Battle for rare Irish beauty: Leonard Doyle reports from the Burren, where the EC is accused of 'trying to put a moustache on the Mona Lisa'

THE European Commission, to its intense embarrassment, is facing legal action over its funding of tourist development in the heart of the Burren, Eire, one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Western Europe.

The Burren, in County Clare, is a sanctuary for rare butterflies and the combination of the Gulf stream and a limestone terrain enables Arctic and Mediterranean plants to grow side by side. Every spring the area is ablaze with such flowers as the spring gentian, the mountain avens and the bloody craneshill.

The Commission, which was persuaded by Ray MacSharry, Ireland's former EC commissioner, to release funds for tourist development, is being challenged in the European Court by environmental groups, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

The dispute - over a plan for a Ir pounds 3.75m visitors' centre at Mullaghmore Mountain in the heart of the Burren - has also caused acrimony in the hills of North Clare and threatens the future of Ireland's first partnership government between Fianna Fail and Labour.

Environmentalists fear that Ireland, which is due Ir pounds 8bn of EC funds to develop mass tourism and improve the road networks, will eventually be ruined by motorways and theme parks.

But Fianna Fail has umbilical links to the construction industry and, locally, there is powerful support for a project that will create jobs.

The Labour party is caught in the middle, vigorously opposing the scheme but fearful of seeming to put the environment before jobs. Dr Moosajee Bhamjee, the newly-elected Labour representative for Clare, and Ireland's first Indian-born politician, dared not attend a public meeting last week.

Environmentalists say that coachloads of tourists will climb Mount Mullaghmore, trampling on orchids that take decades to become established. They will also scatter aluminium cans on the rocks and drop plastic crisp bags and sweet wrappers in an environment which has been pristine and quiet for millennia.

They are particularly worried about the sensitive ecosystem of the turlough (disappearing lake) at the foot of the mountain. The lake, which fills and empties through a series of rushing underground rivers, is the most important example of its kind in Europe.

'Putting a visitors' centre here is like putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa,' a local campaigner said.

What especially angers the protesters is that Fianna Fail ensured that contracts - awarded to major contributors to party funds - were signed to start development on the very day that a High Court hearing began in Dublin. The Office of Public Works has quietly purchased 2,000 acres of land in recent years and has refused to consider moving the centre or combining it with the restored 16th century abbey at nearby Leameneh.

'We operate on the basis of nods and winks,' says Jim Kemmy, chairman of the Labour party, commenting on the way public money is spent in Ireland.

But the Burren is as famous for emigration to America as for its mystical beauty. In this traditionally hungry area, people are glad of jobs. Chris Flynn, spokesman for the Office of Public Works, compares the protesters to William Wordsworth who, in the 19th century, feared that a railway near his Lake District retreat would bring an invasion of 'unwashed masses'.

'The Burren is made of limestone,' he said. 'You'll break your ankle on it before you'll affect the actual limestone.' If damage was being done to the area, it was by what he described as 'postgraduate bloody students, some of whom are from that side of the pond (Britain) who think they've a God-given right to take samples home with them'.

Last week, Dublin's High Court ordered the suspension of work on this and several other EC-funded projects. However, work has been proceeding at breakneck speed. Ten-foot high walls have been built and car parks laid out over rare geological formations of limestone paving.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links