The wheels of the European Commission grind slowly, but I guess they get there in the end. Two years ago Friends of the Earth lodged a number of cases in Northern Ireland in which the Department of the Environment was apparently unwilling to enforce the European Waste Framework Directive, even where breaches had been clearly identified by local authorities. Some progress has been made. The Environment & Heritage Service (EHS) has a crime team to enforce legislation and to co-ordinate with the Gardai and PSNI in the case of cross border tipping. But Friends of the Earth still has serious concerns about domestic breaches of the directive.
The Department of the Environment has two months in which to convince the Commission that it is taking the problem seriously and will be examining the cases cited by Friends of the Earth closely as part of its overall assessment of government efforts. If it fails, it will move to the publication of a reasoned opinion, possibly leading to a prosecution in the European Court of Justice.
That’s when the fines would kick in. And it’s potentially a very powerful driver for change. In fact Northern Ireland has been in breach of the Directive ever since it was established in the early seventies. The courts determination of the level of fines would relate to the UK’s political and economic clout within the EU, and its GDP. Friends of the Earth reckon that could add up to as much as £100,000 per breach, per day from the inauguration of proceedings (ie about now) until the time of judgement.