An Fóram Uisce – the Water Forum was established as a statutory body in June 2018 having been provided for in the Water Services Act 2017.
The purpose of An Fóram is to provide a vehicle for strengthening democratic input into decision making regarding water as a fundamental national asset. Such decisions are pivotal not only to society today but to the wider ecosystem and to posterity.
The global and national environmental challenge is multi dimensional. It includes global warming and climate change; the loss of biodiversity; the acidification of the oceans and the persistent decline in the quality of ground water and surface water bodies. These challenges become manifest in critical weather events, in geo-political conflict, in food security, in urban planning and in the broad thrust of economic opportunity and direction.
These challenges mean that the environmental question becomes central in all elements of global decision making and national policy.
Against this backdrop, the Forum provides a mechanism for feeding into the debate amongst stakeholders at national level. It does this by facilitating the sharing of information and perspectives; enhancing understanding and enriching policy formation.
There is also a need for greater public awareness on the centrality of high quality water, both as an end in itself but also as a barometer of the wider environmental and ecosystem health. The Forum aims to increase the consciousness of the public of the vulnerability of our water resource and on the interplay between individual behaviour, community, sectoral and societal norms and national policies.
In advising the Minister on objectives, approaches and initiatives relevant to the attainment of good status in our water bodies, the Forum is charged with taking on board the sometimes different or competing interests of its stakeholders while never departing from the core objective of water quality enhancement.
The Forum must constantly challenge itself to bring added value to this national project, complementing and critiquing the work of the many statutory bodies with a role in this field. Its diverse, interdisciplinary composition lends it a particular strength in this regard. Thus, it can contribute to the debate and the decision making on priorities; heighten public awareness of the water quality challenge through the many organisations represented on it; secure organisational buy-in or stakeholder consensus on conservation initiatives which might otherwise encounter public resistance and point to policy options which might not otherwise arise.
If the Forum, however, is to transcend the role of a brokerage function between competing interests, it must be motivated by an ethos of commitment to public service in its broadest sense and by the realisation of the holistic nature of the eco system which means that all individual acts either detract from or enhance the health of the totality.
Ireland has an extensive and impressive array of scientific/research and regulatory bodies and capability in the environmental domain. As the inter relationships between the different elements of environmental degradation become manifest, the need for integration and cohesion between these bodies, policy makers and the public becomes all the more pressing. This integration begins with a conversation and cannot happen without such a conversation. The Forum considers that a key part of its job is to ensure that this conversation happens.