No solution to pearl mussel protection woes

Nine months after Cork county council was warned by the EU to protect a tiny river creature, no solution has been found.

The conservation warning is holding up development along the Blackwater Valley in Co Cork.

Last December, councillors were told that the EU was insisting the freshwater pearl mussel be protected in the River Blackwater.

There may be as many as 32,000 of the creatures living in the river and pollution is hampering their breeding. As a result of the EU warning, all major housing and industrial developments in the region have been put on hold.

Councillors were initially told all efforts were being made to find a solution which would satisfy the EU and allow the local authority to get development back on track in the region.

However, they have reacted angrily to news that investigations into possible approaches to resolving the difficulties are not yet complete and council officials are still having discussions about the problem with two government departments.

Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe said it was “extremely disappointing” that a solution had yet to be found as “developers can’t turn a sod” anywhere near the river or its tributaries.

Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe
Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe

His party colleague, Frank O’Flynn, said he knew of two major developments in the region which were being held up as a result.

He also claimed that silt flowing into the river from forests was a bigger threat to the freshwater pearl mussel than raw sewage.

“There is no doubt this is a very serious situation and it goes all the way to the Kerry border,” said Fine Gael’s Gerard Murphy. “It’s an EU directive and if we don’t comply, the country faces millions of euro in fines.”

He said it was his understanding that the Blackwater Special Area of Conservation for the mussel should only extend a few metres from the river, but the map he had seen drawn up by officials showed it extended much further away.

“I think our interpretation (of the EU directive) has to be looked at,” said Mr Murphy. “We have to see how the protection of pearl mussel is treated elsewhere in Europe. We need a forensic examination on how other governments are dealing with it.”

He maintained the interpretation of the EU direction needed to be looked at again.

“We did come up with a preliminary proposal which could allow a certain small amount of development could take place, such as small housing schemes, schools and local factories,” he said.

Labour councillor Noel McCarthy
Labour councillor Noel McCarthy

Labour councillor Noel McCarthy said a speedy solution was needed and demanded officials provided an update at their meeting next month.

“We were assured this would be progressed as speedily as possible,” said Sinn Féin councillor June Murphy. “We should look for a proper, indepth response to the problem.”

Fianna Fáil councillor Dan Joe Fitzgerald said that, as there was now an uplift in the economy, it would be sad to see a lack of progress on the freshwater pearl mussel hindering development.

Assistant county manager James Fogarty warned the consequences of being found in violation of the EU directive “would be fairly severe”.


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