|The loss of a department responsible for the ‘Environment’ will damage Ireland’s natural environment. A healthy environment is essential to the well-being of the people of Ireland and to a thriving economy.
In the last 20 years Ireland has seen severe biodiversity loss, pressure on and pollution of water resources, and devastating impacts of severe weather.
And despite this politicians have downgraded the department charged with protecting the environment.
The Environmental Pillar fear that this will lead to the side-lining of environmental issues and lead to environmental harm which will be felt now and for years to come.
The Environmental Pillar is an advocacy coalition of 28 Irish environmental NGOs.
During the last government we saw the role of the protecting Ireland’s wildlife and heritage split off from the Department of the Environment as the National Parks and Wildlife Service was moved to another Department.
This coincided with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) being starved of resources which has had a very damaging impact.
We fear that if no department is given a clear mandate to protect the natural environment then, like the NPWS, it will lead to severe losses to biodiversity, damage to the natural systems that provide us with clean air and water, and support food production. Protecting Ireland’s environment in the long term supports livelihoods and the rural economy for now and future generations.
The fact that the environment has been side-lined in this way reflects the position of Fine Gael and the agendas of the people they have been dealing with. It is worth nothing that there is no section dedicated to the environment in the 160 page draft programme for government. This is a very short-sighted as environmental degradation will impact everyone unlike many of the other issues detailed in the document.
The Environmental Pillar also has concerns about the splitting of environmental functions across two or more departments. If we take the water and planning section, which is currently part of the Department of the Environment, if this is part of a new Department of Housing the fear is that it will now be divorced from related environmental concerns.
Charles Stanley Smith, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar said:
“We are very worried about the impact of this departmental shuffle on Ireland’s environment. We have seen how when an organisation such as the NPWS has been split from its original department. Their work falls off the political agenda.
“If there is no longer a minister that has ‘environment’ in their title than the vital job of protecting our common environment will no longer have a champion in government and that the issue will lose political focus.
“This couldn’t come at a worse time for Ireland’s environment. In recent years we have seen severe biodiversity loss and unprecedented pressure on our ecosystem services. An example of this is the pressure on our waterways and water resources that are vital to providing clean water to people. This has come about from changes in the way we use land, poor water treatment, and the intensification of some farming practices. It is vital that we move to a new way of managing and dealing with our landscape that supports the natural systems, food production and our tourist industry in a way that can continue in the next 20, 50 and 100 years.
“Without strong leadership in this area and someone responsible for this at the highest level of government we are risking environmental harm which will have serious impacts for everyone.”