EU law vital to our island

HARD to credit, but a staggering 650 pieces of EU law are in place to protect the Irish environment, north and south. 

It’s an area in which Brussels rules and could be said to be one of the main benefits of EU membership, given that our own record on the environment is far from impressive.

Cross-border cooperation plays a key role in dealing with issues such as habitat loss and climate change in the whole island. With Brexit, however, that cooperation could be seriously undermined. Environmentalists are concerned that, up to now, the main focus in regard to Brexit has been on economic issues and that other important matters are being sidelined. An All-Ireland environmental coalition of non-government organisations recently went to Brussels to highlight worries about challenges posed by Brexit. They emphasised how the island, as a single unit, had benefited hugely from a common set of environmental standards.

With one in five species currently threatened with extinction from the island, it is now more important than ever to preserve close cooperation, the coalition stressed.

They also pointed to the potential weakening of legal protection in the North as perhaps the single greatest environmental risk posed by Brexit — something that could also lead to a weakening of environmental protection on the whole island. Earlier this year, a landmark conference was held in Dundalk, to discuss Brexit’s potential impact on the environment and to look at new ways of working together on cross-border issues. Delegates, MEPs and expert speakers emphasised the importance of having the same environmental standards north and south.

Now, Environmental Pillar coordinator Michael Ewing says Brexit negotiations and discussions, so far, have been focused solely on the economy, with little mention of the potential negative impact on our natural heritage. Joint efforts must continue to protect the environment on both sides of the border.

“We want to stress to that all environmental issues have a strong cross-border dimension,” he adds. For example, all-island co-operation on invasive species has been, and will continue to be, crucial. Invasive species are estimated to cost the economies of the Republic and Northern Ireland a combined total of over €261million, in 2013, and are a major threat to our native plants and wildlife.

Also, the vast majority of birds with the highest level EU protection are found on both sides of the border. Around 90% of flyaway Canadian Brent geese visit the island of Ireland each year, with most using designated wetlands in Northern Ireland during the autumn staging period and designated wetlands in the Republic during the main wintering period.


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