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// COILLTE FELLED IN HIGH COURT ACTION
Coillte Teo., the State Forestry Board, settled the Judicial Review brought by environmentalists Tony Lowes in the High Court this week. The action was brought by Lowes four years ago after Coillte's refusal to release to Lowes documents concerning the Millennium Forests project. The company claimed that it was not a 'public authority' and so was not required to supply any information to the public.
Under the terms of the Court Order the company has voluntarily agreed 'to fully comply' with requirements of the EU Access to Information on the Environment Directive, although they maintain their position that they are not a public authority.
Coillte's action to dismiss Lowes' Judicial Review as 'frivolous, vexatious, and or an abuse of the Court process' was rejected last year by the High Court. So was the company's claim that Lowes had an ulterior motive in bringing these proceedings. They claimed that 'In particular it is alleged that the applicant is motivated by a desire to damage Coillte's defence in proceedings before the European Court of Justice, which involve a dispute with the European Commission.'
In November 2003, the European Court, ruled against Ireland's case, confirming that Ireland had no 'legitimate expectations' of more than €40 million in forestry grant funding Coillte was receiving which was intended only for farmers.
In ruling against Coillte's Motion to dismiss Lowes' Judicial Review last November, High Court Justice Dan Herbert stated 'I am satisfied that it [Lowes Judicial Review] is neither frivolous nor vexatious and could not be said to be doomed to failure.'
This week's Court Order was welcomed by the environmentalist, a Director of Friends of the Irish Environment.
'The Millennium Forest project was a shameful scam. Less than 10% of those who received a Certificate promising them a tree to treasure for generations will actually have them due simply to the necessary thinning that takes place in a plantation. Coillte's refusal to release any information about the project was a last ditch attempt to cover this up.'
'Coillte Teo is the largest landowner in the State. It has been entrusted with more than 400,000 hectares of what was previously State land. Their impact on our environment is enormous, and the public has the right to know what they are doing.'
Verification and comment: Tony Lowes 027-73131 / 087 2176316
Full details: http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.net/main/index.php
Text of Order:
'That, without prejudice to its contention that the Respondent is not a public authority for the purposes of Statutory Instrument 125 of 1998 European Communities Act 1972 (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 1998 ("S.I. 125/98") and without prejudice to its contention that the Respondent is not covered by the provisions of S.I. 125/98, the Respondent undertakes to fully comply with the provisions of S.I. 125/98 on a voluntary basis, and will be bound entirely by the provisions of S.I. 125/98 in such voluntary compliance and will be correspondingly entitled to avail of all exceptions to the provisions of SI 125/98 as contained therein.'
IT IS ORDERED:
1. That the within proceedings be struck out;
2. That the Respondent pay to the Applicant the costs of these proceedings up to the 24th of January 2005 to be taxed in default of agreement.