Although a claim taken in the High Court last week by Cllr Malcolm Noonan was not upheld, the Green Party member says the experience was still a good day for justice, and he hopes it can strengthen the case for future legal challenges.
“I think we created a little bit of history there,” he said of the attempt on Tuesday by himself and nine others to lodge claims under an international treaty known as the Aarhus convention, seeking to be able to take cases against controversial environmental decisions without having to fear insurmountable legal costs. In separate independent legal actions, they were seeking a Not Prohibitively Expensive Order.
The convention was ratified by Environment Minister Phil Hogan in June, Cllr Noonan said, but Mr Justice Gerard Hogan ruled against the claims because the measures have not been enacted into Irish law by the Oireachtas.
Cllr Noonan was hoping to be able to appeal a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow Teagasc to grow genetically modified (GM) potatoes in a field trial in County Carlow.
He said the group was fortunate even to have the case heard in the High Court because they were represented not by a barrister but by a sheep farmer from Kildare. The farmer, Percy Podger, has taken up several cases over the years to help out communities, Cllr Noonan said, “and he has a legal mind that is just phenomenal.”
Overall, Cllr Noonan said, “I think it speaks positively about the Irish justice system that individuals can consistently challenge the law. We can constantly push the boundaries, and if it’s challenged again, next time it will be a more robust argument. While the subject of genetically modified food was the focal point this time, it could be a nuclear power station or an incinerator tomorrow.”
“We felt we got a good and fair hearing, and I think that was the most important thing,” he said, noting that only two of those involved there were politicians, the others being growers and producers.
He is now calling on the Government to enact the measures into law, and is urging the minister for agriculture, food and the marine, the board of Teagasc and the director of Teagasc not to allow GM potatoes to be planted outdoors at Oak Park until the matter of their “Access to Justice Rights” has been fully dealt with by the legal appeal systems.