Government u-turn on the ‘Department of the Environment’

Published by Ian Carey on

June 2nd 2016

Minister Denis Naughten has told the Dáil  this week that the name of his department will be the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

This brings back the title of ‘environment’ to a government department after it was lost when the new ministers were first announced in early May.

The decision to re-introduce the term ‘environment’ has been welcomed by environmental groups, a number of whom launched a campaign in support of its reintroduction.

Some 13,000 people signed a petition calling on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to reverse his decision to abolish the Department of the Environment within the last month. The campaign was championed by Friends of the Earth, An Taisce, VOICE, BirdWatch Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust.

Campaigners argued that it showed the lack of regard the government have for environmental issues and they feared that such issues would fall off the political agenda.

The Environmental Pillar, which is made up of 28 Irish national environmental NGOs, welcomed the new department title but warned that the protecting wildlife must be part of its remit.

Charles Stanley Smith, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar said:

“We welcome the decision to have ‘environment’ added to the title of Minister Naughton’s department. It is a move in the right direction,” he said.

“It is still not completely a joined up approach and we would like to see the NPWS added to this department.  The NPWS has seen such severe cuts during the lifetime of the last government that despite dedicated staff the organisation is struggling to perform some of its core functions.  We would like to see this part of a department dedicated to environmental issues and receive the resources necessary to protect Ireland’s wildlife.

“We are glad that the government has listened to our concerns around the new government departments. With environmental challenges some of the greatest challenges facing the county we need strong leadership and someone responsible for the environment at the highest level of government.”

Commenting, Friends of the Earth Director, Oisin Coghlan said:

“This is a victory for common sense and for the thousands of campaigners who have called for the restoration of the Department of the Environment.

“It would have been absurd for Ireland to be one of only two European countries without a Minister for the Environment. But it’s still absurd that the Minister for the Environment won’t have responsibility for wildlife and water.”

Friends of the Earth point out that despite Minister Naughten’s new title the natural environment division (nature and wildlife) is staying with Heather Humphreys and the water and planning planning division staying with Simon Coveney.

Oisin Coghlan continued:

“This is still not the joined up approach to environmental policy promised by the Government. We will continue to press for the re-integration of all the functions that are traditionally associated with the environment into a single Department”

“This whole ridiculous episode also highlights how little thought goes into Government strategy on the environment at the highest level. It’s only eight months since the Taoiseach signed the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. It’s time we had a proper national debate on how we achieve social, economic and environmental balance to achieve those goals.

“Perhaps after the next election that means we’ll have a Minister for Sustainable Development, or better still a Taoiseach for Sustainable Development.”

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Ian Carey

Ian is the editor of the Green News. He works as Communications Manger with the Irish Environmental Network.