Greens criticised over moving biodiversity brief to housing department

Climate crisis and biodiversity loss should be in one department – environment groups

Green Party members Malcolm Noonan,  Eamon Ryan and Roderick O’Gorman  at Leinster House. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Green Party members Malcolm Noonan, Eamon Ryan and Roderick O’Gorman at Leinster House. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The Government’s decision to move responsibility for nature and biodiversity to the Department of Housing has been strongly objected to by a broad range of environmental groups – with most of their criticism being directed at the Green Party.

In a joint response, BirdWatch Ireland (BWI), Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), Friends of the Earth (FoE), An Taisce, Swan and the Environmental Pillar expressed disbelief “as Green Ministers hand nature protection to the Department of Housing”.

Climate and environmental NGOs have always claimed the dual crises of climate and biodiversity loss including species decline are intertwined and require co-ordinated action driven by the one department.

There was uncertainty about departmental responsibilities, but the change, which includes transferring the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to the Department of Housing, was confirmed with the announcement of Ministers of State on Wednesday.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, a Green TD, will be located in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage with responsibility for the NPWS.

Mr Noonan said it was “particularly exciting to have heritage and biodiversity within three green ministries; two of which are at the Cabinet table”.

Having met senior department officials, Mr Noonan said he was satisfied there was “a huge amount of ambition” on biodiversity, while the entire heritage section including the NPWS was moving to the Department of Housing. The synergy between Eamon Ryan’s ministry (climate action), that of Minister of State Pippa Hackett in charge of land use in the Department of Agriculture, and heritage in his department meant there was “a very strong commitment to biodiversity at a very high level of the Government”.

He looked forward to addressing the issue of NPWS resources, and engaging with environmental NGOs to reassure them that fears around splitting departments have been addressed.

Before the election, environmental campaigners called for responsibility for nature, water, waste and climate change to be brought together in the Department of Climate Action and 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 NGOs noted.

‘Extremely disappointed’

IWT campaigns office Pádraig Fogarty said: “We are extremely disappointed that this new ‘green’ Government has missed a golden opportunity to unite responsibility for water, biodiversity and climate in the same department.

“The fragmentation of environmental responsibility has long hindered the successful restoration and protection of our natural environment. We had hoped with this Government we would finally see a strategic approach to nature conservation and environmental protection, but sadly this has not come to pass. The green wave has failed to keep nature afloat,” he added.

FoE director Oisín Coghlan said: “It beggars belief that the first thing Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin plan to do as they get their feet under the Cabinet table is abolish the Department of the Environment and give away responsibility for nature to a department whose primary role is to facilitate builders and developers.”