The High Court heard the State’s defence of An Taisce’s challenge of the Nitrates Action Programme last Wednesday and Thursday.

The State turned on its head An Taisce’s argument that the Nitrates Action Programme should be quashed as it fails to provide sufficient protections against water pollution.

Senior counsel Margaret Grey, representing the State, argued that doing so would leave a “legal vacuum” where there are currently rules governing farming activities for the safeguarding of water quality.

Ms Grey claimed that the plan transposes EU regulations into Irish law, such as the good agricultural practice regulations, which set out stocking rates limits, maximum fertiliser spreading rates and closed spreading periods for farmers.

The State told the High Court that throwing the plan out would remove these protections, at least in the short to medium-term.

Quashing the plan could also leave the State in breach of the Nitrates Directive, as there is an EU requirement under the directive to have a Nitrates Action Programme in place, Ms Grey stated.

One point raised by the State is that there were no specific Natura 2000 designated sites identified in the NGO’s submissions to the court.


An Taisce had argued on Tuesday that the Nitrates Action Programme, and in particular its provisions which allow the granting of nitrates derogations to farmers, impacts negatively on Natura sites.

Last week, the Irish Farmers Journal reported An Taisce’s claims that the Nitrates Action Programme breaches multiple EU environmental directives, and that the assessment done on the expected impact of the plan was insufficient.

The State denies these allegations and insists that the Nitrates Action Programme is a protective measure and its approval and administration comply with all necessary environmental regulations.

An Taisce had also taken aim at some of the mitigation measures listed in the plan, stating that a means of ensuring water quality is protected was not sufficiently assessed to ensure it would work as planned within “reasonable scientific doubt”.

The State claims that no one mitigation measure is intended to operate in isolation without other layers of protective measures protecting waterways.

IFA notice party

On Thursday, the proceedings also heard arguments put forward by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), which is a notice party to the case.

The IFA’s counsel Tom Flynn argued that quashing the Nitrates Action Programme could lead to “severe environmental harm” as farm water quality rules would be overturned, when he made a similar argument as had been put forward by the State.

An affidavit was highlighted to the court, which had been signed by the IFA’s director of policy, Mr Tadgh Buckley, who Mr Flynn said has laid out a “very comprehensive analysis” of the impact of scrapping the derogation.

Mr Flynn stated that the impacts identified by Mr Buckley would include an income hit for derogation farmers, disturbances to the land market and challenges for the wider rural economy.

Approximately 70 issues have been raised by Judge Richard Humphreys which will require clarification before the court, and it is expected that proceedings will resume before the High Court in February.