I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it. I will begin by making some overarching points of principle that are vital to frame the discussion and our analysis of the Bill. The Bill is hugely welcome but it is essential that the draft text is examined closely and improved where appropriate. In this context, I hope there will be wide engagement and a robust exchange of views during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and that members of the public will be encouraged to follow the discussion and make their views known through their elected representatives. The Bill is urgent, and we must make progress in a timely fashion, but it is also essential that the legislation that emerges at the end of the process is fit for purpose and enables Ireland to meet its climate obligations.
As a lawyer, I would like to say a few words about vague and ambiguous language in legislation. I understand from following the proceedings yesterday that this issue has already surfaced. Speaking as a lawyer, vague and ambiguous language is problematic, especially when it comes to effective implementation and enforcement of legal rights and obligations. This is surely something that must concern the committee. It is certainly something that concerns the public. Vague language can lead to very complex disputes over the precise meaning and implications of particular legal provisions and, of course, it fuels litigation, which is something that everybody wants to avoid at all costs. I stress that during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, the committee must keep in mind the importance of precision and clear obligations. I make this general point to highlight the importance of using this stage of the process to scrutinise forensically the language used and how particular obligations set out in the Bill have been designed and drafted to ensure they are fit for purpose. Otherwise, there will be problems with the impact of these provisions and in ensuring they are enforceable.
My particular area of experience is environmental law, including climate law and human rights. I teach and research these areas in the School of Law at University College Cork. As did my good colleague, Dr. Torney, I served as a member of the expert advisory group to the Citizens' Assembly during the climate change module of the assembly's work programme. This experience, and the engagement with the citizen members of the assembly, has given us unique insights into a range of areas that are of vital relevance to the Bill. I hope they will be of benefit to the committee in its deliberations.
I have a number of points to make on the recent Supreme Court judgment in the case that has come to be known as Climate Case Ireland. Many points arising from this decision are very relevant to our debate on the Bill. I will highlight two points and I do not suggest for a moment they are the only relevant issues. The Supreme Court judgment is very strong on the principles of public participation and transparency in the formation and publication of climate policy. This is absolutely fundamental and it must inform how this pre-legislative scrutiny process proceeds and how the Bill ultimately evolves. The public must be involved and their views must be taken into account. This aspect of the Supreme Court's judgment is very welcome and it underpins the core values of participation, transparency and accountability that should inform all environmental decision-making. We need to watch closely for these in the Bill and we must ensure these elements are robust enough. The Bill must provide effective opportunities for public participation. I have some concerns about the weaker elements of some aspects of the Bill as it stands, with regard to discretionary aspects of public participation. I hope we will get to these shortly.
On a related point concerning public participation, which Dr. Torney also made, I find it very disappointing that no effort seems to have been made when the Bill was first published to provide an unofficial consolidated text that would incorporate, even by means of simple tracked changes in a Word document, what the Bill proposes to change within the existing text of the 2015 Act.
That would have made it so much easier for members of the public, people interested in the way this Bill will impact on our legislation and anybody who does not have legal training to engage effectively in this process. I believe that is a missed opportunity and I hope there might still be time for such an unofficial document to be produced and published online to allow people to follow the debate properly.
The second point I would make about the Supreme Court judgment is to highlight the "significant weight", which was the actual wording used by the court, that it placed on the views of the Climate Change Advisory Council. It seems clear from reading the Supreme Court judgment in the Climate Case Ireland case that the court was very influenced by the views of the council. I make that point because it confirms in a very clear way how vital the role of the council is and, in the context of the Bill, how essential it is that we work to ensure that its independence is strengthened, its oversight role is developed further and that it has the wide range of expertise it needs to deliver its mandate. Of course, it must have the resources to do that properly and in a timely fashion.
My final point brings me back to one of the recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly. Again, it concerns the assembly's report on the topic of how the State can make Ireland a leader in tacking climate change. Many of the members will be aware that the first recommendation the assembly made was to ensure climate change is at the centre of policymaking in Ireland. The recommendation was that a new or existing independent body should be resourced appropriately, operate in a transparent manner, and be given a broad range of functions and powers in legislation to urgently address climate change. A majority, 97%, of the assembly members who were present voted in favour of that recommendation so it was a very strong endorsement of that powerful recommendation.
It is very important to recall, if we read the assembly's report, that the recommendation also included in the text that was put to the assembly on the ballot paper a number of examples of possible powers and functions that this new or independent body could have and one of those potential functions was "To pursue the State in legal proceedings to ensure that the State lives up to its legal obligations relating to climate change." The theme of my opening remarks is about enforcement. That is where everything comes to the fore.
It is interesting that the point about giving an independent body the power to pursue the State, in litigation if necessary, does not appear to have gained any traction following the publication of the Citizens' Assembly report. It did not feature among the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action and there was no mention of it in the non-statutory climate action plan published in 2019. That is unfortunate. I am pressing the point here in some detail because I believe it is an issue that must be considered if we are to have confidence in an effective enforcement mechanism. There is no point in imposing obligations and setting targets unless there is a legal mechanism to ensure that those targets are met and that there are consequences and sanctions if they are not.
The Bill raises a host of significant issues that I cannot go into the detail of now but I am happy to go through them with the members during this session.
I will conclude by giving everybody, including members of the public who I imagine are tuning in to this session, a brief reminder of what is at stake here. We must achieve the correct outcome at the conclusion of this legislative process. We must deliver robust, workable climate legislation that supports a just transition and protects human rights. We must ensure that the new legislation has the necessary impact across society and the economy to deliver the transformative changes required within the necessary timeframes. I thank the members for their attention and I look forward to their questions.