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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Vol. 983 No. 2

Loss of Biodiversity and Extinction of Species: Statements

We are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. The number of plants, insects, mammals and birds that are threatened or endangered grows every year, while the land, ocean and atmosphere are being altered to an unparalleled degree. A few weeks ago, the United Nations' platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services published its global assessment report and advised that unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species' extinction, which is already at least tens or hundreds of times higher than it has averaged in the past 10 million years.

It is not just over there in the Amazon basin or Borneo. Although we cut down our forests centuries ago, biodiversity in Ireland still demonstrates worrying and ongoing declines. There are five main drivers of biodiversity loss in Ireland, namely, intensive agricultural and forestry practices, overfishing, invasive species, changes in land use and the over-exploitation of resources such as peatland. My Department reports every six years to the EU on the status of habitats and species protected by the EU habitats directive. We recently submitted the draft report for the past six years and it shows that Irish habitats, especially the peatlands, grasslands and some of the marine habitats, remain under enormous pressure.

I am also concerned about the decline of certain species such as birds including the curlew which used to breed in thousands throughout the bogs and wet grasslands of Ireland but is now reduced to perhaps 150 pairs.

I have also seen reports that insects are declining on a massive scale throughout Europe. Insects are the most abundant terrestrial organisms on the planet and of paramount importance to the ecosystem services that sustain life on earth. These are services such as pollination, natural pest control, nutrient recycling and decomposition services. Of course, insects are also the main food for many fish, birds and mammals. The occurrence and spread of invasive and non-native species in Ireland are also increasing for all environments. All of this makes for very sobering and worrying reading. To stop this decline we will need to increase our efforts significantly at all levels of society. This is all the more pressing in the face of climate change. A healthy, resilient environment is necessary to help us mitigate and adapt to its effects. There are many positives and the national efforts the Government has led to conserve biodiversity are bearing fruit. The Government is responding to the biodiversity emergency and the drivers of its loss and is making progress.

The Department is working hard and achieving real results on a number of fronts, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service leading this work. We have committed in Project Ireland 2040 to investing €60 million to protect Ireland's natural heritage and biodiversity. We are on our third national biodiversity action plan. This speaks to the long running commitment the Government attaches to this issue. The current plan runs from 2017 to 2021 and is the key national overarching policy for our work. It sets out actions that a range of Government, civil and private sectors will undertake to achieve Ireland's vision for biodiversity, which is that biodiversity and ecosystems in Ireland are conserved and restored, delivering benefits essential for all sectors of society, and that Ireland contributes to efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU and globally.

The Department has also initiated a round of consultations with all relevant Departments, agencies and State-owned companies, as well as farmers, landowners, other sectors and NGOs, to set out our priorities for action from 2021 to 2027. We will be focusing on the habitats and species protected under EU directives and in the special areas of conservation, SACs, and the special protection areas, SPAs, designated under those directives. The Department is also engaged in a very wide public consultation process on Heritage 2030, the strategy for all strands of heritage in the coming ten years.

We have also undertaken a comprehensive range of meaningful and productive actions in recent years. These actions are resulting in real progress to protect and restore the country’s biodiversity. Approximately 17% of the terrestrial area of Ireland now lies within the protected area network and we have accelerated the designation process. We have invested a significant €50 million since 2011 on a major restoration effort on raised bogs. The National Parks and Wildlife Service's farm plan scheme has contributed to the conservation of protected species on agricultural land, for example, for the chough, corncrake, hen harrier, breeding and wintering geese and waders, and the natterjack toad. We established the national curlew task force and an NPWS curlew conservation programme. We are again recruiting specialist ecology staff and rangers for parks and reserves.

The EU LIFE programme has been a major source of support that Ireland has accessed for the conservation, management and restoration of habitats. These habitats, in turn, support threatened and protected species. There are too many such projects to list them all but I will mention a few. KerryLIFE is conserving the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel through catchment-scale measures. AranLlFE, which has just concluded, works closely with the farming community of the Aran Islands to improve the conservation status of more than 1,000 ha of farmland, comprising limestone pavement, orchid rich grasslands and machair. The RaptorLIFE project is working to connect and restore habitats for the hen harrier, merlin, Atlantic salmon and brook lamprey. The great benefit of these LIFE projects is that they provide some space in which to develop and strengthen working relationships with key stakeholders, including farmers and local communities, as well as academic or research institutions and other governmental bodies.

We are developing the biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan that places biodiversity at the heart of climate change solutions. I am proud to say the Department held the inaugural national biodiversity conference in February. It is a signifier of our leadership in the protection of biodiversity and collaborative work with the relevant stakeholders. In the lead-up to the conference I encouraged sectors to contribute towards the seeds for nature campaign in an effort to step up and accelerate progress towards achieving the objectives of the national biodiversity action plan. More than 40 notable advancements have been achieved through this campaign, including Coillte and Bord na Móna making substantial commitments on restoring biodiversity in their landholdings. This will achieve the rehabilitation of 20,000 ha of cutaway bog and 1,000 ha of raised bog by 2025 and the restoration of Hazelwood Forest, a 130 ha woodland in an SAC on the banks of Lough Gill.

I am doubling the funding provided for local authorities in order that, with local communities, they can take local biodiversity action, including clearing invasive species. We are establishing a business and biodiversity platform with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and a range of Irish businesses, including Gas Networks Ireland, EirGrid, Kepak, Dawn Meats, Coillte and Bord na Móna.

The Government is creating a legal onus, or a biodiversity duty, on public bodies to have regard to policies, guidelines, and objectives to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the national biodiversity action plan. We are funding research into the impact of climate change on biodiversity. The Government is taking a co-ordinated approach and working with Departments to protect our biodiversity. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has achieved a great deal through work in that Department. Through the GLAS scheme, he has improved habitat management and water quality on lands of conservation value on 50,000 Irish farms. He has restored, preserved and enhanced biodiversity through 22 European innovation partnerships. He is also restoring native woodland and converting conifers into native woodland through the native woodland scheme. He is helping the recovery of commercial fish and shellfish stocks in the Celtic Sea. He is also helping sea life nursery grounds through a ban on inshore trawling by large boats.

Through the ObSERVE programme, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, is working with my Department to improve our knowledge of protected species, especially whales, dolphins and seabirds, and sensitive habitats. I will continue to work closely with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, as we prepare to implement the whole-of-Government climate action plan. Many of the initiatives we will take on climate change will be of clear long-term benefit to biodiversity, and we must take great care to ensure there are no unintended negative effects on nature in the process.

Even with all this good work, we will need to raise our game. We need to ensure that we do not erode natural capital stock on which our well-being and the economy rely. Some of the actions that need to be considered and resourced include management plans for all protected sites and their habitats and species, a conservation programme, particularly for grasslands, meadows, and in the uplands, building on the success of the Burren and Aran programmes-----

Does the House agree to give the Minister extra speaking time?

Other actions include the restructuring of non-productive, badly sited conifer plantations, especially on peatlands, and the expansion of the area of native woodland to ensure functioning natural woodland across the landscape. This will also contribute to our climate mitigation and adaptation targets, as will other conservation and restoration work on peatlands. It would be good if we could have a rebooted programme to remove invasive species, in particular rhododendron and laurel, to improve the quality of woodland. There is also a national native wildflower initiative, especially along transport corridors and in public spaces. A transformational change is required to ensure our consumption patterns are truly sustainable.

The Government acknowledges and understands the importance of Ireland's biodiversity and nature. That is why we have invested significant resources in its protection. It is why we have taken, and will continue to take, co-ordinated action throughout Departments to care for our habitats and species. We have made meaningful progress and this should be recognised. I will continue to work hard with my colleagues in government.

Fianna Fáil welcomes this discussion on biodiversity loss and the extinction of species. It was a Fianna Fáil amendment that provided for the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency. Fianna Fáil also called for the biodiversity crisis to be examined by the Citizens' Assembly. We are committed to ensuring Ireland will do its collective fair share and meet legally binding environmental commitments at EU and UN level. One could say this debate is timely, given the emergency in which the country finds itself and, perhaps, also given some of the results of last week's elections. We should be honest. There can be no backslapping. This House should have addressed the issue much sooner and should regularly return to it, given that it affects so many aspects of our society and economy.

On biodiversity loss in Ireland, thanks to the tireless work of particular State agencies and environmental organisations, we have a clear picture of just how bleak is the situation. Over one third of Ireland's wild bee species are threatened with extinction; over 90% of listed habitats in Ireland have a poor conservation status; two thirds of native birds are of conservation concern, with several threatened with extinction; water contamination caused by fertiliser and effluent is a regular occurrence, while fish stocks are over-exploited and marine mammals threatened. I could go on. It is obvious that there is a major mismatch between the Fine Gael Government marketing campaign of some green island dedicated to sustainability and the sad reality. It is evident that the Government is leaving the country in a worse state for the next generation. It is also evident that biodiversity protection is not prioritised in relevant Departments.

I appreciate that warnings of major biodiversity loss are nothing new in Ireland, but we are seeing a much greater focus on the crisis in the media, with Sir David Attenborough being the prime example. This is welcome and must continue in the Irish media, but there are several NGOs and community groups across the country which have been sounding the alarm bells for years and are to be commended for their dedication and determination. I am conscious that issues concerning biodiversity and species loss are often framed as niche, secondary concerns, perhaps matched, incorrectly, by the idea that wildlife may be declining is some isolated rural areas, but what does that have to do with me? Many of us, especially those living in cities, only catch fleeting glimpses of the ecological breakdown such as fewer bees in our garden or the poor state of streams or beaches in our vicinity. However, destruction of biodiversity does not only mean loss of species. The public will suffer significant environmental, economic and health impacts of biodiversity loss and destruction of natural habitats. Nature provides important services such as pollination, healthy soils for farming and reduced carbon emissions, all of which have real and tangible benefits for society and the economy.

The climate and biodiversity emergency has other negative impacts. For example, plants and animals are becoming more susceptible to pests and diseases. Air pollution has a health-related cost in Ireland of over €2 billion per annum. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to discuss the global assessment report tomorrow as it sets out necessary responses at international level. It also notes that the main drivers of biodiversity loss stemming from human activities are over-expansion and intensification on land and in the seas; over-exploitation of organisms; the climate crisis; increasing pollution; and invasive alien species. The landmark 2030 agenda for sustainable development agreed in 2015, thanks to successful negotiations led by Ireland, provides many of the solutions to combat these five drivers. However, there is a complete mismatch between Ireland’s foreign and domestic policies. The Government, unlike many of our EU neighbours, has largely ignored the 17 sustainable development goals and the 169 targets which underpin the 2030 agenda. We have a sustainable development goal implementation plan, but where are the departmental strategies? Where are they included in the budget? Where are they in policies on fisheries, forestry, agriculture and peatlands? We have seen the tired approach of Departments which merely references and lists these goals and targets, including in the Government’s national development plan and the national biodiversity action plan. We have also heard that the commitments of Departments and State agencies in the national biodiversity action plan might look good on paper but that they go nowhere near far enough.

The message for this House is that the Fine Gael Government has actively de-prioritised environmental protection and reduced investment where it is most needed. State agencies responsible for biodiversity protection and conservation have suffered repeated budget cuts. Funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Heritage Council has decreased by approximately 70% since the recession. Much greater resources are needed in the National Biodiversity Data Centre which takes the lead in biodiversity monitoring. I would like to able to say our problems are confined to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, but there is a dangerous situation at ministerial level in that environmental issues are of concern to no one and everyone; environmental policies and responsibilities are spread across several Departments, making it extremely challenging to track progress and ensure accountability. Ultimately, there is a complete lack of coherence and no real sign of a concerted attempt to integrate biodiversity objectives into policy-making and planning.

When it comes to biodiversity concerns, the tagline of the Fine Gael Government looks like, "Doing Nothing Is Still An Option". Simply protecting the status quo does not align with the achievement of the sustainable development goals or the Paris Climate Agreement. We cannot accept a business-as-usual approach that allows businesses and particular Departments to use sustainability as a buzzword and fail to prioritise or even track progress against the sustainable development goals. Last but not least, when it comes to the climate and pollution, the Government's 2017 climate strategy was widely criticised by national and international authorities as lacking substantive measures and also any real commitment to implementation. We have been waiting for years for the Government's clean air strategy to tackle air pollution. What does a fair and improved response look like? The Government must ensure enforcement of existing environmental laws and align policy implementation and planning with necessary progress in reaching the sustainable development goals. It is also essential that we see significantly increased investment in habitat restoration. The Government must restore budgetary allocations to relevant State agencies to pre-recession levels. Where possible, we should increase conservation areas onshore and offshore. There is also a need for consultation with communities from the get-go when all options are still open. At departmental level, there is a need for a co-ordinated strategy which prioritises and integrates biodiversity objectives into policy decisions across relevant Departments, State agencies and local authorities. This must include early and robust environmental impact assessments, as well as transparent sustainability analyses, with clear metrics. There is a need for a coherent approach, not the piecemeal response which has been the hallmark of the Fine Gael Government in the past eight years.

I would like to discuss the link with climate action in a little more detail. Fianna Fáil recognises that biodiversity loss is an existential threat which is fundamentally linked with the climate crisis. We cannot deal with the threats of runaway climate change and the loss of biodiversity in isolation. We are also clear that when it comes to conserving our biodiversity, the exceptionalist approach of the Fine Gael Government to climate action must not be repeated. We need to bring biodiversity front and centre in Departments and end the vague promises and window-dressing. The Taoiseach stated in this House that the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency was merely a symbolic gesture. He failed to note that the declaration was part of a motion which endorsed immediate Government action in the form of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. We simply cannot allow a short-sighted approach which might allow for business development in the short run but which actively ignores and hides the very real, negative, long-term impacts on our health and the economy, with younger generations bearing the brunt of the damage.

Fianna Fáil believes protecting nature and supporting habitats provide us with the best way of capturing carbon emissions. It is particularly important that we adopt a radically reformed approach to forest management and peatlands, one of our most impactful and cost-effective measures. The Government must prioritise the planting of native trees and the restoration and protection of peatlands as these responses can protect biodiversity and yield huge reductions in emissions as they act as carbon sinks.

The cross-party report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action includes a range of recommendations that will reduce emissions and will encourage a sustainable approach to agriculture, forestry and peatlands. The Government has committed to the preparation of a national land use plan to set out different options, taking into account climate and environmental obligations, and sustainability for different types of production.

While I acknowledge the Minister is concerned about this, I think substantial credit has to go to the youth of the country because it stood up to the Government, institutions and this Parliament to indicate that we are not doing enough and they cannot accept it or there will not be a planet for the next generation.

Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal a ghabháil. Ní bheidh mé in ann fanacht don chuid eile den díospóireacht agus tá orm deifir a dhéanamh leis an méid atá le rá agam. Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate globally and Ireland is no exception. I think that we all accept that and it is a pity that we did not accept it earlier. We have been told that the decline has been more rapid in the last 50 years than ever before in human history. Human activity is leading to increased extinction rates of both plant and wildlife species and it is imperative that restorative measures are put in place to mitigate the damage. Ireland is not immune to the extinction rates in both plant and wildlife species. We are poisoning and destroying many of our ecosystems. We need to take urgent action and to invest to protect what remains of the ecosystems. I heard the Minister talk earlier about the woodlands and what happened when the woods were cut down. The old Irish poem "Caoineadh Cill Chais" comes to mind agus cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan an córas a chosnaíonn muidne agus a chuidíonn linn bia agus sin a chothú sa domhain, ní hamháin dúinne ach do no hainmhithe, do no beithigh agus dúinn atá ag maireachtáil linn ar an oileán agus sa domhain seo. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all rely on maintaining a diversity of native plant species and an abundance of native wildlife. These species have survived, evolved and thrived slowly over thousands of years as species that are specifically adapted to our environment in Ireland. The same is true of every country in the world. We have different ecosystems.

The rapid and unprecedented economic and climate changes ub the past five decades now threaten the resilience of many aquatic bird and plant species on which we rely for clean water, fresh air and food production. From common or garden variety birds to raptors or birds of prey, from basking sea sharks to tiny plankton, from bumbling bees to annoying insects, we are entirely reliant on these species to aerate our soil, filter toxins from our water courses, pollinate our crops and prevent the spread of disease. An abundance of native broadleaf forestry and hedgerows is essential to maintaining these habitats, while also being a valuable store for carbon emissions. Biodiversity loss in Ireland is caused mainly by heavy use of pesticides, plastic ingestion, peat extraction, clearfelling of forestry, intensive agriculture, overfishing, toxic waste disposal and invasive species. These are all contributing to the decimation of the building blocks upon which our very survival depends and we must bear some responsibility for the solutions. The Government must take responsibility for implementing a regulatory framework to protect our most at-risk species. Corporations must be compelled to change their environmentally damaging practices and citizens must be educated on the importance of changing their behaviour and sharing responsibility as custodians of our most fragile ecosystems. I call on the Government to reorganise the Departments in order that biodiversity is transferred to a portfolio of environment, agriculture or climate change. That is not a slight on the Minister or her officials but there is a logic in doing that in order that they are all connected. I know heritage comes under the Minister's portfolio. That mirrors a conversation that we had with committee members earlier.

There are immediate steps that can be taken and the Minister has already mentioned some. I believe they can be added to. They include amending the Wildlife Act to include legal protections for marine life in line with protections for land-based animals and plants and reinstating Invasive Species Ireland, which was a joint project between the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the National Parks and Wildlife Service which ended in 2013, to the work of which I will come back. They also include commissioning a completion of the light detection and ranging sensing technology, LiDAR, mapping survey piloted by Teagasc, which recorded partial regions of the country in order to gather the data required for the whole country; as well as directing that all local authority county hedgerow surveys include metrics for the recording of biomass in order to ascertain their carbon sequestration value. They include updating the forestry blacklist of invasive species to include Sitka spruce, which has been blacklisted in most northern European countries. For far too long, the burden of safeguarding Ireland's fragile ecosystems has fallen to enthusiastic voluntary bodies and the farmers who have, for generations, understood the need to protect the ecosystems in which they have grown their crops. They have understood that they share and need to live in harmony. We have seen a move in some farming practices which are at odds with protecting ecosystems. We must remember that in many cases in Ireland, the primary protectors of ecosystems are the farmers who work the land. Those communities and the non-governmental organisations, NGOs, which have undertaken much of the work must be commended on it. We owe a great deal of gratitude to many of the organisations and volunteers in those organisations who have in fact become trustees. It is time to lift that burden and share responsibility across society.

I was looking at invasive species earlier because it is one of the five drivers of the loss, which I think we can do much more about more quickly at a relatively small cost. Invasive Species Ireland published a pamphlet outlining the list of invasive species in Ireland, what they are and what damage they are doing. Most of the foreign species that come into Ireland, whether North American, from New Zealand or Japanese, have had a major detrimental effect. We have heard of the rhododendron and how it has choked up must of the national parks. Outside of that, we have seen what Japanese pondweed has done to some of the lakes. The red squirrel has been virtually driven out of existence by the grey squirrel. Giant hogweed and such are non-native species that are choking up our ecosystems. I saw that the Minister mentioned additional money being given to the local authority but it is not enough. Kerry County Council ate up that whole budget just trying to tackle the rhododendron in Killarney National Park, with work groups that travel into Killarney to try to help. It is minuscule in comparison to what is needed for just that park alone.

We must ensure the invasive species are tackled quickly before they choke the life out of lakes and parks. They also destroy many of the native species because they cannot grow under the carpet-like cover that is created by some of the plants.

I apologise that I will not be here for the end of the debate. I will finish with the words of Joni Mitchell. In a song she said:

Hey farmer farmer

Put away that DDT now

Give me spots on my apples

But leave me the birds and the bees


The words are still very true today, probably more so than it was in 1970 when she sang them. I will not try to sing as I do not have a note in my head. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of all of the young people, but also every citizen. We need to get real. We need to invest a lot more money to save our native species but also to allow the planet to grow again, in our case, Ireland to grow again, in order that we can see native species in the future.

I apologise for arriving slightly late. I have just come from the Phoenix Park special school where the pupils, teachers and staff have been involved in creating a very special garden, a sensory garden, which will allow the pupils to be in an outdoor classroom when the weather permits, and to be surrounded not just by the trees of the Phoenix Park but also appropriate planting of herbs and other sensory plants which attract the biodiversity we are discussing.

There are a number of specific threats to biodiversity in Dublin. The Government must respond to questions in that regard because the Minister, Deputy Madigan, is not responsible in ministerial terms for all of it. There has been much debate in Dublin about BusConnects. While the vast majority agree in principle with many of the elements of BusConnects, Dubliners cannot stand by in the face of a proposed Government plan to cut down hundreds of mature trees on some of the most beautiful roads and avenues in Dublin. Trees are like natural vacuum cleaners in heavily polluted urban streets where there is a lot of traffic. The Minister must speak to her Government colleagues, including her constituency colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We want better public transport and we want more buses, but we do not want to lose the trees that in many ways are the glory of many different roads in Dublin.

Unlike in France, Germany and many other countries, when builders develop a site, not just in Dublin but in all the urban regions, they are like those who cut down the rainforest. A clear-fell approach is taken on Irish building sites that one does not see in Germany, France or many other European countries. Birds, insects and bats are targeted by developers to give them a clear-fell site. That is a cultural change. Many of my family are builders or tradesmen in the building industry. I know everybody wants a clean site to work on, just as a chef might need a clean table to prepare a meal. I urge the Minister and the Government to get the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to amend the development and planning laws so that we respect the biodiversity and environmental heritage we have inherited in cities and towns and that we do not clear-fell all the trees on a building site.

I am part of a group, the Fingal Walkers. For those who do not know north County Dublin, it is a vast agricultural area where, piece by piece, the hedgerows over a short period have been cut down. Farmers in effect are being paid to make their farming more efficient. Therefore they cut down or reduce hedgerows in the absence of a policy which would acknowledge their critical role in looking after hedgerows which, essentially, in Ireland are vast ribbons of natural wildlife and biodiversity corridors. Anyone from abroad who visits Ireland regularly remarks that as an aeroplane flies into Dublin Airport or Cork Airport, it can be seen that the blanket of green fields surrounded by hedgerows is gradually being stripped away. That is because the farmers have been given an unpalatable choice between reducing hedgerows and making their farming more efficient and the Government policy of supporting the retention of hedgerows.

We have had a discussion on the disastrous fires that occurred over Easter in the Killarney region where many thousands of acres were destroyed. The Minister indicated at the time that she had no idea who was responsible, but there is a lot of local knowledge and again it is about working out with the farming community and the landowners a system to provide for a safe approach so that valuable-----

She is blaming the farmers, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and they have got nothing to do with it.

It is absolutely valuable.

The local farmers have nothing to do with it.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae may get an opportunity to contribute and if he does, he can make his point.

I am sure that what I am saying----

Deputy Burton is blaming farmers.

Do not blame farmers.

----is not comfortable hearing for Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, but I am talking about people who want to see our natural assets in terms of the countryside, as well as farming being managed-----

The Deputy should not blame farmers.

-----in co-operation with-----

She insinuated that the farmers did it.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae should stop pointing his finger at me. How dare he?

Deputy Burton blamed farmers.

Deputy Burton should see whether there were any farmers involved.

The Deputy should stop pointing his finger.

The debate has been very orderly all evening.

Deputy Burton insinuated-----

Deputy Healy-Rae should hold on about insinuations. Deputy Burton has a right to be heard and I will ensure she is heard.

I said very clearly that I want a structure to be put in place. I want the Minister and the Government who are responsible for the policy to recognise the role of farmers in the preservation of biodiversity. There are very few farmers that I know of – perhaps some of them are here – who do not love the land and love everything that comes with it, but we must acknowledge that efficiency in land terms often involves the reduction of hedgerows.

I say to the Minister that she needs to reconsider this. On the Government's recent proposal on the Phoenix Park, which is where I started, because as a child I largely grew up in the park, it is probably bigger than most farms in Ireland. I lived in an area that had no gardens but it was right beside the Phoenix Park and that was our natural playground. The Government commissioned a review on the future uses of the Phoenix Park.

It has acknowledged that the 200-page review cost approximately €400,000. We want the Phoenix Park, Dublin's green lung, to remain available as a major park for the people of Dublin and the citizens of Ireland. We resent the idea presented in the report that there should be a development of retail in the park. There are small artisan-type cafes there with local food producers which already provide for people's needs. There is a really successful bike scheme in the park, run by a local provider. Hundreds of young people, many of them visitors to Dublin, cycle through the park and really enjoy it. The Minister's plans include more retail and the provision of a visitor experience for people from cruise ships. I ask her to be careful not to destroy the thing that attracts the visitors from home and abroad in the first place. She should err on the side of caution and consultation. The report was launched just after St. Patrick's Day, and we were given two weeks to reply to it; it ran to 200 pages. I raised the matter with the Taoiseach and the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW. I am happy to say that just as the local elections were about to begin, the Taoiseach announced that the review period would be extended until the end of this week, 31 May. That is welcome. I made a modest proposal that the review would be made available in every public library in Dublin. It would make sense to make it available in every library in Ireland, because the park is such a national treasure. That was not done, which represents a failure of imagination. If the Minister wants to save biodiversity, the Government probably needs to imagine what is necessary to do to preserve the variety of species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately Ireland, like many other countries, is losing those species at a rapid rate. That applies in towns and in the countryside.

I realise that when somebody like me, coming from Dublin, dares to stand up and speak, the gentlemen opposite find it really difficult. I respect that they probably love the country as much as I do and they should be honourable in acknowledging this.

The extent of biodiversity loss in the context of our declaration of a climate change emergency and the protests of the children on the streets imploring us to do something about climate change before their futures are compromised means that we must move beyond heckling from the corners of this Chamber. It is time to lead, to recognise and to stop the attitude of divide and conquer. I represent a city and a rural area, and I have spoken repeatedly on the importance of balanced regional development. I will speak very strongly on this topic and will not apologise for doing so.

I welcome the speech the Minister made and the fact that she has set out some of the positive initiatives. However, she states we have made meaningful progress, which should be recognised. Of course, it should be recognised. Looking at her first sentence, however, she makes it clear that we are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. This means that we must take unprecedented action.

I have spoken on the issue of climate change since the day I was elected. I looked back recently on copies of various speeches I gave. I spoke on climate change and the loss of biodiversity on 4 May 2016, shortly after I was elected. I have continued to do so, speaking again on the issues in January 2017, April 2019 and more recently 9 May 2019. I have picked out only a few of my speeches. On 4 May 2016, I referred to the United Nations framework convention on climate change, known as the Rio convention, which was held back in 1992. That is 27 years ago. More recently we had the Paris Agreement, with its binding obligations, and the various reports and legislation we have introduced. All the while the crisis has deepened. We are now in receipt of the report under discussion tonight. It is the most comprehensive report on the issue ever completed, compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over three years, with inputs from a further 310 contributing authors. I do not often quote a priest in this Chamber, but I agree with Fr. Enda McDonagh when he said that we should have a requiem for the loss of animal species.

I have read the summary of the report; the full report has not yet been published. I ask the sceptical voices in this House to read the report and to come back to me and tell me what they disagree with. The summary report runs to 39 pages. It finds that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. This is a greater number than ever before in human history, and has been caused by human activities. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than one third of all marine mammals are threatened. Without drastic action to conserve habitats the rate of species extinction, already ten to hundreds of times higher than the average across the past 10 million years, will only increase.

According to the report, agricultural activities have had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water and a stable climate. The loss of species and habitats poses as much of a danger to life on earth as does climate change. I could go on, but I believe that we owe it to the children who have gone out on the streets in this country and throughout the world to show leadership and hope. There is hope, but we have to take action. The report specifically states that the biodiversity crisis can be reversed, but to do so will require proactive environmental policies, the sustainable production of food and other resources, and a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It says that without transformative changes to the world's economic, social and political systems to address the crisis, major biodiversity losses will continue to 2050 and beyond. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, our livelihoods, food security, health and the quality of life world wide. That has been reiterated by Social Justice Ireland, Enda McDonagh, who I have already quoted, and many organisations on the ground. They refer also to policy incoherence. I have used the phrase "cognitive dissonance" in this Chamber before and I am using it again now. On the one hand, we have declared a climate emergency - one of only two countries to declare such an emergency - but, on the other, this is one of only two countries which will fail to meet their targets. There is serious cognitive dissonance at play. There is also policy incoherence in pursuing policies such as Food Harvest 2020 and Foodwise 2025, and the increase in emissions this will yield. There is also a policy incoherence in continuing down the road of fossil fuels and issuing more licences for gas development. We have to deal with that policy incoherence if we are seriously interested in dealing with biodiversity loss.

In Galway city, we have no biodiversity officer. We talk about the importance of maintaining biodiversity and have biodiversity plans but we have nobody to implement them. While I know the Minister is well intentioned, I do not think her response to this report is strong enough. She quoted a few lines from it. However, if she reads through it, she will realise we have to take the most serious and immediate action to deal with the loss of biodiversity. We have to do it, not just for the planet or because it is the right thing to do, but because economically it is the best option.

In a speech on 4 May 2016, I quoted Naomi Klein to much amusement. I will repeat it tonight because it echoes what is said in the report in question. She stated that if we stay on the road we are on, we face radical changes to our physical world. We are talking about allowing sea levels to rise in the name of protecting an economic system that is failing the vast majority of the people on this planet, with or without climate change, global warming and the loss of biodiversity. That warning was echoed in less dramatic language by the former Governor of the Central Bank in February this year when he warned that if the pace of transition to a low-carbon economy was too slow, a sharper adjustment would ultimately be required opposing macroeconomic and financial stability risks.

On every single level we have been warned. However, we are persisting with incoherent and contradictory policies. The Government has a plan called Project Ireland 2040 with beautiful language in it about sustainable development. However, if one looks at the detail of it, it refers to more roads which goes diametrically against what the Citizens’ Assembly called for, namely, a better proportion of investment in public transport, not roads. I gave the specific example of Galway with its proposed ring road of between 16 km and 18 km at a cost of €30 million per kilometre. It must be the most expensive piece of road anywhere in the world. It will only serve to extend linear development and be entirely out of sync with the Government's plans that further development in the cities will be within their footprint.

The Minister’s heart is in the right place and tonight she was given a list of the positive matters. Will she reflect on these issues in the context of the unprecedented loss of biodiversity and unprecedented action that is necessary to tackle it?

I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about this issue. Anything renewable or environmentally friendly will always be good but it must be practical for the people affected. If not, the country will be designated with no place left for people. Farmers must be compensated for land that is designated as a wild habitat. Many farmers have no problem with that if they are properly compensated. However, it must be remembered that lands in the Ballydesmond, Castleisland and Rock Chapel areas were designated for the hen harrier but the farmers and landowners affected have not been properly compensated to date. I have told the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that there is no problem with the Department designating any lands for wildlife once the farmer or the landowner is properly compensated.

A farm is a business and it is important ecologists understand this. Terms like “custodians and caretakers of the countryside” can seem patronising when someone is running a business, raising a family and paying bills. Instead, wildlife conservation on the land must make financial sense.

Proper predator controls are not in place when dealing with grey crows, black crows, magpies, foxes, badgers, rats and hawks which will clean out ground-nesting birds. As a result, we have lost the curlew and the corncrake. In England they still have gamekeepers but in Ireland we do not have any. I have been told that if we had enough gamekeepers, the corncrake and the curlew would still be plentiful in this country. We know gamekeepers cost money. It is fine to have all these ideas. We all love the insects and the bees. I do as much as anybody else and no one can take that from me. However, one has to pay the landowners and farmers if their lands are going to be designated.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 30 May 2019.