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‘Tantamount to terrorism’



Councillors vow to revoke climate and biodiversity emergency declaration

Anton McNulty

Councillors have vowed to revoke Mayo County Council’s climate and biodiversity emergency declaration, with one member claiming the declaration is ‘tantamount to terrorism’.
Last month’s decision by Mayo County Council to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency was raised at yesterday’s monthly meeting of the council, with efforts made to invalidate the motion.
The motion, which was adopted by just one vote in January, was deemed valid by the council executive. However, councillors were informed that they can revisit the motion in six months, and many are vowing to revoke the declaration.
Foxford-based Fine Gael councillor Neil Cruise who raised the matter said the declaration will have negative consequences for the county and was ‘dangerous and divisive’.
“I think the motion send out an awful message from Mayo County Council to be honest with you. We are a rural county, and my efforts today is to invalidate this motion because it is dangerous and divisive.
“I am looking at the substantive issue, which is we are in a highly rural county on the western seaboard and I would say that our position would be carbon neutral at worst. Declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency in a county such as this I think is tantamount to terrorism,” he said.

‘A step too far’
The motion for Mayo County Council to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency was made by Independent councillor Mark Duffy and was passed by 13 votes to 12. Speaking to The Mayo News following the January vote, Cllr Duffy said he was ‘surprised’ by the opposition but was glad the motion had passed.
“I was surprised by the opposition and had expected the motion to be proposed and seconded and the meeting would move on quickly. I did not expect it to go on for an hour and a half.
“Some members did not like the word ‘emergency’ but I pointed out that Ireland had already declared a climate emergency two years ago and this was to show Mayo County Council supported this. There are 17 local authorities in Ireland who have passed a climate emergency and Mayo County Council should be seen to be leading along the western seafront.”
However, at yesterday’s meeting, Cllr Cruise argued the council had no legislative right to declare a climate emergency and as a result the motion was not valid. He said the motion should be referred to the Strategic Policy Committee for Environment, Climate Action, Agriculture and Emergency Services for consideration before any declaration is made.
Cllr Duffy defended the decision to propose the motion and questioned if motions brought by councillors in the future in relation to roads and housing will now have to brought before the SPCs which deal with those matters.  
A number of councillors were supportive of Cllr Cruise when he said he fears the declaration will result in further restrictions for farmers and difficulties in getting infrastructure projects in the county.
“The reason I am doing this, and I don’t like to do it, but this is an emergency situation. We have to be careful what we wish for,” he said.
He received support from Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan who claimed councillors were confused at the last meeting and he will be raising the matter in six months.
“When the six months is up there certainly will be a counter proposal to look at this in its entirety. Declaring a climate emergency in a county on the west coast of Ireland is a step too far. Speaking of the farmers of the county, 97 percent of them are extremely environmentally aware and they don’t need no terminology to tell them how to conduct their business. This will be an item on the agenda in six months and there will be a lot more engaged debate.
“Nobody is reneging on their environmental or climate responsibilities but there needs to be more robust debate. It’s important we do the right thing but it’s more important to take the county forward in very balanced way,” he said.

‘Still committed’
Director of Services, John Condon, who sits on the Environment, Climate Action, Agriculture and Emergency Services SPC told the meeting that the SPC met on Friday to discuss the motion. One of the next steps is to appoint a sub-committee to come up with recommendations of what can be done regarding climate issues.
“The SPC will appoint a sub group and they will then look at things like the County Development Plan and other issues. They will come up with recommendations, and they will have to be cleared by the SPC itself, and then the SPC will put it back before the Council. Nothing will be implemented until a further vote of the council takes place. I think in that sense nothing will happen before it goes back before the council.
“The fears Cllr Cruise has outlined cannot come into being until this council puts it into being, and I don’t think that will happen without serious consideration,” he said.
Mr Condon added that even if the councillors revoke the motion in six months time, the council are still committed to the national climate plan and they will still have to address the climate change issues going forward.

‘Disrespectful process’
At the SPC meeting on Friday, members also criticised the decision to adopt the climate and biodiversity emergency declaration without first consulting the SPC.
Cllr Peter Flynn told the meeting that the motion had caused division among councillors.
“It has been a hugely disrespectful process to the SPC and has done huge damage to the role of the SPC. It has split the council, which is regrettable on an absolutely crucial item that is of massive interest to every single person,” he said.
As well as being made up of councillors and council officials, representatives from farming, business, the environment and trade unions are also part of the SPC, and Cllr Flynn claimed declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency without their knowledge was disrespectful.
“To be honest with you I am seriously questioning the role of the SPC right now with what happened last month. In my view what happened in January was an affront to the efforts these people are making. It is one thing playing politics with trivial matters, but climate emergency is no trivial matter. We need to work side by side with our partners and not tell them after the fact what we are doing,” he said.
John Davitt, the representative from the IFA said he would have liked to had an input in the debate, and he claimed he received a number of irate calls after the passing of the motion.