Access to environmental information
You have the right to obtain certain environmental information from a public authority.
To get access to environmental information you can use Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation or the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2018 (AIE Regulations). These Regulations give effect in Ireland to the AIE Directive, which was adopted to give effect to the Access to Information pillar of the Aarhus Convention.
As well as giving you the right to access environmental information, the AIE Regulations also oblige public authorities to be proactive in disseminating environmental information to the public. Public authorities must inform the public of their rights and provide information and guidance on exercising those rights. They must also make reasonable efforts to maintain environmental information and have it in a form that is accessible and can be reproduced.
What is a public authority?
A public authority is any body or organisation that has a role in public administration and that possesses environmental information. The definition of public authorities under the AIE Regulations is broader than under FOI legislation. This means if an authority is not covered by FOI, you may still be able to get access to environmental information using the AIE Regulations. Public authorities, for the purposes of AIE Regulations, include government departments, local authorities, commercial and non-commercial State agencies and regulatory bodies. Under the 2018 Regulations (pdf) the President and certain other offices are now excluded from the definition of “public authority” for AIE purposes.
If a body or organisation denies your request for environmental information on the basis that it is not a public authority, you can query this decision, following the steps outlined below - see ‘What can I do if I am refused access to information?’.
What information can I access?
The AIE Regulations allow you to access a wide range of information. They allow you to access environmental information produced by a public authority, received by a public authority and held elsewhere on behalf of the authority.
Environmental information includes information 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 above as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements
- Cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used for the above measures and activities
- 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 that may be affected by the elements of the environment
- Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
How will my request be handled?
The public authority must respond to your request as soon as possible, at latest within 1 month of having received it. It should offer assistance to enable you to make a request, particularly if you have literacy difficulties or a disability.
If the request is complex or a large volume of information is required, the authority must write to you within a month and inform you of its difficulties processing your request. It must also give you a date by which it will respond, which must be not more than 2 months after it got your original request.
The AIE Regulations require public authorities to designate information officers to maintain registers or lists of the environmental information held, or else provide an information point to indicate clearly where such information can be found. Public authorities must also register and process all requests for the environmental information that they hold.
What if the public authority doesn’t have the information?
If the authority to which you make your request does not have the information, it may transfer your request to the authority that does have it, and inform you of this. However, instead of transferring your request, it may provide you with information about where to send your request.
Can I be refused access to environmental information?
You may be refused access to some types of information. For example, you may be refused information about the location of an endangered species if disclosure of this information could put the species at risk. You may also be refused access to draft or incomplete documents, internal communication (such as internal emails) or material that is commercially sensitive. Further details on exemptions are available in the guidance notes (pdf). In general, you cannot be refused information about emissions into the environment.
A request for information using the AIE Regulations will be refused if the information is required to be made available under any other statutory provision - for example, where a planning authority is required to publish the information or make a planning file available.
What can I do if I am refused access to information?
The public authority must notify you of the outcome of your request within 1 month. If you do not get a response within this time you can assume that your request has been refused.
There are reasons when you can be legally refused access to environmental information. However, if a public authority refuses your request for information or has not dealt with your request appropriately, you can seek an internal review of the decision made by the public authority.
If you require an internal review, you must request it within 1 month of getting the decision.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review you can appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information (CEI). You must appeal within 1 month of getting the reviewed decision from the public authority. The CEI may extend the time limit if he/she believes it is reasonable to do so.
Public authorities must comply with the CEI's decisions and if necessary the CEI can apply to the High Court to have a decision upheld. The CEI's decisions are published on ocei.gov.ie.
You (or any other person affected by the CEI’s decision) can appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from that decision.
See 'How to apply' below for more details on requesting an internal review or making an appeal.
There is no charge for applying for environmental information under the AIE Regulations. You may get the information without charge, but there may be a fee to take account of the costs of compiling and copying information. Public authorities must make publicly available a list of fees, if any, charged for providing environmental information.
There is no charge for an internal review of a decision by a public authority. However, if the review decides that you should get the information you requested, you may be charged for photocopying etc.
It costs €50 to take an appeal to the CEI, or €15 if you have a medical card. If you were not a party to the original request and are appealing a decision to release information that you feel will incriminate you, the fee is €15.
How to apply
You must make your request for environmental information in writing or electronic form. Refer to the public authority’s website or Information Unit for guidance. When sending your request, you must:
- Mention the AIE Regulations
- State clearly the environmental information you want. Be as specific as possible - this will help your application to be processed faster and may reduce your costs (if any)
- Provide your contact details
If you require the information in a specific format (such as email or letter) you should specify which format in your request.
You do not have to state your interest in making the request.
If you require an internal review of a decision, apply within 1 month of getting the decision, to the public authority to which you made your request for environmental information.
Where to apply
Your application for environmental information should be sent to the public authority that holds the information you require.
Any request for an internal review should be sent to the same public authority.
Appeals can be made online (see 'How to apply' above) or sent to:
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has overarching policy responsibility for AIE in Ireland. Read more on dccae.gov.ie.