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DERRYBRIEN:  THE STRUGGLE OF A SMALL RURAL COMMUNITY TO HAVE ITS VOICE HEARD

 

Taken from a Research project for DIPLOMA IN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE – Gort 2004 - 2005

By Martin Collins, Derrybrien, Loughrea, Co Galway                         June 2005


(Photograph showing part of Derrybrien village in the foreground with seven of the seventy one turbines in the background)

ABSTRACT

"If you want to know how the shoe fits ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it.

The above quotation is very apt and describes superbly the on going struggle of the small isolated rural communities to have their voice and concerns heard.

This project DERRYBRIEN: THE STRUGGLE OF A SMALL RURAL COMMUNITY TO HAVE ITS VOICE HEARD is mainly based on a personal account of dealing with a major piece of unproven infrastructure being imposed on the Derrybrien community by developers, planners, politicians and the Government.  In this paper I will endeavour to describe the series of events over the past 7 – 8 years and the wide range of expertise required to deal effectively with the issues involved.  Planners, politicians, engineers, legal experts, media, peat and geotechnical expert were all involved at various stages and one can only imagine the difficulties encountered by a small rural community with little or no resources and lacking political clout.  The implementation of Local Agenda 21 in a real and effective manner is extremely important if the voice and concerns of weak and venerable communities are to be listened to and acted upon.  Also the ratification of The Arhus Convention by the EU and the subsequent implementation into national law by June 2005 is of critical importance if our environment is to be protected for future generations.  As a community and as individuals we have learned a lot about how politics and big business are so inextricably linked however I am not so sure that they in turn understand the implications of fragmenting and partitioning a community from its environment and the democratic process.


CONTENTS
1. Introduction/Summary
    1.1 Figure 1 Map Identifying location of Derrybrien
2. The Parties involved in the Windfarm Development
3. Details of the Windfarm Development

4. Aims of the Project
5. Key Point
6. Background Information

    6.1 Background to Government Policy on Energy Production
    6.2 Renewable Energy Strategy Group
    6.3 County Development Plans
    6.4 History of Consultation and Planning Process
7. Post 16th October 2003
8. Effects of the Landslide (450,000 m
³ of bog moved)
    8.1 Figure 2 Aerial Photograph looking north at T68
9. Our Experience of EU Complaint Procedures
10. Reports Published
11. Political Response to the Landslide
12. Freedom of Information Requests
13. Complaint to the Ombudsman
14. Complaint Re: Certification of Coillte Teoranta
    14.1 Figure 3 Aerial photograph of Windfarm site
15. Court Action
16. Roll of the Media
17. Renewable Energy Debate
18. Conclusions/ Lessons Learned
    18.1 Demand the Implementation of Local Agenda 21
    18.2 The Arhus Convention
    18.3 The Truth and Justice?
    18.4 Seek Expert Opinion
    18.5 Create Alliances with other Groups
19. Final Conclusion
References

More Derrybrien Related Info and links

 

1. INTRODUCTION / SUMMARY

Derrybrien is a small rural village/hamlet located on a south-facing slope of the Slieve Aughty Mountains in South County Galway in the West of Ireland.  The village itself is situated along the R353, Gort – Portumna road.  The Abhainn Da Loilioch River meanders its way in a southwest direction in the valley below the village, parallel to the R353, and flows into Lough Cutra. The name Derrybrien, translated to Irish is Daraidh Draoin, the oak-wood of Brian, or O’Brian.  Brian Boru was said to have used the oak-woods of Derrybrien to shelter his guerrilla bands, constantly harassing the Danes on Lough Derg and along the Shannon, and using the same tactics as the Danes themselves, the sudden attack and quick retreat, after burning their ships and settlements.  Those guerrilla fighters formed the nucleus of the Dal gCais army, which finally defeated the Vikings at Clontarf.

The census figures for 1996 show a population of 144 people however the 2002 figures indicate a decline in population from 129 people (63 Females and 66 Males) a drop of 10.4%.  The current population is estimated at 114 people.  There are a total of 49 houses in the parish with 39 of these occupied.  The other 10 houses are either closed permanently or are only visited occasionally by their owners.  The facilities and services available to the local residents include a church, Post Office, Pub/shop and the local Primary School.  Many of these services are under severe threat of closure due to the decline in population.  The closest centres of urban populations are Gort to the west 16km, Loughrea to the north 16 km, Portumna to the east 25km and Galway city 50 km.  Fr. Patrick Conroy administered to the parish of Derrybrien/ Ballinakill (approximately 300 houses).  Derrybrien is identical to the geographical area known as the DED (District Electoral Division) of Derrylaur, which is stated to encompass an area of 4078 Hectares.  DED’s are areas, which are used for census and election purposes in recent times.  Approximately 50% of this land area is planted with coniferous trees.  The landslide, which occurred in Derrybrien on 16th October 2003 during the construction of a 71-turbine windfarm, has propelled the locality to national and indeed international prominence.

In December 1997, January 1998 two windfarm developers, Saorgus Energy Limited, Tralee, Co. Kerry and B9 Energy Services Ltd, Larne, Co. Antrim applied to Galway County Council for permission to erect a total of 71 windturbines on three sites in Derrybrien.  Permission was granted to Saorgus for 46 turbines (23 + 23) on 12th March 1998 and B9 were granted permission to erect 23 (instead of the 25 applied for) on 26th March 1998.  Local residents appealed the decisions to An Bord Pleanala however they upheld the County Council decision.  Saorgus applied again to Galway County Council in 2000 for a further 25 turbines (71 in total).  Galway County Council refused permission however on appeal by the developers An Bord Pleanala granted permission.  For various reasons the B9 project never materialized.

In the meantime Saorgus Energy Ltd leased the site (which they had purchased from Coillte Teoranta) and sold the project to a subsidiary of the ESB, Hibernian Wind Power Ltd. 

Construction work started on the 850-acre site around June/July 2003.

During the construction related activities of the 71-turbine project a major landslide of some 450,000 cubic meters of peat occurred on the 16th October 2003.  Hibernian Wind Power Ltd, Galway County Council and the local residents each commissioned separate reports on the events surrounding the landslide.  It is widely accepted that construction related activities caused the landslide.

There are many issues of deep concern to the local residents such as unauthorised development, robust drainage, water quality concerns, the estimated 50,000 wild brown trout killed and the considerable distress and disturbance inflicted on this small rural community. 

On the 20th October 2004 in Gort District Court ESB International and Ascon Ltd were both convicted of allowing polluting matter to enter the headwaters of the Abhainn Da Liolioch River.  A maximum fine of 1250 was imposed on both companies.  Nobody was convicted of a fish kill.

Members of the local community travelled to Brussels in January 2004 and met with representatives of the EU Commission at the offices of DG Environment.  As a result of that meeting a substantial file was sent to DG Environment.  Recently the Commission confirmed that they will take Ireland to the European Court of Justice with regard to matters related to the development of the windfarm.  It is our view that the circumstances surrounding the landslide are been treated with the due care and attention they deserve by the Commission and the staff at DG Environment.  This is in stark contrast with the cold shoulder approach of the Irish Authorities.

Derrybrien Development Society Limited has recently initated legal proceedings against Saorgus Energy Ltd, Coillte Teoranta and Gort Windfarms Ltd with a view to seeking an Injunction to stop the deforestation of 650-acres of trees on the 850-acre site.  However Ms. Justice Dunne in her judgement delivered in the High Court on 3rd June 2005 found that;  “Having considered the matter carefully and in particular in the light of the matters set out in the Environmental Impact Statements I have come to the conclusion that on a reading of the Environmental Impact Statement attached to the various permissions it was quite clear that the proposed development envisaged the removal of the forestry thereon and the changes of use on the lands from forestry to use as a windfarm.  I can come to no other conclusion.” and In the circumstances I am not satisfied that the applicants have made out the case that the de-forestation of the lands at Derrybrien is an unauthorised development”.  The Derrybrien community has been divided by the proposals to construct 92-turbines in the locality.  Only time will tell when and if we make a full recovery.


1.1 Figure 1.  Map identifying the location of Derrybrien and the wind farm site (shaded in blue) to the north of the village.  (Discovery series, Sheet 52)

 

2. THE PARTIES INVOLVED IN THE WINDFARM DEVELOPMENT  

v     The Local Community – Derrybrien & District Concerned Residents Group, Derrybrien Development Association, Derrybrien Landslide Action Group and Derrybrien Development Society Limited

v     Saorgus Energy Limited , Tralee Co Kerry – the original developers who purchased the land from Coillte Teoranta and received planning permission for 71 turbines

v     B9 Energy Services Limited, Larne, Co. Antrim – windfarm developer who proposed to erect 23 turbines on a site leased from 7 local landowners (project never materialized).

v     Coillte Teoranta Leeson Lane Dublin –original landowners and as part of the sale agreement is contracted to cut and remove timber from 650 acres.

v     Galway County Council – the local planning authority.

v     An Bord Pleanala – national planning appeals authority.

v     Hibernian Wind Power Limited – is a whole owned subsidiary of the ESB and the developers who leased the site & bought the project from Saorgus.

v     Gort Windfarms Limited – is a whole owned subsidiary of Hibernian Wind Power Limited (it is effect the 71 Turbine windfarm development).

v     ESB / ESB International – agents / contractors / project managers.

v     Ascon Limited – design and build civil contractors for the project.

v     Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources – issue Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) licences.

v     The Forest Service – the national authority charged with responsible for issuing Felling Licences and ensuring that Forestry Legislation is adhered to.

 

3. DETAILS OF THE WINDFARM DEVELOPMENT

v     60 mega – watts project

v     €60 million project

v     71 (850 kw) Turbines on 850 acres of blanket bog, on which 650 acres of trees are to be clear felled and not replanted.

v     Turbines – 73 metres to the top of the blade.

v     Two large quarries opened on site.

v     20 km of roadways throughout the site.

v     7 km of new 110 kv powerline is been constructed.

 

4. AIMS OF THE PROJECT

To bring to the attention of the general public the difficulties/struggle of the smaller communities in having their voice/opinion/interests heard when up against greater powers such as big business and politicians etc.

 

5. KEY POINT

The question to be answered is; are there any built-in obligatory measures to consult with a local community as part of any proposed development which may be of concern to local residents?

 

6. Background Information

6.1 Background to Government Policy on Energy Production

The background to this story is the government policy which stated in the National Development Plan 1994- 1999 that; As a primary objective the production of as much of the country’s energy requirements from indigenous sources as is economically possible (National Development Plan 1994- 1999).  This policy was based on the UN FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE KYOTO PROTOCOL. [1] In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed at the ‘Earth Summit’.  The UNFCCC has as its ultimate objective the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous man-made interference with the climate system.  Developed countries committed themselves to adopt policies with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gas.  Ireland’s climate change policy operates within the context of overall EU climate change strategy.  Prior to the agreement on the UNFCCC, the EU committed itself in 1990 to the stabilisation of CO2 emissions in the Union as a whole by the year 2000 at their 1990 levels.  Within that overall stabilisation objective, Ireland agreed to limit the increase in its CO2 emissions to 20% above 1990 levels by the year 2000.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was agreed and set legally binding targets for developed countries for the period 2008- 2012.  Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has agreed to reduce its emissions of the six greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride, by 8% below 1990 levels by the period 2008- 2012.  As part of the internal EU burden sharing arrangement under the joint fulfilment provisions of the Protocol, Ireland has agreed to limit the increase in emissions of the six greenhouse gases to 13% above 1990 levels by the same period.

Ireland’s response to its obligations under the Framework Convention is set out in the ‘Second National Communication under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’ (July 1997).  Policies and measures have been designed to improve general levels of efficiency of energy production and consumption.  On the consumption side, measures are aimed at addressing efficiency and conservation in the industrial, residential, commercial and institutional sectors.  In relation to energy supply and production, activities are directed at improving the efficiency of electricity production, reducing the level of carbon intensity and managing growth in demand.  Key elements, as described in the Second National Communication, include: 

  • Energy efficiency in the industrial sector
  • Energy conservation in the buildings and residential sectors
  • Appliance labelling
  • Demand side management
  • Alternative and renewable energy
  • Electricity production and transmission efficiency
  • Fuel switching
  • Peat conversion efficiency improvement

While assisting towards meeting our obligations in relation to climate change prior to Kyoto, existing policies are inadequate to meet future obligations.  The Protocol represents one step towards combating climate change.  The real challenge facing Ireland is that of positioning the economy to deal with the stronger targets which will be agreed for the post-Kyoto period.  (Green Paper on Sustainable Energy September 1999). [1]

6.2 Renewable Energy Strategy Group

One of the recommendations from the Green Paper on Sustainable Energy (September 1999) was to establish a Renewable Energy Strategy Group.[2]  This group was formed in November 1999 by Mr Joe Jacob, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise.  The principal focus of the Group’s work has been to develop a strategy for the increased contribution of onshore wind energy to electrical generation.  The principal conclusion of the Group was that three key elements, Electricity Market, Electricity Network and Spatial Planning, need to be integrated into a plan led approach to wind energy deployment.  In the area of spatial planning the key recommendation of the Group was that a more plan led approach to wind farm development be adopted.  This process involves identifying areas which are deemed suitable or unsuitable for wind energy development.

The process recommended to achieve this is as follows:

  • Issue a letter of invitation to Local Authorities from the Minister for Public Enterprise and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, pointing to the benefits to Local Authorities of wind farms in their area such as the receipt of commercial rates, possibility of investment in wind farms themselves and the possibility of cheaper electricity (through supplying their own electricity needs with wind energy).
  • Local Authorities identify areas which are deemed preferred and open for consideration in the Local Authority area in the context of wind farm development.  Strategic areas and no-go areas may also be identified, if deemed appropriate by the Local Authority.
  • The appropriate Council is advised on the areas on a provisional basis.
  • The Local Authorities then submit maps containing these areas to the Renewable Energy Information Office to advise on the wind energy in the areas, following consultation with ESB, IWEA, etc.
  • A revised map of the areas deemed preferred, open for consideration, strategic and no-go, as appropriate, is then produced by each Local Authority which is sufficiently broad to allow for wind energy development without creating a situation where difficulties with land availability would create potential bottlenecks.
  • The Local Authorities then proceed to incorporate this into its development plan.

The following are members of the Renewable Energy Strategy Group

Prof. John Fitzgerald, Economic and Social Research Institute, Chairman
Dr. Eamon McKeogh, Irish Energy Centre, Vice Chairman
Mr. Tom Kennington, Department of Public Enterprise, Member
Dr. Tom McManus, Department of Public Enterprise, Member
Mr. Donal Enright, Department of the Environment and Local Government, Member
Mr. Peter Taggart, Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment, NI, Member
Mr. Henk van der Kamp, Irish Planning Institute, Member
Mr. Niall Sweeney, City and County Managers Association, Member
Ms. Adele Sleator, Electricity Supply Board – National Grid, Member
Mr. Simon Grimes, Electricity Supply Board – Distribution, Member
Ms. Inge Buckley, Scan EEC – Industry, Member
Mr. Brian O Gallachoir, University College Cork, Facilitator

Only a small number of people throughout the country were aware that such a group were in existence.  Therefore there was little or no opportunity to make submissions to the group.  Also the members were hand picked by the Minister and as far as I am aware there is no local community representative on the group.  The recommendations as identified above in effect instructed Local Authorities to select areas such as Derrybrien and it would be highly beneficial if a landowner such as the State owned company Coillte Teoranta, was prominent in the area as this would comfortably and conveniently deal with the land availability issue.

6.3 County Development Plans

In the 1997 – 2002 Galway County Development Plan, [3] Derrybrien and indeed all the Slieve Aughty Mountains were designated as “High Scenic Amenity Area”.  This designation as identifies under section 9.2 Development Control Objectives states that 9.2 Development Control Objectives

9.2.1 Scenic Amenity Areas

To restrict development which would detract from the amenity value of the zoned areas indicated in the relevant maps, where such development would be visually inappropriate and out of character, or could not be satisfactorily blended into its surroundings.

As part of the consultation process in preparation for the 2003 – 2009 Galway County Development Plan [4] submissions were made by at all stages of the process by representatives from Derrybrien. However, Derrybrien and the Slieve Aughty Mountains were zoned a “Strategic Area Where wind farm development is considered appropriate i.e. wind resource at or above 6m/sec”.  No further information is available from Galway County Council as to what detailed criterion was used in agreeing this designation.

One other issue which is closely connected to the windfarm planning strategy is forestry.  A significant number of correspondence to the planning section of Galway County Council refer to changing the designation of the Slieve Aughty Mountains from “High Scenic Amenity Area” to a lower category due to the fact that there is widespread Coniferous Plantations on the Mountains and that this activity has severely damaged and degraded the environment and landscape in this region.  In the 2003 Galway County Development Plan the Slieve Aughty Mountains are identified under “Scale of woodland appropriate” as being suitable for “Up to 100% woodland cover”. [4] This information may be accessed at; www.galwaycoco.ie/planning/developmentplan/landscape/devplan_landscape_3.htm    Forestry is also a highly grant aided and widely promoted Government Policy.

6.4 History of Consultation and Planning Process

  • In late 1998 two companies, Saorgus Energy Ltd, Tralee, Co. Kerry and B9 Energy Services Ltd, Larne, Co. Antrim proposed to construct 71 windturbines on three sites at Derrybrien.

  • Three separate applications for planning permissions were lodged with Galway County Council (GCC) in January 1998.

  • Public meeting for local community in Derrybrien National School on 21st January 1998.

  • Public meeting held in Egan’s Lounge Derrybrien on 17th February 1998.  A well attended meeting with representatives from the developers, IFA, Coillte Teoranta and IRD South East Galway in attendance.

  • Objection to the proposed developments was submitted to the Planning Section of Galway County Council on the 2nd March 1998.

  • Galway County Council granted permission to Saorgus Energy Ltd on 12th March 1998 to erect 46 turbines (23 + 23).  On 26th March 1998 GCC granted permission to B9 Energy Ltd to erect 23 turbines and refused 2 mainly on grounds of possible noise pollution.

  • Local residents group employ the services of a planning consultant to lodge an appeal to An Bord Pleanala against the decision by Galway County Council to grant permission.

  • Public meeting held in Egan’s Lounge Derrybrien on 13th April 1998.  A well attended meeting which included two TDs and four County Councillors.

  • A deputation from Derrybrien addressed the Loughrea Area Councillors at a meeting held in Clarinbridge on 20th April 1998.

  • A deputation from Derrybrien addressed the Loughrea Town Commissioners on 20th April 1998 in Loughrea.

  • On the 12th October 1998 An Bord Pleanala granted permission to Saorgus Energy Ltd to erect 46 wind turbines.

  • A presentation was prepared by Martin Collins, Adrian Headd and Berna Morgan, of Derrybrien & District Concerned Residents Group and this was presented to The Irish Planning Institute workshop “Planning and Wind Energy : Creating a Secure Framework for Investment” on 23rd October 1998 in The Kilternan Golf and Country Club Hotel, Kilternan, Co Dublin. [5]

  • Following from this presentation a document entitled “WINDFARMS A Local Response (November 1998)” [6] was compiled and approximately 35 copies were sent to politicians, people in the media and various other interested parties.  In this document we outlined our objections to the proposals to erect 69 turbines in our locality, they are as follows;

  1. Visual Impact
  2. Noise Effects
  3. Effects on Habitat
  4. Negative Effects on Tourist Potential
  5. Causing a Split Within The Community
  6. Devaluation of Property
  7. A Material Contravention of The 1997 Galway County Development Plan
  8. Lack of Employment or Community Benefits
  9. Safety Considerations
  • In that document we offered a number of alternatives to the large scale concentration of windturbines on the tops of our hills and mountains especially focused on the western seaboard, they are as follows;

  1. Large scale offshore windfarms
  2. Small scale windfarms locally owned and locally operated (the provision of Micro turbines for domestic use).  See http:///www.micropower.co.uk  [7]
  3. Bord na Mona developing large tracts of bog to accommodate large scale windfarm developments but only where such developments would be acceptable to local communities and environmental groups.
  4. Siting of windturbines in their natural home e.g. industrial zones, harbours, cities etc.
  5. Energy conservation (implementing a policy of awareness and practical steps such as better insulation standards and encouraging the installation of new energy efficient appliances).
  • On 20th September 1999 Saorgus Energy Ltd was granted permission by Galway County Council to construct a110KV powerline, 7 km in length from the windfarm to an existing powerline.  The fact that approximately 70 acres of trees were to be cut and the line intersected a Hen Harrier hunting ground was ignored in the grant of planning.  Also the sketchy information provided with the planning application did not refer to a Substation building, the location of the 9 steel masts or the size of the structures to be constructed along the route of the line.
    On the 5th October 2000 Saorgus applied to Galway County Council for permission to build a further 25 wind turbines.

  • Galway County Council refused permission for the development on 1st December 2000.  The planner who refused this permission was courageous and was to be proven fully correct in her decision.  She deserves credit and recognition for her diligence and foresight.

  • An Bord Pleanala overturns Galway County Council decision and grant permission on 15th November 2001.  The An Bord Pleanala Inspector, estimates that there were 152 wind turbines granted permission on the Slieve Aughty Mountains (this includes the 25 that she was about to decide on).

  • Around the time of the grant of planning written and verbal communication was made with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Western Regional Fisheries Board, however both ignored our concerns.
    On 4th February 2002 Saorgus was awarded an Alternative Energy Requirement V (AER V) contract for the Derrybrien project by the Department of Public Enterprise.

  • In June 2002 Galway County Council allow Saorgus to change turbine type regarding the first two applications.

  • Saorgus apply to Galway County Council to change turbine type to 850KW with 26 m blades, 47 m hub for the 25 turbines.  This was approved on 27th November 2002.

  • Saorgus applied to the Forest Service in January 2003 for a Felling Licence to deforest 650 Acres of trees on the 850 windfarm site.

  • On 20th May 2003 a Felling Licence was granted to Coillte Teoranta to cut the trees.

  • A public meeting was held in Egans Lounge Derrybrien on 4th April 2003.  The attendance included representatives from the local community, councillors, The Forest Service, Coillte Teoranta, Galway Rural Development and Galway County Council.  Mr Niall Heenan facilitated the meeting.  The main issues discussed were the extremely high level of coniferous afforestation in the area, local planning issues, development of windfarms and the significance of Clár designation.

  • We understand that Coillte Teoranta sold the site to Saorgus in June 2003.

  • Negotiations took place between Saorgus and Hibernian Wind Power Ltd in early 2003 to lease the land and sell the project.  The sale of the project “Gort Windfarms Ltd” was completed in July 2003.

  • On 2nd July 2003 construction work commenced on the site.

  • On 9th July 2003 Saorgus was awarded AER VI contract [8] for the Derrybrien project from Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR).

  • Martin Collins wrote to the Enforcement Officer in Galway County Council on 29th July 2003 requesting information and action regarding the possibility of unauthorised development taking place on the windfarm site.  This letter was replied to on 16th July 2004.

  • Gort Windfarms Ltd applied to Galway County Council on 1st October 2003 for an extension of time on the first two planning applications. 

  • On 16th October 2003 a bog slide occurred adjacent to the excavation of Turbine 68.  Approximately 450,000 cubic metres of bog moved.

  • On 24th November 2003 Galway County Council granted the extension of time to Gort Windfarms Ltd.

  • Gort Windfarms Ltd applied to Galway County Council for an extension of time to complete the construction of the powerline in September 2004.  This was granted in October 2004.

  • Gort Windfarms Ltd applied for a further extension of time for the original 46 turbines in February 2005.  This was granted in March 2005.  An application has been made to The High Court for a Judicial Review of the decision to grant a second extension to the original 46 turbines on the basis “that in the Assessment of Application included in the planning report of 30th March, 2005 that “substantial works” had been carried out by the Applicants is the wrong criterion to be applied to a second extension application”.  Proceedings are expected to take place on the 13th July 2005 in The High Court in Dublin.

 

7. Post 16th October 2003

On the evening of the 16th October 2003 during the excavation of the base for Turbine 68, approximately 450,000 cubic metres of bog began to slide downhill in a south-easterly direction.  The bog and uprooted trees followed the course of a little stream for about 2.5 km before surrounding an old farmhouse and knocking some stone outbuildings which were in its path.

Following heavy rainfall on the 29th – 30th October 2003 the bog became liquidised and entered the Abhainn Da Loilioch River which eventually meandered its way for a further 22km and finally entered Lough Cutra, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protected Area (SPA) and the main source of water for the town of Gort.  The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board estimated that approximately 50,000 fish had choked on the sludge and were dead (Shannon Regional Fisheries Board Preliminary Report November 2003).

 

8. EFFECTS OF THE LANDSLIDE (450,000 m³ of bog moved)

The effect of the landslide was significant due to the fact that it created fear, stress and unpredictability of what may happen in the future to houses, land and environment.  Nobody really knew what was going to happen next.  The link road from Derrybrien to Loughrea, known locally as the Black road was closed to traffic.  Also the main Gort – Portumna road (R353) was closed for a number of days.  These restrictions caused a great deal of inconvenience to a number of local families and indeed to services in the area such as priest, postman and vet. 

The heavy rainfall on the 29th and 30th October 03 caused severe water pollution as the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board (SRFB) stated in a Preliminary report [9] that “The massive influx of peat was carried along through the Abhainn Da Loilioch River for a distance of 22 km to Lough Cutra” and “that over 100,000 fish could have been affected and the results from surveys after the episode suggested that over 50% of the fish died”.  The huge volume of material carried by the floodwaters damaged boundary fences on farms, deposited bog and debris on land, changed the course of the river and impacted on crossing points on the river.  In some cases farmers were forced to purchase water tanks to provide clean water to livestock as the river was contaminated for quite a while following the slide.

Local people were extremely annoyed that nobody was taking responsibility for the damages and distress inflicted on the community.

 
8.1 Figure 2 Aerial photograph looking north at T68 the upper most point of the bog slide taken on 16th April 2005 by Martin Collins

The photograph above shows the uppermost point of the bog slide with 30 year old trees still growing on the displaced rafts of bog.  The grey/white lines are internal windfarm roads.  The dark green patches mainly on the bottom right and centre top of the photograph shows 30 year old trees still standing.  The light green and slightly grey lines in the centre are lines of trees cut by a 20 tonne harvesting machine and laid in rows to support the weight of the machine on the 1.5 – 2 metres deep blanket bog.  It appears that these trees will be left to decay and rot on the bog.  

9. OUR EXPERIENCE OF EU COMPLAINT PROCEDURES

  • Sent letter of complaint on the 3rd November 2003 to Ms Margot Wallstrom EU Commissioner for the Environment.

  • Receiver letter dated 21st November 2003 from EU Commission stating that our complaint had been registered.

  • Patricia McKenna MEP received answer to written question in the Parliament on 16th December 2003.

  • James Curley and Martin Collins went over to Brussels on the 22nd January 2004.  Patricia McKenna accompanied us to the offices of DG Environment.  As a result of this meeting we prepared a substantial file (consisting of two lever arch files) which was sent to Brussels on 18th February 2004.

  • Patricia McKenna MEP received answer to written question on 27th April 2004.

  • Received letter from DG Environment dated 20th July 2004 which confirmed that the Commission had sent Ireland a “Letter of Formal Notice” (first warning letter).  In that letter the Commission made the following statement; “I would like to inform you (Martin Collins, Derrybrien, Landslide Action Group) that the Commission has recently sent Ireland an additional Letter of Formal Notice (first written warning), expressing concerns relating to your complaint as well as to other matters.  More specifically, the Commission has pointed out that the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) undertaken for the windfarm development at Derrybrien appear to have been manifestly deficent in failing to provide any or any adequate information on the geophysical risks associated with the project.  The developer’s information appears seriously lacking in this regard, and no environmental authority made up for its deficiency”.  The Commission also referred to the obligations of the Irish authorities to ensure that the deforestation and the recent proposed modifications were fully and correctly subject to the requirements of Article 2 to 10 of Directive 85/ 337.

  • Local Action Group sent two additional files (16th & 30th August 2004) to Brussels containing information received under the Freedom of Information Act.  We also sent a copy of our expert report “Wind Farms and Blanket Peat (The Bog Slide of 16th October 2003 at Derrybrien, Co. Galway, Ireland.  By Richard Lindsay and Dr. Olivia Bragg, University of East London 2004)” [10] on the 26th October 2004 to DG Environment.

  • On 13th January 2005 the European Commission announced that it had decided to pursue infringement proceedings against Ireland regarding the Landslide at Derrybrien.

  • The European Commission announced on the 11th April 2005 that they are going to prosecute Ireland in the European Court of Justice in respect of issues relating to the Landslide at Derrybrien.

 

10. REPORTS PUBLISHED

Initially two reports were commissioned, one by the developers Hibernian Wind Power Ltd and the second by the Local Authority Galway County Council, both claiming that the windfarm construction had a major part to play in the landslide.

A third report was commissioned by V.P. Shields & Son Solicitors, acting on behalf of Derrybrien Development Society Ltd and individual land owners whose lands were affected by the bog slide.  “Wind Farms and Blanket Peat” The Bog Slide of the 16th October 2003 at Derrybrien, Co. Galway, Ireland by Richard Lindsay and Dr.Olivia Bragg of the University of East London was launched at Buswells Hotel Dublin on Tuesday 26th October 2004. [10] The specific objectives of the report were;

  1. To assess the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and the Environmental Assessment (EA) that were compiled to support the series of planning applications submitted in relation to the windfarm development.
  2. To highlight and consider any issues that are relevant to the development but were not considered in the EIA reports produced by the developers.
  3. To assess in similar terms the two geotechnical investigations undertaken after the October 2003 landslide.

The main findings of the Lindsay, Bragg report are;

  • Forestry causes major changes to the upper layers of peat. The trees dry out the surface layers of peat and cause increasingly deep cracking down into the lower layers.  There is extensive forest plantation at Derrybrien, and clear evidence of such fissuring in the peat beneath the forest cover.

  • The Environmental Impact Assessments did not take due recognition of the fact that the EIA boundary contained or adjoined 5 SACs, 2 Ramsar Sites, and a reference river for the Water Framework Directive (the Owendallulleegh River).  The report also stated that; “No credible assessment is made of the avifauna using the site.  Species are mentioned merely to be dismissed as significant factors.  It appears that no request is made by either the developer or the planning authority for sight of recent survey data concerning Hen Harriers in the Slieve Aughty Mountains.  The planning authority instead imposed a planning condition concerning survey of the Hen Harrier that can provide no safeguards for the Hen Harrier population”.

  • The EIAs did not properly assess the construction of 71 turbines in total on a blanket bog which is over 5 meters deep in places.  At the very least a Slope Stability Report – PPG 14 “Development on Unstable Land” (Department of the Environment UK 1990) should have been produced at planning stage, local residents will be insisting that such a report will be a mandatory requirement for future activities on or adjacent to this site.

  • The construction of approximately 20km of floating roads was not properly assessed.

  • Rainfall records for 2003 indicated that the bog slide occurred at the end of a low – rainfall year.

  • There is no evidence to show that a “robust drainage plan” will ensure any greater stability in the area for the long term.

  • Possible “avalanche corridors” are identified on 3 – D models.  The possibility of further landslides in this area cannot be ruled out.

  • By constructing windfarms on bogs, developers are releasing huge stores of CO2.  It is estimated that the world’s peatlands contain more than three times the amount of carbon that is in the world’s tropical rainforests.

 

11. POLITICAL RESPONSE TO THE LANDSLIDE

A public meeting was held in Egan’s Lounge Derrybrien on 3rd November 2003.  The attendance included local residents, local and national politicians, developers, local authority, clergy, members of fishing club and people from the media.

A deputation from the local community attended the Loughrea Area Committee meeting of Galway County Council in O’Dea’s Hotel Loughrea on 12th November 2003.  At the time we felt that the deputation received a sympathetic hearing from both the County Councillors and the Executive staff members.  However through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to GCC we later learned that prior to our attendance at the meeting the County Councillors proposed and agreed to write to the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board expressing disappointment and annoyance at their press release which stated that up to 100,000 fish may have been killed as a result of the landslide.  Also which is even more alarming is that the same Cllr. stated that “it was important for the local economy that the project goes ahead”.  These comments were made at a time when there was a great deal of uncertainty as to what threat or danger the local community and our environment was facing into the future.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”
         
-
Martin Luther King Junior

On the 11th December 2003 again a deputation from Derrybrien made a presentation to The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment & Local Government, in Leinster House Dublin 2.  This meeting and presentation was in vain. 

The Government and politicians in general pontificate about the wide consultation process and the rigorous procedures that projects must go through in order to get planning permission however our experience has been the complete opposite.  No meaningful consultation took place at any time through the past 8 – 10 years with any of the parties involved in this project.  The facts are that unelected civil servants, county managers, An Bord Pleanala and the Judiciary have a major input into policy implementation and all are under the jurisdiction of the Government.  The only real assistance we received has come from our MEPs (Member of the European Parliament).

 

12. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS

Due to the complex nature of the case and the number of players involved factually correct information was vital.  One of the ways we used to extract the facts from State bodies was the Freedom of Information Act 1997 (FOI).  Requests for information were to the Department of Agriculture and Food, Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Galway County Council.  The information provided by the Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources was the subject of an appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner.  The Information Commissioner Ms Emily O’Reilly recently delivered her decision on the issues in question which were the releasing of all records relating to the “sale and option agreements” between Saorgus Energy Ltd and Coillte Teoranta for the land on which the 71 windfarm was to be constructed.  In formulating her decision The Information Commissioner made the following comments;

“On the question of the public interest, though, your submission in response to Ms. Campbell’s (Investigator, Office of the Information Commissioner) preliminary view letter emphasised that seller of the land in question was not just any “ other landowner” but rather a “State owned company”.  Accordingly, on 18 January 2005, Ms. Campbell wrote to Coillte to advise the company of your persuasive argument that there is a public interest in openness and accountability with respect to the property transactions conducted by Coillte.  Ms. Campbell noted that, although Coillte is not a public body within the meaning of the FOI Act, it is a commercial semi-state company.  She also stated her understanding that Coillte owns and manages property in Ireland as an agent of the State.  In the event that her understanding was incorrect, Ms. Campbell expressly requested Coillte to clarify the status of the lands that are the subject of the sale and option agreements and the nature of the business conducted by Coillte insofar as it relates to this review.

In the meantime, Ms Campbell was compelled on 31 January 2005 to return the Department’s files that had been forwarded to this Office in order for the Department to make a decision on the additional records identified as falling within the scope of your request following your search query and for the preparation of appropriate schedules.  On 3 February 2005, Ms.Campbell received a very strongly worded submission from Saorgus expressing its amazement that I “would force a government department to release information that was submitted to it in commercial confidence as part of a state-sponsored competitive tender.”  Saorgus suggests to me that “such practices, particularly where no demonstrable public good can be achieved, have already led to a general unwillingness to transmit any such information in writing to or between public bodies.”  Saorgus also described to me how it intends to conduct its future dealings with public bodies accordingly.  In relation to the land prices at issue, Saorgus states;

“We submitted the land prices sought under this Derrybrien appeal to the DCMNR as part of an AER5 tender.  The information needed by DCMNR was that the lands had been secured and that we were in a position to deliver on the project if our tender was accepted.  We did not need to have the commercial aspects of the land transfer included, just that we had secured the land.  Therefore, additional information that was incidental to the information which was required was submitted.  We therefore regard the submission of this information to the DCMNR as a mistake in the first place.”

Subsequently, on 23 February 2005, the Department’s files were returned to this Office with appropriate schedules but without the sale and option agreements.  Section 37 of the FOI Act entitles me to require any person who is in possession of information or has a record in his or her power or control that, in my opinion, is relevant to the purposes of a review under section 34 to furnish any such information or record for my examination.  Nevertheless, it seems that Saorgus asked the Department not to return the sale and option agreements to my Office, and pending the receipt of the advice of the Attorney General on the matter, the Department complied with this request.  The documents were ultimately provided on 8 March 2005 on foot of the Attorney General’s advice.

This is the eight year in which the FOI Act has been in effect in Ireland and numerous tender-related decisions have issued from this Office.  It is therefore difficult to comprehend how a company tendering for a contract in a competition administered by a public body could greet the potential for the release of tender-related records held by the public body with amazement.  Saorgus’ reaction in this case is all the more puzzling given the fact that AER application forms expressly advise applicants in bold and italicised lettering of the possibility of disclosure of records held by the Department under FOI.  In any event, it seems to me that the Department should have been well aware of my authority under section 37 without having to seek the advice of the Attorney General before returning records to my Office that are the subject of a review under section 34.

I consider Coillte’s conduct, however, to be particularly egregious.  In response to Ms. Campbell’s letter dated 18 January 2005, Coillte made a submission dated 16 February 2005 formally objecting to the release of the sale and option agreements.  Coillte stated, among other things, that Ms. Campbell’s understanding of its legal status and its role in managing lands in Ireland was incorrect.  According to the submission, Coillte is a private limited company registered under the Companies Act 1963-2003 that was established under the Forestry Act 1988 to operate forestry and forestry-related businesses commercially.  It does not provide public services and it receives no public funding for its business activities other than that available to any private company.  Coillte further stated;

“Coillte is not an extension of a Government department neither is it an agency, nor under the control, of any Government department.  While the shareholders in the company are the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Finance, management of the company is the legal responsibility of the Board of Directors of the Company whose duties are set out in company law and in the Forestry Act 1988.

The relationship between the company and the Minister for Agriculture is the same as that between any private or public limited company and its shareholders.  In relation to Coillte’s forests and other land these are wholly owned by the company to whom the lands were transferred by virtue of Section 39(1) of the Forestry Act 1988.  The lands are not managed on behalf of the State in contract for example with National Parks that are owned by the State and managed on behalf of the State by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In this context, the lands owned by the company are, in law, private property and the transaction which is the subject of the request is a private law transaction between two entities neither of which is subject to the Freedom of Information Acts.”

I consider that, notwithstanding my powers under section 37 of the FOI Act, Coillte has provided me with an incomplete description of its legal status.  Coillte’s submission makes no mention whatsoever of the binding judgement of the European Court of Justice in which Coillte’s view of its status as a private company was rejected.  In Case C-339/00, Ireland v. Commission of the European Communities [2003] ECR I-11757, the Court (Fifth Chamber) held that, “as a public undertaking” [emphasis added], Coillte was not eligible to receive grant aid under the EU afforestation scheme.  In its recital of the facts, the Court noted that the Irish State had owned and directly managed approximately 400,000 hectares of forest until the end of the 1980s.

In reaching its judgement against Ireland, the Court made the following findings:

“In the present case, Ireland itself has stated that Coillte Teoranta is and always has been a public undertaking wholly owned by the State.  Moreover, the Court has already held in Connemara Machine Turf and Commission v. Ireland that the company was controlled by the State and no new evidence has been adduced which might show that this was no longer the case in the financial years 1997 and 1998.  Neither the company’s obligation to manage its affairs on a commercial basis nor the fact, alleged by Ireland, that the State dose not, in practice, intervene in the company’s management can prevail over the finding that the company is wholly owned and therefore intervene.  It follows that the Coillte Teoranta is not private-law legal person for the purposes of Article 2(2)(b) of Regulation No 2080/92.”

It is readily apparent from the references to earlier judgements that the Court’s view of Coillte as a public undertaking wholly owned and controlled by the State is not limited to the purposes of Regulation No 2080/92.  In the circumstances, I consider Coillte’s failure to include in its submission any reference to the Court’s ruling on its status as unfortunate at best.

In this case, the parties argue that the sale and option agreements relate to confidential, commercial transactions and were given to the Department by Saorgus in confidence.  Coillte indicates that the Department has acknowledged the confidential nature of the records and therefore a mutual understanding of confidence exists.  The submissions of both Coillte and Saorgus strongly suggest that disclosure would have a prejudicial effect on the provision to the Department of confidential, commercial information in the future by themselves or other parties.  Coillte states:

“It would be totally absurd were Coillte put in a position whereby it could not advise its shareholders of the details of significant commercial land transactions out of concern that such obviously commercially sensitive information would be put in the public domain.” Coillte also expresses concern that disclosure in this case would provide “an irresistible precedent to compel the disclosure of all past and future similar transactions.  The company would necessarily be the subject of enquiries, controversy and debate, of no particular benefit and would require allocating disproportionate resources to this end.”

Ms. O’Reilly goes on to state that: “I find no basis whatsoever for concluding that the sale and option agreements, apart from the pricing information therein, include commercially sensitive information within the meaning of section 27(1) of the FOI Act.  In relation to the pricing information, I note that the documents show that the prices were agreed in October 1999 and that the sales were completed in December 2001.  In Cannon and Australian Quality Egg Farm Limited (1994) 1 QAR 491 (para. 56), the Queensland Information Commissioner observed: “[I]information which is aged or out-of-date has no remaining commercial value…and it may be that the value of information relating to a major, “one-off” commercial transaction, such as the sale of a government property, is spent once the transaction is consummated”.  Indeed in some jurisdictions, disclosure of similar such land prices seems to be a matter of routine unless some special circumstance exists, such as an incomplete transaction.  See, e.g., Ontario Realty Corporation, Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ontario, Order PO-1964, Nov. 8, 2001 (purchase price available through title search).  I further note that, as the sale and option agreements include no details to show how the land prices were calculated, I do not accept that disclosure would reveal any information relating to Coillte’s approach to valuation or its valuation model.”

Finally Ms. O’Reilly states that: “Weighing in favour of release is the fact, as you have indicated that the sale of land by Coillte to a company such as Saorgus is not a commercial property transaction between two private companies.  Coillte’s lands were previously owned outright and managed directly by the State.  Pursuant to section 39910 of the Forestry Act, 1988, the lands were transferred to Coillte, a company set up by the State for the purpose of carrying on “the business of forestry and related activities on a commercial basis and in accordance with efficient silvicultural practices” (section 12(1) of the Forestry Act, 1988 refers).  However, as the European Court of Justice has ruled, Coillte is wholly owned and controlled by the State.  Accordingly, I consider that Coillte’s land transactions should be subject to public scrutiny.  See generally Ontario Realty Corporation, Order PO-1964 (reference above) (noting that information about the sale of land by the Ontario Realty Corporation is “inherently a matter of public interest” and that the public interest in disclosure may be “compelling” where extraordinary circumstances exist); Vynque Pty Ltd and Department of Primary Industries (1998) 4 QAR 393 (finding “that there is a strong public interest in scrutinising the Department’s dealings with [a third party], to ensure that they have a proper commercial basis, and that the Department is properly monitoring the extraction operations and discharging its public duties with respect to its responsibility for the management of a public resource”).

In the circumstances, I find that, on balance, the public interest in full disclosure of the information at issue relating to the land transactions outweighs the public interest factors weighing again release.  Accordingly, section 27(1) dose not apply.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby vary the decision of the Department as described above.

A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision.  Such an appeal must be initiated not later than eight weeks from the date of this letter.”

This is a highly significant decision and one which many NGO voluntary groups and individuals warmly welcome.

 

13. COMPLAINT TO THE OMBUDSMAN

A complaint was made to the Office of The Ombudsman on 17th May 2004 with regard to the failure of Galway County Council to act on or respond to a letter  dated 29th July 03.  The complaint also referred to the non compliance with conditions attached to the grant of planning for the windfarm development. 

In a recent response to the complaint the Ombudsman Ms Emily O’Reilly stated that; “During the course of my examination of your complaint, I received a report on the Planning Status of Derrybrien Windfarm.  This report clearly acknowledges that agreement on a number of conditions of the grant of planning permission was not reached between the developer and the Council prior to commencement of work on the project.  The usual requirement is that such agreements should be in writing, and contrary to what the Council initially informed my Office, this was a requirement of many of the more important conditions in this case”. 

She goes on to state that; “In his 2000 Annual Report my predecessor, Mr Kevin Murphy, referred to the economic and political pressures which lean towards the completion of developments in as short a time frame as possible.  He commented that what was being lost sight of is the very real adverse effect construction activity can have on persons living in the neighbourhood of such developments.

Your current complaint brings those comments into sharp focus.  As Ombudsman, I cannot say that, had the developer received the Council’s agreement to the relevant conditions prior to commencement of the development, the landslide would not have happened.  However, this case highlights a situation where the Council, in hindsight, might have been better served had it resorted, in the first instance, to Section 152 of the Planning and Development Act, in respect of the conditions which were not in compliance with the permission granted when it received notice that the project had started”.

Finally she says that; “I asked GCC to outline it’s procedures for ensuring that there is prior agreement on specific conditions of grants of planning permission where this is stipulated and, if, in the light of its experience with this case, whether it felt there was a need to review them to ensure that there is a greater incentive on developers to comply with these conditions prior to commencement of projects.

In its response to me the Council has confirmed that it has taken on board my concerns.  It says that, after a recent review of its systems and procedures, it is now the Council’s policy not to include conditions which require pre-commencement agreement with the Council.  These new procedures will mean that it will be clear; at the date a decision to grant is made, the exact conditions (including pre-commencement conditions) which are to be fulfilled by the developer.  Accordingly interested individuals may inspect the documents on the planning file as of the date of the decision and understand the details of the conditions.  In addition, the Council says that it now includes a letter with all planning decisions warning the developer that the pre-commencement conditions (which are identified) must be met and that failure to do so will result in enforcement proceedings.

Your complaint has highlighted how important it is for planning authorities to have robust mechanisms in place to ensure there is prior written agreement between developers and planning authorities where this is specifically stipulated in conditions attached to grants of planning permissions, particularly in relation to large scale infrastructure developments and this is an issue which I propose to pursue further with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government”.

We are considering what action may be appropriate on foot of the decision.

 

14. Complaint regarding Certification of Coillte Teoranta to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards

On 5th June 2004 a meeting was held in Egan’s Lounge Derrybrien at which the certification of Coillte Teoranta was questioned and discussed with representatives of Woodmark, Soil Association, [11] representatives of the Derrybrien Community and members of the Woodlands League [12].  The following issues were raised at that meeting and in subsequence correspondence with Woodmark Soil Association.

  • The sale of the windfarm site by Coillte to speculators without any meaningful consultation.  The sale of land did not go to tender.

  • Coillte’s involvement in the clearfelling of 650 acres of trees on the windfarm site without complying with the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 97/11/EC  (which states that any area of deforestation in Ireland over 70 hectares require a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment and separate planning permission).

  • Negative impact on indigenous people’s rights.

  • Lack of compliance with Local Agenda 21.

  • Possible contamination of water as a result of chemical application also water table disturbance.

  • Blanket planting of large tracks of land with non- native monoculture coniferous trees.

  • The so called “consultation meetings” organised by Coillte and held in The Lady Gregory Hotel Gort, Co. Galway on 8th June 2000 and the meeting in Tommy Larkin’s GAA Hall, Woodford, Co. Galway on 10th December 2001 were PR exercises and yielded nothing.

  • Landowners adjoining Coillte plantations encounter major problems with regard to maintenance of boundary fences.

  • The blanket coniferous plantations have to a large extent obliterated the folklore and historical importance attached to local landmarks.

  • A major fire hazard has been created because of the intensive and vast tracts of plantations in this region.

  • The roads and bridges in the locality are not capable of carrying heavy and dangerous loads.

  • Lack of employment and community benefits.

  • Non-compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992.  The planting of non-native trees on such a large scale displaces high nature value species and ecosystems.

We are awaiting a report from Woodmark Soil Association regarding the certification of Coillte Teoranta.  A key point in the certification process is, to what standard Coillte forests are assessed on?  On a point of information the definition of sustainable forest management is; “The stewardship and use of forests in a way and at a rate that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economical and social functions, at local, national and global levels and dose not cause damage to other ecosystems” from Ministerial Conference Helsinki 1993.  Forestry in Ireland operates under the Forestry Act, 1946.  This Act has been amended by the Forestry Act 1956, and the Forestry Act 1988 which may be accessed at; http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/gen281988a.html [13].  This legislation is totally outdated and offers little or no protection to trees or the environment in general. The penalties and fines attached to the Forestry Act, 1946 are paltry and reflect a bygone age.  It is imperative that a new Forestry Act is drawn up and enacted urgently.  Otherwise the assertion could be made that this outdated and weak Act allows unscrupulous persons the liberty to damage and destroy trees and their habitat in the knowledge that the deterrent and penalties are not appropriate to a modern affluent society.


14.1 Figure 3 Aerial view of the Windfarm site taken on 16th April 2005.  Photograph by Martin Collins

The photograph above was taken looking east and shows the internal floating roads of the windfarm in grey/white colour with turbine bases approximately 200 metres apart along the edge of the roadways.  The green and light brown lines in the centre and right of the photograph are 20 – 30 year old trees cut with a 20 tonne harvesting machine.  As the trees were been cut they were placed in rows under the harvester so that it could travel on top of the 1.5 – 2 meter deep blanket bog.  The light green area in the centre right of the photo are 10 year old trees which are still standing and are surrounded by cut trees of a similar age.  The dark brown line in the foreground is a drainage channel dug to release water from the turbine base and to dry out the surrounding blanket bog.

 

15. COURT ACTION

ESB International and Ascon Ltd were both convicted in Gort District Court on 20th October 2004 of allowing polluting matter to enter the headwaters of the Abhainn Da Loilioch River.  They were both fined the maximum fine of 1,2501,000).  Nobody was convicted of a fish kill, despite the fact that the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board estimated that approximately 50,000 fish died.  Derrybrien Development Society Limited issued legal proceedings against Gort Windfarms Ltd, Coillte Teoranta and Saorgus Energy Ltd in which they were seeking an injunction to stop the deforestation of the windfarm site.  The case took place in the High Court in Dublin on 19th, 20th and 21st April 2005.  Ms. Justice Dunne in her judgement delivered in the High Court on 3rd June 2005 found that; Having considered the matter carefully and in particular in the light of the matters set out in the Environmental Impact Statements I have come to the conclusion that on a reading of the Environmental Impact Statement attached to the various permissions it was quite clear that the proposed development envisaged the removal of the forestry thereon and the changes of use on the lands from forestry to use as a windfarm.  I can come to no other conclusion.” and “In the circumstances I am not satisfied that the applicants have made out the case that the de-forestation of the lands at Derrybrien is an unauthorised development”.

While the judiciary are independent in the exercise of their functions they are appointed by the Government of the day.  The exorbitant costs involved in court cases deny ordinary citizen’s access to justice and allow wealthy people and particularly corporations the freedom to proceed as they wish.  Often these will take steps to maximise costs to seek to deter court action by “minnows”.

V.P. Shields & Son Solicitors, Loughrea, Co Galway have been of enormous assistance to the Derrybrien community in pursuing all the legal avenues open to us as a small rural based voluntary group.  The time, effort and commitment afforded to us is very much appreciated by all concerned     

 

16. ROLE of the MEDIA

The media has played a very important roll in the Derrybrien windfarm case to date.  Coverage of the issue goes right back to 1998 when we received both local and national attention.  The following have afforded us the opportunity to put our point of view into the public domain at various times over the past eight years or so; RTE Television and Radio, TV3, TG4, The Connacht Tribune, The Clare Champion, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Star, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Times, Ireland on Sunday, The Galway Advertiser, The Galway Independent, Galway Bay FM, Clare FM and The Farmers Journal.  The landslide which occurred at Dooncarton Mountain, Erris, Co. Mayo a few weeks previous had raised awareness in the minds of the public.  Undoubtedly the image on the TV screens of the large 30 foot spruce tree floating past in the background as Jim Fahy (RTE) and Alan Camble (TV3) reported from Derrybrien at the height of the bog flow will stick in the memory of the viewers for many years to come.  The media has been extremely positive and fair in their reporting of the case, and without this coverage this small rural community could not have exposed the flaws and abject failings in both the planning and political systems which lead to such an environmental disaster.  The fact that representatives from the community had no option other than to travel over to Brussels, visit the EU Commission and perused a legal case in the High Court, all at our own expense demonstrated to the public that we were serious and believed wholeheartedly that what we were doing was seeking justice and the truth.  My experience with the media has been very positive and I believe that if the politicians, planners and developers/ investors create cosy cartels people living in small rural communities will depend even more on the media to voice their concerns and hopefully change policies for the better.

 

17. Renewable Energy Debate

While I am reluctant to enter the minefield of discussing energy production now and into the future, it is important to assess the overall picture to some degree.  Why would some members of Derrybrien community oppose a 60 million electricity generating project?  No debate has taken place in Ireland as to how we will meet energy requirements in the future.  Vested interest groups and indeed the Government have so far succeeded in scripting a path forward based entirely on the necessity to erect large scale windfarms which they say will reduce emissions of CO2 and other harmful gases.  For example it is known that Coford have the statistic which shows that biomass, is an effective way of using the forests in a sustainable and renewable source of “carbon neutral” energy forever.  It would be most helpful to the overall debate on electricity production for the future if the following questions were debated openly.

  • Will the country be guaranteed an adequate supply of electricity on demand?

  • Is the production method truly sustainable?

  • Is the method of production economical on its own or dose it require tax breaks or subsidies of any kind?  If it dose require subsidies, how much?

  • Dose the method of production have a negative impact on other sources of electricity?  In other words dose it require backup supply on standby?

  • Will the method of production have genuine and verifiable reduction in harmful gases?  When we are told that CO2 emissions will be reduced by 100,000 tones pre anumn what are these figures compared to?  Is it an old coal burning power station or a new Combined Heat and Power Station (CHP)/Biomass?

  • Who will be the main beneficiaries from the sale of the electricity?  Are they local, national or international?

The Renewable Energy Foundation [17]  is a UK based not-for-profit foundation formed of individuals concerned by the growth in proposals and planning applications for power stations in inappropriate rural areas.  This expertly researched and authoritative web site is highly recommended as a source of objective information regarding the necessity of an overall energy policy that is balanced, ecologically sensitive and effective.  There are many groups deeply committed to opening up an open and informed debate on the production of electricity from windfarms.  Views of Scotland [18] are at the forefront of this debate and in January 2005 a presentation was made to their AGM by members of the Derrybrien Development Society Ltd.  The impact of large scale windfarm developments on mountains covered with blanket bog was of special interest to the assembled audience.

 

18. CONCLUSIONS/LESSONS LEARNED

At the outset I wish to point out that even though this paper concentrates mainly on the windfarm development and forestry it could equally apply to other major infrastructure projects such as roads or waste disposal facilities.  As individuals and as a community we have learned quite a lot over the past 7 – 8 years.  It is my view that both apathy and greed are two of the most destructive threats currently facing Irish society.  Within communities a significant number of people do not care one way or the other about what is happening in their area.  While at the same time others only become concerned if there is a possibility that they may either gain or loose financially.  The relentless pressure of living a modern life in a modern society is creating the perfect climate for such a materialistic and individualistic mindset to thrive and prosper.  The failure of Galway County Council to acknowledge the concerns of the Derrybrien community from a social or environmental point of view is an issue that must be assessed and reflected upon in the future if lessons are to be learned.  It is imperative that the role and functions of county councillor’s are properly examined.  Not one of the 30 councillors in Galway has stood firmly with the Derrybrien community.  Why not?  In order to dispel scepticism of councillors it would be most helpful if they would publish a biannual report outlining their activities and achievements in the proceeding six months.  Also prior to the adoption of a County Development Plan or a Local Area Plan councillors should be obliged to attend a number of public meetings in their area so that the general public would have the opportunity to make comments and observations on the plan before it is adopted.  I would suggest that it should be mandatory for all public representatives to have successfully completed or are willing to complete a Diploma Course in Community Practice prior to or during their term of office as a councillor, TD or MEP. 

The bottom line is that there is little point in electing councillors if they proceed to act as government enforcers and ignore the wishes and concerns of local people.  

One interesting web site I came across while researching information for this paper was; www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook .  While much of the information contained on this site refers to urban communities quite a lot would be equally relevant to rural areas also.  One passage in the introduction section of the site entitled “The Citizen’s Handbook; [14] A bridge to strong democracy” reads as follows;

“When citizens get together at the neighbourhood level, they generate a number of remarkable side effects.  One of these is strengthened democracy.  In simple terms, democracy means that the people decide.  Political scientists describe our system of voting every few years but otherwise leaving everything up to government as weak democracy.  In weak democracy, citizens have no role, no real part in decision-making between elections.  Experts assume responsibility for deciding how to deal with important public issues.  The great movement of the last decades of the twentieth century has been a drive towards stronger democracy in corporations, institutions and governments.  In many cities this has resulted in the formal recognition of neighbourhood groups as a link between people and municipal government, and a venue for citizen participation in decision-making between elections.” 

This is the basis of Agenda 21.

The above extract is focused towards an urban community however many of the sentiments expressed are equally relevant to rural settings and indeed our experience is that we have had practically no input or influence at any stage of the decision-making process mainly due to our peripheral location and small population base.  If individuals and communities are to have confidence in the democratic process a shift away from “hand picked expert groups” must be advocated and these should be replaced by “Local Community Planning Initiatives” which would be supported and advised by suitably qualified planning experts.

18.1 Demand the implementation of Local Agenda 21

Local Agenda 21 was endorsed by the world’s governments at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.  Local Agenda 21 is a process which facilitates sustainable development within a community.  It is an approach, based upon collaboration and participation, which respects the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of the present and future citizens of a community in all its diversity and which relates that community and its future to the regional, national and international community of which it is a part.

The concept of sustainable development first appeared in the World Conservation Strategy published by the World Conservation Unit in 1980.  The proposed definition of sustainable development at that time was;

“Sustainable development – maintenance of essential ecological processes and life support systems, the preservation of genetic diversity and the sustainable utilisation of species and eco-systems”.

These early definitions emphasised the concepts of critical natural capital and biological diversity and made little or no reference to the economic and social pillars of sustainability.  Seven years later, in 1987 the Brundtland Report described sustainability as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. [15]

This is a weak definition stemming from reaction of industry to growing public awareness of the damage to the environment caused by negative industrial practices.  The implementation of Agenda 21 would ensure real and open consultation with local communities at the initial stage of project planning.  No meaningful consultation took place with the Derrybrien community at any stage over the last 7 – 8 years.

The 2004, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kenyan ecologist Ms. Wangari Maathai has spent much of her life defending Africa’s forests and in her acceptance speech lauded a clean, sustainable environment as a key to peace when she said There can be no peace without equitable development and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space”.

18.2 The Aarhus Convention

Along with Local Agenda 21, the implementation of The Arhus Convention [16] is of critical importance to the future of small rural communities if we are to afford respect and protection to our environment.  The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus (Arhus) at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the “Environment for Europe” process.  It entered into force on the 30th October 2001.  The Arhus Convention establishes a number of rights of the public (citizens and their associations) with regard to the environment.  Public authorities (at national, regional or local level) are to contribute to allowing these rights to become effective.  The Convention provides for:

  • The right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities (“access to environmental information”).  This can include information on the state of the environment, but also on policies or measures taken, or on the state of human health and safety where this can be affected by the state of the environment.  Citizens are entitled to obtain this information within one month of the request and without having to say why they require it.  In addition, public authorities are obliged, under the Convention, to actively disseminate environmental information in their possession.
  • The right to participate from an early stage in environmental decision-making.  Arrangements are to be made by public authorities to enable citizens and environmental organisations to comment on , for example, proposals for projects affecting the environment, or plans and programmes relating to the environment, these comments to be taken into due account in decision-making, and information to be provided on the final decisions and the reasons for it (“public participation in environmental decision-making”);
  • The right to challenge, in a court of law, public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general (“access to justice”).

The EC ratified the Arhus Convention on 17th February 2005.  It was agreed that the first two pillars of the convention “access to environmental information” and “public participation in environmental decision-making” would be implemented in national law by 14th February and 25th June 2005 respectively.  To date Ireland has not fulfilled its commitment.       

18.3 The Truth and Justice?

The main reason for persevering with this case over the years is to seek the truth and justice.  It is most disappointing and a sad reflection on our planners and politicians that one of the smallest rural communities in the entire country were left with no option but to seek the assistance on the High Court and the European Court of Justice.  It is becoming even more uncertain as to whether or not it is possible to get the truth and justice from any of the institutions of the State.  Without access to substantial funds it is extremely difficult to expose the deceit and corruption which has taken a firm grip in our society. 

18.4 Seek expert opinion

Seek expert opinion on all aspects of the case if at all possible.  A system must be put in place whereby individuals and groups who have genuine concerns can have access to professional advice and assistance.  In a similar way to the Free Legal Aid system currently in operation for those who are unable to afford legal representation.

18.5 Create Alliances with other Groups

Our experience in this case has been that politicians from all parties and planners turned their back and walked away.  In effect the Derrybrien community was used as a “National Sacrifice Area” or in the words of a developer “a mountain of no significance” where the environment was already destroyed by forestry and the addition of windfarms would not matter greatly.  One of the most effective ways of counteracting this kind of narrow-minded thinking is for representatives of the community to create alliances with local, national and international groups and individuals who may be able to assist and support them with advice and information.  One of the most rewarding aspects of the experience to date has been meeting with and talking to some of the most committed, principled and learned people both in Ireland and beyond.  The “absolute respect” these people have for the communities in which they live is the bases on which they form an opinion on many controversial developments proposed for their area.  If small voices are to be heard in the future they must pool resources with other like minded groups.

 

19. Final Conclusion

My final conclusion is that there are currently no responsibilities or obligations on politicians, planners or developers to address the concerns of small rural communities such as Derrybrien.  By choosing to ignore the views offered by the local residents of Derrybrien the politicians and planners are in effect dismissing the fundamental principles of a democratic society.   The substantial grants, tax breaks and subsidies directed towards the large scale projects will in effect, ensure that “absentee landlords” are the major beneficiaries of such incentives for the foreseeable future.  Local Agenda 21 and the Arhus Convention must be implemented in full immediately if society is to safeguard its most vulnerable citizens and their environment.  Access to the media, build alliances with other groups, seek expert opinion and unrelenting perseverance in pursuit of your objectives are essential if a small rural community such as Derrybrien are to have their concerns addressed in a fair, transparent and truly sustainable manner.

 

References

[1] Green Paper on Sustainable Energy; Department of Public Enterprise; September 1999
[2] Strategy for Intensifying Wind Energy Deployment; Renewable Energy Strategy Group (2000) ISBN 0-7076-9225-3
[3] County Development Plan for the County of Galway 1997 – 2002.  Adopted on 26th May 1997
[4] Galway County Council; County Development Plan 2003 – 2009. Adopted May 2003. www.galwaycoco.ie/planning/developmentplan/landscape/devplan_landscape_3.htm
[5] Planning and Wind Energy: Creating a Secure Framework for Investment; A Workshop Examining European Practice 22/23rd October 1998
[6] Derrybrien & District Concerned Residents Group: WINDFARMS A Local Response (November 1998)
[7] Micropower, or “microgeneration” is the production of power on the smallest of scales.  See Micropower web site http://www.micropower.co.uk
[8] Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) – is a scheme of competitions held for rights to generate electricity and sell the output to the ESB at agreed rates over 15 year period.  The AER VI refers to the sixth competition.
[9] Shannon Regional Fisheries Board; Preliminary Report On the Landslide at Derrybrien, Co. Galway into the Owendalulleegh Catchment – November 2003
[10] Richard Lindsay and Olivia Bragg (2004).  Wind Farms and Blanket Peat- The Bog Slide of 16th October 2003 at Derrybrien, Co. Galway, Ireland.  University of East London report
[11]Soil Association Woodmark is a UK based company which operates a forestry and chain of custody certification scheme.  Web site http://www.soilassociation.org/forestry
[12] The Woodlands League is a focus group that has been quietly consulting communities and individuals affected by the plantation style forestry so rampant in Ireland, via Agenda 21.  Web site http://www.woodlandsleague.org
[13] Forestry Act, 1988 amendment of provisions of Forestry Act, 1946 Web site http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/gen281988a.html 
[14] The Citizen’s Handbook:  A Guide to Building Community in Vancouver:Web site http://www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook
[15]Cowi Scot Wilson: European Commission Secretariat General Evaluation of approaches to Integrating Sustainability into Community Policies final summary report (September 2004)
[16]The Arhus Convention: http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/aarhus/    
[17] The Renewable Energy Foundation.  REF encourages the development of renewable energy and energy conservation whilst safeguarding the landscape of the United Kingdom from unsustainable industrialisation.  http://www.ref.org.uk 

[18] Views of Scotland web site may be accessed at; www.viewsofscotland.org

 

 

 

OTHER DERRYBRIEN RELATED INFORMATION

This Document in PDF format (LARGE, 8Mb)
FOI Commissioners' Response Letter
Derrybrien Development Society Press Release April 2005

Press Articles:
If you go down in the woods Today - Irish Times Article - July 26 '05

Court order refused to halt felling of trees - Irish Times Article - June 04 '05
Ireland accused of breaching EU rules on health - Irish Times Article - April 12 '05
Challenge to Tree Felling on Galway site where landslide occurred - Irish Times Article - February 01 '05
Legal action to stop E60m windfarm - Irish Times Article - November 22 '04

Consultants' report warns on risk of further landslides - Irish Times Article - October 25 '04
Derrybrien firms fined EUR1200 each - Irish Times Article - October 22 '04
Judge rules ESB at fault over landslide - Irish Times Article - October 21 '04
Landslide case against ESB firm is dismissed - Irish Times Article - October 20 '04
Court action over landslide pollution - Irish Times Article - October 19 '04
Report into Mayo slide warns of recurrence - Irish Times - October 14 '04