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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
16 Dec 2023

Ireland’s countryside may be given ‘human rights’ to provide legal protection for natural landscape

Ireland’s natural beauty could soon be granted rights similar to those of humans after a parliamentary committee put its weight behind a proposal to enshrine nature’s rights in the constitution.

The joint committee on environment and climate action this week recommended to the Irish government that it should hold a referendum on whether the country’s glens, mountains and rivers should be granted legal rights.

The MPs on the committee said that a referendum should take place before the next election and be accompanied by a “robust public information campaign” to “prevent the spread of misinformation”.

The committee’s report backs the findings of a citizens’ assembly that was asked to look into ways to protect the Emerald Isle’s biodiversity.

Harder for companies to exploit nature

While it is unclear what such a change to the constitution would mean in practice, advocates of giving nature rights argue that it makes it harder for companies to exploit nature for profit while also hindering urban sprawl.

Such a move would make Ireland the first country in the EU to give nature such rights.

Ecuador made a similar change to its constitution in 2008, while a river in New Zealand has been a legal person since 2017.

The move was backed by the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, an advocacy organisation that has worked in the US to stop development on wild land.

‘Important step forward’

“We congratulate chairperson Brian Leddin and the joint committee for its work and for taking this important step forward toward enshrining the rights of nature within Ireland’s constitution,” said the group’s executive director Mari Margil.

“Further, we look forward to the government and parliament’s next steps to protect the rights of nature, and offer whatever assistance we can in this process.”

The Irish Farmers’ Association has argued against the change, saying that it would “significantly increase the strain on already overburdened legal and planning systems as well as infringe farmers’ property rights”.

After the citizens’ assembly released its findings in April, the union also complained that farmers only made up six of the assembly’s 100 members despite being most exposed to changes in the law.