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Heritage Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] The issues that keep cropping up in this debate include road safety, first and foremost. We have cracked the nut with regard to the fact that road safety can and should be achieved through other mechanisms rather than a carte blanche opportunity to cut back so many hedges over a period. We have discussed the damage that can be caused to particular heathland around the country, and that we know the biodiversity of the planet and this country is collapsing despite the Government articulating a message that it is supporting the country's biodiversity. We discussed the fact that the biodiversity and our own existence are symbiotic. We rely on each other. It is important for our existence that we maintain biodiversity. These amendments simply seek to introduce into the Minister's wherewithal the protection of human life and the biodiversity of the country. If the Minister looks at the words of amendment No. 24 and votes against it, she will be voting against an amendment that simply states that the Minister may, where no other satisfactory solution exists, derogate from the restrictions of section 40(1) of the Act of 1976 to permit the management of vegetation referred to in section 1(a) and (b) being carried out in the interests of public health and safety; in the interests of air safety; to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water; and for the protection of flora and fauna, subject to the regulations that may exist. A vote against that proposal is a vote against the protections of the particular interests in society that would allow for the management of vegetation. It is hard to believe an amendment as positive and benign as this one would be viewed as a threat by the Government.

  Amendment No. 25, the other amendment I have tabled on this section, is similar and provides that the Minister may make regulations to extend, in part or parts of the State, the period of protection referred to in paragraph (a) in order to protect species covered by Article 1 of the birds directive, and to protect individual hedgerows of archaeological, historical, ecological or landscape significance. This issue was raised in last night's debate. The name of the Bill is the Heritage Bill 2016. This amendment outlines our wonderful heritage and opportunities for us to protect it. I ask the Minister to have an open mind and not to take the view that the Government will drive on regardless, a decision has been made and the Government will nail it down by not allowing for proper debate or space for Opposition to put forward positive, supportive amendments. I ask her to accept the amendment.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I regret I was not able to speak last night. I had a public meeting to attend. I spoke strongly against this Bill on Second Stage because the original intent was an abominable tactic by the then Fine Gael Minister to give free rein to cut hedgerows during August. It was a disgraceful proposition. I thank Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív and others who are strongly pushing the agenda to protect birds and wildlife. Deputy Ó Cuív, through an amendment that was accepted in the Seanad and which Fianna Fáil supported, severely emasculated the measure the Government was proposing to allow any hedgerow to be cut in August. In my view, the measure is no longer operable.

I hope the Ceann Comhairle gives me a little latitude. I am speaking about section 7 and Deputy Tóibín's amendment. The truth is that the Minister must introduce regulations to give effect to the measure on cutting hedges on the roadside in August. The procedure is so complicated, and is cleared up by section 8 which Deputy Tóibín seeks to amend, that I believe section 7 will never come into effect or have any impact whatever. It is made clear in section 8 that hedges can be cut in accordance with the Roads Act, which allows hedge-cutting in the interests of public safety. Section 7 is now a dead duck. That is the truth of the matter. Deputy Ó Cuív put forward a compromise to try to represent all views in this area. There is no doubt that section 7 is a dead duck.

I had concerns when I studied section 8 and I have looked closely at the amendment. The section seems to codify existing law. I hope that much of the debate up to this point, apart from the early stages, will amount to much ado about nothing and the position that pertains now, before the Bill has passed, will continue to be the law and there will be no change. There is no way the Minister will introduce regulations for section 7 when hedges are already allowed to be cut on the roadside. It was crazy from the outset to propose in this section that hedges could be cut and the impact on wildlife would be studied thereafter.

I agree with Deputy Tóibín that it is a complete oxymoron to describe this legislation as a heritage Bill. I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy Madigan, would not have introduced the Bill if she had been the Minister at the time. She is simply doing this as a holdover from the previous Minister, who displayed no understanding whatever of the urgent necessity to protect species such as the yellowhammer which nests in August, while also respecting the important principle of road safety and ensuring the safety of human beings. The Minister would have to make regulations under section 7 and in my view, any such regulations would be pointless as they will not achieve anything. They will simple complicate matters. It is open to the Minister not to bother issuing any regulations because regulations would do nothing more than allow what is already allowed under section 8. This is messy, which is not good, but sometimes things are done that way to try to get everybody together and get legislation passed. I hope that is the case. I have expressed my strong views on this.

I have worked closely with my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív. I pay tribute to him for listening to the wide range of views in the Fianna Fáil Party on this issue. We support the protection of our wildlife and national heritage. The preponderance of opinion in Fine Gael does not quite get that. Nobody in this House, certainly not in my party and most other parties, can be accused of trying to undermine road safety or do anything that would endanger the safety of drivers on our roads.

This Bill has changed to the point of emasculation. I hope I am right in that regard. If that is the case, as I believe it is, it is welcome. I thank Deputy Ó Cuív, the Green Party, Deputy Tóibín and others who have played a strong role in this debate. I also thank our colleagues in the Seanad who have worked hard on this legislation.

Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin In this section, the Government is determined to attack our hedgerows and the wealth of wildlife to which they are home. Our hedgerows act as linear forestry. They provide feeding for birds, insects and mammals. They are integral to biodiversity, pollination, nesting and future breeding. Bumblebees and wild honey bees will also suffer by extending the permitted times to slash and cut down vegetation and flowering wild plants. Bees are clinging on but they face a barrage of man-made hazards, including the pesticides that the Minister referred to last night. Pesticides are the biggest perpetrators but that does not mean we should ignore the effects that hedge-cutting has on bees. It is predicted that one third of all bee species in Ireland will be extinct by 2030 and extending the hedge-cutting dates will amount to death by 1,000 cuts.

Amendment No. 26 proposes to delete section 8 in its entirety, removing the exemption from section 40 of the Wildlife Act for work carried out under section 70 of the Roads Act. This is a point which several Deputies have raised but the Minister has not properly acknowledged. This section does not fall under the same trial period restrictions as section 7(2) but provides a permanent, complete and unregulated exception. The unregulated nature of this exception is very worrying.


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