I thank the Chairman and the committee for taking the time to listen to us. The Environment Pillar is an advocacy coalition of 28 national environment organisations in the Republic. We work closely on cross-Border methods, as Ms Ruddock said, and sustainable development generally. That is where I want to start my brief introduction. I also invite the committee to a conference on Brexit and the environment on 16 June in Dundalk. We will send the members actual invitations in due course. If they have a space in their diaries for that date, they will be very welcome at the conference. It is being co-organised by the European Parliament Office in Dublin and our colleagues in Northern Ireland. It is open for discussion on the environment and Brexit.
The environment tends to be talked about in isolation, but it is not in isolation. Quite clearly, the environment is totally connected to us, well-being, economy and society. Without linking the three together, whatever discussions the European Union has with the United Kingdom has no real long-term meaning unless it puts those three things together. I suggest the way this might be done is through focusing on the sustainable development goals, which both the European Union and the United Kingdom have signed up to and must deliver on by 2030. As the committee knows, Ireland played a very leading role in the development of these goals. Therefore, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that they are delivered upon. Historically, the European Union has been a great driver of environmental legislation. I would not be exaggerating to say the Irish Republic would not have had much legislation on the environment but for the European Union. In that context, the United Kingdom has been a great driver of some aspects of European environmental policy, particularly in the area of climate policy. In some ways, losing the United Kingdom is going to affect the way in which policy is developed in the European Union, on the climate in particular. One could say that there will be an unbalancing of the positions within the European Union.
EU environmental legislation comprises a vast number of pieces of legislation, as mentioned in the document we sent the committee. I will very briefly swim through a couple of them: nature conservancy, water, air, waste, general environment, agriculture, fisheries, marine, pesticide, GMOs, food, animal health and plants. Those are just general areas. The list of actual legislation is huge. We can see the way in which the United Kingdom is planning to deal with all of this. It is to develop a great repeal Bill and transfer everything into British law overnight. However, much of that law is encompassed in statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. One of the examples of that is the water framework directive, which is obviously something we are very concerned about in Ireland. Yet, in the UK that is only tied to a statutory instrument and the United Kingdom's commitment to it could be wiped out overnight by the decision of a Minister without any debate at all.
Where does this leave environmental law and environmental acquis and what impacts will it have on the environment generally? Article 1 of the Lisbon treaty introduced two things of particular significance: a precautionary principle and a polluter pays principle. These two things underlie all European legislation and laws around sustainable development. They were further strengthened under the Irish Presidency in the seventh environmental action programme. These are fundamental. What is going to happen to them when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union? How is that going to impact on legislation and on trade dealings also?
We ask that key institutions within the European Union that are not necessarily to do with law but provide great support for protecting the environment, such as IMPEL, the EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law, should be maintained despite the departure of the United Kingdom. In terms of international law and in terms of protection on the larger scale of strategic environmental assessment, SEA, up until now we have had the SEA directive, which gives us the mechanisms for dealing with some cross-Border issues, particularly the land Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is very significant. Now, the only thing that remains to co-link us on that is the SEA protocol, which is a much more diluted piece of international law and is aspirational rather than forceful. We also have the Espoo convention which provides for trans-boundary impact assessments which the United Kingdom has been very poor at implementing in the past, as we can see in the proposed nuclear power plant, which it did not bother to consult the Irish people about even though it should have done.
I am coming to the end of my opening statement. The Brexit process should be operated in the manner provided for by the Aarhus Convention, a convention providing for human rights, access to information, participation and justice with regard to environmental decision-making. Brexit is about decision-making on the environment. If we look at the REFIT of the nature directives that went through the European parliamentary, commission and council processes, it was decided that European law was fit for purpose. The big problem is the implementation of European law across the European Union. It is also a problem in the Republic and in the North as well, as it has been. What is going to protect the law in the North after the UK leaves? Where is the European court and where is the European Commission going to be? We argue that the European Court will still have a role because of the trade arrangements that will be made, which will have an impact on environmental law. The court would then have a role in settling disputes.
It is essential that we continue with the greening of the EU programmes, particularly the CAP programme that is up for review, which should be greened.
I ask the committee to take forward to colleagues in the Dáil and the Seanad what the members have heard from us if they consider it to have been worth hearing. I also ask them to take it forward to the leader of the Brexit negotiation team from the Republic, Mr. John Callinan of the Department of the Taoiseach.