THE High Court has turned down a request by the State to delay a legal challenge concerning the Shannon LNG (liquefied natural gas) project on account of the Covid-19 crisis.
The State sought to delay the planned June hearing on the controversial gas terminal plan to October by arguing its officials were too busy to work on the case as they were focused on the implications of the pandemic for the security of gas and electricity supplies.
Kevin Brady, principal officer at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, also argued that the personnel were disadvantaged by remote working.
“The individuals at issue cannot work as efficiently as they would otherwise be able to do and do not all currently have access to their full paper and digital files that would be necessary to provide full instructions in these proceedings,” he submitted.
Judge Garrett Simons however said the dispute was centred on legal rather than factual issues and the State’s lawyers rather than its officials would be doing “the heavy lifting”.
“It seems unlikely that the Departmental officials would be required to expend time on the preparation of new reports or materials,” he said in a written judgement.
He rejected the argument that working remotely should cause difficulty. “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” he said.
“Unless the administration of justice is to grind to a halt entirely, this cannot represent a valid excuse for adjourning legal proceedings for a period of in excess of three months.
“All of us will have to accommodate ourselves to the new working environment demanded by the need to respond to the pandemic.”
Friends of the Irish Environment are challenging the State’s decision to back the inclusion of the terminal plan in the European Commission’s PCI (projects of common interest) list.
Listed projects are expedited and can access massive grant aid. FIE say the project was included without the necessary sustainability assessment being carried out.
The group will argue that development of new fossil fuel infrastructure is unsustainable and that the site chosen for this project is protected under conservation regulations.
The project is also controversial as the gas is intended to be imported from fracking fields in the United States while fracking is illegal in Ireland.
Judge Simons gave the State extra time to file final submissions and said he would be flexible about how the case could be heard.
He suggested it might be possible to deal with it by way of a “remote or virtual hearing” or, with agreement on both sides, by submission of papers only.
A spokesman for FIE welcomed the decision to proceed in June and said it was hoped it would be “a harbinger of a Court Service ready to embrace the potential of electronic proceedings’.