Irish Times view on State’s failure to protect internationally important habitats
Ireland referred to EU’s Court of Justice for not designating special areas of conservation
Ireland has been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union for persistent failure to designate special areas of conservation (SACs). It has been an egregious failure by the State, manifest in accelerating decline of internationally important habitats and species in recent years. It amounts to an unacceptable degree of biodiversity loss; much of which is irreversible.
Under the Habitats Directive, member states must designate such areas with specific conservation objectives and corresponding measures to maintain or restore a favourable status for the species habitats present. In Ireland, 154 sites (out of 423) have not yet been designated as SACs, according to the Commission. Site-specific conservation objectives for 87 sites have not been established, nor necessary conservation measures at any of the 423 sites.
This ruling is not surprising to those familiar with the scale of habitat destruction in Ireland, says Pádraig Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust speaking from the 12 Bens mountains in Connemara, an SAC. He had observed two birds there in the course of a morning – “just two!” “The heath and bog habitats are all but destroyed from sheep grazing and conifer plantations,” he added, and despite the designation there are no initiatives he was aware of that were doing anything about it.
The Government insists it is continuing with SAC designation and a conservation measures programme with 276 sites designated as SACs by statutory instrument, and 364 SAC site-specific conservation objectives published.
Minister for State for Heritage, Green Party TD Malcolm Noonan, acknowledged the problem after his appointment. He pledges “to make substantial progress on protection of our habitats” and will be “continuing apace with the process of formal designations, development of conservation objectives and management plans for our protected areas”. He does not need reminding a biodiversity crisis is unfolding alongside a climate one, but should be cognisant of the fact this is a failure of successive governments, including one in which his party was a coalition member.