A High Court judge has quashed an order by the Minister for Agriculture in which he had revoked the licence of a fish farm in Bantry in West Cork.
Ms Justice Marie Baker said the initial order revoking the licence of Murphy’s Irish Seafood Limited, issued by Michael Creed on January 21 last year, was not served following a warning notice in compliance with statutory regulations.
The judgement also states that sufficient reasons were not given by the minister regarding the revoking of the licence.
Murphy’s Irish Seafood Ltd had been cultivating salmon at two sites, both located at Gearhies, Bantry Bay, Co Cork, under a foreshore licence.
A storm on February 1, 2014, destroyed fish stock amounting to 235,000 fish, and almost all of the aquaculture equipment on the site. According to the judgement, “the damage caused by the storm was such that the applicant was de facto in breach of the conditions of its licence”.
In the July following the storm the company reached an agreement to facilitate the ongoing operation of the aquaculture process at the location.
A letter sent on behalf of the minister by the assistant principal in the department to the company on January 21 last year said the minister had approved the withdrawal of the consent to operate and cited a failure to properly maintain the operation in accordance with a section of the Fisheries (amendment) Act 1997 and a failure to comply with two conditions of the foreshore licence.
The minister argued an earlier letter sent to the company on January 12, 2015, was a valid letter in setting out the terms of a possible withdrawal of a licence, alongside a later email of January 28 of that year that contained details of alleged breaches.
The law requires 28 days notice by post to the licensee stating that the minister has the revocation of the licence “under consideration”.
Ms Justice Baker considered that and other correspondence between the two parties, as well as some remedial measures undertaken by the company prior to the letter of January this year.
She found the notice of January 21, 2016 shows the minister relied on correspondence and communication that had occurred since August 4, 2015, in which some complaints were made, and not before, and that it did not comprise a warning or notice.
She said it was “not sufficiently clear from the correspondence why the minister had come to the conclusion in January, 2016 that the applicant was not compliant” and said the letter was not served following a warning notice.
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