Environmentalist wins case over freshwater pearl mussels in Blackwater River

Environmentalist wins case over freshwater pearl mussels in Blackwater River
File image of Blackwater River in Fermoy

An Environmental activist has succeeded in a legal challenge brought against the State's decision to remove certain protections from a rare and protected species of freshwater pearl mussel.

Peter Sweetman brought High Court proceedings seeking to quash the making of any legislation or administrative act to remove the freshwater pearl mussel as a "qualifying interest" from any part of the Munster Blackwater Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

He also sought to quash the making of a statutory instrument in September 2018 by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht known as the 2018 EU Environmental Objectives (Freshwater Pearl Mussel Amendment) Regulations.

Mr Sweetman claimed that the state's decision related to the population of freshwater pearl mussels in the main river channel of the Blackwater, which flows through counties Waterford and Cork, which is a designated site of European importance.

The freshwater pearl mussel is a designated protected species, the conservation of which is of global importance given that Ireland has 43% of the EU's population of adult fresh water pear mussels.

Mr Sweetman claimed that the decision to implement the new regulations was flawed and in breach of EU directives on environmental protection, the including the Habitats Directive.

He claimed that the regulations effectively removed a legal obligation to put in place certain conservation measures that lessened the chances of conserving the species.

The regulations he argued removed certain obligations including the setting of ecological quality objectives for the entire length of the Blackwater river.

The regulations it was claimed also removed obligations on emission limits values for discharges into the river, or to investigate sources of pressure on the species in the river.

The action was against the Minister, Ireland and the Attorney General.

File image of Peter Sweetman
File image of Peter Sweetman

The High Court granted Mr Sweetman, represented in the proceedings by solicitor Brian Harrington, permission to bring his challenge in 2018.

Following discussions between the parties it was agreed that the court could make an order quashing the statutory instrument on the basis that the regulations were made in breach of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive.

The court further ordered that the state respondents pay Mr Sweetman's legal costs of taking the proceedings.

The orders, which were formally perfected recently, were granted by Mr Justice Charles Meenan.

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