Apologies. We have been later than usual in sending our annual renewal notices for 2020. This had been due to a move to a new online membership system which has now been completed. We delayed so we could tell you that you could now renew your membership on the new system at https://membership.antaisce.org

I had hoped to be writing an upbeat look to the year ahead and how our work continues in public interest advocacy for cultural heritage and environmental education in all aspects of sustainable development as a basis for encouraging you to renew your membership. But in the blink of an eye, the world has changed, changed utterly. We are all now in the grip of a global pandemic. So my first message to you is stay safe. We can all help to limit the effects of this pandemic if we follow the guidelines and look out for one another.

I want to assure you that our staff team has responded to the challenge promptly and carefully and we have put measures in place to work remotely, limit contact, cancel meetings and gatherings and to do everything that a responsible organisation should do at this time. Great credit is due Michael John O’Mahony, director of the Education Unit and our new Operations Manager in Head Office, Sinead Owens. We are obviously concerned about the things we cannot control; how long it will last, what effect this will have on the organisation throughout the year, and what the implications will be for our staff, our services and funding and for you, our members. But all that can be done is being done.

On March 21st we had our first entirely online Council meeting. It was very well attended with over 20 elected members and delegates linking in from around the country to address a range of topics.

Dr Declan Murphy, chair of the Natural Environment Committee, gave a very helpful overview of the medical issues relating to Covid-19. He also spoke of the social and economic impacts.

We discussed a new Constitution for An Taisce, one which will be more fitting for a 21st century environmental NGO. It will hopefully include some restatement of the vision and mission to reflect advances in ecological understanding and climate science and a much more explicit commitment to the protection of biodiversity as well as our well-established activities in the areas of environmental education, properties and planning. The newer concerns will be incorporated in redrafted Objects for the charity. We are working towards this new text being submitted to an AGM in the summer for approval, or perhaps more likely the autumn.

We need to be vigilant and ensure that when this crisis eventually recedes that the many elements of sustainable development to which we are committed - protection of ecosystems, natural resources and cultural heritage, climate action, community resilience together with concern for human health and wellbeing will all move centre stage once again.

As Ireland’s oldest independent body fighting for the protection of Ireland's heritage and natural environment we have made a significant contribution to increased environmental awareness and conservation not least through the remarkable success of the Education Unit’s programmes such as Green Schools, Clean Coasts and many others. The increased awareness of the fragility of our systems - social, economic and ecological - requires the expansion and proper resourcing of such programmes and advocacy.

It is also true that we would not have survived without the support of our members for the last 70 years and your ongoing solidarity and support will be needed as much, if not more, into the future. It is greatly appreciated.

For those who can renew their membership at this time we request that you do so. We fully appreciate that now will not be a convenient time for you all. If you need to defer payment until later in the year that will not be a problem. Just let us know.

2020 was to be a period of renewal for the organisation: a new constitution with a new focus; a new Board with renewed vigour and considerable expertise; a more coherent integration of advocacy, educational programmes and cultural heritage work. It is clear now that we have entered a period of national emergency and the current health crisis must take priority. In this phase we - the Board, Council and staff of An Taisce - will keep the organisation ticking over to the best of our ability, initiate change where possible and appropriate and prepare to resume activities when the crisis passes.

Meanwhile we are in the process of redesigning our main website. This should be transformative, making it easier for us to keep you updated with all the work our staff and volunteers achieve on a very limited budget.

I am pleased to report that we have been fortunate in finding four highly qualified new Board members in the past year. They bring expertise and experience in governance, human resources, fundraising and business skills. There is a new governance committee addressing the requirements of the Charities Regulator’s Governance Code and an audit committee overseeing financial matters.

Up to the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Education and Advocacy Units continued to provide high quality services in the areas of environmental education, lobbying and policy formulation. Our staff are of the highest calibre and make a substantial impact both within local communities and at national level, influencing policy, planning and political decisions.

All EEU programmes are now operating remotely and are contactable for participants. All schools visits, clean ups, community activities, etc. have been suspended until the restrictions on gatherings have been lifted. All Education Unit staff are working from home and using online platforms and social media to work with participants. The Swift’s Alley office is closed until further notice and stakeholders and funders are being updated and engaged on a regular basis. At the same time, our Natural Environment Officer and Planning Officer are both continuing to work from home.

We have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline for An Taisce's properties which I will talk about in a future update. In the meantime if you're enjoying An Taisce's properties to get some exercise and fresh air please keep a safe distance from each other.

This year’s AGM is currently scheduled for Saturday 20th June 2020. This date will be reviewed as the epidemic progresses. If you wish to raise any issues in a motion please remember to inform us at [email protected] at least 30 days in advance of the meeting.

I thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm for this organisation.

Philip Kearney Chair An Taisce - The National Trust for Ireland

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