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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 Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan] I am sorry to hear about the lady who lost her eye. As legislators in a democracy our job is to legislate in a balanced way for the entire citizenry. Our country dwellers are the architects and layers of our hedges and we need to respect this and their respect for the landscape they have created and nurtured. I am glad Deputy Boyd Barrett agrees that safety issues are important and that hazards must be dealt with. Section 8 ensures that a person dealing with a hazard is not in breach of the Wildlife Act 1976 by doing so and to oppose the section is to say that the conflict between the Roads Act and the Wildlife Act 1976 should continue and a person complying with one is in breach of the other. To me that is not acceptable. Deputy Boyd Barrett is not here so I will leave the remainder of my response to him.

Deputy Eamon Ryan's amendment No. 27 would mean that a landowner dealing with an immediate hazard would have to await a local authority order or action and could not comply with their obligations under the Roads Act. The Deputy is fantastic at reusing and recycling arguments already made and addressed but the protection of nature and the birds under section 22 of the Wildlife Act 1976 stands. There is a convention in this House of not attacking officials who accompany a Minister and it is unfair of the Deputy to attack officials who have no right of reply in this House. I did not refer to contractors on Committee Stage. The Deputy is misremembering, perhaps due to the amount of repetition.

I thank Deputies Fitzmaurice and Michael Collins for their contributions. Farmers are the primary custodians of our landscape and biodiversity and I spent a lot of time talking to my colleague Deputy Creed about how our two Departments can work more closely together to mutually reinforce our policies and shared interests.

I refer to Deputies Bríd Smith and Burton's contributions. This Bill also applies to urban hedgerows. The funding of local authorities is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and this Bill will introduce a regulated regime for cutting hedges in August. The Deputies are introducing the rural-urban divide, I never brought that up. There was a consultation, this is a pilot scheme and Deputy Burton approved the Bill as Tánaiste.

I thank Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Ó Cuív for the clarity they brought to some of the issues this Bill is seeking to address.

Other than his final comments, Deputy Mattie McGrath's contribution reflects the complexity and interlinking of issues dealing with biodiversity in that the single issue of cutting the road facing side of hedges is not the Armageddon that some Deputies have described.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín When this debate starts it often gets down to who lives on the narrowest road in the country-----

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I do.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín When we talk about the Irish language it is about who is the most fluent in the Irish language. I live on a road that is less than 3 m in width, a road where I was in a serious accident a number of years ago. It does not matter what size road one lives on, this island belongs to all of us. It is one island, we are all its citizens and we are all responsible for it.

There were comments on the ecosystem and some wildlife eating other wildlife. That is nature, that is what should happen. The whole idea of an ecosystem is that there are foodstuffs for other animals to live on so they can exist as well.

The amendments I have produced are amendments that support life-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae That is why there is no ground support.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín The amendment says that it is in the interests of public safety and air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water. All of the voices I have heard articulated so far are represented in my amendment. My amendment represents what the Deputies want to achieve, it just does so in a manner which protects the environment.

The Minister spoke about the fact that we are only dealing with a fraction of the environment but it is a fraction of a collapsing environment. We are dealing with a narrowing and reducing environment and ecosystem and the Minister's Bill reduces that even further. The Government's record on the environment is abysmal. We are laggards in Europe on this. Britain, for example, last year created more solar power than nuclear and coal power. This country does not even have a solar power system, we do not have feed-in tariffs or renewable heat incentives. This Government talks the talk on the environment but is worse than the Tories in Britain on it.

I suggest to the Minister that instead of seeing two sides pitched against each other, she should bring together the interested parties in farming, heritage and road safety at some point in the future and get them to sit down together to work out a way of resolving this in sympathy and in partnership with each other. It can and should be done. These amendments do exactly that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I have to respond. I start by defending our record for environmental legislation and spending on the environment which is a priority we hold. I do not want to get involved in party political issues, but to get a lecture from Fine Gael, which is a party that is now recognised internationally as leading a Government that is failing on climate and biodiversity - and this piece of legislation typifies it - cannot go unanswered. The Minister referred to walking the walk and talking the talk but it was Fine Gael back in 2000 who demanded the extension of the seasons which are now contracting. The Minister's own party was at the origin of some of the changes.

I take back the criticism of any civil servants because there is the tradition of not directly criticising civil servants but I have to wonder where the sense of invective I hear is coming from because that is also something that is not typical in a debate. Invective towards parties who are not here is not typical either and I accept the Minister's analysis that it comes from her own instinct alone, rather than from the officials. I apologise and I recognise that might well be the case. The core of this issue is what we are trying to address, namely road safety. We are not trying to address those who do want to preserve the hedgerows and create road safety, but the critical issue is to tackle those who should - if the Minister is listening. Can the Acting Chairman stop the clock so that I can get the Minister's attention?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputy has the Minister's attention.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan This issue is about those who should be cutting their hedgerows but are not. There is a contradiction within the existing legislation but our amendment No. 27 resolves that in a way that does not open the floodgates. The Minister mentioned facts, but the fact that will go out in the public discourse and understanding if this Bill goes through as it currently stands is that the hedgerows can be cut in August and the mountain tops can be burned in March. That is the one fact that will go out there. All of the technicalities of the regulations or the promises that it is only a pilot project will not work across the country. The word has already gone out that Fine Gael has given approval to cut the hedgerows in August and burn the hills in March. That is the fact that we are opposing.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I want to make a brief comment. This morning we had Fine Gael busy losing the run of itself as the Taoiseach confessed to licking up to Donald Trump when he was in New York at a private meeting. He was displaying his inner strong man. Did I just hear the Minister speak like Queen Victoria? She talked about "my experts". They are the taxpayers' and people of Ireland's experts because we pay their wages. The Minister just holds office for a period of time-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae The Deputy cut their wages.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton ------so let us not run ahead of ourselves. If they are experts, why not put them out there and allow people to meet them, allow there to be a discussion in which, if they are that expert, I am sure they can explain some of the contradictions between the two sides of the debate and where the truth lies?

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