Minister for the Environment John Gormley has been challenged to publish any advice he received from the Attorney General suggesting the Minister has no power to overturn the order permitting the destruction of a national monument on the route of the M3 at Lismullen, Co Meath.
The challenge came from the Labour Party spokesman on the environment, Eamon Gilmore, who said there was nothing to justify the Minister's statement that he was legally bound by the decision of his predecessor, Dick Roche.
"Indeed it is not at all clear that Mr Gormley ever actually received a written opinion from the Attorney General, as the statement he issued last week justifying his decision not to overturn Mr Roche's decision referred only to
having 'consulted with the Office of the Attorney General'. However, one would have thought that on an issue of such importance a formal written opinion would be required," Mr Gilmore said.
He added that Mr Gormley's statement on the case confined itself to setting out reasons in favour of an argument that Dick Roche was correct to authorise the excavation and subsequent destruction of the national monument there.
"He may or may not be correct in that opinion, but it is clearly not the opinion shared by a great many Green Party members, environmental activists and others concerned with our archaeological heritage. An opinion that Dick Roche's decision can be justified on policy grounds is not at all the same thing as an opinion that, as a matter of law, his decision is written in stone and cannot be reversed or amended," Mr Gilmore said.
He added that there was nothing in the statement that justified the argument that Mr Gormley was legally bound by the decision of his predecessor and it was clear that the Minister had arrived at this view before he consulted the Attorney General.
"The idea that the decision on Lismullen was a 'quasi-judicial' one is misconceived and seems designed to confuse and distract from the real issue. If a quasi-judicial function was being performed, there would have had to have been a hearing, with an obligation to hear arguments both for and against destruction at Lismullen, before the decision was made. In fact there was no such hearing - because it was not a quasi-judicial process at all.
"Each Government Minister is not only entitled but obliged to bring his or her own policies, principles and mandate to bear on decisions made in office. Minister Gormley chose not to do so.
"The public is entitled to see whatever legal advice, if any, was available to Minister Gormley, when he decided not to take any action to overturn the order made by Dick Roche," concluded Mr Gilmore.
© 2007 The Irish Times