Access to Information on the Environment

Introduction

The European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2011 (S.I. No. 133 of 2007 and S.I. No. 662 of 2011) (AIE Regulations), give legal rights to those seeking to access information on the environment from public authorities.

Under these regulations, information relating to the environment held by, or for, a public authority must be made available on request, subject to certain exceptions. 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 unhappy with a decision on their 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.

Under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2011, the Minister is required to publish an indicative list of public authorities that are subject to the AIE Regulations.  These are:

  • Government Departments e.g. the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
  • Local authorities e.g. Offaly County Council,
  • Non-commercial state agencies e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency,
  • Commercial state agencies e.g. EirGrid,
  • Regulatory bodies e.g. the Commission for Energy Regulation

What Categories of Information does AIE cover?

The definition of 'environmental information', as set out in Article 3(1) 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,
  • state your name and address and any other 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 Offaly County Council are required to be submitted in writing to the Access to Information on the Environment Officer, Offaly County Council, Áras an Chontae, Charleville Road, Tullamore, Co. Offaly or electronically to aie@offalycoco.ie

Fees for Making a Request

There is no initial fee for making a request under the AIE Regulations.  However, a public authority may charge reasonable fees for supplying the information requested.  These fees may include the cost of compiling, copying, printing or posting of information. Public authorities may not charge for access to registers or lists of environmental information or for the examination of such information in situ. Offaly County Council’s fees include:

  • A charge of €0.04 per sheet for photocopying records,
  • A charge of €10.00 for the provision of information on CD-ROM.

Requirements for Dealing with Requests

In general, Offaly 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, Offaly 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 Offaly County Council it should inform the applicant of this. If Offaly 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 of the public authority to whom it believes the request should be directed.

Grounds for Refusing Information

There are a number of mandatory grounds, under Article 8 of the AIE Regulations, where Offaly 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.

Article 9 of 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.

Offaly County Council may also refuse, under Article 9 of the AIE Regulations, 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.

When making a decision on whether to release information, Offaly County Council is required to consider provisions contained in Article 10 of the AIE Regulations.

Appealing a Decision

If you are dissatisfied with a decision you have a right, under Article 11 of 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.  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 Offaly County Council.

A request for an internal review should be submitted in writing to the Access to Information on the Environment Officer, Offaly County Council, Áras an Chontae, Charleville Road, Tullamore, Co. Offaly or electronically toaie@offalycoco.ie.  An internal review involves a complete reconsideration of the matter by an Offaly 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.  You must appeal within one month of receiving the decision on the internal review from Offaly County Council.  However, the Commissioner may extend this time limit in individual cases.

A written appeal should be made to The Appeals Officer, Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, or electronically to info@ocei.ie.

The cost to appeal the decision of an internal review to the Commissioner for Environmental Information is €150.   However provision is made for a reduced appeal fee of €50 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.

Assistance in Making AIE Requests

If you have any queries regarding the making of requests, you may contact the Access to Information on the Environment Officer, Ms Marie Spain by telephone +353 (0)57 9346800 or email aie@offalycoco.ie.

Further Information

For further information on Access to Information on the Environment, please see www.environ.ie/en/Environment/AccesstoInformationontheEnvironment/ and for further information on the Commissioner’s Office, please see www.ocei.gov.ie