Government blocks O’Dea Bill to remove EPA immunity

Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea

FIANNA Fáil TD Willie O’Dea is calling on the Government to bring about changes to legislation concerning the decision-making of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This follows the Government’s decision to block the Limerick TD’s draft bill that to remove the EPA’s absolute right to immunity on the technical grounds that it could cause a charge on the Exchequer.

He now warns that the EPA’s imminent decision on Irish Cement will have huge implications for Limerick if the company is given the go-ahead for its €10 million plan to replace fossil fuels at its Castlemungret plant.

“My Bill is a short but important piece of legislation. At present, the EPA has absolute immunity from suit despite a 2011 expert review group report saying that doubts have been expressed about the constitutionality of this immunity and whether it is compatible with obligations arising under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Furthermore, the review group concluded that the absolute nature of the EPA’s immunity was difficult to justify in a modern legislative scheme and that it should be revised, as appropriate, when the opportunity arises,” the Limerick politician explained.

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He insists that the EPA is an incredibly powerful organisation whose decisions impact on communities up and down the country.

“As things stand, if Irish Cement are granted permission by the EPA to burn toxic substances at their cement factory in Mungret, you cannot appeal this decision to an outside body or bring a legal case against the EPA.

“One of the key weaknesses in the operations of the EPA is its immunity from prosecution. Ultimately this means that there is a deficit of accountability and without accountability there is no real social or environmental responsibility,” he declared.

“I pointed out to the Minister that the EPA are about to decide on a license application from Irish Cement for their plant in Mungret in Limerick — an operation that they are at present prosecuting for non-compliance. I also made the Minister aware that Limerick has some of the worst levels of pulmonary disease and asthma in the country and although the causes have not been determined, the fact that emissions from the cement works have carried pollution across the city for eighty years might well be a contributing factor”.

He believes that the current situation where the EPA cannot be held accountable for it’s decisions is wrong. He doesn’t believe they should have absolute immunity, in all cases, from being sued.

“Their actions have consequences. The EPA is the last bastion of unaccountability – can you imagine if An Garda Síochána weren’t accountable for their actions? This is an outlandish situation and has to change,” he concluded.