Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said that the votes of all 13 Irish MEPs were “critical” in passing a key European Union (EU) nature bill.
The Green Party leader said Ireland had taken a very strong position in the European Council and in the European Parliament, and that all Irish MEPs had “swung” the final tally.
The European Parliament supported the general outlines of the European Commission proposals in a razor-thin 324-312 vote, with 12 abstentions.
The EU’s Nature Restoration law is a key part of the EU’s European Green Deal, which seeks to establish the world’s most ambitious climate and biodiversity targets and make the bloc the global point of reference on all climate issues.
As the European Parliament, EU Council and Commission all now having adopted proposals for the Nature Restoration Law, talks are expected to begin in September in order to agree the final form that it will take.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Mr Ryan told reporters in Dublin.
He said that when he spoke to the two Green Party MEPs on Wednesday morning, he thought the vote would not pass.
“The Irish government was united and clear in our position at the European Council, which had a very important impact.
“And I have to say, I’d like to thank every one of the Irish MEPs who have supported it.
“This is not insignificant, those Irish votes were critical, those Irish votes swung it.
“Those Irish MEPs got it over the line.
“If they voted the other way, it would have been lost and I think it would have been a shock right across Europe.”
The plans proposed by the European Commission set binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim by 2030 to restore at least 20 per cent of land and sea areas and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
The European Parliament’s largest group the European People’s Party (EPP) had staunchly opposed the draft law.
Mr Ryan had previously urged his coalition colleagues in Fine Gael, who are members of the EPP group, to vote in favour of the law – which all five Fine Gael MEPs did.
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly said that they did not believe the EPP’s approach to reject the text outright was right.
There is criticism of the proposal from both environmental groups and those representing farmers: BirdWatch Ireland said the law had been approved despite an “unprecedented and often outright absurd” disinformation campaign.
But its head of advocacy Oonagh Duggan said it had been made “substantially weaker” in order to get it over the line, despite the fact that its aims could help mitigate against climate breakdown and “especially farmers producing our food”.
The Irish Farmers’ Association said there was “still a lot of ambiguity” around what the law will mean and said its impact on farm incomes, food production and farming practices was “unclear”.
“There will be further compromises, I’m sure, and all sorts of twists and turns in it, but it’s very clear now we will have a Nature Restoration Law by the end of this year, that’s of historic importance,” Mr Ryan said.
He added: “I don’t think it’ll change massively. I think a lot of those compromises in the Council negotiations with the Commission gave us the flexibility we need.
“Had it fallen it would have been in a different position but it didn’t, largely because of the Irish votes.”
Minister of State Malcolm Noonan said it was “a great day for nature”.
He said Wednesday’s vote, combined with last week’s Oireachtas vote which overwhelmingly backed the Nature Restoration Law, meant “we can finally say that Ireland is ready to take action on reversing biodiversity loss”.
“There is still a way to go before the final law is adopted, but we have kept the Nature Restoration Law alive. Now we have to ensure it flourishes,” he said.