On Wednesday the 21st of June the Irish Environmental Network (IEN), the Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) and the Environmental Justice Network Ireland (EJNI) organised an event called ‘Linking the Irish Environment’ to launch the final report produced by EJNI and commissioned by IEN and NIEL to examine how to enhance the ability of the environment sector across the island of Ireland to cooperate and engage on an all-island and cross-border basis to deal with shared environmental challenges, risks, and opportunities.
The research undertaken in preparation of this report built on previous joint work between NIEL and IEN, including the seminal report ‘Brexit, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and the Environment: Issues arising and possible solutions’ (2019). This new research project also includes consideration of best practice on cross-border and EU/Non-EU linkages in light of recent political developments. The project combined desk-based analysis (involving literature reviews and analysis of secondary data) as well as engagement with stakeholders. Direct engagement and fieldwork was undertaken via 3 avenues: initial and continuous in-depth discussions with the funding environmental NGO umbrella bodies; two online stakeholder workshops (each attended by 30-40 individuals representing 25 different organisations and drawn from NGO, civil society, and policy communities both North and South of the border); and a short online survey (completed by 283 individuals).
The report addresses 3 key areas:
- Current environmental regulatory and governance arrangements on the island, considering the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), Protocol, Governance committees of agreement, international agreements, oversight, complaints, environmental standards, enforcement and risk of divergence, and how these will impact or shape future cooperation.
- The experience of practical environmental cooperation across the island of Ireland between environmental NGOs, including NGO resourcing and support mechanisms.
- Mechanisms which can be used or developed by NIEL/IEN to advance citizens’ and NGO engagement in all-island environmental issues.
Based on the research undertaken to produce this report, the authors designed a thorough list of detailed recommendations to achieve the goal of linking the Irish environment. These recommendations have been grouped under seven key objectives: reaffirming political commitment to cooperation; enhancing civil society structures and strategies; monitoring the impact of Brexit; enhancing government accountability; supporting enduring and productive civil society relationships; ensuring citizens are aware of and can operationalise their environmental rights; and enhancing knowledge about environmental actors, activities and opportunities for collaboration. In addition, preliminary recommendations were subject to a consultation exercise in early 2023 involving participants from the stakeholder workshops. The full final report, as well as the executive summary and recommendations, can be downloaded from the dedicated webpage on the EJNI’s website.
The rest of the event was dedicated to a special seminar which focused on 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement/Belfast Agreement (GF/BA) and the environment. Two distinct panels about “Cross-border cooperation on the environment and role of GF/BA” and “What Next: Building resilient cross-border civil society cooperation” were carried out. During the discussions it was pointed out how a lot of good work has been done by the North/South implementation bodies with an environmental focus set up under the GF/BA as e. g. the Loughs Agency, but the panellists pointed out how not enough success has been obtained in bringing political views together compared to what the GF/BA had envisaged. In fact, divergencies in environmental policies across the borders were strong even before Brexit, thus a need for more organisation with an all-island perspective to work together on the similar challenges faced by both jurisdictions on the island was highlighted. In order to support this work and the establishment of more collaboration, a new European Union funding Programme called PEACEPLUS was designed to support peace and prosperity across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland and has been divided into six themes – each of which aims to address longstanding social, environmental and economic challenges. Also, as part of the closing remarks of the event, the organisers stressed how the work done so far is only the first stage in the development of a long-term programme for the delivery of greater North/South environmental NGO cooperation. In fact, while the ‘Linking the Irish Environment’ report captures a snapshot of many existing all-island and cross-border collaborations, it has not been possible within the research timeframe to identify all ongoing efforts by individuals and groups across the island. The commissioning organisations and the authors would welcome communication from any projects not captured in this report in the hope that future research will reflect increasing efforts in this essential body of work. Please contact the report’s corresponding author, Dr Ciara Brennan (email@example.com) with any relevant updates. Also, IEN, NIEL and EJNI aim to organise more events soon in form of dialogues to facilitate the communication among all-island organisations, policy makers and civil society aimed at identifying policy and practical solutions to shared environmental challenges.
The Irish Ocean Literacy Network was delighted to attend this event as an all-island focused network and intend to support sharing and collaboration among ocean literacy champions across the border. Building on discussions at the first regional IOLN meeting of 2023, which was held in Belfast last March, the intention of the Network’s Secretariat is to liaise with IEN, NIEL and EJNI to support the work they have initiated to increase cross-border cooperation and policy-making to improve the environment on an all-island basis.