Friday, 5 December 2014

Environmentalists in court bid for release of report into salmon escape

By Eoin English
Irish Examiner Reporter

An environmental group is going all the way to the High Court in a bid to secure the release of a Government report into a massive escape of farmed salmon. An estimated 230,000 salmon escaped from a fish farm in Bantry Bay last February.

The Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) group has been trying, without success, to acquire a Department of the Marine report into the incident, which Agriculture and Marine Minister Simon Coveney has not released.

FIE has now asked the High Court to require the Information Commissioner, Peter Tyndall, to rule on the minister’s refusal to release the report.

FIE spokesman Tony Lowes said they have asked the court for an ‘order of Mandamus’ requiring the commissioner to hear an appeal of the minister’s refusal.

The case is listed to be heard before the High Court on January 20.

Mr Coveney has refused to release the report on the grounds that it was an “internal communication” and that the public “interest would not be served by the disclosure”.

FIE appealed this refusal to the Information Commissioner, but he has not given the group a date by which he will make his decision, citing a massive backlog of cases.

Mr Lowes said he understands the commissioner is still working on 2012 appeals.

But he said the Bantry Bay matter is especially urgent given that a report on a similar escape of some 80,000 salmon in Clew Bay in 2010, was released to the FIE last year without any delays.

That report showed the Department of the Marine had not required the necessary inspections of the fish farm equipment, and had failed to enforce licensing conditions.

It read: “If a more rigorous/frequent mooring inspections programme had been in place it is possible — even likely — there would have been earlier detection which would therefore have avoided the November 2010 failures.”

A note on the report by a senior departmental official says it “clearly points to the fact that adequate systems in relation to certification, maintenance, inspection, repairs and records need to be in place for this type of installation”.

Mr Lowes said FIE are pursuing the Bantry Bay report in the belief it will show that little has changed over the last four years.

“Given the increasing severity and frequency of storm events due to climate change, it is vital that we see this report before the storms recur,” he said.