Environmental group rejects criticism of its stance on Roscommon floods
The claim that the continued misery experienced by people battling flooding on the edge of Lough Funshinagh in County Roscommon has been forced upon them by Friends of the Irish Environment (FoIE) is ‘just nonsense’ , the organization said.
The environmental charity, which challenged in the High Court efforts by Roscommon County Council to lay a lakeside drainpipe as part of an emergency flood relief scheme, has said the claim was “unfair and unfair”.
The council first sought to drain flood water from the lake last June using the emergency provisions of the Local Authorities (Works) Act 1949. This was successfully challenged in the High Court by FoIE citing the European Union Habitats Directive among other environmental protections given to the lake, which is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and part of the Natura 2000 network .
The council made a second attempt in August citing the emergency provisions of the Planning and Development Act, but this was again successfully challenged by the FoIE.
Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Patrick O’Donovan, who said he was ’emotionally’ invested in the county council’s side, told The Irish Times he viewed the dispute as a struggle between Irish and European laws.
He said Lough Funshinagh “must be considered a catchment area” and would “clash” with members of government in a bid to rework legislation to prevent “Irish communities becoming environmental refugees”. He blamed FoIE for the predicament homeowners face near the lake.
However, FoIE said council knew or should have known Clare County Council had addressed a similar issue of a non-draining turlough in Ballyvelaghan, which had the same environmental designation as Lough Funshinagh, in 2018. organization said Clare County Council had undertaken an environmental impact assessment and asked An Bord Pleanála for permission to take flood protection measures, which was the proper procedure.
Eoin Brady, Solicitor for FoIE, said ‘the key question is why the Lough Funshinagh project was not carried out in accordance with proper procedure’. He said the council, backed by the OPW and Mr O’Donovan, had essentially set up a challenge to the Habitats Directive and the protection provided by the SAC and Natura designations.
Mr Brady said such a model could have been used by local authorities elsewhere to effectively circumvent state and EU environmental protections had it been allowed. He said it was “important to remember that environmental laws do not prohibit actions that damage elements of the environment” – they simply require that the economic and social benefits be weighed against that damage” and that a balancing exercise be undertaken”.
But speaking to elected members of Roscommon County Council on March 28, local authority chief executive Eugene Cummins said carrying out a full environmental assessment could take three years and the possibility that An Bord Pleanála approves the project would be “thin”.
He said “the risk of failure is so great” that he didn’t want to “do this”. The Irish Times asked the council if this position had changed, but no response was received.
In his address to council members, Mr Cummins said FoIE had ‘generated huge costs and taken away hope’ for people who could still lose their homes to future floods. He referred to people in Ukraine who lost their homes to the Russian invasion and said FoIE “might also have a friend in Russia who doesn’t know what conscience means.”
FoIE director Tony Lowes expressed disappointment at the references to Ukraine. He said blaming the group for the predicament households found themselves in was “just nonsense” given that the law provided for other solutions.
He said during the trials, FoIE members were intimidated by an outpouring of hate on social media. One case made national headlines when Mr Lowes reported a call to An Garda Síochána in which he said he had been warned that he and the organization could face recriminations from paramilitaries, particularly the IRA Continuity .
“It is depressing that prominent figures in state agencies who should be protecting the environment have not spoken out against this bullying but have come in for criticism of us,” Mr Lowes said.