Landmark High Court decision recognises environmental rights in our Constitution

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Immediate Release

Ireland’s leading environmental coalition warmly welcomes the High Court’s recognition of environmental rights in the Irish Constitution.

In a judgement earlier today, Mr Justice Barrett recognised for the first time a constitutional right to environmental protection “that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large”. [1]

In his judgement, Mr Justice Barrett said that such a right “is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights”.

The Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – views the judgement as a significant step forward for citizens’ rights and represents a special moment in Irish judicial history.

The Pillar has previously called for a referendum to give a constitutional right to environmental protection to the people of Ireland in its submission for the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. [2] [3]

Michael Ewing, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:

“This recognition of environmental rights in the Irish Constitution should encourage politicians to take real long-term action to tackle environmental issues and ensure that those actions are not diluted with the change of guard at Dáil Éireann every five years.

“Let’s now use the Constitution to set the bar for environmental protection in this country.”

Donna Mullen, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar, and a former cardiac physiologist for 25 years, said:

“This constitutional approach could yield benefits to our economy, society, and most importantly, health. Already 1,200 people are dying prematurely from air pollution in Ireland each year, with over 150,000 deaths across the globe already attributed to climate change every year. [4] [5]

“During my career in medicine I witnessed first-hand the effects of air pollution on my patients, and it is heart-breaking to see.

“Today’s High Court judgement could prove to be a game changer and raise the bar against which Government’s decisions and policy actions of the future can be measured.

ENDS

[1] The judgement was made today in relation to a challenge brought by Friends of the Irish Environment against a decision to grant the Dublin Airport Authority a five-year extension to a 2007 planning permission for the construction of a third runway at Dublin Airport. In his judgment, Mr Justice Barrett said: “A right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights. It is an indispensable existential right that is enjoyed universally, yet which is vested personally as a right that presents and can be seen always to have presented, and to enjoy protection, under Article 40.3.1 of the Constitution. It is not so utopian a right that it can never be enforced.”

[2] Citizens’ Assembly, How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/How-the-State-can-make-Ireland-a-leader-in-tackling-climate-change/

[3] Link to submission: http://environmentalpillar.ie/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Pillar-Submission-The-Citizens-Assembly-on-Climate-Action.pdf

[4] Environmental Protection Agency, State of the Environment Report 2016: http://www.epa.ie/media/Chapter2_Air.pdf

[5] Health and Environment Linkages Initiative of the WHO and UNEP: http://www.who.int/heli/risks/climate/climatechange/en/

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