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EU Directives.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 18 December 2007

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Ceisteanna (8)

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

62 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will ratify the public participation directive, Directive 2003/35/EC; if he anticipates areas of conflict between the directive and the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006; if there are areas of conflict, if he will amend the Act in line with the directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35280/07]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Ireland signed the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on 25 June 1998. Progress towards ratification of the convention is closely aligned with work at EU level and, in that context, the European Union has adopted two directives as part of the ratification process for the convention. These deal with public access to environmental information and public participation in certain environmental decision-making procedures.

Regulations transposing the European Communities (Access to information on the Environment) Directive came into effect on 1 May 2007. The process to transpose the public participation directive is well advanced, with legislation completed to amend the majority of the relevant consent systems, and the remaining work on the outstanding consent systems will be completed at the earliest possible date. Having regard to the above, I will ensure the instrument of ratification of the Aarhus Convention is submitted to Government and laid before the Dáil as soon as possible.

The Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 is a key part of Ireland's overall transposition of the directive in so far as the planning code is concerned. A number of key features of the Act, relating to appeals, judicial review procedures and amendments to the EIA directive, specifically transpose provisions of the public participation directive. I do not anticipate any conflict between the implementation of the public participation directive and the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006.

I compliment the Minister on his return from Bali. He is looking well. I am not sure whether it is the tan or whether he has taken, like the Taoiseach, to wearing make-up.

I am not wearing make-up.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He is correct to state there are two directives relating to the Aarhus Convention and that the access directive has been transposed. The directive to which I refer is the public participation directive. As the Minister will know, Ireland is the only EU member state not to have ratified the Aarhus Convention. It has been conceded by the Government that legislation will be required to transpose the public participation directive and that amendments may arise. Furthermore, the European Commission has referred Ireland to the European Court for having failed to transpose the directive to date.

As the Minister knows, three issues arise: the substantial interest, the judicial review and the prohibited costs which arise from the judicial review. Since the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 has come into force, 64 applications have been made to An Bord Pleanála on this matter, with a number of these having been granted. Speaking to the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála last week, I asked him the position with regard to oral hearings, which are a key aspect of public participation. He informed me that the board is granting oral hearings on applications that are proceeded with. However, this is as a gift of An Bord Pleanála, not as a policy position.

The Minister tells us the matter is well advanced and will be dealt with as soon as possible. There was a Green Paper that was well advanced and was supposed to be dealt with in the Chamber two days ago. In what timeframe does the Minister intend to implement the details referred to in his reply? Can he give a specific date when the legislative framework will come before the House? In the absence of the implementation of the public participation directive, does the Minister concede that planning permissions sought under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 may be in legal jeopardy? As I said, 64 applications have been made to date.

I do not know to which Green Paper the Deputy refers.

The programme for Government stated that within six months of coming to power, a Green Paper would be brought before the House. That should happen some day this week.

Yes and we are absolutely on time as regards that.

The Minister was to bring it before the House on 14 December but it is now 18 December. He was in Bali at the time.

Please allow the Minister to continue.

We are absolutely on time as regards that Green Paper. As I told the Deputy before, some of his Labour Party colleagues are on that consultative committee. They asked for a small time extension to go through some of the details and I was happy to facilitate them. I want to be clear on that. I do not concede the Deputy's last point that these matters are in legal jeopardy. He said the European Commission referred Ireland to the European Court of Justice for non-transposition of the directive. However, while Ireland is now the only EU member state that has not ratified the convention, as the Deputy said, I understand that EU infringement proceedings for non-transposition of this directive remain open against a significant number of member states so we are not alone. This suggests that some member states have ratified the convention in circumstances a bit like Ireland's, and have not fully complied.

While there are some outstanding difficulties, I want to move on this as quickly as possible and I have committed myself to doing so. Access to environmental information and participation in the process are absolutely vital. I have been in contact with the Commission about this and it does not see a conflict. If there was a conflict there, the Commission would have alerted me immediately. I want to move as quickly as possible on this matter.

First, the Minister should read up on the matter because there are two current test cases concerning it. Second, Germany was the last European country, apart from Ireland, to ratify the Aarhus Convention in January this year so the Minister might do some further reading on that. Third, when will we see its full ratification? Will it be before autumn or December 2008? In what timeframe does the Minister envisage the matter coming before the House?

I would like to see a timeframe whereby we would ratify it in the new year. That is what I aim to do but there are outstanding difficulties. As the Deputy will appreciate, I am dealing with a number of different Departments. I have written to all the Departments asking them to get their acts together so I am depending on them to come to me. Those are the outstanding difficulties. If I had my way I would have done this last week but it was not possible. I am depending on others to clear it.

The Minister was in Bali last week.

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