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AOC Overview of Irish Employment Law

This overview introduces the principal areas of employment law which affect businesses in Ireland. Statute law and decisions of the courts, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) and the Labour Court impact on all aspects of the relationship between employer and employee, from recruitment to termination of employment. Given that Ireland is one of the most highly regulated environments of employment law in Europe, it is imperative to take legal advice from the outset to avoid pitfalls in this area.

Employer Protection

Much of the employment legislation is aimed at providing protection for employees rather than employers. For employers, therefore, it is advisable to ensure that the contract of employment contains provisions to protect their interests. For example, matters such as non-disclosure of confidential information by employees, non-compete/non-solicitation clauses, and securing intellectual property rights should be considered. Also, an employer may have a particular requirement regarding the availability of employees for shift or weekend work or seasonal/project-based work which should be clearly set out in the employment contracts. These stipulations should be augmented by the employer’s relevant company policies, for example in relation to disciplinary, grievance, equality, harassment, bullying, flexible working, social media and e-mail/internet usage. The importance for employers to have well drawn up and active personnel policies cannot be overstated.

Pre-Contract Matters

Most employers seek staff through job advertisements. Such advertising must comply with legislation governing equality in employment, including access to employment. In addition, job advertisements should be carefully worded as applicants will rely on that wording and it may form part of a contract of employment.

The conduct of job interviews is important in that the prospective employer and/or employee may make representations which could be deemed to form part of the contract of employment. In addition, questions which breach the statutory obligations of equality cannot be asked. The potential for an unsuccessful job applicant to pursue the employer on the grounds that equality legislation was breached during the selection process can be minimised if the employer adheres to the best practice procedures in that process.

Employers should also be aware that potential candidates may make a Data Access Request under the Data Protection Acts 1988-2018. Therefore, employers should be mindful that all notes and emails in relation to a candidate together with any printed and/or saved background checks may be accessed by the candidate. Employers need to ensure that the information provided by such candidates is not used in any manner other than the stipulated purpose.

Contract of Employment

Employers are obliged to provide an employee with a written statement of “core terms” within 5 days of commencement of employment pursuant to the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018. Failure to comply may lead to criminal prosecution. The core terms are – the full names of employer and employee; address of employer; expected duration of the contract if a temporary contract or the end date if a fixed term contract; the rate or method of calculation of the employee’s pay; the number of hours the employer reasonably expects the employee to work per normal working pay and per normal working week.

Separate to the above, the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994-2014 obliges that an employer is obliged to provide an employee with a statement confirming the remaining basic terms of the contract of employment no later than 2 months after commencement of employment. This includes stating the place of work, job title, date of commencement, pay details, terms and conditions relating to hours of work, time of breaks and the period of notice which the employer and employee are required to give to terminate their contract. This is not the complete list of mandatory terms.

It is also mandatory for the employer to provide to the employee within 28 days of commencement of employment, notice in writing setting out the procedure which an employer will observe before and for the purpose of dismissing an employee.

Currently the national minimum rate of pay is set at €10.20 per hour for persons aged 20 years and over. This is set to increase to €10.50 from 1st January 2022.

In certain industries and geographical areas, rates of pay and other terms and conditions were regulated by specific Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements. However, these were struck down by the Supreme Court. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 has reintroduced a twin-track system. This system allows for registered employment agreements to be re-established where all the parties of an employment agreement agree to be bound by it. It is reasonably similar to the previous system and is generally limited to individual enterprises. It operates as a two-part system; the first system enforces agreements made by parties who agree to be bound. The second enforces agreements devised by orders of the Labour Court and made by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and apply to the entire sector.

Ministerial Codes of Practice set out basic requirements for disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures and dispute resolution generally. It is wise for employers to incorporate these procedures into their own policies for employees.

Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015

Irish legislation provides that equality rights and obligations are implied into the employment contract. It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate on any one of nine grounds in any area of employment including recruitment, training, and promotion. The nine grounds are gender, civil status, family status, age, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, and membership of the Traveller Community. Additionally, employers must take steps to ensure that harassment (including sexual harassment) of employees does not occur. Otherwise, the employer may be held liable and incur substantial costs. Compulsory retirement age is currently the subject of varying decisions but the legislation does provide that offering a fixed term contract to a person over the compulsory retirement age for that employment will not constitute discrimination if it can be objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Payment of Wages Act 1991

This Act regulates the payment of wages to employees. It sets out a detailed list of payments which constitute wages (for example, bonus, commission, holiday/sick/maternity pay) for the purposes of the Act, along with a list of various approved methods of payment of wages (such as cash, cheque, bank draft, postal or money order, paying order, credit transfer). The Act also affords various rights to employees, including the right to receive a payslip. It is important to note that the definition of “wages” under the Act does not cover expenses, pensions, gratuities, redundancy payments or benefits in kind The Act sets out a number of limited circumstances in which an employer is entitled to make deductions from an employee’s wages.

Organisation of Working Time Act 1997

This legislation sets out the statutory rights of employees in relation to minimum rest periods, maximum working hours, and holidays. Employers are required to maintain records showing compliance with this legislation. The maximum number of hours that an employee may work is an average of 48 hours per week.[1] Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period (daily rest period) and 24 consecutive hours of rest in each period of 7 days (weekly rest period). Additionally, an employer should not require an employee to work for a period of more than (a) 4 hours and 30 mins without allowing such employee a break of at least 15 mins; and (b) 6 hours without allowing such employee a break of at least 30 mins (which may include the break period under (a) above). Shop workers are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break between 11:30am and 2:30pm if they work more than 6 hours including from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Employers have a duty to record and maintain records of their employees’ working time and breaks, which may be inspected by the Workplace Relations Commission.    

Under this legislation, in addition to 9 public holidays, employees are entitled to paid annual leave calculated as below:

The method of calculation which gives an employee the greatest entitlement should be used.

Employees accrue statutory annual leave during a period of certified sick leave but such leave must be taken within 15 months after the end of the statutory leave year, which runs from April to March.

Zero hour contracts are prohibited, save in exceptional circumstances, and introduced the concept of “banded hours” contracts. However, “as and when” contracts are not prohibited.

The Right to Disconnect

The Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect (the “Code”) was introduced on 1 April 2021. The Code outlines the following 3 main principles:

In many ways, the Code and these principles simply restate employers’ existing obligations. For example, the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts require an employer to prescribe clear expected hours of work, the Organisation of Working Time Act requires an employer to record the times that employees are working and ensure that they get their breaks, rest periods and do not work more than an average of 48 hours per week, the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Acts require an employer to prevent behaviour and practices that put employee health and safety at risk and to complete up to date risk assessments.

Transfer of Undertakings

Where a business is transferred from one entity to another, resulting in a change of employer (e.g. a merger, acquisition or outsourcing), the rights and obligations of the transferor in relation to the contracts of employment of its staff are transferred to the new owner. The new owner must continue to observe the terms and conditions of the contracts of employment that have been transferred. Dismissal can be justified if it can be shown that it is necessitated by economic, technical, or organisational reasons which require changes in the workforce. Employers are subject to onerous obligations to notify and consult with their employees at least 30 days in advance of a proposed business sale or transfer.

Employment of Foreign Nationals

EU law provides that a national of any European Economic Area state may work in another member state without a work permit, visa or other equivalent document. Save for some exceptions, nationals of non–EEA countries require a work permit under the Employment Permits Acts 2003-2020.

The Employment Permits (Amendment) Act 2014 provides a means of redress for vulnerable migrant workers who previously had no means of enforcing their employment rights unless they held a valid work permit and were entirely dependent on their employer to process their application. Civil action may be brought seeking compensation for work done provided all reasonable steps to comply with the requirement to have a permit were taken by the employee.

The Employment Permits Regulations set out different types of employment permits that may be granted and set out the applicable application process for each.

Part-Time Workers and Fixed-Term Workers

The Protection of Employees (Part-time Work) Act 2001 provides that a part-time employee should not be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee in respect of his/her conditions of employment. A part-time employee may only be treated in a less favourable manner than a comparable full-time employee where such treatment can be justified on objective grounds, which are appropriate and necessary for achieving a legitimate business objective.[2] Part-time employees should have the same access to pension schemes and benefits. However, where a part-time employee works for less than 20% of the normal hours of a comparable full-time employee, the employer does not have to provide him/her with the same pension benefits as given to full-time employees. A full-time employee is entitled to request part-time work from his/her employer. While it is not mandatory for an employer to accept such requests, they should be given consideration.

The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 introduced similar provisions and protections for fixed-term workers as had been implemented in respect of part-time workers under the above legislation. This Act sets out that people employed on fixed -term contracts have the same rights as other employees. For example, they have the same entitlements to annual leave, maternity leave, and payslips. A fixed-term employment contract must clearly specify the expiry date or condition for expiry[3] of the employment contract. Again, unless the employer has a strong objective justification, a fixed-term employee should not be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee.

Employers should note that where an employee has been employed on 2 or more successive fixed-term contracts, the total duration should not exceed 4 years unless the employer can demonstrate that there are objective grounds justifying the renewal of a fixed term contract as opposed to providing the employee with a contract of indefinite duration.

Employers may expressly exclude the application of the Unfair Dismissals legislation where a fixed-term contract is terminated by reason only of the expiry of the term of the fixed-term contract. However, if an employee has been employed on 2 or more successive fixed term contracts and his/her service exceeds the 4-year period stipulated above, then the employee may be deemed to be employed under a contract of indefinite duration, in which case he/she will be entitled to the protection of the Unfair Dismissals Acts.

Temporary Agency Work

The Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 affords protection to agency workers who are temporarily assigned by an employment agency to work for/under the direction of a hirer. Agency workers are entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions as those enjoyed by employees of the hirer. Access to a pension or any form of company sick pay is not included. Agency workers are also entitled to be provided with information on job vacancies in the hirer and to access collective facilities and amenities in the same way as employees of the hirer.

Maternity Leave

Pregnant employees are entitled to a period of ordinary maternity leave of 26 consecutive weeks, with an option for an additional 16 consecutive weeks of additional maternity leave.  Employees are required to give at least 4 weeks’ notice prior to the commencement of their maternity leave.

The legislation also sets out safeguards for protecting employment rights during that period and prescribes health and safety measures to be taken during pregnancy and after return to work including ante-natal and post-natal care. In Ireland, there is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee during a period of maternity leave unless an employee has a contractual right to maternity pay. Employees may be entitled to avail of State Maternity Benefit for the period of ordinary maternity leave, depending on their PRSI contributions. Maternity Benefit is not available for any period of additional maternity leave. Employees returning from a period of maternity may request a change in their working hours. Employers are not legally obliged to facilitate such requests but must give due consideration to them.

Adoptive Leave

A “qualifying adopter”[4] can avail of adoptive leave under the provisions of the Adoptive Leave Act 1995. Such adopter is entitled to 24 consecutive weeks’ adoptive leave from the date of placement (ordinary adoptive leave) and a further period of 16 weeks of additional adoptive leave, subject to providing 4 weeks’ advance written notice to his employer. An employee retains all employment rights while on adoptive leave, but his/her employer is not obliged to pay him/her unless specifically provided under the contract of employment. The qualifying adopter may apply for State Adoptive Benefit.

Paternity Leave

Under the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 a “relevant parent”[5] is entitled to 2 continuous weeks of paternity leave. Paternity Benefit may be paid by the State, subject to an employee having the appropriate PRSI contributions. The purpose of paternity leave is to enable an employee to provide or assist in the provision of care to his child or to provide support to the mother of the child or the relevant adopting parent or as a surviving parent on the death of “relevant parent”. Employees can take paternity leave at any time commencing on the date of the birth or placement in the case of an adoption and ending not later than 26 weeks from the date of birth or placement. Employees must apply in writing at least 4 weeks in advance to avail of paternity leave.  

Parental Leave

A parent, adoptive parent, or person acting in loco parentis of a child to parental leave of 26 weeks from 1st September 2020 for each eligible child. Employees must have at least 1 year’s continuous service to qualify for parental leave.

Parental leave can be taken for children up until their 12th birthday. If an employee adopted a child who was between 10 and 12 years of age, he/she can take parental leave up to 2 years after the date of adoption. In the case of children with a disability or long term illness, employees can avail of parental leave up until the child turns 16. Where the child is nearing 12 years (or 16 in case of child with disability/ long term illness) and the employee has more than 3 months but less than a year’s service, he/she will be entitled to pro rata parental leave. For part-time employees, entitlement to parental leave is reduced on a pro-rata basis. Parental leave may be taken as a 1 continuous period or 2 separate blocks of a minimum of 6 weeks each or in such manner as may be agreed between the employer and the employee.

Force Majeure Leave

The legislation also provides for limited force majeure leave up to a maximum of 3 days in any 12 consecutive months or 5 days in any 36 consecutive months, to deal with family emergencies where the employee’s immediate presence is indispensable.

Parent’s Leave

From April 2021, employees are entitled to 5 weeks’ parent’s leave during the first 2 years of a child’s life or, in the case of adoption, within 2 years of the placement of the child with the family. This is in addition to maternity/adoptive/paternity/parental leave. Parent’s leave may be taken as a continuous period or in separate periods of not less than 1 week each.

From July 2022, Parents Leave will increase from 5 weeks to 7 weeks. There is no obligation on employers to pay employees during a period of parent’s leave unless the employee has a contractual entitlement to same. State Parent’s Benefit may be payable, subject to the employee having sufficient PRSI contributions.

Carer’s Leave

The Carer’s Leave Act 2001 entitles an employee (who has been employed for a continuous period of 12 months) to unpaid leave to enable him/her to personally provide full-time care and attention to a person who needs such care. The minimum statutory entitlement is 13 weeks, and the maximum is 104 weeks in respect of the care of 1 recipient. Employers are not required to pay employees on carer’s leave but, the employee will be entitled to return to his/her job on the same or similar terms upon his/her return. Employees may qualify for State Carer’s Benefit, subject to having sufficient PRSI contributions or an application can be made for a means-tested Carer’s Allowance. Employees on carer’s leave may attend an educational institution for up to 18.5 hours per week; engage in self-employment from home; or work up to 18.5 hours per week employment from outside the home subject to obtaining relevant approvals.

Whistleblowers / Protected Disclosures

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 applies to all levels of employment in both public and private sectors and protects current and former employees, contractors, trainees, apprentices and agency staff, from being dismissed or otherwise penalised for disclosing possible wrongdoing in the workplace. It provides for a stepped disclosure regime encouraging initial disclosure to the relevant employer, Minister or prescribed person. No sufficient public interest requirement has been put in place, instead employees must be of reasonable belief that the disclosure is true. Any dismissal or other penalisation of an employee for making a protected disclosure will be unlawful.

Compensation of up to 5 years’ remuneration may be awarded in respect of unfair dismissal claims and the 12 months’ service ordinarily required under the Unfair Dismissals legislation is not required. All public sector employers are required to put a whistleblowing policy in place and it is strongly recommended that private sector employers put in place policies on whistleblowing as it will be required under the new legislation. 

There is, however, a Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021 in the pipeline, which will introduce changes to this and is referred to below.

Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Acts 1973 – 2005

This legislation sets out the minimum periods of notice for termination of employment. The period of notice depends on the employee’s length of continuous service. The notice period ranges from 1 week’s notice for an employee with up to 2 years of service up to 8 weeks’ notice for an employee with 15 years’ or more service. Where notice is provided for in an employee’s contract of employment, the longer notice period will apply. Employees may be required to work out their notice period or an employer may pay an employee in lieu of notice in accordance with his/her contract of employment. Employees are entitled to normal pay during any period of notice. However, the employee must be ‘ready and willing’ to work the notice in order to be entitled to pay for the period of notice.

Termination of Employment

  1. Retirement / Resignation: Where the contract of employment is terminated by reason of retirement[6] or resignation, there is rarely much cause for dispute between employer and employee. In relation to retirement – it is important that the retirement age is justifiable, was at all times known to the employee and there is no gap between the retirement age and the pension age. In relation to resignation – it is important the employer ensures that the resignation was not done in the heat of the moment and the employee is sure about his/her decision. The position is usually very different where it is necessary to dismiss an employee.

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 – 2014

This legislation sets out the duties and responsibilities of employers, employees, and others in relation to health and safety in the workplace. Employers are required to prepare a written Risk Assessment and Safety Statement identifying all potential hazards in the workplace, setting out how those hazards are controlled and managed. Employers must prepare a Safety Statement and ensure that the Safety Statement is easily accessible to employees at all its premises. Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and work systems are safe. Employers are obliged to report any accident in the workplace, which results in the absence of the employee (involved in the accident) for 3 consecutive days. Employers must also prevent bullying, harassment, violence, and assaults at the workplace by putting in place proper safeguard measures and clear policies in the manner in which such issues are to be dealt with. Employees are obliged to take reasonable care, undergo assessments as may be required by the employer, report defects/dangers in the workplace/equipment, not engage in improper behaviour or be under the influence of alcohol/drugs.

Industrial Relations

The Industrial Relations Acts provide for a mainly non-compulsory regime of conciliation and arbitration for disputes between employers and employees. An employee cannot be prevented by the employer from joining a trade union, should there be one in existence in the place of employment, but neither is there an obligation on the employer to recognise or enter direct discussions with the union.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 (the “2015 Act”) was introduced on the 1st August 2015. Its main purpose was twofold:

It should be noted that the 2015 Act defines “collective bargaining” as either voluntary agreements or negotiations by an employer with trade unions or an excepted body. Therefore, if an employer ensures an excepted body is in place, then it can avoid negotiating with trade unions without risk of recourse under the 2015 Act. An “excepted body” is defined as a body that is independent from the control of an employer or trade union of employers, its members are employed by the same employer and carries on engagements or negotiations regarding the wages or other conditions of employment of its members.

The 2015 Act has also inserted a number of protections for employers by inserting a de minimis type threshold to be met by employees enabling employers to avoid having to address disputes where the Labour Court is of the opinion that the dispute involves an insignificant number of workers. A restriction on referrals has been introduced limiting a fresh application on the same issue for 18 months following a recommendation or determination. The Labour Court is further obliged to have regard to the long-term sustainability of the business of the employer before making a decision.

Workplace Relations Act 2015

Pursuant to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 (“2015 Act”) there are now 2 bodies, the WRC and the Labour Court, that deal with complaints and disputes relating to industrial relations and employment law. Such disputes were previously heard by the Rights Commissioner Service, Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Equality Tribunal. Decisions of the WRC and Labour Court may be referred to the High Court on a point of law only.

In addition to operating as an adjudication body, the WRC is also a guiding and monitoring body. It also operates a mediation service and has special functions in relation to the resolution of industrial disputes and the implementation of employment laws as it took over the role of the Labour Relations Commission and the National Employment Rights Authority.

The constitutionality of the 2015 Act was considered by the Supreme Court in Zawelski v Adjudication Officer & Ors [2021] IESC 24. Although the legislation was upheld, the Supreme Court identified that a number of WRC procedures were inconsistent with the Constitution, which led to the introduction of the Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2021 (“2021 Act”). Previously, WRC hearings were conducted in private and the names of the parties were routinely anonymised on decisions. However, from 29th July 2021, all WRC hearings (save for disputes under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, ‘1969) are now conducted in public and decisions are no longer anonymised unless an Adjudication Officer decides otherwise. The 2021 Act also makes provision for the Adjudication Officer to take evidence on oath or affirmation.

What to Look Out for in 2022

  1. Protected Disclosures

Ireland was due to implement the EU Whistleblowing Directive on 17 December 2021. While the deadline for transposition has now passed, it is anticipated that the transposing legislation, the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021, will soon be published. The Bill, when enacted, will not only widen the scope of persons who can make protected disclosures, but it will also expand the definition of a relevant wrongdoing and set out a more detailed structure for making protected disclosures and how employers should address them. It will be applicable to the public sector and certain parts of the private sector.[7]

It remains to be seen whether or not the Bill will reflect the recent Supreme Court decision in Baranya v Rosderra Meats Group Limited[8]. In that case, the Supreme Court clarified that an employee’s personal grievance may amount to a protected disclosure if it relates to a breach of a statutory obligation or to health and safety at work. In so finding, the Supreme Court noted that the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice on Protected Disclosures Act 2014) (Declaration) Order 2015 (“the 2015 Code”) is not in line with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 but noted that the Act itself needs to be amended to reflect the intention that it should be focused on the public interest of the disclosure.

There is currently no statutory sick pay in Ireland and employers have discretion whether or not to provide sick pay for employees. This is due to change soon when the Sick Leave Bill 2021 is enacted. The Bill, when enacted, will introduce a mandatory employer Statutory Sick Pay Scheme for the first time in Ireland. Statutory sick pay will be introduced on a phased basis for employees who are on certified sick leave and have at least 6 months’ service. Paid sick leave is to be introduced initially for up to 3 sick days, which is planned to increase year on year up to a maximum of 10 days in 2025. Statutory sick pay will be payable at 70% of an employee’s normal wages, up to a maximum daily rate of €110.

The Gender Pay Information Act 2021 (the “Act”) was signed into law on 13 July 2021. The Act amends the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 and obliges the Minister to make Regulations which will mandate employers to publish information relating to the remuneration of their employees by reference to their gender. There will be further requirements under the Regulations for employers to publish statements setting out the reasons for the difference (if any) and the measures (if any) undertaken, or proposed to be taken, by those employers to eliminate or reduce such differences. It is proposed that the Regulations will become applicable on a phased basis depending on the size of the organisation. Regulations are expected to be introduced shortly.

The Government planned to publish legislation this year to give employees the right to request remote working from their employers. While this legislation has not yet been published, it is something to watch out for in 2022. Employers will not be obliged to grant these requests, but they will be required to consider them and to provide employees with a proper justification in the event that they refuse their request to work remotely. Employees who are not satisfied with the reasons for refusal will be entitled to refer the matter to the WRC. While employees have previously been entitled to request remote working from their employers, the anticipated legislation will introduce a legal framework around such requests.

Last Updated – 23 December 2021

Further Information

For further information please contact: –

Anne O’Connell


19-22 Baggot Street Lower

Dublin 2

Telephone: +353 1 211 8434

Email: info@aocsolicitors.ie 


[1] The average is calculated as follows: (a) for employees generally – 4 months; (b) for employees who work seasonally or in certain sectors – 6 months; and (c) for all employees governed under a collective agreement approved by Labour Court – 12 months.

[2] One of the examples for objective justification is access to health insurance: employers can objectively justify not providing health insurance to part-time employees on the grounds of disproportionate cost to the employer.

[3] Reasons for ending a fixed term contract include arrival of a specific date, completion of a specific task, occurrence of a specific event.

[4] A Qualifying Adopter is either the sole adopter, in the case of a parent who is adopting a child on their own, or the nominated parent in the case of an adopting couple.

[5] Relevant parent under the legislation means – the father of the child; the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother of the child; or the parent of a donor-conceived child; or the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the qualifying adopter of the child.

[6] Note to employers: the retirement age must be clearly set out in the Contract of Employment and must be objectively justified. Where the employer allows an employee to work beyond retirement age, it must be on a fixed term contract and employer must objectively justify this extension and ensure that there is no precedent set.

[7] The Bill, when enacted, will be applicable to employers in the private sector: (a) with 50 or more employees; (b) subject to EU laws in the areas of financial services; prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing; transport safety and protection of environment.

[8] [2021] IESC 77.

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