Ireland in trouble with Aarhus – again

windaware ireland

Many thanks to Wind Aware Ireland for this very informative update:


30th August, 2019

A panel of legal experts has found that Irish planning law is non-compliant with requirements under an international convention to allow the public to participate in the decision-making process for projects that may significantly affect the environment.

The landmark finding from the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) concerns Section 42(1) of the Planning and Development Act (PDA) that allows for planning permission to be extended beyond its original expiry date without any public participation in the renewal process.

The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement that gives a number of rights of the public with regard to the environment, including the right to participate in certain environmental decision-making. The Convention entered into force in 2001 and was ratified by the EU in 2005. Ireland became the last individual EU state to ratify the Convention in June 2012.

Section 42 allows Local Authorities to essentially rubber stamp time extensions to valid planning permission without any further input from the public. There is effectively no discretion to refuse the extension so long as basic technical requirements are met. There is no opportunity for the public or expert public bodies to provide their input.

The requirement in the Convention effectively recognises the need to allow the public to have a voice in light of the changed timeframes and environmental conditions since the original planning decision was made by the Local Authority.

Thus, in its decision released this week, the Committee found that Section 42 is not compliant with the Aarhus Convention as it does not comply with the obligation to provide for effective public participation rights. This is the first finding by the Committee that Ireland is not compliant with the Convention.

The Committee recommended that Ireland now takes the necessary legislative measures to ensure that permits for activities that may impact on the environment cannot be extended without first giving the public an opportunity to participate in the decision making process.


Case Background

The case that led to the ACCC’s decision was brought in November 2013 by Kieran Cummins of Enfield, Co Meath concerning planning consent granted to John Keegan Quarries by Meath County Council in 1998 to develop a quarry on 8.5 hectares in Trammon.

On 30 May 2013, the developer submitted applications to extend the duration of three permits granted to it in 1998, 2004 and 2010 before expiry in August 2013. The public was not notified of these applications.

According to Mr Cummins, he only became aware of the extension granted while searching the website of the planning authority for an unrelated file in September 2013. As there was no means of appealing the matter to An Bord Pleanála under Irish planning law, the only means to challenge the decision is via a judicial review challenge through the courts.

The judicial review process is a timely and costly route that most citizens cannot offer to take. In addition, Section 42 challenges are effectively limited to only technical procedural matters.

The ACCC findings say that it is “obvious” that the judicial review process, as the only available domestic legal remedy in such cases, “does not provide an effective and sufficient means of redress” for the public to challenge permit extensions.

The case was the first brought before the ACCC since Ireland ratified the Convention. A further eight cases have since been brought against Ireland. Two were deemed inadmissible, and the rest are still in process.


Section 42 criticism

Section 42 of the PDA originally only allowed for an extension of planning permission if substantial works had already commenced on the site.

Following the economic crash when many developers had to abandon projects, an amendment (often referred to as the NAMA clause) was introduced that allows for extension in cases where no work has commenced for economic or technical reasons.

In both circumstances, there is no opportunity for the public to make submissions in the extension decision-making process, even where the project may have an impact on the environment.

Critics have called the process a box-ticking and rubber stamping administrative exercise as planning authorities have no discretion to refuse the request so long as the development meets basic technical requirements.

Critics also argue that this is a flawed process as the planning authority does not have to factor into its decision-making process changes to the environment over the five or ten year period.

Such changes may mean that the impact of the project is significantly different from those considered in the original application process and might now require new management and mitigation plans in order to ensure that that there is no significant impact on the environment.

In addition, the planning authority is not even in a position to attach new conditions to the permission except in relation to financial security issues linked to the completion of the project. They cannot add new conditions that take account of changes in regulations, standards or environmental circumstances over the years since the original permission was granted.



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 Democracy; Ireland; Fine Gael; Labour; Sinn Fein; Workers; Constitution, EU Renewable Energy 2020 Target, Freedom of Information; Access to Environmental Information; AIE; Commissioner for Environmental Information, judicial review; Wednesbury Test; O'Keeffe; rationality; Separation of Powers, NREAP; National Renewable Energy Action Plan; EU Commission; Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee; ACCC, Planning and Development Act 2000; guidelines; directives; Sections 28 & 29, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters; Aarhus Convention; Aarhus Treaty, The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ireland in trouble with Aarhus – again

  1. conormhayes says:

    Neil, interesting post.

    I guess an implicit breach of Aarhus would be where a quarry is granted planning permission in, say, 1987 with no stated date of expiry – and seems to have a license to operate in perpetuity.

    Let’s say our quarry has changed hands a few times, been dormant for a few years, and then springs into intense extraction mode 33 years later, under new ownership

    In this time, no extension has been sought or granted, but enforcement officials point to the original permission from 1987.

    Surely this is a thwarting of the Aarhus Convention by maintaining a extraction permission in perpetuity? In our quarry example, the usage was described in 1987 as ‘occasional’. Now it is daily and intensive – but as no fresh permission has been sought, public participation has been denied a say in the intensification.

    It seems that there are quite a few developments operating on such ancient permissions.

    • Neil van Dokkum says:

      Hi Conor
      This does not strike me as an Aarhus breach, but rather an abuse of the planning process. You would need to have sight of the original permission, and particularly the conditions imposed at the time of permission. I know nothing about permission for quarries but the idea of permission in perpetuity strikes me as wrong. Perhaps somebody that knows more about this could comment?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s