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State faces heavy fines from EU over Habitats Directive

Ireland broke EU nature laws because it failed to protect hundreds of environmentally important sites – including at least 31 in County Galway.

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled against Ireland because it failed to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), including as many as twelve in Galway.

The European Commission also successfully argued that Ireland had failed to implement the Habitats Directive. The ruling could result in severe financial penalties.

Under EU law, Ireland was required to identify a network of sites (Natura 2000 sites) that are home to where important or endangered animal or plant species, or certain rare or vulnerable habitat types are present to a degree that is significant at a European level.

Once it identified and designated the sites, Ireland had four obligations to protect those sites.

This included identifying “site-specific conservation objectives (SSCOs) for each site, having regard to the threats and pressures on the various species or habitat types on the site”.

Galway has at least 74 SAC sites, and over 40% did not have SSCOs.

A spokesperson for the Department of Heritage confirmed in a statement to the Connacht Tribune that 31 Special Areas of Conservation sites in County Galway were without SSCOs in January 2019. A dozen more were not formally designated as SACs.

Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan said he recognised “the importance and the significance of the judgement and the findings of non-compliance with the Habitats Directive”.

“I am confident that we will respond to this judgement swiftly with positive and constructive actions in order to bring Ireland into full compliance,” he added.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Connacht Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Thursday.

The court ruling in the long-running case was issued on June 29, and the Department said that between 2019 and January 2022, it issued SSCOs for the 31 Galway sites without conservation objectives assigned.

These sites included Sonnagh Bog SAC; Tully Mountain SAC; Gortnandarragh Limestone Pavement SAC; Aradrahan Grassland SAC; Lough Derg north-east shore, SAC; Lough Rea SAC; Levally Lough SAC; Rahasane Turlough SAC; Kiltiernan SAC; Termon SAC; Ballinduff SAC; Cahermore Turlough SAC; Carrowbaun, Newhall and Ballylee Turloughs SAC; Lough Coy SAC; Drummin Wood SAC; Gortacarnaun SAC; Barnahallia Lough SAC; Rusheenduff SAC; Lough Nageerom SAC; Tully Lough SAC; Aughrusbeg Machair and Lake SAC; Peterswell Turlough SAC; Cregduff Lough SAC; Lough Carra/Mask Complex SAC; Coole-Garryland Complex SAC; Cregg House Stables, Crusheen SAC; Castletaylor Complex SAC; East Burren Complex SAC; and River Shannon Callows SAC.

According to information supplied by the Department, there are several sites in Galway that have not been formally designated as SAC sites, although they have now been issued with SSCOs.

These include Kilkieran Bay and Islands SAC; Connemara Bog Complex SAC; the Twelve Bens/Garraun Complex SAC; Caherglassaun Turlough SAC; Lough Fingall Complex SAC; Kiltiernan Turlough SAC; Termon Lough SAC; Lough Coy SAC; Peterswell Turlough SAC; Lough Carra/Mask Complex SAC; Cregg House Stables, Crusheen SAC; and East Burren Complex SAC.

The Department said that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has established a new Nature Conservation Directorate responsible for managing conservation measures at SACs.

It rolled out measures across 26 sites, including two in Galway.

“These were Twelve Bens/Garraun Complex SAC and Lough Corrib SAC. There are a number of conservation measures planned in 2023 for SACs in County Galway being examined at present,” a Department spokesperson confirmed to the Connacht Tribune.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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