Four million gallons of slurry at piggery is a disaster waiting to happen

Donal Connaughton's farm yard in the townland of Elfleet near Newtowncashel, Co Longford. Picture: David Walsh

A judge has called for a taskforce to be set up to prevent an impending environmental disaster in the Midlands.

Over 4m gallons of slurry are on the verge of leaking from a largely unauthorised piggery in Co Longford into major lakes, Longford District Court heard yesterday.

“This is a toxic site and I want to hear proposals,” said Judge Seamus Hughes.

Donal Connaughton, aged 56, a pig farmer, has admitted three charges of causing or permitting deleterious matter (slurry) to fall into the water courses, just 1km from his property at Elfleet, Newtowncashel, Co Longford, in March 2013.

The court heard there are up to 25 massive slurry tanks both above and below ground at the now disused 8,000sq m piggery.

About half of the total area comprises of unauthorised developments and Mr Connaughton made the situation worse by removing the roofs of slatted structures in order to comply with a demolition order sought by Longford County Council, the court was told.

He was prosecuted by the Inland Fisheries Board. Senior fisheries environmental officer Michael Fitzsimons, told Judge Hughes that, when he carried out an inspection in March 2013, a number of pipes at the farmyards were discharging slurry onto the yard and into Lough Slawn, which feeds into Lough Ree.

The judge heard that, at any one time during production, 14,000 pigs would be on the site. Production had been halted in recent years after Mr Connaughton ran into financial difficulties and he was now surviving on social welfare.

Mr Fitzsimons agreed with the judge that the situation amounted to a disaster waiting to happen.

Shown a picture of one of the tanks on the farm containing slurry and rainwater, Judge Hughes described it “one of the most frightening photographs ever shown to this court”. He compared the size of the tanks to those at an oil terminal.

Consulting engineer Brendan Mulligan said he had been engaged by the council to advise on emergency works to deal with the situation.

While the council had been taking some of the slurry away in tankers, there was a risk that the tanks would overflow in the event of prolonged heavy rain. He agreed with the judge that it was, in effect, a fire-brigade action.

Judge Hughes said: “The Department of the Environment and the EPA need to know everything that’s going on. It’s a gravely serious situation… It appears to me that the IFA have to be involved also.”

He told Mr Connaughton he was holding him 100% responsible for the situation.

“He is the author of his own misfortune,” said Judge Hughes. “He has created a monster at his homestead — 95% of his property is covered in concrete.”

He adjourned the case to next month to hear from the council and other parties about possible solutions.


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