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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 Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] She is floating off in her best Rathdownish about "my experts" but she needs to give us a break. Bring them here or to a venue such as the AV room and let us hear what they have to say. The Minister should not belittle BirdWatch Ireland because it is pretty expert on these matters. She may not agree with all of its views but it has done a lot for bird habitats in Ireland for 30 or 40 years, as have farmers. This debate is an attempt to ensure those habitats survive and agriculture also survives, but in a way that protects the environment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I agree with the Deputy that nobody here should belittle anybody else.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith When the Minister suggested I was causing an urban-rural divide because I mentioned it, her argument was extraordinarily weak. I stated the obvious about what has been going on in this House. People who live on farms, or who are farming contractors like Deputy Mattie McGrath, contractors on land and roads like Deputies Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, or other contractors like Deputy Michael Collins, argue with us on the basis that we do not understand what we are talking about. They keep saying we have no idea what it is like and Deputy Fitzmaurice thinks we have never gone down the country. This has come from the way the Bill has been constructed and that is what I am saying about the Minister. She is not so much using urban-versus-rural language as constructing a Bill that causes people to argue on a completely false basis. If she really wanted to deal with overgrowing hedgerows and the dangers on tertiary roads where the small clever birds live, as opposed to the major roads where the stupid birds live, as was discussed yesterday, and if she wants to deal with the problems that arise from overgrowth, both in cities and in the countryside, she would fund the local authorities to do those things in a regulated way. Local authority funding has been slashed and burned for the past ten years and local authorities do not have the resources or the staff to carry out this sort of work. The Minister says it is nothing to do with her Department but that is not a good enough answer. My thesis is that if one funds one Department properly, the other would not have to put through this slash-and-burn Bill. The Minister is in a Cabinet; surely we deserve joined-up thinking from the Cabinet that runs the country.

Deputy Declan Breathnach: Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach I have listened with considerable interest to the debate and I had not intended taking part in the Chamber, although I have contributed at parliamentary party level. None of us is an expert, although we can indicate that we are until the cows come home. I have had considerable experience of various environmental schemes, from REPS to GLAS, over the past 20 years. I have experience of their practicality and of the guidance given by environmental officers.

  I reiterate what Deputy Ó Cuív said about the Road Traffic Act 1993. With any issue of road safety, there was always provision for the local authority to ensure a farmer could take measures to ensure a road was safer, while protecting wildlife. When a reputable planner signs off on the need for maintenance along a public road, it has never been challenged by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine if it is written in the plan. It has not been an issue for 20 years and I know people who availed of REPS and GLAS and were allowed to cut hedgerows in their plans, within reason and according to the diktat of the planner, who receives reasonably good advice from the Department. I do not know why we cannot also conserve water through such plans and this should be incentivised.

  We spoke about the farmer and the cowboy having to be friends but there have to be practical solutions in the interest of protecting the people who walk or cycle the roads of this country and I would not be satisfied unless I could cut briers and other things for the people who utilise the countryside, as well as for those in cars and lorries. We debate things ad infinitum in this House but I cannot understand how we cannot find practical solutions that are acceptable both to environmentalists and farmers.

Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin The Minister likes to talk about facts but BirdWatch Ireland is just one of the science-based conservation organisations which she has refused to meet or to consult on this Heritage Bill. The facts are, regrettably, that last night in this Chamber, when members of that organisation were not here to defend themselves, the Minister accused their work of being a flagrant distortion of the facts and unscientific. She accused them of saying the decline in the number of curlew was due to burning but they never said that.

Several Ministers and Deputies have said in the course of this debate that the burning season in Northern Ireland extends into April but that has done nothing to stop illegal and uncontrolled burning. The same Deputies have not made the point that the hedgecutting dates in Northern Ireland are in line with those in the Republic. The dates in the North, which exclude August, are the way they are because of a review which held that the dates were valid to provide protection to birds during the breeding season. The Members involved have been quite selective in their comparisons. Cutting a hedge in the period between March and August impinges negatively on the overall wildlife of the hedgerow and any suggestion that a hedge can be cut without impacting on the wildlife in the hedge is simply not credible. The question is to what degree there is an impact.

For Deputies to ask us to depend on the birds to be wise enough not to nest in roadside hedges is beyond ludicrous. Other Deputies talked about protection of the human species and road safety, having done nothing but delay the passage of new road safety legislation through the Dáil with no thought for those whose loved ones have been lost on the roads. That is very hard to take.

I will finish with another fact. All the organisations up and down this country which preserve our environment and wildlife have said that sections 7 and 8, as they stand, are a disaster for Irish wildlife and our natural heritage. Nach bhfuil sé oiriúnach go bhfágfaidh an tAire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta scrios ar chomhshaol agus ar oidhreacht nádúrtha na tíre?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett This debate has taken an unfortunate acrimonious twist, unnecessarily personalised in some cases. I agree with Deputy Breathnach that we should be able to come up with practical solutions that guarantee the environmental integrity and biodiversity we need while ensuring road safety. Everybody wants to maintain biodiversity, protect and enhance the environment and wildlife and ensure road safety so one would think we could come up with a solution. The problem is that the Minister has driven this through without a proper engagement with stakeholders, scientists, farmers, the rural communities, naturalists and wildlife people.

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