RTÉ Investigates has found over 150 quarries across the country are unauthorised out of 1,100 active quarries in Ireland.
RTÉ Investigates also reveals how some of the biggest customers of these unauthorised sites are the very enforcement agencies whose role it is to police Ireland’s quarries.
Over the past six months RTÉ Investigates has looked at quarries across the country including Donegal, Kildare, Galway, Meath, Wexford and Dublin.
Ireland viewed from the air, the country boasts many world renowned areas of natural beauty the Boyne Valley, the Ring of Kerry, the Wild Atlantic Way.
However another recurring feature of the landscape that is not so attractive is the increasing impact of quarries.
Tonight’s RTÉ Investigates – Between a Rock and a Hard Place programme looks at how some operators are able to challenge the system of regulation for quarries, blasting without planning permission, and digging into the landscape of rural Ireland, sparking angry protests.
Permission for quarries is given or refused on a number of grounds including how much environmental damage they’re likely to cause. But RTÉ Investigates has found that the system is full of loopholes, delays and grey areas. Resulting in Ireland’s environment – the air we breathe, the wildlife around us, our water, trees and grass – being put at risk.
The programme shows how even when a quarry is deemed to be unauthorised and has been served with enforcement notices it doesn’t mean they can’t continue operating.
The findings of a nationwide survey of local authorities carried out by RTÉ Investigates shows that 151 quarries are deemed to be unauthorised developments.
The counties with the most unauthorised quarries were:
Galway with 12
Waterford with 17
Cork with 19
Kerry with 26
Donegal with 30
Beside the town of Lifford, straddling the Donegal / Derry border is an island on the River Foyle estuary – Islandmore. It is surrounded by a river and wildlife habitat protected by law as a special area of conservation in both jurisdictions.
The owner of Islandmore was refused planning permission 19 years ago for a quarry but he continued quarrying. He was later served with an injunction, restraining him from quarrying there. In 2014, he lost an appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
Even though there’s still no authorisation for quarrying, RTÉ Investigates has filmed a dredging crew excavating at various points along the river. A machine with a large boom dredges the river bed in 2019.
RTÉ reporter Barry O’Kelly speaks to the owner at the site on tonight’s programme. He has sought both a judicial review of the court injunction taken out against him by Donegal County Council and a decision by An Bord Pleanala to refuse him planning permission and while those cases have yet to be heard, quarrying here continues.
A Donegal Council report noted there is a “potential risk of contamination of groundwater” arising from this dredging.
While Dr Pat Moran, an ecologist said: “They are operating in a Natura 2000 site which is protected by domestic and European legislation. So that is going to be impacting on a lot of the flora and fauna. It’s got no planning permission, there Is no monitoring, there is no mitigation measures.”
In another site in Co Kildare, close to the Curragh, a 22 hectare quarry has been operating since 2014. In 2015 the quarry was served with an enforcement notice stating that it did not have planning permission for what was being developed.
The owner was told if convicted, he could be fined up to €12,000 and/or be jailed for up two years. He was also told he risked more jail time or a fine of €12,000 for each and every day after that if the unauthorised quarrying continued.
However, none of those things happened and the unauthorised quarrying continued.
The case rumbled on 2016, 2017, 2018 and into 2019. On March 15th this year, six weeks after the deadline previously given by the courts for quarrying to cease here, Kildare Co Council returned to court and received an undertaking that the quarry would finally be closed. On the day of the hearing RTÉ Investigates filmed quarrying still taking place until 4pm, when it was eventually closed.
A week after the closure, An Bord Pleanala published a highly critical report about the quarry, which stated it had “significant effects on the environment”.
Meath County Council revealed to RTÉ Investigates there are “75 active or inactive” quarries in the county with “an enforcement issue currently”.
The Council told RTÉ Investigates that in the three years to 2018, it dealt with 52 complaints about quarries. It issued eight warning letters, five enforcement notices, four prosecutions were pursued and only one succeeded. No quarry received a fine.
Tonight’s RTÉ Investigates programme also features a quarry near Tuam in Co Galway which was declared unauthorised by the high court in 2016 but the court passed the baton to Galway County Council to decide if it closed or stayed open.
Quarrying there continued and in 2018, two years after the High Court ruling, An Taisce took the case to the Supreme Court and won.
The court directed the owner to leave the quarry within six months. A week after the deadline, RTÉ Investigates discovered there was still significant activity on site.
When they returned again in September, three months after the June deadline activity was still brisk. This is despite the direction by the Supreme Court that all activity should cease.
After seeing the evidence in tonight’s RTÉ Investigates programme, An Taisce says it will now seek a further court order.
One of the biggest quarries RTÉ Investigates encountered in their research was just off the N7 motorway in Rathcoole, Co Dublin. This is a case where the local planning authority has taken many steps to prevent unauthorised quarrying and yet the blasting here continues. Today the quarrying activity extends to just 40 meters from a public road.
Balcarrig Quarry in Co Wexford is another unauthorised quarry.
Local resident Michael Tighe told RTÉ Investigates: “The quarry is over there and its less than 200m away….. Whenever they are blasting her the whole house is being shook, the 6 year old is afraid of her life of it. She knows if there is a blast she wants to get into the car and get out of here.”
Despite having serious concerns about Balcarrig Quarry, Wexford County Council was still prepared to buy materials from the operator. In 2016 it purchased €24,000 worth of material from the quarry at a time when the council had already deemed the quarry unauthorised.
Watch RTÉ Investigates – Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Wednesday at 9.35.pm on RTÉ One