Plans for the course at Doonbeg, Co Clare, received planning permission last July after appeals against it from environmental groups failed. Adjacent land has been proposed as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) by the Irish government and it had been claimed that the proposal would destroy a valuable conservation site.
Work was due to start on the golf course early next month, but the European Commission has intervened, delaying the start until it is satisfied about the site's environmental status.
The intervention came after a previously unpublished government-commissioned report came to light detailing the presence of a rare snail, the 2mm Vertigo angustior, or narrow-mouth whorl snail. A study carried out this year, but not made available to the planning authorities, concluded that more than two-thirds of the snail's habitat was not included in the existing SAC. The report recommended that the boundaries of the SAC would need to be redrawn.
The snail is believed to be found at nine sites in Britain: six in England, one in Scotland and two in Wales. There are 10 million of the species at Doonbeg, which is one of 10 protected habitats for it in Ireland.
The discovery has prompted calls from Patricia McKenna, Irish Green MEP, to the European Commission to withdraw Irpounds 2.4m it has earmarked to fund the project planned by Mr Norman - known as the "Great White Shark" of golf.
Friends of the Irish Environment, which obtained the report, claims that an extension of the SAC would stop the golf course going ahead. However, the project has the overwhelming support of the local community, who view it as a lifeline to the economically depressed west Clare region.
A spokeswoman for the Doonbeg Community Development Co said: "There needs to be balance in this argument over the snail. In the last census, the population of west Clare fell by 10 per cent. There are 10 million snails on the site and they will survive and thrive under the management plan being put into place by the developers, as will all of west Clare when the project gets underway."
The European Commission will make a final decision on funding for the project in the next four weeks.Reuse content