High Court review sees Shannon LNG project ‘postponed indefinitely’

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

The future of the LNG project mooted for the estuary will be decided by the EU

The future of the LNG project mooted for the estuary will be decided by the EU

THE proposal to build a Liquefied Natural Gas plant at Tarbert has been postponed indefinitely following a judicial review in the High Court.

Last Friday, High Court judge Mr Justice Garrett Simons referred the case to the European Court of Justice to determine whether or not  the project must be assessed under the EU’s Habitats Directive.

But he also told the developers of the project, Shannon LNG (now backed by New Fortress Energy) that no construction could begin until the European Court of Justice ruling had been made and if the developers wished to do so they must apply to the Courts with four weeks’ notice.

It is likely to take up to two years for the matter to be adjudicated at European level, according to legal advice given to the Friends of the Irish Environment who sought the judicial review in the High Court.

They brought the case after An Bord Pleanála had extended planning permission for the plant at Tarbert for another five years. The Friends of the Irish Environment argued that the EU Habitats Directive placed a particular onus on the proposed development and this was not fully addressed when the extension of time was sought by Shannon LNG.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Simons said the directive “obliges a competent authority to fulfil certain procedural requirements before agreeing to a project which is likely to have a significant effect on an European conservation site.”

He set out six questions to be addressed by the EU court relating to the directive and how it might apply to a decision to extend the duration of a development consent.

The decision to refer the case to Europe has been warmly welcomed by the Friends of the Irish Environment and also  by Futureproof Clare, a Co Clare-based up of environmental activists.

It is “highly unlikely” that the European Court will not rule that an appropriate assessment must be done before the project can begin, Tony Lowes, director of Friends of the Irish Environment said after last Friday’s ruling. And he noted that the judge cited the European Court’s own ruling that ‘an assessment cannot be regarded as appropriate if it contains gaps and lacks complete, precise, and definitive findings and conclusions capable of removing all reasonable scientific doubt as to the effects of the  proposed works on the site concerned’.

“Ireland’s failure to first transpose the E.U. Directive properly and then to implement it correctly affects many cases,” Mr Lowe said, adding that  Mr Justice Simons’ six questions would give the European Court “the first opportunity to consider if extensions of planning permission require reassessment because of the passage of time and developments of scientific knowledge about the environment”.  

“The ECJ’s ruling will have significant repercussions in Ireland and throughout the EU. as to how member states protect the environment,” he said.

“Several environmentalist groups have opposed the Shannon LNG project arguing that it depends on the fossil fuel, fracked gas, at a time when the country has banned fracking and should be reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.”

Meanwhile, John Fox, spokesman for Tarbert Development Association said the High Court ruling was “disappointing but not unexpected”.

No matter which way the ruling had gone, he said, the other side would have brought the matter to Europe.

There is “palpable frustration” in North Kerry and West Limerick at this latest delay in a project which, he argued, was badly needed.  “It is another block on the road,” he said pointing out that there are over 8000 people unemployed in Kerry, businesses were closing, and people were emigrating.

“The vast majority of the population are waiting eagerly for this project to start,” he added. “We are as concerned as anybody about the environment. We live here. Our children and grandchildren live here. We want to see a future for them. If there isn’t employment, they will go.”

North Kerry, he pointed out, had done its bit for green energy with over 200 wind-turbines in the area.