Councillor O’Neill said it was ‘restoring the voice, the power of the law to the rights of our landscape, rivers, mountains, woodlands, coastlines to flourish and regenerate’.
As a result of the notice of motion authored by Friends and the Earth and tabled by Colr. O’Neill, Derry and Strabane Council has agreed to hold two community workshops and work with the local community and stakeholders to draw up a Declaration for the Rights of Nature.
Addressing the Chamber, Colr. O’Neill said: “The ancient view of the world’s indigenous communities, a view that is as old as our hills, that life is interconnected and interdependent is now re-emerging through the ‘Rights of Nature’ movement. We rely on a healthy environment, we are dependent for our well being on the well being of the environment, we are in a relationship with our environment.
“The environmental justice movement recognises that it is those communities who are most deprived and also communities of colour who are hardest hit by an unhealthy environment. There’s ordinary working-class communities that are targeted by pollutant industries and who are most exposed to pollution. What Rights of Nature can do is to rebalance the systems of governance to allow communities to assert their rights to a healthy environment but it also allows nature the rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve. There are incredible examples worldwide. Rights of Nature is embedded in the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador and New Zealand in 2018 gave rights to the Whanganui River, recognising that the river is a giver of life... Imagine that for the River Foyle system and its tributaries and the ecosystems within it.”
Supporting the motion, SDLP Colr. Sean Mooney said: “Our council is presently moving on the outworkings of motions passed on climate emergency and biodiversity amongst others. We can see this in projects such as the creation of wildflower meadows and a pollinator plan to protect our indigenous native bee population as examples in this area. I can see as a member of the Planning Committee in our own area that officers already work within the confines of legislation and policy in relation to habitats and environmental provisions under domestic and EU laws. However, there is merit in council seeking to look at operational planning and long term decision making for inclusion of Rights of Nature and through corporate business.”
Sinn Féin Colr. Christopher Jackson added his support: “I would like to thank James Orr from Friends of the Earth who authored this motion. It was really good to hear James’ enthusiasm on the subject and I look forward to working with him as we move forward. It was encouraging to hear James explain that the Rights of Nature won’t be at the expense of development. We are blessed within our district to have special designated areas such as the River Faughan, the Foyle and the Sperrin AONB and many others which rightly deserve additional protection but in terms of this motion we need to recognise the need to protect the entire ecosystem and we look forward to working with The Gathering, Friends of the Earth and others to do so.”
An amendment to increase the stakeholder group to include DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs), National Farmers Union, Ulster Farmers Union, Irish Farmers Union and any local farming groups passed unanimously as did the original motion.
Summing up, Colr. O’Neill said: “This is an incredible concept and this is an exciting moment.”