An Environmental NGO has brought a High Court challenge over a refusal by the Legal Aid Board to consider its application for legal aid in its action against the government plan known as 'Project Ireland 2040'. The action has been brought by the Friends of the Irish Environment CLG.
Represented by John Kenny Bl , the NGO launched a High Court action in 2018 over the State's National Development Plan and the National Planning Framework which are known as 'project Ireland 2040.’
Announced last year the €116 billion plan sets out a long term strategy for the country and which projects will be prioritised in capital spending plans. Those proceedings, where the NGO claims the Irish government has not properly assessed those plans in regards to issues regarding climate change, currently stand adjourned.
In order to fund what the NGO says is a complex, detailed and important action raising aspects of EU Environmental law, it applied to the Legal Aid Board for funding to allow it argue the case before the courts against the government.
The application was not successful after the Legal Aid board said it was ineligible to apply on grounds including that the NGO is not a natural person, and is acting on behalf of others.
The NGO, which describes itself as a charity says the refusal is wrong in law and says it qualifies for legal aid.
The effect of the board's decision impacts on the NGO's rights of access to the courts in proceedings where it is not in a position to pay lawyers acting on its behalf.
The decision by the Legal Aid Board means there is an inequality of arms between the NGO and the government in the main action, it is claimed.
It claims that it is not acting for others, and has challenged the government plans on behalf of nobody but itself.
In its action, the group, with a registered address at Kilcatherine, Eyeries, Beara, Co Cork seeks an order quashing the Legal Aid Board's refusal to consider granting legal aid in respect of the case
It also seeks declarations including that the board erred in law when refusing to consider the NGO's application for legal aid on the basis that it is a legal and not a natural person, and that it is acting on behalf of third parties.
It further seeks declarations that the board erred in refusing to consider the NGO's request for an appeal against its refusal to grant it legal aid and that the refusal breaches the NGO's rights under the Irish Constitutional rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the Aarhus Convention.
Permission to bring the action was granted, on an ex-parte basis, by Mr Justice Meenan. The case will return before the court in late May.