Commission for Future Generations 2023: Private Members Bill

Commission for Future Generations 2023: Private Members Bill

Introduction of my Private Members Bill – the Commission for Future Generations 2023 – in the Dáil. Full transcript below:

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a body, to be known in the Irish language as an Coimisiún um Ghlúnta sa Todhchaí or in the English language as the Commission for Future Generations for the purpose of reporting to the Government in relation to the establishment of an Office of Ombudsman for Future Generations and to provide for related matters.

Anyone who has ever had a hangover will understand a little bit about borrowing happiness from the future. Likewise, anybody who has saved for a deposit, is making plans for pension provision or saving for children’s college costs knows something about planning for the future. They also know that decisions they take today have the power to impact the future well-being of themselves and those close to them. We understand instinctively on a human scale how this applies to ourselves and our families but do we adequately apply long-term thinking on a societal scale in our businesses, planning and politics or are we too often drawn to solving the current crisis, sometimes in a manner that is inconsistent with our longer term goals? This kind of thinking can be extrapolated to form a philosophical school of thinking called long-termism. Like most kinds of philosophical thinking, it does not always survive exposure to the real world and it can be problematic in its most extreme conclusions. Put simply, it can be encapsulated in three sentences – future people count; there could be a lot of them; and we can make their lives better.

The issue of climate change brings this kind of thinking into sharp focus. How will future generations regard and judge us when they look at the climate consequences we are locking into their future worlds? The carbon emissions I create today will still be in the atmosphere hundreds of years from now, trapping heat, intensifying droughts and heatwaves and raising sea levels. The same applies to our treatment of the natural world. The curlew’s call is becoming rarer around Tramore, where I live, my sons have never heard a cuckoo and I have never heard the corncrake. Future skies, rivers and oceans will be quieter and emptier places unless we radically change what we are doing today, and future generations will be immeasurably the poorer for it. Our democracy and, by extension, our State struggle to take account of this kind of long-term thinking. This is for two main reasons that I can see.

First, let us examine that first proposition that future people count. In a literal sense, in our democracy they do not count. Future people cannot speak, advocate or, crucially, vote. People aged under 18, the future generation we can meet and know, cannot vote. Any election strategy aimed at people who cannot vote is doomed to failure. In the strict electoral sense, these people do not count, yet morally and ethically we can feel this is not true. They must count and matter, yet our political system fails to capture that. Second, all of us sometimes struggle to make decisions that align our long-term interests with our short-term interests, be that in pension provision or in opening that second bottle of wine. Our democracy tends to create conditions that reward promises and decisions with a short time horizon. This make planning for the long term and for future generations extremely challenging.

A few countries have begun to take steps towards incorporating more long-term thinking into their decision-making processes. The Welsh Government, in particular, is leading the way. It has created a future generations commissioner, an independent and well-resourced office with the stated goal to act as guardian of the ability of future generations to meet their needs and encourage public bodies to take greater account of the long-term impact of the things they do. The work of this office is underpinned by ground-breaking legislation, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

An approach of this kind could be hugely beneficial in our politics in Ireland. For this reason, I am bringing forward my legislation, the Commission for Future Generations Bill 2023. The Bill will establish an independent commission for future generations to consider and report within 12 months on how best to set up an office of ombudsman for future generations in Ireland. The proposed commission for future generations could also make recommendations on a number of areas, including the measurement of progress of the overall well-being of our society; how best to ensure best practice among public bodies and Government Departments, while adhering to the principle of sustainable development; and the potential role of a joint Oireachtas committee on future generations.

I believe that future people count, even if I cannot meet, hear or know them, and that young people count, even if they will not count at the ballot box in the next election or even the election after that. The choices we make in the here and now must balance the needs of today with the challenges of tomorrow.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is the Bill being opposed?

The Taoiseach

No.Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Since this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I move: “That the Bill be taken in Private Members’ time.”Question put and agreed to.