18th December

Environmental democracy is still a long way off

"The Irish public are unlikely to accept that their rights to access information, to participate in decision-making and of access to justice regarding the environment are being delivered, according to the Environmental Pillar, an advocacy coalition of 27 national environemntal NGOs. 

But that is what they are being told in the government's Aarhus Convention National Implementation Report under which it is supposed to vindicate those rights, says spokesperson, David Healy.

Lough-Dan

Lough Dan, Co Wicklow. 'Public involvement in environmental decision making is being largely ignored'. Photo Gillian Mills

"A great deal of effort by the Department of Environment was put into trying to bring legislation and practice into line with the Convention prior to its ratification by Ireland in 2012, however there are still huge gaps in its implementation," he adds.

 "While some public authorities have worked hard to involve the public in the decisions they are making regarding the environment, others are still ignoring the public's right to be involved at the earliest possible stage and before any decision has been made.

According to Healy, in many cases, public authorities are still not proactively providing environmental information, and are not living up to their responsibilities to provide information on request.

"When this happens, the appeals process through the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information often takes over a year to deliver a decision. Some Government Departments still operate on a 'need to know' basis when it comes to environmental information. This adds to the difficulties for the public in participating in decision-making," he says.

Particular difficulties with information and participation are evident in important and controversial areas such as aquaculture and energy policies, Healy contends.

"We welcome the fact that efforts have been made to provide better access to justice in a limited number of areas of environmental law. Nevertheless, in many areas, access to justice still operates like the Ritz hotel: anyone can enter the lobby, but only the wealthy can afford to stay there."

Further reading: Irish citizens finally have enforceable rights under environmental directive (II8.6 2012)

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