As I stated in my reply to Question No. 640 of 30 September 1998, the delay in transmitting a list of SAC sites to the EU Commission arose initially from the fact that the EU Habitats Directive was not transposed into national legislation until February 1997 and, subsequently, because the regulations provide all landowners and land users with an opportunity to object, on scientific grounds, to the inclusion of their lands in special areas of conservation.
An advisory appeals board, chaired by Mr. Michael Mills, which I have set up to examine scientific objections to the boundaries of these sites, will meet shortly to establish procedures which will be open and transparent. The board comprises representatives of the farming and conservation organisations and landowners and users. I regret that there has been a delay in getting the appeals hearings under way due to difficulties which I am attempting to resolve with staff interests in relation to certain organisational matters regarding the appeals process.
In the meantime, I have transmitted initial lists totalling 48 sites, for which no objections were received, to the EU Commission and will transmit other sites as the advisory appeals board completes its review of the objections received.
Although my Department has not yet complied with the requirement to transmit the list to Brussels, within the time frame set out in the directive, in practice practical and effective conservation is taking place on over 500,000 hectares of land included in the 207 publicly advertised sites and the non-transmission of the list has had no damaging conservation impact on these sites.