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State Papers: Haughey defied civil service fears to insist on EPA creation

Charles Haughey and Pádraig Flynn faced down trenchant civil service opposition to create the landmark Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ecret files released as part of the State Papers revealed the then taoiseach and his environment minister had to deal with determined opposition to the proposed new agency from within the powerful civil service who objected to the EPA’s budget, staffing levels and its feared administrative impact.

Mr Haughey faced objections to the proposed EPA and its set-up from both the Department of the Taoiseach and Department of Finance.

One of Ireland’s most powerful civil servants in 1990 – secretary-general of the Department of Taoiseach Dermot Nally – warned Mr Haughey that he feared the new agency could undermine Ireland’s economic recovery and persuade foreign companies to locate elsewhere for regulatory reasons.

Mr Nally wrote a detailed memo to Mr Haughey in October 1990 – and stressed that while he supported the overall objective of an agency like the EPA, he was worried about its impact on the Irish economy if it became “obsessional” in its environmental work.

“Environmental protection is a worthy objective. If, however, it is allowed to become obsessional, then development will stop,” he wrote.

“We can forget about more employment since the factories and firms and services which give that employment will not set up or expand – for ‘environmental’ reasons.

“There is evidence to suggest that what attracts investment to a country is not grants or specific incentives but the general level of regulation.

“If there is too much of it the investment goes elsewhere. We are, I think, in some danger of moving over this border line.”

Mr Nally added: “The planning code – obstructive as it can be – is a great deal more balanced than the approach under this Bill.

“It can encourage development while at the same time preserving the environment. The point is that development is the priority – not environment – however important that may be.

“The new agency will change this emphasis and is estimated to cost IR£7million a year. It is still a massive addition to the bureaucracy.”

Mr Nally also outlined what he warned was “an extraordinary” element whereby the fledgling EPA could levy funds from local councils for environmental projects – with no apparent limit specified in the regulations.

“We seem to be trying to create here what Eastern Europe is trying so hard to escape from,” Mr Nally warned.

But Environment Minister Pádraig Flynn championed the proposed EPA and wanted it to be able to take prosecutions to protect the environment.

Finance Minister Albert Reynolds’s Department of Finance was less than impressed with the projected cost of the new agency.

As well as having 133 staff – many specially trained and highly paid – the EPA would also have an annual budget of IR£7m.

One Finance memo warned that it found the proposals “completely unacceptable”.

However, Mr Haughey emphatically backed Mr Flynn over the EPA creation, its operating budget and its regulatory supports to ensure adequate environmental protection.

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