The chair of the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, has called on legislators to create new laws and national policy to transform Ireland’s relationship with nature. Speaking at an information meeting for Oireachtas members and staff in Leinster House, Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin provided an overview of the assembly’s final report, which contains 73 high-level recommendations for the government and 86 sectoral specific actions and priorities.
Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin emphasized that the assembly was “fully representative of modern Ireland,” including people from rural and urban communities, farmers, professionals, students, and older people. She commended the 99 members of the group for their year-long deliberation on the issues. However, she stressed that their time and effort would only be worthwhile if it led to real change.
The final report also highlighted the State’s failure to adequately address biodiversity loss, particularly in terms of enforcing its existing laws and policies. Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin stated that there is no excuse for existing legislation to remain unimplemented or unenforced, given the magnitude of biodiversity loss facing the country.
“The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss worked tirelessly for almost a year to produce this comprehensive report,” said Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin. “Members listened to 87 experts, received over 600 public submissions, participated in seven full weekend meetings, undertook field trips, and thoroughly debated and discussed all the complex issues at the core of biodiversity loss. Many of them took it upon themselves to make simple, positive changes in how they interact with the natural environment as a direct result of our considerations.”
Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin emphasized that the government and Oireachtas members are the only ones with the capacity to take necessary action, change national laws, and enforce current laws and regulations to protect biodiversity and the natural environment. She called on the State to lead, highlighting Ireland’s international reputation for listening to its citizens through the assembly process model.
“This has been done before in other areas, and now we have an opportunity to do the same, as this was the first Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss anywhere in the world,” she said. “That is something we should be proud of, but it will be meaningless if it does not bring about real change. The work of the assembly may be done, but our job is not complete until we see these recommendations take effect.”
Since the Assembly concluded its work and issued its final report earlier this year, Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin has briefed the Taoiseach on its recommendations and has also addressed the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. She is scheduled to formally brief the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action in the autumn.