Divers express concern over Dublin Port plans to dump spoil in protected habitat

Irish Underwater Council calls on Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw permit

Divers have called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw a permit issued to Dublin Port which allows it to dump "dredge spoil" off Dublin Bay.

The Irish Underwater Council said the permit approved by the EPA was issued before designation of a special area of conservation (SAC) in Dublin Bay extending from Rockabill to Dalkey Island.

Dublin Port wants to carry out maintenance dredging on its main shipping route in April and intends to use an existing EPA permit which it applied for in 2009.

The port’s “spoil site” is on the edge of the Burford Bank, and it stresses that all material in the navigation channel is either uncontaminated or “slightly/moderately” contaminated.


It points out that such maintenance dredging has been routine since the early 1880s and is intended to ensure ships do not run aground approaching or leaving the port.

However, the Irish Underwater Council and diver Peadar Farrell contend that the EPA permit was issued before designation of the Rockabill to Dalkey Island SAC.

The Burford Bank spoil site 5km southeast of Howth lies within the SAC, the diving organisation points out.

Legal advice

Both the diving body and Mr Farrell said the EPA has a duty to withdraw the permit, which came into effect in 2011, and said that appropriate environmental impact assessment is required before a new one can be issued.

Legal advice given to the divers states that when an area becomes designated under the EU Habitats Directive, “all past, present and future works must be considered in management of the SAC”.

When Dublin Port advertised in 2009 it was seeking permission for the permit under the Dumping at Sea Acts, 1996 and 2004, it stated that the proposed “disposal operation” would take place between November 2009 and October 2015.

Mr Farrell said that the public was “misled” by the newspaper notice, if this permit is to be used in 2016.


Mr Farrell said the issue is of particular importance because Dublin Port also plans to dredge 6.4 million cubic metres of material as part of its Alexandra Basin Redevelopment Project, which was granted planning permission by

An Bord Pleanála

in July 2015.

There was an “onus” on the EPA under the EU Habitats Directive to intervene and stop any activity in SAC that could be damaging, he said.

Dublin Port said the permit it applied for in 2009 only came into force when the first approved dredging started in 2011, and it understood it had applied for six years thereafter.

The EPA confirmed that a dumping-at-sea permit was granted to Dublin Port Company on July 28th, 2011, and that condition 3.1 stated that loading and dumping activities must be completed within six years of “commencement of activities”.

It said it understood the first such activity under the permit began on April 23rd, 2012, and that the permit therefore extended until April 22nd, 2018.

The EPA said it had “no plans” to remove or amend the permit.

It said Dublin Port Company had, however, agreed to employ a marine mammal observer to ensure there is no deterioration in the habitat or disturbance of the harbour porpoise.

“The marine mammal observer shall meet the monitoring and reporting requirements of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and full reporting will be provided to NPWS and the EPA,”the EPA said.

The EPA is currently assessing the port’s more extensive dredging plans for the Alexandra Basin project but the port said that some 470,000 cubic metres of this material totalling 6.4 million cubic metres will not be dumped at sea.

Instead, the heavily contaminated material – lying within Alexandra Basin rather than in the navigation channel – will be brought ashore and “suitably treated”, the port said.

It said that this is the subject of an industrial emissions licence application submitted to the EPA.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times