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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 May 2000

Vol. 519 No. 7

Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to again point out the disgraceful record of the Government and its predecessors. This is evidenced by the fact that only approximately 3% of our national territory is designated as special protection areas under the birds directive. This means that Ireland has the second lowest level of national territory covered by SPA protection in the EU. Accordingly, it may be too late for many species that are supposed to be protected under this legislation.

The Bill treats wildlife as many of the cruellest orphanages in the past treated many children, claiming that all was well when in fact, following investigation, we realise that the level of criminal neglect of their responsibilities is worthy of a tribunal. This issue is not only one of neglect but it involves enormous ignorance and wilful destruction of SPAs, NHAs, SACs, Ramsar sites and other areas. For example, guidelines exist to prevent local authorities cutting hedgerows all over the country from 1 April and 1 September. However, these guidelines are being flagrantly contravened. Hedges are shaven by operators sent out to cut grass. In my area in Fingal in north County Dublin, I challenged the local authority to account for this murderous activity. I was told the operators had forgotten about the guidelines but, after my intervention, they were to be reminded of them.

This points the finger at the Minister and her Department. Wildlife is depending on her – God help it – and local authorities need to be severely reprimanded and reminded now and not when the Bill is enacted to avoid further damage. The Minister must at least state her strong dissatisfaction with local authorities for not complying with the guidelines in relation to hedgerows and ensure that they regularly remind their operators of them. This should be done now because by the time the Bill is enacted, whenever that is, the season will be over and there will be more hedgerow mutilation.

While local authorities such as Fingal County Council appear to recognise that waterways are wildlife corridors, they have not mentioned that hedgerows are also a wildlife corridor. The potential of hedgerows as one of the last vestiges of afforestation and woodland habitat in Ireland is being wilfully destroyed by landowners and local authorities which are supposed to be State authorities and set an example to landowners. Given the Minister's role in terms of being in charge of the wildlife area, she has an acute responsibility which is being neglected. She should remind local authorities, before it is too late, that they have a responsibility to uphold the guidelines. I hope they will soon be law but, at present, they are being flagrantly disregarded.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The Bill provides statutory protection for natural heritage areas and strengthens the protective regime for special areas of conservation. I was a Member of the Dáil and the committee which considered the Wildlife Bill in 1976. At that time the Bill was dealt with by the committee but there were no division bells as such for some of the votes on amendments. It led to a situation where many of the Opposition amendments had to be accepted.

This Bill increases fines and also introduces prison sentences. While the 1976 Act was good, 24 years later it needs to be updated and strengthened and the Minister has done this in the Bill. There is much emphasis on the role of the farming community and, in the majority of cases, it is trying to protect the environment. As Deputy Sargent said, there is concern about the destruction of hedgerows. It is a matter of concern that the wildlife habitats of many species could be lost. The Minister said further restrictions on hedge cutting will apply from 1 April rather than 15 April each year.

Much good work has been done in the Shannon and east Galway region where farmers are prevented from harvesting crops at certain times of the year. For example, hay is cut later in the year and this has led to good benefits for the environment and wildlife. They are trying to preserve the corncrake in the area. It is important that the Minister and other Departments pay compensation because the cutting of crops has been delayed since the scheme was introduced. I welcome such schemes which encourage people to work together protecting the environment and promoting wildlife.

Another important issue with regard to the farming sector is the rural environment protection scheme. This scheme, in conjunction with the control of farmyard pollution scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme, has led to great improvements in the environment. The schemes have also helped wildlife promotion. This matter does not come within the Minister's remit but she may be able to take it up with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to improve the scheme. There is much red tape surrounding these schemes. The rural environment protection scheme suits small farmers but it does not suit large intensive operators. I hope there will be an announcement to resume and improve that scheme. It is not administered with consistency throughout the country. There are problems with commonage, split holdings, land boundaries, farm maps and land title. These problems should be addressed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Renewal.

I am concerned about section 50. It states that, when the Commissioners of Public Works undertake drainage, they should consult the Minister to take all practical steps in the interests of wildlife conservation to safeguard nature reserves, refuges and land subject to wildlife conservation management agreements. The section also extends provision to cover natural heritage areas. It also requires the commissioners to have regard to any drainage scheme which is likely or liable to affect or interfere with an important ecological area, even if such a scheme operates outside the area in question. This section is of concern to parts of the country which are subject to flooding. The Minister is familiar with the serious problems in south Galway for the past five years. Families have had to leave their homes, build new ones and have farm buildings relocated. It is not the first time we in south Galway have had this problem. I recall over the years talking about draining the Dunkellin river. Issues have arisen about the Turlough, the Raghasane and about the oyster beds. While nothing has been done about it, flooding has worsened in that area.

They are trying to send the water down to Clare.

Deputy Carey will be glad to know that £2.5 million is available for flood relief and I hope it will provide for remedial work. We are inclined to blame Europe and European directives for every problem. The representatives of the Council of the West have said that we should discuss European directives as they affect the common good. That should be examined in the case of flooding.

The situation in south Galway mirrors the question I asked about the River Shannon. I am glad we are discussing this at present at the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport. I hope the discussion on the Shannon authority will examine all issues concerning the Shannon, including the environment and wildlife. Farmers have for too long seen their crops being damaged and have seen bales of hay floating down rivers. I hope we can address the problems which affect them.

I understand that, under the Planning and Development Bill, one must have planning permission for certain activities, one of which is the cutting of turf. I understand the Minister stated that one can continue to cut turf for domestic purposes. This is an important provision. At the same time, it is important to conserve the bogs specified in legislation. People should not only conserve them, they should also make practical use of them, as has been done in County Offaly where there are bog trails, bog theme parks and a railway through the bogs of west Offaly. The same should apply to other bogs where conservation is taking place. Walkways, trails and even cycle lanes could be provided through some of those bog areas. This issue has been put to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, in my town of Mountbellew where people want to initiate such a development and which would be in keeping with the principle of conservation and promotion of wildlife.

Members have raised the question of wildlife dealing and this is also provided for in the Bill. We had to introduce special legislation some years ago to deal with hoteliers who advertised commercial shooting. Fishing and hunting is an important industry in the autumn which is often a quiet season in many towns and villages in rural Ireland. Nonetheless, there must be greater control on commercial shoot operators. Every year we hear of people who come into the country and shoot anything that flies. Songbirds can be game as far as they are concerned. People with camper vans come into the country, shoot willy nilly and bring quantities of fish stored in freezers back to the countries from which they came. Obviously they are not doing that without assistance from agents and middlemen. The Minister referred to this important issue. There should be regulations to control these operators, be they involved in shooting or fishing.

I welcome what has been said about the statutory protection of geological sites. We have many beautiful castles. Portumna Castle is an important one in my constituency. Funding has been allocated to it under various Governments and that is something which should continue. I refer especially to the ongoing work in the Wild Geese Library. This has links with Patrick Sarsfield's family and it has been promoted by one person in particular, Mr. Seán Ryan. I commend him on the work he is doing on our history and heritage. When we speak of the preservation of heritage and geological sites, we should also speak of the preservation of history and he has been promoting that.

Kilmacduagh cemetery is close to the Clare border and the Minister has visited it. A number of improvements need to be carried out to that cemetery, work on the entrance and the provision of toilets being just two. Athenry is famous for its walls and Athenry Castle is famous in song and story. My village of Castleblakeney is the home of the O'Kellys. Much of the history of that family has been preserved and I hope further work will be done in that area. The fáilte Uí Cheallaigh or the welcome of the O'Kellys is the warmest welcome one can get in any part of Ireland. That has been the feature of the history of the O'Kellys of Hymany.

A great deal of funding is available to the National Roads Authority for the development of the road network. One of the interesting projects is the Galway to Dublin dual carriageway. Constraint studies are being conducted by the NRA. People sometimes believe it is a matter of drawing a line between two towns or cities and saying that will be the route. We all know that one of the issues in this type of development is wildlife. We also know of the delays which occurred in Kildare and other parts of the country because of certain species of wildlife which were affected by road development. The studies on these developments should begin quickly.

When speaking about funding up to 2005 or 2006, one will not feel the time passing if planning does not start on time and constraint studies are not in place so that the obstacles are known immediately. This is an important issue from the point of view of wildlife and of moving people and goods quickly from one place to another. Bypasses used to be the bane of people's lives but they are now welcomed as a means of helping traffic to move more quickly. They do not take away from the business of a town or village. Bypasses along the Galway Dublin route, whether at Kinnegad, Lucan or Maynooth, mean that people and goods are brought more quickly from the west to the east and vice versa.

The Bill includes a provision to enable the Minister to act independently of forestry legislation. People in rural Ireland are concerned that there does not seem to be any need for planning permission for forestry development. We all know such developments are promoted beside housing estates and along the edges of rivers and lakes. The Government must make provisions to ensure there is proper planning for forestry. Planting should not be allowed within a specified distance of private residences or waterways. It is also insidious the way planting is taking place in stages over a number of years and small areas of acreage in the initial plans are being increased. This affects the farming community and people in the local areas. Will the Minister explain the section which states that she can act independently of forestry legislation? Are there other powers she will implement in the Bill?

We should also look at the effect of pollution in our waters. It is encouraging to see that the farming community and organisations such as the IFA, the ICMSA and Macra na Feirme have come together to promote our heritage and wildlife and to look after our environment. The gun clubs are also involved in conservation and preservation. They sometimes get bad publicity but they deserve our support.

Local authorities have been accused in the past of breaking the law. If they are involved in pollution, the same fines and prison sentences should apply to them as apply to everyone else. There seems to be different rules in local authorities about the continuation of hedgerows and when hedge cutting should take place. Now that the Minister has stated in the Bill that she will bring forward the date on which hedge cutting should stop, it should lead to more consistency among local authorities.

I welcome this legislation. It is 24 years since the last Wildlife Act was introduced. I wish the Minister well with it and I hope it will be passed as quickly as possible.

I welcome the opportunity afforded to me by this debate to suggest ways in which this long awaited Bill could and should curtail some of the appallingly cruel practices perpetrated against our wild and domesticated animals. The question is whether the political will exists to avail of this opportunity.

Cruelty to animals in the State is inextricably linked to our wildlife legislation. The Wildlife Act, 1976, provides the legal framework by which many cruel practices are permitted or facilitated. The Minister's argument that her statutory remit is specifically focused on conservation and that she has no such remit in relation to animal welfare is full of anomalies and does not stand up to close scrutiny. I do not wish to misrepresent the Minister, whom I respect, but if the provisions of the Wildlife Act, 1976, come within her remit it follows, as night follows day, that she has a clear responsibility to deal with cruel activities against animals and, by the nature of the legislation, has a remit beyond conservation.

We can take the example of the Ward Union Stag Hunt. In reply to Parliamentary Question No. 230 on 18 April 2000 the Minister openly admits there is no conservation concern at issue in this context. Yet she retains in the Bill the provision to issue licences to the Ward Union Stag Hunt. If she retains the provision to issue licences to hunt deer and if there is no conservation issue involved, the inescapable fact is that she has responsibility for the welfare of the animals concerned, in this case, the domesticated deer.

The Minister should at least accept the recommendations of the Heritage Council which advises that the status of the deer is of critical importance and, if accepted as domesticated, the provision to licence the hunt should be deleted. The Minister has persistently refused to answer if the deer are wild or tame domesticated animals and instead offers the bizarre statement that the Wildlife Act, 1976, does not refer to the status of the deer. The logical conclusion is that the Minister knows the Ward Union Stag Hunt deer are tame and that it is clearly in breach of the Protection of Animals Act to hunt them. Yet she persists in granting a licence to allow the Ward Union Stag Hunt to break the law.

The Minister should follow the precedent set in the North of Ireland where in 1997 the County Down Stag Hunt was outlawed because the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture ruled that the deer were tame and not wild and therefore the hunt was in breach of its welfare of animals Act. It seems the Minister wants to have it both ways. She accepts responsibility for issuing licences to groups of individuals to carry out prac tices which have nothing to do with conservation and which inflict unnecessary cruelty on animals, in this case, tame animals, but she will not accept responsibility for animal welfare.

My primary argument is that animal welfare issues are inextricably linked to this wildlife legislation. In contrast to the silence in this House on the issue of cruelty against wildlife, there is widespread disgust among urban and rural people at such cruelty and widespread support for the position I am putting forward. It is touching the Minister should have such interest in the fossilised tetrapod footprints, which are within her remit, found at Valentia in County Kerry, an interest I share. However, her concern does not appear to extend to living creatures, whether stags, hares or a variety of wildlife which will be lamped or torn asunder by packs of hounds rampaging over the countryside, courtesy of this Bill. I wish to refer specifically to a number of the important issues which could have been addressed in the Bill but which were either completely ignored or, in some instances, were intended to be but were not addressed because the Minister regrettably capitulated to certain vested interests. She is now intent on amending the legislation – at the behest of the hunting lobby – on Committee Stage in order to remove some of the most progressive of her initiatives.

The first matter to which I wish to refer is section 23 of the 1976 Act, as amended by section 31 of the 1999 Act. I thought that this country had made worthwhile progress following the introduction in 1993 of a Private Members' Bill in my name to amend the 1976 Act to ban live hare coursing. My Bill, which was defeated on Second Stage, was voted down on the basis that measures would be introduced to provide for the muzzling of greyhounds in order to ensure the elimination of the killing of hares, a protected and most gentle species of wild animal.

Since then, the practice of muzzling has, we are informed by the Irish Coursing Club, proved to be highly successful in every respect. I strongly dispute this claim in so far as timid hares continue to be cruelly taken from their wild and protected habitats and terrorised on the enclosed coursing fields, where some still die of shock or are injured in various ways. Cruel and barbaric as this practice remains, it is certainly a vast improvement on the sick spectacle of defenceless animals being torn apart by savage dogs for the entertainment and gratification of misguided people.

How has the Minister responded to this issue? Incredibly, she has left section 23(7), the original provision which deals with live hare coursing, intact. Section 23(7) states that "nothing in this section shall make unlawful" the taking and killing of hares by coursing at a regulated match or the hunting of hares by means of a pack of beagles or harriers. I hope the Minister will clarify her position on this issue.

Why was the opportunity not taken to update the law and bring it into line with the very limited progress that has been made in relation to the supposed introduction of muzzling and other welfare monitoring measures at coursing meetings? The fact that the regulations for muzzling provided for in the Greyhound Industry Amendment Act, 1993, were never introduced indicates that the Irish Coursing Club, not Dáil Éireann, is dictating the pace of change. In addition, other hunting interests have ensured that good measures proposed in this Bill will be reversed on Committee Stage.

If that is the way protected species of wildlife are provided for in the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, then what chance has the unfortunate fox which has no protection whatever? Apparently the fox is not recognised as a species of wildlife. That is very convenient for those who wish to inflict the most perverted cruelty on this much maligned and beautiful wild animal. Following another attempt to introduce a Private Members' Bill to ban fox hunting and to expose the hidden cruel activities of cub hunting, digging out and the use of terriers by terrier men, efforts were made to clean up the image of fox hunting by introducing another code of practice or some such arrangement agreed between the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Hunting Association of Ireland. This new arrangement, like the arrangement governing hare coursing, is not enshrined in legislation, despite the opportunity the Bill presents for doing so.

Section 43 of the Bill amends section 34 of the 1976 Act and quite rightly extends protection to all wild animals and prohibits the use of gas, smoke, chemicals, etc., in the hunting of wild animals. The Minister's remit is shown here to be as flexible as she wants it to be and it could be easily extended to introduce a new code of practice to prohibit the use of terriers, the digging out of foxes gone to ground during the course of a fox hunt or, if she wanted to be particularly radical, to introduce the muzzling of hounds participating in an organised fox hunt.

A number of further important aspects of the Bill have been highlighted by the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, of which I am national vice-president. While the council welcomes the outlawing of otter hunting, it draws attention to a loophole which needs to be addressed if the repeal of the section of the 1976 Act which had permitted otter hunting is to be effective. A statement by the Irish Council Against Blood Sports on otter hunting reads as follows:

The Wildlife Amendment Bill, 1999, proposes to repeal subsection (1)(i) of section 26 which will in effect outlaw otter hunting, which is a most welcome development, albeit that this was dictated by European Directive. The otter and its habitat has been designated Category 1 status, which means that it and its habitat should be strictly protected.

However, when otter hunting licences were suspended in 1990, following intensive campaigning by the Irish Council Against Blood

Sports and because of the above EU Directive, the four otter hunting packs operating in the Munster area promptly switched to mink hunting along the very same stretches of rivers occupied by otters. They then proceeded to hunt otters with impunity under the guise of hunting mink. The Irish Council Against Blood Sports acquired video footage [which it released recently] of a so-called mink hunt in 1993 which provides evidence of this loophole.

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports submits that outlawing otter hunting could prove to be ineffective if mink hunting with hounds is allowed to continue. To fully protect otters and their habitats in any meaningful and realistic way, and to properly comply with the EU Directive protecting otters and their habitats, mink hunting with hounds should be outlawed.

As an alternative to the form of mink hunting to which the statement refers, humane, modern traps are available in more progressive countries which can be used to catch mink.

Another aspect of the Bill which is of great concern to all opposed to cruelty to animals relates to the Minister's stated intention to amend her proposal which would have outlawed the practice of lamping which involves the use of a lamp at night to dazzle or blind an animal for the purpose of shooting it or making it easy to shoot. The Minister has indicated that she intends to outlaw this practice only in the case of protected species, despite the fact that it is already outlawed in so far as protected species are concerned. The Minister advised the Dáil that a strong case had been made for the control of certain pest species. However, the Irish Council Against Blood Sports revealed the truth, namely, that this strong case was made by the National Association of Registered Gun Clubs when the Minister addressed its conference in Ennis in October 1999. The gun clubs reported, in the Irish Shooters Digest, that the Minister had “pledged to change the proposals to come before the Dáil from her Department by withdrawing the specific proposal to ban the lamping of foxes.”

It is particularly disappointing that, after years of preparation, progressive measures in the Bill can so easily be reversed or removed at the behest of vested interests and gun clubs.

I presume there were very good reasons for that while the cruel practice of lamping or dazzling animals at night time, giving them no chance of escaping from so-called hunters, was being banned by the Bill. It is well known that this is the very practice used to poach protected wild deer and that the poachers, if challenged by the authorities, use the excuse that they were lamping foxes. I presume this is one of the reasons the Bill outlawed this practice altogether.

This excuse can be used for any night hunting of a protected species, thus rendering the Act almost impossible to enforce. As it took such a short time for a small lobby group outside this House to change the Minister's mind on a pro gressive initiative in her Bill, I hope she will reflect on what I, the Irish Council Against Blood Sports and other concerned people, have said about the good intentions behind her proposal. Perhaps she would consider her commitment to reverse that proposal prior to Committee Stage.

It is interesting to note that while the Bill had a lengthy gestation period of 15 years, it only took a few weeks of consultation and lobbying for some of its most significant provisions to be reversed. Section 51 is a prime example of that. The section was intended to make unlawful the bringing onto land without permission of ferrets, dogs, hounds and birds of prey for the purposes of hunting. This important provision would have given much needed protection to land owners plagued by fox hunters with packs of hounds, hindered illegal badger diggers and baiters with terriers and reduced the plague and upset caused by packs of hounds, lurchers and greyhounds. It would also have served to strengthen the hand of the National Parks and Wildlife Service personnel and the Garda in prosecuting hare hunting and badger baiting offences.

If we are to accept that nobody has the right to be on another person's land without permission, that provision should be applied to all manner of hunters in addition to those with guns, as is currently stipulated in the legislation. The Minister's intention to remove this new protection will facilitate trespassers with dogs, hounds, ferrets, birds of prey, etc., a strange position for the Minister with responsibility for wildlife protection to adopt. I strongly submit that in the interests of wildlife protection the provision, as drafted, should be retained.

Who dictates policy in regard to these cruel activities in this country? I suggest that the experience of this Bill, which is only on Second Stage, clearly indicates that it is not any process within this House which dictates policy, rather that it is the Hunting Association of Ireland, the National Association of Gun Clubs, the Irish Coursing Club and a motley group of other coursing clubs which have flouted the new regulations. In a reply to a parliamentary question on this subject, I learned that when some of those clubs flouted the regulations to which they had agreed and abused the animals in their care, the withdrawal of their licences was very quickly reversed. For example, members of the Kilcreevan-Ballymote club met with the Minister for a few minutes and she agreed to lift the penalties which had been imposed. That is the type of action which is dictating policy and disgracing this country on the European stage.

My primary concern is that we would attempt to eradicate some of the very cruel actions being perpetrated against animals in this country. Such practices are not acceptable in the 21st century. I am very disappointed that the initiatives in that regard contained in this long awaited Bill are now to be reversed on Committee Stage by the Mini ster at the behest of small vested interests which do not represent public concern in this country.

This Bill is an amendment to the 1976 Wildlife Act. I was a Member of the Seanad when the original Bill was introduced. The situation has worsened considerably in the 24 years since I last spoke on this legislation with additional wildlife species becoming extinct and endangered. Legislation is irrelevant if its provisions cannot be enforced. The stark reality is that we do not have such enforcement. Irrespective of what the Minister may say to me during Question Time in regard to the increase in the number of gamekeepers or wildlife rangers, we do not manage our wildlife population as it should be managed. That is disgraceful. The Bill is not worth the paper it is written on unless its provisions can be implemented and that is not happening.

I recall the late Dr. Noel Browne, who was also a Senator in 1976, screeching that we were the last of the European barbarians because of our cruelty to hares and other hunted wildlife species. Senator Willie O'Brien from west Limerick who subsequently became a Deputy replied to Dr. Browne saying: "I don't know what that fella is talking about. I live near Clounanna and the hares down there are fed on the best of grub. They are the best kept animals I ever saw, fattened and well cared for. Anyway, who ever expected to see a hare dying in a nursing home?" Incidentally, the annual Irish coursing festival is held in Clounanna. The two men had varying opinions on the matter but their hearts were in the right places. May God be good to them.

We are not protecting Irish wildlife. This Bill is meaningless. I hope somebody will come along in 24 years' time when I am dead and gone and contradict me by saying that the Bill was meaningful. If the Bill's provisions cannot be implemented, the Bill is of no significance whatsoever. With respect, the Minister is completely divorced from reality. Irish wildlife is being extinguished and diminished by the day and the Minister does not seem to be doing anything about it.

I have repeatedly told the Minister at Question Time that my county is a mirror image Ireland. It contains two mountain ranges and a great deal of moorland, and it has one wildlife ranger trying to supervise that. It would be funny if it was not so serious. How could one person supervise wildlife in that context?

May God be good to the Minister's grandfather, our fathers and grandparents. They got rid of British rule. Does the Minister know what the British did? For their own selfish gains, they protected wildlife in Ireland. The Comeragh Mountains near where I live had ten or 12 wildlife rangers. At the time they were called game-keepers or bailiffs. They ensured that the wildlife was preserved in order that the gentry could go out and shoot it.

At least they ensured that it was preserved. We allowed it to be extinguished. Where there was all sorts of wildlife, like woodcocks, partridges and grouse, now there is nothing. It is an ecological desert. If one walks to the top of the Comeragh Mountains one will not see any wildlife. We have overseen the demise of our heritage in that regard, and the Minister is the guardian of that. I do not believe she really cares. Perhaps she is not sufficiently informed.

I am not adopting the same line as Deputy Gregory. That is probably a populist way to pursue the matter, like somebody I mentioned previously here. I am concerned about the preservation of wildlife, not that it should be hunted down and killed but that it should be enjoyed.

This is the time of year when we all love to get out into the open spaces, particularly on a fine day, and look at the shrubbery growing in the month of May. Everything is in full bloom. One listens to the birds nesting and their young squabbling over a few bits and pieces of food. This is the most beautiful time of the year, and it is fitting that we should discuss this Bill today, but I do not think anybody cares. The House is empty for all practical purposes, the Press Gallery is empty and the Minister will not get one line in tomorrow's newspapers or one iota on "Oireachtas Report" on television or on the radio. Do we really care? We as a nation do not, but there is a number of very concerned individuals around the country. They might only form 10% of the population, but they are very concerned. I am one of them. I suppose it comes with age. The older we get, the more we realise how we are on the point of losing our inheritance or heritage, call it what you will.

I have an English newspaper, the Sunday Times of 7 May 2000, in my hand. The English were the people who highlighted this. The headline is: “Rare Birds Flying Swiftly to Extinction in Ireland”. That is only two weeks ago and that was reproduced in The Irish Times the other day. It is unbelievable. Many of the birds referred to in that article are not, by my estimation, rare at all. Who would have thought that the yellowhammer or the hen harrier were rare birds in Ireland? Those are the creatures with which we grew up and loved to see in our youth, but they have become rare. If the Minister cannot do something to arrest that decline, she has failed in her ministry. The barn owl, the only common owl in Ireland, is in danger of extinction.

A survey was conducted jointly by BirdWatch Ireland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Northern Ireland. They listed all these birds which are in danger of extinction. They listed a number of them which have become extinct, such as the cornbunting, but they go on to state that the barn owl and, would you believe, the skylark are in danger of becoming extinct. The number of yellowhammers, to which I referred earlier, has declined by 50% in recent years. This might give rise to hoots of derision and mirth, etc., but the cuckoo is on the way out also. Has the Minister heard it this year? Did she hear it last year or when did she last hear it? It is, to paraphrase an expression which was used by a former colleague of mine many years ago, a thundering disgrace that we stand idly by and allow these absolute gifts to humanity become extinct in Ireland.

I do not know if the Minister ever saw a chough. One would say for all intents and purposes that it was a crow or, on closer examination, one might say it was a jackdaw. They live on the edge of the coast. We get them on the cliffs in County Waterford, and they are called after their peculiar cry – it is a chug. The report to which I refer states that there are only four pairs of choughs in existence in Northern Ireland. I would not be surprised if the number here were quite low also. I have not heard one for quite a long time because if you heard one, you would not forget it for a while.

It is unbelievable. We over emphasise the fact that we have resurrected the corncrake population because the corncrake is such a distinctive species. One cannot help noticing the presence of the corncrake because of its distinctive noise and appearance. I remember being in Creeslough, in north Donegal for a by-election campaign about 18 or 19 years ago and hearing the corncrake. It brought me back virtually another 39 years to when I was a child because in my part of the country, where farming methods are modern, the corncrakes had become extinct. There is too much time spent congratulating ourselves that we have created a little oasis on the River Shannon, in north Donegal or in north Mayo to preserve and encourage the breeding of the corncrake. It is just one species, but I am talking about a plethora of species which are in danger of extinction or are extinct.

I see where there is a proposal to bring back the golden eagle, which was last seen in Ireland in 1912. It is to be reintroduced from Scotland to Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal. The reintroduction of such a species, like the preservation of the corncrake, is something of an ego trip. Why can we not preserve the birds and animals with which we grew up? On previous occasions I have advised the Minister to hold a census of every species and to identify the location of each. This has been done in Europe and in Great Britain and is essential if the problem is to be accurately identified. Were it not for voluntary groups such as Birdwatch Ireland we would know nothing of what is happening to our wildlife. Organisations of that sort do some surveys but a more exact census is required. This census could be carried out in conjunction with national and second level schools. The help of pupils could be enlisted and the information could be transmitted to the appropriate body by the teachers. We are only guessing at the moment and we need this information.

The rural environment protection scheme which is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is a charade. People who benefit from the scheme mean well but the scheme is applied on a hit and miss basis. No one will convince me that it preserves wildlife. When I drive around the country I see wetlands being drained, hedgerows being demolished and the natural habitats of our wildlife being destroyed. I am told that measures are being taken to preserve wildlife. That is a contradiction and a falsehood.

Has the Minister done any research into the use of pesticides and insecticides and their impact on the wildlife population? I have no doubt that the use of these substances is the basic reason for the decline in our wildlife population. Is there any co-ordination between the Minister's Department and the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Environment and Local Government? I do not believe there is. If one were to speak to the Ministers concerned I do not believe they would know what one was talking about. We are presiding over the demise of wildlife in this country.

In her opening statement the Minister referred to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna which was introduced in 1973 and is so far removed from reality that it is unbelievable. The species covered by the convention include tigers, parrots, snakes, cacti, pitcher plants – whatever they are – and ivory and coral. It provides for a strict regime on the import, export and re-export of endangered species. This convention is irrelevant to the wildlife which exists or did exist in this country. I see numerous parrots, primarily on the front benches of the House but the only tiger I ever heard of in this country is the Celtic tiger of our economy, outside of Duffy's and Fossett's circuses.

Would the Deputy describe himself as one?

I can claw and fight and I hope I will leave a mark. I hope my descendants will not come here in 24 years time and tell people that nothing has been done. I can only do my best. The Minister is a rare bird herself. She is a female de Valera. I have not seen or heard of one in many years. She is already as rare as the corncrake in County Waterford. It is extinct, which the de Valeras are not yet.

Does the Deputy wish that for me?

This Bill will not be worth a tráinín unless it can be implemented and I have seen no indication that the Minister has the will to do that. I hope that observation is not hurtful to her. Actions speak louder than words. I wait to see action.

(Dublin West): It is critically important to have effective legal protection of wild plants, wild creatures and their habitats. It is particularly important to have effective legal pro tection in the context of developments in the modern capitalist economy. If it were allowed, many developers would think nothing of riding roughshod over the natural habitats of animals, birds, insects and plants, as some rode roughshod over considerations of proper planning and the wishes of ordinary people and their communities in the corruption scandals in Dublin County Council in the 1980s and 1990s which I had the displeasure of witnessing and fighting against, and some of the worst excesses of which I was able to stop.

When people who are concerned about our natural heritage raise concerns about a proposed development which may destroy a unique species of wildlife, ignoramuses joke about progress being held up for a snail, a frog or some obscure creature. Occasionally sections of the media join in also. Those people should think again. We should remember that each living species is the product of millions of years of evolution. They are the culmination of eons of time in the struggle for survival, suffering toil and tragedy since the time millions of years ago when life most likely crawled in some form from the primeval seas. When we talk about the destruction of a species, we are talking about creatures that have a heritage of tens of millions of years, that have shared this earth with human beings for millions of years and which predated human beings in many cases. Therefore, it is only the ignoramuses and the yahoos who will take a position of lightly joking about the destruction of a species whether an animal, a plant or an insect, in order to allow some capitalist so-called entrepreneur make a killing from whatever development is in question.

Profit hungry capitalism is a greedy and voracious entity and, in most cases, cares little about the natural heritage of this country or the world. This Government is now embarking on a national development plan with somewhere in the region of £45 billion proposed to be spent over the next five or seven years. We will see new so-called growth centres, vast new roads and dual carriageways and many new developments. Unquestionably, some of the people who stand to make a killing from this development plan, including contractors, developers and some landowners, will care little about the impact this may have on wildlife and the natural habitats which may be destroyed to make way for these developments. There is a serious onus on the Department to ensure strict measures are in place to protect and conserve the wildlife and habitats which would be affected by such developments.

The destruction of species worldwide in recent decades has been truly horrifying. We are talking about irreplaceable wildlife. In the Amazon basin, as we know, rain forests equivalent in area to Munster were cut and burned each year until recently. Here dwells one tenth of the world's plant and animal species and hundreds have been identified as being under threat. Hundreds, if not thousands, of unique species have most likely been destroyed in the destruction of the Amazon and other rain forests. Even the mahogany tree is listed as one of those now threatened.

We are talking about an area of the world which is, because of its climate, perhaps more rich and more intensively populated in terms of wildlife and various species and where, for example, up to 40 species of ant can exist in one tree. It shows the capacity for the destruction of a whole swathe of the world's heritage of wildlife by the unthinking and greedy impetus of the multi-national companies and, in the case of the Amazon, the Brazilian companies which care not about the indigent people or the wildlife.

The World Conservation Monitoring Centre lists a number of creatures, including the red squirrel and the lesser horseshoe bat, as being threatened worldwide. These creatures are found in Ireland and, therefore, there is a serious onus on this country to do its share, and stringently, to ensure these creatures survive. Anyone who grew up in rural Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s mourns the virtual extinction of the corncrake, a bird whose call was as familiar to us as most other things in life. It was a familiar harbinger of spring and summer. In most areas of the country it is no longer to be heard. That is an enormous loss to all of us but to young people in particular, who may never hear what was a unique species of wildlife.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999, in so far as it increases protection of wildlife, is welcome. Providing statutory protection to natural heritage areas and strengthening the protection of special areas of conservation are aims and objectives with which we would all agree. In view of some recent controversies, we need to think long and hard about the attitude of various bureaucracies to these areas. The episode involving the Glen of the Downs, for example, was a particularly shameful one in the history of the protection of wildlife in this country. Some of the natural heritage was unnecessarily put at risk, including the aged oaks, and other aspects of wildlife were encroached upon for the sake of bringing traffic a few seconds more quickly to the already traffic-glutted capital.

The Minister and the framers of the legislation should listen very carefully to the submissions made by groups which have for many years been campaigning to protect and preserve the wildlife of this country. The Irish Council Against Blood Sports has made some very relevant and important submissions and they should be taken on board. They have been outlined by some Deputies already. There is no reason or excuse for night hunting which should be banned out of hand. It is amazing that the Minister does not propose an outright ban on stag hunting. It defies belief that people can breed a stag in captivity and at a certain time bring it to an appointed place and set it loose set free to be harassed and harried by dogs and humans alike. That is an incredible scenario and it is a minority of retrogrades who would have anything to do with such a so-called sport. It is the perversion of sport; it is not a sport and it should be banned outright. There is still an opportunity to do that.

I have heard that the Minister is conducting a review of whether hunting should be allowed in State-owned lands and national parks. The State-owned national parks should be areas of conservation where hunting should not be allowed, where creatures should be allowed to exist in peace and where the only communion between humans and nature would be in peaceful coexistence. That should be taken into account.

I agree also with the Irish Council Against Bloodsports that the otter hunting ban must be further copperfastened by an extension of the legislation and of protection. They have pointed out how mink hunting can be used as a cover for otter hunting and even if it were not, that it can significantly disturb the habitat of the otter. This is a very strong case for further measures to be taken by the Minister in this regard; the same could apply to hare coursing. I remember as a child the awful spectacle of live hare coursing, the trauma and suffering of these creatures as they were torn asunder literally and I can still hear those awful squeals. That the dogs are now muzzled is only a slight amelioration of the terror imposed on these wild creatures. I do not see why it should be maintained.

I would like the Minister to examine the question of licences. Perhaps on Committee Stage, it could be further outlined that what is being proposed in the legislation is licences to photograph certain kinds of wild creatures and also licences to keep certain kinds of wild creatures. Anything that protects, preserves and roots out illegal trading in protected species is to be welcomed but one has to have a balance, and not compromise it in any sense, but one should also not be unduly bureaucratic regarding the photography issue. Further guidelines should be outlined as to what exactly is meant by that. It is a representation that has been made again, I think, by the Irish Council Against Bloodsports. The Minister should discuss that issue further with them.

The Irish Wildlife Trust has also made a valuable submission to the Bill which should be taken into account, particularly the question of consultation with conservation organisations regarding the areas that would be designated as natural heritage areas, which should be taken seriously and included in section 16. There are many groups who take a great interest and have a great knowledge and expertise in wildlife, the conservation of wildlife and the natural heritage. They should be more involved. There are other valuable recommendations made which the Minister should take seriously.

I am very concerned about a new development within our ecosystems and environment, that is the genetic engineering of plants and crops that American multinationals are attempting to foist on this country and on Europe generally. This represents a potentially very grave threat to our wildlife. We have multinational companies who presume to interfere with the very heart of life, the genetic code of life, to insert poisons through the genes into crops and plants, to poison, for example, insects. The consequences for our natural habitats are incalculable. It would be criminal to allow these people and these companies, after a few years of experiments in a laboratory, to bring into the wild, in effect, new species, which have been perverted for profit in the laboratory and which have a very severe follow-on effect on the chain of life where the insects that are poisoned can poison the birds and so on along the chain. This is not provided for and I still have to study the Bill fully. This is a very complex and large Bill but I do not see this provided for.

I reluctantly remind the Deputy that he has two minutes remaining.

(Dublin West): Caithfear caomhnú dúlra agus dúchais nádúrtha na tíre seo a chur ar bhonn rí-thréan. Tá oidhreacht saibhir fós sa tír seo ach tá sí faoi bhrú uafásach. Tá dreamanna áirithe gur chuma leo faoi sin agus atá toilteanach brabús a chur roimh caomhnú nádúr na tíre. Tá sé soiléir ó fhilíocht agus ó amhráin traidisiúnta na tíre go raibh cion faoi leith ag gnáth-mhuintir na tíre seo leis an ndúlra le blianta fada. Tá sin ráite acu i bhfocla na bhfilí agus na n-amhránaithe. Dá mbeadh an t-am agam d'fhéadfainn focla cúpla amhrán a chur os comhair na Dála a chuirfeadh sin in iúl, focla a thagann chugainn o na céadta blianta í shin. Léifidh mé cúpla líne mar shampla chun deireadh a chur leis an méid atá le rá agam ón dán iontach sin le Brian Merriman, Cúirt an Mheán Oíche. Deir sé gur ghnáth leis a bheith

"ag siúl le ciumhais na habhann

ar bháinseach úr is an drúcht go trom".

Agus ansin d'fhéachfadh duine "tamall thar bharra na gcrann

ar lachain ina scuainte ar chuan gan cheo

is an eala ar a bhfuaid is í ag gluaiseacht leo;

na héisc le meidhir ag éirí in airde,

péirse im radharc go taibhseach tarrbhreac,

dath an locha agus gorm na dtonn

ag teacht go tolgach torannach trom".

Taispeánann sin go raibh cion thar cuimse ag gnáth dhaoine agus ag filí na tíre seo ar an ndúlra agus go bhfuil de dhualgas anois ar an nglúin seo, ar an rialtas seo agus ar an Dáil seo go dtabharfaí gach tacaíocht chun an dúlra agus an dúchas seo a chaomhnú dúinn féin agus do na daoine atá ag teacht in ar ndiaidh.

I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking on this Bill and I would like to compliment the Minister on bringing it forward after a long period of deliberation and consultation. It is rather complex legislation and it is important that this debate takes place. The quicker the Bill goes to Committee Stage the better, to facilitate everyone concerned. It is just the beginning. This matter has been neglected and by introducing this Bill, the Minister must take some credit for putting it on the agenda. I listened over the monitor to an excellent speech by Deputy Deasy. He was rather over-critical of the Minister because we must all share some of the responsibility for ignoring this very critical area of our heritage, environment and our ecosystem.

Some of us may have taught in the past as I did. I was a geography and environmental studies teacher and I preached this gospel to my pupils whenever I had the opportunity. I pointed out to them that the land reclamation taking place down the road, which I showed them, was destroying important habitats and that the money we were receiving from Europe at that time was destructive in the sense of the unnecessary removal of hedgerows and earthen works and so on. Unfortunately, no one cried stop. It was done in the name of progress. Trees were removed unnecessarily and some of our native species that took years to develop were removed in seconds by bulldozers. It is regrettable that that policy prevailed in the 1970s and 1980s. It is only now people have come to regret it and have seen the folly of what was done at that time. It is ironic that the REP scheme is trying to undo the damage done at that time. The attitude towards and policy on conservation in Europe has changed. Programmes that emanate from Europe contain an environmental proofing clause providing that they must take account of environmental considerations. That is only right.

When I was a Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture I had responsibility for the REP scheme. I enthusiastically embraced that responsibility because I recognised its value. Deputy Deasy more or less implied it was a failure. It does not cover all of Ireland. Approximately 40,000 farmers participate in it and they are helping to protect the environment. It is unfortunate that it does not cover all farm land.

The introduction of the REP scheme encouraged farmers to protect their environment. Its principal philosophy is environmental sustainability. Those who participate in it are rewarded. If we are serious about protecting the environment, we need to give people incentives to protect it.

When I was Minister of State in the Deputy of Agriculture I set up a consultancy group, which included various interest groups, including officials from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the Irish Wildbird Conservancy and all bone fide non-governmental organisations with an interest in the environment and wildlife. That consultancy group enhanced the quality of the REP scheme. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, my successor did not consider it worthwhile to keep that group in place and its members were disappointed. I will discuss that matter with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and probably table a question on it to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. This issue is not confined only to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, it embraces several Departments.

In September 1998 I introduced a landscape policy which I dealt with extensively when the Planning and Development Bill was debated here. There is a major overlap between the provisions of the Bill before us and the Planning and Development Bill and I am sure many other Bills that will be introduced. There is a need for a national landscape policy. Many of the provisions proposed in this Bill and in the Planning and Development Bill are contained in my landscape policy proposal. That proposal referred to the inadequate provision of parks and sensitively designed green spaces within our urban landscape. We seem to forget that environmental protection is as important in urban areas as it is in rural areas. Important habitats in urban areas are being destroyed. Deputy Deasy referred to the threat to the owl's habitat and I agree with him. Urban areas have a number of important habitats. The wholesale development of urban areas has undoubtedly contributed to the extinction of many of those habitats.

I walk the Kerry hills on a regular basis with the local walking club and I have observed that overgrazing and poor pasture management has led to the erosion and destruction of upland regions. There has been a major decline in the number of animal and bird species on our hills and as time passes those numbers will decline further.

The landscape policy proposal also referred to the impact of the change in the management of our hedgerows in the wake of more intensive agricultural practices, which is also referred to in the Bill. That proposal also referred to the general loss of biodiversity in our flora and fauna and the specific loss of wildlife habitats throughout the landscape. A stronger measure than this Bill is required to protect our landscape, which is critical.

I welcome the many positive aspects of the Bill. I welcome the provision for statutory protection of natural heritage areas, the clarification of the full protection of special areas of conservation from the date of notification, the control of trading and collection of flora and fauna to enable Ireland to ratify the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the measure to incorporate the protection of fish species. I also welcome the provisions to statutorily protect sites of geological interest, to tighten up the issuing of licences to tourist shooters and to increase penalties for breaches of the Wildlife Acts. There should not be any diminution of those provisions on Committee Stage, rather they should be strengthened if possible.

Aspects of the Bill could be improved to afford more effective protection of our heritage. The Minister may have heard of some of the improvements I propose from the various interest groups. There is a need for a process of statutory referral and independent arbitration in this area. That has been emphasised by the Heritage Council. Concern has been expressed that the importance of nature conservation is not given due recognition in the planning legislation and in the planning process. To address this deficiency, there is a pressing need to establish a statutory system of referral between planning authorities and Dúchas in respect of applications for planning permission within NHAs and SACs. Applications for planning permission for developments proposed in a designate site should be referred to Dúchas for its recommendation. Dúchas is obliged to respond to all such referrals and planning permission must not be granted by a planning authority until a recommendation has been received. If a planning authority decides to grant planning permission where Dúchas has recommended against it, the case should be automatically referred to An Bord Pleanála due to the nature of these particular applications. That is not the case at present. An Bord Pleanála should be instructed to adjudicate expeditiously on such cases. An Bord Pleanála can decide on the case from a national perspective, given the NHAs and SACs are sites of national importance and, if necessary, recommend an alternative site for a proposed development. That Minister might discuss that proposal with her officials.

It is also necessary to ensure Departments, State agencies and local authorities come within the remit of the Bill. The general thrust of the Bill is heavily weighted towards placing restrictions on farmers while other sectors are largely exempt from the provisions of the Act, as it appears to depend on self-regulation of Departments, State agencies and local authorities. Of particular concern to a number of people is the exclusion of development by local authorities, which is not an exempted development for the purpose of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 to 1993, from the definition of works in relation to natural heritage areas. I ask the Minister to comment on that point. All works or developments by Departments, State agencies and local authorities in designated sites should be subject to the statutory referral and independent arbitration process I outlined. If there is a problem they should be referred also to An Bord Pleanála. This is an important aspect of the Bill and one which the Minister should try to include in some form on Committee Stage.

Placing natural heritage areas on a statutory basis is a welcome development. However, the designation of sites should be recognised as only a means towards an end. The production of management plans for all sites designated for natural conservation is essential if their management is to be effective. For this reason the production of management plans for natural heritage areas should be a statutory requirement. I refer in passing to a committee, of which I am member in Kerry County Council, the Barrow, Banna, Bal lyheigue working group. The Barrow, Banna. Ballyheigue dune system and coastal area management working group was established as an initiative of Kerry County Council in September 1999. It consists of representatives from local environmental organisations, Dúchas, elected representatives, executives of Kerry County Council and is chaired by the director of community enterprise and Kerry County Council. The primary objective of this working group is to consider the overall coastal area management and dune system represented and defined by the recently published Dúchas SAC management plan. In particular, the group will focus on initiatives which could be undertaken to heighten the awareness of this area as an important environmental resource. Specific consideration is being given to programmes to be funded by LIFE or other initiatives. This model could be replicated around the country.

I take this opportunity to refer to Banna Strand and its sand dunes. I corresponded with the Minister's Department on a number of occasions and pointed out the seriousness of the destruction of sand dunes in Banna. I pointed out that what was done there by a developer was potentially explosive and the damage has not been undone. I will give a brief summary of what happened. During March 1998 three to four acres of sand dunes were levelled and destroyed on the coastline at Banna Strand. Part of this site may have enjoyed planning permission in the past but one acre, containing sand dunes, which was outside the bounds of planning was levelled. Most of this site has been designated for special protection and conservation status. The area destroyed outside the bounds of planning was designated a prime special amenity area by Kerry County Council. Since this demolished site could no longer sustain development, Kerry County Council revoked the licence prohibiting the use of the site as a caravan park. Unfortunately, since then other breaches of planning have taken place at this site, including the laying of sewer pipes. All of this development was unauthorised. There is also an obstruction on a right-of-way.

In this case the developer gave a commitment to restore the dunes to their former formation but the site has not been restored properly. Recently slurry was spread on the grass sown there. The whole area is mismanaged. Will the Minister make inquiries about this area? From a European perspective it would reflect poorly on Kerry County Council, Dúchas and on all of us if people looked at the site and saw what has happened there.

I referred earlier to the lack of positive incentives for wildlife protection. The rural environment protection scheme gave incentives and promoted environmental awareness and responsibility but it also compensated the farmers.

The majority of the Bill is concerned with outlining the restrictions and prohibitions necessary to protect Ireland's wildlife. I have expressed my concerns and reservations about this approach. The protection of Ireland's wildlife can only be achieved if there is a balanced approach between restrictions and incentives, as in the case of REPS. The Bill should incorporate some positive incentives to achieve nature conservation objectives. This could most easily be achieved through making provision for the Minister to outline a series of desirable management measures for SACs and NHAs and linking them to other policy initiatives, for example, the integrated rural development policy of the recently agreed CAP reform package. If possible, perhaps the Minister would link in management plans of SACs and NHAs, whether total plans for the whole areas or individual plans for stakeholders in those areas, with the next integrated rural development programme.

There is a period within which hedgerow cutting is not allowed. Given that many birds commence breeding earlier in Ireland than elsewhere, hedgerow cutting should be prohibited from 1 March rather than 1 April as proposed. In the event of a mild spring, birds nest earlier as was the case this year. They react to the weather and the temperature. I propose that such cutting be prohibited from 1 March. I suggest the Minister look at the maximum penalty for breaches of the law in this area.

While the amendments I propose would enhance the area of the country formerly designated for its nature conservation value, there does not appear to have been any assessment of the resources and management structures needed to implement this legislation. Deputy Deasy referred to this matter. Dúchas, the heritage service, has great difficulty in meeting its responsibilities under the EU Natural Habitats Regulation 1997 and the failure to identify the requirements necessary to deliver on the additional responsibilities in relation to NHAs is a serious weakness. Enacting legislation in the absence of an assessment of the resources and management structures needed for the effective implementation of the legislation is unlikely to lead to a substantial benefit for Irish heritage. The case has been made for implementation and the provision of resources.

The cornbunting which was in the south-east is now officially extinct. Other species are also extinct.

I am pleased the Minister has brought forward this important Bill. It is unfortunate that more Deputies are not interested in the Bill but this may be through a lack of awareness. For those of us who are interested it is important that we assist the Minister in every way possible. I hope she can take some of our suggestions on board.

While I do not wish to delay the passage of the Bill I will make a few brief comments. I compliment the Minister on bringing the Bill forward. There has been a long delay in drafting the legislation. Deputy Michael Kitt spoke about being involved with the committee in 1974- 75 when a former Ceann Comhairle, Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick, was Minister for Lands. I too was a member of that committee. Even before that legislation was passed there were indications that substantial areas in need of attention were not dealt with in the Act. Even though the Bill has taken a long time it is welcome and will be debated more fully on Committee Stage.

I had the opportunity in the 1980s to look at the way in which the Departments which had responsibility for fisheries and forestry were structured and to identify the policy that ought to be followed in the changed circumstances 50 years after their establishment. It was apparent that there was much duplication and overlapping and that there was a necessity to identify ways in which matters could be dealt with more efficiently.

In opposition we published a policy document which provided for the establishment of a Department of the Marine – Roinn na Mara – and identified ways in which maritime industries ought to be developed. Unfortunately we did not follow through fully on it in government for political reasons. It was proposed, for example, that the Department of Tourism should have responsibility for inland fisheries but that was never done. They remained under my responsibility in the Department of the Marine. When they come to write my obituary it will be said that I was the famous Minister who introduced the fishing licence. If the policy I had devised had been followed, that would never have happened as inland fisheries would have come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Tourism.

When the policy on forestry was looked at, little or no consideration was given to where the wildlife section of the old Department of Lands and Forestry should be located, following the reorganisation of the Department and the establishment of a semi-State body, Coillte, to develop and exploit the potential of the timber business – it is doing so successfully – as suggested in our policy document. It was left in a vacuum and in an effort to find a solution it was tagged on to the Office of Public Works. There have been further changes since, following the establishment of Dúchas.

I expressed the view at the time that there was a necessity to establish a countryside commission similar to the one established in the United Kingdom which would have responsibility for the conservation and management of wildlife, some fisheries and related activities, but this has not been done. Part of the reason the Bill was delayed for so long was that there was no clear policy on who should be given this mandate. There are references throughout the Bill to the necessity for the Minister to consult other Ministers. She will have to consult, for example, the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works in respect of arterial drainage and related matters.

I have no wish to delay the Bill unduly, which can be passed speedily through both Houses, but this is an opportune time to look at ways in which it might be possible to remedy some of the policy defects which have been apparent for ten to 15 years following the establishment of Roinn na Mara and Coillte. Some of the important matters with which they have to deal should be the responsibility of a separate semi-State body such as a countryside commission or similar authority.

There are references throughout the Bill to the payment of compensation, the organisation of SACs and the necessity to put arbitration and appeal mechanisms in place, matters which will draw the Minister unnecessarily into areas which should be the responsibility of a local body. I have been drafting legislation for a long time but there are sections which I find difficult to understand. Deputy Donal Carey who is a mathematician will require the assistance of others in calculating the compensation to be paid in cases where permission is refused in special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas.

So far as possible the Bill should be operated at local level. I fail to understand why the Department would want to be drawn into complicated and complex arbitration arrangements for resolving issues which should be the responsibility of a local organisation, of which there are many, including regional fisheries boards and regional authorities. It will be difficult to secure satisfactory decisions by way of such arrangements.

I would like to see local and planning authorities having some responsibility in relation to some provisions of the Bill. While an arbitration mechanism will be put in place, some of the Acts in question are antiquated and not up to speed with what is happening in the country. There have been changes to planning law, for example. They predate the establishment of bodies such as An Bord Pleanála. There have also been developments in the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

This is an opportune time to look at policy and decide whether the time has come to establish a separate semi-State body such as a countryside commission to deal with these complex matters which would be more visible and acceptable to local communities. As the Minister is well aware, because of EU directives small farmers will no longer be able to operate in the Burren in north Clare. While there have been negotiations to resolve the matter, many farmers are very unhappy about some of the conditions attached to special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas and are of the view that their livelihoods are under threat. We must try to avoid this. While there is a need to protect the environment and support the views expressed by Deputy Deasy and others, there is also a need to keep in mind that the communities in these areas also have to live. We do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I am amazed that so much emphasis is being placed on EU directives. For God's sake, they would blast one out of it in Europe. They shoot at everything. Visitors to this country from Spain and other countries in Europe have shot blackbirds and finches. The wildlife population here is far healthier than that in many other member states of the European Union from which we do not need strictures or directions. They have made a hash of it and have some work to do to clean up their act. We listened to environmental programmes on radio in recent weeks where people went to national parks and other areas to hear the dawn chorus which was louder and healthier this year than for many years. I have been told by people in west Clare that there are significant numbers of goldfinches to be seen which has not been the case for four or five years. There are cycles in wildlife as with salmon. The Shannon salmon disappeared but, thankfully, it is starting to reappear. There was a pretty good season last year and, I hope, we will get back to the kind of catches landed 50 or 60 years ago.

I do not believe the damage to the wildlife population is as significant as has been suggested. Nevertheless, this Bill provides an opportunity to put forward suggestions as to how we should look at this area in the future. There is a need to give detailed responsibility for the management, preservation and conservation of wildlife to a semi–

State or other agency, under the aegis of the Department. Such a body would be able to consult other Departments so that the Minister and other Ministers would not have to keep in regular communication regarding complaints that action is not being taken to deal with problems. I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister for expediting it through the House.

There are significant economic issues concerning wildlife. An estimated 300,000 people take part in field sports and there is a keen interest in national parks and the species to be found in them. Deputy Daly referred to the countryside commission in the UK and there is a need for a similar body in this country. Coiste na Tuaithe would probably be the Irish name for such a body, but it should be established to allow for sustainable wildlife development.

The development of wildlife has been a hit and miss affair. Voluntary groups play a significant role. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and UCD produced a report in 1995 which examined the economic significance of field and country sports. This report was updated in 1998 by the Irish Field and Country Sports Society. The report does not cover all sports but updates figures to take account of inflation and deals with the major sports of fox hunting, harriers, pony clubs, coursing, shooting, beagling and deer hunting.

I do not know whether NGOs or the Irish Field and Country Sports Society were consulted about the Bill but there is a need for on-going consultation. Difficulties can arise. For example, I recently came across about 12 deer in the middle of the road at the bottom of Dromoland Hill. The animals were quite startled because a new road is being constructed across their natural run. Earth had been pilled high during the construction of this new road so the animals were standing in the middle of a national primary route and they could have been mowed down.

I am not suggesting that anything can be done about this during road development. However, I am disappointed that the National Roads Authority does not seem to make any provision for deer crossings. The Great Southern and Great Northern Railways constructed wildlife bridges in the rail system but if one raises this issue with the NRA it replies by mentioning the cost of such measures. This is one of the few remaining herds of deer in County Clare. There are wild goats on the Burren and quite a variety of wildlife in the county. Deputy Daly rightly stated that County Clare is not badly off in terms of wildlife. However, the NRA should consider and make some contribution to sustainable heritage when national primary routes are being developed.

Work on the national primary route into Ennis was held up because of a rare species of bat.

The lesser horseshoe bat.

I do not understand this because these bats were disturbed a number of times. The route was from Ballybeg to Clareabbey, which will cross the new route. People complained about this but bats will find their own safe haven. If they do not feel safe or are disturbed they will just leave. Bats are very protective of themselves. Zoologists and others probably know more about the habits of bats than I do, but local knowledge is also valuable. Deputy Daly is right to suggest that each county council should have a wildlife and heritage committee. Engineers undertaking developments have to take cognisance of these issues. They need not cause significant delays as people are busy and are anxious to get on with their tasks. However, issues such as this seem to be put on the long finger and more local input would be very valuable.

The Minister received much correspondence from the masters of foxhound associations and so on regarding section 51 of the Bill. In her speech she said she was examining this issue. Is she proposing to delete the section or what is the situation? I was present in the House for Question Time when she said she was going to make changes, but I thought she was referring to the offences. People are seeking clarification on this issue.

By and large I am pleased the Bill has come before the House. We will have an opportunity to further debate it on Committee Stage, giving us a better understanding of wildlife and how it is viewed by the Department. I commend Esso, the oil company, for its wildlife challenge which is an all-Ireland scheme. I do not know if the Department has any input to it. Some of the competitions were won by schools in the North of Ireland and fourth and fifth classes in the Republic and the equivalent grades in the North can participate. There have been some wonderful winners, including Ballycahill national school in Thurles, County Tipperary, which won it for a postcard about forestry recently. Over 4,000 schools took up the Esso challenge that year.

Has the Department considered helping the Esso challenge to expand by designating the type of species it wants to emphasise in a particular year? Rare species are disappearing and reappearing because of the major works on roads and housing that are taking pace. Perhaps work could be carried out on this aspect in relation to, for example, a particular species of bird. It is nice that a major corporation such as Esso is investing in the scheme and perhaps the Department could encourage more companies to get involved in educating young people in school about the value of our heritage and wildlife.

I thank all those who took part in the debate. All the contributions were worthwhile and a number of suggestions were put forward that I look forward to dealing with in more detail on Committee Stage. This legislation is extremely important. As Members on all sides acknowledged, we have been waiting for some time for its introduction. It is a complex and lengthy Bill and I did my best to ensure that it is balanced and measured. To ensure balance was to the forefront, I took great care to ensure there was ongoing consultation with all the groups who sought it. I met some of those groups, particularly a number of the NGOs, and my officials were in constant contact with the various groups as the legislation was drawn up.

Some Deputies tried to suggest that I was only prepared to listen to some lobbyists on certain issues with regard to the Bill. However, that is inaccurate. The usual process in drawing up legislation is wide consultation on all the various issues. The Minister then assesses those contributions and he or she either agrees or disagrees with them or puts forward amended versions of them. However, ultimately, the Houses of the Oireachtas make decisions regarding the legislation put before them. Members have an opportunity on Committee Stage to put forward amendments. I also intend to table amendments, which is the right of a Minister introducing legislation.

I hope that during the consultation process I looked at matters in a positive way. I did my best to reach consensus on various issues where there was a logical approach to them. However, obviously, it was not possible to reach agreement or consensus on every issue. I could not concur with some of the views put forward because I did not consider that they were the best option. I will take the opportunity on Committee Stage to put forward my reasons for not accepting some of the views advanced.

Concerns were expressed during the debate by a number of Deputies about the compensation provisions and other aspects of the natural heri tage area proposals. This is a most important part of the Bill. The sections relating to NHAs mirror the provisions already in place in relation to SACs. This is a logical approach because we have the benefit of the experience of the lengthy debate and negotiations on the SAC provisions regarding the finalisation of the NHA provisions.

It has been suggested that NGOs should have a role in proposing sites for designation. My Department will carefully consider suggestions made by NGOs and others about areas that appear appropriate for inclusion. However, given my statutory responsibility for the designation of NHAs, the implications of designation for private landowners and the risk that formal third part input could be divisive, it is appropriate that the definitive responsibility for proposals and designation remain with the Minister.

Concern was also expressed regarding the need to explain the basis for designating NHAs and not proceeding with a designation. There will be no secret about the basis for such decisions and access to scientific cases will be made available to anybody who seeks it. I am most concerned that all elements of this process are transparent. However, I will consider the issue further and return to it on Committee Stage.

Reference was made to developments in NHAs. As in the case of SACs, the best way to deal with matters requiring planning permission in NHAs is within the planning process. However, it should be noted that the system proposed in the Bill will not preclude developments within NHAs. An assessment will only be necessary in the case of developments that would cause significant damage to the ecological value of the site.

I am committed to dealing with all aspects of the NHA process in the spirit of partnership and consultation. Deputies will be aware that I established an appeals advisory board and a local liaison committee system to assist with the consultation process in relation to SACs. I will be happy to extend that system, as necessary, to deal with NHAs.

Many Deputies raised the importance of protecting hedgerows. As the House is aware, the provisions of the Wildlife Act, 1976, together with the amendments proposed in the Bill, are not intended to protect hedgerows per se, but relate primarily to the protection of birds nesting in hedgerows and other vegetation during the critical April to August bird nesting period. I am confident that the amendments will foster a more positive approach to the problem. Obviously, I share the concerns of Deputies regarding the loss of hedgerows, which are important not only as nesting sites for birds, but as repositories of biodiversity in their own right as wildlife corridors and field boundaries with particular significance from an archaeological perspective. We can learn much from the experience gleaned from the removal of many hedgerows in Britain and the negative effect that had on wildlife.

I intend to consult my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, with regard to the possibility of taking measures to protect hedgerows in the context of the new planning regulations which will be made following the enactment of the Planning and Development Bill. I am also considering the possibility of advancing measures within the context of the national biodiversity strategy which I intend to publish in the coming year.

I wish to confirm that this year, as in previous years, my Department has written to all local authorities requesting that maintenance works to hedgerows are undertaken outside the crucial nesting period. I wish to make this clear because some Deputies were not aware that I had taken this action.

Several Deputies referred to resources. While, like many other areas, additional resources could be put to good use with regard to nature conservation, I can say with confidence that the sector is now better off and more effectively resourced than ever before. A key element of this is the level of resources in the field where real conservation action takes place. I concur with what Deputy Deasy said about it being one thing to have legislation and another to ensure it is enforced. To do that, we need further personnel, and I am happy to say that I recently obtained sanction for an additional 30 conservation rangers, which represents an increase of approximately 50% on previous levels. This will greatly enhance my Department's capacity to effectively safeguard our wildlife and important habitats. These rangers are supported by an additional 24 administrative and scientific staff, including three regionally-based ecologists who will be on the spot in the regions to deal quickly with issues which arise, for example, in the planning context, and they will be able to do so with the benefit of local knowledge of their areas.

Concern was expressed about the status of our wild bird population and this was raised by a number of Deputies. I share this concern and, accordingly, I have proposed a number of provisions which will significantly strengthen the level of protection afforded to wild birds. Deputies will be aware, however, that this is a complex issue and that a host of factors can influence the conservation status of bird populations, including perdition, disease, parasites, weather patterns, climate change and changes in the agricultural environment, which can be of great significance. Amendments proposed to strengthen the protection of wild birds include the introduction of natural heritage areas, enhanced controls on hunting which are designed to serve the interests of wildlife conservation, greater protection of the eggs of wild birds, measures to allow the State to ratify the African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds Agreement, and the substantial increase in the level of penalties for contravention of the Wildlife Acts.

Issues have been raised by various Deputies about sections 46 and 51 and the potential restrictions these sections could place on legitimate forms of hunting. I have already signalled my intention to address these matters on Committee Stage, and discussions in this regard are being finalised between my office and the Attorney General's office.

A number of Deputies referred to the licensing by my Department of the snaring of badgers under the ongoing research programme of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in the context of bovine TB in cattle and badgers. This programme is subject to review on an annual basis by officials of both Departments. In issuing the licences I am aware of and have sought to balance the clearly established need for further scientific research for the purposes of the TB eradication programme with my statutory responsibilities for the protection of the badger under the Wildlife Act, 1976. Having regard to the advice available to me, I am satisfied that the programme does not pose any threat to the conservation of the badger species.

Regarding issues concerning animal welfare which were raised, I emphasise that my statutory remit is specifically focused on conservation and, as such, animal welfare does not fall within the remit of my Department. Accordingly, issues raised such as the regulation of coursing and fox hunting are not appropriate to the Bill as they fall within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

The issue of the restrictions on turf cutting has been questioned during the debate. The arrangements I announced last year apply only to special areas of conservation. Those arrangements provide for a generous system of compensation with domestic cutters being allowed to continue cutting for a ten year period in all but the most sensitive areas.

Regarding other issues raised on the designation of special areas of conservation, Deputies will be aware that the legislation catering for SACs was transposed in the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1997. Accordingly, the designation of SACs is not at issue, apart from the important amendment to the definition of "European site" contained in section 76.

There were also references to the need for the consolidation of wildlife legislation. This is an important point and I agree that consolidation would be preferable. However, if we had waited for consolidation, the gestation period for this Bill, which is already excessive as I am sure all would agree, would have been much longer. The first priority was to get this long-awaited legislation on the Statute Book. I will be happy to examine the issue further of consolidation at that time.

I thank all the Deputies and appreciate their positive approach to the Bill and to the number of issues they have taken the opportunity of raising with me on Second Stage. I hope I have clarified some of the principles concerned and expressed in the Bill. I look forward to Committee Stage where there will be a further oppor tunity to discuss all these matters in greater detail. I thank all who contributed.

Question put and agreed to.