Ireland eyes enforcement options

Ireland's environmental regulators have been looking at how their overseas peers are enforcing environmental law with the view to building a case for stronger powers at home.

The EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE) has been reviewing the use of civil and administrative sanctions used by regulators in the UK, US, Germany and Australia to see what is working elsewhere.

As things stand in Ireland, there are a lack of options between the maximum fine of €3,000 that can be imposed by District Courts and the maximum fine of €15m that can be handed down by Circuit Judges.

Irish courts also require the same burden of proof for environmental offences as for criminal offences – this is not the case in many other countries.

The OEE has published a report, A Study on the Use of Administrative Sanctions for Environmental Offences in other comparable countries and assessment of their possible use in Ireland weighing up the EPA’s options.

It flags up 20 widely-used non-criminal sanctions that are effective in ensuring compliance in the countries looked at.

Irish law currently allows the EPA to use only 11 of these sanctions.

“New environmental legislation and the nature of illegal activity requires an increasingly sophisticated and flexible enforcement response to attain compliance,” said Dara Lynott, director of the OEE.

“Administrative sanctions have the potential to put the environmental regulator in a better position to match their response to the realities of enforcement. This report will contribute positively to the debate about better regulation,” he concluded.

The OEE says it would be useful if it were able to use a wider variety of sanctions including:

  • Enforcement Undertaking – Written undertakings to remedy the harm done that can be enforceable in court.
  • Fixed or variable Penalties – On-the-spot fines or infringement notices to discharge or compensate for the breach
  • Environmental or Community Services Order – Offender carries out a specified project for public benefit. Examples include the provision of recycling facilities, conservation or remediation work, training or education initiatives
  • Compensation Order – Offender compensates the regulator or third party for costs incurred in taking action
  • Name and Shame or Publicity Orders – Order requiring publicity of environmental consequences and penalties
  • The study also identified a number of hurdles that would need to addressed if additional administrative sanctions were to be introduced.

    These include the identification of the costs versus the benefits, the right to appeal against a sanction and the protection of the constitutional rights of the individual.

    The full report can be found on the EPA website.

    David Gibbs

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