1 Feburary 2013: A new Report from the EU due to be made public in the coming days will make stringent criticisms of Ireland’s complaint-handling mechanisms relating to EU environmental law.
According to the ‘Study on environmental complaint-handling and mediation mechanisms at national level’, environmental complaint procedures in Ireland are ‘not established by law, nor are they directly regulated by any legal provision establishing rights and obligations.’
The high number of regulatory agencies in Ireland and their overlapping responsibilities ‘adds some complexity to the picture’.
Ireland is censured for having
· No structured complaints procedure for complaints about nature protection and conservation
· No set benchmarks relating to the performance of complaint-handling mechanisms of the EPA or local authorities
· No formal complaint-handling system at all for the National Standards Authority of Ireland [authority for eco labels]
· No independent body with enforcement powers over local authorities’ failures in the planning permission stage
· The Ombudsman lacks jurisdiction over the EPA, described as ‘One of the pitfalls in terms of fairness’
· No independent body to review third party objections to the EPA’s IPPC and Waste licensing activities
· No legal protection to whistleblowers in the context of reports on breaches of environmental law.
· A failure to actively provide feedback to complainants ‘negatively affects the trust of civil society on the willingness of local authorities to enforce environmental law’
The authors note that ‘Ireland is a small country and at local level often local authorities’ officials personally know landowners and other persons against whom an environmental complaint is directed’. The Report states that ‘problems in this regard have only been raised in relation to Ireland’.
While praising recent changes in the system which have succeeded in making environmental complaints easily accessible to the public, the Report regrets that a mediation mechanism in the field of environmental law (ELIG) which is under development ‘has not yet been operational in practice.’
The environmental group FIE have published the Report on its website and sent a copy to the Minister for Environment, seeking his response to the criticisms.
A spokesman said that the most serious faults ‘have been identified again and again. The only difference is that now its official.’