On the second day of a High Court case about Lough Neagh Sand extraction, Friends of the Earth were accused of “grossly overstating” the impact of the unauthorised work.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is contesting a case over the former DOE minister’s decision not to stop sand dredging - which does not have planning permission.
Speaking for the defence, a barrister claimed that sand dredging was not listed as a potential threat on one UK scheme that gave Lough Neagh protection, while on another key EU scheme, it was listed as “not a major threat” to its protected status.
Lough Neagh is an internationally recognised bird sanctuary with a number of environmental protections.
Durkan’s decision to issue an enforcement notice meant the sand companies could appeal and continue working, pending the outcome.
But the barrister for the department argued that traders had regular contact with the authorities over their operations.
“There was nothing clandestine or hidden,” he said.
Given some of the “hyperbole” employed in the case, he added: “You would think the world is about to end in terms of the ecology of Lough Neagh”.
On the opening day of the case, a barrister for Friends of the Earth said no reasonable minister could have made the decision not to immediately halt the dredging as it is in breach of planning regulations and EU laws protecting birds and habitats.
Under European law, development should not be allowed in sensitive areas unless it is proven to present no risk.
It was claimed that the so-called “precautionary principle” had not been satisfied in this case.
A desktop study, prepared by the department, had found that the impact of dredging was “probably negligible”.
But counsel for Friends of the Earth claimed the report was not exhaustive and contained “major important gaps” in the potential impact of sand extraction.