The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) is calling for a full investigation into the background of a report in the Irish Independent today (February 15th) regarding works resulting in disturbance of strictly protected bat species at Emo Court in Co. Laois. The article claims that a licence to carry out the works was refused but the works nevertheless went ahead. It also claims that an investigation by the Department into the works carried out by the OPW was “abandoned” but that then a derogation licence was granted after the works had been completed.
All bats in Ireland are strictly protected under national and EU law and developments that have the potential to disturb them must be carried out subsequent to specialist surveys and, if necessary, a licence that is issued by the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government. Where works have been carried out unlawfully there is no provision to grant retrospective derogation licences. Even where such licences are granted, they typically come with strict provisions around the timing and supervision of works, as well as mitigation measures to minimise harm to the bats.
The IWT has previously raised concerns about the ecological damage caused by OPW flood relief and river drainage works. We have been particularly alarmed at the lack of accountability for their operations and the manner in which they do business that gives the impression that they are above the law. This instance is doubly worrying however as there is an allegation that officials in the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government were not robust in carrying out their licencing and enforcement duties.
It is vitally important that all instances of wildlife crime are fully investigated and that state bodies are held to account where wrongdoing has occurred. We therefore call on Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, who has responsibility for enforcement of wildlife law, to carry out a full investigation and to make public his findings into the matter. Minister Noonan recently committed to establishing a dedicated wildlife crime unit within his department.