There are two main types of noise that can cause a nuisance and the legislation that deals with such noise. Various bodies have roles as regards complaints about different types or sources of noise – these are described under the relevant headings below.
The main piece legislation is the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, which defines environmental pollution as including noise that is a nuisance, or that would endanger human health or damage property or damage the environment. It provides for various actions to be taken to prevent or limit noise pollution. Local authorities have powers under the Act to require measures to be taken to prevent or limit noise, and you can report a noise nuisance to the Environment Section of the relevant local authority.
In addition, regulations made under the Act provide direct access to the courts by individuals or groups who are concerned about excessive noise.
Noise from commercial premises, processes or works
The Act gives power to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take steps to ensure compliance with the terms of a notice to control noise in relation to any premises, process or works and to recover the cost of such an action. The EPA can require the person or body to take specific measures to prevent or limit noise. Anyone required to take such specific measures by the EPA must do so or face prosecution.
Local authorities have similar powers to the EPA in relation to premises, processes and works other than those that require licensing under the Act. The local authority may serve a notice on the person in charge of, for example, pubs, discos, processes or works. This notice requires the person in charge to take whatever measures are set out in the notice in order to prevent or limit noise. The local authority may prosecute for failure to comply with the notice. Alternatively, it may take steps itself to ensure compliance and then recover the costs of these from the person in charge.
Pubs can only sell liquor if they have a licence, which is renewed annually by the courts. Anyone may object to the granting of a licence on various grounds, including that the activity of the premises was not being conducted in a peaceable and orderly manner.
Environmental noise means unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise from transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, and from sites of industrial activity. The Directive applies to noise to which humans are exposed, particularly in built-up areas, public parks or other quiet areas within built-up areas, and in quiet areas in open country, near schools, hospitals and other noise-sensitive buildings and areas. It does not apply to noise from domestic activities, noise created by neighbours, noise at workplaces or noise inside means of transport or due to military activities in military areas.
Under the Directive, local authorities are required to make action plans to reduce ambient noise. The EPA exercises general supervision over the functions and actions of the local authorities in this aspect of their work.
When granting planning permission, the local authority has the power to provide that conditions in relation to noise prevention or reduction be included in the permission. These conditions may apply to the construction phase and/or to the subsequent use of the building. You can appeal to An Bord Pleanála against any such requirements (or the absence of them).
Transport and workplace noise
Noise from motor vehicles
The Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 1963 require vehicles to be fitted with a silencer or other device suitable for reducing to a reasonable level noise caused by the escape of exhaust gases from the engine and they prohibit use of a vehicle that causes any excessive noise in a public place. The National Car Test (NCT) includes an assessment of the effectiveness of the silencer in reducing exhaust-related noise.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is responsible for controlling noise from aircraft. The EU rules on noise at large airports are implemented in Ireland by the European Communities (Air Navigation and Transport Rules and Procedures for Noise Related Operating Restrictions at Airports) Regulations 2003.
Complaints under the EPA Act
While the law does not specifically mention an exact level or standard of noise that is illegal, it is clear that if neighbourhood noise is affecting your quality of life, then you have a right to complain. If you plan to complain about excessive noise, it is generally recommended that you keep a detailed diary of the times when it occurred, the duration and, if possible, the levels involved.
You should first approach the person or business causing the noise, explain that it is a nuisance and try to come to a mutually acceptable solution.
Applying to the District Court
If this does not work, the Act allows any person, a local authority or the EPA to complain to the District Court about a noise that is ‘so loud, so continuous, so repeated, of such duration or pitch or occurring at such times as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to a person in any premises in the neighbourhood or to a person lawfully using any public place’ and seek an order to deal with the noise nuisance.
Consult the Clerk of the local District Court about an appointment for the hearing of your case. You will need to refer exactly to the legislation under which you are making the complaint – Section 108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Environmental Protection Agency Act (Noise) Regulations 1994.
At least 7 days before the date for the hearing of your case, you must serve notice on the person or business you are complaining about, using the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 – noise form of notice. It is important to use this form of notice only and to complete it fully and accurately.
A person making noise in the course of trade or business may have a defence if it can be shown that all reasonable care was taken to prevent the noise or that the noise is in accordance with a licence issued under the Act.
If the court finds in your favour, it can order the person or body making, causing or responsible for the noise to take measures to prevent or limit the noise. Any such orders must be complied with.