The recognition for the first time in an Irish court of a constitutional right to environmental protection “consistent with the human dignity and wellbeing of citizens at large” has been welcomed by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE).
While the FIE lost its case challenging planning permission for a north runway at Dublin Airport, this is “the first new constitutional right to be recognised in several decades”, an FIE spokesperson said – while the Green Party described the outcome as “historic”.
“The judgment is timely in light of the unprecedented threats to the environment and human life posed by climate change,” a FIE spokesperson said. “We expect this decision to have profound implications beyond the scope of this case. The State now has a duty to protect the environment in a way that is consistent with this newly established right.”
In his judgment, Mr Justice Barrett said: "A right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and wellbeing of citizens at large is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights."
It was 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, he found. “It is not so utopian a right that it can never be enforced.”
Mr Justice Barrett acknowledged the universality of environmental rights in religious and secular thought. He emphasised urgency in the context of the present environmental crisis, noting the “. . . greater public awareness that the quality of our life as a nation, and as members of the wider human community, is threatened by the processes which have yielded the very quality of life which we presently enjoy”.
FIE was consulting with its legal team to consider an appeal in relation to the narrow points of law on which the case was dismissed “but strongly welcomes today’s ground-breaking decision of the High Court”, their spokesperson added.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: "We commend the FIE for bringing this case, and all involved in this legal challenge. While the High Court didn't rule in their favour, the judgment recognises, for the first time, that there is a constitutional right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and wellbeing of citizens at large.
“This is a hugely progressive move, and will aid in future legal cases to hold the Government and State accountable for their responsibilities in environmental protection and tackling climate change.”