Ireland faces EU fines over peatlands ruling

The European Commission is seeking daily fines of €21,720 against Ireland for breaking EU environment laws protecting sensitive peatlands.

The European Commission is seeking daily fines of €21,720 against Ireland for breaking EU environment laws protecting sensitive peatlands.

The request to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg follows the Government’s failure to comply with a legal ruling more than three years ago.

The judges said in September 1999 that Ireland must carry out environmental impact assessments to ensure that peatlands of conservation importance are saved from drainage and mining damage associated with peat extraction.

That involves designating thousands of hectares of peatlands as Natural Heritage Areas under Irish law – but the Commission says it has not been done and that Ireland should be fined until it is.

EU environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said: “It is essential that Ireland now comes into line with the legal provisions on environmental impact assessment.

“Following a period of public consultation that is now being launched in Ireland on the designation of sensitive peatlands, I am hopeful that Ireland will soon comply and that we will be able to close this long-running case.”

Under current arrangement the Commission cannot simply impose fines, but needs European Court approval. And any fines can only be applied from the date the judges give the go-ahead.

The same arrangements were attacked when the Commission sought daily fines of €156,000 against France over the French ban on British beef exports which continued for three years after markets were supposed to be opened. But France lifted the ban before the judges cleared the request, and escaped all penalties.

If Ireland falls in line with the EU environmental rules in the next few months, it, too, will avoid paying fines.

About 45,000 hectares of Irish peatlands, are deemed to be of major European conservation importance because they host rare plant and animal species.

“Given their rarity and importance, Irish peatlands can provide local communities with a valuable long-term resource for amenity, education, eco-tourism and scientific research,” said a Commission statement.

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