Climate Case Ireland campaigners present letter to Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne in front of the Department of Climate Action

Climate Case Ireland call on Government to recognise environmental rights

10 June 2021

Climate Case Ireland have penned an open letter to the Irish Government calling for a Citizens’ Assembly on the biodiversity crisis and the constitutional right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

The organisation that successfully won a landmark case against the Government last summer presented the letter to the Department of Climate Action today and are urging the Government to hold a Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss before the Dáil breaks for its summer recess in mid-July.  

A constitutional right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the principles of a Just Transition are also included amongst their asks.

 In 2019, the Dáil officially declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and called for such a Citizens’ Assembly measure to examine how the State can improve its response to biodiversity loss.

Just a year later, the Programme for Government committed to “progressing the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity”, but since its publication no further announcements have been made.

Notably, The Supreme Court rejected last year a possible judicial recognition of a right to a healthy environment. 

The Supreme Court stated that the “advantage of express incorporation is that the precise type of constitutional right to the environment which is to be recognised can be the subject of debate and democratic approval.”

Campaigners from Climate Case Ireland mark their historic win Photo: Climate Case Ireland

Ireland is “in the minority”

The lack of environmental rights enshrined in the constitution makes Ireland a international outlier, according to Matthew Mollahan of Climate Case Ireland.

“Ireland is one of the minority of countries that actually doesn’t have any environmental rights as part of our constitution, over three quarters of countries in the world actually do.

Having those rights enshrined in the constitution would be a useful tool in developing further climate legislation and protecting existing climate legislation from the whims of future governments,” Mr. Mollahan told The Green News.

The move would also reflect a recent submission Ireland was a part of to the UN Human Rights Council in March, according to Climate Case Ireland.

Alongside 68 other countries, Ireland signed a statement put forward to the Council which stated that a “safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights.”  

The document goes on to say Ireland is committed to an “open, transparent and inclusive dialogue” on a global level to the possible recognition of the right and its impact on future generations. 

However, while Mr. Mollahan welcomed the statement, the sentiment needs to translate into a national context.

“Statements at an international level are very important, but we need to see that actualised then within Ireland,” he said.

Story by Thomas Hamilton and Shauna Burdis. Photo by Kayle Crosson.