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Heritage Bill 2016: Report Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 1

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  7 o’clock

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín We are at the most controversial element of the Bill for many people. We know that massive damage has been done over the past 40 years to Irish wildlife. We know that modern society is particularly bad when it comes to diversity and its impact on nature. We currently see billions of tonnes of plastic in either landfill or in the sea, killing diversity there. We know that as a society, we are doing massive damage to the climate at present. We know this damages us because we have a symbiotic relationship with nature, the natural world is vital for human well-being and biodiversity is an urgent issue. We know that Governments say one thing and do another. They talk about protection of the environment when in fact they collude in its destruction. It is becoming massively difficult for farmers in this country as well. Farmers find it difficult to make a living and they are pushed to the pin of their collars. In many ways some farmers will see this as a way to make life a little bit easier for themselves in how they go about their work but it will not address the major needs that farmers have.

We also know that the cutting back of hedges and the burning of moorland and mountain tops physically reduces the habitat of animals at key stages of their development.

I pay tribute to the firefighters in County Meath who are currently battling away trying to deal with a bog fire outside of Kildalkey. We know that even within their timescale, these fires can be quite dangerous in how they are used. Most fires in this country happen outside of the legal process and very few happen within a controlled area.

In reality, this particular Bill will not do a lot for either farmers or conservationists because the difficulties both groups have are very complex and quite large and will not be dealt with by this Bill. The amendments I have tabled that we are discussing here seek to simply protect the natural environment, our heritage and biodiversity and to do so in a scientific way in order that we understand exactly the impact we are having on that diversity. I understand that some people will make the argument that there is a necessity for better road safety and that is one of the reasons why the extension to the cutting of hedges is being given. I was involved in a serious accident myself on a narrow road where there were large hedges. There are ways to resolve that without causing damage to the biodiversity of our natural environment and which could allow for residents, farmers or people who use particular roads to contact a local authority and seek for verges or hedges to be cut in a timely fashion to ensure that traffic and transport is safe along those thoroughfares.

It is important that the Minister takes a pause and sees the damage that would be done by this Bill and I encourage her to accept the amendment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I thank the Ceann Comhairle-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Do we not speak in the order of the amendments?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I am taking them in the order in which the Deputies indicated.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I thought the Ceann Comhairle followed the order of the amendments.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We can do that but we will hear all of the Deputies. I have called Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Then I indicate. I understood that the Ceann Comhairle took us in the order of the amendments.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The way the amendments are ordered is almost as complicated as the Bill. I hope that we can do this in an iterative way because this deserves real attention and our forensic focus on what we are doing.

I had the privilege at the weekend of cycling down through Wexford and back up through Wicklow. There is nothing like cycling to get a sense of the countryside. What I got a sense of was a countryside under stress. Anyone who is involved in farming would know it, particularly in the south east.

I saw the hedgerows with plastic bottles littered everywhere but in the fields there were cattle standing in dry, dusty pasture and they were being fed from first cut silage and next winter's fodder without any sign of growth. It is a tough time for Irish farming and we need to make sure that they have a secure and healthy future. I will be honest in that it reminded me how wonderful this country is because of our hedgerows. I know there is an issue around road safety and we have to look after that but it is one of the spectacular things about nature in our country that, unlike other countries, we have hedgerows of quality. I hope Deputy Fitzmaurice does not mind me giving away what we said in a private conversation over tea, but as it happens we were just talking about his memory of growing up in the west where there would be a field with a five hedge system. They were told by all the Teagasc experts to get rid of them so that they would have a more productive system and then they realised that they lost the ability to manage floodwaters. The services the hedgerows provided were significant and real. That is why we bitterly and deeply oppose these provisions in this Bill. We feel that it risks a further degradation and deterioration in our hedgerow system.

In the latter part of my journey, having cycled down as far as Ballymoney in Wexford I headed back up through Wicklow, up over the mountains by the Sally Gap and for the section for several miles between the Sally Gap and Kippure I was cycling through a burnt wasteland. The mountain was on fire. There was a 3 sq. km bog fire and it was spectacular in scale and size. Further on, at the edge of Lough Bray Upper, a spectacular area which people know, the Air Corps were doing an incredible job trying to scoop water out of the lake and put out the fire. I talked to the rangers who happened to be there and they said that the problem is that the peat is so hot now that it is reigniting all of the time. It is almost self-reigniting. The fires must have been started as a result of human intervention and there are real questions around that. Maybe it was just my personal experience but to cycle for miles through a smoke filled, burnt environment reminded me that we have to be careful in what we do with our mountains.

One other change that has taken place since we last discussed this Bill is that RTÉ "Prime Time" programme which showed up the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations in this country. All of the reassurances the Minister has given on Committee Stage and in previous readings count for nothing in my mind because if we cannot manage illegal dumps ten times the size of this room, how will we look after a nest? I have been provided with some figures since our discussion on this issue last week as to what we are doing in terms of enforcement of existing wildlife protection measures and the number of people who have been in breach of them and the answer is that nothing has been done. If burning on the mountain tops is looked at, none of it is properly co-ordinated. It is promised that it will be done in a regulated and safe way but the evidence is the exact opposite. Whatever advantage that may bring in certain circumstances where someone wants to cut back shrub or encourage grass or heather growth for a particular species, and there may be some advantage, that is not what is happening. We are burning land and then going back burning it again a few years later in a way that is destroying the environment. We are burning in environments where it fundamentally changes, distorts and destroys the environment and that will only get worse in an environment that is changing because of climate change.

I mentioned the farmers at the very start because we need a national land use plan where we sit down with our farmers and work out in real detail what our plan is, what we will do, how we will create an income and how we will pay those farmers in the areas that are not advantaged by rich land and pasture, how will we pay them for the services they provide in helping us to manage floodwaters, in helping to provide biodiversity and in providing recreational value and assets.

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