The citizens’ assembly is aiming for a referendum to give nature protection rights

THE citizens’ assembly on the loss of biodiversity recommends that the government hold a referendum to include the protection of biodiversity in the constitution.

A majority of 83 percent of the 99 members voted in favor of the proposal, which is one of dozens that will be presented to government in a formal report on the assembly’s work.

No precise wording is recommended, but a majority voted in favor of a broad referendum that would both protect people’s right to a healthy environment and give nature its own right to protection.

These rights would be both ‘substantive’ and ‘procedural’, meaning there would be a strong statement of rights and also access to information, courts and decision-making processes for these rights to be enforced.

The chairman of the meeting, Dr. Aoibhinn NÍ Shúilleabháin said the decision was significant and the 83-17 vote could be prescient.

She noted that when the town hall assembly voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment on abortion, the percentage of members who were in favor of the referendum almost exactly matched the percentage of the general public who voted in favor when the vote was finally held.

“We are making a recommendation as an assembly that could potentially change the constitution, and no less than any other citizens’ assembly that has existed, major societal changes can result,” she said.

“I think the town hall meeting is a good temperature check and if it is, that’s a resounding yes in this room.”

The gathering, made up of randomly selected members of society from a wide range of backgrounds, was due to end on Sunday after six months of discussions but has been working overtime.

Members rejected a suggestion to continue their work behind the scenes and vote online on the remaining proposals.

They will now formally apply to the government for an extension of the deadline, but have already set January 21 next year as their next and final day of meetings.

In the meantime, they will present a list of the 66 recommendations they have already agreed to, including calls for a fundamental overhaul of the way biodiversity is managed, monitored, protected and funded.

The first agreed recommendation reads: “The State must take immediate, decisive and urgent action to address the loss and restoration of biodiversity and take leadership in protecting Ireland’s biodiversity for future generations.”

Another says: “The Assembly believes that the state has failed comprehensively to adequately fund, implement and enforce existing national laws, national policies, EU biodiversity laws and policies related to biodiversity. That needs to change.”

Other recommendations still to be discussed relate to specific sectors such as agriculture, peatlands, forestry, marine and urban and built environment.

The citizens’ assembly is the first in the world to address the loss of biodiversity. Although the Oireachtas declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019, the focus so far has been on the former.

During the process, the gathering heard presentations on 75 submissions from conservation experts, agri-food stakeholders, industry and community groups.

They also received 250 suggestions from the general public and narrowed them down to 160 for further discussion.

dr NÍ Shúilleabháin advised members to be aware that they could be the target of lobbyists until their last meeting next year.

She said conversations about her work are fine, but added, “Our recommendations should be driven by submissions, not conversations.” The citizens’ assembly is aiming for a referendum to give nature protection rights

Fry Electronics Team

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