THE SOLICITOR and environmentalist who took a High Court case against a decision to allow Irish Cement incinerate waste at their plant in Limerick has branded the court’s ruling on costs as a massive deterrent to anyone taking a case in the public interest.
And Limerick solicitor Michelle Hayes, who is President of Environmental Trust Ireland says she is angry over implications that she would gain financially from taking the case if she had won.
“I took the case in the public interest and I had nothing to gain financially if I had won. I have massive costs as a result of taking this case, which I have to pay myself,” Ms Hayes told the Limerick Post.
Ms Hayes stated that the “photocopying alone cost me €10,000”.
Ms Hayes took a judicial review challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant a licence to Irish Cement to burn waste products at their Mungret plant.
The case was heard along with a separate application in the same vein from Sue Ann Foley, daughter of billionaire JP McManus.
Both cases failed and while there was an order in place protecting the plaintiffs from having to pay legal costs for the EPA, Mr Justice Michael Twomey refused an application from Ms Hayes side for her legal costs to be covered.
Ms Hayes said that while she was represented by a solicitor from her own firm (Hayes Solicitors Limerick) and a barrister not linked with her firm, she did not represent herself in the case.
Responding to comments that she would stand to benefit financially from her application to have the legal costs of her action covered by the State, Ms Hayes told the Limerick Post that: “I took this case solely in my capacity as an environmental defender and a protector of the environment and human health. There is no conceivable financial benefit to me irrespective of the outcome.”
“I had to engage legal representation, I had to engage a barrister and get expert witnesses. I’ve already incurred the administration court costs and the bills are still coming in. I did this at great personal risk and now at great personal expense because I believed that the people of Limerick deserve protection.”
“Other people might be able to crowd-fund for these expenses. I can’t because I’m a solicitor.”
Ms Hayes said the decision is a deterrent for anyone who wants to take an environmental challenge case.
“I always knew this was going to be a David and Goliath situation. There is a fundamental unfairness in a system whereby those who are taking public interest cases on environmental and human health matters are exposed to enormous costs.
“Even where the costs risks are reduced in part by a costs protection order, this can only be applied for when proceedings are already in being. Therefore, one has to absorb all the financial risk in taking the proceedings to begin with.”
Concerning the substantive case decision, she said she was “dismayed by the judgment, which, if allowed to stand, would set back environmental protection in this country by over 20 years”.
“The EPA decision has been a cause of great concern to the residents of Limerick City and surrounding counties with thousands marching in protest to no avail. “
Ms Hayes says she is still taking advice on an appeal.