Ombudsman to extend sea lice investigation
West Cork Times, 6 Nov 2013
Ombudsman is to extend their investigation into the Irish handling of the EU sea lice investigation to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The move follows on from last month’s announcement that their offices were to conduct a preliminary investigation into the Department of Agriculture’s actions during the EU investigation in salmon farms and sea lice’s impact on wild salmon.
The investigations are based on “Requests for Redress for Maladministration” that West Cork environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) made to both Departments, who have rejected the charges.
FIE alleges that the Department of Agriculture suppressed a Report from Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) which had been specifically requested by the EU investigators, denying its existence. The IFI Report, which FIE obtained under Access to Information on the Environment and published on its website, was highly critical of the defence of salmon farming and sea lice that the Department of Agriculture was making to the Commission.
According to FIE, the Department of Foreign Affairs failed to assign the responsibility for responding to the Commission to include Inland Fisheries Ireland, instead making the Department of Agriculture the sole agency in charge of responding to the investigation.
“The Department of Agriculture is both the licensing authority and the promoter of the ambitious plan to build 9 mega-salmon farms in bays along the Irish west coast. IFI, on the other hand, has long established concerns over the loss of wild salmon due to salmon farms infested with sea lice. Assigning control of the response to the Department of Agriculture was like putting the fox in charge of the chicken house”, FIE Director Tony Lowes said.
The group’s initial complaint to the Department of Foreign Affairs was rebuffed by Eamonn Gilmore’s office, who told the group on August 26th that it is Government practise to assign these cases to one agency only.
He wrote, “On cross cutting issues where more than one department may be concerned, one department is assigned as lead and it is its responsibility to liase as appropriate with other departments.”
According to the Taoiseach’s office, who are now the Irish contact point for all EU investigations, this is not true.
In a letter dated 17 September 2013, the Taoiseach’s office EU Division wrote to the group stating “When a case might be of interest to more than one department we would routinely assign the case to file handlers in all such departments.”
“If the original complaint has been handled according to the established protocol, the IFI Report would have been communicated directly to the Commission and the investigation could have had a very different outcome”, Lowes said.
Janez Potocnik, the European Environmental Commissioner, has told FIE that the Commission has contacted the Irish authorities to seek copies of the documents and determine if new information justifies the Commission reopening the investigation.