Upcoming parliamenary debate

On 18th April 2024 the report of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action on the recommendations from the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity (2023) will be debated in Dáil Éireann.

Both the Assembly and the Committee have called for a referendum on an amendment [or amendments] to incorporate the right to a healthy environment and the Rights of Nature into our national constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Together with a rapidly growing grassroots campaign in favour of a referendum, there is now a sufficient mandate for the Government to ‘let the people decide’ to become the first European state to embrace these rights in a national constitution.

We are setting out a number of steps you can take to make this happen.

Our immediate ‘ask’ is that the Government adopt a recommendation from the Joint Committee on early preparatory steps and establish an expert group during the life of this Government to advise on the steps required ahead of a Constitutional referendum

Background to Democratic Mandate for a referendum

The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was one of four Citizens’ Assemblies contained in the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future. In February 2022, following debates in both Houses, the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was formally established by way of resolutions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was comprised of 100 members, including 99 members of the public, randomly selected from households across Ireland, and an independent Chairperson, Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, appointed by the Taoiseach.

At its final meeting on 21 January 2023, the Assembly voted on a series of propositions that were the culmination of careful deliberation and debate, informed by detailed input from experts, stakeholders and the general public. After deliberating on how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss, the Assembly agreed 159 recommendations. These 73 high-level recommendations and 86 sectoral-specific recommendations were agreed through a mixture of consensus agreement and ballots.

Specifically, Citizens Assembly Recommendation No. 31 states that:

“There should be a referendum of the people to amend the Constitution with a view to protecting biodiversity. The proposal to amend the Constitution should include:

a. Human substantive environmental rights, e.g. a right to a clean, healthy, safe environment; a right to a stable and healthy climate; rights of future generations to these or other environmental rights.
b. Human procedural environmental rights, e.g. the Aarhus rights regarding access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and justice in environmental matters.
c. Substantive rights of nature, recognising nature as a holder of legal rights, comparable to companies or people e.g. to exist, flourish/perpetuate and be restored if degraded; not to be polluted/harmed/degraded.*
d. Procedural rights of nature, e.g. to be a party in administrative decision-making, litigation, etc. where rights are impacted/likely to be impacted.”


The recent publication of the fourth National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) commits the National Parks and Wildlife Service to “explore the ways in which the rights of nature could be formally recognised, including the potential for constitutional change” [Action 1C2]. This follows the recommendation from the Joint Oireachtas Committee (JOC) on Environment and Climate Action with regard to constitutional change and the protection of the environment.

JOC Recommendation No. 31 states that:

“…the people of Ireland be afforded an opportunity, in a referendum or referenda, to protect our biodiversity through the incorporation of the rights of nature and/or the right to a healthy environment into Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Irish Constitution).”

The JOC also recommended that the preparatory steps towards a referendum to enable this opportunity should begin “within the lifetime of the current Dái.l” Specifically, JOC Recommendation 32 states that:

“the establishment of an expert group with resources to design and draft the potential question or questions.”

Endorsement request

We believe that the proposal to recognise Rights of Nature, as well as that to recognise the rights of people to a healthy environment, is a critical step for our society in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis. The Government needs to act on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and the NBAP. We believe that the recommendation of the JOC provides a way forward for dealing with this issue within the life of the current Government.

Accordingly, we seek your endorsement of the call for a referendum on the Rights of Nature ahead of a crucial debate on the issue in Dáil Éireann on 11 April 2024. Join us in the campaign of our lifetimes and for those of future generations of humans and other species!

Other steps you can take to support the Citizens Assembly and JOC recommendations

a. Write to the leaders of the all the main parties and/or your local TDs/Senators with a request that they participate in the Dáil debate on 11 April and offer support for the formation of an expert group and a commitment by Government to a referendum on the incorporation of the right to a healthy environment and the Rights of Nature into the Bunreacht nÉireann;
b. Write a letter to your local newspaper or national media outlet, inviting the Government to ‘Let the People Decide’, given the mandate that has now been given by the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss and the Joint Committee; c. Gather friends and colleagues to view and discuss the Rights of Nature film, narrated by John Spillane and produced in collaboration with EJNI: https://vimeo.com/600846813
d. Join us outside Leinster House on the morning of 11th April to show your support. Details from Dr Peter Doran (pfdoran@hotmail.com)
e. Contribute to the Rights of Nature social media platforms, including ‘X’ [Twitter]: @IrelandsRights; Record a video on our TikTok channel: rightsofireland

Ad Hoc Committee for the Rights of Nature

The all-island campaign in support of a constitutional amendment to enshrine the Rights of Nature in Ireland.

Supporters of this campaign include:

  • John Spillane, Song Writer/Performer
  • Manchán Magan, Writer/Broadcaster
  • Duncan Stewart, Broadcaster/Environmentalist
  • Frank McDonald, former Irish Times Columnist
  • Katie Holten, Author of The Language of Trees

Follow us on X: @IrelandsRights

Please contact Peter Doran (pfdoran@hotmail.com) with your endorsement and for further information ahead of the Dáil Éireann debate on 11 April 2024.

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