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Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan. Alamy Stock Photo
Under fire

Eamon Ryan criticised for Ireland's intervention in Swiss women's climate case

The Green Party leader said the climate crisis “cannot best be addressed by litigation”.

CLIMATE MINISTER EAMON Ryan has been criticised for Ireland’s intervention in a court case taken by a group of older Swiss women over climate change.

The association of women – KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz – took a case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) arguing that the Swiss government had not taken enough action on climate change and that this violated their health rights.

The court ruled that the Swiss government violated an article of the European Convention of Human Rights by not taking sufficient action to reduce emissions or making a clear plan for future reductions.

During the proceedings, the Irish government made an intervention and sent a legal team to Strasbourg to try to argue that the Convention does not guarantee the right to a healthy environment.

But the Court ultimately found the Convention entitles people to be protected by State authorities against adverse effects of climate change on their lives and health.

In response to a Parliamentary Question posed by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore about why Ireland had sought to intervene in the case as a third party, Ryan said: “In the case of Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz v Switzerland, I sought and was granted Government approval for Ireland to seek leave to intervene as a third party.”

The Green Party leader said the Government is reviewing the ECHR ruling in consultation with the Attorney General’s office.

“In advance of this review occurring fully, it is not possible to determine what, if any, impact the ruling could have on the policy of the Government,” Ryan said.

“While the Government shares the environmental concerns of the applicants, the global climate crisis cannot best be addressed by litigation, but instead requires collaborative global efforts – efforts to which this Government is strongly committed.” 

He said the Government was represented at the hearing by a senior and a junior counsel, and by officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Written and oral observations were made on behalf of the State during the case.

“The final costs of these proceedings have not been determined and to date no payments have been made by my department,” he added.

Response ‘could have been phrased better’

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for Ryan said he has “publicly, at all stages, stated that he fully understands and supports the motives of the applicants ” who took the case.

The spokesperson said that at a conference earlier today, he clarified that the decision by the Government to intervene in the Swiss case was not driven by him.

“It was on the advice of the Attorney General, that the Government made an intervention in the case. The intervention sought to ensure it is governments elected by the people, rather than the courts, which should decide what steps should be taken to ensure states meet their climate change obligations,” the spokesperson said.

“However, the courts have a clear role in determining that these obligations are met. The ECHR’s ruling agreed with that position and made that clear.”

Ryan acknowledged that the wording of the response to the PQ from Whitmore “could have been phrased better”, the spokesperson added.

In a statement earlier today, Whitmore criticised Ryan’s response in the PQ, saying the decision to intervene in the Swiss case “is completely at odds with his own Climate Action Plan and could have undermined efforts to hold governments to account for failures in meeting targets”.

“As it has become blatantly obvious that this Government will miss its climate action targets, I can only assume it was the minister’s aim to prevent any possible cases being taken directly against the State,” she said. 

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said she was “shocked” to learn that it was Ryan who instigated Ireland’s intervention in the Swiss case.

“When these women won their case ten days ago I applauded their civic spirit and bravery, but little did I know that it was Eamon Ryan who was leading the legal campaign against them,” Smyth said.

“I can think of nothing that illustrates the vacuous green washing politics of Eamon Ryan and the Green Party more than this. He should be ashamed of himself and he owes an apology to the women who brought and won this case.”

With reporting from Press Association

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