Environmental group claims council has breached flood relief agreement

Friends of the Irish Environment alleges local authority is in contempt of court

An aerial shot of the flooding around Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon in early January.

An aerial shot of the flooding around Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon in early January.

 

An environmental group has claimed before the High Court that Roscommon County Council has breached an agreement concerning the halting of works on a flood relief scheme.

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) alleges the council is in contempt of court arising out of its plan, announced earlier this month, to continue to construct a 3km pipeline taking water from Lough Funshinagh to nearby Lough Ree.

FIE is seeking an order requiring the council’s CEO, Eugene Cummins, to appear before the court to answer the claim of contempt.

Last August, FIE launched proceedings aimed at quashing the council’s decision to allow certain works, including construction of the pipeline.

The court initially granted FIE a temporary order halting work on the project, located some 12kms north of Athlone.

The action was resolved before the case went to hearing after the council consented to orders quashing its decision permitting the proposed works to proceed and for remediation of the lands.

The council also agreed to pay the costs of FIE’s judicial review challenge to the decision last May to authorise the works.

The remedial works would be subject of an agreement between the parties, it was further agreed. The court also heard the council accepted it had not fulfilled certain obligations it ought to have in relation to the flood relief works.

On Wednesday, Mr Justice Garrett Simons was told by John Kenny Bl, instructed by Eoin Brady of FP Logue Solicitors, for FIE, it believes the Council has breached the order regarding remediation of the area where the pipeline had been laid.

The judge was told that, on October 14th, FIE was taken by surprise when the Council decided under section 152 of the 2001 Local Government Act to authorise the construction of the pipeline to allow water be pumped from Lough Funshinagh to Lough Ree.

It claims it was not consulted about the proposal and was unaware of it until the matter was reported in the local media.

Grave reservations

FIE says that while the project was subject to screening for the purpose of complying with EU Directives on environmental impact assessments and habitats it has grave reservations about the adequacy of the screening assessments.

FIE claims that by using the pipeline and manholes constructed earlier this year, the Council has taken no substantive steps to comply with its obligations under the remediation plan agreed between the parties last August.

This, it is claimed, amounts to a contempt of the orders made by the Court in August.

FIE claims it asked the council to desist from the steps it announced earlier this month but that request was not complied with and it has, with reluctance, brought this application over alleged contempt.

Mr Justice Simons granted, on an ex-parte basis, permission to FIE to serve short notice of its application on the council and returned the matter to Friday.

The judge noted FIE was not seeking, at this stage, any committal order pending the council being fully heard on the matter.

The works at the centre of the action include the construction and laying of a pipe that would see water from Lough Funshinagh, a Special Area of Conservation, pumped into the larger Lough Ree.

The works were commenced because many people living in the area have been subject to flooding in recent years, and there are concerns that some may have to abandon their homes.

FIE had claimed that the proposed works had the potential to lead to serious environmental damage and priority habitat loss.

FIE expressed its sympathies to those affected by flooding, but said the proposed works are not lawful and were in breach of European law, on grounds including that the project was not subjected to the required environmental screening and assessment processes.

The court also heard last August a threat was made by persons linked to the Provisional IRA and/or Continuity IRA against FIE director Tony Lowes for taking the case. The council strongly condemned the threat against Mr Lowes.