Friends of the Earth NI and No Gas Caverns to appeal Larne Lough court ruling
Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland and No Gas Caverns are taking their battle against hugely controversial plans to construct gas caverns under the seabed at Larne Lough to the Court of Appeal.
The move follows a High Court ruling in August this year that the project was lawful.
Friends of the Earth and No Gas Caverns maintain that the former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] minister, Edwin Poots, acted unlawfully in authorising the construction of the massive fossil fuel gas development.
There are two principal grounds for mounting an appeal:
- The failure to refer the applications to the Executive Committee .
- The taking into account of an irrelevant consideration, namely the community fund .
An appeal has been submitted and the groups are now waiting for the Northern Ireland court to set a date for the appeal.
The organisations have also set up a crowd funding page as cases like these take months of work from our legal team and campaigners, and are only possible through the generous support of the public.
James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, said:
“We continue to stand with the residents of Islandmagee to protect this beautiful part of Northern Ireland. It is our continued belief that the destruction caused by this mining is landscape trauma. The gas caverns project is not needed, not welcome and, in our view, unlawful.
“Let’s be in no doubt that we will not be held to ransom to the fossil fuel companies behind this project. They are on the wrong side of history if they think they can drive through new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate emergency.
“On a final point, we cannot allow Ministers to return to making “solo runs” and undermine the fundamental constitutional function of the Executive Committee.”
Lisa Dobbie, of No Gas Caverns, said:
“We are so grateful to Friends of the Earth for continuing to stand with us, a group of ordinary people forced to take extraordinary action against a government department and former Minister who we believe have acted unlawfully in approving this nature wrecking major fossil fuel infrastructure.
It is incredibly difficult for citizens to access environmental justice in Northern Ireland, but with the actions of a very determined group of residents, an expert legal team and the support of hundreds of people who have donated so generously we continue to fight for nature and our precious environment.”
Today, Friends of the Earth and No Gas Caverns are lodging their appeal with the Court of Appeal to continue their legal challenge against the Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] over plans for a controversial and destructive gas storage project under Larne Lough. The area, near Islandmagee, is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest and where key scenes from the Game of Thrones series were filmed.
Under the plans, seven skyscraper sized underground caverns would be carved out of salt layers under the Lough by a method know as solution mining. The resulting hyper saline salt solution, created by this excavation process, would then be discharged into the sea near Islandmagee creating a “dead zone” where no marine life could survive. Increased salinity will also extend for several kilometres with adverse impacts on sensitive species, including otters, dolphins and porpoises.
This appeal comes after the High Court dismissed Friends of the Earth’s and No Gas Caverns joint claim in August 2023, finding that the decision to approve the gas caverns project was lawful.
1. Ground 1 of appeal
The Ministerial Code requires that matters that are ‘cross-cutting’, ‘significant’ or ‘controversial’ must be referred to the Executive Committee. Additionally, the Northern Ireland Act requires ministers to act in accordance with the Ministerial Code.
We argue that this gas caverns project is ‘cross-cutting’, ‘significant’ and ‘controversial’ and therefore was required to be referred to the Executive committee. Consequently, we believe that the failure by the Minister for DAERA to refer this project to the Executive committee and instead approve the project himself was unlawful.
2. Ground 2 of appeal
The provision of a community fund has been referred to as a mitigation measure in the EIA determination under the heading ‘social and economic’, but it is entirely unclear what negative social or economic impact this fund is designed to mitigate. Furthermore, the fund is not secured through a condition and there is no mechanism to require the licensee to set up the fund.
As a result, we say that the community fund is an irrelevant consideration which can be given no weight. We argue that it is clear, however, that the Department took the provision of the community fund into account, as it is referenced as a ‘compensatory measure’ in the EIA determination. Thus, we believe that the decision to grant the Licence was therefore based on an irrelevant consideration and unlawful.
3. In bringing this legal challenge, the environmental campaigning groups have been proudly supported by RSPB, Ulster Wildlife, Wild Justice, Uplift UK, Law for Change and The PILS project and take this opportunity to thank these organisations for their support to date. Both campaigning groups would like to thank the many members of the general public for their continued support in this legal battle.
4. The Friends of the Earth and No Gas Caverns legal team consists of: Conor Fegan of Francis Taylor Building Chambers, Maria O’Loan of Tughans Solicitors and its own in-house legal specialists.
5. DAERA’s notice of Environmental Consent Decision can be found here .
6. No Gas Caverns website .
7. A Friends of the Earth NI and No Gas Caverns press release ahead of the High Court of Northern Ireland hearing on 2 May 2023 - which contains details of the case - is here.
8. The Decision of Mr Justice Humphreys sitting in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland can be found here.