On September 8th, Kevin Corcoran from Toonsbridge in Co Cork, appeared before the European Parliament Committee on Petitions in relation to the proposed development of wind turbines on the upper Lee. He presented evidence that Cleanrath's application had split an extensive large-scale project into smaller developments in order to circumvent the planning process, thereby endangering the integrity of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the Gearagh. His argument was accepted by the Commission and the petition remains open. Cork County Council and the Planning Authorities have been charged with investigating the proposed development and will have to deliver a response by Spring 2017.
Kevin Corcoran's presentation was precise and structured. He outlined how the Irish planning system contains many loopholes which can be exploited by cunning developers. His passion for his subject moved the room. Even hardened politicians shed tears and applause was general, especially after he explained his own origins:
“This forest, before it was destroyed by the hydroelectric dam covered several thousand acres. My people, my family, my mother's people were forest dwellers and I am the last in the line. They were forcibly removed from the forest and relocated. I got my knowledge about the forest from my mother and my grandparents and it spurred me to go to college to understand what this great forest was. For the last thirty-five years I have been fighting to actually get it protected. I am very honoured to be able to address you here as the last of my people, to request that you help me to save my ancestral home and in doing so, protect the integrity of the habitats directives, that I can actually leave here saying, long live democracy, long live the EU.”
After coming home he spoke to That's Farming about his experience of bringing a Petition to Europe.
“A Petition is actually a legal instrument that is available to all members of the EU. The politicians made us vote twice for Nice and Lisbon and there's a lot of small print as part of being in Europe, but they don't tell the people about that at all. That small print basically is all about your human rights and your environmental rights as a citizen. So if you feel that any aspect of EU law, that we've now signed up to and accepted legitimately, is being denied you, or the laws are not being applied properly you can apply to the Petition Commission. The petition in that sense is putting in a sort of submission, saying, 'look I have a particular problem here, this particular law in Ireland I believe is not being applied and I want to investigate it and I want it corrected.'
“So you have to have your homework done, you'd want to know what the law is, have evidence of it being breached, and you'd want to be able to show that evidence and back it up scientifically. They spend a lot of time then, investigating it themselves and they connect with the Irish authorities, saying 'look we've a petition here saying that you're not applying this law, which in this case is the Habitats Directive to protect the SAC and the Gearagh.
“It could be any SAC. There's an SAC on the Bandon river, another alluvial forest, which was removed by the OPW last year. But the Commission are investigating it now because someone else is after bringing it to their attention that the Bandon SAC is very badly damaged.
“I was following it from the Habitats point of view but it could be about anything. It could be because you cannot access medicine because you have a health condition or something, or maybe you've a family member who's an invalid and you can't get a wheelchair for them or something. It could be anything, any of the laws in relation to the EU.
“You submit your petition and it takes quite a long time for that petition to be processed, it could be up to year. If then they decide you have a valid case it's registered, the process begins and there's no going back. The Irish authorities are asked then, 'We want you to answer this, this and this in relation to that'. Then they get back to me and say 'We've got this information from the Irish authorities, is this correct from your perspective?' So I'd argue it out and there's a referee, shall we say, one of the heads of the Petitions Commission and he has a whole staff investigating cases from Romania to Poland, Italy to Spain to Ireland, and eventually when all the information is gathered the Irish are given a chance to respond and it comes up for discussion in the Parliament in the Petition Commission chamber.
“So it was there only in the middle of the Summer I got an email saying 'Your petition will be heard on the 8th of September, in the European Parliament in Brussels and you are invited to attend and you will be allowed speak and state your case in relation to all the evidence we have gathered.'”
Kevin's presentation to the EU petitions Commission can be viewed here.
Just select English from the language drop-down and then scroll along to 2:00:00.