “sufficiently address these concerns following a reasoned opinion” and therefore have been referred to the CJEU, the Commission said yesterday. 

“Not just a box-ticking exercise” 

Ireland’s failure to meet these requirements is not only unacceptable in the eyes of European law, the State has also failed in providing necessary conservation and management initiatives, “for many of the sites we have already designated”, Environmental Law Officer of the Irish Environmental Network Attracta Uí Bhroin told The Green News. 

The shortcoming also creates a problem for development, according to Ms Uí Bhroin, as “the impacts of projects simply can’t be assessed properly in line with the legal requirements”. 

Newly appointed Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noon must, “make addressing this a priority” through proper resourcing to environmental NGOs and the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to make a real difference to conversation and ensure that it is, “not just a tick box exercise”, Ms Uí Bhroin added. 

The NPWS has been chronically under-funded, environmental lawyer Dr. Andrew Jackson observed, highlighting its €13.7 million allocation in the 2019 national budget that paled in comparison to “government spending on the greyhound industry (€16.8 million) and the horse racing industry (€67.2 million)”.

The financial means for the NPWS are “simply not enough” for staff and resources to do “the vital work that the government promised would be done way back in 1992 when the Habitats Directive was adopted”, Dr Jackson said. 

Greenland White-fronted Goose in Iceland Photo: Alyn Walsh, NPWS

“The latest in a long saga of legal difficulties”

The development is part of a “a long series of shocking indictments against successive Irish governments” in their neglect of wild species and habitats that are in need of protection, ecologist and Eco-Eye presenter Anja Murray said. 

Biodiversity hotspots are “a part of our national identity” and, “to lose them now through carelessness is something we must not allow.

Yet once again it falls to European authorities to call us up on our failures toward nature,” Ms Murray told The Green News. 

Campaigns Officer of the Irish Wildlife Trust Pádraic Fogarty also highlighted the longstanding nature of the problem, calling it “the latest in a long saga of legal difficulties”. 

Only the “bare minimum of effort goes into this area by the state,” according to Mr Fogarty, and the principal obstacle conservation faces is “the lack of a well-funded, competent, independent nature conservation agency”. 

The newly formed government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party now faces an early test following the Commission’s decision today as they have “promised a review of the NPWS and this decision underlines the urgency of this task”, Mr Fogarty said. 

The European Commission has put the NPWS in the national spotlight for the second time this week, as environmental activists expressed “disbelief” at the decision to hand the responsibility of the biodiversity crisis to the Department of Housing. 

A coalition of the Environmental Pillar, Birdwatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth, An Taisce, and SWAN have called on the new government to put an immediate halt to to the move, as well as for an independent review of the NPWS and the appointment of a junior minister for water. 

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