No deal Brexit poses major risk for Irish environment, GFA Committee hears

July 4th, 2019

Unleashing the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a No-Deal scenario are key to protecting the environment on the island of Ireland from the threat posed by Brexit, an Oireachtas Committee heard today.

Speaking before the GFA Committee, barrister and Athlone IT law lecturer Alison Hough said that Brexit poses a major threat to nature on our small single biogeographic island without guaranteed island-wide standards for tackling the likes of invasive species and hazardous waste.

At present, she said, EU membership provided the “ideal context for this”, with shared regulatory standards, enforcement and funding designed to encourage co-operation.

In particular, regulatory divergence between the two jurisdictions or uneven enforcement “represents the biggest threat to maintaining the environmental co-operation required by the GFA,” she said.

She called for the prioritisation of island-wide environmental regulation and management in any future Brexit negotiations and the setting up of an independent environmental regulator for the North.

Reiterating the findings of her recent report commissioned by the Pillar and Northern Ireland Environment Link on cross-border environmental co-operation supported by the GFA, Ms Hough stressed that firming up structures set-up under the Agreement would minimise the negative impacts arising from the removal of common EU regulatory standards. [2] [3]

The overarching requirement, she said, is for the full implementation of the GFA to be “made a matter of the highest priority” and for the Committee to put forward a workplan and timeline to achieve this.

This would need to include the reestablishment of the North-South Ministerial Council “as a matter of priority”, greater resources for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and a new All-island Consultative Forum, she said.

Ms Hough added that the drafters of the GFA clearly understood that our island’s shared landscape and ecology are the “bedrock” of the core objectives of peace, prosperity and the protection of human rights. [4]

“They understood what was at stake if we did not preserve our shared environmental heritage, in terms of the peace process, economic growth and social wellbeing of the people of both Northern Ireland and Ireland,” she said.

No-Deal disaster

Also speaking at the hearing, the Pillar’s Oonagh Duggan stressed that a no-deal Brexit poses a severe risk to the environment on the island of Ireland. [5]

She said that the UK would no longer be subject to the oversight and enforcement of environmental rules by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice in a no-deal scenario, nor would it be subject to a myriad of Directives to protect the natural world. [6]

The impacts, Ms Duggan said, “would be even worse on the island of Ireland as there is no environment agency in Northern Ireland and no functioning Northern Ireland executive to put one in place”.

“This lack of a controlling body could mean looser implementation of environmental rules and an inability to prevent runaway cross-border pollution,” Ms Duggan added.

In the long-term, Ms Duggan said, “dynamic regulatory alignment of environmental standards” will be crucial to protest our flora and fauna,

“If we are to avoid environmental harm and damage to the island of Ireland, then there must be dynamic alignment of rules on either side of the border. And this is not just a matter of protecting the environment, it is about maintaining the peace, prosperity and protection of the communities who enjoy and share that single island environment.” she added.


[1] Full Statement by Alison Hough BL:

[2] The report commissioned by the Pillar and Northern Ireland Environment Link and press release are available here:

[3]There are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in force to protect the environment, habitats, air quality, waste, food safety and a myriad of other areas, acting as the principal drivers for the vast majority of environmental protection in place in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

[4] Since 1973, environmental cooperation on the island of Ireland has been underpinned by the common set of environmental standards established at EU-level. This cooperative framework was recognised and strengthened by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the establishment of the North South Ministerial Council that has an explicit environmental remit to facilitate co-operation and coordination in EU matters.

[5] Full Statement by Oonagn Duggan:

[6] There are several shared protected nature sites (Natura 2000 sites), on the island of Ireland. These sites are protected by the Birds and Habitats Directives and supported by a range of other Directives including the Water Framework Directive, and directives focused on environmental assessment, tackling wildlife crime and assessing environmental liability.