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 Header Item Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements (Continued)
 Header Item National Risk Assessment

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] Each member state knows that I will not agree, nor will the Government, to anything that gives rise to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

  I have not heard anything from the Visegrad Group, V4, to give me concern. Deputy Micheál Martin said that that group is keen to negotiate a trade deal with the UK. Ireland would also like to have such a deal, but everyone realises that it will take-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Deputy Howlin mentioned that matter.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I apologise.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin No problem.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank Deputy Howlin for letting me answer his question; at least he gives me a chance to answer. I have no particular concerns regarding the V4 group, but I thank the Deputy for alerting me to that. I will make sure to check that out on Thursday and Friday. We also want to have a trade deal with the UK, but if the UK persists with its red-line issues, such as leaving the customs union and the Single Market, we will have to negotiate a new free trade agreement de novo, from scratch, which will take years. No free trade deal has ever been written in a few months; they all take years. If the UK persists with its views on leaving the Single Market and the customs union, a free trade deal will take many years to negotiate. There must be a withdrawal agreement first. I do not see how we could have a trade agreement without having a withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, first. That is my position.

  The Basque Country was not discussed. Palestine was not discussed either. Venezuela was discussed, but the Deputy did not mention it so I will not go through it in too much detail.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am happy to talk about Venezuela.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Catalonia was discussed. I raised the issue, and I get the impression from Prime Minister Sanchez that, given that there is now a new prime minister in Madrid and a new president in Barcelona, there is an opportunity for a rapprochement. I got the sense that the new Spanish Prime Minister wants to arrive at a solution within the constitutional rules of Spain and that a more conciliatory approach will be adopted towards Catalonia.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That is what happens when socialists are involved.

National Risk Assessment

 6. Deputy Eamon Ryan Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if the issue of biodiversity has been considered for inclusion in the 2018 national risk assessment. [26556/18]

 7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if the issue of biodiversity has been considered for inclusion in the 2018 national risk assessment. [27748/18]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

As previously indicated, the national risk assessment is an annual exercise, which aims to ensure a broad-based and inclusive debate on the strategic risks facing the country. It focuses on the identification of risks and is not intended to replicate or displace the detailed risk management and mitigation that happens across Departments and agencies in respect of individual risks.

As in previous years, my Department, working with a cross-departmental steering group, prepared the initial draft of this year’s report. The draft also reflects feedback from the open policy debate in April where representatives from business, media, research and education institutions, civil society groups and the public sector were invited to discuss a draft list of risks. Following approval by the Government on 22 May, the draft was laid before the Oireachtas and published for public consultation. The draft report is published and available to read on my Department’s website. The public consultation period closed last week.

The draft report includes some new risks this year, including the impact of social media on public debate and the risk of overheating the economy. Existing risks have also evolved. For example, the risks arising from Brexit have developed significantly and remain prominent. Other risks include international uncertainties around tax and trade, increasing expectations for higher public expenditure, infrastructure constraints, housing supply and affordability problems which persist. As in previous years, risks around climate change and the need for a secure and diverse energy supply present significant challenges for Ireland. They do so in terms of achieving national and international targets, mitigating our emissions and adapting to the effects of a changing climate. The cost of delayed action is discussed as a major factor in this risk.

While biodiversity is not listed as a separate risk in its own right, the potential impact of climate change on our ecosystems is recognised in the climate change section of the draft report. In particular, this section highlights the potential of climate change to cause changes in the distribution and time of lifecycle events of plant and animal species on land and in the oceans. Actions to tackle climate change will help maintain the integrity of our ecosystems and, therefore, ensure the natural biodiversity present in these ecosystems is protected. The draft report also highlights the need to invest in new economic opportunities in the bioeconomy, which recognises environmental sustainability, including biodiversity, as a core principle.

Finally, the report also notes the need to decouple economic growth from adding to environmental pressures such as climate change and declining biodiversity. Following the conclusion of the public consultation stage last week, the list of strategic risks and the 2018 report will be finalised and published in July. The purpose of the consultation is to encourage debate on strategic risks, and the views of Oireachtas Members are a welcome input to that discussion.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I asked that the risk to biodiversity be included in our debate on this issue last year. I asked that it be included again this year, and I made a submission through the consultation process to that end. In my lifetime we have lost half of the mass of wildlife, including invertebrates, on this planet. Half of the wildlife in the world has disappeared. We are at risk of losing 37 bird species, one third of our bumblebee species, salmon, eel and the freshwater pearl mussel, among other species, in this country. We tend not to notice these because they are small or hidden or take place over time. However, some day we will wake up and realise that all the other risks were minute compared to the risk of humanity inhabiting a planet where the natural world has been destroyed, frayed and torn apart.

Biodiversity is connected to climate, given the loss of habitat due to climate change. Loss of biodiversity will give us an indicator as to how we are doing on climate change. We need to take loss of biodiversity seriously, not for economic reasons but for reasons of our very sanity and of our sense of the world we are living in. We need a national land use plan. We need to stop burning the hills and cutting the hedgerows, which is what the Government is trying to pass legislation on at the moment. Such a move will destroy habitats unnecessarily.

There was a debate earlier about cutting hay, and it was suggested that we bend the rules slightly because the weather is good at the moment. However, the RTÉ "Prime Time" programme last week showed what happens when the rules are bent on matters concerning nature. A risk to biodiversity should be included in the risk assessment. It is one of the big risks we face. Its inclusion might change what Government does and convince it to take the loss of biodiversity seriously.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Words such as "biodiversity" confuse people because they are technical. We are talking about the birds, bees, trees and fish that sustain the ecosystem on which we depend for our survival. That ecosystem is under threat. It is an economic threat in the sense that the depletion of biodiversity means that, among other things, we potentially face huge fines. A diverse environment acts as a carbon sink. Monoculture forestry, for example, is not a good carbon sink compared to forestry made up of native broadleaf species. Deforestation has been a feature of reports over the past five or six years. Despite targets to increase afforestation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, there is significant evidence of deforestation.

Kelp is an example of where a commitment to biodiversity is not matched by action. BioAtlantis will start cutting down 1,900 hectares of trees of the sea in Bantry Bay, which will destroy biodiversity there. Another example is the fact that the Heritage Bill will extend the cutting season so that hedgerows can be cut down, which will deplete biodiversity as well. The Government is allowing that to happen. All the commitments to deal with climate change are not followed through. In reality, the Government is implementing measures which significantly degrade biodiversity.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I agree with the Green Party. It is correct that the issue of biodiversity should be explicitly addressed in the national risk assessment following the consultation period. The biggest reason for this is that existing commitments under the national biodiversity plan have not been implemented, and the greatest failings are linked directly to a lack of Government co-ordination and inaction. The latest biodiversity plan was published five years ago by the previous Government. Only one quarter of the specific recommendations and commitments in the plan have been implemented. For the 10% of commitments in which no progress has been made, the main issue is a failure of co-ordination in government and to communicate with the public.

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