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Title: Control of Diffuse Agricultural Pollution and Management of Trans-boundary Waterways : A comparative analysis of the policy making process in Ireland and Northern Ireland
Authors: Attorp, Adrienne
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Regulating diffuse agricultural pollution in the island of Ireland’s trans-border waterway catchments is a ‘wicked problem’. Alongside the need to mitigate agriculture-related water pollution are parallel and competing needs to support a socially and economically important agri-food industry and deliver public ‘goods’ under a paradigm of multifunctionality. Meeting all these objectives simultaneously is not possible. Thus, finding balance between various competing policy objectives is an important policy goal. Beyond this, co-managing trans-boundary waterways is a significant challenge for policymakers, not least because ecosystem boundaries typically do not align with administrative ones. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union is set to exacerbate this challenge by vastly increasing administrative complexity on the island. This research contributes to academic literature on wicked policy problems by helping to improve understanding of the complex social factors that underpin and influence the agri-environmental policymaking process on the island of Ireland, particularly as it relates to the wicked problem of diffuse agricultural water pollution in trans-border catchments. Employing qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups) within a case study methodology, it draws on theories of agricultural post-exceptionalism, policy network analysis and leverage points to describe governance structures and their influence on agri-environmental policymaking. It also presents a modified power framework based on Lukes’ (1974) ‘three faces’ model that describes how actors within the agri-food sector obtain and employ power within the agri-environmental policymaking arena. This thesis argues that the structure of, and power distributions within, agri-environmental policymaking networks on the island of Ireland have significant implications for policy outcomes. It also demonstrates how actors within these networks capitalise on gaps left by multiple competing policy channels and complex administrative environments to advance their interests. It finds that in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the agri-food sector continues to be treated as exceptional, and agri-food actors remain central within policymaking networks as a result. This means that agri-environmental policy continues to favour agri-food interests, often to the detriment of the island’s waterways. It also finds that power distributions within the agri-food sector impact water quality. Some agri-food sectors (e.g., dairy, poultry) hold more power than others meaning they can resist important regulation such as water pollution initiatives, rendering such regulation ineffective. Meanwhile, other sectors (e.g., beef and sheep) are left out of the conversation, which compromises potential policy solutions. It argues that for future policies to adequately address the challenge of agriculture‐related water pollution, agri-food system governance must become more equitable and nuanced, allowing for tangible consideration of the challenges that different agriculture sectors face. It also argues that if diffuse agricultural pollution is to be fundamentally addressed, change is required in both the institutional structures that support the current policymaking apparatus, and in the productivist, export-focused logic currently underpinning the Irish agri-food industry.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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