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What is the difference between Law and Policy? Who decides what a law becomes? Who drafts the policies? Why do we need laws and policies? “A law is a rule or body of rules of conduct inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society”- wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn (15-4-11). A policy is defined as “a plan of action adopted by an individual or social group”- wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn (15-4-11). It is evident that policies and laws differ at local, national and European level depending on circumstances. EU law dictates the way the fishermen fish. Before Ireland joined the EU all the water surrounding Ireland belonged to Ireland but once we joined the EU we no longer owned all the fishing rights. Local fishermen were not happy with this ruling but EU law is looking at a bigger picture and the long term good.

Are all laws and policies good?

It seems that, whether it’s at local, national or European level, laws come about because of a problem and sometimes seem to be drawn up because policies are not working. In Ireland an example of this would be the smoking ban. We struggled with policies to reduce the number of people smoking in public areas but as soon as it became an offence to smoke in public the problem was virtually solved.

Laws that are enforced work whether for good or bad. Sometimes it is necessary to draft and enforce laws to make things that are necessary but unpleasant happen. The Smoking Ban in Ireland and Charging for the use of plastic shopping bags are excellent examples of laws that were painful but work. Ireland demonstrated leadership at EU level in theses areas.

Some Public Policies pose ‘wicked’ problems because there is no single solution and all the stakeholders have different views on what the solution should be and how it should come about. An example of a ‘wicked’ problem for policy and law at local, national and European level is Sustainable Development. This is one problem that everyone wants to solve but the solutions are numerous. When we visited Cloughjordon we saw that the local community have devised their own policy which is a viable Sustainable Development Policy. It did not require a law but the community saw it as a necessary step to Sustainable living and now others are following this local model.

The EU started out in 1958 with 6 member countries this has now increased to 27 countries. Ireland has being a member of the EU since 1973 and in that time has had a big influence on Irish law and policies. In the early days of the EU there was no mention of the environment. It was not a problem back then….

The first mention of the environment came in an EU treaty in 1987. The start of sustainable development policies and laws was in “1987 The Brundtland Report was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. It draws social, economic, cultural and environmental issues together and sets out the ….. definition for sustainable development”- http://www.comharsdc.ie/sustainable_development/index.aspx (6-4-11). The Brundtland Commission was formed because of growing concern about the rapid deterioration in the environment and natural resources and the effect this was having and would have on economic and social development.

It is difficult and time consuming to draft laws and policies concerning Sustainable Development because all the stakeholders have to have input. It takes a long time for policies and laws to come into being and we do not have time, the world is in crisis.
“This crisis is very real. If the global temperature increases and the sea level rises, there will be massive changes in the weather which will cause migrations across the world as well as wide spread flooding. In this kind of environment, new and rapidly spreading diseases could wipe out large numbers of people and the food supply could be threatened. These kinds of disruptions could also lead to wars.” http://www.rickdoble.net/world_culture/CrisisToday.html (16-4-11)

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