Val Martin, a suckler farmer and retired Garda detective from Co. Cavan, has been raising concerns about the laws governing wind farm developments for almost two decades.

After planning permission was sought to build a wind farm close to his suckler farm in Kingscourt in 2000, Martin began looking at the rules and regulations on these types of developments and how they were being implemented.

He says that one of the first regulations he unearthed was from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which provided for protection of the environment and the right of the public to participate in matters of environmental concern.

Martin says that the Lisbon Treaty also promises protection of the environment and he pointed to the European SEA Directive 2001/42/EC, which focuses on environmental protection and evaluation of plans and programmes that produce environmental effects.

History in the making

The SEA directive allows for assessment in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism, town and country planning and land use.

Article 6 of this directive allows the public to participate and so too does the Habitats Directive and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive.

He added: “All of these EU rules and regulations governing wind farm developments in this country are being blatantly ignored by the powers that be.”

Meanwhile, Martin points to a time in history that can be identified now as the possible catalyst for change in terms of environment and the public’s right to participate in matters concerning it.

“In the former communist block counties – particularly eastern Europe – there was a pattern of governments taking on big projects and knocking down old cathedrals and old castles in the process,” he continued.

“The EU came in and said this is not happening any more and laws were made to ensure that would not happen again. These types of developments were happening all over the world and the United Nations decided to put an end to what it considered bad practice.”

‘Nothing exists alone’

Then the Aarhus Convention was subsequently signed into law.

Martin says this is a “very important law” in respect of strategic developments and the environment in which they are based.

Meanwhile, the Aarhus Convention grants the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice, in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the local, national and trans-boundary environment. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities.

The idea is that the local person is the one who best understands the local environment – it doesn’t mean they have a veto.

Martin continued: “In the directives on planning there is a section that specifically provides for the public to participate and how they can do that.”

He says there is “plenty of EU law out there and it is more than adequate” to act across all members states – not just Ireland.

“When we discovered the law was there we started to put in a few objections here and there – one we objected to was Cloghan Wind Farm in Co. Offaly where we objected under these EU directives.

“We then discovered that local councils didn’t even seem to know that these laws existed and we ended up educating them; we gave them plenty of hassle too but we made them comply with these regulations,” he added.

Keeping it simple

Around that time, Martin’s campaign against wind farms started getting noticed.

He says that more and more people around the country began making contact with him and very soon he found himself meeting with local groups who were opposed to wind farm developments in their communities.

“What we discovered was there was so much breaking of the law that there was plenty of work for everyone involved in the campaign to do,” said Martin.

“I then started becoming involved with groups in Kerry, Wexford, Donegal – all over the country in fact.

We started bringing people up to speed and then an issue emerged in relation to the killing of birds.

He says wind turbines kill birds – particularly rare breeds.

“Wind turbines do kill birds and especially rare ones like kites, ospreys, eagles and buzzards.

“This was another area where we tried to bring the planning authorities in to compliance; it’s a work in progress,” he concluded.