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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] The cost of these machines is unbelievable.

The reason I support parts of the Bill is that when it comes down to either the health and safety of a human being or the safety and protection of wildlife species, I come down straight on the side of the health and safety of a human being. We are debating the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 for the past God knows how long and some of us are being accused of being anti-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach It is the Heritage Bill 2016 now.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I know that. I am making the comparison. It is part of it, a chathaoirligh. Road safety, the cutting back of roadside hedges and the felling of trees on the roadside are paramount. It must be done. As a young boy of only about seven, I was in a car one Saturday afternoon when a tree was felled. I was cut out of the car with my late mother and my late brother - they were not killed in the accident, thankfully, but they died since. We were cut out by a fire brigade so I know what it is like to have a roadside tree fall on a vehicle. That time, the man cutting it did not block the road. At that stage, one did not get a licence. It fell the wrong way on top of us. I have been in many a storm ever since and I am frightened of my life of trees. A young man lost his life in my area in storm Ophelia, with a tree and another one 20 miles away in Aglish in County Waterford did too.

It is important that we are in a position to act. There is nothing worse than residents, homeowners and road users contacting us on a daily basis to say that they cannot walk, cycle or do anything on the road because of the bushes hanging out. We are told a lovely excuse from the local authority that from March to September we cannot cut the hedges. They love to give that answer which is ridiculous. Health and safety and the protection of life and limb and well-being must be a priority above all else. That is why I am here. I am trying to achieve the balance.

Gun clubs and other clubs such as fishing clubs do Trojan work maintaining hedgerows. They want an organised burn of the hill for the gorse where I live, in Tipperary, on the Knockmealdown Mountains. They have done considerable work. In Monaghan, I have a brother-in-law involved in an organised burn in the Slieve Felim Mountains and they outed themselves to protect it and not go to NPWS. I would not encourage anyone to even light a match in this powder-keg weather, but that is done at different times of the year to nurture the gorse and wildlife. There are a lot of misunderstandings about what they do. The Ardfinnan, Ballybacon, Grange and Newcastle, ABGN, Gun Club does Trojan work and has been doing it for 30 years. It has a wildlife sanctuary. It has a pond and a whole lot of wildlife in it. It had a wonderful Santa village there for everybody to see at Christmas time. It does Trojan work and I salute them from the bottom of my heart.

It is not merely ideology that one should not cut anything, let the growth hang out into the middle of the roads. If one comes out of a field with a tractor with an implement in front of it, one is as far as where the Cathaoirleach is sitting away and out in the road before one can see where one is going whereas if the hedge is cut back, one is a quarter of that distance and the roads are safer, and cyclists and pedestrians can pass. The verges need not be cut but the overhanging ditches have to be cut.

I wondered where some of the Members were going but we must have road safety and adhere to health and safety. We are told about it in every other aspect of life yet we want the sides of the roads in the country closing in and meeting each other. What good is that for tourists? They cannot see a signpost, a yield right of way sign or a directional sign, all of which are covered in the bushes. I see it in my area at the moment, with dangerous junctions not even cut. It is an excuse for many local authorities not to do the work that they should be doing. They did it when they had no machine when they had ordinary men with the slash and billhook. There is much hot air being spoken here.

It amazes me at times as well, following up on the recent referendum, we will mind the birds and the eggs but we have no problem with abortion and killing babies.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Will the Deputy stop?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It defies logic.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Stick to the Bill.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It is coming from the same place.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny For God's sake.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It is not for God's sake. It is reality.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny Deputy Mattie McGrath lost that argument.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Protect the birds and the eggs and kill the babies. The kill the baby brigade have no problem with that.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith The Deputy should dry his eyes. He will genuflect.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It is a fact. They have no problem with that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputy's time is up. We are talking about the Heritage Bill 2016. The Minister to respond.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny Deputy Mattie McGrath is a disgrace.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Deputy Mattie McGrath should dry his eyes.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I will address the comments one by one rather than read my speaking note, which I may come back to if there is a two-minute slot.

  For the information of Deputy Tóibín, it is not carte blanche. We are supporting biodiversity. I have a €250,000 fund this year for the county action plans and I also have a national biodiversity action plan. I also have €285 million in the national development plan to support that plan and promote investment in our built and natural heritage. This is not a drive-on regardless scenario; it is a timed pilot initiative.

  Deputy Thomas Byrne is not here. However, the existing situation is not acceptable. Because of the conflict between the Roads Act and the Wildlife Act, a landowner who is obliged to deal with a hazard under the Roads Act should not find himself or herself in breach of the Wildlife Act. All this provision is designed to do is to resolve this conflict. I might just leave the Deputy's comments.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach There were a considerable number of questions. With the leave of the House, if more than seven minutes is required, we should allow the Minister.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I thank the Acting Chairman. Deputy Byrne is not here and I may come back to his comments.

In response to Deputy Catherine Martin, flails are not fair game. The landowner is allowed only to deal with a hazard or a safety issue. We do not need to ban flails under the section 8 provision as they are not permitted in any case. This will allow dealing with a hazard only, not the entire hedge. With regard to section 7, they will be prohibited in regulations.

Large numbers of groups and interested parties campaign publicly and make submissions and representations to my Department. BirdWatch Ireland is only one of these stakeholders.

The debate on this Bill has been long and extensive. It is difficult for people to distinguish the truth when misleading and exaggerated opinion is presented as fact. Let me give the Deputy some of those facts about what is in the Bill. It is a fact that only roadside hedges, a fraction of the entirety of the hedgerow resource that we are lucky to have in this country, are subject to the provisions of this Bill. It is also truth that any cutting provision under this Bill can only be carried out in one month, which is August. A further important fact is that this will be carried out in accordance with strict statutory regulations, which I will make, designed specifically to protect wildlife and conserve our natural heritage. It is another fact that the regulations will limit cutting to the current year's growth only. There will be no wide-scale deep cutting, and no cutting with heavy machinery or flails. It is also a fact that under the Wildlife Acts it is an offence to wilfully destroy, injure or mutilate the eggs or nest of any bird species. The other fact is that it is being done on a pilot basis.

There are further facts relating to managed burning. Fourteen per cent of this country is designated under the habitats and birds directives and burning in any designated area is an activity requiring ministerial consent. Burning under this Bill can only be carried out in March and, depending on the circumstances in each case, for a defined period in that month.

Another important fact is there are statutory regulations on burning. It is limited to the current year. It will also be done on a pilot basis.

Deputy Catherine Martin mentioned words such as "slash". It might be more appropriate to highlight the Deputy's own party's political muscle in slashing the NPWS's budget by 75% at the first sign of financial trouble and how quickly it abandoned principle. In government, the Green Party like to talk and walk and we, in government, in so far as our heritage is concerned, walk the talk.

Flails will not be allowed in August. The regulations will seek to address the issue in a practical way. BirdWatch Ireland is one of several voices in this debate.

Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin I just happened to mention it.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan It is not in this House and I am not in a debate with it.

Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin So the Minister should not accuse it of something.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I am not misinformed and stand by my comments. My experts are the leading experts in the country. Even in Irish, the Deputy is using the language of the red top. We need an even-handed level-headed fact-led debate.

  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae also is not here.


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