Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (105)

Michael D. Higgins


90 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of legal proceedings being taken against the Government for its failure to comply with EU legislation designed to protect the environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27323/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

There are currently nine cases in respect of which the European Commission has initiated legal action in relation to EU environmental directives, eight of which are the responsibility of my Department. This figure includes one case where the Commission has applied to the court for a daily fine in relation to the incomplete transposition of the EIA, environmental impact assessment, directive.

The following are the eight cases for which my Department has responsibility. The dangerous substances in water case relates to a directive on water quality. It is substantially implemented in the context of the Local Government Water Pollution Act and related legislation. For the purposes of this directive, water quality standards have been established for phosphorous and 14 other substances. However, EPA monitoring indicates that dangerous substances are generally not a problem in Irish waters. The directive is being further implemented in the context of implementation of the water framework directive.

With regard to the directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, commonly known as an environmental impact assessment, or EIA, the points at issue relate to one aspect of the implementation of the directive, with specific regard to peat extraction. The Commission applied to the European Court of Justice on 7 July 2003 seeking the application of a daily fine of €21,600 for each day of delay in implementing measures in relation to the environment impact directive. There is ongoing communication with the Commission to resolve the matter.

Three cases relate to alleged failures to designate areas for conservation. The first case concerns the failure to fulfil obligations under the birds directive and the habitats directive and relates specifically to the effects of sheep overgrazing in the Owenduff and Nephin Beg regions. My Department is in communication with the Commission with a view to satisfying the requirements of the Court. The second case relates to the designation of a sufficient number of special areas of conservation under the habitats directive. My Department has worked to meet the requirements of the directive and has to all intents and purposes satisfied the requirements of the court judgment in this case. The third case, proceedings in which were initiated by the Commission during October 2004, relates primarily to allegations that insufficient special protection areas have been classified under the birds directive and the habitats directive and that the protective mechanisms in place are insufficient. The defence in this case is currently being prepared.

With regard to a number of related waste issues, the Advocate General delivered his opinion on this case to the European Court of Justice on 23 September 2004. With regard to end of life vehicles, it is intended to make regulations later this year fully transposing the directive's provisions and facilitating its full implementation in 2005. Regarding reporting requirements under an EU Regulation on ozone depleting substances, a response to the most recent judgment of the ECJ is being prepared.

The ninth case relates to matters for which the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has responsibility and concerns the shellfish waters directive. The Irish authorities have responded to the letter of formal notice of September 2004, providing clarification to the Commission on the areas in which the Irish implementation programme was deemed to be deficient.