Campaigner loses bid to stop ferry project linking Mournes and Cooley regions

The project is to link the Mourne Mountains region with the Cooley mountains in Co Louth
The project is to link the Mourne Mountains region with the Cooley mountains in Co Louth

An environmental campaigner has lost her legal battle to stop a new ferry terminal project linking the Mournes and Cooley mountain regions.

Appeal judges in Belfast upheld the High Court dismissal of Christine Gibson’s challenge to the granting of planning permission and a marine licence for the service across Carlingford Lough.

They also directed that the personal litigant must pay some of the costs of the case.

But Ms Gibson could still attempt to take her fight to the Supreme Court in London.

She was seeking to overturn a ruling that approval for the ferry project between Greencastle, Co Down and Greenore in Co Louth was lawful.

Ms Gibson, who lives close to the site, brought cases against Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Located on a border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the Lough’s two coastlines and surrounding islands contain a range of wildlife including birds, seals, eels, flora and fauna.

In June 2015 the council granted planning permission for the construction of ferry terminal facilities at Pier Road in Greencastle.

A ferry company involved in the project has spent more than 1.5m euros in a bid to get it up and running.

As part of her case Ms Gibson challenged to the Department’s decision making process in granting a marine licence in June last year.

She attacked the adequacy of the environmental statements and stressed the protected status for parts of Carlingford Lough’s coastline and surrounding islands on either side of the peninsula.

In November last year a High Court judge dismissed her bid for a judicial review.

He held there was no expert evidence to contradict the conclusions of environmental impact assessments carried out throughout the process.

But contesting his decision at the Court of Appeal, the campaigner renewed her case and stressed the potential impact of coastal erosion.

She claimed the effect on Greencastle was not highlighted in the planning decision.

However, Lord Justice Gillen, sitting with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, rejected all grounds of challenge.

Describing Ms Gibson’s approach to the litigation as “scattergun”, he stressed that she received a fair hearing throughout the proceedings.

No evidence was produced to suggest the grant of planning permission had been unlawful, the judge held.

Affirming the High Court decision, Lord Justice Gillen said: “Her own assertions. however forcefully and eloquently expressed, were insufficient to produce an arguable case that it was in the public interest to grant leave.”

Lawyers representing the Council and the Department pressed for an award of limited costs, understood to have previously been capped at £3,000 in total.

Ms Gibson urged the court to take into consideration that she has already spent around £3,000 preparing her case.

But pointing out that she knew the potential risks of the litigation, Sir Declan confirmed: “The respondents should have their costs up to the maximum of the amount specified in the order.”