Ireland occasionally trips over its relationship with its own heritage.
In the same week that Donald Trump declared March, Irish-American Heritage Month, to the discomfort of many, Irish minister for ‘Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’, Heather Humphreys proposed a bill being known as the ‘Heritage Bill’ which contains provisions thought to actively harm the Irish environment and biodiversity.
It’s understandable, Ireland struggles with parts of our history when there is a lot of conflict there. How that reflects in how we react to our cultural heritage is not surprising. Occasional dismissive attitudes towards Gaeilge, traditional music and the like. But I suppose for some it’s more surprising how that translates to natural heritage.
We’re not alone among postcolonial countries that have a strained relationship with the land. Land has so many values to people from the highly practical to the completely symbolic.
Maybe this is why unlike the UK or many of our European counterparts we have limited “Right to Roam” or rural rights of way. Fool me once.
The bill is going nowhere fast, despite its support from the political savvy Irish Farmers Association. It was debate in the Seanad were a number of independent senators such as Lynn Ruane and David Norris came out strongly against the bill, citing specifically the potential to hedgerows and biodiversity. The Green Party held a protest outside government buildings during the debate. Memeber of both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have also expressed concern leaving only Humphreys own party Fine Gael backing the bill.
Fantastic demo in front of the #Seanad against unscientific cutting + burning in #HeritageBill. Debate has resumed, fight continues pic.twitter.com/nQAGHiJ3hA
— Grace O’Sullivan (@GraceOSllvn) March 2, 2017
But the power behind the Irish sense of personal ownership is one that is felt often and with force in any change in the landscape. Simply legislating and issuing edict from on high without the input or leadership from landowners, even if it wasn’t an ethical issue, would still be ineffective.
This was clear during the height of the fight between raised bog protection and turf cutters, a conflict that is ongoing in some communities. Nature conservation is a long term, one might say inter-generational affair, so it can be best carried out by the communities that will outlive government attention-spans.
There have been success stories of community led management structures, like for the Burren or at Girley Bog, in Meath, but we are far from this becoming the norm rather than the exception.
How to reach that point faster, how to bring the needs of rural communities into concert with those of nature, are the questions that should be on the mind of all those commitment to Ireland’s environment.