14 March 2006

Environmentalist in plea over M3 challenge legal costs


14/03/2006 - 17:20:54

An environmentalist who lost his court challenge to the routing of the M3 motorway near the Hill of Tara today appealed for his costs to be granted.

Vincent Salafia is claiming that he took the action on public interest grounds and that there was no personal gain involved.

The environmental campaigner, from Dodder Vale, Churchtown in Dublin, is facing a six-figure legal bill if costs for the seven-day hearing are awarded against him.

At the High Court, barrister Colm O’hEochaidh said Mr Salafia had been motivated by the spirit of the public interest.

“Mr Salafia is not against road building. His motivation was to protect the national heritage and the national monument,” he said.

The court heard that when Judge Thomas Smyth dismissed Mr Salafia’s challenge as unfounded on March 1, he ruled that the campaigner had no legal standing to take the case.

Judge Smyth also criticised the delay in taking the case and said it was inexplicable that Mr Salafia had taken no part in the oral hearings held by Bord Pleanala into the routing of the motorway.

Mr O’hEochaidh admitted it was difficult to contemplate the courts awarding costs to his client in these circumstances.

But he said that Mr Salafia assumed that the heritage around the Hill of Tara would be protected by the existing national monuments regime, until he saw that Environment Minister Dick Roche had given the go-ahead last May for archaeological excavations to begin on the route.

Mr O’hEochaidh said it was true that his client had not been one of the 4,000 people who made submissions to an Bord Pleanala about the routing of the motorway near the Hill of Tara.

But he asked how many of these people would have been prepared to risk their houses to take a legal challenge to the decision to allow work to start on the archaeological excavations along the route.

“The court can see the level of endeavour and risk taken on by Mr Salafia in circumstances where he had absolutely nothing to gain,” he said.

He added that the challenging of legislation in the courts was critical to the healthy functioning of democracy and warned that otherwise acts would go unchecked.

Lawyers for Environment Minister Dick Roche, the National Roads Authority and Meath County council argued that it would not be in the public interest for Mr Salafia to be granted his costs.

They said that Judge Smyth had outlined in his judgment that Mr Salafia had no legal standing to take the case, that he had been guilty of delay and that under the normal court procedures, the costs followed the event.

They also said that Mr Salafia had failed to provide a scintilla of evidence that national monuments had been discovered on the route and that the issues raised had already been addressed in previous court cases.

Judge Smyth said his ruling on costs would have serious consequences whichever way the decision went. He adjourned the hearing until 11am tomorrow.

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