A High Court action over a controversial Co Roscommon flood relief scheme won’t be heard until after Easter.
The Friends of the Irish Environment group have brought proceedings against Roscommon Co Council’s plans to construct a 3km pipeline.designed to take water from Lough Funshinagh, a seasonal lake 12 km from Athlone to nearby Lough Ree.
The council says it is carrying out these works to help alleviate severe flooding, which it claims threatens the homes of people living close to Lough Funshinagh, which is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Last month FIE secured permission to bring judicial review proceedings aimed at setting aside the council’s decision of October 14th 2021 approving the emergency flood relief scheme under section 152 of the 2001 Local Government Act.
The Court also granted a temporary stay on any further works on the scheme from taking place.
On Friday when the issue of the stay returned before the court, Mr Justice Garrett Simons made directions aimed at having the dispute heard when the courts resume following the Easter holidays.
That hearing, in which the Council and the State are respondents, is expected to last four days.
The Judge also continued, following an undertaking from the Council, the temporary prohibition on any work being carried out on the scheme until the matter returns before the court later this month.
In its pre-trial motion the council wants the stay lifted.
Represented by Neil Steen SC the council said that work needs to recommence very soon if anything meaningful is to be done on the project this year.
Risk to homes
Given the risk to homes of people living near the lake, and the fact that it was accepted that the Council has an arguable defence to the claim against it, Mr Steen said that the balance of justice favoured the lifting of the stay.
Over 57 per cent of the construction work on the project has been carried out on the scheme.
While the council wants to recommence construction works on the pipeline it was prepared not to commence pumping water from Lough Funshinagh until after the matter has been fully resolved by the High Court, Mr Steen added.
Opposing the application James Devlin SC, instructed by solicitor Eoin Brady SC, for FIE said the balance of justice favoured keeping the stay in place until the case has been decided.
FIE says the council’s proposed scheme, irrespective of what method it uses to pump large volumes of water from one location to another, will have a significant impact on the lake, which is designated a Priority Habitat.
Counsel said FIE disputes any contention by the council that the Lake is not a designated ‘Turlough’, and therefore not a protected side, because it has not fully drained for over 25 years.
However, after hearing submissions from the parties the judge decided to adjourn the stay application for a period of two weeks.
This was done to allow the State respondent’s time to make submissions on the matter, and to allow the parties consider a recent relevant judgement delivered by Mr Justice David Holland.
In judicial review proceedings FIE wants the council’s decision of October 14th last quashed.
It claims that decision is unlawful, invalid and in breach of EU law.
The decision to approve the works without having to conduct assessments on the impact the proposed works will have on the local environment is wrong in law, FIE also claims.
FIE also seeks several declarations from the court including that the Council erred in law and has breached EU directives on Habitats and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) by screening out the possibility that the proposed development will have significant on the local environment.
The project has been the subject of several court hearings.
These include a hearing last August when FIE, citing environmental concerns and breaches of EU laws, brought a challenge aimed at halting the pipeline’s construction.
That action was resolved after the council accepted it had not fulfilled certain obligations it should have in relation to the works and agreed to remediate works it had already carried out.
A subsequent claim by FIE that the council had breached the settlement agreement, and was in contempt of court, was rejected by the High Court.