On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Irish authorities must pay €5 Million plus penalties for failing to carry out an environmental impact assessment before the construction in 2003 of what was then the largest wind farm in the country at Derrybrien, Co. Galway.
Issues with the wind farm go back to its initial construction when a subsidiary of the ESB dislodged half a million cubic metres of peat from the Slieve Aughty mountains during the early stages of construction of the wind farm. Trees and debris flowed down the side of the mountain, causing a significant fish kill and disrupting life in the area.
In the immediate aftermath, remedial works were carried out. Deep channels were cut into the mountain, leading to a faster run-off of rainwater during the winters that followed.
In 2008, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found Ireland was in breach of its obligations and ordered that a retrospective Environmental Impact Assessment be carried out at the Derrybrien wind farm site.
The State argued the landslide had been caused by poor construction work, but the ECJ found that it was because a proper assessment had not been carried out in advance. On 3 July 2008 the ECJ ruled that Ireland had breached an EU environmental directive and following the ruling the Irish government was obliged to facilitate the operator of the wind farm in complying with EU law.
However, the ECJ found that the operator had not undergone that procedure, nor had it been initiated by the Irish authorities of their own initiative. The European Commission then took a second action for failure to comply with ECJ obligations.
The ECJ ruled that all member states must comply with court judgments, and that following the earlier failure of the state to carry out an environmental impact assessment, the State must also take into account not only the future impact of the plant, but also the environmental impact from the time of its completion.
The Court directed that in light of the seriousness and duration of the failure of the State to fulfill its obligations, it must now pay the European Commission a lump sum of €5 million and a periodic penalty of €15,000 every day, until the 2008 ruling is fully complied with.