€116 billion Project Ireland 2040 plan is invalid, environmental group tells court
Failure to adopt adequate measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions alleged
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Government had announced adoption of Project Ireland 2040 to “media fanfare” at a special Cabinet meeting in Sligo in February 2018 but the plan could not be adopted in advance of the State meeting obligations under the relevant directives, Neil Steen SC said. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
The €116 billion Project Ireland 2040 plan for the country’s development is invalid and must be quashed because proper environmental assessments were not carried out, an environmental group has argued before the High Court.
There was particular failure to adopt adequate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure sites of special protection and conservation would not be adversely affected, Friends of the Irish Environment claims.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Government had announced adoption of Project Ireland 2040 to “media fanfare” at a special Cabinet meeting in Sligo in February 2018 but the plan could not be adopted in advance of the State meeting obligations under the relevant directives, Neil Steen SC said.
The State is “hedging its position” about crucial dates relating to adoption of the plan and assessments and had failed to meet its duty of candour in responses to requests from his side’s solicitor Fred Logue concerning those matters, counsel argued. Mr Steen, with John Kenny BL, was opening FIE’s judicial review proceedings on Tuesday before Mr Justice Anthony Barr.
The case is against the Government, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Ireland and the Attorney General. The main relief sought is an order quashing the decision to adopt the plan on grounds of alleged failure to meet the assessment requirements of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) directive and the habitats directive.
Project Ireland was described as the Government’s long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better country for all its people, counsel outlined. The evidence indicates finalisation of the plan may have been “somewhat rushed” and that significant steps that should have been taken before adoption were not taken, he said.
His case was that some steps were taken after adoption and this was unlawful. Counsel outlined Project Ireland has two principal components, the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan (NDP). The NPF required assessment under two significant pieces of European environmental legislation, the SEA directive and the habitats directive, as amended, he said.
Friends of the Irish Environment’s case was those assessments were not carried out in accordance with the requirements of the two directives. It also disputed the respondents’ view the NDP did not require assessment and argued it required to be assessed under the SEA directive.
Mr Steen said, while the respondents argued they took the necessary material “into account”, that was insufficient to meet the requirements of the directives. There was also failure to carry out an adequate assessment of alternative options for the purposes of the SEA directive, he submitted.
That assessment must identify, describe and evaluate not just the likely significant effects of implementation of plan or programme but must also consider the reasonable alternatives to a comparable level of detail as the preferred option.
Arising from the “relatively perfunctory” nature of the consideration of alternative options, the reasons given in a series of matrices for selecting the preferred option are not comprehensible, counsel further argued. “We cannot understand them.”
The case continues on Wednesday.