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

DAFM Forest Service Screen Out Scenarios

AIE 22 2479

All information which was used to derive the content of the Screen Out Scenarios (Column 3) in the Forest Service’s Habitat Table v18Dec19 used as part of its AA Procedures;

Records to include, but not restricted to, details of meetings (including Minutes), correspondence (any media), technical reports, scientific studies, ecological expertise provided (internal and external), etc.

Records collected by DAFM on derogation farms

DAFM Training Requirements for New and Existing Nitrates Derogation Applicants 2022

There are approx 6800 farms in derogation, and each one would have approx 100 pages of records in the DAFM database (generally in pdf format with things like farm maps, soil sample results, fertiliser accounts etc). Inspection data (5% of derogation farms are inspected) is held in a different DAFM system

Basic statistical information on nitrates derogation is published

2015-2021 Derogation Herd Locations per LEA – Datasets – data.gov.ie

https://data.gov.ie/dataset/https-assets-gov-ie-213396-fec4151b-4730-4c8c-a0e3-c2e50b0b2f26-xlsx?package_type=dataset

2021 is the most recent complete data available, as 2022 applicants have until 31 March 2023 to submit support documents

The attached gives an idea of the data collected in by DAFM (and held in the derogation register, which is known as the AgSchemes Nitrates Derogation System)

AIE: HydroSED

AIE Request

OCEI reference: OCE-130455-H2J9M1
UCD reference: AIE12_1_1015

“All environmental records relating to the ongoing HydroSED project to include, but not restricted to
• Methodology
• Interim Reports
• Preliminary findings
• Correspondence
• GIS data (in GIS format).”

Basis for refusal:

Methodologies outlined in the HydroSED Research Grant Proposal report and referred to in the Dr O’Sullivan’s correspondence file are being withheld in accordance with Article 9 (1)(d) of the AIE Regulations.

The premature release of this information at this time would seriously disadvantage the projects in question, UCD as Research Performing Organisation leading the research, and the funding provider, in financial, competitive and potentially commercial terms.

While the project is ongoing, it is important that this information is protected from release as there are real concerns that release of such comprehensive elements contained within the proposal into the public domain leave the project, including the location sites, timeframes, risks and proposed changes and anticipated deliverables at risk of being compromised.

Our funders hold the view that this information should only be released when the project has been completed and final report published.

Release of our project proposal could affect our ability to attain funding in the future.

Similarly the 6-month interim report and Year 1 Scientific Progress report, as per attached schedule, provide detailed updates on the project to our funder, DAFM and are withheld in accordance with Articles 9 (1)(d) and 9 (2) of the AIE Regulations.

These reports contain detailed updates to DAFM about the live and ongoing research being carried out and unfinished scientific data.

This scientific data also forms part of our PhD student’s degree, who is conducting research with the data. Early release of this information into the public domain, may lead to other parties deciding to use the data for their own benefit, which would seriously compromise our student’s thesis and PhD

Premature release of this data, which is subject to change over the course of the project, would have no significant meaning without the final findings and would be open to incorrect interpretation by other individuals which could negatively impact the project itself. For this reason, project data and project files contained within Dr O’Sullivan’s correspondence file have also been withheld/redacted.

Disclosure would adversely affect intellectual property rights. Release of records under the AIE regulations are considered as being released to the world at large and in doing so we must assume that release of information contained within the proposal and interim reports that are subject to intellectual property could be commercially exploited or used in a way that would constitute an unauthorised infringement of the intellectual property rights. In accordance with the terms of the project, any IP emanating from the project will be owned by the research performing organisations and access to industry parties will be via licensing which shall be on fair commercial terms, subject to overall State Aid, technology transfer and other legal or government policy considerations.

In line with DAFM’s commitment to ensuring that the research outputs are made available to all potential end users, it is expected that once the project is finished, expected completion date 31 August 2024, and the final report is published, then the results would be shared, contingent on the coordinator’s consent to publish.

In applying these exemptions, I have also considered Articles 10(3) and 10(4) of the AIE Regulations.

Factors in favour of releasing the information include,
• right of the public to have access information,
• the need for an open, transparent and accountable public service and
• the need for scrutiny of decisions.

Factors opposing release of the records into the public domain include,
• protecting the integrity of university processes,
• maintaining confidentiality of IP rights,
• protection of unfinished research and material in the course of completion and,
• protection of the university’s ability to secure future funding for similar projects.

Having weighed up all factors, I have determined that the public interest would be best served by not disclosing the information.

Coillte felling licences LM01-FL0010 & LM01-FL0011 at Crumpane, Co Leitrim

AIE 22/1444

Issue: Coillte felling licence suspended due to siltation mobilisation

All post licence issue information relating to Coillte felling licences LM01-FL0010 & LM01-FL0011 at Crumpane, Co Leitrim ; including


Site Inspections (including Field Notes & Photographs)
Correspondence, internal and external – any media, including notes relating to phone calls
Monitoring records and reports
Details of mitigation and remediation measures
Inspections of mitigation and remediation measures

All post licence inspection reports produced by the Forest Service of DAFM as a result of inspections carried out of the operations of Coillte felling licences in 2022

AIE Request: 22/520

Records on DAFM’s inspections of Coillte Harvesting Sites

All post licence inspection reports produced by the Forest Service of DAFM as a result of inspections carried out of the operations of Coillte felling licences in 2022. The information to include any relevant correspondence and subsequent environmental
information as a result of follow ups on the inspections, including surveys, analysis, etc.

Records to follow (DAFM FS link expired)

AIE: access to decision making in relation to a particular forestry licence

Case: OCE-116197-B6X0M5

Issue: Whether the Department complied with the articles 7(2)(a) and 7(10) of the AIE Regulations in processing the appellant’s request for information relating to the decision-making in relation to the awarding of a particular forestry licence.


Summary of Commissioner’s Decision: The Commissioner found that the Department failed to comply with the provisions of the AIE Regulations in processing the request and annulled the Department’s decision. He did not, however, direct the Department to undertake a fresh decision- making process as the information requested had already been provided to the appellant.

The appellant argued that the Department was operating a parallel and unfavourable regime for access to the information requested in circumstances where the information could have been provided on receipt of a fee