Dáil housing motion forces Minister to cut short trip to Cop15 biodiversity talks

Minister was due to lead Irish team during final days of UN summit but will be in Montreal for less than 48 hours

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, who is due to lead the Irish negotiation team during the final days of Cop15 on biodiversity, has had to curtail his participation because he has to vote on a Dáil motion of confidence in Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien next week.

This follows the tabling of an Opposition party motion of no confidence in Mr O’Brien. The Minister for Housing is one of the few ministers who has been told he will be retaining his portfolio under a Cabinet reshuffle accompanying a change in Taoiseach next Saturday, December 17th.

The People Before Profit-Solidarity motion, to be heard on Wednesday, seeks to highlight the “failure of the Government to deliver on the worsening housing and homelessness crisis which is tearing apart the social fabric of Irish society and leading to the scapegoating of refugees and International Protection applicants”.

Mr Noonan had originally planned to fly to Canada this weekend and stay until next Friday when he was scheduled to return for the change in Government, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin rotating roles with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Now Mr Noonan will be less than 48 hours at Cop15, although he said he was confident he would get to the conference to deliver Ireland’s statement at a high-level segment on Thursday.


The Minister of State said: “I’m deeply disappointed that I will not be able to attend the conference for as long as originally hoped.

“Cop15 is the most important global meeting on biodiversity in over a decade and there is urgent work to do to secure new 2030 goals for nature that stop the loss and put us on a path to restoration.”

Asked about Mr Noonan having to cut short his trip to Cop15, PBP-Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said: “It’s very unfortunate that the Green Party are prioritising keeping a failing Fianna Fáil Housing Minister in power over the biodiversity crisis. The best thing the Greens could do for both housing and biodiversity is to bring this government to an end.”

Mr Noonan will be present in Montreal for most of a high-level ministerial meeting and to make a statement on Ireland’s position to the UN summit being hosted by Canada and China. The ministerial meeting is separate to Cop15 negotiations but can be a key political mechanism to break any impasse in the negotiation rooms and to inject momentum in the build-up to a conclusion, scheduled for December 19th.

“This is the first time Ireland has been represented by a Government Minister at a biodiversity Cop in almost 20 years and I had intended to use the opportunity to further this Government’s ambitions for nature at home and around the world through multilateral collaboration with the 196 countries that are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity,” Mr Noonan said.

The Minister who is due to lead a team of experts from the National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Marine Environment Section of the Department of Housing, said he would be in constant contact with his officials, who are on the ground in Montreal over coming days.

“Through their sterling efforts, I am confident Ireland will play an important role in supporting the EU in the negotiations and help to deliver the ambitious global biodiversity framework that the world so desperately needs,” he added.

Padraic Fogarty campaigns officer with Irish Wildlife Trust, who is an observer at Cop15 since the beginning of talks earlier this week, said the curtailment of Mr Noonan’s presence at a critical stage of the talks was regrettable when his presence was better served by being at the UN summit.

“The timing of this could scarcely be worse given that it’s disrupting the Government’s participation in the Cop15 event. This kind of performative politics is a terrible distraction when we urgently need to focus on the serious threat we all face from biodiversity collapse,” Mr Fogarty added.

More than 110 countries including Ireland have indicated they support a move to protect 30 per cent of land, freshwaters and oceans by 2030 which, if agreed in the final text, would be regarded as a big breakthrough and “a Paris agreement for nature” – though this is disputed by some scientists.

The PBP-Solidarity motion will highlight criticism of the Government at a Raise the Roof rally last month demanding an end to homelessness and calling for more social and affordable homes.

Mr Murphy previously defended the motion when Mr O’Brien described it as “cynical”, while Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly confirmed on Saturday her party would be supporting the no confidence vote. Speaking on RTÉ Radio, SocDems TD Cian O’Callaghan said his party would be doing likewise.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent