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Ireland fined €5m plus daily penalty of €15,000 over landslides at Galway wind farm

The fine relates to an incident which saw 50,000 fish killed in 2003.

Sludge from works at a wind farm above Derrybrien in Co Galway
Sludge from works at a wind farm above Derrybrien in Co Galway
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THE EU’S COURT of Justice has fined the State €5m over its failure to comply with EU legislation that might have prevented landslides linked to the construction of a wind farm in the west of Ireland in 2003.

The penalty is set to increase further as EU’s top court set an additional daily fine of €15,000 until the Government achieves compliance with environmental legislation on assessing the impact of the wind farm Derrybrien, Co Galway.

The fine is due to the “seriousness and duration” of the failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment on the wind farm in the 11 years since a previous CJEU ruling on 3 July, 2008.

The legal action by the European Commission followed a massive landslide at Derrybrien on 16 October, 2003, when tonnes of peat were dislodged and polluted the Owendalulleegh River, resulting in the death of around 50,000 fish.

At the time Derrybrien was the country’s biggest-ever wind farm, and one of the largest in Europe, with 70 turbines. Its construction required the removal of large areas of forest and the extraction of peat up to a depth of 5.5 metres.

The European Commission said two investigations had concluded that the environmental disaster had been linked to the construction work on the wind farm.

The Government had claimed that delays in carrying out a requirement under the 2008 ruling to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the Derrybrien wind farm was due to the complexity of underlying legal issues.

The owner of the windfarm has refused to undergo a “substitute consent” procedure, which is used in exceptional circumstances to allow for the regularisation of planning permissions which are granted for applications in breach of EU environmental legislation.

The Government claimed it could not legally compel the owner of the windfarm to submit to the process, and a remedial environmental impact assessment could only be carried out with their voluntary cooperation.

However, the CJEU rejected the State’s argument and said there was nothing to prevent an assessment being carried out after the construction of the wind farm.

Ireland had claimed the action was unfounded as it could not legally withdraw the planning permission which had been granted to the operator of the wind farm.

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said it had been in regular communication with officials in Brussels on the issue.

It also said that it remained committed to ensuring that an appropriate environmental review of the wind farm took place.

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Seán McCárthaigh

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