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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan] That is what we should be doing. We should not allow burning in March and cutting of hedges in August. That is plain wrong. There are several of our amendments in that grouping but our first preference is to take out section 7 and recognise that the Bill does an acute disservice to our environment and should be stopped. There are various options in the amendments but if we insist on providing protection for road users, which is valid, our amendments make sure the Bill achieves that purpose. It is not a question of wholesale destruction of the environment. It is specific and forensic and achieves that objective.

The problem with the Bill is that it takes a wholesale "let it go, let them burn, let it be cut" attitude when the problem is not the people who want to maintain their fences and hedgerows and maintain the land properly. They can do that. In the off-peak periods they can cut hedges and manage the uplands. The problem with the hedgerows is people who do not do what they need to do. That needs local authority intervention and management. It does not need Fine Gael writing a blank cheque to slash every hedge in the country which I fear will happen as a result of this Bill.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith One gets great pleasure from walking the hills and laneways or cycling pathways and using all the attractions that this country has to offer, despite the loss of habitats and species, the 40% reduction in the bee population, which is quite scary when we realise the role the bee plays in the food chain and the reproductive life of this island, and the red listing of six or seven native species of birds in danger of extinction. This Bill will take the cutting period, which is now closed from April to August to protect the very vegetation and wildlife that I have spoken about during the months of growth and reproduction, and extend it by another month at either end. I cannot understand the thinking behind that and I wish the Minister would explain it. I hope she accepts the amendment which is so important because during these periods wildlife is beginning to nest and reproduce and is at its best.

  If the insect species that inhabit all hedgerows, uplands and bogs etc. are deprived of their existence, that will have a knock-on effect on the survival of other insects, birds and other animals. Why would we deprive them of an opportunity to exist, with a knock-on effect on everybody else? A total of 28% of Ireland's breeding birds are in decline and 31% of habitats are in decline. Those in decline include the barn owl, the yellowhammer, the curlew, the golden plover, the red-breasted goose and the meadow pipit. They all sound beautiful and they are beautiful and virtually unique to this country. The action provided for in this Bill would endanger them. The action of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in connection with wildlife inhabitants would not be countenanced anywhere else in Europe. If the Minister can tell me this legislation is in line with any EU directives I would like to hear her do so. Many Europeans who come to this country are already shocked at the lax and light-touch regulation in place to maintain our wildlife.

  Allowing land users to define road safety is crazy. With all due respect to farmers and land users, this is a level of democracy that is not allowed to anyone else. Public sector workers do not have a say in how their jobs function, neighbourhood watch would not be allowed to have a say in how the community is policed but the Bill practically gives ownership of the Road Safety Authority to land users. This is completely wrong. While I have great respect for land users and farmers, they should not be allowed to define road safety. That should be left to the Road Safety Authority.

  When we make the effort there is considerable buy-in from farmers and communities for the idea of sustainability of farming, of local communities, habitats and animals and birds. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has focused very much on the Burren, carrying out sustainability exercises in County Clare because of the special nature of the area. Having been there for a week's walking recently I can say it is working beautifully and is preserving the flowers, the bees, the birds and the nature that make up the wealth of that area, as well as helping the farmers to know how and when to farm in a correct way to help it survive.

  Whether it is the uplands, the lowlands, the Burren, the hedgerows, or whatever it may be, we should be careful about passing this aspect of the Bill. If we do we will give carte blanche to people to attack species when they are at their best, when they are young and reproducing and need to inhabit the hedgerows and bogs, etc. We will also allow people to take over the role of the Road Safety Authority and in the course of so doing endanger the existence of many of our most beautiful species of birds. We seek the removal of this section.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett It is fairly bizarre that in a Bill entitled the Heritage Bill the Government would propose measures that will destroy or threaten with extinction parts of our natural heritage. Like Deputy Smith, I would like the Minister to explain what response she has to the concerns being raised by the people who are knowledgeable and expert in the protection of wildlife. One of the junior Ministers - I will not name him - was chortling during the week when I was speaking about the birds and the bees. He seemed to think it was funny but the birds and the bees matter. The fact that a significant number of bee species face possible extinction, that we have had a huge loss of the bee population, as Deputy Smith said, and that a whole series of birds are on the red list, facing possible extinction because we have not protected their habitats, is serious. The Government needs to explain how allowing measures that would destroy their habitats at crucial and sensitive times of year can possibly be justified.

The point about road safety has been well made. We already have legislative provisions which ensure that local authorities can cut down hedgerows that are a danger to road safety so we simply do not need to do it. Burning times similar to those proposed in the Bill have not stopped upland fires in other places. If somebody lights a match it does not matter at what time of year it is allowed or not, fires are caused. These measures will not prevent some of the things the Government is saying they will prevent but they will destroy the habitats of the birds and the bees.

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