The European Commission has threatened to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if it does not carry out environmental impact assessments (EIA) for peat extraction.The Commission said that under an EU directive from 2011, member states are required to carry out an assessment of the environmental impacts of projects likely to have a significant negative impact on the environment, which included peat extraction.
Ireland has failed to apply the directive on numerous occasions, the Commission said.
In its July notices of infringements, the Commission said: "Ireland has had numerous problems with the transposition and application of the EIA Directive for this category of projects over the years."
The ECJ found in a previous case that Ireland had failed to correctly transpose the original EIA directive with regard to peat extraction activities, the Commission said.
Whilst the legislation was amended and the case closed, the Commission subsequently received complaints that it was still not being applied to peat extraction activities in practice, it said.
"Given the significant peat extraction that has continued in Ireland since the EIA Directive was required to have been transposed and applied in 1988, the Commission raised these concerns in a letter of formal notice.
"As Ireland has failed to answer these claims, the Commission is now issuing a reasoned opinion. Ireland has three months to bring itself into compliance, otherwise the Commission may decide to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU," the Commission statement read.
Ireland has repeatedly fallen foul of the EU authorities in relation to peat extraction, with cases against the state going back to the 1980s.
Environmental group welcomes the latest move by the European Commission
Environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment said the latest move by the Commission was welcome.
It said it had lodged renewed complaints with the Commission last year over what it called "continuing unauthorised extraction" of peat in Ireland.
"Ireland’s reputation in Europe as the ‘reluctant jurisdiction’ remains well merited," said a spokesperson for Friends of the Irish Environment.
"Taxpayers paid a €5m fine in February 2020 and continue to pay €15,000 a day for a case arising from the Derrybrien landslide in Galway that was determined in 2008. That additional bill stands at €3m and rises every day. It is cheaper to obey the law," the spokesperson added.
In the Derrybrien case, Ireland was found to be in breach of environmental measures relating to the construction of a wind farm in Galway in 2003.
The fine issued is accompanied by €15,000 daily costs until it is rectified. An EIA has not been carried out since a previous ruling in 2008.