- Bird Flu
- Countryside access
- Dark Skies
- Eco labels
- EU Environmental
- European Union
- Farming & CAP
- Global Warming
- Green Taxes
- Internet Access
- Irish NGO's
- Natural Resources
- Non-Irish Stories
- Parks & Designations
- Science & animals
- Views & Opinons
- World Summit
// Green activist smashes Cabinet secrecy rule
THE iron rule barring the release of Cabinet papers for 30 years has been smashed by green campaigners.
An EU directive allowing access to documents relating to pollution has been judged superior to the Constitutional doctrine of Cabinet confidentiality by the Information Commissioner.
In a landmark ruling, the commissioner ordered environmental papers, historically reserved for ministerial eyes only, be released to a Green Party activist.
Green council candidate Gary Fitzgerald's bid for access to Cabinet discussions on greenhouse gas emissions overturns secrecy rules and paves the way for other classified documents to be made available to citizens almost immediately after being seen by ministers.
The commissioner ruled that an EU directive allowing the public to view information on environmental matters outweighed Article 28.4.3 of the Constitution which demands respect for the "confidentiality of discussion at meetings of the government".
EU directive 2003/04 does allow circumstances in which a state can refuse to release information, but the directive specifically states that any request for information on "emissions into the environment" cannot be turned down.
Mr Fitzgerald, a barrister, insisted he had struck a blow for democracy and environmental accountability.
"The effect of this decision will be dramatic.
"For the first time in the history of the state the public will have access to certain Cabinet documents as soon as they are produced. Anyone can now request documents relating to environmental issues and the department must release them.
"This represents a sea-change in the old legal regime of absolute Cabinet confidentiality. The effect of the decision will be far reaching and will benefit those looking for political accountability and proper environmental protection.
"Information on waste management, climate change, and issues such as emissions from the transportation sector must now all be released," he said.
"Cabinet confidentiality only serves to mystify Government. I strongly believe that all Cabinet documents should be made available to the public.
"In Sweden, minutes of Cabinet meetings are posted on the internet the day after the meetings. I see no reason why the same cannot be done here," he said.
Mr Fitzgerald first lodged his request under the EU directive in March 2007 for documents reporting Cabinet discussions on Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions for 2002-2007.
The Government initially refused his request and after an unsuccessful internal review, Mr Fitzgerald appealed the decision to the Information Commissioner in October 2007.
The Government could yet mount a High Court challenge to the decision.
The Department of the Taoiseach was unavailable for comment.
© Irish Examiner 15.10.08