As part of our on-going work to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the re-zoning of public park land for private development by the GAA at the show grounds in Cork we took the opportunity to meet with our local Member for the European Parliament (MEP), Brian Crowley last Friday, 5th October.
Before you start getting ideas that this involved an expensive ‘fact-finding’ mission to Brussels in order to meet Brian I can assure you that as we have a budget similar to a child’s pocket-money account and we do all our work on a pro-bono basis it was more a question of meeting up after work in a local hotel!
Before we met Brian we had a chat about what we would tell him and, if we’re honest, what good it would do us. As far as we’re concerned the whole issue of a public park for a city like Cork is pretty local and there isn’t much Europe or an MEP could do for us. Still, if you know Brian Crowley, Ireland’s longest serving MEP, you’ll realise that despite spending most of his time in Europe he has never lost touch with the things that matter to his constituents.
Brian had become aware of our campaign through social media and was interested in what we had to say. When explaining the story to-date to Brian We were adamant, as we have been since the start of this whole thing, that we are neither anti-GAA (as we have been portrayed from time-to-time) nor anti-development. Rather we are anti-bad planning and pro-citizen. We think that a city exists because of the citizens and they should be integral to the decision making within the city. So far, the re-zoning and selling off of the showgrounds has been presented as a fait-accompli between the City Council and the GAA.
Like any good politician Brian was neither for nor against the proposed GAA works in the showgrounds. We talked to him about how the proposed second pitch would impact on the area and what it would do to the natural habitat, the residents of the area and the proposed marina park. He seemed to understand the issues and made some interesting points to us; some we knew already and some which were news to us. We emphasised our desire for compromise on issues relating to the second pitch but told him that these had been ignored so far.
He pointed out that in terms of any development of this scale an Environmental Impact Assessment would probably be required and that this would invariably involve a public hearing where many of the issues would be discussed. We knew this but Brian added that as Ireland has just ratified the Aarhus Convention which makes the requirement of public bodies to include the public in decision making legally binding and to ensure that the public have recourse to justice if they want to challenge these decisions.
He also pointed out that as citizens of Europe we all have a fundamental right to petition the European Parliament in relation to any issue which we feel represents a breach of a citizen’s rights. While the Petitions Committee cannot overturn the decisions of a member state they can shine a very bright light on cases where the rights of citizens are infringed. They can also refer issues to the European Commission who can investigate whether a member state (that’s euro-speak for the country you live in) has complied with European law. The Commission does have the right to refer these matters to the European Court of Justice who can take action.
If all that sounds confusing just think about some recent issues in Ireland such as the Septic Tank Charge – this is as a result of Ireland not complying with an EU law from 1975 called the waste directive. If we didn’t start complying with this law we would be fined €26,000 per day by the EU.
If all that still sounds confusing then don’t worry. What it really means is that if you can’t sort something out locally then you can refer it to the European Union to help you get justice.
We were quite impressed with this information. This alone made our meeting worthwhile.
That said, we told Brian that we thought the provision of a public park and the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh were local issues best sorted out by the local democratic process. After all, that’s what local Councillors and Local Government was all about.
Brian agreed and as he said himself: Even in Europe, everything is local.