The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was yesterday accused of “intimidating” Clare County Council staff at their homes into giving witness statements as part of a failed prosecution by the agency.
In a hard-hitting report on the EPA’s investigation of the council allowing water into the Ennis public supply untreated for the Cryptosporidium bug, the council’s law officer John Shaw said that the EPA approach “was, to say the least, high-handed” and “untypical of a state body”.
Last month at Ennis Circuit Court, the council was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case after the DPP, on behalf of the EPA, entered a nolle prosequi in the case.
The DPP decision not to prosecute came five years after the EPA launched its investigation.
The council’s decision had been sanctioned by the HSE as capacity issues would have resulted in Ennis not having an adequate water supply if all of the water had to be treated for the bug.
The council advised the EPA that it would be allowing untreated water into the public supply before pressing ahead with the move.
In the report put before the council’s November meeting yesterday on the failed prosecution, Mr Shaw said that as part of the EPA investigation, “council staff were approached late in the evening at their homes and intimidated into giving statements”.
In his report, Mr Shaw said: “This prosecution was particularly annoying as it was without merit and the investigations that were conducted were in a manner that was utterly unacceptable. Assurances have been received from the EPA to the effect that such conduct would not be repeated.”
County manager Tom Coughlan, in his report, told councillors the EPA “sent an investigative team to the home of a council employee at night to question the employee and subsequently commandeered an office at the council offices to conduct interrogations of council staff”.
He said: “This has a serious impact on staff, particularly having regard to the fact that the EPA were seeking to identify individuals to possibly pursue criminal proceedings.”
It is not clear why the EPA did not proceed with the prosecution after a five-year battle.
The EPA declined yesterday to respond to the comments but pointed out that the role of the EPA is to ensure that water supplied is safe and secure.
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