November 13, 2019

Local campaigners welcome judgment on Galway windfarm

By Pat McGrath, Western Correspondent | RTÉ | Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019 |

On a bright, breezy day in south Galway, most of the 70 turbines were constantly rotating at the Derrybrien wind farm yesterday afternoon.

The development is located around 20km away from Gort, on the Slieve Aughty mountains.

Built and operated by a subsidiary company owned by the ESB, it has been the source of controversy since it was first mooted over two decades ago.

Concerns were heightened during construction in October 2003 when a massive landslide occurred, pushing thousands of cubic metres of peat down the mountain.

Deep trenches, that were subsequently dug to assist drainage around the turbines, increased the flow of water downstream.

Locals contend this caused widespread flooding in the years that followed.

They say that while the bog used to act as a sponge for rainfall accumulations, slowly releasing over time – the pace and volume of runoff was greatly increased.

By 2008, the European Union’s Court of Justice was involved. It ordered the State to carry out a retrospective Environmental Impact Assessment of the development.

But this never happened.

Ten years later, the court put Ireland on notice that it was in line for serious fines if it continued to ignore the order.

Last summer, an opinion from the ECJ hinted that fines would be applied on a daily basis if the EIA was not carried out.

It has made good on that warning, issuing a €5 million penalty. In addition, further fines of €15,000 will be applied for every day until the Court order is complied with.

That’s an extra €105,000 for every week of delay, or almost €5.5m for each additional year of inaction.

The 29-page judgment pulls no punches in describing the protracted failure of the State to adhere to environmental standards.

It says the breaches are a matter of “indisputable seriousness” and says the Irish response has been delayed, insufficient and unjustified.

Environmental groups say the ruling highlights an ongoing failure to take concerns about habitats seriously when it comes to planning matters.

Local campaigners have welcomed the judgment as validating their long-held views and setting down a marker for similar developments in the future.

David Murray of the South Galway Flood Action committee said it sent a message that a small community in rural Ireland could be heard and have its concerns adjudicated upon at one of the highest courts in Europe.

He said he hoped big corporations would now see that they could not ignore the concerns of locals when they were proposing major projects.

Mr Murray says the ruling is also important, given the Government’s stated commitments to increase the supply of renewable energy sources.

The Department of Housing, which has responsibility for planning, issued a one-line statement yesterday to say it was considering the ruling.

While that process continues, the exchequer is on the hook for a bill of €5m and counting.

Now, after more than 11 years of inaction, time really is money.

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