So you say you wanna Revolution?

peaceful protest

“You say you want a revolution

Well, you know

We all want to change the world

You tell me that it’s evolution

Well, you know

We all want to change the world



You say you’ll change the constitution

Well, you know

We all want to change your head

You tell me it’s the institution

Well, you know

You’d better free your mind instead.”


“Revolution” The Beatles (1968)


At this time of year we in Ireland remember those brave men and women of the Easter Uprising. Whilst it is a huge event in Irish history, and the penultimate milestone in throwing off the English colonial yoke, it might be argued that the real revolution is yet to happen. The revolution of the mind. A fundamental change in how people think, and more specifically a fundamental change in how people think about those that govern them.

I am teaching in Germany at the moment, which is why this blog has not been published as regularly as it should be. However, Pat Swords published something the other day about the Swedish model of public participation, and that got me thinking about the docile nature of Irish politics, and how we just process the shit that politicians spew out, either accepting it or rejecting it, but never really providing an alternative version of our own.

Pat suggested that the key reason that Sweden was so successful, and this goes for the Nordic countries in general, is that the citizen is empowered by interacting in a transparent manner with local structures, in which there are strong checks and balances in relation to the decisions being made in that area. Hence, in that part of the world the citizen isn’t as frustrated with the political system, or with what is perceived as the injustices and corruption integral to the State apparatus. If an injustice is perceived, the citizen body will kick up a racket, supported by an investigative press, and things will happen. This is not to say that Sweden is a perfect political model, but when you compare it to Ireland, where all decisions are centralised and determined by (the inner sanctum of) the Cabinet and the Party Whip, and of course kept as far away from the citizen as possible (on a buried layer in a website, for example), it is certainly a far better model.

And what do we do? We moan and grumble for a couple of days, curse the cute hoors, and then live with it until the next mess comes along.

Pat further argued that public participation was around in those Nordic countries long before Aarhus, which is why the Aarhus Treaty was never a major issue with these countries, as it simply confirmed what was there already. On the other hand, successive governments (and the courts) have resisted and restricted and effectively hamstrung the Aarhus Treaty and its implementation in Ireland every step of the way.

The system of challenging planning decisions is also fundamentally more transparent and fair than the Irish model of appealing to the now infamous and thoroughly discredited An Bord Pleanala, followed by a judicial review on the narrowest grounds known in our law.

Contrast the Swedish model:

Appeal and administrative review

A final administrative decision may be appealed. A municipal decision is generally appealed to the regional county administrative board, and further to the land and environmental courts. The decision of a higher authority is, however, generally appealed to the land and environmental courts directly. The above-described governmental decisions may be subject to a specific judicial review procedure before the Supreme Administrative Court (Act 2006:304).

An administrative decision may also be reviewed by the original decision-making authority, independently of the appeal. The administrative authority has a legal duty (FL 27 §) to change a clearly incorrect decision, at least if such correction is simple and quick, but the decision cannot be to the detriment of other parties. This administrative review procedure is therefore of limited use in cases involving several parties of conflicting interests. Administrative review can be made in response to an application or on the authority’s own initiative. Administrative appeal is submitted to the decision-making authority for forwarding to the appellate body. This system provides opportunity for review and hence correcting an incorrect decision without having to go to court. In environmental cases there is no obligation to apply for such review before appealing an administrative decision.

The administrative appeals procedure in Sweden is as a rule reformatory and one of full appeal. This means that the administrative courts decide cases on the merits as well as legality of the appealed administrative decision, and that they can replace the appealed decision with a new one. Within the limits of the claim, the court takes on the role of the authority that made the appealed decision, and thus in principle acts as a public authority making an administrative decision. The ultimate responsibility for the investigation of the case rests with the court according to the “ex officio principle”. The point of departure is that the original decision-making authority should have ensured sufficient decision-making material, but if needed the court has to take on this responsibility. They should therefore look beyond the appealed decision and scrutinise the decision-making materials. The court may then order the parties to provide materials, or they can acquire it themselves. “

( )


What a difference to our closed and effectively dead-end system, which is cost-prohibitive to most ordinary people. Can you imagine what our environmental groups could achieve, given the number of people with a good focused knowledge of environmental compliance, and not necessarily a lawyer or somebody with deep enough pockets to be able to afford a lawyer? We could really put the brakes on unsuitable development and the rape of our countryside.

What does the same person get here in Ireland? Sleepless nights and a permanent state of mental and physical exhaustion, brought about by the constant banging of your head against the bureaucratic brick wall.

And what else does active citizen participation bring, apart from a cleaner and healthier countryside? It brings happiness. There are five Nordic countries in the top 10 happiest countries of the world, in positions 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10. I deliberately chose Sweden as they are at number 10. In other words the system of civic participlation in the least happiest Nordic country is still way better than ours! See

So let us have a proper revolution, a revolution of the mind, of our attitudes, of getting off our arses and demanding greater transparency. This is the existing EU law, it is not a theoretical pipe-dream. However, it remains a pipe-dream unless we as citizens demand that it is properly implemented.

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 full-time practice in 2002 to take up a 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). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
This entry was posted in An Bord Pleanala; appeal; interested parties, Democracy; Ireland; Fine Gael; Labour; Sinn Fein; Workers; Constitution, Easter Uprising, 1916 Revolution, Independence, IRA., Freedom of Information; Access to Environmental Information; AIE; Commissioner for Environmental Information, lobbying; democracy; political process; general election, Pat Swords, Planning and Development Act 2000; guidelines; directives; Sections 28 & 29, Press Freedom, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters; Aarhus Convention; Aarhus Treaty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to So you say you wanna Revolution?

  1. Pingback: So you say you wanna Revolution? | Mothers Against Wind Turbines Inc.

  2. I just read this article and it is excellent and sooooooooooooooooooo right.

  3. Pat Swords says:


    I would also recommend that people have a dip into the short and sharp information for various Member States and application countries on the EU website below:

    It is fascinating and yet so simple, as it is all about the Division of Powers, in other words where are the decisions being made and by who! You got to love that, haven’t you – how different States organise the ‘string pulling’.

    I can remember also reading an article in which an astute business man in middle Europe, from a long standing and successful run family business, which had operated so for several generations, was wryly pointing out that the first rule or politics, was the same as the second, third, etc.: “In that the greater your ability as a politician to leverage taxes, assets, etc., from the citizens, the greater your power in its redistribution”. So have a read and a chew on the below:

    Then the glorious State, whose foundation we were meant to celebrate and embrace on Sunday:

    “The central government has full legislative powers. Moreover, it exercises the bulk of administrative powers due to the very low degree of autonomy enjoyed by the devolved authorities and the strict supervision of the lower tiers of government. Proposals on reform of local and regional government structures are being prepared, with an underlying commitment to allow for much greater decision-making to local people”.

    Of course we know that the last sentence, which dates to 2012, was a complete and utter porky – sure doesn’t the system work perfectly, there is after all absolutely nothing like it anywhere else in Europe, why would they want to change the best system in Europe for allowing a few ‘string pullers’ in the cabinet to run the whole State apparatus, as a delivery system for whatever stupidity / scam is their current flavour? Sure wasn’t that something worth celebrating on a fine Easter Sunday morning, the best State in not only Western Europe, but in all Europe?

    But you really got to laugh at the last section of the Irish explanation on Division of Powers:

    “While central government has encroached upon the powers of local authorities by establishing various agencies with supervisory and legislative powers, there has been an easing of central control in areas such as staffing, budget control and financial allocations”.

    Amazing, when you control all the big decision making going on in the town, why would you be preoccupied with hiring and firing the administrative assistants? After all they are locked in to the system now and regulated by computerised means of reporting, etc. No point in getting carried away with the small stuff, such as the window dressing, when nothing significant moves or shifts in the town without your say so.

    You would really have to burst out laughing at the whole thing, even the Albanians don’t even try to pull a stunt like this. Unfortunately, it’s not such a laughing matter in reality, as it is deadly serious and leaving a God awful mess around the place. Yet so many people though struggle when I try and explain to then, it doesn’t matter if you shift the around the various ‘string pullers’ every five years or so, no change will actually happen until there is a complete root and branch reform of the whole State structures. This failed State structure, for that is what it is and has proven itself to be, needs to be revolutionised, a simple revolution in fact, just turn it around 180 degrees.

    To explain that simple revolutionary concept, if we had the worst system in Europe for delivering what the ‘string pullers’ at central level wanted, I would embrace it and indeed celebrate that State. Indeed, there is a certain State in the centre of Europe, never destroyed by two world wars, with successful economic and social infrastructure, if you have a ‘printing press’ with you, you will enjoy a wonderful holiday there. You can’t find an explanation of its division of powers on the EU website above, but there is a webpage which explains its division of powers:

    “Switzerland’s political system: The People are the highest political authority in the Swiss state. This fundamental principle characterises the entire Swiss political system. Swiss citizens can bring their opinions to bear at federal, cantonal and communal levels: they can vote on a wide variety of issues and elect their representatives to the Federal Assembly”.

    Nowhere is perfect, but some have greater checks and balances and that helps them stay more on the ‘straight and narrow’. Maybe the lesson to be learnt is simple, civil society is not without its talents and properly harnessed, particularly at local level, these can really energise and contribute to both effective decision-making and the development of that local level. After all look around you at the various talents in your community and compare and contrast with the pantomime, which is fed to us on RTE, etc. about our wonderful central Government and its wonderfully gifted ‘string pullers’ on ‘our behalf’. Does the penny not drop, why on God’s earth should they be pulling all the strings?

    In my early days working in Romania, which was only barely ten years after the revolution, my Romanian colleagues explained to me one day that most Romanians didn’t watch much television, as when they were growing up, all they had was Caesceau 1 and 2. In other words programmes about what he, or those like him, had done for that day. I could only laugh and explain gently to them that it wasn’t a whole lot different back home. Indeed, I can honestly say I don’t watch Kenny 1 and 2 either unless there is a good Rugby match on.

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