Average fine for breaching environment law just €3.5k

The average fine meted out by the courts for breaches of environmental law such as polluting rivers, ignoring the terms of waste licences, and illegally dumping waste, is a mere €10,000.

Average fine for breaching environment law just €3.5k

However, when a small number of standout five- and six-figure fines are discounted, the average fine is closer to €3,500.

This is in strong contrast with the UK, where a water company was fined €230,000 yesterday for discharging raw sewage into the sea last year.

An analysis by the Irish Examiner of all prosecutions by the Environmental Protection Agency over the past five years reveals a low number of prosecutions and equally low fines being handed out by the judges to often large companies, many of whom are repeat offenders.

John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth’s department of geography described the fines as derisory.

“Very often, the fines bear no relation to the amount of damage done to the environment by these serious breaches,” said Prof Sweeney. “There is a clear need to look at the legislation again and it’s very important that the EPA remains vigilant.”

An Taisce’s heritage officer, Ian Lumley, said the issue has been raised repeatedly with the Government. He said the current level of fines “do not act as a deterrent to potential offenders”.

“Very often, companies can make a calculated risk as they can save a lot of money even if they are prosecuted by not obeying the laws,” he said.

Just eight prosecutions have taken place this year with the average fine being €6,000. In 2012, the average fine was €1,650.

An EPA spokeswoman defended its record, saying it has an average prosecution success rate over 95%. “We are not aware of a year in which we lost more than one case. Most years we win all of our cases,” she said. “This figure does not reflect cases withdrawn, plea agreements, or the Probation Act.

“The EPA also prosecutes individual company directors where we detect serious and repeated environmental crime.”

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