On 20 November 2008 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that Ireland did not correctly transpose the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive (85/337) into national law.

The Commission argued that Irish legislation transposing the EIA Directive is deficient and does not provide for effective measures to achieve the objectives laid down in the EIA Directive in respect of certain project categories covered by the Irish legislation. The Commission argued that the thresholds based on project size adopted by Ireland fail to take account of sensitive locations. They claim they are set arbitrarily and are unrelated to the reality of the size of Irish land holdings. The Commission gave a number of examples to show that the use of uniform thresholds, in their view, means that no examination at all is carried out in respect of the environmental effects of certain projects, namely

  • the restructuring of rural land holdings which lead to the removal of hedgerows, in particular for agricultural purposes,
  • the restructuring of rural land holdings that involve demolition of stone walls constituting field boundaries in certain regions,
  • projects for the use of uncultivated land or semi natural areas for intensive agricultural purposes and water management projects for agriculture, including irrigation and land drainage projects.

In response, Ireland submitted that the Commission misinterpreted the scope of the legislation and that Irish legislation does have detailed guidelines addressed to the local authorities dealing with the screening of developments whose size is below the threshold set by the applicable legislation.

The ECJ held that while there is criteria laid down in Irish legislation for sub-threshold developments, those provisions are not to be considered equivalent to a case by case examination complying with the EIA Directive requirements. The ECJ held that by setting thresholds which take account only of the size of projects, and by not providing for a case by case examination for those projects, (ensuring that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment do not escape an assessment), Ireland has exceeded the limits of its discretion under the EIA Directive. Ireland has not adopted all necessary measures to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment are subject to an assessment of their environmental effects in accordance with the EIA Directive, in their view.

Minister Gormley has stated that he is currently reviewing the judgment and so we must wait and see what steps (if any) will be taken by his Department in line with this judgment.

See a copy of the ECJ judgement in case C-66/06 below

C – 66/06_______________________________