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27 Nov 2021

 Agricultural contractor found guilty after slurry enters Limerick stream

 Agricultural contractor found guilty after slurry enters Limerick stream

The prosecution was before Kilmallock Court | FILE PHOTO

A JUDGE found an agricultural contractor guilty of allowing polluting matters to enter waters but not guilty of failing to report it because he “did not believe” he did anything wrong.

Brendan McGrath, of Knockainey, pleaded not guilty at Kilmallock Court to two offences under the Water Pollution Act. 

The case was taken by Limerick City and County Council, represented by Will Leahy, solicitor. Mr McGrath was defended by David O’Regan BL, instructed by John Cooke, solicitor.

The first witness to take the stand was the person who made the complaint to the council.

Prior to the slurry spreading deadline of October 15, the man said on October 10, 2019, Mr McGrath’s contracting business was spreading slurry for a neighbour in the Herbertstown area.

“They were drawing slurry in a cul-de-sac and spreading it on land. Over a short period the road got very dirty. It was muck from wheels and drips of slurry off the tank. There was slurry everywhere,” said the complainant. He added that slurry “came out on the road from the tank in the field”.

Later that evening, he said tankers of water were emptied on the road to clean it.

“All of it washed into the stream. I rang the council the following morning,” said the complainant.

Mr O’Regan BL, for Mr McGrath, put it to the witness that in his statement there was no mention of slurry coming onto the road from a tank in the field. Mr O’Regan also said there was no mention of slurry leaking from the tank in his statement.

“I’m not trying to cod anybody,” said the witness. 

Paul O’Grady, an executive engineer with Limerick City and County Council, told the court he attended the site on the following day where he met the complainant.

“There was the aftermath of washing down of soiling on a laneway. There is a slight slope on the road. There was a line of foul smelling material consisting of slurry in a gully. The smell does linger,” said Mr O’Grady.

Mr Leahy asked if the complainant showed him the stream?

“There was visual evidence of material making its way from the gully to the stream,” said Mr O’Grady.

Mr Leahy outlined to Judge Patricia Harney that Mr McGrath was before the court on two offences – allowing polluting matters to enter waters and failing to notify the local authority of it.

Mr O’Regan BL asked Mr O’Grady if he took a sample? In reply, the engineer said he was quite satisfied it was slurry and he had to be careful regarding his own health and safety.

“I crouched down. There was a strong smell from the side of the road. I’m trained in odour assessment. What I smelt was slurry,” said Mr O’Grady, who said it was 'a five' on an odour assessment scale.

Mr O’Regan said if he was able to get close enough to smell it then why not take a photo.

The defendant, Brendan McGrath, who has been an agricultural contractor for 22 years, took the stand. He said his brother Seamus was spreading slurry for a client.

“He was drawing it two miles over the road and it was the second field in from the road. He crossed the first field and into the second field,” said Mr McGrath. That afternoon he said he took over from his brother and when he was finished spreading slurry he filled up the tanker with water from a stream.

“I spread the water on the first field to wash out the inside of the tanker. Then I got more water to clean the passage. It was dirty. There was clay on it from the tyres. We wouldn’t leave it that way,” said Mr McGrath, who denied there was slurry on the road.

Mr Leahy put it to McGrath that Mr O’Grady said the smell of slurry was a five on the assessment scale.

“I disagree, We would have swept clay with water. There was no slurry on the road,” said McGrath. The agricultural contractor also said that is was days before the spreading deadline.

“There was a smell of slurry everywhere. I’m 99% certain the farm beside us was spreading slurry. Every farmer in the country was spreading,” said Mr McGrath.

His brother Seamus McGrath said he after he filled a load, he went up the passage, through one field and started spreading slurry in the furthest away corner.

“You do not drive on slurry,” said Seamus McGrath. He added that there couldn’t be any drips from the tank because they are “completely water tight and sealed”.

“You will pick up a little bit of clay on your tyres but under oath there was no slurry on that passage,” said Seamus McGrath.

Judge Harney said she now knows a lot more about the ‘nitty gritty’ of slurry spreading.

“I have no doubt he (Mr McGrath) is a very diligent and conscientious agricultural contractor. He has an unblemished record. The difficulty I have is the independent witness from the council. There is no doubt in my mind Mr O’Grady gave truthful and correct evidence. He could see and smell a foul smelling material that water washed down and landed in the gully,” said Judge Harney, who convicted Mr McGrath of allowing polluting matters to enter waters.

She ordered he pay the council’s costs of €2,000. The maximum fine a judge can impose for the Water Pollution offence is €3,000. Due to his previous good record, Judge Harney imposed a more “realistic” fine of €250.

The judge dismissed the failing to notify the local authority offence because Mr McGrath “did not believe” he did anything wrong.

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