Ireland is facing fines in excess of €4 million as a result of the State's failure to carry out a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), in relation a wind farm in Co Galway.

The EU Court of Justice ruled in 2008 that Ireland was in breach of its responsibilities around the construction of the 70 turbine project at Derrybrien.

Now, almost 16 years after construction, an assessment has still not been carried out.

The court will soon deliver a ruling that could impose severe penalties on the State.

The saga surrounding the development  - built and operated by a subsidiary company owned by the ESB - has been rumbling for almost two decades.

In October 2003, when the site was under construction, a massive landslide dislodged around half a million cubic metres of peat from the Slieve Aughty mountains.

Over a number of days, trees and debris flowed down the side of the mountain, causing a significant fish kill and disrupting life in the area.

In the immediate aftermath, remedial works were carried out. Deep channels were cut into the mountain, leading to a faster run-off of rainwater during the winters that followed.

In 2008, the Court of Justice found Ireland was in breach of its obligations and ordered that a retrospective EIA be carried out at Derrybrien.

The State argued the landslide had been caused by poor construction work, but the court found that it was because a proper assessment had not been carried out in advance.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The following year, south Galway was impacted by severe flooding, the like of which had not been witnessed in living memory.

In 2018, Ireland was brought back to the European Courts because of the failure to comply with the 2008 judgment.

The European Commission said it was requesting the Court of Justice of the EU to impose a minimum lump sum payment of €1.685m, along with daily fines in excess of €12,000, which would kick in after the final ruling was issued.

That judgment is still awaited, but an opinion from the court's Advocate General in advance of the ruling does not make for pleasant reading for the State.

The 16-page document says that since 2008, "Ireland has confined itself to submitting various proposals...without implementing any of them".

These delays, "despite claims made by Ireland... are not due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the Commission".

The opinion goes on to state that not only has the EIA not been carried out, "no concrete measures have been taken with a view to obtaining such an assessment".

Ireland is said to be playing "snakes and ladders" with the commission and its justifications for failing to carry out the EIA must be rejected.

The Advocate General rejected a submission by the State that no penalties should be imposed and proposed the court should order Ireland to pay €10,000 for each day of delay after a final judgment is issued. 

A further penalty of €1,000 per day was recommended from the date of the original ruling on 3 July 2008, to the final judgment date.

Martin Collins, who lives in Derrybrien, has been closely following developments since planning for the wind farm was first granted.

He said it is mind boggling that the State is facing such hefty fines as a result of its non-compliance to date.

Mr Collins said it was important that directives and regulations were upheld, so that similar mistakes would not be repeated.

The South Galway Flood Relief Group has also called for a detailed analysis of the impact the windfarm has had.

It has particular concerns about flooding in recent years, much of this attributed to the stripping of peat from the mountain, to facilitate the wind farm.

There has been little or no comment from the Government or the ESB on the steps they intend to take.

The Department of Climate Action referred queries to the Department of Housing, saying this was a planning matter. 

In turn, that department said it was making no comment, other than to say it was considering the opinion from the Advocate General.

In a brief statement to RTÉ News, the ESB said it was aware of the latest developments.