Ireland: As Liam O'Morchu would say: "A Rich and Rare Land."

Considered by many to be green and unspoilt, Ireland, over the last twenty-five years or so has become subject to may of the pressures felt by more developed countries. It's environment is under threat, both from internal pressures and external forces. These pages will explore some of these problems, and suggest what actions may be necessary.

This page may change at a moment's notice to reflect any new developments.

If these topics interest you, you may want to bookmark this page and come back and visit often, to see if any changes have taken place.

Unless specifically attributed to someone else, the views expressed on this page are my own.

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Whilst you are here why not check out Environment Watch Ireland?

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Last update:- March 4, 1997

Taken from the Irish Independent

Wednesday, October 30, 1996

Cow call

"The EU has been asked to ban production of
"elephant-sized cattle". Calling for a return to
natural methods, ICMSA leader Frank Allen
aid it was time to end incentives to farmers for
producing large weight animals."


This is a new departure. The ICMSA is one of the main Farmers' Organisations. "The Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers' Association". The trend in the last twenty years or so has been to the production of larger and larger beef animals, to qualify for larger prices for meat to be placed in intervention - designed to keep prices high. This has necessitated the introduction of foreign breeds of cattle, and the dependence on feed concentrates rather than grass - which Ireland has a plentiful supply of. Only a few years ago the main Irish farm organisations were resisting moves within the European Union to lower the maximum weight limit that would qualify for Intervention buying. Perhaps the present BSE ("mad-cow") scare is responsible for this change in thinking.

Staying with farming, there has been a lot of concern in recent years about the impact of the huge increase in sheep numbers on the mountains of the West of Ireland. This increase is a direct result of the European Union's farm subsidy system. Sheep farmers receive an annual payment for every ewe that they own. This varies, but is usually £20 to £25 per ewe. This has led to a dramatic increase in the national sheep flock, and in turn to overgrazing of sensitive areas, particularly on heather and peat land. The following is from a report by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) concerning an investigation they have recently carried out on overgrazing, soil erosion and water pollution:-


EPA warns on water pollution, overgrazing

A drastic reduction in sheep numbers is required to prevent further environmental damage by overgrazing in upland areas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a detailed report on water quality in Ireland, covering the years 1991 to 1994, the EPA concludes that the situation is deteriorating, with a 5 per cent increase in slight to moderate pollution of rivers.

The main finding is that, whereas water quality remains good overall, increasing eutrophication (artificial enrichment due to excessive levels of nutrients) "poses a serious threat, especially to our rivers and lakes".

Agriculture is identified as the largest single source of pollution, suspected of causing 46 per cent of "slight pollution" cases, 45 per cent of "moderate pollution" cases and 25 per cent of "serious pollution" cases, measured in terms of river channel length.

For the first time, the EPA identifies sheep overgrazing as a "serious environmental problem" and says it has caused widespread soil erosion, leading to excessive siltation of lakes and rivers which, in turn, is affecting stocks of trout and salmon.

The report suggests that major flaws in administrative procedures were to blame for allowing "such extensive damage" to be done before making "any serious attempt to control it". Early warnings either "went unheeded or were dismissed out of hand", it says.

"Such messages should be taken not as threats to vested interests, but as early warning signals designed to allow minor changes in policy at an early stage which will prevent serious and perhaps irreversible environmental and economic damage at a later stage.

"Both the landscape and the rivers and lakes are intrinsically important as well as being of immense current and future economic value in terms of tourism and biodiversity. At present, all of these resources are jeopardised by excessive sheep numbers."

The EPA report also blames intensive farming - particularly the over-use of fertilisers - for contributing to the eutrophication of rivers and lakes, as well as discharges of sewage and industrial effluent.

"There seems to be little doubt that changes in agriculture, starting in the 1960s, have played a major part in the deterioration of the freshwater resource over the last 25 years", particularly the spreading of animal slurries on land, according to the report.

Eutrophication was also affecting the recreational and amenity value of rivers and lakes. "The presence of large accumulations of planktonic or attached algae along lake shores or on coastal beaches is unsightly and off putting for bathers and strollers", it says.

"This is a matter of particular concern in Irish waters because of its potential impact on the more sensitive game fish and the fact that the quality of water abstracted for public supply . . . may be adversely affected by the presence of large amounts of algae."

Although the situation would be relieved by the installation of upgraded sewage treatment plants in towns along the waterways, the report suggests that it will be more difficult to deal with the problems presented by intensive agriculture such as the switch to silage-making.

To reverse the current trend in water quality, the EPA recommends that measures be adopted to minimise the potential of agriculture to cause enrichment of surface waters with phosphates. In some locations, it says, additional sewage treatment is required.


For more details on the effects of sheep numbers on the peat and heather lands in the  west of Ireland, have a look at

this site

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And so to BSE, or "mad-cow-disease".

This year (1996), there has been an increase in the number of reported cases in the Republic. There is a suspicion that some of the cases have been deliberately introduced by farmers (possibly by smuggling affected animals from the North) in order to collect the generous grants available if a herd needs to be slaughtered. The slaughter value may well be far higher than the current market value, due to the inevitable price drop as consumer confidence has been hit by the possible link between BSE and CJD (the human equivalent).

The following is part of a recent newspaper article:-

Friday, October 25, 1996

Garda to investigate BSE case

Gardai are to hold another investigation into the source of a case of BSE. This emerged yesterday as the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Yates, told the Dail of three new cases of the disease. The Department has already called in the Garda to investigate the source of three animals on a Munster farm, to find out if they have been deliberately introduced to enable the farmer involved to collect compensation for the herd.

One of these animals has proved to be infected with BSE and the Department is waiting on the results of a post-mortem examination of the other two animals from the State laboratories in Abbotstown, Co Dublin.

Yesterday, it was learned that a similar investigation into a BSE case in another herd has been completed by the Department and gardai will be asked to find out if the animal had been deliberately introduced.

The three new cases bring the total since the disease was first identified in the State in 1989 to 156. They were found in herds in Carlow, Donegal and Wexford and will involve the slaughter of 459 animals.

The Carlow case involves a 12-year-old cow in a 330 strong herd, the Donegal cow is seven years old and is in a herd of nine suckler animals. The Wexford case involves a seven-year-old cow in a 120 strong dairy herd. This brings to 41 the number of cases so far this year.

In the Dail yesterday the Minister said he expected the number of cases of BSE to double or even treble this year over last year's total of 16.........


Also on BSE, it was encouraging to note that the main Farming paper in the state is finally warning farmers of the possible dangers of Organo-Phosphates. This class of chemicals  (used largely as insecticides - but a nerve poison to mammals, including man) is extremely hazardous, and has been linked by some as being possibly involved in the BSE outbreak. MAFF (the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) in the UK claim that tests they have commissioned show no link. This may be to be expected, since MAFF had insisted that all Dairy farmers in the UK treat their cattle with a particular OP against attack by warble fly.

Here's the relevant snippet from the Irish Farmers Journal:

Irish Farmers Journal
2nd November 1996

Housing Cattle
By John Shirley

* Treating against fluke and lice is routine
and necessary Use a non-OP product just
in case the OPs have a link with BSE.


January 6, 1997

A further two cases of BSE were reported in the final days of 1996,
bringing the total for the year to 73 and the total to date to 188. The
counties worst affected during the year were Cork (14), Tipperary (8)
and Wexford (8). Since the condition was first reported in 1989 44
cases have been reported in Cork and 21 in Donegal. When the Russian's
banned beef imports from Cork, Tipperary and Monaghan on November 1,
each county had four or more cases of BSE for the year to date. On that
basis it is possible that the ban will be extended to counties Wexford,
Donegal, Meath, Limerick and Cavan, when it is reviewed at the end of the

To put these figures into perspective, the following is taken from the Irish Times:-

Since 1989, there have been 169 cases of the disease in the Republic;
5,000 in Northern Ireland; and nearly 170,000 in Britain.
(Irish Times, November 20, 1996)

January 20, 1997

Despite the pleadings of an Irish delegation in Moscow the Russians
decided to extend their ban on Irish beef to a further five counties.
Last October the Russians banned beef from counties Cork, Tipperary and
Monaghan on the basis that, for the year to date, at least four cases
of BSE had been reported from each county. By the end of 1996 counties
Wexford, Meath, Donegal, Cavan and Limerick all had four or more
occurrences of the disease and it is beef from these counties which
will also be banned form February 10. While farmers and their leaders
call for action there is really nothing the Government can do.

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Friday, November 22, 1996

Farmer jailed as 99 animal drugs cases await hearing

As another farmer was given a prison sentence yesterday for
possessing angel dust, it has emerged that a further 99 cases
involving illegal animal drugs are awaiting hearing. Michael
Frisby (52), Clogga, Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, was sentenced to
10 months and fined £1,000 for having clenbuterol or angel
dust in animal feed on his farm on August 13th, 1992.

Passing sentence at Carrick-on-Suir District Court, Judge
Michael Patwell told Frisby he was worse than a terrorist.

It has been learned that 28 of the remaining 99 cases involve
clenbuterol, 19 involve clenbuterol and hormone cocktails,
20 involve hormones, three cases involve hormones and
antibiotics, four involve clenbuterol and antibiotics, and 17
involve antibiotics alone.

The cases have been delayed because of a Supreme Court
challenge to the Animal Remedies Act, which imposed stiffer
penalties and gave greater powers to the Department of
Agriculture to deal with abuses of growth promoters.

The Supreme Court challenge was brought by Frank Mallon,
of Balrath, Kells, Co Meath, and was disposed of last May. Since
then, 36 cases have been dealt with in the courts with fines of
over £150,000 imposed. Mallon was fined £25,000 on 25 charges
on October 9th this year.

On Tuesday Ronald Armitage, Uskane, Borrisokane, Co Tipperary,
had a District Court sentence of six months doubled when he
appealed his conviction for possessing illegal animal drugs to
Athlone Circuit Court. He was the first farmer to be sentenced to prison.

Judge Anthony Kennedy allowed Armitage four weeks to put his
affairs in order before the warrant to imprison him is executed.
The court heard Armitage, who farms up to 600 acres, is said to
be one of the Republic's biggest beef-fattening farmers.

Last night the Department of Agriculture gave a breakdown of the
years in which the alleged offences due before the courts occurred
and these show that most allegedly took place before 1994.

The statement said seven cases related to 1991; 29 to 1992; 20 to 1993;
15 to 1994; 20 to 1995 and eight this year. Department witnesses have
given evidence in court that abuse of animal drugs has dropped dramatically.

A member of the special control team set up to combat the clenbuterol
threat told a District Court sitting that abuse had fallen since the publication
of the outcome of court cases. Further evidence of a decline emerged when
the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Yates, reassigned some of the team dealing
with the problem to monitor animal feed and help trace BSE animals.

For several years now, Ireland has dragged its feet regarding the disposal of toxic waste. The EU regulations state that each member state should dispose of its own waste. However, as the following report shows, Ireland is still exporting some of its waste to the UK for disposal. This must surely weaken Ireland's case against the nuclear waste recovery plant at Sellafield, just a few miles away across the Irish Sea.

Wednesday, October 30, 1996

UK waste rules eased

Britain will allow imports of clinical waste from Ireland to continue temporarily, while the Government brings its own waste disposal facilities on stream, British Environment Minister Earl Ferrers said last night.

The Government had requested permission to continue exporting some clinical waste until the end of 1997, after closure of all but one of the Republic's clinical waste incinerators due to new EU emission standards.

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Nuclear matters next....

As a result of public pressure around the late 70's (when the Government was considering licensing the of uranium mining in Co. Donegal), Ireland is officially a "nuclear free zone". Unfortunately, our neighbour, the United Kingdom, is not. One of the large problems is Sellafield (aka Winscale, aka Calder Hall), a nuclear waste re-processing plant on the northwest coast of England. The discharges from this plant make the Irish Sea the most radio-active in the world. Despite making "noises", the Irish Government seems unable (or unwilling) to do anyhting about it. Certain areas of the Republic claim to have unusually high pockets of certain types of cancer, and the suspicion is that Sellafield may be to blaim.

Recently, a group of residents from Co. Louth (which is almost due east of Sellafield, across the Irish Sea) have finally won the right to bring legal action against Sellafield. They had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to win this right. The lower courts had found against them.

Here's part of a recent newspaper article about this case:-

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

Government to back Louth group against BNFL
By Lorna Siggins

The Government is to support four Co Louth residents in their
legal action against British Nuclear Fuels Ltd over Sellafield,
but only if the residents drop their decision to sue Ireland and
the Attorney General as well.

Ms Constance Short, Ms Mary Kavanagh, Mr Mark Deary
and Mr Ollan Herr had decided to include Ireland and the
Attorney General in the law suit, claiming they did not take
such action as was open to them to protect the personal rights
of the plaintiffs against the alleged attack being made on them
by the company.

The Minister for the Environment, Mr Howlin, said yesterday
financial assistance and "other support" would be given to the
group, which won a Supreme Court case last month to sue
BNFL in the Irish courts.

No figure was given for the financial assistance, and a
spokesman for the Minister said the approval was in principle.
The "other support" could include scientific investigation,
research and legal work, the Minister said.

The Government would, however, seek agreement for the
removal of the State as the defendant in the action, he said.

The decision - representing a surrogate law suit by Ireland
against BNFL after years of deliberation - was recommended
by the ministerial group on Sellafield and the Irish Sea, which
was convened following the Supreme Court ruling.

Mr James MacGuill, solicitor for the four residents, said last
night the group was pleased the Government was doing
something. The proviso that Ireland and the Attorney General
be dropped as defendants in the case was "up for negotiation",
he said.


Inquiry call into genetic engineering tests at farms

January 27, 1997

Greenpeace Ireland has called for a public inquiry into plans by Monsanto, a US multinational chemical company, to carry out trials on genetically modified sugar beet in Co Carlow, Cork and Co Kilkenny.

Monsanto has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for permission to release the engineered organism to test its tolerance to a herbicide, Roundup Biactive, which the company also manufactures.

Some of the tests are to be carried out by Teagasc.

The field trials of Monsanto's sugar beet are to be carried out on two farms - one at Knocknacappa, near Killeagh, in east Cork - where another US chemical company, Merrell Dow, once planned to establish a factory - and the other at Newtown, Co Kilkenny.

Public notices by the EPA in local newspapers in connection with the proposed "deliberate release of a genetically modified organism into the environment" specify February 6th as the deadline to submit representations on the matter. So far, two objections have been received.

Companies involved in genetically engineering crops generally claim they are doing this to "improve" on nature by making fruit, vegetables and other crops bigger and better or more resistant to disease.

Greenpeace insists however that these claims are dangerously misleading. "In fact, the main beneficiaries of these so-called improved products will be the companies who make them. Monsanto's soybean is designed to be resistant to Monsanto's own herbicide, which will theoretically kill the weeds in a field while leaving the soya to survive."

Greenpeace maintains this would "guarantee higher profits to Monsanto as farmers who plant the Monsanto bean will use the Monsanto herbicide" - Roundup Biactive.

It says this experiment with nature is "a huge gamble" which could possibly endanger whole eco-systems. "Many of the genes which multinational companies want us to eat are from plants or animals or other substances not normally part of the human diet - scorpions, moths, bacteria, viruses, rats and mice," according to its briefing document on genetic engineering.

It says the dangers to human health of inserting such foreign genes into the food chain "are simply not known".

One attempt to genetically engineer soya using a gene found in Brazil nuts had to be halted when it triggered allergies in people who were allergic to nuts.

The Greenpeace document notes that Monsanto was the company which produced Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the US army during the Vietnam War, as well as rBGH, a genetically-engineered growth hormone for cows which the EU has banned until the year 2000.

Since the late-1970s, Greenpeace estimates, Monsanto has spent $2 billion on research and development in genetic engineering.

However, a spokesman for the company in Britain told the Sunday Tribune that the Irish public had nothing to fear from its tests here.

It is understood that Monsanto's application is the first involving an experiment on genetically modified organisms to be considered for licensing in Ireland.

The EPA has three months to deal with the application and must take into account any representations received from interested parties.

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