Nature protection in Department of Housing ‘beggars belief’

Published by Kayle Crosson on

1 July 2020 

Handing the responsibility of the biodiversity crisis to the Department of Housing is a decision that “beggars belief”, according to a statement released today by a coalition of leading environmental NGOs. 

The Environmental Pillar, Birdwatch Ireland, Irish Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth, An Taisce and SWAN are calling for an immediate halt to the newly formed government’s plans to move the National Parks and Wildlife Service to the Department of Housing, as well as for an independent review of the NPWS and the appointment of a junior minister for water.

Prior to the general election this year, environmental activists had called for nature, water, waste and climate change to be amalgamated within the Department of the Environment. 

“Instead the new Government, with two Green Party Cabinet ministers, is proposing to give responsibility for handling biodiversity to the minister whose brief already includes the massive challenge of tackling the housing crisis”, the group statement read. 

“The green wave has failed to keep nature afloat” 

Fragmenting environmental responsibility has been a longstanding obstacle for effective restoration and protection, according to IWT Campaigns Officer Padraic Fogarty. 

“We had hoped with this Government that we would finally see a strategic approach to nature conservation and environmental protection, but sadly this has not come to pass,” Mr Fogarty said. 

Missing a “golden opportunity to unite responsibility for water, biodiversity and climate” has shown that “the green wave has failed to keep nature afloat,” Mr Fogarty added. 

Friends of the Earth Director Oisin Coghlan said the decision “beggars belief”, and Assistant Head of Advocacy for Birdwatch Ireland Oonagh Duggan said that it would mean “nature will get a short shrift” going forward. 

Oisín Coghlan (l) of the Pillar & Ciara Barry of Not Here, Not Anywhere Photo: Niall Sargent

The coalition statement also alluded to the climate and biodiversity emergency declaration made by the Dail in May last year, an action that arose from a climate report from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. 

At the time of its declaration, Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley said that biodiversity loss is an “existential threat linked to the climate crisis”. 

However, calls for the state to declare an ecological emergency were building well before the Dail’s official statement, as the rate of biodiversity decline is increasing rapidly. 

A UN-backed report in May found that one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction and declining at rates unprecedented in human history. 

The World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London released a report in October 2018 that revealed 60 per cent of the world’s large animals had disappeared since the 1970s. 

Roughly one-third of wild bee species are threatened with extinction in Ireland and research shows that over 60 per cent of the 202 species of commonly occurring birds in Ireland is now on the red and amber conservation lists. 

In addition, over 90 per cent of 58 listed Irish habitats have been given an “inadequate” or “bad” status

If Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan or Deputy Green Party Leader Catherine Martin fail to take on the responsibility for nature, then “all that talk about the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss will ring rather hollow,” Mr Coghlan said. 

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.