While Friends of the Irish Environment welcomes Minister Dempsey's statement today urging local authorities to speed up the water Rural Water Programme, his criticism of those authorities did not acknowledge the present government's own failure to address three basic issues: Why does the Irish Government continue to insist to the European Commission that the Drinking Water Directive does not apply to Group Water Schemes? Why has the Minister put no time limit on compliance with the Directives standards more than ten years after the problem became clear? How long is his "long road"? Why has the Minister not proposed urgently needed changes in the national legislation that would clarify for the consumer the body or authority that has clear legal responsibility for group water schemes? The degree of microbiological contamination in Irish rural drinking water is an genuinely serious and increasing risk to public health that has been the subject of numerous complaint to the European Commission by Irish environmentalists and local communities. Friends of the Irish Environment question if it is possible today's announcement was only made because of prosecution the Minister's Government may face from the European Community under the Drinking Water Directive. We urge the Minister to our address our three points before the European Commission concentrates his mind once again. ENDS
PRESS RELEASE: 22 MAY 1998 Re: 58 holiday homes, clubhouse and bar, restaurant, health centre & tennis court, at Ventry, Dingle, County Kerry
FRIENDS OF THE IRISH ENVIRONMENT WELCOMES AN BORD PLEANALA DECISION AT VENTRY, COUNTY KERRY FIE welcomes the refusal to permit yet another multiple holiday home development profoundly out of character with its surroundings which would have altered the very language of a world famous visual landscape. The policy of privatising all the spectacular views and building up intensively around them means the aesthetic wholeness of our unique localities is being incrementally destroyed. It is acknowledged by everyone, and most adamantly by Friends of the Irish Environment, that there must be both planning and economic policy to encourage local people to remain in Gaeltachta and other rural coastal areas which are both fragile and vitally important cultural communities. The natural siting for tourism developments is in existing towns and villages where grants and seed money should be given to restore their own buildings for purposes of self-catering. Multiple holiday home developments draw tourists into motor dependent tourism, destroying any possibility of maintaining cultural cohesion while raising land prices beyond local reach. This form of development, much of it driven by ill advised taxation concessions, still threatens not only unspoiled rural beauty spots such as White Strand in County Clare. It also threatens to oversaturate our existing amenities by expansion into ever more green FIElds such as at Mosney, Co. Meath where 341 additional homes are awaiting decision by the Council against FIErce local opposition. The pull into larger cities and towns can only be reversed by carefully targeted planning and economic policies. Local people in areas like Dingle must retain control over their own local tourism industry. Once that slips from their hands, they have essentially lost the ability to remain in their own place.
Friends of the Irish Environment have responded to a request by the European Commission to submit further information on the proposed participation fee to comment on planning applications. This fee is the subject of a complaint lodged with the Commission by FIE in 1999 under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The EIA Directive makes no provision for the payment of a fee for participation and such a provision will act as a serious impediment to the expression of opinions and undermine the purpose of the Directive. FIE used the Access to Information on the Environment Directive to obtain copies of all the submissions made to the Minister for the Environment opposing the planning fee. 14 local authorities passed motions opposed to this fee, including the General Council of County Councils. TDs, County Councilors, institutions, and community groups all opposed the new fee. Representations came from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and even TD Liam Lawlor, who drew attention to "areas where there are still high levels of households in receipt of welfare payments so that even a small fee might present difficulties". The ten most cited reasons were: 1. Poorer decisions would result as members of the public had consistently supplied the Planning Authorities with information that was useful and relevant 2. Public representatives would have difficulty in fulfilling their own role in making representations on behalf of their constituents 3. There would be an inevitable lessening of public involvement in decision making with consequent lose of commitment 4. Citizens felt the fee was taking away their right to object with a decrease in public confidence 5. The Local Authority Registrar of Residents Associations should be empowered to ensure legitimate associations were protected from how much they would be required to spend on submitting objections and should in fact receive professional help and assistance in preparing their cases. 6. The NGO sector were not objecting on a once-off basis but faced significant accumulated costs that would act as a disincentive to systematic continuity in protecting the environment, especially given the prolific pace of development which often requires multiple submissions. 7. The fee is out of scale with Irish NGO budgets, where IRS 30 is the amount that would be collected from donations at a well attended branch meeting. They already have to dip into their personal pockets when they wish to be a party to an appeal and so the fee is unjust and unfair. 8. There are still high levels of households in receipt of welfare payments so that even a small fee might present difficulties 9. Those availing of the service should meet the cost of the planning system and any fee collected would be of little value to a local authority and could be a disincentive to people who may have important views to express. Planning fee at IRS 47 is totally inadequate and results in a net cost to the State of IRS 10m while in Northern Ireland the fee is UK 375. 10. OECD performance evaluator Henri Smets, expressed the Irish NGO view when he told the Irish NGOs that "It is not simply a financial matter, it is a matter of principle." FIE has also supplied the Commission with a transcript of Minister Dempsey's refusal to advertise the new fee, as this will undoubtedly result in many invalid objections and deprive yet more citizens of their rights. Labour Deputy Eamonn Gilmore, who was seeking to have the Minister advertise the new fee, asked why the Minister "would not tell the public about it." The Minister for the Environment replied, "I do not think the public needs to know." [Dail Debates, February 28, 2002] ENDS

PRESS RELEASE 12 FEBRUARY, 2003 EU RULES €20 PLANNING FEE ILLEGAL The €20 fee required to object to a planning applications under the 2000 Planning Act is not legal under European law, a Reasoned Opinion from the European Commission has determined. The Reasoned Opinion, which was published today by Friends of the Irish Environment on their website, gives Ireland two months to comply or proceedings will be taken in the European Court of Justice by the Commission against Ireland. The Reasoned Opinion arises from a complaint by Friends of the Irish Environment in 2000 on behalf of 68 community and environmental groups. The Reasoned Opinion states that "it is contrary to the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to make comment by the public subject to a participation fee". The Commission points out that Ireland is the only EU member state to have required the payment of a fee as a precondition for considering the public's opinion in the development consent procedure. The Commission rejected Ireland's argument that the fee was an administrative matter devolved to the member state. It also rejected the argument that consideration of the public comments was an entitlement to have a service rendered, stating that "on the contrary, the role can be considered in terms of the public providing supplementary information that can help these authorities make a fully informed decision." The Commission also noted that the fee reversed the purpose of the polluter pays principal, in that a financial burden was placed on the person who was likely to be most affected. The Reasoned Opinion quotes extensively from submissions made to the Minister for the Environment during the public consultation over the Planning Act. This dossier was obtained by FIE under the Freedom of Information Act and provided to the Commission's Legal Affairs Division in support of the complaint. The Reasoned Opinion quotes from Anglers Groups, The Georgian Society, The Irish Planning Institute, the Royal Town Planning Institute, and An Taisce. The General County of County Councils and 14 local authorities passed resolutions opposing the fee. The Irish General Council of County Councils asked why a resident, faced with a proposed pig farm across the road, "should be forced into any expense, no matter how minimal, because of a third party's unsolicited proposals". The Georgian Society suggested that concerned organisations and residents would be "penalised financially" and that the fee would have an "adverse effect on conservation". The Commission also made specific references to organisations which made many submissions on behalf of the environment, quoting the Barra Salmon Angling Association in County Mayo. Noting that "this voluntary body operates in an area that has seen a steady decline in water quality", the Commission observes that "the environmental concerns which underly this group's wish to participate in decision making procedures are therefore well founded". The Commission noted from the submissions provided that the planning fees paid by developers do not properly reflect the administrative costs and that as a consequence local authorities are discouraged from engaging the professional expertise that is needed to consider such proposals. In this context information is especially important when it comes from non-Governmental organisation, "given that many Irish decision-making bodies lack specific expertise to judge environmental impacts." These organisation may have to make many submissions. The Commission also refered to its Reasoned Opinion on Ballymun, where project splitting meant that residents were faced with over twelve applications at each stage of the "Regeneration". With regard to the "nominal" size of the fee, the Commission pointed out that the cost of this fee and an observation to An Bord Pleanala would amount to €65, over 50% of the standard rate of social welfare payments - including old age pensions or disability benefits. A spokesperson for Friends of the Irish Environment welcomed the Commission's action and called on the Government to bring the Planning Act into line immediately and restore citizen's rights of participation in the planning process. Text of Reasoned Opinion: Attribution: Spokesman Verification and comment: Tony Lowes 027-73025 Irish language: Daith?? O hÉalaithe 087 - 6178852 List of original complainants: An Taisce Arklow Action Group Ballynagran / Coolbeg Action Group Belclare Park and Terrace Residents and Tenants Association Belgrove Residents Association Blessington Heritage Trust Bluestack Environmental Group Braade/Carrigfin Residents Group Brittas Bay Community Group Coastwatch Europe Commogue Marsh Protection Group Cod's Head Preservation Society Communities against radiation Concerned Residents of Ardgehane/Ballinglanna Coolea Ecology Group Cork Environmental Alliance Donabate Parish Council Donegal Environmental Alliance Dulra Magazine Earthwatch European Youth for Action Foyle Basin Council Friends of the Irish Environment Friends of the Curragh Environment Genetic Concern Glasnevin Avenue Residents Association Greystones Protection and Development Association Hermitage and District Residents Association Inistioge Conservation Society Irish Doctors for the Environment Irish Wildlife Trust Just Forests Johnstown Residents Association Keep Ireland Open Killarney Nature Conservation Group Kilcoursey Residents Association Killincarrig Community Association Kilmaley Anti-Dump Action Group Knockmealdown Protection Committee Lancefort Ltd. Leinster Road Residents Association London Irish Green Party Lorretto Grange Residents Association Mount Argus Road/Grove Residents Association Moville/Greencastle Residents Group Native Woodland Trust Newcastle Residents Association Newgarden Residents Association Newtown Area Action Development Group Novara Sydmonton Residents Association Poddle Area Resident's Association Rathgar Residents Association Ringaskiddy and District Residents Association Rural Environmental Awareness Protection Group Sandcove Seafront Residents Association Sandford Road Residents Association Save Glending Group Stradbelly Environmental Protection Group Strand Street Residents Group Strawberry Beds Residents Association Union Hall Residents Committee VOICE Waste Action Group Wicklow Environmental Solutions Trust Wicklow Planning Alliance Willow Cedar Action Group Woodbrook and Stratten Pines Residents Association Woodquay & District Residents Association.
September 26 2001: The Regulations implementing the Bill are now before the Oireachtas Joint sub-committee on the Environment. The initial fee for commenting on a planning application is rumoured to be set at IRS 16 and all the restrictions FIE and community groups have opposed are to become law on 1 January, 2001. December 3 2001: The Commission backs our complaint against the fee.
PRESS RELEASE 3 DECEMBER 2001 EU MOVE AGAINST IRISH PLANNING FEE The European Commission has upheld the complaint by Friends of the Irish Environment against the proposed planning fee for major projects. The Commission, in a letter to the environmental group dated 23 November, stated that they "had recently notified a Letter of Formal Notice to Ireland stating a belief that the imposition of fees in respect of the submissions by the public of opinions on development consent procedures the subject of assessment under Directive 85/337/EEC (Impact Assessment) is contrary to the Directive." A spokesman for FIE stated: "The imposition of a fee to comment on any planning application is clearly a violation of the Arhaus Agreement on citizen's rights of participation in decision making. Now the Commission is stating that these fees also infringe the EIA Directive." "Further, this letter of Formal Notice must be taken in conjunction with the Judgment of the Court against Ireland under this Directive in 1999. This Judgment said that the Irish authorities must not rely solely on thresholds to determine if a project is subject to the EIA Directive." "This Judgment states: 'The absolute nature of the thresholds means a that it is not possible to ensure that every project likely to have significant effects on the environment is subject to an impact assessment because the mere fact that a project does not reach the threshold' does not ensure the environment is protected. Factors such as the sensitivity of the site or the cumulative nature of the development may not be excluded." "Taken together with the EU 1999 Judgment, it is clear that the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 that are now before the Oireachtas are in fact illegal under European law." "Ireland's record now includes 25 current infringement proceedings for breaches of European environmental law. 17 have been notified under Article 228 Letters of Formal Notice, 4 have reached the Reasoned Opinion stage, and 4 are currently before the European Court of Justice", the spokesman concluded. The Commission has informed the group that "The response of the Irish authorities is awaited." The environmental group, formed in 1997 to ensure the implementation of European environmental law in Ireland, brought the complaint to the Commission on behalf of more than 65 community groups around Ireland. The groups are also seeking the removal of the requirement to comment at local authority level to qualify to take a planning appeal. The launch of the complaint was supported by TDs from all opposition parties and by Green MEP Patricia McKenna at a Press Conference in February of 2000. ENDS