Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told an environmental group he “strongly” supports the development of the €600 million Galway ring road.
In his response to a letter from Friends of the Irish Environment calling on him to support their right to legally challenge the project, Mr Varadkar said he supports the right of those with “locus standi” to object to the plans.
“ I strongly support the Galway ring road. I believe it will free the city from congestion and enable it to become more liveable, healthier and friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists,” the Fine Gael leader said.
The expression “locus standi” refers to people who have the the right or ability to bring a legal action to a court of law.
Minister of State for Planning Peter Burke’s has criticised the number of judicial reviews currently before the courts, while a proposed Bill aimed at restricting the number sought over planning decisions has infuriated environmentalist and lawyers representing objectors.
Mr Varadkar, the Minister for Enterprise, said the road would “assist me in my efforts to secure more investment for the Galway area as the urban economic centre for the west”.
While he said he was aware of the counter argument that the road would facilitate further urban sprawl in the city, he added: “I do not think this has to be case, and there is an onus on planners to make sure it is not.”
He said “the most important aspect” to consider was democracy and what the majority of people in Galway want.
“The democratic wishes of the people most affected are too often brushed aside in my view. It is noteworthy that this does not merit a mention in your letter.”
Mr Varadkar said cases where a legal challenge was “statable” before a court, but where those cases were heard and then dismissed, were “not victimless”.
He said in the case of the ring road “the victims will be the people of Galway and the Irish taxpayer who will have wait longer and pay more for the road project than would have been the case if there was no challenge. I think that should be borne in mind.”
However, Mr Varadkar said he appreciated “fully that these matters are contingent on the outcome of the judicial review”.
Friends of the Irish Environment has complained about suffering strident and sustained abuse after taking cases such as that opposing the draining of Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon.
In seeking judicial review proceedings over the Galway ring road, the organisation wrote to the leaders of the three parties in Government asking them to publicly support its right to challenge given the abuse received over other appeals.
The organisation said that even if the parties did not support its position on the project, Government parties should support the right of environmentalists to access the courts.