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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 Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] I am appealing to the Minister to scrap sections 7 and 8 and to open up a public consultation on these issues - one that unites the country and all people with an interest in a society that funds the maintenance of the public space in a proper way.

I must admire rural Deputies who are very eloquent in the way they tell stories. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae would have us listening to his lovely Kerry sing-song accent all night talking about the woman who nearly lost her eye-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae She did lose her eye.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith -----and that is a dreadful story. By the way, people in cities almost lose their eyes sometimes when they pass by hedgerows and trees that are not cut properly by local authorities. I have every sympathy for that woman and I believe every word the Deputy said but it is not just a problem in rural Ireland. It also happens in cities where there is neglect of our environment. We regularly trip over uneven paths and break bones and regularly fall over tree stumps that are breaking up through the concrete on our roads. Another eloquent story I heard yesterday was told by Deputy Ó Cuív when he described how they used to cut back the hedges and bend back the trees to allow them to grow in a certain way so they were training them back and at the same time, preserving the wildlife. He referred to the method involved by using a beautiful Irish word. I would love to know more about that. Why do we not revert to that sort of maintenance of our environment instead of saying "Here you go. Off you pop and slash and burn"? It is not good enough and it does not represent what is needed in this tiny island which is already suffering the effects of climate change, which some people do not believe in, and other aspects of the degradation of the environment. It should not be the farmers or the city slickers that bear the cost. Instead, the Minister should scrap these sections and open up a proper scientific debate and public consultation about what needs to be done.

One of the conclusions will be that we need to fund the local authorities and control this properly. Most of the Deputies here - including myself and Deputies Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny - previously served as councillors. We know the difficulty local authorities face in putting their budgets together. We know how many people come screaming at us complaining that the councils are not cutting down the trees, that trees are growing over roadways and that children are running into them. There are ways around all of that. One way is to draft an alternative Bill which directs the Government to restore the local authority fund in full. The Government slashed that fund to bits over the past decade. It needs to restore both the fund and the staffing complement, end any embargo on recruitment and begin to look at these issues in a sensible, controlled and regulated way where matters are not left to individuals. Deputy Michael Collins's neighbours should not have to be out cutting hedges every night of the week. Regardless of whether people enjoy doing that, they should not be obliged do it. Hedge cutting should be done by the local authorities.

I want to challenge the idea that minor roads are dangerous. My car gets scraped every night on the roads I come through in Ballyfermot. I am sure rented cars get scraped when they are going through Kilgarvan or Connemara but that is not the issue. Places are made dangerous because they are badly maintained. It is not that we set out deliberately to say "Eff you in the country. All we care about are the birds and bees." Of course, we care about the people who inhabit the area. We were one of the chief organisations to mount that protest over the harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay. Our branch of People Before Profit in west Cork got stuck in there and helped to organise that because we care about the environment and the relationship people in this country have with it. The Minister and her Department clearly do not. What was in their heads while they were drafting this Bill to placate some element of Irish society instead of treating the environment as a precious gift that belongs to all of us and that we must research, look at scientifically and moderately and discuss together instead of dividing us between them over there and us over here as if we have a problem? We should be working together on the one theme and that is heritage. The Minister has responsibility for heritage. She has an opportunity tonight to behave in a ministerial manner and support these amendments.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton If we could bottle all the conversation here, we could sell it at a profit - perhaps to tourists. I appreciate the difficulties facing people who are farming either on a small or large scale. It is a business but it is very much a heritage issue where people are in many ways custodians of the land that they hope in turn to pass on to their families or somebody else in their community. Many young people - and I am quite sure individuals over here are very knowledgeable about it - are turning against consuming meat of any kind because they find the kind of farming that is now practised lacking in humaneness and are no longer convinced of the quality of many agricultural standards, regardless of whether these relate to animals or to what companies such as Monsanto have done in terms of using chemicals and science in the area of agricultural development.

We all - farmers and people who live in urban areas - have a mutual interest in ensuring that we respect and care for the environment and that we hand it on to our children and grandchildren. Traditionally, that has been a really strong value in rural Ireland and it has given rise to the sense of kinship, community and meitheal that is so strong. What is disappointing and sad about this debate is the fact that it is a confrontation between two sides that do not want to compromise. Unfortunately, Fine Gael is brokering this negativity in a way which really does not help people in cities and which, in the long term, has the potential to be very destructive for farming, farm-based agribusiness development and tourism in rural areas. Deputy Michael Collins spoke about west Cork. We all understand that unlike west Dublin, west Cork is very unlikely to get an IT company popping in to set up operations and create 1,000 jobs. In real terms, farm incomes and sustainable businesses, including agribusinesses and tourism interests, are vital to keeping people in and visitors coming to these areas. I am not nervous about the people who are talking about farming understanding what they are talking about but I am nervous about the approach that is driving this Bill, which is essentially all about how to do it in the most convenient way but which could turn out to be the most destructive way. Many Deputies, Senators and parties have made a reasonable request to the Minister to consult and to share the relevant information on the scientific evidence regarding what is best. It is true that many people in towns and cities worry when they see hillsides burning. Again, if the latter is done at appropriate times of the year and in a controlled way that does not put species in danger - be it in terms of pollinators, insects, birds and other wildlife - that is critically important. I am disappointed that the Minister is unwilling to address these issues.

Deputy Ó Cuív and I have had a lot of involvement with the rural social scheme.

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