The European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 (S.I. No. 133 of 2007, S.I. No. 662 of 2011 and S.I. No. 615 of 2014) (the AIE Regulations), give legal rights to persons seeking to access information on the environment from public authorities.
The AIE Regulations were introduced in Ireland to give effect to Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on Public Access to Environmental Information (the AIE Directive). This Directive repealed Council Directive 90/313/EEC which was the previous EU instrument providing for access to environmental information. The AIE Directive was adopted by the EU to give effect to the Access to Information pillar of the 1998 UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention).
Under the AIE Regulations, environmental information held by or for a public authority must, subject to certain exceptions, be made available on request. The AIE Regulations also oblige public authorities to be proactive in disseminating environmental information to the public.
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 e.g. timeframes for response. The regulations also provide for a formal appeals procedure in the event that a person is dissatisfied with a decision on a request.
What public bodies are subject to AIE?
The AIE Regulations broadly define “public authorities” to encompass all bodies that have a role in public administration and that possess environmental information.
The Minister is required to publish an indicative list of public authorities that are subject to the AIE Regulations. These include:
- Government Departments
- Local Authorities
- Non-Commercial State Agencies
- Commercial State Agencies
- Regulatory Bodies.
What categories of information does AIE cover?
The definition of ‘environmental information’, as set out in the AIE Regulations determines what information comes within the remit of the AIE Regulations. This definition includes information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on:
- The state of the elements of the environment e.g. air, water, soil, land, landscape and biological diversity,
- Factors affecting or likely to affect, the elements of the environment, e.g. energy, noise, radiation, waste and other releases into the environment,
- Measures designed to protect the elements of the environment e.g. policies, legislation, plans, programs and environmental agreements,
- Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation,
- Analyses and assumptions used within the framework of measures designed to protect the environment,
- The state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sights and built structures in as much as they may be affected by the elements of the environment.
How to make an AIE application
When making a request for information under the AIE Regulations, you are required to:
- State that the application is being made under the AIE Regulations and submit it in writing or electronic form,
- Provide your contact details,
- State, in terms that are as specific as possible, the environmental information required, and
- If you require the information in a specific format or manner of access, you should specify this in your request.
Requests made to Roscommon Country Council are required to be submitted in writing to the Access to Information on the Environment Officer, Roscommon County Council, Áras on Chontae, Roscommon, F42 VR98 or electronically to email@example.com.
There is no application fee for making a request under the AIE Regulations. In addition, public authorities may not charge for access to registers or lists of environmental information or for the examination of such information in situ. However, a public authority may charge reasonable fees for supplying the information requested. Roscommon County Council’s fees include:
- A charge of €0.04 per sheet for photocopying information,
- A charge of €10.00 for the provision of information on CD-ROM,
- A charge of €20.00 per hour for searching for and retrieving information.
The following provisions apply to search, retrieval and copying fees:
- A threshold (minimum amount) of €101 exists below which no search, retrieval and copying fees may be charged. In other words no fee applies for AIE requests where search, retrieval and copying fees amount to €100 or less.
- Where search, retrieval and copying fees amount to €101 or more, full fees apply;
- A cap (maximum amount) of €500 applies to the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that may be charged.
Requirements for dealing with requests
In general, Roscommon County Council is required to respond to an AIE request within one month of receipt of the request. Where, due to the complexity or volume of information requested, Roscommon County Council is unable to respond within the one month timeframe, it is 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 date of receipt of the original request.
Where the information requested is not held by or for Roscommon County Council it should inform the applicant of this. If Roscommon County Council is aware that the information requested is being held by another public authority it should transfer the request to that authority and inform the applicant accordingly. Alternatively it should advise the applicant as to which public authority the request should be directed.
Grounds for refusing information
There are a number of mandatory grounds, under the AIE Regulations, where Roscommon County Council is required to refuse access to information. These include circumstances where disclosure of information would adversely affect:
- The confidentiality of personal information relating to a person who has not consented to the disclosure of the information,
- The interests of any person who voluntarily supplied the information requested unless that person has consented to the release of that information,
- The protection of the environment to which that information relates, or
- The confidentiality of the proceedings of public authorities.
The AIE Regulations also provide for a number of discretionary grounds for refusing access to information. These include circumstances where disclosure of information would adversely affect:
- International relations, national defence or public security,
- The course of justice,
- Commercial or industrial confidentiality, or
- Intellectual property rights.
Roscommon County Council may also refuse to make environmental information available where the request is:
- Manifestly unreasonable having regard to the volume or range of information sought,
- Remains formulated in too general a manner,
- Contains material in the course of completion, or unfinished documents or data, or
- Concerns internal communications of public authorities, taking into consideration the public interest served by the disclosure.
Appealing a decision
If you are dissatisfied with a decision made on your request, you have a right, under the AIE Regulations, to seek an internal review of the decision. An internal review must be requested within one month of receipt of the original decision (Roscommon County Council may extend this timeframe but is not required to do so). You may also request an internal review if you have not received a response within the appropriate timeframe. There is no charge for applying for an internal review to Roscommon County Council.
A request for an internal review should be submitted in writing to the Access to Information on the Environment Officer, Roscommon County Council, Áras on Chontae, Roscommon, F42 VR98 or electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org. An internal review involves a complete reconsideration of the matter by a Roscommon County Council staff member unconnected to the original decision who may affirm, vary or annul this decision. The decision on the internal review, the reason for the decision and details in relation to your right to appeal this decision will be issued to you within one month of the date of receipt of the request for the review.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review, you can appeal in writing to the Commissioner for Environmental Information, 18 Lower Leeson Street,Dublin 2 or electronically to email@example.com. You must appeal within one month of receiving the decision on the internal review from Roscommon County Council. However, the Commissioner may extend this time limit in individual cases. It costs €50 to appeal the decision of an internal review to the Commissioner for Environmental Information. However provision is made for a reduced appeal fee of €15 for medical card holders and their dependents and also for people, not party to the original request for access to information, who are appealing a decision to release information which they believe will affect them.
For further assistance on access to information on the environment contact the Access to Information on the Environment Officer at 090 6637100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org