The case focused on 12 complaints made to the European Commission between 1997 and 2000, which involved around 18 illegal waste disposal incidents in Ireland.

According to the ruling, Irish authorities had been tolerating unauthorised waste activities in numerous places in Ireland, the process to acquire waste permits was extremely slow in nature, often taking years.

It also stated that the Irish government’s failure to fulfil its legal waste management obligations was “general and persistent in nature”.

However, the OECD stated in its 2000 Environmental Performance Review of Ireland that it since had developed a “modern and coherent body of environmental law”, supporting Environment Minister Dick Roche’s claims that action had now been taken to modernise the country’s waste infrastructure.

“The findings of the court are a timely reminder of the consequences of poor past waste management practices and of the urgent necessity to put in place a modern waste infrastructure,” he said.

“There is a need to build on what has been achieved and to intensify enforcement action. Illegal waste activities are crimes against the environment. Irish households and businesses are moving rapidly to sustainable methods of waste management, and those who engage in illegal waste activities tarnish our striking achievements as a nation.”

He added that the Irish government would now work to identify any further gaps in the current control regime in order for them to be urgently rectified. Negotiations would also go underway with local authorities to ensure that they were taking responsibility for enforcement at a local level.

“We have endlessly debated our waste management problems and we must now move on to implementing solutions,” Mr Roche concluded.

“We need to ensure that we put in place the full range of sophisticated infrastructure to match those Member States with the greenest and most advanced waste management systems.”

By Jane Kettle

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