Pollution that does not recognise borders will take a heavy toll on the Republic post Brexit, environmental groups based in Northern Ireland have predicted.
Lack of effective environmental regulation in the North and the absence of EU legislation once Britain leaves the EU mean the effects of water and air pollution would become all too evident south of the Border, they told TDs and Senators at a briefing hosted by the Green Party in Dublin this week.
This will be a consequence of rapid expansion of the pig and poultry sectors; inappropriate road developments, illegal quarrying and likely mining activity, they warned.
Vincent Lusby of Stop the Limavady Pig Factory said that in raising issues about a proposed pig-rearing facility in the Co Derry town, which was due to generate 81,000 pigs a year and sewage equivalent to a human population of 720,000 people, he had discovered "Northern Ireland's dirty secret". This was in the form of intensification of the pig and poultry sector and building of a large number of anaerobic digesters to process waste without appropriate planning governance.
He said that already the consequences of inappropriate developments were evident with ammonia emission levels widely breached and eutrophication upsetting the ecological balance of many lakes and rivers.
Northern Ireland had four huge river catchments, three of which were shared with the Republic. "This is very interesting in the context of Brexit. We will still be sharing the same kitchen, bedroom and bathroom with the Republic. Trans-Border pollution is real," Mr Lusby said.
Resulting ammonia emissions drifting south could trigger exceedances which could result in pollution fines for the Republic, he added. “You may have to pay for the dirt and damage we do in the North.”
Dean Blackwood of River Faughan Anglers said his organisation was living the consequences of systemic failure of planning and environmental regulation. The Faughan, which borders Co Donegal and flows into Lough Foyle, was being threatened by a super dump the size of 66 football pitches on the outskirts of Derry.
Determining the transboundary pollution threat to the Republic would be made more difficult by Brexit, he said.
Environmental campaigner Ciaran McClean outlined how the Alternative A5 Alliance, which is seeking to stop the building of a dual carriageway through ancient woods and bogs in Co Tyrone, was initially successful in a court challenge. “The European Habitats Directive was our backstop,” he said.
A new “more subtle conflict” had emerged in the North in recent years, however, where the interests of large business dominated over its citizens, he said. As a consequence politicians had “doubled down” on the development. “Sustainability is a word we cannot seem to weave into government policy.”
Everyone on the island of Ireland "deserves access to clean water, air and quality food but yet even these fundamentals and ways of life are under threat with a perfect storm of issues", said Aisling Cowan of Save Heaney Country.
“Things are bad, but if we lose EU protection in the event of a no-deal Brexit then they will get much, much worse and the whole of this small island will suffer from it. We are reaching out to our friends and politicians in the Republic to say that nature knows no border,” she said.
She cited the case of the new A6 motorway between Belfast and Derry that is carving its way through Lough Beg – home to 22 protected species including the iconic Whooper Swan associated with the Children of Lir – and running within 20 metres of the childhood home of poet Seamus Heaney at Mossbawn.
Fidelma O'Kane of Save our Sperrins, which is campaigning against a large gold mining operation proposed for the Sperrin Mountains by the Canadian company Dalradian Resources, said they mistakenly believed the absence of a government in the North would stall its planning application, but legislation was being rushed through Westminster which would allow civil servants make planning decisions.