Healy O'Connor

Corrib Gas Legal Actions Against State Withdrawn

Legal actions brought by An Taisce and others over the manner in which consents were granted for the Corrib gas project have been settled and withdrawn at the High Court after an 11 day-hearing. The costs of the actions are expected to exceed €1 million.

The settlement includes an agreement by the State to properly transpose aspects of the European environmental impact assessment directive by the end of this year.

An Taisce said in a statement afterwards the manner in which the project was consented to and constructed was “a travesty” of European environmental law and its action was about “breaking bad precedents”.

The settlement represented “a victory for the environment” and achieved with greater certainty the opportunity for good precedents, An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley Smith said.

An Taisce was not against the proper development of the Corrib field; the issue was that development must be done in accordance with the law, he said.

In a statement to the court, the State defendants acknowledged An Taisce’s case was properly brought and said, in view of the concerns raised, the State would establish an environmental law implementation group through which it would formally engage with An Taisce.

The State also acknowledged, in light of the decision of the European Court of Justice in proceedings by the European Commission v Ireland, that Ireland had failed to properly transpose certain aspects of the environmental impact assessment directive. It was intended that all necessary transposition measures would be taken by the end of this year, it added.

While acknowledging the failures of transposition, the State said it was maintaining its claims that the consents challenged in the legal actions, including a foreshore licence, were valid and were granted “only after all necessary environmental assessment under Irish and EU law”.

The State would also contribute to An Taisce’s legal costs incurred.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton was told yesterday the actions by An Taisce, and a separate action by local residents Peter Sweetman and Monica Muller, were being withdrawn. The cases, brought against various State parties with Shell EP Ireland and Mayo County Council as notice parties, had been at hearing for 11 days before yesterday’s development.

Mr Sweetman and Ms Muller, Rossport South, Ballina, Co Mayo, own land 500m south of the proposed pipeline. They and An Taisce challenged An Bord Pleanála’s decision last January granting permission to Shell EP Ireland for its third proposed route for the pipeline. No details of the settlement of the Sweetman/Muller case were disclosed.

It was claimed the proposed pipeline traversed several areas of special interest in Co Mayo governed by the EU habitats directive and that the board had failed to assess, as it was required to do, the impact of the development on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

The same parties also challenged consents for the construction of sections of the pipeline issued by former minister for energy Pat Carey and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. An Taisce also challenged the granting of a foreshore licence by Mr Hogan earlier this year.

In his statement, Mr Smith said An Taisce maintained its position that the manner in which the Corrib gas project was consented to was a travesty of European environmental law and that was why it had brought the case.

Rather than pursue the cases in court, the State had proposed a settlement to An Taisce, he said. At its heart was a commitment from the Government to complete outstanding legislative transposition and to engage directly with An Taisce to address compliance with European environmental law.

(The Irish Times, 28th October 2011)

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