Challenge against decision regarding Ibec submission to minister

Challenge against decision regarding Ibec submission to minister
Right to Know managing director  Gavin Sheridan. The NGO brought the proceedings after becoming aware of lobbying of the Minister for Transport by Ibec in 2016.

A challenge by the Right to Know NGO against a decision of the Commissioner for Environmental Information that a submission by Ibec to the Minister for Transport in 2016 was not environmental information has opened before the High Court.

The action is against the Commissioner for Environmental Information, who argues the right decision was made.

The Minister for Transport, which is a notice party to the proceedings, also opposes the NGO's action.

Right to Know, whose object is to improve, promote and advocate for increased rights of public access to information has brought proceedings after becoming aware of lobbying of the Minister for Transport by Ibec sometime between January and April 2016.

The entry on the lobbying register stated that the intended results of the lobbying including getting major road upgrades on the Atlantic corridor, having a more ambitious plan for vital transport infrastructure projects, and engaging with industry on the national plan for decarbonising transport.

Right To Know said the lobbying was aimed at influencing government measures in public transport, the use of alternative road fuels, and other activities that would clearly affect the environment in several ways.

In March 2017 an application under the European Communities Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) regulations was made for Ibec's submissions.

The application was refused by the Commissioner on the grounds that Ibec's submission was not environmental information. No reasons were given for the refusal, it is claimed.

That decision was appealed, and in March 2018 the appeal was dismissed.

Right to Know, represented by Patrick Leonard SC, instructed by solicitor Fred Logue, was subsequently supplied with Ibec's submission by the minister in 2018.

The NGO was told that it was being given on a non-prejudice basis and does not accept that its refusal to provide the material following a request made under the AIE is incorrect.

Right to Know, whose managing director is the well-known journalist Gavin Sheridan, disputes that assertion and argues that it is entitled to the information under the AIE regulations.

In its action Right to Know seeks various orders including setting aside the commissioner's finding that Ibec's submissions to the department was not environmental information.

Counsel said his client cannot see how lobbying in the area of transport, by a body such as Ibec, which represents the interests of large businesses and employers, does not constitute environmental information.

It also seeks declarations that Ibec's submission is environmental information, and that the information should be released to Right to Know.

It further seeks an order that reasons be given for the decision.

If necessary the matter should be remitted back to the Commissioner for consideration of an possible exemptions to the broad right of access to environmental information under the EC's Access to information on the Environment Regulations, the NGO also submits.

The hearing before Ms Justice Niamh Hyland continues.

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