Government has secured a series of reforms which will reverse findings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in respect of certain categories of farm development and activities and bring Ireland’s implementation of environmental impact assessment (EIA) in line with the requirements of the EU Directive.

The EIA Directive requires member state, including Ireland, to provide that an environmental impact assessment must be carried out in respect of certain categories/levels of developments. The work by Government on these regulations in relation to agriculture holdings means that certain thresholds have been widened and red tape loosened in respect of many regular farming infrastructure.

We had a situation here where farmers throughout the county were been tied up in further red tape when they wanted to undertake essential building work on their farms, such as drainage works and the erection of boundary fences. While we must of course comply with EU directives, there is a balance to be struck in facilitating reasonable activities by farmers in these areas, while also protecting our valuable environmental heritage. A lack of action by the previous government has brought us to this point and it was left to this Government to get the best deal for Ireland in the short time available, while making sure we meet our environmental obligations.

I believe the regulations now proposed are workable and will minimise the administrative burden on farmers and keep the application process outside of the planning system.  This is what the aim of government was prior to negotiations and what the farming lobby wanted us to achieve. I want to commend my colleagues in both the Department of Environment and Agriculture for their work in this area.

We have agreed significantly better deals for farmers if you examine the tables. This means that farmers can get on with essential work on their farms without having to go through reams of red tape. Both Ministers have outlined that consultation and engagement will now take place with relevant stakeholders and the Commission on the guidelines that will support these regulations. This announcement is an example of how efficient Government is working for the people, in stark contrast to the manner in which the previous Government kicked this issue to touch.

Notes for the editor

The EIA Directive requires Member States to provide that an environmental impact assessment must be carried out in respect of certain categories/levels of developments, set out in Annex I of the Directive, before consent is given for the project to proceed.

The Directive also requires EU Member States to determine through (a) a case-by-case examination, or (b) the setting of national thresholds or criteria (which Ireland has done) whether projects below the mandatory thresholds set out in Annex I above need to have an EIA carried out prior to a decision as to whether consent should be given.  Where a case-by-case examination is carried out or thresholds or criteria are set, as in Ireland’s case, relevant selection criteria (e.g. character, size, location, accumulated impacts, proximity to sensitive sites) must be taken into account.