Protecting the environment.
In the days and weeks leading to the treble vote that, hopefully, consigned civil war divisions to history, a more contemporary fault line was highlighted.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians, some rural Independents too, who, in this context might be described as “the boys of the old brigade”, shouted from the rooftops warning that rural Ireland would be “decimated” if the Greens joined Government.
This self-serving bluster was offered as if that “decimation” was a prospect rather than a milestone already passed. The bluster was offered as if climate collapse aversion measures were optional, as if they could wait for another, sunnier day.
Those committed to Food Wise 2025, the 10-year plan to increase in primary farm production by 65% would buck at that suggestion. Those voices are culturally, and commercially, committed to the intensive industrialisation of our countryside despite an inevitable loss of biodiversity and degradation of water systems.
How to reorientate farming while protecting long-term farm incomes is one of the issues of our time and, the irony of ironies, one that may be more empathetically pursued by Europe’s Greens than the boys of the old brigade.
That brigade’s antipathy towards conservation and climate protection obligations is highlighted by the European Commission’s decision to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as we have not protected 423 sensitive habitats.
A deadline passed almost six years ago and EU legislation has been in place since 1992. Ireland identified 423 habitats as “sites of community importance” to be designated as special areas of conservation.
Yet 154 remain unprotected.
That is not the only area of conflict. Ireland has until the end of September to ensure environmental impact assessments are carried out on peat harvesting or else a case may be referred to the ECJ. Food Wise 2025 was, inexplicably, not subject to an environmental impact assessment.
The EC pointed out that environmental impact assessments are mandatory under EU law since 1988 but Ireland has had “numerous problems” while “significant peat extraction” continued.
There is more. The failure to devise a penalty points system for fishing vessels sailing under the Irish flag has attracted another ECJ shot across the bows.
We have kept the ECJ busy — last year it imposed a €5m sanction and a daily penalty of €15,000 because officials did not consider the environmental impact of constructing the Derrybrien windfarm in Galway, the scene of a massive landslide in 2003.
The oversight has not been rectified and daily fines have hit the €3m mark.
That list was extended last week when conservation group Salmon Watch Ireland lodged a complaint with Europe over how some salmon farms licences have not been renewed thereby avoiding the impact assessment necessary to secure a new licence.
Some licences in this increasingly controversial sector are almost a decade out of date.
These institutionalised indulgences are examples of the belief that nature exists to serve our needs, a belief now seen as so very dangerous that even some of the boys of the old brigade have accepted the need for change.
Our new Government can lead that change and win credit by so doing.