Press Release - Friends of the Irish Environment 15th July 2019
Challenge to planning exemption for industrial peat cutters opens in High Court in Cork
A challenge to the Government’s new regulations exempting industrial peat extraction from planning controls opens today (Monday 15 July) in the High Court.
Sitting in Cork over two days, Justice Garret Simons will hear the application by Friends of the Irish Environment for a stay on the operation of the Statutory Instruments signed into law by Ministers Richard Bruton and Eoin Murphy in January 2019.
The new laws were introduced in the aftermath of a High Court Decision in December 2018 that two of the leading peat producers, Westland Horticulture Limited and Bulrush Horticulture Limited required planning permission to extract peat from bogs in Co. Westmeath.
A satellite survey commissioned by Friends of the Irish Environment in 2010 and supported by the Department of the Environment confirmed wide scale unauthorised industrial extraction across the raised bogs of the midlands in the absence of EPA licensing or planning permission.
In a separate legal action, FIE have highlighted the destruction of a bronze age timber road or togher at Coole in County Westmeath as an example of the failure of development control.
FIE Director Tony Lowes said
‘At a stroke of a pen, these new laws have removed the requirement for planning permission for peat extraction on bogs of 30 hectares or more and eliminate the enforcement penalties that arise for failing to have planning permission.
The new legislation creates a gap of 18 months and more within which existing unauthorised operators will be allowed to continue extracting peat in the absence of any environmental or public health assessment of their activities, pending applications for EPA licences.
‘Unusually, even if the EPA refuses to grant a licence to an operator continue peat extraction, the new laws grant an automatic stay on licence refusals that are challenged by developers in Court, facilitating the continuance of unauthorised operations for the duration of legal proceedings which can take many years.
‘In all likelihood, the most damaging operations, the ones most likely to be refused a licence by the EPA, are being handed a valuable gift by the government, the statutory right to keep extracting peat without any environmental or public health controls while they challenge the EPA through the courts.
‘The legislation places all the cards in the hands of the peat operators. The new laws have eliminated the previous rights under the Planning Acts for members of the public to initiate enforcement action against unauthorised peat extraction operations.
‘Not only do these Statutory Instruments reverse environmental protection of raised bogs, they are also legally unprecedented.
'Until now the EPA would only accept licensing applications after planning permission had been granted. This is because industrial licensing has a very different focus from planning permission. Yet there is no parallel legislation or regulations to augment the EPA’s technical function and remit or to expand their expertise to ensure full implementation of European law and the judgments previously given against Ireland by the European Court of Justice over the failure to assess peat extraction.’
FIE is represented by O’Connell Clarke, Solicitors, and barristers James Devlin SC, Oisin Collins BL, and Margaret Heavey BL.
SAVE OUR BOGS VIDEO [3 minutes]
Friends of the Irish Environment: Tony Lowes 353 (0)27 74771 / 353 (0)87 2176316
Daithí Ó hÉalaithe (Irish language) +353 (0)87 6178852