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Pat McCormack
President, ICMSA

Nature restoration plans – ‘No Law, No Funding, No Time’

Following a recent meeting of the Designated Areas Monitoring Committee at which the Nature Restoration Law was discussed, ICMSA is compelled to express serious doubts regarding both the proposed law itself and the source of funding to apply it. The most notable features of the Nature Restoration Law are time-lined ‘restoration’ plans that will cover 20 per cent of EU land and 20 per cent of EU seas by 2050, with no less than 25,000km of rivers to be classified as free-flowing by 2030. In what will be an especially ambitious – not to say unrealistic – target for Ireland, the Nature Restoration Law stipulates 70 per cent of drained peatlands to be restored by 2050. 

It is vital that all grasp the fact that these targets will be applied beyond State-owned land; this act will allow the Government to insist that privately owned farmland is ‘restored’ to a commercially unproductive state. It effectively gives the Irish State the right to tell farmers that all or part of their lands must now be turned over to some activity or non-activity that the Irish State decides was its condition before it was farmed.

This is all wearingly familiar to many of us. It is the disturbingly common site of Irish strategic planning where the political objective cart is, invariably, placed before the administrative and funding horse.   

ICMSA cannot be the only organisation that believes that it is crucial that a degree of feasibility and basic legislative logistics underpin these kinds of plans and, in the context of what the Committee was told, question whether or not enough attention had been given to the question of the timelines, the funding, and – even more critically – the economic and social impact on the farmers and communities concerned.  

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) have both acknowledged that they have concerns with the proposed law. The timeframes for the targets and measures are extremely tight, bordering on impossible. 

But an even more fundamental question arises: who is going to decide which land is to be restored and on what basis? It is up to our Government to ensure that the rights of individual farmers and their communities are recognised and, critically, built into the legislation when finalised. How are they going to reconcile a farmer’s right to their own property with this proposed right to tell them what to do with it? Even if that can be reconciled – and we don’t think it can – then NPWS and the DAFM also stated that there was no new money available to implement the new law. That means a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget

that is already completely inadequate and is being diminished in real terms, on a daily basis, is now going to be asked to cover all the expenses involved in the legally questionable compulsory ‘restoration’ measures for a whole fifth of the country. ICMSA believes that is not going to be possible and just even considering it or thinking about it is a waste of everyone’s time. Even if additional funding was to be forthcoming, the very fundamental legal questions would have to be determined in advance of any further contemplation of the Nature Restoration Law. Exactly whose land is going to be restored? Because if it’s the Government undertaking to restore its own land then that’s their business. But if there’s any degree or question about the Government legislating or regulating on private property having to be ‘restored’ then that is an entirely different matter and one that is bound to become a much more protracted and opposed infringement of the most basic rights set out in law. For instance, does this proposed law about restoring land just apply to farmers? What about all the flood plains surrounding towns and cities that were the favoured sites for housing in recent decades? Will they be restored? What happens to the houses built on that land and what happens to the builder’s profits made on those house sales? So, there are many fundamental questions that I strongly advise the Government to consider and answer before they embark on what I’m afraid is – as it stands now – a fool’s errand in terms of the Nature Restoration Law.