A WEST Cork farmer has been fined €1,500 for injuring a salmon and trout spawning bed and allowing deleterious matter to fall into the Ouvane River.
Vincent Coakley, solicitor for Inland Fisheries Ireland, reminded Judge James McNulty at a recent sitting of Bantry District Court that evidence in the case was presented last November.
The case was adjourned to allow the judge time to consider what penalty he would impose and to give the accused’s solicitor – a noted environmental lawyer – an opportunity to write articles for newspapers on the environmental damage that excavation works can cause.
Solicitor, Brian Harrington, offered a renewed plea in mitigation saying his client Ian Harrington of Lackareagh, Kealkil, has no previous convictions and had paid the costs to Inland Fisheries Ireland.
He said he would also discharge the €500 fine for disturbing the salmon and trout spawning bed on December 10th 2020 and €1,000 fine for permitting deleterious matter to fall into the Ouvane River.
Brian Harrington said his client had also donated €2,000 towards the cost of an awareness campaign led by him.
Instead of writing the articles and achieving his ‘15 minutes of fame,’ the solicitor said he was working on a campaign to try and amend part of the Wildlife Act 1976, as well as raise awareness by reaching out to several organisations.
Brian Harrington produced in court correspondence with the Independent West Cork TD Michael Collins as vice-chairman of the agricultural and fishing committee and a member of the Rural Independent Group, as well as the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association.
Other groups and associations with environmental concerns were also contacted including Hedgerows Ireland, Coastwatch and An Taisce.
Mr Harrington said he was appreciative of all their efforts to ‘bring these matters to the floor of Dáil Eireann with a view to proposing changes to conform with the current regime of environment protection operating in Ireland.’
He said he is also seeking to work with the Climate Bar Association who are working to bring about changes to current legislation.
Brian Harrington said he hoped these efforts would have more lasting results and would offer ‘a wider opportunity’ to effect change and raise awareness.
Judge McNulty said his recommendation may have ‘lit the fuse’ but he was happy to leave everything else to the parliamentarians and the politicians.
‘My wish,’ said Judge McNulty, ‘was that farmers would be alerted to the environmental danger to what they might see as ordinary farm management and reclamation, but might cause environmental damage.’
At the earlier court, Judge McNulty opined that some farmers, including the accused, were ‘blundering through nature,’ while Vincent Coakley described the 2020 offence at Kealkil as ‘a substantial excavation.’
Evidence in the case was presented by Andrew Gillespie, a senior environmental officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland.
He said he inspected a site at Ian Harrington’s family farm, which is located adjacent to a tributary a mile and a half north of the Ouvane River.
The environmental officer said the works – which involved the use of a tract excavator – removed and stockpiled a significant amount of river bed material.
He said it removed vegetation, including trees, from the bank of the river. And, in addition to direct damage caused to the excavation site, the work also resulted in the deterioration of the water quality.
Mr Gillespie said that an area of the riverbed was excavated to a depth, which exposed clay that was very prone to erosion, and this caused increased turbidity and discolouration downstream.
The extent of the works and the timing of them were effectively a ‘bullseye,’ he said because it occurred at a time when both trout and salmon had either spawned, or were about to do so.
The officer said the accused arrived on site and admitted he had carried out the works in the hope of improving drainage in an adjacent field.
He acknowledged that the accused was co-operative and worked that night to put some of the riverbed material back.
The judge, at the time, noted ‘it was not a JCB but a tract excavator in the middle of spawning season.’