There are a number of laws in Ireland that deal with noise and how it should be managed. Some of these laws deal with nuisance noise and give powers to the courts to prevent people from carrying out activities that would regularly cause annoyance to neighbours and people in the area. Other laws deal with environmental noise and how exposure to environmental noise should be managed. The sections below give a quick introduction to these laws and some links to more detailed information.
Environmental Noise Laws
The laws in Ireland that deal with environmental noise are quite new. The European laws to deal with noise as a form of pollution were completed in 2002. These were adopted into Irish law in 2006. These laws outline the approach that will be taken across all European countries to understand and reduce environmental noise. There are a number of different responsibilities for governments and local authorities, all aimed at informing people about environmental noise and reducing the effects of this noise on people all across Europe.
The Environmental Noise Directive
In 2002 the European Union issued a directive (2002/49/EC) to establish a method for dealing with environmental noise. This was called the Environmental Noise Directive, or the END. The main aim of the directive is to put in place a European-wide system for identifying sources of environmental noise, informing the public about relevant noise data and then taking the necessary steps to reduce noise exposure. The basic principles and requirements of the END are summarised below.
All member states are required to develop strategic noise maps describing the noise situation within their territories. These maps must describe the likely environmental noise levels in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, near all major roads with more than 3 million vehicle passages per year, major railways with more than 30,000 train passages per year and airports with more than 50,000 take-off and landing movements per year. In Ireland, this means the agglomerations of Dublin and Cork, Dublin Airport and the major roads and railways that experience these volumes of traffic. The first phase of these noise maps was due by 30th of June 2007 and updated versions are due every five years. Strategic noise maps present noise level data in terms of a relevant noise indicator. This indicator is a scale that noise experts use to try and gauge how much annoyance is caused by a noise source. The purpose of these noise maps is to allow authorities to identify areas where noise limit values have been exceeded, estimate the number of people exposed to environmental noise and evaluate the contribution of various noise sources to the overall noise situation.
Developing action plans
A noise action plan is a policy document from a local authority that consists of detailed information on the measures which the authorities intend to take to tackle any noise issues identified during the noise mapping process. This includes the reduction of noise levels which are judged to be too high and the preservation of quiet areas. Action plans must also include records of public consultation processes and submissions from the public taken into account during the development of the plan. The first sets of action plans were due by 18th July 2008. These plans are also updated every 5 years.
Communicating information to the public
One of the underlying themes throughout the directive is the communication of information about environmental noise and planning to the general public using channels and media that are both suitable and effective. The directive says that the public should be made aware of any noise assessment data, be consulted during the drafting of action plans and informed of any decisions taken. This website is part of the approach that Dublin City Council have taken to involve the public in managing environmental noise. All the information gathered for assessing noise levels and the current action plans are available in the sections of this site.
The focus of the END
The END is aimed at establishing harmonised EU measures to reduce noise emitted by the major sources, in particular road and rail infrastructure, aircraft, outdoor and industrial equipment. It also tries to provide a way of developing community measures concerning environmental noise, by involving the public in decision making and implementing plans. The END only applies to environmental noise, in particular in built-up areas, in public parks or other quiet areas in an agglomeration, in quiet areas in open country, near schools, hospitals and other noise sensitive buildings and areas. It does not apply to noise that is caused by the exposed person himself/herself, noise from domestic activities, noise created by neighbours, noise at work places or noise inside means of transport or due to military activities in military areas.
Noise regulations in Irish law
The END was written into Irish law in 2006, through The Environmental Noise Regulations (Statutory Instrument No. 140 of 2006). This law relates to the assessment and management of environmental noise. They provide for a common approach intended to avoid, prevent or reduce the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise. These regulations do not apply to nuisance noise which can be dealt with under the Environmental Protection Agency Act.
Community noise complaints are dealt with in a different way than environmental noise. Dealing with environmental noise involves looking at long term sources like roads and rail lines and needs longer term planning to manage the effects. Nuisance noise is dealt with under the EPA Act of 1992 and there are clear procedures outlined for assessing and dealing with a noise complaint. Dublin City Council have clear information on their website on how to deal with noise complaints and neighbour noise issues.