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National Risk Assessment (Continued)

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] The communications failure is interesting, particularly as the objective was public education but the reality was Government brand-building and promotion. The latter is very similar to the approach the Taoiseach has been imposing across Government.

Given the failures in the previous plan, can the Taoiseach indicate if he has taken any steps to ensure that this new plan will be implemented with urgency? I agree with the comments that have been made. We are reliant on non-governmental organisations, NGOs. For example, in the area of beekeeping and preservation of our bees, it is the NGOs that are developing action programmes and plans. In the context of what Deputy Boyd Barrett said regarding broadleaf trees, etc., there is similarly a lack of Government co-ordination and action on that front.

I have often wondered what inspired the Heritage Bill 2016. Who was behind it? In view of the Department from which it originated, it was, from any perspective, quite absurd in the context of its provisions hedge-cutting and so on. What inspired the Minister? Who lobbied? Who was behind it and for what reason? It jars with our overall objectives and agenda in preserving our national biodiversity, which is at risk. We have been warned about this for years and decades. It should be explicitly part of a national risk assessment.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny Coming from a rural constituency, the issue of biodiversity is something of which I am very conscious. One of the issues mentioned by Deputy Boyd Barrett, monoculture forestry, is a very clear problem. It is not afforestation for carbon sequestration or anything else. It is basically about the timber industry making maximum profit and being supported in that regard by Government and public policy. We need to see how public policy can be used to enhance biodiversity. One of the examples of that is through the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which was mentioned earlier.

With respect, I disagree slightly with the Green Party in respect of bending the rules a little. Everything that happens in nature happens when weather changes. By and large, we have to work with the weather we are given. That is what farmers have to do and what they have always traditionally done. However, the intensification of agriculture has brought us in a different direction, and that has caused problems. We need to recognise and work with that. In fairness to most people in the farming community, they want to work with that and come up with solutions, but they need assistance in that respect.

The issue facing us at the moment with the very warm weather is going to be around fodder and whether farmers will be able to get enough. Next winter people will be saying that we had a hot summer and that is the reason we do not have fodder. We will be facing a crisis. Then it will be a wet winter and then it will be something else. I acknowledge it is not something about which the Government can do anything. However, Government policy and public policy have roles to play. The seaweed harvesting that we see going on in Bantry Bay is the equivalent of pouring Roundup into the ocean. That needs to be acknowledged. Again, Government policy is at the root of that problem.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin This is a really important matter. One of our problems is that we debate issues such as biodiversity in isolation because they do not run across everything else we do. We do not have joined-up thinking on biodiversity. The national biodiversity action plan, published last year, should have been a wake-up call. It said that 90% of our habitats were in a bad or inadequate position. I refer to our peatlands. We are losing species, bees are under threat and yet we plough on with action plans in other areas without actual joined-up thinking in respect of them. We need to do that.

Deputy Martin Kenny is right to say that we will have another fodder shortage. We import fodder because we have a developmental strategy for agriculture that is not sustainable. We have to decide what the island can sustain - for example, in regard to herd numbers - and what biodiversity we want. We must not set growth as the overarching objective that trumps all else. We need to think long and hard about what the island of Ireland will look like, what species we are determined to protect and what sort of joined-up thinking - running across economic policy, agricultural policy, transport policy and so on - is required to achieve those objectives.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am glad to see the Minister with responsibility for communications and, I suppose, climate change beside the Taoiseach. I raised a Topical Issue matter last week in which I noted that Ireland came second last - just ahead of Poland - in a Climate Action Network, CAN, report on how countries are meeting their climate change obligations. Ireland came second last out of 28 countries. That is not a good place to be. Of course, climate change enormously affects species, the types and growth of trees and so on. We are nowhere near ready. We are drinking in the last chance saloon as regards our response. It is extremely disappointing that this Government really seems to have long-fingered it in a way that frankly is depressing. Climate change is leading to the enormous variations in the weather and is leading to the increase in the number of storms. Notwithstanding the fact that the Government has sought to respond to the storms and the orange and red warnings, we are nonetheless falling considerably behind. The other risk factor in being so poor on climate change is that in a couple of years we potentially face enormous fines for not addressing the issue. That financial risk to the country has not really been factored in or costed in the way that other such risks are.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl There are just over ten minutes remaining. Will we give that time over to this particular topic? Otherwise, we will have severely reduced time for the third grouping.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Yes, I am happy with that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I may have to disappoint the Deputies a little. The latest weather forecast indicates that it is going to rain on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. It may well be the case that the anticipated drought and dry weather-related fodder crisis may not materialise on this occasion.

Damage to biodiversity is not a stand-alone strategic risk in its own right in the current draft. It is covered under the issue of climate change. I am certainly open to including it but a line has to be drawn somewhere. What I will have to do is examine the submissions with my officials . I suspect that when we examine them, we will see 20, 30, 40 or 50 other risks that people think should be included. One does need to draw the line somewhere. However, I am certainly not hostile to including additional risks if the submissions indicate that there is a consensus in favour of adding additional risks, like the risk to biodiversity. I will take account of what was said here today and consider it for the final iteration before it goes to Cabinet.

Regarding biodiversity more generally, the action plan recognises that there is an increased need for funding. That was set out at the launch of the national development plan by the Ministers for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Finance, Deputies Madigan and Donohoe, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy McHugh, as well as the State agencies which have been asked to contribute to the drafting of the plan. The plan's main aims are built around the need for all sectors of society to participate if we as a society are to conserve nature. The aims are: to mainstream biodiversity across decision-making in the State; strengthen the knowledge base underpinning work on biodiversity issues; increase public awareness and participation; ensure conservation of biodiversity in the wider countryside; ensure conservation in the marine environment; and expand and improve on the management of protected areas such as national parks, special areas of conservation, SACs, and protected species.

The actions that the Government is taking include: legislation, for example, a Bill on national parks and the introduction of requirements that public bodies consider biodiversity policy in decision-making; actions involving forestry and agriculture, which account for 70% of total land use in the State; measures to reduce the impact of invasive alien species; and commitment to integrating biodiversity in our overseas aid programme.

We recognise that biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a role to play in underpinning many of the sustainable development goals and stronger partnerships are required in the area of sustainable development and climate finance to ensure that we protect our biodiversity. We are also investing in farmer-led, results-based payment schemes in the Burren, which have been a huge success over many years, and new schemes to protect the endangered hen harrier and the freshwater pearl mussel. Farmers are also paid both for work undertaken and for the delivery of defined environmental objectives, including sustainable management and restoration of high-nature farmland and improvements in water quality and water use efficiency.

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