It’s called Aarhus, arsehole!

I apologise for the crude title of this blog. It is an expression of my frustration in having to deal with the sheer thick-headedness of government and EirGrid officials on this question.

As you are no doubt aware, the Aarhus Treaty is a United Nations treaty which sets out how the authorities must consult with the public over environmental matters. It is binding on the EU as a whole, as well as the individual Member States, including (eventually, after a lot of governmental foot-dragging) Ireland.

One of the questions often asked of EirGrid officials is what training did they receive concerning the Aarhus Treaty? The reason why this question is always asked is because of the appalling lack of public consultation by EirGrid when all options were open – in other words, at the beginning of the Grid 25 Project (i.e. when the initial doodles first appeared on somebody’s AutoCad), and of course when the NREAP was first mooted.

The stock reply to this question (accompanied by the trademark smirk) is usually: “I did an Aarhus course a couple of years ago”. This is government-speak for “I looked at a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation prepared by an overpaid consultant whilst watching the hurling on telly”. Given that the NREAP and Grid25 were respectively hatched a lot earlier than ‘a couple of years ago’, I would say you have a problem, matey.

EirGrid still talks about ‘continuing consultation’ but that ship has sailed. At the outset of the hare-brained scheme known as Grid 25, and in relation to the individual projects including GridLink, they made a number of strategic / technical decisions which immediately and severely limited the options available. Thereafter, when the public finally became aware of the Grid 25 projects (through the work of community groups rather than as a result of EirGrid’s ‘publicity’, buried deep within their multilayered website and/or ambiguous notices about ‘public’ meetings in out of way places), the Irish public were presented with a fait accompli.

EirGrid are now purporting to give us a ‘choice’ – overhead or underground, whilst making it abundantly clear that undergrounding is never going to happen. In other words, even the either/or option isn’t really an option. And even this devil’s choice is based on a national policy that was imposed, rather than offered for discussion.

These shenanigans have not gone unnoticed, largely as a result of the heroic efforts of Pat Swords, who was featured in earlier blogs.

On 17 April 2014 the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Europe, which oversees compliance with the Aarhus Treaty, endorsed the findings of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, and so censured the European Union for “not having in place a proper regulatory framework and/or clear instructions to implement article 7 of the Convention with respect to the adoption of National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) by its member States on the basis of Directive 2009/28/EC, has failed to comply with article 7 of the Convention”.

Why is this of particular concern to Ireland? Well, this came about as a result of Pat Swords’ complaint to the UN about the failure of the EU and the Irish Government to properly consult with the Irish public about the NREAP. In essence, the EU has been rebuked by the UN for failing to stop the Irish Government when it first launched the NREAP without bothering to consult with the Irish public.

The UN’s Economic Commission for Europe says that the EU, “by not having properly monitored the implementation by Ireland of article 7 of the Convention in the adoption of Ireland’s NREAP, has also failed to comply with article 7 of the Convention”.


You can read the full Notice here:
http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Documents/Category_I_documents/ECE.MP.PP.2014.L.16_e.pdf

Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention is entitled “PUBLIC PARTICIPATION CONCERNING PLANS, PROGRAMMES AND POLICIES RELATING TO THE ENVIRONMENT” and says that public authorities (Government Departments and City/County Councils) must make “appropriate practical and/or other provisions for the public to participate during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment”.

In other words, the Government of Ireland failed to provide the Irish public with the means and opportunity to consult on the national renewable energy policy (windfarms, windfarms, and more windfarms), before going ahead with its implementation.

This will be important evidence when Pat’s case before the High Court recommences on 23 July 2014.

Best of luck, Pat.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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2 Responses to It’s called Aarhus, arsehole!

  1. Des Murphy says:

    Fair play to you, keep up the good work , im sure Eirgrid have employed a team to monitor your comments. Its good to see you are letting fly , don’t apologise for any crude remarks, this is an emotive issue for all of us.

    • Thanks Des. I feel that if we are not professional in our dealings with EirGrid, that will just provide another opportunity for them to point fingers and divert attention away from their own unprofessional and unethical behaviour. Every now and then though it is good to remind them that their attitude of ‘it’s nothing personal, we just have a job to do’, just doesn’t cut the mustard – we are talking about our children, our families, our communities, and our beautiful countryside – so this is a hell of a lot more than ‘just a job’. Thanks for your support. Spread the word. My fear is that I am preaching to the converted. We need to get our message out to the general Irish public, where there is still a high level of ignorance. With EirGrid’s billion euro budget they have a mighty propoganda machine which we need to fight hard against.

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