Group seeks legal advice over Brussels conservation directive


A group opposed to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) is seeking legal advice on the constitutionality of the EU's Natural Habitats Directive of 1997.

The directive enables Duchas, the Heritage Service, to designate sites as SACs. The SAC Alliance claims to represent more than 7,000 farmers and small land-owners, mostly based in the west of Ireland, who are opposed to the practice.

Under the EU legislation, Duchas informs the land-owner of "notifiable actions" after designation. Some people have received no notification, although Duchas officials claim they have made every attempt to notify land-owners.

"Notices in papers and Garda stations are not enough," according to Ms Sile O'Connor, the SAC Alliance secretary. The group has accused Duchas of not informing some people of the exact location of the appeal.

"One Donegal woman, a pensioner, travelled to the Duchas head office in Dublin and asked to see her file. She was notified of an appeal, an appeal date, but no location. She was refused access to her file and returned home. She was notified in the post that her appeal had been unsuccessful," claimed Ms O'Connor.

To date there have been about 100 formal appeals against designation. Many have failed.

A formal appeal against designation was adjourned in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, last week. The new hearing will be in Athlone in two weeks. It was the first time a representative from the alliance had acted on behalf of the appellant.

Ms O'Connor said the group's main objection was to "the draconian measures and methods employed" to achieve designation. "This amounts to an unjust attack on constitutional property rights. As the majority of the SACs selected are in the west, the most disadvantaged people are again being targeted. Many small farmers will be deprived of their right to make a living," she said.

Group members affected by designation said they wanted other options examined which would ensure that the conservation aims of the directive were complied with.