“Gentlemen, can I have a moment of your time please….”
With that my Senior Counsel invited us to join him in a semi-quiet corner of the bull-ring in the Four Courts building of the High Court of Ireland.
I’m sorry to have to tell you this but your case is lost. Based on the judge that has been appointed here today to run your case I can confidently predict that you will lose it. I do not want to see you attending a four day hearing and wondering how it is progressing. I am extremely embarrassed at having to give you this news but feel it is only right that I should.
Our campaign, objecting to a proposal by Donegal County Council / Irish Water to build a WWTP (Wastewater Treatment Plant) on the shores of Lough Foyle with associated discharge adjacent to the pristine bathing waters, was now in its 26th year and recognised as the State’s longest running environmental / legal battle.
Substantial resources, research and determination had been deployed by the local community to protect the waters and the environment of a most beautiful area. Being told we would get a hearing of sorts but that the Courts would bury us regardless was a difficult pill to swallow. It seemed challenging the authority of the State was a step too far.
The actual court case (Judicial Review of the previous permission granted by An Bord Pleanala) would not take place for a further ten weeks giving plenty of time to contemplate our predicted demise and to spread the word amongst our community who had invested so much trust, belief and hope in the campaign and especially in the notion that we would receive a fair adjudication in the highest court in the land.
In the running of the case the “learned” one displayed rampant hostility to our legal team while giving an open road to the opposition. But who is that solitary stranger that each day sits alone amongst the courtroom benches typing away on his laptop?
Ten weeks further on we attended at the Four Courts for the delivery of the “learned” one’s judgement. Ours was second on the list. The Court was full of the gowned and wigged who had come to hear the judgements of their client’s cases. The first to receive “justice” was a lay litigant in Judicial Review against the State’s revenue commissioners concerning his case of bankruptcy. This gentleman was treated in such a vile and abusive fashion that it almost defies description. This I have already detailed in a previous article. Not long into the reading of “his” judgement on my case I said to my solicitor it’s obvious that he has not seen this document before. The solicitor replied it was done up for him by An Bord Pleanala. “Oh for Christ’s sake” I said “That’s who I had taken my case against…..”. He didn’t reply.
The “learned” one finally finishes “his” impartial judgement by refusing me “leave” and continued by going on to wish the Donegal County Council / Irish Water God’s speed with their long overdue plant and pipe which had been held up for far too long. He then invited the legal teams of Donegal County Council / Irish Water and An Bord Pleanala if they would like to make an ' application ' based on what he had just read out. It now transpired he had every intention of laying the legal fees of Donegal County Council / Irish Water and An Bord Pleanala against me if I dared appeal “his” judgement to the Supreme Court. To avoid this obscene blackmail I had to write a begging letter not to apply the fees as I had no intention of appealing with such a perverse financial threat hanging over me.
While discussing the details of the “learned” one’s appalling blackmail I noticed the stranger who had attended the court case every day and was smiling quite broad by now in our vicinity. When I strongly enquired what was causing him so much amusement he immediately apologised and stated that he was smiling for reasons other that what I thought. “Believe it or not” he said:
this is the best day yet of your long running campaign to date. I will help you take this decision to Brussels where it will be seen for the nonsense it is and you will win.
The mystery individual was none other than Mr Peter Sweetman, renowned expert on European Environmental Law, who had heard about our case and decided to take an interest. He was as good as his word. He took us on the road to Europe. The Commission upgraded my complaint to Formal, found against the Government, and gave them the choice of amending their defective legislation or face the European Court Of Justice in Luxembourg. The legislation was immediately amended, Irish Water had to abandon their illegal project and the “learned” one’s obscene judgement (or should I say An Bord Pleanala’s) was dumped in the bin where it self-evidently deserved to be.
Later that morning in the Four Courts while discussing my own situation I was approached by two senior journalists. They wanted to know if I had any comment to make regarding the outcome of my own proceedings. I asked them to let me know firstly what they intended writing about Mr Johnston's case (lay litigant and the Revenue Commissioners) and his abuse by the 'learned' one. They both laughed and said:
you must be joking .... If we reported one word about what happened in there we would never (and here they pointed to the entrance) see the insides of these courts again ...
I told them that I thought them both a pair of cowardly fuckers and a disgrace to their profession and invited them to print that at their leisure. They shrugged their shoulders, turned away and said ......." that's just the way it is ."
On the way out of the Four Courts that day I looked up at the statue of Lady Justice, depicted with a set of scales suspended from her left hand, upon which she measures the strengths of a case's support and opposition and felt a strong sensation of disbelief and hypocrisy.
⏩ Enda Craig is spokesperson for Lough Foyle group, Community For A Clean Estuary.