A €5m fine has been imposed by the EU’s top court on the State 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 the Court of Justice of the EU set an additional daily fine of €15,000 until the Government achieves compliance with environmental legislation on assessing the impact of the wind farm at 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 July 3, 2008.
The legal action by the European Commission followed a massive landslide at Derrybrien on October 16, 2003 during which 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 biggest ever wind farm in the Republic 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 the environmental disaster had been linked to the construction work on the wind farm.
The Government had claimed that delays in carrying out the requirement of the 2008 ruling to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the Derrybrien wind farm was due to the complexity of the 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 granted for applications which breach 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 over legal complexities 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 granted to the operators of the wind farm.
Earlier this year Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said it had been in regular communication with officials in Brussels on the issue and remained committed to ensuring that an appropriate environmental review of the wind farm took place.