West Cork farmer pleads guilty to 'industrial-scale excavation' of riverbank

Judge asks solicitor representing accused if he would volunteer to write an article for publications, including the Irish Examiner's Farming section, about the case, advising farmers of their environmental responsibilities 'as a service to your client and the nation'
West Cork farmer pleads guilty to 'industrial-scale excavation' of riverbank

The court was told the changes to the riverbed as a result of the excavation would have an impact on salmon spawning.

The solicitor representing a man who pleaded guilty to what a judge described as "industrial-scale excavation" of a riverbank has been asked to write for a number of publications advising farmers of their environmental responsibilities.

Ian Harrington of Lackareagh, Kealkill, near Bantry in Co Cork, pleaded guilty to two charges brought by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) relating to an incident on a tributary of the River Ouvane last year.

At Bantry District Court, Andrew Gillespie, a senior environmental officer with IFI, told Judge James McNulty that on December 10 last he responded to a report of water discolouration in the river.

On investigating, he found excavation works had been carried out at a riverbank at Lackareagh, where there had been significant removal of riverbed material.

Mr Gillespie handed photographs into court and said there had also been significant lowering of the river bed, as well as removal of gravel. This had exposed a clay material which led to the sending of suspended solids downstream.

Samples from the water showed that upstream, the suspended solids level of the water was in the low single figures, but downstream it was as much as 500mg per litre of water. The judge heard this would impact on salmon spawning.

As Mr Gillespie was at the site, Mr Harrington approached and explained in a non-confrontational way that he had been conducting the works with his own excavator over the previous weekends.

Mr Harrington undertook to carry out immediate mitigation works and did so that evening.

Mr Harrington's solicitor, Brian Harrington, said his client worked full-time as an electrician and farmed part-time and had been making efforts to improve his land.

He described his client's actions as "an error of judgement" and "in the category of careless", adding: "Clearly it will not happen again."

Judge McNulty said: "I think it's high time and long past time for farmers, landowners and contractors to make themselves aware of what they may and may not do.

"This man, from the photos, was undertaking industrial-scale excavation."

'Blundering through nature'

He said Ian Harrington was "blundering through nature" during prime spawning season.

The possible penalties in the case are a fine of up to €5,000 or six months in prison for the most serious charge, and a fine of up to €2,000 on the second charge, while the IFI is also seeking costs and expenses of €2,776.

Judge McNulty said this was the third such case to appear before the court in recent months and, on hearing from Brian Harrington about the nature of his work as a solicitor regarding environmental matters, he said he wondered if he could volunteer to write an article for publications such as the Irish Examiner's Farming section, the Farmer's Journal and the Southern Star about the case, "as a service to your client and the nation".

You might mention in your article that you are representing a person facing up to €5,000, or six months in prison, and that the simple judge which heard the case was not impressed and takes a grave view and it keeps occurring."

The case was adjourned until May 12 next, with IFI costs to be covered in the next 28 days, and Judge McNulty said to Brian Harrington: "I hope to see you in print here, there and everywhere in the meantime."

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