State may face huge fines over waste ‘breaches’

LARGE daily fines could be imposed on the State over its alleged failure to comply with EU directives on waste disposal, including illegal dumping.

The European Court of Justice will give its preliminary ruling on a case brought against Ireland by the European Commission next Thursday.

The commission first brought infringement proceedings against the State in December 2001 for failing to take all measures necessary to ensure the implementation of EU directives on waste management. It followed a series of complaints made to Brussels between 1997 and 2000 about alleged, unauthorised waste operations facilities at various locations around the country.

The Luxembourg-based court will issue an opinion by an advocate general on Thursday, which is usually regarded as a reliable indicator of the ultimate judgment by the court. Hefty daily fines and a substantial bill for legal costs could be imposed by the European Court of Justice if it eventually finds against the State.

The commission claims the Government’s inaction has resulted in some municipal waste treatment operations being carried out without a licence. In some cases, it says that such sites have been operating without a permit or licence for more than 20 years. “The commission maintains that there has been de facto tolerance by the authorities of unauthorised operations at various levels in many locations and in some cases over extended periods of time,” said a commission spokesperson.

It also claims that the few penalties that have been imposed on people engaging in illegal dumping have been inadequate as a deterrent measure. It has accused the Government of not taking necessary measures to counter the real risk posed by illegal operations to the environment and human health. The Government has challenged the allegations, claiming the commission cannot draw general conclusions about Irish compliance levels based on specific complaints, some of which, it contests, contain incorrect information.

However, a commission spokesperson said it had also relied on new information which had emerged in recent years about large-scale illegal dumping in Wicklow to show deficient practices were allowed to continue.

In addition, the commission has taken the action because of the Government’s alleged failure to “completely and satisfactorily respond” to a request for information in 1999 in relation to the waste operation at Cullinagh, Fermoy, Co Cork.

It also claims that domestic legislation intended to implement EU directives on waste management does not ensure that all waste collection will be carried out under permit.

The commission has complained that the State has not taken appropriate measures to establish an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations as well as failing to carry out periodic inspection of waste operators and monitoring their requirement to keep records of waste disposal.

The specific complaints relate to:

The disposal of construction waste by Limerick Corporation at wetlands in Limerick.

Storage of waste by a private operator at Whiterock Hill, Co Wexford.

Collection, storage and disposal of waste by a private operator at Ballard, Fermoy, Co Cork.

A municipal landfill at Powerstown, Co Carlow, since 1975.

Dumping of waste in a green area, operation of a waste treatment facility at Poolbeg, Dublin.

Municipal landfills adjoining protected areas at Tramore and Kilbarry in Co Waterford.

Waste operations at disused quarries at Lea Road and Ballymorris, Co Laois.

A municipal landfill at Drumnaboden, Co Donegal, which polluted a nearby river.

A waste storage and treatment facility at Cullinagh, Fermoy, Co Cork.

Dumping of building waste at Carlingford Lough, Greenore, Co Louth, since 1990.

Waste collection by unlicensed operators in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Disposal of building waste in wetlands in Co Waterford.

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