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A mountain ringlet butterfly, which has not been seen in Ireland for a century Alamy Stock Photo

New citizens' assembly on biodiversity to meet for the first time in April

Cabinet approved two new citizens’ assemblies on biodiversity and Dublin’s local governance at a meeting this afternoon.

CABINET HAS APPROVED the establishment of two new citizens’ assemblies that will meet for the first time in April.

A long-awaited assembly on biodiversity has been given the green light after the Taoiseach brought a proposal to Cabinet.

A second citizens’ assembly on Dublin’s local government structures and mayoral elections will also be formed, making it the first time that two assemblies are run concurrently.

The two assemblies meet for the first time in April. It is expected that they will both report back with their findings within 9 months or sooner.

The members of the biodiversity assembly will consider the threats of biodiversity loss and how to reverse it; the main causes and impacts of biodiversity loss; and how to improve the government’s response and measure progress.

They will look at “opportunities to develop greater policy coherence and strategic synergies between biodiversity policy and other policy priorities including, but not limited to, economic development, climate action, sustainable development, agriculture and tourism”. 

The prospect of a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity was first raised in 2019 and included in the 2020 Programme for Government.

Campaigners have been calling for the assembly to be convened as a priority to address the growing biodiversity crisis, which has been caused by habitat loss, overexploitation, and climate change.

Those factors have caused a rapid acceleration of animals and plants becoming extinct, but measures to restore biodiversity could have a significant impact if implemented properly.

major UN report on biodiversity loss in 2019 warned that an unprecedented loss of species will continue to gain pace unless countries take urgent action to tackle it.

The Irish government declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in the same year and at the same time passed an amendment to call for a citizens’ assembly to “examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss”.

Last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he would “bring to Cabinet shortly proposals for a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity”.

“I think it’s absolutely critical that we move on this and move with speed and conviction, and I intend to do that.” 

The Dublin citizens’ assembly will consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures that are best suited for Dublin. 

Its members will look at the strengths and weaknesses of local governance in Ireland, particularly in Dublin, and the potential benefits and risks of a directly-elected mayor for Dublin.

They will consider international and European experiences of directly-elected mayors. 

Both of the assemblies will have a separate chairperson appointed to it, each for a period of up to 12 months that can be extended if necessary.

A secretary and secretariat will also be appointed to each assembly.

The estimated non-pay costs for the assemblies are €1.5 million.

“Given the number of Assemblies that are committed to in the Programme for Government, and the constraints that had delayed the establishment of new Assemblies, it is proposed on this occasion to run two separate Assemblies concurrently,” a government spokesperson said.

“This will be the first time that two Assemblies will run concurrently, and presents a significant opportunity to design and implement an operational model that can allow for a greater number of Citizens’ Assemblies to be run.

“The success of this approach will depend on the provision of sufficient resources to mitigate the logistical challenges and manage capacity constraints.

“It is proposed that a Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use will directly follow these two Assemblies, with the intention of running it concurrently with the Citizens’ Assembly on the Future of Education, if learnings from the concurrent running of Biodiversity and Directly Elected Mayor suggest that this new operational model is the best way forward for Citizens’ Assemblies.”

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