Access to Information on the Environment

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Introduction

This section of the website provides general information on the policy and legislative background to the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 – 2014.

Making an AIE Request to the Department of Environment Community and Local Government

If you are a member of the public seeking to make an AIE request to us, we have a separate webpage which explains this process.

EU and Aarhus Convention - Background to Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) in Ireland

Directive 2003/4/EC on Public Access to Information on the Environment and the first Pillar of the Aarhus Convention, have been transposed into Irish law through the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 hereafter referred to as the AIE Regulations. We have a separate webpage dealing with this legislation.

The AIE Regulations provide a definition of environmental information, outline the manner in which requests for information may be submitted to public authorities and the manner in which public authorities are required to deal with requests for example, timeframes for response.

The AIE Regulations also provide for a formal appeals procedure known as an internal review in the event that a person is unhappy with the decision about their request. If an applicant is still unhappy after an internal review they may apply to the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI) for an independent decision on the matter.

Please see below for further information on both the appeals mechanism and the OCEI.

Definition of Public Authority under AIE

The AIE Regulations broadly define “public authorities” to encompass all bodies that have a role in public administration.  It is important to note that this definition is broader in scope than the definition of “public body” in the FoI Acts.

Under the 2011 Regulations, the Minister is required to publish an indicative list of public authorities that are subject to the AIE Regulations.  These are:

  • Government Departments e.g. the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
  • Local authorities e.g. Cork County Council,
  • Non-commercial state agencies e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency,
  • Commercial state agencies e.g. EirGrid,
  • Regulatory bodies e.g. the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Definition of Environmental Information

The AIE Regulations define environmental information as:

 “any information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on—

  • the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms and the interaction among these elements,
  • factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment,
  • measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in paragraphs (1) and (2) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements,
  • reports on the implementation of environmental legislation,
  • cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities referred to in paragraph (3), and
  • the state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are, or may be, affected by the state of the elements of the environment referred to in paragraph (1) or, through those elements, by any of the matters referred to in paragraphs (2) and (3);”

Obligations on Public Authorities

Under the AIE Regulations, information relating to the environment held by, or for, a public authority must be made available on request; subject to certain exceptions. The AIE regulations also oblige public authorities to proactively disseminate environmental information to the public.

In general, a public authority is required to respond to an AIE request within one month of receipt of the request. Where a public authority is unable to respond within the one month timeframe due to the complexity or volume of information requested, they are required to write to the applicant within the month, indicating when a response will issue. This date should not be more than two months from the receipt of the original request.

If the public authority does not have the information requested it can either transfer the request to another public authority or advise the applicant of where it believes the request should be directed.  In either case, it is required to notify the applicant.

Resources for public bodies dealing with AIE Requests

More general information may be obtained by contacting the Environment Policy and Awareness Section environmentpolicy@environ.ie

What happens when a member of the public makes an AIE Request?

How much should it cost?

There is no initial fee for making an application under the AIE Regulations.  However, a public authority may charge a reasonable fee for supplying the information requested.   Public authorities should not charge for access to registers or lists of environmental information or for the examination of such information in situ.

Public authorities must make publicly available a list of fees, if any, charged for the provision of environmental information.

There is no charge for applying for an internal review; please see below for further information.

Currently the cost of taking an appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information is 50 euro or 15 euro if you are the holder, or dependent of a holder of a medical card or a third party appealing the decision to release certain information.

For further information please see the OCEI website.

Grounds for refusing information

There are a number of grounds on which a public authority can refuse information including when a body is acting in a legislative or judicial capacity (Article 3(2)). There is also provision for both mandatory (Article 8) and discretionary (Article 9) grounds for refusing information.  A public body is required to consider the provisions in Article 10 when making a decision on whether to release information.

Appealing a decision

An applicant has the right to seek an internal review of the initial decision made on their request under Article 11 of the AIE Regulations. An applicant has the right to request an internal review if they have not received a response within the timeframe also.  An internal review must be requested within one month of receipt of the original decision (the public authority may extend this timeframe but is not required to do so).

An internal review involves a complete reconsideration of the matter by a member of the staff of the public authority, who may affirm, vary or annul the original decision made.

The outcome of the review informing the requestor of the decision and the reason for the decision made, should issue in writing, within one month of the public authority receiving the request for the review. This response should advise the applicant of the right of appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information (CEI), including the time limits and fees associated with such an appeal.

If a person is not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review, they may appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information.  Such an appeal must be lodged within one month of receiving the decision on the internal review from the public authority.  However, the Commissioner may extend this time limit in individual cases.

Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information

The Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI) was established by the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations 2007. The role of the Commissioner is to decide on appeals by members of the public who are not satisfied with the outcome of their requests to public authorities for environmental information.

Specifically, the Regulations provide that the Commissioner can review decisions of public authorities, and in accordance with law, the Commissioner can make binding decisions on access to environmental information.

For more information on the OCEI, please see their website.

How many AIE requests are received annually?

As an outcome of the public consultation for the Aarhus Convention National Implementation Report 2013 , we piloted a database of AIE statistics in 2013. The database aims to collate the numbers of AIE requests received across public bodies nationally and certain other relevant details. The list of public authorities from which statistics have been collected is not exhaustive and does not indicate that bodies that are not listed here are not subject to the AIE Regulations.

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