The door is open for farmer input to the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, says its chair Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.

Dr Ní Shúilleabháin was at the National Ploughing Championships in Rathnieska, Co Laois, this week to recruit nominations from each of Ireland’s farm organisations to join a panel discussion on the role of farmers in protecting biodiversity for the assembly’s October meeting. It’s understood the inclusion of farmers in this way came about following a comprehensive submission from Macra na Feirme.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said she doesn’t want the assembly’s discussion on farmers and biodiversity to “turn into another kind of extremist, finger-wagging, giving-out debate” and that she wants to “make sure” farmers are “involved in the conversation”.

A Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss has a total of 100 members including Dr Ní Shúilleabháin as an independent chair and 99 randomly-selected members of the public. It’s tasked with examining how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss and to bring forward proposals to Government in that regard.

‘Listen to farmers’

“We’re beginning our work properly now, this weekend and that’s why I’m at the Ploughing Championships because I want to come talk to farmers, listen to farmers and hear what they’re already doing, hear what we can learn from them and also, hear about the challenges that they’re dealing with.

“My job as chair it to make sure assembly members are as informed as possible and part of that is about bringing farmers into the conversation because they are part of the solution, a big part of the solution,” the citizens’ assembly chair said.

Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.

Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said that “farmers are the ones who are looking after the land” and highlighted that they have “an in-depth knowledge of nature” and that therefore, “they’re the ones who can probably tell what’s happening around them just by walking out on their own farms day to day”.

‘Informed respectful discussion’

“I’d much rather that we have an informed respectful discussion where we will have people from lots of different angles. We’ll have the environmental groups, we’ll have construction companies, we’ll have the biodiversity officers, we’ll have the farmers and everybody is going to be able to bring their own perspective to this. But it’s just really important for me that we maintain respectful conversation about it all.

“I just want to make sure that farmers are involved in that and that they ‘re brought in and invited into the fold for that conversation,” she continued.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss’s recommendations will be presented to Government by the end of the year.

Its independent chair, Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said she hopes the recommendations, which are yet to be decided and yet to be written, have something in them which everyone can see and relate to “because we can all make an impact on biodiversity loss”.