// C 494-01 Comment on Advocate General's Opinion
September 24 2004
Advocate General of the European Court of Justice reads Government the Riot Act:
A report on the health risk caused by illegal dumping carried out by the state.
Endangering human health and causing environmental harm is not what any government wants on its CV. But that is exactly what the Irish Government has been doing in the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. Government press people are trying to kill the story. The Government press response today (as carried in the Irish Times today) claiming that this was ancient history and that things are different now does not stand up. Already further legal action is threatened by the Commission in relation to a proposal to put a superdump next to a candidate Special Area of Conservation in Waterford. The Government tried to suppress the Commission's warning letter to it (known as a 'Reasoned Opinion'). Happily the letter came into the public domain despite that effort.
The Government of Ireland was slammed for ‘persistent widespread and serious’ failure to comply with EU waste law in the European Court Thursday (Sept. 23). Advocate-General Geelhoed told the Court that as a result of this failure the government has endangered human health and caused environmental harm. In a formal opinion delivered to the Court in Case C-494/01Commission v Ireland the Advocate-General recommends that the Court should declare Ireland to be in breach of no fewer than four separate Articles of the Waste Directive and also in breach of Article 10 of the EC Treaty.
The Advocate-General’s opinion is not binding but is normally followed by the Court. Because of the significance of the issues at stake in the case, both parties’ arguments were heard by the Court’s Grand Chamber (full panel) in July. The EU Commission brought the case to the Court following complaints about breaches of EU waste law at twelve separate locations throughout the country, including Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick, Carlow, Laois and Louth.
Government lawyers had claimed that these were only 'isolated incidents' and that there was no evidence of 'actual environmental harm'. The Advocate General flatly rejected these claims and in an unusually strongly worded opinion said that there were sufficient grounds for establishing that Ireland had infringed the Waste Directive in a ‘general and structural manner’ - in effect institutionalised lawbreaking. The government has, he says, infringed its obligations because, among other reasons, it has failed to ‘prevent the abandonment, dumping and uncontrolled disposal of waste, thereby endangering human health and causing environmental harm’.
This is the first time any EU Member State has been criticised for breaching EU health and environment law in a ‘general and structural manner’. The Advocate General’s opinion is likely to prove devastating to the Government’s defence strategy in this landmark case. His recommendation that Ireland should pay the legal costs of the case would see a hefty legal bill for the Irish taxpayer - another consequence of the ‘persistent widespread and serious’ failure by Government to obey and uphold a fundamental law which is supposed to protect public health and the environment.
Whether any of this makes any real difference will depend in part on whether people know about it. So far the Government Press people are playing a blinder in killing the story. The line is that this is all ancient history and they're reformed characters now...