Right to Know brings High Court challenge to increase transparency around lobbying

* Quick update on this case. It had been due to start today but has now been postponed until mid-July. We will keep you posted.

The High Court will begin hearing a challenge on February 14 brought by Right to Know against a decision of the Commissioner for Environmental Information to refuse access to an IBEC submission to the Minister for Transport outlining the business lobbyist’s priorities for transport investment and renewable energy measures.

The submission, which was disclosed on the lobbying register, was aimed at convincing Minister Shane Ross to increase transport investment, upgrade road infrastructure, invest in renewable fuel infrastructure, and improve commuter access to Dublin Airport.

In March 2017, Right to Know made a request to the Minister for Transport for a copy of the submission under the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations. The request was ultimately refused and this decision was affirmed by the Commissioner for Environmental Information who said that the submission didn’t contain any substantive content on the transport measures at issue and therefore wasn’t accessible under environmental transparency legislation.

Right to Know brings this challenge because lobbying is an activity which by definition is designed to affect the environment, in this case by increasing investment in transport including road upgrades. In its challenge, it argues that the Commissioner applied the wrong legal test and took too narrow a view of the scope of information that could be accessed by the public.

Gavin Sheridan, managing director of Right to Know, said: “A submission on transport policy by Ireland’s most powerful lobby group is clearly information that the public should have access to. When big business tells a minister their priorities in environmental matters, the public has a right to see what those priorities are.

“It is not for the Commissioner to restrict the information that can be accessed about environmental lobbying. The law says that any information on an activity intended to affect the environment should be accessible to the public irrespective of its content. Often, it is as much about what is not said. For example, the public has a right to know if they agree with IBEC’s priorities. Does IBEC list walking and cycling on its priority list? Are the priorities focussed on road transport or other unsustainable measures? There are strong public interest reasons to have the widest possible transparency over lobbying on environmental matters.”

Mr Sheridan added: “The Commissioner for Environmental Information cannot second-guess how the public will interpret lobbying submissions. His job is to check whether the lobbying can affect the environment. If it can, then he has to ensure the greatest possible transparency in respect of that lobbying.”

Right to Know is taking this challenge in the public interest to make sure that the public has the widest possible access to environmental information. Right to Know is represented by FP Logue Solicitors and barrister David Browne BL.

You can read the original decision here: https://www.ocei.ie/decisions/right-to-know-clg-and-the/