Environment lights the way forward on access to information

26 November 2013: The right to information, as enshrined by the Aarhus Convention, is an emerging good news story in what has been a dim situation surrounding freedom of information in Ireland.The Aarhus Convention guarantees your right to easily obtain information on the environment or on human health issues that are affected by the environment. It guarantees your right to participate in decision-making on the environment, and access to justice at a cost which isn’t prohibitive. It places an onus on public authorities to make relevant information readily available without it even being requested.
‘Looking back, it’s obvious that a lack of access to information and a lack of public participation in decision-making has led to public anger on issues such as wind turbines, fracking, pylons and incinerators,’

said Michael Ewing, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar. He also mentioned other examples, including super salmon farms, genetically modified organisms, and oil and gas activities.

‘Now that Ireland has ratified the Aarhus Convention and is subject to its compliance mechanisms, I expect to see a shift in the culture of information provision and consultation by public authorities. If not, we may find that the Convention quickly becomes a major avenue to contest the government’s handling of environmental issues,’
Mr Ewing continued.
This week, the Environmental Pillar will hold training events for lawyers, activists and government officials on the Aarhus Convention and its compliance mechanisms. Professor Jerzy Jendroska, a member of the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention, is in Dublin to help deliver the training – the first time that such training has been available in Ireland.
In addition, public workshops will be held in Galway on Saturday 30 November (10:30am to 4:30pm in the Menlo Park Hotel) and in Dublin on Saturday 7 December (10am to 4pm in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Golden Lane). The workshops will help ordinary citizens to understand their rights and to access information on the environment. The format will involve inputs from environmental lawyers and activists with expertise in this area. The three pillars of the Convention – information, participation and justice – will be discussed as well as a detailed case study.
The workshops are free but registration is required by emailing roadshow@ien.ie.
The full name for the Aarhus Convention is the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
Ireland ratified the Aarhus Convention in June 2012. On 18 September 2013, Ireland became subject to the Aarhus Convention Compliance mechanism.