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The world is burning, but Sinn Féin is focusing on the local elections

Party decided not to be party of change on climate change, which may be a smart political calculation, but comes at a cost

It beats Banagher, but the passing of the Nature Restoration Law by the European Parliament on Tuesday was overshadowed by the RTÉ soap opera. In a world where catastrophising is the new normal, climate is the only inevitable catastrophe. It has only peripheral political status and passing public interest, however. It is a tactical issue used opportunistically by most political parties, not an imperative to be addressed systematically. Of 13 Irish MEPs, 11 voted for and two – Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus and Independent MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan – voted against.

Flanagan was in the news, too, because his Twitter account was hacked, and he was blackguarded by a seedy tweet that purported to come from him but did not. The court case in Brussels got more attention than his vote. Much of what we concern ourselves about is a distraction. In that mix, the decision of Sinn Féin to oppose the new law after previously supporting it, is important. It decided not to be the party of change on climate change, which may be a smart political calculation. The world is burning but its focus is on local and European elections just over three months away.

That calculation is not about global warming but local politics in rural Ireland and a septic tank full of grievances. Only time will tell the benefit of the party’s choice last Tuesday, but there is a cost. On climate the main Opposition party is offside. Its European Parliament candidate in Dublin, Senator Lynn Boylan hailed passage of the law as “great news” on X. But her party thought otherwise, and its sitting MEP voted accordingly. Internal debate in Sinn Féin doesn’t play out in public, but what Boylan once referred to in the context of a debate on Catalonia as “cosmopolitan nationalism” has strict limits. Best to keep catastrophising rather than deal with the real catastrophe.

There would be no new EU law without Malcolm Noonan, the Irish heritage minister. In a parliamentary manoeuvre last July, he corralled Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael behind a counter motion he proposed in the Dáil, in opposition to one advanced by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, to support the Nature Restoration Law. That closed off retreat for the their MEPs, several of whom wanted a way out. When the law was then voted on at an earlier stage of its passage, it squeaked through the European Parliament with a majority of 12. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael MEPs were the decisive margin in keeping the law alive in the face of a concerted attempt by Manfred Weber, the powerful leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), to defeat it. Within that group, the Fine Gael MEPs led what by last Tuesday was a growing minority in support of the law. It was a rare example of Ireland being the decisive margin on a key European issue.


The Nature Restoration Law is the important news this week. It relates to the single issue that is imperative

What is playing out across Europe is replicated in county council contests here. Weber and Mary Lou McDonald are playing the same cards in the same game. Leading loose coalitions, they want to protect their flanks from others who would better soak up popular anger. The threat to the EPP is from Marine Le Pen in France and prime minister Giorgia Meloni in Italy. The outcome of that context will shape the next European Parliament and influence European policy for the next five years. On the nature law, Sinn Féin is aligned with those forces in Europe and “Ming” Flanagan at home. It has decided its flank is more important than the centre.

The law requires member states to restore 20 per cent of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems by 2050. It is a victory for farmers, not over farmers. It depends on the use of state lands and voluntary adherence by landowners. They rightly press for the best financial support possible, and it is up to the government to deliver.

The degradation of native habitats is widespread and in places is extreme. Our wellbeing as humans is inextricably linked to nature. The justified criticism of this law is not what is in it, but what is left out. It is a modest version of what was intended. It is also a localised, in this instance European response, to a global issue fuelled by our lifestyles.

Shops are exploding with chocolate in advance of Easter. Our gluttony is such that we are the third highest consumers of chocolate in Europe after Austria and Switzerland, eating about 7.7 kgs per year. Cocoa, with some exceptions, is a dirty industry and most farmers are living on about $1 a day. Based on 2022 figures, our take in VAT on chocolate is about as much as the €120 million we gave to international climate finance work then. Vast habitats are polluted or destroyed, at the cost of human misery to satisfy our cravings for chocolate.

We live off the fat of the land with an intensity that is unsustainable. The Nature Restoration Law is the important news this week. It relates to the single issue that is imperative. Contrary to a politics that needs to double down on what is going wrong, it is something that will set things right. Fair Trade Fortnight starts on Monday and there is honest chocolate to be had for Easter.