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Environmental Crime Legal Framework In Ireland

In Ireland, despite repeated amendments, the constitution does not contain explicit provisions for the protection of the environment. Some NGOs and civil society organizations have argued that certain Articles of the constitution - Article 40, for example - can be used to preserve citizens’ rights to a healthy environment. The Article reads: “The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.” In 1996: An expert committee tasked with reviewing Ireland’s Constitution recommended inclusion of a government duty to protect the environment, to no avail. Almost three decades later, in 2021: An open letter from civil society organizations asked the Government to ensure that the possible recognition of a constitutional right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment would be enshrined in the constitution.

Environmental legislation is principally administered and enforced by:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Regional/local authorities throughout Ireland.
  • The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.
  • The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
  • Featured Legislation

    1987: The Air Pollution Act was created to take whatever measures necessary to prevent or limit air pollution in their area.

    1992: The Environmental Protection Agency Act was adopted, overseeing the protection of the environment and the control of pollution. Part I contains general provisions that, inter alia, provide for powers of authorized persons, regulation making powers of the Minister and prescribe offences. There shall be a body corporate to be known in the English language as the Environmental Protection Agency to perform the functions assigned to it by or under this Act (sect. 19), and there shall be an Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Agency or to the Minister relating to the functions of the Agency (sects. 27 and 28). The Agency shall establish such number of regional environmental units as may be approved of by the Minister (sect. 49). The functions of the Agency shall include: (a) the licensing, regulation and control of activities for the purposes of environmental protection; (b) the monitoring of the quality of the environment, including the establishment and maintenance of data bases of information related to the environment and making arrangements for the dissemination of such information and for public access thereto; (c) the provision of support and advisory services for the purposes of environmental protection to local authorities and other public authorities in relation to the performance of any function of those authorities; (d) the promotion and coordination of environmental research; and (e) other functions relative to co-ordination, education, etc. (sect. 52). Section 58 provides for the monitoring of the quality of water intended for human consumption, whereas section 59 concerns collection, treatment, discharge or disposal of sewage or other effluents to waters. Section 60 defines functions of the Agency in relation to water or sewage treatment. The Agency shall prepare a national hydrometic programmes and an environmental monitoring programme. It shall also maintain a database on environmental quality. Section 72 deals with environmental impact assessment. The Agency shall set environmental quality objectives under section 75 and prepare and publish codes of practice under section 76. The last parts of this Act provide for integrated pollution control and general pollution control, including the granting of pollution licences. Section 111 provides for regulation of genetically modified organisms. (113 sections completed by 3 Schedules)

    2001: The Waste Management Act was passed, providing for the establishment of an Environment Fund to be managed and controlled by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Revenues from the levies on plastic shopping bags and the landfill of waste are paid into the Fund, which may be utilised, for a range of purposes.

    2001: The Fisheries (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) was presented to amend the Fisheries Act of 1966 so as to:

    (a) grant powers to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to regulate fisheries (in particular the collection of wild shellfish) on the foreshore around the coast of Northern Ireland for various reasons including the protection of the environment and to permit the trade in farmed salmon roe

    (b) to grant powers to the Fisheries Conservancy Board

    2002: The Sustainable Energy Act was brought into force. The Legislation establishes the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland as a body corporate. The functions of the Authority shall be:

    (a) to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy

    (b) to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy

    (c) to promote and assist the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air pollutants

    2010: The Industrial Emission Directive (2010/75/EC) was implemented through two sets of regulations, under which the EPA issues two classes of licence:

    • An industrial emissions (IE) licence for activities of a more industrial nature.
    • An Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licence for activities below the IE threshold. The First Schedule of the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 lists those activities that require an IPC licence, including:

    * Mining

    * Large-scale energy production

    * Chemical production

    * Manufacturing of certain goods, for example pharmaceutical products, pesticides and veterinary products

    * Cement production

    2010: The ​​Forestry Act was formulated to provide for the management and protection of forest resources in Northern Ireland. The legislation specifies functions and powers of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, providing for the protection of trees from damage and providing for restrictions on the felling of trees.

    2011: The Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) was instituted, requiring every public body to promote the conservation of biodiversity and defining functions of public bodies in Northern Ireland with respect to the conservation of biodiversity. It also contains provisions for the conservation of wild fauna and flora and habitats. The Act amends the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

    2016: The Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations were drafted. The Regulations ensure applications are made to the Environmental Protection Agency for wastewater discharge licences.

    Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • Civil society organizations have banded together to urge the Government to enshrine environmental rights into the Constitution. In June 2021: Trade unions, medical, legal, social justice, environmental, student and religious groups published an open letter calling on the Government to deliver on its promise by announcing the date for the Citizens’ Assembly before the beginning of the summer recess. The demands revolve around the possible recognition of a constitutional right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, ensuring that the state addresses the biodiversity crisis in select regions in Ireland. Calls for constitutional environmental rights are not new. In 1996: The Constitutional Review Group recommended the inclusion in the Constitution of “a duty on the State and public authorities as far as practicable to protect the environment, to follow sustainable development policies, and to preserve special aspects of our heritage”.  A glaring lack of political will stifled the recommendations, however. Two decades later, a High Court judgment in 2017: Held that the Constitution contained as an unenumerated (or unwritten) right – that is,  “A right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and wellbeing of citizens at large.” While such a right to the environment cannot be derived from the Constitution, environmental protection could instead be “the subject of debate and democratic approval”.
    • In March 2021: Ireland and 68 other countries co-signed a statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council declaring that: “It is our belief that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights . . . We are committed to engaging in an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with all states and interested stakeholders on a possible international recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” International law and the globalization of law have ushered in a new paradigm for recognizing and  considering environmental rights on the global scale.

    References and Further Reading


    Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications: