Ireland fined €3.5m for failing to comply with environmental law

Ireland has been fined €3.5m by the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with environmental law.

  • In two judgements the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Ireland has to pay financial penalties for failure to comply with earlier Court judgments that established a breach of EU environmental law.
  • This is the first time such penalties have been imposed on Ireland
  • The cases relate to Ireland’s failure to regulate septic tanks, and to correctly transpose an EU Directive on environmental impact assessments.

Case C-374/11 Septic Tanks 

The first ruling relates to Ireland’s failure to properly regulate the installation and use of septic tanks.

  • Discharges from septic tanks, of which there are close to 500,000 in Ireland, have contributed to micro-biological pollution of groundwater and nutrient pollution of surface waters.
  • Human health is put at risk because pathogens can enter drinking water sources via septic tanks that are poorly designed, located or maintained.
  • In their ruling, the Court found that Ireland has not complied with an earlier ruling of 2009 (case C-188/08) and therefore imposed a penalty payment of €12,000 for each day of delay in adopting measures necessary to comply with the 2009 judgment, from the date on which judgment is delivered in the present case to the date of full compliance with the 2009 judgment.
  • Furthermore, Ireland is ordered to pay a lump sum of €2,000,000.

Case C-279/11 Impact Assessment 

The second judgement relates to Ireland’s failure to correctly transpose and apply EU legislation on environmental impact assessment.

  • The Court found that the thresholds for undertaking an environmental impact assessment for certain types of projects, including the restructuring of rural landholdings and water management projects for irrigation or land drainage, were too high.
  • The thresholds did not fully take sensitive countryside features into account.  This led to loss of wetlands and other habitats without any environmental impact assessments ever being required.
  • The Court found that Ireland has implemented its earlier ruling of 2008 (C-66/06) and therefore the imposition of a penalty payment is unnecessary. However, the Court imposed a lump sum of €1,500,000.
  • However, daily fines were not imposed on Ireland in this case, because the court found that Ireland has now finally implemented its 2008 ruling.

The court said the judgments should remind the member states of their duty to implement the judgments of the court in a timely manner and that the failure to do so carries the risk of financial sanctions.

EU Commission Final Report: The costs of not implementing the environmental acquis

Directive 85/337/EEC on Impact assessment

ECOS Environmental Consultants Limited