High Court reporters
An environmental group’s appeal against the lower courts’ refusals to overturn the €116 billion Project Ireland 2040 plan for the country, has opened before a seven judge Supreme Court.
The appeal has been brought by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) which claims that the plan, adopted at a special Cabinet meeting in Sligo in February 2018, was invalid due to alleged lack of proper environmental assessments and failure to properly address climate change.
FIE’s claim was rejected by the High Court in 2020 and the Court of Appeal (CoA) upheld that decision. However, the Supreme Court deemed that FIE had raised a point of public importance in the action that it ought to determine.
The appeal opened on Monday before a seven-judge Supreme Court, comprising the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, Mr Justice Peter Charleton Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan.
Unusually, and due to the extreme heat on Monday, the majority of the court dispensed with their traditional robes and gowns during the hearing, and instead appeared in court in normal business suits.
The court, in agreeing to hear the appeal, has taken into account the huge level of public capital investment envisaged by the plan and its general implications for the planning system.
Project Ireland has two principal components: the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan.
In proceedings against the Government, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Ireland and the Attorney General, FIE seeks to quash the adoption of the plan on grounds of alleged failure to meet the assessment requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive.
Represented Neil Steen SC with John Kenny Bl instructed by Fred Logue FIE has challenged two aspects of the plan adopted by the Government.
Project Ireland comprises of two plans, the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan (NDP).
It claims that there was a failure to meet the requirements of an EU directive on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment known as the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (SEA).
FIE asks whether the comparison of reasonable alternatives, as required by the directives, was sufficient and whether sufficient monitoring provisions are provided in the NPF.
It wants the court to determine if the NPF and/or the NDP are required as a matter of law to be assessed under the provisions of the SEA Directive.
The State claims that neither plan is subject to a requirement that it be assessed under the provisions of the SEA Directive as neither is a “plan or programme” within the meaning or scope of the Directive.
The respondents accept that while the NPF was assessed for the purposes of the SEA Directive but that this was not done by reason of a legal obligation.
The hearing continues.