Monday 24 January 2011

Environment and human rights code to be ratified soon, says Gormley

THE GOVERNMENT is due to ratify a key international convention linking environmental and human rights which had been promised by the Green Party over three years ago.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley expects to secure ratification of the Aarhus Convention “very shortly” which would allow for the public right to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice on environmental matters.

Ireland signed the convention on June 25th, 1998, but is the only EU state still to ratify it.

The convention, named after the Danish city of Aarhus, has been described by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as “the most ambitious venture in the area of environmental democracy so far undertaken under the auspices of the UN”.

Failure to ratify its provisions has hindered Government attempts to handle the Corrib gas project in a democratic manner, according to Sister Majella McCarron of the Table human rights group.

In a recent Table report she said if the convention was fully implemented, people would not have to protest and risk arrest to highlight a lack of information on authorisations for various works.

Friends of Irish Environment (FIE) spokesman Tony Lowes said he had no doubt that the convention had been a major priority of the Green Party since entering the Government with Fianna Fáil in 2007.

He said the fact that it had taken over three years to ratify “shows the degree to which civil servants will frustrate the green message”.

Mr Gormley’s department was obliged to consult in detail with every other department, and Mr Lowes believes there was an attempt to stall the ratification procedure at every stage.

“It is unfair to blame John Gormley for this one, though I also personally believe it will not be ratified before the next government is formed.”

Mr Gormley has said “ratification of the convention is a matter of the highest priority, and my department is working closely with the Office of the Attorney General in order to finalise this process”.

His department has said that progress was “closely aligned with work at EU level” on adopting two directives related to public access to environmental information and public participation in “certain environmental decision-making procedures”.

It said that several new pieces of legislation were also necessary to transpose the Public Participation Directive and these “have been completed over a number of years”.

“The judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland in case C427/07, concerning non-notification of the Public Participation Directive, also necessitated additional legislative amendments which have now been finalised and signed into law,” the department said.

These included section 33 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010, and a number of other regulations.

The department said the planning Act provision aimed to ensure that access to justice must not be “prohibitively expensive”.

Relevant public bodies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, will be obliged to ensure under statute that practical information is made available to the public in relation to certain consents, such as integrated pollution prevention control licences.

Irish Times

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