Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has welcomed the High Court’s recognition of environmental rights in the Irish Constitution.
In a judgement today (Tuesday), Mr Justice Barrett recognised for the first time a constitutional right to environmental protection “that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large”. In his judgement, Mr Justice Barrett said that such a right “is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights”.
The Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – views the judgement as a significant step forward for citizens’ rights and represents a special moment in Irish judicial history.
The Pillar has previously called for a referendum to give a constitutional right to environmental protection to the people of Ireland in its submission for the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change.
Michael Ewing, coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said,”This recognition of environmental rights in the Irish Constitution should encourage politicians to take real long-term action to tackle environmental issues and ensure that those actions are not diluted with the change of guard at Dáil Éireann every five years.
“Let’s now use the Constitution to set the bar for environmental protection in this country.”
Donna Mullen, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar, and a former cardiac physiologist for 25 years, said,”This constitutional approach could yield benefits to our economy, society, and most importantly, health. Already 1,200 people are dying prematurely from air pollution in Ireland each year, with over 150,000 deaths across the globe already attributed to climate change every year.
“During my career in medicine I witnessed first-hand the effects of air pollution on my patients, and it is heart-breaking to see.
“Today’s High Court judgement could prove to be a game changer and raise the bar against which Government’s decisions and policy actions of the future can be measured.
The landmark decision came as the High Court delivered its judgment in the case of Friends of the Irish Environment vs. Fingal County Council.
While dismissing FIE’s challenge to a decision to give Dublin Airport Authority more time to build a third runway at Dublin Airport, the court nevertheless recognised for the first time a constitutional right to environmental protection “that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large’”.
This is the first new constitutional right to be recognised in several decades.
According to a spokesperson for FIE,“The judgement is timely in light of the unprecedented threats to the environment and human life posed by climate change. 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.”