THE GOVERNMENT has broken EU law by failing to conduct environmental impact assessments before allowing work to start on private road projects.
The European Union’s highest court has also ruled that the Irish public is being denied its right under EU law to appeal against developments that could have a significant effect on the environment without facing prohibitive legal costs.
In a judgment yesterday, the European Court of Justice said the practice whereby Irish courts could choose to waive legal costs for an unsuccessful party appealing on environmental grounds did not conform to European law.
The court said it “is merely a discretionary practice on the part of the courts” and could not be regarded as “valid implementation of the obligations arising from” EU directives dating from 1985 and 2003.
The EU directives set out that the procedures established by governments for appealing projects on the basis that they may have a significant effect on the environment should not be “prohibitively expensive”. They form part of a series of EU laws passed over the past three decades aimed at giving the public more rights to participate in the planning project for developments.
The ruling from the European Court of Justice could prompt a major reform of Irish law regarding the financing of planning appeals on environmental grounds.
A spokesman for Minister for the Environment John Gormley said he welcomed the clarification given by the court.
“It is a complex judgment that relates to agencies and bodies outside the Department of the Environment,” Mr Gormley said. “We will engage proactively with the Attorney General and other State agencies to see how best we can implement the judgment.”
The Government said the first part of the judgment, related to not conducting environmental impact assessments before work began on private road projects, had been addressed by the Government.
It has also pledged to try to address a third complaint upheld by the European Court of Justice against a lack of public participation in the planning consent processes handled by agencies such as the Office of Public Works and the Department of Agriculture.
The court found that there were not adequate opportunities for the public to appeal certain types of projects handled by these departments. It found this was contrary to EU law.
However, the European Commission, which took the case against Ireland, was not successful in arguing several other points where it felt the Government had not properly transposed EU directives into national law. For this reason the court ruled that the commission and the Government should bear their own costs in the case.