Micheál Martin has vowed to turn around years of neglect of nature and of the people who tried to fight its cause.
The Taoiseach told the National Biodiversity Conference he was committed to completing an action plan to safeguard Ireland’s landscapes, habitats and species and to the “delivery of clear results”.
He praised the attendance of scientists and activists who had tried to sound the alarm on biodiversity loss.
“Many of you have worked tirelessly to convince those of us in the political and policy spheres of the dangers to us as humans and to our way of life of our continued destruction of nature,” he said.
“It is fair to say that your message has not always been heeded. It is probably also fair to say that it is still not being adequately incorporated into our decision-making.
“But I do sense a deepening acceptance, a growing realisation that our fortunes as a species and as a society are inseparable from the fortunes of the natural world.”
The two-day conference has been hearing from speakers from here and abroad about the dramatic decline of Ireland’s wildlife and habitats and about the programmes and policies being devised to support them.
It comes as the Government is preparing a new National Biodiversity Action Plan. The Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss has been convened. In addition stringent binding new nature restoration targets are soon to be handed down from Europe.
Mr Martin said it was not fully appreciated that the human race was completely dependent on healthy natural systems.
“The great mistake of our species is to think that we are somehow separate from nature and that we can continually hollow out natural systems without consequence for our own wellbeing,” he said.
“The degradation of our natural environment is a major threat for the stability of societies, and their peace and security, worldwide.
“It is also aggravating poverty and inequalities, as well as hunger and malnutrition.
“Some part of our human psychology will seek to wish away or deny what is so clearly happening around us but that is no answer.”
The Taoiseach highlighted positive developments on the policy front in Ireland but said everyone would need to pitch in to help.
“Like climate change, biodiversity loss will only be successfully tackled as an all-of-Government and all-of-society project,” he said.
The buy-in of farmers, foresters, fishers and communities would be essential.
“With climate, you can set national targets and sectoral emissions ceilings for metric tonnes of carbon. But nature isn’t like that. We can’t measure it in tonnes, the indicators are more complex, the action is at the level of the field – and that field is usually owned and worked by somebody.
“This is why communities need to be at the heart of biodiversity action.”
Mr Martin recalled the warning of film-maker and activist Éamon de Buitleár who 35 years ago said: “We do not really understand what we have and what we stand to lose.”
The Taoiseasch said: “It’s taken us too long but I think that, today, we do understand what we have, and we have a very real sense of what we stand to lose.”