Cavan): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
This Bill is designed to provide an up-to-date, effective statutory framework for wildlife conservation in Ireland. It is a comprehensive and complex measure but I hope the accompanying detailed explantory memorandum will have given Deputies a clearer picture of its objectives and proposals.
The Bill has been throughly discussed in the Seanad and the text now before the Dáil includes a substantial number of amendments passed by that House.
Some 45 years have elapsed since the enactment of any major measure concerning wild fauna and in these circumstances the persistent pressure for new legislation and, indeed, the criticism of delay in finalising the Bill are understandable.
I think that any objective assessment of the wide-ranging scope and technical content of the Bill will go some way towards indicating why it was necessary to devote more than the normal preparatory period to its formulation. In this connection, I would like to pay tribute to the work done by my predecessors in the earlier preparatory stages of the Bill.
Nowadays nature conservation is receiving increasing attention in the environmental programmes of intergovernmental agencies like the United Nations, the EEC and the Council of Europe, and in the activities of many non-governmental agencies such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the International Hunting Council, the International Waterfowl Research Bureau, and so on, which specialise in different aspects of wildlife conservation and hunting. The increasing involvement of my Department in the activities and programmes of these organisations makes it imperative that an up-to-date statutory basis be provided if we are to carry out our international responsibilities satisfactorily.
Of course, concern for international obligations is not to ignore the need for effective legislative machinery in the field of wildlife conservation in the domestic context. Fortunately, despite some detrimental effects of technological developments in this country, it is not yet too late to embark on a positive, energetic conservation programme to safeguard our wildlife heritage.
In the 1960s—following the transfer to my Department of responsibility for the administration of the Wild Birds Protection Act, 1930, and the Game Preservation Act, 1930—a positive, if modest, programme of game development and wildlife conservation was carried out by a small unit operating within the Land Commission. In 1971 that unit was merged with the Forestry Division, following the impetus given to nature conservation by European Conservation Year 1970, and the combined agency is now known as the Forest and Wildlife Service.
This service—with its very substantial and widely-distributed properties throughout the country and its complement of personnel trained and experienced in the natural sciences—is now the main State agency for wildlife conservation. Its activities in that sphere have largely been based on the two 1930 Acts to which I have referred and which I may say represented enlightened forward thinking at that early stage of the development of the State.
But the limitations of the two 1930 Acts for present day needs were obvious and it became abundantly clear that, if worth-while progress from the national or international standpoints were to be made in the wildlife conservation sphere, modern and more effective statutory machinery would be indispensable. That is what the Bill now before the House aims to provide.
Against that short historical background I will now set out more fully the principal aims of the Bill and the effects of its individual provisions. The major objectives of the Bill may be summarised as follows:
1. To provide an adequate statutory basis for the conservation and better protection of wild fauna and flora and their habitats;
2. To define the role of the Minister for Lands in that sphere;
3. To ensure the conservation of areas having specific wildlife values;
4. To provide an up-to-date framework for the development and protection of our game resources, including proper exploitation of those resources;
5. To facilitate the unification within the Department of Lands of existing services dealing with such matters as forestry, conservation, amenity, and so on, and
6. To provide a firm statutory backing to accepted modern concepts of the multiple use of State forests and to provide an improved land acquisition procedure in this context.
To illustrate how it is proposed to achieve these objectives and in order to indicate the thinking behind the proposals, I would now like to comment on the individual sections of the Bill.
Sections 1 to 10, inclusive, in Part 1 of the Bill, are largely routine and do not call for detailed comment. Perhaps the most interesting provisions in this group are Sections 2 and 10. The former provides a very comprehensive set of definitions for purposes of the Bill; the latter deals with the repeal of existing legislation as listed in the First Schedule. The repeals include the two 1930 Acts to which I have already referred and also a number of old statutes going back to penal times. When the Bill becomes law, the main corpus of legislation relating to wildlife conservation will be embodied in a single modern Act.
In Chapter I of Part II the real substance of the proposals in the Bill begins to emerge. Section 11 defines the basic role of the Minister for Lands in the sphere of wildlife conservation and sets out general powers to enable him to exercise that role more effectively. These relate to such aspects of wildlife conservation as the provision of assistance and advice, management, by agreement, of lands not in State ownership, promotion of and participation in various schemes and projects, provision of grants and loans, the conduct of research, the furtherance of educational aspects of wildlife conservation and so on.
A few general comments on these powers may not be amiss at this stage. As I said earlier, some modest progress in wildlife conservation has already been achieved despite the severe handicap of inadequate legislation. That this has been possible is due in no small way to the ready co-operation and assistance afforded by voluntary organisations such as the Regional Game Councils and their National Association, the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, the Irish Deer Society, the Field and Country Sports Society and others.
I pay tribute to all these groups for their past co-operation and I am satisfied that the powers sought under the Bill, and under Section 11, in particular, will put my Department in an even stronger position to work in harmony with them for the future towards the attainment of mutual objectives.
I referred briefly to educational aspects of wildlife conservation. I would like to make it clear that my reference was not so much to education in the formal sense, with which my Department is not directly concerned, but to the broader field of generating and encouraging a wider public understanding and support for nature conservation generally, and for wildlife values in particular.
The success of the Bill will inevitably depend to a large extent on this kind of public appreciation and my Department will continue to use every means of publicity at their disposal— through information leaflets and booklets, lectures, films, exhibits and so on —to promote this ideal. Indeed, I need only point to the tremendous public response to the opening up of the State forests for public recreation and education as a clear indication of the vast reservoir of goodwill which exists for a sound wildlife conservation programme.
I am conscious of the special contribution which the farming community can make towards wildlife conservation by virtue of their ownership and use of a sizeable part of the habitats which are vital to the survival of much of our wildlife. A Bill of this kind inevitably imposes many constraints on many different interests but I think Deputies will find that every effort has been made to strike a reasonable balance between bona fide agricultural operations and wildlife conservation interests.
I have no doubt that, in return, farming organisations and those directly engaged in farming will do everything they can to ensure that our wildlife continues to survive but I would appeal to them especially on two counts—firstly, to keep the habitat requirements of wildlife in mind when planning their agricultural programmes and, secondly, to do nothing which would interfere with rare or threatened species.
The purpose of section 12 is to place an obligation on various public bodies, for example, Government Departments, local authorities, the Commissioners of Public Works and certain semi-State bodies to consult the Minister for Lands before undertaking projects which might have a detrimental effect on nature reserves or refuges for fauna and so on which will be established under sections 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Bill. These areas will be chosen for their special wildlife values and it will be very important to ensure that they are subsequently safeguarded to the utmost extent practicable.
The only exemptions from the obligation imposed by the section will be emergency measures and certain aspects of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. The activities of the Commissioners of Public Works under the Arterial Drainage Acts are also excluded but there are separate specific provisions to cater for these in section 43 which I will mention later.
Section 13, which provides for the establishment of a Wildlife Advisory Council, is a very important provision. Any broadly-based programme of wildlife conservation involves, apart from the Forest and Wildlife Service, a wide diversity of interests—scientific, agricultural, cultural, sporting, and so forth—each of which can make a special and worth-while contribution towards the formulation of policy and the settlement of objectives. I visualise the council as providing an effective forum for a widely-representative group whose combined talents and expertise will ensure a steady flow of advice and guidance for my Department's on-going conservation programme. In appointing the members of the council, it will be my aim to strike the best possible balance between representatives of the relevant scientific disciplines and those with practical experience at grassroots level.
Section 14 is an enabling measure to permit the setting up of boards to administer any service which the Minister will be empowered to provide after the Bill becomes law. As of now, the establishment of any such board is not envisaged, but the practical scope of wildlife conservation and game development is sufficiently far-reaching to warrant the inclusion of this enabling power to meet possible future needs.
The Second Schedule to the Bill sets out in detail the various provisions which would apply to the constitution, practical operation etc. of any such board.
Perhaps the most notable defect in existing legislation is the virtual absence of any statutory protection for wildlife habitats—as distinct from the protection of species. One of the fundamental aims of the Bill is to remedy this deficiency; we have already, in section 12, seen one small step in this direction, but the provisions in Chapter II are more directly concerned with this vital sector.
Sections 15 and 16 can be taken together. Section 15 relates to the establishment of nature reserves on lands owned by the Minister for Lands or by the State; section 16 is concerned with the formal recognition of reserves in private ownership. In the selection of these sites, the overriding consideration will be their scientific value as habitats of fauna or flora or a combination of such features.
My Department have already made some tentative progress on this front in anticipation of the enactment of this legislation. As regards flora, some typical examples of native woodlands have been set aside for dedication as nature reserves; in regard to fauna, a wildfowl reserve of international significance has been established on lands jointly owned by my Department and the Irish Wildbird Conservancy at the North Slob, Wexford, where the primary concern is for the migratory Greenland Whitefronted goose. The passage of the Bill will enable these and other nature reserves to be formally established.
I am very glad to say that concern for the establishment of nature reserves is not confined entirely to the State; some private individuals and organisations have also shown commendable enterprise in dedicating lands—invariably at considerable personal expense—to the cause of wildlife conservation. Section 16 of the Bill will make it possible to give this praiseworthy initiative a well-deserved formal recognition.
Sections 15 and 16, with which I have just dealt, provide a mechanism for safeguarding wildlife habitats where scientific interest is the dominant consideration. However, there are some places throughout the country which, either because of the ownership situation or the particular wildlife value concerned, might not qualify for the rather special status of nature reserve but which nonetheless warrant positive protective measures. It is proposed to protect habitats of this kind by designating them as refuges for fauna under section 17 of the Bill.
An elaborate procedure is contemplated as a preliminary to the making of a designation order and involves consultation with other State agencies, notification of the owners, and publication of notice of intention to make the designation order. Persons with an interest in the lands or who can establish that they would be affected by the protective measures of such an order will have ample opportunity to lodge an objection and will be entitled to compensation. Compensation will be assessed on the basis of diminution of value, loss or disadvantage arising from the protective measures set out in the order, and, if the amount cannot be agreed, the matter will be open to arbitration.
I should mention that the importance attached to both nature reserves and refuges is such that offences committed on these sites will carry special penalties under section 74 of the Bill.
The final section in Chapter II regarding habitat protection is section 18. This relates to management agreements intended to restrict the user of land by owners or occupiers in such a way as not to impair its inherent wildlife values. Such agreements, if they were to run only for the lifetime of the current owners or occupiers would not always achieve the desired results but subsection (4) is designed to enable agreements to bind on successors in title, thereby ensuring permanence for the commitment of the land to the cause of wildlife conservation. There is provision in subsection (3) for monetary compensation. By and large, the type of landowner likely to be interested in entering into such an agreement will be the owner who is already keenly interested in wildlife conservation, but even if it were to result in safeguarding only a few vital habitats, the inclusion of section 18 in the Bill would be well justified.
Chapter III of the Bill deals with the general protection of fauna and flora. As there are a number of sections in this Chapter relating to fauna and only one directly concerned with flora, namely, section 21, I will deal with it first. The importance of flora in the overall context of wildlife conservation frequently tends to be overshadowed by the more popular concern for fauna.
The basic intention of section 21 is to provide an enabling power whereby species of flora in need of protection can be made the subject of Ministerial protection orders which would have effect either throughout the State or in specific areas. It will be an offence to interfere with the flora or their habitats save under licence from the Minister. The primary objective is to provide a measure of statutory protection for flora at national level which will augment certain conservation powers already vested in planning authorities under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. This does not connote any unnecessary overlapping because, in practice, the Minister for Lands will be concerned with rare species of flora (and their habitats) from the national viewpoint, whereas planning authorities will continue to exercise their existing powers in their own areas of jurisdiction. The combined effects of these dual functions will be to strengthen substantially the present inadequate statutory position in so far as flora is concerned.
I will now turn to the provisions in the Bill for protection of fauna, starting with wild birds. In this connection, it will be helpful to read sections 19 and 22 together. Section 19 is the blanket provision under which it is proposed to protect all wild birds— including their nests and eggs—except the pest species listed in the Third Schedule; but, under subsection (2) of section 22, it will be possible to add to or take from the species mentioned in the Third Schedule as circumstances require. Section 22 will make it an offence to hunt, injure, capture or kill protected wild birds, with suitable exemptions for agricultural, forestry, fishery and certain other activities.
Subsection (6) may call for some degree of explanation: Under section 42 —with which I will be dealing more fully later—there are provisions to meet situations in which damage is being caused by protected fauna to agricultural and certain other interests. These provisions cover action taken by a person in defence of his property with the permission of the Minister. However, it may sometimes be necessary for a landowner to take immediate remedial action resulting in the killing of a protected wild bird without such prior permission. The effect of subsection (6) of section 22 will be to exonerate that person from an offence except where the bird in question is one of the few rare or threatened species listed in Part I of the Fourth Schedule to the Bill.
Sections 20 and 23 contain provisions in relation to the protection of specific wild animals, which broadly correspond to those which apply to wild birds in sections 19 and 22. Here again, it will be advantageous to read the two sections together. The intention is to protect all those species of wild animals which are listed in the Fifth Schedule to the Bill. The list may, under subsection (2) of section 23, be augmented or reduced as circumstances warrant.
It will be an offence to interfere with or destroy the breeding place of protected wild animals or, save under licence, to hunt such animals; but there are appropriate exemptions under subsection (7) in favour of a variety of activities including agriculture, fishing, forestry, and so on. Moreover—in line with the procedure already mentioned in the case of protected wild birds—there is a special provision in subsection (8) whereby landowners etc. who find it urgently necessary to kill protected wild animals in order to protect their property, may do so without breaking the law, provided that the animals in question do not come within the very short list of rare or threatened species set out in Part II of the Fourth Schedule.
Sections 24 and 25 provide for the declaration of open seasons for certain protected game birds and game animals and includes a provision for the imposition of bag limits, where necessary, in the interests of conservation of stocks. The game species concerned will, by and large, be those which have traditionally been available to shooting men during open seasons declared under the Game Preservation Act, 1930, but deer will henceforth be included.
The first part of section 26 provides for the future licensing by the Minister of otter hunting and stag hunting. The remainder of this section relates to hares and deals with the licensing of beagling and hare coursing for short periods outside the open season. I may say that my primary concern, where the hunting of deer, otters and hares is concerned, will be for the conservation of the species, and I am satisfied that the powers sought under sections 25 and 26 will permit the necessary degree of control.
Section 27 is an attempt to prevent a serious decimation of populations of game species in the rare event of extreme weather conditions (at home or abroad) or other unexpected circumstances such as disease or sudden and acute drop in numbers of certain species. The extent to which situations of this kind can be counteracted is, unfortunately, limited, but to allow game shooting to continue without interruption in such circumstances would manifestly be contrary not only to the conservation spirit of this Bill but also to all canons of good sporting behaviour.
As appeals for voluntary restraint may not always elicit the desired total response, a statutory curtailment of open seasons in the circumstances mentioned is envisaged. Incidentally, this provision will augment the power already available to the Minister for Justice to prohibit, at the request of the Minister for Lands, the use of carriage of firearms in the interests of game preservation, and the exercise of both controls should effectively eliminate any abuse in this sector.
Chapter IV of Part II of the Bill contains a wide variety of restrictions aimed at protecting wildlife. Sections 28 and 29, which are complementary, include innovations which will concern everybody who is interested in game shooting—be they resident or visiting sportsmen.
The basic objectives of these two sections is to regulate the hunting of game species with firearms by, first of all, defining the categories of persons who may lawfully do so and, secondly, setting up a licensing system for such persons. The overall approach is based on the premise that anyone who hunts game on land without being the owner—or having the permission of the owner—of the shooting rights over that land is, to put it bluntly, poaching.
My Department have for many years been directly involved—through the provision of financial support and technical advice—in a national programme of game development carried out by a network of Regional Game Councils. The extent to which poaching can frustrate the joint effort put into this programme by the State and voluntary organisations is not difficult to understand and preventive action is obviously desirable.
This is the general background to section 28 which seeks to define the various categories of persons who will in future be eligible for licences to hunt game. The main criterion for eligibility will be ownership of game rights or authorisation by such owners. I think the range of qualified persons, as set out in section 28, includes everybody who can genuinely claim to have an entitlement to a hunting licence.
Section 29 introduces a novel concept for this country, namely, a licence to hunt game with firearms—or, as it is better known, a game licence— as distinct from a firearm certificate. Thus, it is proposed to differentiate between the actual possession of a firearm and its use for game shooting.
Under section 29 anybody wishing to shoot game in this country in future must apply for a game licence and, in the process, he will be required to make a declaration of his qualification within the ambit of section 28. The visiting sportsman who intends to shoot game species— whether wild birds or wild animals— must first seek and obtain a licence from the Minister for Lands.
The resident sportsman who wishes to shoot game animals other than hares must follow a similar procedure, but where his interest is confined to game birds and hares he will, as at present, be able to get his firearm certificate from the Garda Síochána but with this difference: it will carry an endorsement deeming the certificate to be a licence to hunt game birds and hares, that is, those species which have traditionally been regarded as game species. Under this procedure the resident sportsman will not have to make separate applications for the firearms certificate and the game licence. Apart from facilitating the resident sportsman, this system will make for ease of administration. The foregoing disposes of the basic objective of section 29 but there are a few other elements in it which I should mention.
Under subsection (7) a person aggrieved by the refusal of the Minister to grant or renew a game licence under subsections (1) and (2) will have an opportunity to appeal to the District Court.
Subsection (4) is aimed at making game licences—whether issued by the Minister for Lands or by the Garda —co-terminous, and this should go far towards eliminating a longstanding grievance on the part of organised resident sporstmen. Very simply, their complaint is that the firearm certificates granted to them expire on 31st July each year, irrespective of the date of issue, whereas firearm certificates issued to non-residents run for 12 months from the date of issue, thereby making it possible for them to shoot through part of two open seasons. The proposed uniformity in subsection (4) will bring about a desirable adjustment.
In the recent past my Department and Bord Fáilte have been jointly endeavouring to bring about a measure of control in the sphere of game shooting by visitors primarily to eliminate the objectionable, indiscriminate shooting engaged in by some visiting parties—sometimes, indeed, with a degree of connivance by certain local interests. As an interim measure, arrangements were made with effect from 1st April, 1975, whereby, in agreement with the Department of Justice, all firearm certificates relating to visitors' shotguns are being issued by my Department as agent of the Minister for Justice. Under the new procedure such certificates are issued only to those applicants who can show that they have made advance bona fide arrangements for their shooting holiday in Ireland. The provisions of sections 28 and 29 of the Bill reflect, in so far as visiting game shooters are concerned, a further strengthening of this control.
Section 30 is designed to control hunting on State foreshore and inland lakes and lakeshore accretions which vest in the State. Some of these areas are frequently subjected to intense and indiscriminate shooting pressure, with serious detrimental effects on wildlife and valuable habitats. In future, only persons who have obtained permission from the Minister will be allowed to hunt over such places. Sometimes there is a doubt as to whether or not inland lakes are vested in the State but under a later provision of the Bill, section 57, machinery is being provided which will help to remove that doubt in certain instances.
Section 31 is concerned with the breeding in captivity of certain wild perching birds. The business of dealing in exotic species will not be affected by this section—though a later provision relating to the import of fauna may do so to some extent—and the intention is to prevent the sale, purchase or possession of species which occur in the wild state in Ireland or adjacent countries—apart from the pest species listed in the Third Schedule— unless the birds have been fitted with a close ring at the fledging stage to show that they were bred in captivity. This will ensure that indigenous adult wild birds, which could well include specimens of rare species, cannot be captured and sold as birds bred and reared in captivity.
The tagging or marking of wild animals and ringing of wild birds are very important features of wildlife research and should be entrusted only to suitably-qualified people. Under section 32 only persons who obtain a licence from the Minister will be authorised to capture wild birds and wild animals for ringing or marking or to possess the nets used for those purposes.
The next group of sections, that is, sections 33 to 38, inclusive, provide a number of restrictions and controls aimed at the adoption of proper hunting practices. For the most part, however, the proposals represent an updating of corresponding provisions in legislation which is being superseded by the present measure and I do not propose to deal with them in any detail.
Under section 33, the use of firearms, and so on, which cause excessive and inhumane wounding and killing of wild fauna is restricted. The section will also enable the type and calibre of firearms and ammunition most suitable for shooting different protected species to be prescribed by way of regulations. The necessity for this is perhaps best illustrated in the case of deer where the use of unsuitable weapons and ammunition and failure to effect a clean kill invariably results in a slow and painful death for the animal. It is a matter for regret that such incidents, perpetrated by unscrupulous people, have been all too common in the past.
Section 34 is intended to restrict the use of traps, snares, nets and substances such as birdlime and poisoned or stupefying baits in capturing and killing wild fauna. There are exemptions to cater for bona fide needs and confined to the use of approved traps or other devices. I should draw attention to the fact that, with the repeal of section 8 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1965, the use of the gin trap for taking otters—a species heretofore unprotected—will no longer be lawful.
Section 35 will impose restrictions on the use of scarecrows, decoys and call of wild birds and mammals as hunting aids. There is an exemption to meet the needs of research and certain other approved activities carried out under licence. Some traditional practices in relation to the hunting of wildfowl are also exempted.
Section 36 restricts the use of power-boats and other mechanically-propelled vehicles in connection with game shooting, birds or mammals. This is an undesirable practice which can give rise to undue disturbance and harassment of fauna. A special exception is being made in the case of scientific research carried out under licence from the Minister.
Sections 37 and 38 are controls on hunting by night. Much of the damage caused to wildlife, especially in the process of poaching, takes place at night and involves the use of lamps, dazzling devices, and so on, to facilitate capturing or killing wild birds or wild animals. There may be justification for permitting a limited degree of hunting by night in specific instances but these will for the most part be tolerated only under licence from the Minister.
Section 39 replaces section 61 of the Forestry Act, 1946, under which the burning of vegetation within a mile of State forestry plantations was controlled. A similar type of control is required in the context of nature reserves and refuges for fauna and, rather than have two separate and, perhaps, complementary statutory controls, the relevant Forestry Act provision is being repealed and replaced by the composite section 39, which not only covers plantations, reserves and refuges but extends to fire damage caused by acts of sheer negligence. While evidence of such negligence may be difficult to adduce, there have been several cases in the past where such evidence was available but the provisions of the 1946 Act were not adequate to enable a prosecution to be pursued.
Section 40 is designed to restrict the destruction of vegetation during the breeding and nesting season. Existing statutory restrictions applied only to game birds. This has to be extended and in addition it is considered necessary to apply the restrictions over a somewhat longer period of the year. There is, in subsection (2), a liberal list of exemptions to ensure that normal agricultural and other essential operations will not be hampered by the proposed restrictions.
The final chapter in Part II of the Bill consists of a group of miscellaneous provisions which, while not being quite so specifically oriented towards the conservation and protection of wildlife as those in the previous chapter, are nonetheless individually important.
In this country the ancient art of falconry is not practised on a scale which warrants control. However, it is desirable that a comprehensive Bill such as this should contain appropriate provision for later needs. This is achieved in section 41 which is an enabling power to permit falconry and matters associated with the sport to be regulated should the necessity arise.
Section 42 is an important provision to meet situations where damage is being done by protected wild birds and wild animals to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and so on. I did, in fact, already refer, in the context of sections 22 and 23, to situations of this kind. Section 42, as well as enabling the Minister to take direct action to deal with marauding animals or birds, sets out a procedure whereby an aggrieved owner may deal with the situation himself on permission from the Minister.
However, the damage being done may sometimes be such as to necessitate immediate remedial action and Deputies will recall that this type of situation is catered for under sections 22 and 23. Briefly, the approach is that reasonable facilities must be afforded for the elimination of the source of damage, with the conservation element dominating only where the damage is occasioned by rare or threatened species of fauna.
Section 43 is a proposal aimed at ensuring that certain conservation benefits which will result from the Bill will not be unwittingly diminished by drainage schemes. The areas concerned will, in the main, comprise wetland habitats of fauna and flora which are set aside as nature reserves and refuges and also lands which become the subject of "management agreements" under section 18. The intention is that where the Commissioners of Public Works propose to undertake drainage schemes on lands which include these prime wildlife areas they will consult the Minister for Lands with a view to safeguarding them to the utmost extent practicable. The section is all the more important when it is realised that the habitats concerned may comprise places of international significance. The view may well be taken that the powers provided for in section 43 do not go far enough, but I am satisfied that it would be unreasonable to seek more stringent restrictions on the national land drainage programme.
Section 44 is an important provision relating to trespass on lands in pursuit of wildlife. While the essential concern is for game species, the section is so drafted as to make trespass in pursuit of any wild bird or wild animal an offence, thereby tying up any possible loophole. The section is really a further measure—augmenting section 28—to combat poaching.
Particular attention is drawn to subsection (2) which lists the categories of persons who may challenge a trespasser and also to subsection (4) and (7) which deal with prosecutions. In the latter context, I should point out (a) that this is the only instance under the Bill where the bringing of a prosecution will not be subject to the constraints of section 70 on the prosecution of offence under the Act and (b) that, in any proceedings for an offence under section 44 the onus of proof that the was on land with lawful authority will rest with the defendant.
I now come to Part III of the Bill. The commercial exploitation of wildlife resources—both in relation to game and non-game species— would, if left uncontrolled, quickly tend to frustrate many of the positive conservation proposals enshrined in the Bill. Such exploitation also has international connotations in terms of imports and exports for which suitable guidelines must be laid down. Part III of the Bill deals with this whole sector—in so far as wildlife coming within the ambit of the Bill is concerned.
Sections 45 to 50 provide a system of control over the business of wildlife dealing. This activity involves the purchase, possession and sale of protected wild birds, and their eggs, and protected wild animals including, of course, game species in both categories. The Game Preservation Act, 1930, contained certain statutory controls in relation to game species, but more comprehensive measures are now required to conform with the broader provisions of the Bill. However, the basic control elements of a licensing system and obligation to keep records are being retained.
Section 45 provides that only a licensed wildlife dealer shall sell, keep for sale, purchase or have in his possession specimens, live or dead, of protected wild fauna—including their flesh or eggs. Subsection (3) contains certain exceptions, for example, the sale to a licensed dealer of game species lawfully killed during an open season. Past experience also points to a need to control the purchase of game by hotels and other catering establishments, and there are special provisions accordingly in subsections (4) and (5).
Section 46 empowers the Minister to prohibit or suitably control the purchase and sale of any protected species for specified periods where this is desirable in the interests of overall conservation of the species in question. The section would also enable the Minister to control the various aspects of the business of wildlife dealing by means of comprehensive regulations.
Section 47 is the statutory basis for the licensing of wildlife dealers with provisions, in subsection (2), for a transitional period after the Bill comes into operation. The procedure for the granting and renewal of wildlife dealers' licences is set out in section 48. The intention is that the Minister will issue or renew a licence on foot of a certificate of suitability granted by the district court. Section 49 deals with revocation of licences on conviction of licence holders of certain offences under the Bill and section 50 empowers the Minister to publish lists of licence holders or of persons whose licences have been revoked.
Section 51 imposes an obligation on persons who transport protected wild fauna to indicate clearly on the container (a) their names and addresses and (b) the contents. There is a saver in subsection (4) to cover the transport of game species lawfully taken during an open season.
Regulations to control the import and export of fauna and flora are foreshadowed in sections 52 and 53 respectively. The import controls— which are not confined to species protected under the Bill—are necessary (a) to preserve the characteristics of native species, (b) to prevent the entry of pest species into this country and (c) to facilitate compliance with the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Ireland has already signed this Convention subject to ratification following the enactment of the Bill.
The export controls—section 53— reflect similar existing restrictions on certain game bird exports, with appropriate modification and enlargement to cater for the much broader range of protected species—including flora —envisaged under the Bill. In regard to both imports and exports, the necessary regulations will be made only after consultation with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and there are provisions for the granting of licences to meet genuine needs. The final section in Part III, namely section 54, simply sets out the obligation which attaches to persons engaged in the kind of imports and exports which I have just dealt with to comply with any relevant requirements of the Customs Act.
Part IV of the Bill, in addition to providing for a revised land acquisition procedure, is concerned mainly with the unification and rationalisation of certain services within my Department dealing with forestry, wildlife conservation and allied matters. It also contains a number of important provisions affecting inland waters and the territorial seas. The long delays which arise from title clearance in the sales of land to my Department for forestry purposes have, over the years, been a persistent source of criticism and complaint.
The new acquisition system, contained in section 55, will provide a more expeditious procedure for land acquisition whether the land is destined for afforestation or wildlife conservation purposes or both. Operation of the section is confined to registered land which forms the bulk of the Minister's land purchase transactions, and I am confident that the new procedure will benefit both the vendors of such land and the Department.
The details of the section are dealt with at considerable length in the Explanatory Memorandum circulated with the Bill and I do not propose to repeat them here. However, there are a few aspects which I should like to emphasise.
Firstly, there is no element of compulsion involved. The entire process is based on a willingness on the part of owners of land to sell their interests to the Minister at an agreed price. Secondly, there will be a number of conditions to be met by the Minister before he can make a Purchase Order. Thirdly, there is provision for compensating bona fide late claimants with the possibility of recovering the amount of such compensation from the person who agreed to sell the land in the first instance.
The effects of the provision in broad outline will be that, where a Purchase Order is made by the Minister it will automatically vest the land in him in fee simple and all estates, trusts, encumbrances, rights and claims, with a few exceptions, affecting the land will attach to the purchase money. There are appropriate refinements in the procedure to cater for commonage lands.
Section 56 will enable all land vested in the Minister under the Forestry Acts or under this Bill to be managed and used, as appropriate, for afforestation, wildlife conservation, game development and other kindred purposes. The existing statutory provisions, which are confined to afforestation, would clearly be too restrictive in the context of the broader mandate which the Minister will have henceforth.
Where some areas of land in the Minister's possession are unsuitable for management or use within that expanded mandate, he will have discretion as to how it should be dealt with. A practical illustration of this would be where the Minister is obliged to purchase an entire property which includes some land not suitable either for forestry or wildlife purposes.
I come now to section 57. When dealing with section 30, I referred to inland waters and outlined the proposed measures to control hunting on these important wildlife habitats. I also indicated that some further steps were contemplated under section 57 of the Bill aimed at clarifying the position in relation to certain inland waters—mainly those which are sometimes referred to as State lakes.
In the case of some inland lakes, property rights are already clearly established but, in other cases, ownership is either believed to have vested in the State—as successor to the Crown—or has never been clarified. The potential of such lakes in the sphere of wildlife conservation, for example, as nature reserves or through controlled shooting over them, is such that some machinery is desirable to determine their ownership.
A mechanism to facilitate this determination is proposed in section 57. Very briefly, the intention is that the Minister would publish, in Iris Oifigiúil and local newspapers, particulars of lakes and other inland waters the title to which is in doubt, and would require interested persons to lodge, within a specified period, particulars of any claims they wish to put forward. If no claims are received or if, in relation to bona fide claims, the Minister acquires by agreement the interests of such claimants, he will then be empowered to declare, by order, that the fee simple of the particular lake or inland water belongs to the State. Where late claims are received and proved, there is provision for compensation.
It is not intended ordinarily that fishing rights would be included in the invitation of claims and they would, therefore, not normally be comprehended by a declaration order. However, the section is so drafted as to make it possible, exceptionally, to depart from this general approach, for example, where fish life constitutes a significant element in the establishment of a nature reserve in any lake or inland water concerned.
Section 58 extends to the territorial seas of the State the kind of restrictions on hunting which would apply to foreshore and inland waters under section 30. These marine areas are of major interest where the conservation of seabirds, marine mammals, and so on, is concerned, but are liable to unrestricted hunting and disturbance of fauna. By formally asserting that hunting rights over the territorial seas belong to the State and that hunting over such areas will be subject to the permission of the Minister, appropriate control measures will be feasible.
Section 59 is an enabling measure authorising the making of regulations governing access to and use by the public of State-owned foreshore, nature reserves and refuges for fauna in the interests of wildlife conservation. The regulations would be the subject of advance consultation with other interests.
As regards properties held by the Minister, ownership entitles him to allow the public to use these properties for recreational or educational purposes and a statutory provision to this effect is not required. However, there is a need to provide that breach of any bye-laws and so on made by the Minister in this context will be an offence and liable to an appropriate penalty: this point is provided for in subsection (11).
Sections 60 and 61 contain further proposals aimed at the unification of services by adapting procedures under the Forestry Acts to parallel activities stemming from the Wildlife Bill. Section 21 of the Forestry Act, 1946, lays down the procedure to be followed where external rights of way are needed for access to lands being used for State afforestation purposes. The procedure involves an application by the Minister to the Lay Commissioners of the Land Commission, and the effect of section 60 will be to apply this procedure also to rights of way required in connection with the management of lands acquired for purposes of the Bill.
Similarily, section 61 is designed to adapt the relevant provisions of the Forestry Act, 1946, to the needs of the Bill in so far as the extinguishment of easements affecting acquired lands are concerned.
Part V of the Bill deals with the necessary amendment of other legislation arising from some provisions of the Bill. The Firearms Act, 1925, is a case in point. The statutory authority for the issue of firearm certificates resides in section 3 of that Act, but the introduction of the concept of a game licence under section 29 of the Bill will result in a changed procedure for issuing firearm certificates in respect of guns used for game shooting. The gist of the amendment of section 3 of the Firearms Act, 1925, contained in section 62 is that, in future, production of a game licence will be a pre-requisite to the issue of a firearm certificate for a gun intended to be used by (a) a resident sportsman who wishes to hunt certain mammal species, and (b) a visitor to the State who wishes to hunt any type of game.
I have already dealt in section 29 with the case of the resident sportsman who wishes to shoot only game birds and hares.
Amendments of the Firearms Act, 1964, which are set out in section 65 reflect, in the main, the need to adapt certain sections of that Act which relate to existing game species to the broader concept of protected species under the Bill.
Section 63 contains further provisions aimed at unifying certain powers and procedures relating to State afforestation and wildlife conservation by adapting appropriate sections of the Forestry Act, 1946, to the needs of the Bill. These may be summarised as follows:
Subsection (1) will apply the Minister's powers in section 9 of the 1946 Act—relating to purchase, sale and exchange of land and so on for afforestation purposes—to his corresponding functions in the sphere of wildlife conservation.
Subsection (2) is merely a modification of the general procedure relating to the creation of rights of way—which I already explained when commenting on section 60 a few minutes ago—in order to permit public user of rights of way.
Subsections (3) and (4) will apply the Minister's existing compulsory land acquisition powers in the afforestation sector to land required for wildlife conservation purposes.
Subsection (5) seeks to amend section 58 of the Forestry Act, 1946 to provide that, in future, vermin in the context of that Act will consist of all species of wild animals and wild birds which are not given protection under this Bill.
Section 64 envisages a slight amendment of the State Property Act, 1954. In the First Schedule to that Act, properties vested in the Minister for Lands under the Forestry Acts are excluded from the operation of certain sections of the Act. The intention in section 64 is simply to extend this exclusion to lands which will vest in the Minister under the Bill.
The effect of section 66 is to amend the Registration of Title Act, 1964, so as to add to the list of items to be registered as burdens on the relevant folios management agreements—under section 18 of the Bill—which are binding on successors in title.
The sale of animals as pets is already regulated under Part V of the Protection of Animals Act, 1965. Such animals are likely to be largely, but not exclusively, in the domestic category. However, the Bill—notably in section 45—also restricts the sale of certain wild fauna and it is necessary to avoid overlapping between the two statutes; the proposed modification of the 1965 Act in section 67 of the Bill will meet the situation.
The final Part of this long Bill, that is, Part VI, incorporates a group of diverse but essential provisions under the general heading of "Miscellaneous".
Section 68 is concerned with the inspection of land by authorised officers of the Minister for various purposes, the basic feature being that such inspections would be carried out only with the consent of the owner or occupier.
Section 69 is a general composite provision designed to make it quite clear that a variety of practices—such as aiding and abetting the commission of offences, giving false or misleading information, failure to comply with regulations and declarations, and so on —will, in themselves, constitute offences under the Bill and attach appropriate penalties.
The position as regards prosecution of offences is provided for in section 70. The right of the Minister to prosecute offences under the Bill is set out in subsection (1). The Garda Síochána will, of course, have the same authority to prosecute under the Bill when it becomes law as they have under legislation generally. In so far as persons other than the Minister or the Garda are concerned, however, subsection (2) will—subject to the special provisions in section 44 relating to trespass in pursuit of game—enable them to bring prosecutions with the consent of the Minister or his nominated officer not below the rank of Assistant Secretary.
Section 71 is a technical provision designed to eliminate the waste of official time which would result if Departmental officers had to attend court in order to prove that an open season order or a licence or permission was not in force when an alleged offence was committed or that the act which is the subject of the proceedings was not the result of any other lawful act. The existence or otherwise of a Ministerial Order declaring an open season will be a simple matter to establish. The nub of the section is that the onus will be on the defendant to prove that he was in possession of a valid licence or permission when the alleged offence was committed or that the act complained of was merely the incidental outcome of an otherwise lawful act.
I come now to the enforcement provisions of the Bill, and in this context the overall picture can best be got by reading sections 72 and 73 together. In formulating proposals of this kind due regard must be had to the realities of the situation in two important respects, namely, the scope of the enforcement agency and the extent of the powers which are to be given to it.
It goes without saying that much of the benefit of the Bill could be lost unless suitable enforcement measures are provided; at the same time, the establishment of a comprehensive wardening service to police a Bill whose writ extends to the entire State and its territorial waters would be so costly that one has to settle for a less ambitious system. For practical purposes, enforcement of the Bill—apart from Garda Síochána involvement— will rest with authorised persons appointed by the Minister. Such persons can be appointed from within the Forest and Wildlife Service but I would like to think that suitable candidates would, if necessary, be forthcoming from the ranks of voluntary organisations directly concerned in wildlife conservation, game development, and so on, in order to augment full-time personnel.
The proposals in sections 72 and 73 reflect, in my view, a reasonable and realistic balance between all the relevant factors in providing the framework of an enforcement agency which can be built on and expended according as resources permit and the needs of a particular situation dictate. The actual powers to be vested in authorised persons under section 72 relate to such matters as entry, search, inspection and detention of items of evidence. Searches of persons will not be permitted and searches of premises may be made only under search warrants obtained in accordance with section 73.
Section 74 sets out the various financial penalties which will attach to offences committed under the Bill. The normal penalties are contained in subsection (1). Subsection (2) provides for special penalties in respect of offences committed in nature reserves or refuges for fauna and subsections (3) and (4) provide for similar special penalties for offences relating to endangered species of fauna and flora. In case some Deputies may regard these penalties as unduly severe, let me remind the House that payment of several hundred pounds for such items as an outstanding specimen deer trophy or for the egg of a rare species of wild bird is not unknown.
Further penalties of a non-monetary kind are contained in sections 75 and 76. Section 75 would enable the courts to revoke a game licence and disqualify a licence holder, but there is a safeguard whereby the holder may retain a shotgun, under limited firearm certificate, for vermin destruction. The various items which are liable to be forfeited and disposed of following convictions for offences under the Bill are set out in section 76, but before a court orders an item to be forfeited the owner or other interested person will be given a suitable opportunity to make his case.
Sections 77 and 78 are concerned with items seized and detained as evidence by the Garda or authorised persons. Section 77 will afford an aggrieved person a right of appeal to the District Court and an entitlement, where his appeal succeeds, not only to the return of the seized items but also to appropriate compensation.
In some instances it may be unnecessary or undesirable to retain seized items until the subsequent court proceedings take place. This necessitates a suitable statutory provision regarding their disposal and this is contained in section 78. Where articles such as documents, weapons, traps and so forth, are concerned, the written consent of the owner thereof will, under subsection (1), be a prerequisite to their disposal. In many cases, however, the thing seized will likely consist of a specimen or specimens of dead fauna, for example game unlawfully taken, and to meet such situations the more elaborate procedure in subsections (2) to (8) is necessary.
This brings me to the end of the individual sections of the Bill. There are five Schedules and as I have already referred to these, as appropriate, in the course of this statement, only a further brief mention of each need be made at this stage.
The First Schedule lists the enactments proposed for repeal. These are, for the most part, very antiquated laws and I think nobody will be sorry to see them removed from the statute book.
The Second Schedule contains the various provisions affecting any boards which may be established under section 14. However, as I indicated earlier, that section is primarily an enabling measure to meet possible future needs and no immediate proposals arising from it are envisaged.
The Third Schedule, relating to wild birds, contains what might be called the black-listed category, that is well-known and numerous pests species for which the conservation measures of the Bill are not at present deemed necessary. All other wild birds will be protected under the Bill. On the other hand, the Fifth Schedule, relating to wild animals, specifically sets out the species of wild animals, other than birds, that is certain land mammals, marine mammals and amphibians, which are to be given protection; therefore, the provisions of the Bill do not extend to other wild animal species. As I made clear earlier, however, it will be possible to add to or take from both Schedules as and when circumstances require.
The Fourth Schedule lists species of fauna—wild birds and wild animals —which as of now are regarded as falling within the rare or threatened categories and requiring the greatest degree of protection. This list also is capable of variation should the need arise.
That concludes my outline of the main objectives of the Bill and the various proposals for their realisation. I am sorry that this introductory address has taken up so much time of the House but, in the context of such a long and complex piece of legislation, I was anxious to give Deputies a full picture of the proposals.
In my opinion, the Bill now before the House provides a sound basic framework for the conservation of wildlife in Ireland for the foreseeable future. I may say that its provisions reflect in many instances the outcome of worth-while and constructive discussions—which I had invited— between various interested voluntary organisations involved in game and wildlife conservation and officials of my Department. The Bill has also benefited from the very full debate which took place in the Seanad and to which I referred at the outset. If, however, the Bill can be improved or embellished further by our deliberations here, then by all means let this be done.
The Bill can hardly be regarded as controversial in the parliamentary sense of the term and I would hope that, when it has been fully debated by the House, an effective charter for wildlife conservation in this country will emerge.
I confidently recommend the Bill to the House and I shall welcome constructive suggestions from all sides of the House.