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Written Answers. - Special Protection Areas.

Tuesday, 8 October 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 469 No. 5

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 64. Mr. Dempsey Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  the implications, if any, of the recent Court of Justice decision in relation to special protection areas for Ireland; and the assurances, if any, he can give to allay fears of landowners and users in proposed special protection areas and national heritage areas. [16674/96]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I presume the Deputy is referring to the recent (11 July 1996) judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, case reference C — 44/95 regarding the Lappel Bank in the UK.

I do not propose to give a definitive legal assessment of this judgment and I can only summarise the judgment of the court in a general fashion. Council Directive 79/409/EEC of the 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds — the “Birds Directive”— imposes obligations on all member states to, inter alia, classify and designate within their territories the most suitable sites for particular species of birds. These sites are classified and designated by member states according to EU pre-set criteria as special protection areas (SPAs). The court, in its ruling, affirmed that under the “Birds Directive”, the boundaries of SPAs must be determined [1499] by ecological criteria and that economic considerations cannot and must not be taken into account by member states in so doing.

While I am satisfied that the great majority of sites designated as SPAs under Ireland's SPA programme meet the judgment of the Court in the “Lappel Bank” case, an undertaking has already been furnished to the EU that sites designated early in the programme will be reviewed, where necessary, to ensure that the designated SPA boundaries comply with the ecological boundaries of the sites. This review will be undertaken later this year when the main designation programme is completed. Any new sites proposed for designation or any alteration to the boundaries of existing SPA sites will be subject to the normal public advertisement and consultation procedure in place for the designation of sites as SPAs.

Under the “Birds Directive”, the State must take appropriate action to protect special protection areas and prevent pollution, deterioration of sites or disturbance where these are significant. Designation does not imply restricting existing activities. Landowners are, however, asked to consult the heritage services of my Department before undertaking any new projects or activities in or near designated areas which may adversely affect the site. There are no restrictions on developments which do not damage the conservation status of the site. The planning authorities are also asked to take account of designation when examining development proposals.

No natural heritage areas (NHAs) have been designated to date. Designation will not occur until amending legislation to the Wildlife Act, 1976, has been enacted. I expect to introduce this legislation to the House later this year.

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