Ireland needs to wake up to environmental implications of Brexit

Brexit vote
UK’s Brexit referendum on June 23 will have environmental implications for the island of Ireland

THE Brexit debate in Ireland seems to have focused largely on the economic implications of the UK’s departure from the European Union but what about concerns over the future of environmental protection on the entire island?

On June 23, voters across the UK will be asked to decide in a referendum whether they want to remain in the EU. Here’s what they will be voting Yes or No to:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Brexit and Ireland’s environment

If I was still in print journalism I would have written quite a bit about Brexit by now – both on the potential economic consequences for Ireland, but also the potential environmental consequences for the entire island.

So, it’s come as something of a disappointment, but not a surprise I guess, that there appears to have been little or no real discussion at political level in Dublin about how issues like shared waterways, border habitats and species, and efforts to tackle climate change, could be affected if the UK exits the EU.

I’m not even sure whether the fact that the new Irish government doesn’t see the need for a Department of the Environment is a factor in the silence (if you’d like to sign a petition seeking a reversal of the decision to abolish the department click here).

Cross-border cooperation

I’m not a hugely political person and, if I’m honest, I tend to stay on the fence about a lot of issues, but after I first began writing about environmental issues in 2000 I discovered that there was a huge level of cooperation between conservation groups on both sides of the Irish border.

Long before the politicians were involved in peace talks, groups with an interest in nature, the environment and conservation were, without any fuss, working together and sharing information with their counterparts on the other side of the border because they recognised the value of their cooperation.

So, it’s not surprising that some conservation bodies have been raising the ‘border’ question in recent months.

In the introduction to its submission to a Westminster inquiry into Brexit, RSPB Northern Ireland wrote earlier this year that:

“Nature does not respect borders and the RSPB will always promote the generic principle of effective international agreements, which ensure common environmental standards and protect our shared wildlife.”

The body said it had been involved in a “number of cross border projects, made possible (in part) by EU funding”, when questioning the potential implications for the north’s “land border” with the Republic.

Stanley Johnson
Stanley Johnson

This week, Stanley Johnson, veteran environmentalist and father of leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, told a Pro-EU rally in Belfast that EU membership provided a necessary “layer of protection” for the region’s “landscape and nature”.


Prior to the event in Queen’s, Friends of the Earth director James Orr said the EU had “often been the only line of defence to help protect nature, human health and the well-being of communities. Cleaner beaches and drinking water, less air pollution, safer products and protected wildlife are all things we’ve gained from being part of the European Union (EU)”.

My concern is that, in my opinion, successive UK governments (like their Irish counterparts) have tended to have a ‘laissez-faire’ approach when it comes to environmental issues. Recent developments regarding fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in Yorkshire, and in Woodburn Forest in Co Antrim (less than 110km from Dundalk), are a prime example.

Here are two realities (1) capitalist economies need rules designed to safeguard the environment, and (2) waterways, flora and fauna do not need passports to cross borders.

With just a month to go before voters hit their local polling stations, I’d welcome a more focused discussion/debate from Leinster House and beyond the Pale on how our island’s environmental future could be affected by Brexit.

You can also read my blog on the recent Stormont elections and the environment here.


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