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Eamonn Farrell

Landmark High Court challenge against State over peat regulations opens before High Court

The action has been taken by the environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment.

A LANDMARK HIGH Court challenge against the State over new regulations that allow for the industrial extraction of peat from bogs has opened before the High Court.

The action has been taken by environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment, which claims regulations introduced here last January mean that large scale peat extraction does not require planning permission, and instead must be licenced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

FIE claims the effect of the new regulations will create a retention mechanism for the unauthorised industrial extraction of peat, and allow this activity to continue for many years in an unassessed and unregulated fashion.

The group argues the regulations fail to comply with several EU directives on the protection of the Environment.

FIE, represented by James Devlin SC with Oisin Collins BL, and Margaret Heavey BL, instructed by solicitor Aoife O’Connell, contends the regulations disapply existing domestic laws intended to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Habitats Directives, which should have been implemented here in 1988 and 1994 respectively.

Rejecting claims

FIE’s action is against the Ministers for Communication, Climate Action and Environment, the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government, as well as Ireland and the Attorney General.

The defendants, represented by Niamh Hyland SC, oppose the action and reject the group’s claims.

The hearing, which is expected to last several days, is before Mr Justice Garrett Simons. The case is seen as important due to the implications the court’s findings may have on large-scale peat production in Ireland.

In its judicial review action, FIE seeks orders including quashing the making of the regulations by both the Minister for Communication and the Minister for Housing in January of this year.

The regulations are known as the 2019 European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment (Peat Extraction) Regulations, and the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) regulations 2019.

FIE also seeks several declarations including that the statutory instruments are contrary to various EU Directives on Special Environmental Assessments, Habitats and Environmental Impact Assessments.

In July Mr Justice Simons granted an injunction suspending the coming into effect of regulations which exempt, for at least 18 months, large scale peat extraction projects from the provisions of domestic laws implementing two European environmental directives.

The injunction is to remain in place, pending the outcome of the hearing.

The hearing continues.

Aodhan O Faolain