The “Environment” in the Irish Programme for Government — Missing in Action
A review of the Irish government’s Programme for Government (PfG) concludes that “Ireland still faces a wide range of challenges to our environmental sustainability that must be addressed by the new government,” and that the Programme is “strong on aspirations to tackle urgent environmental challenges but weak on details of credible policy initiatives,” and “More generally, the lack of prominence given to environmental matters in the PfG speaks volumes.” Moreover, “The recognition that Ireland’s economy and society exist within and very much depend on our environment and natural resources is lacking from the PfG. This translates into an absence of key policies that would have acknowledged the importance of resource efficiency and the wide-ranging benefits of protecting and improving our natural capital.”
While this review may strike you as spot on for the current Fine Gael et al. government’s PfG, it is actually an assessment of the Programme for Government of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition in 2011 from Voice, the Irish environmental charity.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. Or if you don’t like the French proverb (“the more things change, the more they stay the same”), there is always Yogi Berra’s “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
This hodge podge of a 2016 government has surpassed the 2011 Programme’s “lack of prominence” for environmental matters by cleverly eliminating “environment” as an issue of concern altogether. There is no longer a Department for the “Environment.” What happened to air and water pollution, land contamination, waste control (roadside tipping is rampant), biodiversity, etc. etc. etc. etc.? For a while it was not even clear which non-Environment department would have responsibility for these matters that we all had thought were part of our “environment,” but clearly not part of the “environment” of the new loose coalition.
What would he say about such nonsense?
Instead the government addresses only “climate change” as a separate subject worthy of consideration in its PfG, and worthy of mention as being the responsibility of a Department. It is indeed a worthy subject but certainly more worthy than treated here.
One of the very few concrete actions to be taken affecting the environment, and specifically climate change, is the promise that “The Government will publish new legislation to de-designate 46 NHAs within the first 100 days of Government.” Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) are considered important for the habitats present or which holds species of plants and animals whose habitat needs protection. This de-designation was part of a deal to preserve turf cutting in certain areas, and was roundly condemned at the time by An Tasice and others.
The Programme indicates that “It will fall to the new Government and to the Oireachtas to agree Ireland’s first statutory National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan.” PfG, at 121. In other words, the responsibility for this aspect of climate change has fallen mysteriously from the sky into the laps of the new government and the Oireachtas (parliament). Wasn’t part of this government, Fine Gael, in at least partial control of the last government? What did they do for a national low carbon transition and mitigation plan in their last time in office?
The Programme then adds, “We also recognise the need to develop a comprehensive adaptation plan.” There is a “need” but apparently precious little willpower as there is no indication on how we get there or when.
While the hodge-podge government promises a “National Dialogue on Climate Change” it remains to be seen if this is yet another empty promise to hold a series of meetings in the open while striking substantive deals behind closed doors.
A rare note of support for environmental matters is the government’s implied recognition that it has failed to fully (or evenly partially) engage the wider community on “energy policy.” In particular it admits it has fouled the waters for wind farms and grid pylons, which it has, but at least it accepts that the wider community must be consulted on these alternative energy projects. The nature of that consultation remains to be seen. Notably and regrettably, there is no mention of fracking as one of these energy projects, nor is the word “fracking” found in the entire Programme.
It also remains to be seen if the new coalition government is responsive to an outcry from a multitude of environmental groups against the decision to abolish the Department, and to the demand that Environment be restored to Departmental title. See below in Sources.
A Programme for a Partnership Government (May 2016). www.merrionstreet.ie/MerrionStreet/en/ImageLibrary/Programme_for_Partnership_Government.pdf
Voice, Environmental analysis of the Programme for Government 2011 voiceireland.org/water/environmental-analysis-of-the-programme-for-government-2011/
“New strategy on bogs “treats science as something to be bargained away,” the journal.ie (16 Jan 2014). www.thejournal.ie/turf-cutting-an-taisce-1266935-Jan2014/
Campaign created by Friends of the Earth, VOICE, BirdWatch, An Taisce, Irish Wildlife Trust, REVERSE THE DECISION TO ABOLISH THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT www.foe.ie/takeaction/
UPDATE 4 June 2016
The new government has announced that it has reorganized its Departments to include a new Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, so that “environment” is now officially part of the government. The change in title is partly pro-forma since responsibility for nature and wildlife (seemingly part of the “environment”) remain in the Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, and water issues stay with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Friends of the Earth, U-turn welcome on Minister for the Environment, but wildlife and water still out in the cold. (1 June 2016) www.mediahq.com/story/friendsoftheearth/144781/u-turn-welcome-on-minister-for-the-environment-but-wildlife-and-water-still-out-in-the-cold.html