Irish Package Meeting Minutes (DG Environment / DAFM)

Re: AIE request 22 1451

AIE for access to information held by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine relating to

For the period from 26 November 2021 to the date of your reply to this AIE request:
1) All communications (all media) with DG Environment by DAFM,
2) All communications (all media) from DG Environment to DAFM.

Main focus:

  • impacts of agricultural dairy expansion, peat extraction, forestry, aquaculture and windfarm developments in Ireland
  • the adequacy and affordability of the means of national redress in the Irish courts

Lack of clarity whether the actions required to protect birds in the wider countryside had been completed.

The Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP) proposed by the Irish authorities in 2012 is still not adopted

The biggest concerns raised was about the state of Ireland’s birds given that some are in a critical condition – in particular breeding waders and farmland birds

Commission remained concerned that forestry levels within Hen Harrier sites remained high and replanting policies still needed to be assessed

Conservation objectives were still missing for sites and that whilst some of the plans adopted are good, declines in bird species have continued

Legislation was adopted to allow for more effective enforcement action against illegal peat digging e.g. powers to confiscate excavators (Note: needs validation, last NPWS action was in 2012, and machinery was not confiscated, and case was dropped)

Level of peat extraction in SACs is still significant and has not reduced in the last 5 years. It appears to the Commission that efforts to further reduce this activity have dwindled and this is concerning. It was also noted that no information has been provided for the 2021 digging season. Furthermore, from the information the Commission had available it appeared that only limited restoration work appears to had started and the delays in action risk further deterioration of the sites concerned.

The Commission asked to be provided with an update on enforcement action taken and progress made on restoration for both the raised bog and blanket bog SAC sites. The Commission also asked Ireland to provide information on action taken to reinforce compliance for the forthcoming cutting season before end March 2022 with an assessment of the effectiveness of this action to be provided before end June 2022

The Commission reiterated its concern that progress on the identification and designation of sites under the Habitats Directive and in particular feeding/forgaging areas for seabirds under the Birds Directive is too slow, in particular in the light of Ireland’s offshore ambitions. These two ambitions appear to be on a collision course

Derrybrien Wind Farm Article 260 Infringement (2000)4384 is still on the list

Lack of enforcement generally being taken in Ireland against breaches of planning law. This is a core concern

Landslide at the site of a windfarm (19 turbine) built on peat bog in Meenbog, Co Donegal in November 2020 (CHAP (2020)03412) – The Commission would like to understand why lessons from Derrybrien still appear not to have been learnt.

Note: The Irish authorities to provide a written update on the action taken to ensure that its assessment and decision making process for windfarms on peat soil is fit for purpose with regard to tackling soil stability and potential landslides. Written
details regarding the situation and follow up given to the 2020 landslide in Meenbog to be provided.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – Infringement (2017) 0368

The Commission stressed that more than 4 years after the expiry of the transposition deadline, Ireland is still missing elements of transposition for Directive 2014/52/EU in this infringement concerning the non transposition of this amending Directive into national law

Agriculture Policy and Impacts

The Commission explained that numerous complaints have been received with regard to the negative environmental impacts of Ireland’s dairy and beef expansion policies. CHAP(2020)2004 and CHAP(2020)2721

Forestry Policy and Impacts

The Commission explained that it had received numerous complaints with regard to forestry practices in Ireland. As was discussed at the last package meeting, file CHAP (2015)00331 had raised concerns that there had been only one environmental impact assessments carried out since the Directive came into force. Further concerns were outlined in an exchange of letters between the Irish authorities and DG Environment (lead by unit D.1 within DG Environment)

There are concerns that forestry activities within designated SACs and SPAs are still being allowed to impact negatively on these sites – in particular with regard to Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Hen Harrier.

The Commission explained that it would also be helpful to understand how climate change assessments are being progressed looking at whether historic afforestation on deeper peat soils can be counted towards climate goals and how this will be addressed in the new forestry and peatland strategies currently being drafted.

Forestry data: concerns were raised again by the eNGOs about the lack of transparency for forestry licences, in particular when a large block of licences is applied for in one go (reference was made to 1800 coillte felling and restocking applications made in a single application in 2021 with each application being subject to a 30 day deadline for comment)

Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive – Infringement (2013) 2056

Water Framework Directive – Conformity – Infringement (2007) 2238

Water Framework Directive – 2nd River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) – EU Pilot (2021)9913

Recovery and Resilience Plan

The Commission requested information on the level of restoration/rehabilitation Ireland is aiming at and how the success of the investment will be measured. The Commission would like to better understand how Ireland is setting and reporting on the milestones for its peat rehabilitation investment.

How these gains will be protected into the future e.g. though legal land designations for nature protection? The Irish authorities implied that it was too early to consider this but that an undertaking had been given in the context of state aid discussions with DG Competition that the land would not be put into economic use post remediation.

Lack of EIA for Peat Extraction – Infringement (2019)4007

Access to Justice – Infringement (2012)4028

Response to issues raised concerning Irish forestry and the environment

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