Heritage Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

This is an important issue. The 36 hours of debate in the Seanad and the 99 amendments tabled are an indication of the concerns people have about many aspects of this Bill. It has many poor aspects which are causing great disquiet and outrage in different sections of our community, including wildlife groups, environmental activists and small farmers.

There are a number of areas that the Government must reconsider. The Government's late amendment on hedgerows is of particular concern because it removes the oversight of local government and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to allow landowners to remove hedges based on their own unprofessional assessment.

When the Bill was originally up for debate some months ago, we were able to attend a number of presentations from wildlife groups including BirdWatch Ireland, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations, the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust, all of which expressed very real concerns about the potential knock-on effects of parts of this Bill. The measures it contains in respect of the extension of hedgerow cutting and gorse burning dates to run from August through to March are of particular concern.

At present, it is only lawful to burn vegetation or cut hedges between 1 of September and last day of February in each year. The Bill seeks to extend burning season by one month into March, and cutting season by one month into August. We have been warned by wildlife experts that the move will negatively affect the bird-breeding season and the legislation will weaken the laws that are there to protect breeding birds and other biodiversity.

Given that climate change is already impacting on nesting patterns in Ireland, this measure is at odds with a national and international conversation that is taking place in various forums, including the Citizens' Assembly at the weekend. There is more immediate danger in these measures for particular species that are already at risk, such as yellowhammer which nests in hedgerows and still has chicks in nests at specific times. Others birds such as barn owls and curlews, of which there are only 125 pairs left in Ireland - a quite shocking statistic - are also of concern.

A primary concern that was addressed on Committee Stage in the Seanad was the sheer volume of hedge destruction which would be allowed under the Bill. Amendments have gone some way to limiting the hedge-cutting trial to be relevant only on hedges by roadsides.

That is still 20% of our hedgerows. It is a lot and will have a negative effect on species of birds that nest in August.

We wish to highlight that the importance of our already deteriorating hedgerows cannot be overstated. They provide both a habitat and a source of food. They are full of berries and other foods that birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife depend on. August is an incredibly important month for these species, many of which are pollinators and are already in decline internationally. To remove such an important food source at that time of year from species essential to the growth of plant life and future food cultivation in general would be incredibly short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating. To ignore the science on this matter would be incredibly irresponsible, and that is why there has been such an outcry.

Pollinators, including bees, butterflies and other small insects, perform a very important function, a service which human intervention could never provide. This is the delivery of an effective pollination that is vital to crop yields, particularly those of oilseed rape, apples, peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries and clover crops, which are very important in the local and national economy. These are also sustainable food sources that are less damaging than cattle, for example, in terms of carbon emissions, and they may play an important role in the changes needed at a global level. At the Citizens' Assembly last Saturday, a professor of European agricultural policy at Trinity College Dublin, Alan Matthews, made the point that "at a global level, meeting the climate mitigation challenge will require action on food demand patterns, including reduced levels of food waste and shifts towards less meat-intensive diets in developed countries". In that context, the function that pollinators perform cannot be overstated in ensuring food security and in turn enhancing consumer choice, healthy diets, as well as boosting the economy. It is a win-win scenario. Without their service our lands would be barren of other kinds of habitats that are essential to other types of wildlife, including humans. If the bees are under threat then so is our food supply and so are we. That is what is at stake.

These species currently face huge challenges in access to food and places to live, sickness and disease, poisoning with agro-chemicals and other pollutants, as well as climate change. There are also dangers in trade agreements, such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which are very relevant because they threaten our right as a state within the EU to vet and regulate against dangerous practices and the use of potentially dangerous and damaging chemicals in agribusiness.

Currently, a third of Irish bee species are threatened with extinction. Historically, bees have played an important role in Irish life and heritage; the copied architecture of monks and their beehive-shaped dwellings are still visible on our landscape. Beekeeping was one of the earliest cultivation industries in the country. Ireland has 20 species of bumblebee and 80 species of solitary bees. Half these species are in serious decline. In 2011 the Irish pollinator initiative attempted to pool expertise to tackle this decline and develop positive action. In 2012 the Office of Public Works, in conjunction with the Botanic Gardens, reintroduced bees into the gardens in Dublin in order to help to restore the bee population. Great effort was put in on that occasion, with exhibitions and literature produced in an attempt to educate people on the importance of protecting our bee population. To now introduce, only five years later, legislation that would threaten the food source of bees is entirely regressive and a bit bizarre.

The extension of the cutting and burning seasons is, according to the Bill, a trial study. Two years are built into the legislation, which may be extended by a further three years by joint resolutions of both Houses. The terms of that trial are not clear and this is enough time to do significant damage, so there is no protective measure in place. What is the desired outcome? If it is about road safety, which is of course a very important matter, why are we suggesting legislation that would effectively hand control of that safety to individual landowners? It does not make sense. It is a blanket measure that, left open to self-regulation and self-interpretation, has the potential to be very damaging.

Contradictions were pointed out in the lack of joined-up thinking by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins in the Seanad. She pointed it out, for example, in respect to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, in which Ireland has clearly indicated that hedgerows constitute a large portion of our habitat maintenance and greening in order to qualify for the greening section of the CAP payment. It is almost a third of the payment. The two Departments seem to be on different pages. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, under the current Green, Low-carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme, GLAS, lists extensively very specific measures that will be applied in respect of hedgerows, such as the margin around each hedgerow, whether there is a bee box and which particular species is being supported and how. This legislation is completely at odds with that, as the Senator pointed out very effectively in the Seanad debate. It would exempt hedge cutting from the list of offences under the Wildlife Act if a landowner believes the hedge is a threat to road safety, which he or she is not qualified to do. This shifts power from the road authority to individual landowners and allowing them to self-define their exemptions from the cutting season makes a mockery of the purpose of having cutting seasons in the first place. The road authority should remain the only authority to cut outside of the cutting season.

There is also the matter of waterways. We know many small farmers are opposed to this Bill as they see it as a clearing of the land and furthering an agenda of pushing them out to make way for big agriculture. It is a form of privatisation of the land in much the same way as the section on canals is an attempt to fully privatise our waterways and, in doing so, push the historic barge dwellers effectively off the water and out of their homes. For many that choice of living was not simply a lifestyle choice but was the only affordable option for them to own their own home. This Bill intends to give new powers to Waterways Ireland to make changes and enforce by-laws in the areas of its jurisdiction. It is proposed to extend the types of by-laws that Waterways Ireland can enforce and, tellingly, the obligation to maintain the natural and physical heritage of the waterways is not one of those by-laws.

This has been drafted without a satisfactory consultation with the current canal users and, naturally, they feel very strongly that they have been left out of a process with a serious impact on them. There are currently more than 200 permanent canal residents who have homes on our waterways and the new powers granted to Waterways Ireland's officers in this legislation are extreme. The Minister agreed to increase the level of consultation with users groups and local authorities on new or updated by-laws, extending the consultation period to 90 days, but this should be an ongoing consultation. Given the delay in having this debate, this might be something the Minister could clarify. I have raised this on numerous occasions with previous Ministers to ensure that the rights of those barge dwellers are protected. We should promote and facilitate houseboats as an alternative lifestyle choice, a potential amenity and a tourist asset. We can see that in areas like the Netherlands. Those people resident on our waterways have rights and should not be subjected to an authority that changes by-laws whenever it suits that will adversely affect day-to-day living arrangements. It is far too draconian as a power.

This Bill will give powers of stopping and inspection, including the boarding of boats and barges, exercising of search warrants and issuing of on-the-spot fines. We are talking about people's homes and their private domain so that is excessive. These powers are akin to powers currently only exercised by members of An Garda Síochána.

That would be unprecedented. Section 7A allows for authorised officers to impose fines at their own discretion if they believe an offence has been committed, which must be paid within 21 days and with no option to appeal except in front of a judge. This is incredibly harsh and is an unwarranted amount of power. Many people living on houseboats do so because it is all they can afford. They do not have the money for fines or legal proceedings. I do not understand why this agency would be given such punitive powers when other agencies do not have them. That deserves an explanation. I believe a wider plan to privatise our waterways is behind the introduction of these new powers, and I believe it will serve to ensure that certain groups of people, namely, those who cannot afford it, will effectively be priced out and off the water, which would be regrettable. I urge the Minister to accommodate amendments as much as possible and not to push through poor legislation that will cause significant problems which will have to be addressed at a later stage.

I am delighted to be able to speak about this Bill. Its principal purpose is to amend the Heritage Act 1995 on foot of the report of the critical review of the Heritage Council and to provide for the regulation of the cutting or burning of vegetation. I will confine my remarks mainly to Part 3 amendments to the Wildlife Acts. In section 7, which concerns the current provisions in the Wildlife Acts, section 40 referred to prohibits the cutting, curbing, burning or destruction of vegetation with certain strict exemptions from 1 March to 31 August during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife. The provisions of section 7 give the Minister power, by regulation, to permit the burning of vegetation in March, a month normally closed to burning, and during such periods as may be specified by the Minister. The regulations may also set out conditions or restrictions to protect particular habitats in areas where such burning is permitted. These powers will expire after a two-year pilot period, although there is provision for continuation by way of resolution by each House of the Oireachtas for periods not to exceed three years. I have a problem with that. Climactic conditions are changing regularly. My colleagues to my left may not agree with me on climate change, but we are being told about it every day of the week. We can see a huge change in climactic conditions, whether it has anything to do with climate change or not.

We have a nonsense rule which confines slurry spreading to certain months of the year. There should be no such thing. People should be able to spread slurry when they are able to and when it provides the best advantage for the land. This can stop run-off and help with our animal husbandry and fish in our rivers. Some 99% of farmers are good custodians of the land and our wildlife, as are the gun clubs and the fishing clubs, including the Ardfinnan, Ballybacon, Grange and Newcastle gun club, whose members have gone up the hills and restocked them with gorse. They do tremendous work, but they need to be able to burn when the land is dry. They cannot burn when it is wet. It is like cutting turf in that it cannot be cut on a wet day. Common sense must prevail here. We do not need a plethora of agencies telling us what we can and cannot do. Are we going to become a nanny state? These are the type of people who protect the countryside.

Deputy Clare Daly, who I respect, said that the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is the only organisation which should be allowed to cut hedges. That is nonsense. In Tipperary there are signs in the famous village of Soloheadbeg, where in two years we will celebrate the first shots of the War of Independence. The RSA put up a disgraceful sign which I have been trying to have changed for 12 months. It is spelled incorrectly, and to change it back we have to seek the permission of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. It is baloney. The problem with this country is that there is too much control of things. We cannot do any bit of work on the N24 or any of the major roads without getting permission. One would get an audience with the Pope faster than an audience with the RSA. I have met the Pope several times, but I cannot meet the head of the RSA.

The Deputy should speak to the Bill.

I am speaking to the Bill. Common sense has gone out the window. We need to be able to cut roadside hedges in the interests of road safety. We have plenty of legislation, including a piece last week concerning fast tractors and another today which suggests that we will be locked up if any of our children go out driving at the age of 17 or 18 without a licensed driver accompanying them. There will be no one in this House because we will all be driving our kids around. It is unworkable and is a symptom of a nanny state. However, despite this we are going to have bushes growing out into the middle of the road where one could hardly fit a bike, never mind a machine or a car. We are talking about trying to attract tourists to these areas. If a person is driving a tractor out of a field, he or she needs a view of 12 foot before it moves to the road. Every roadside hedge should be cut. It is as simple as that. Farmers are allowed to cut the tops of hedges, but the sides should also be cut. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae will probably elaborate, the birds are not so foolish that they will nest on the roadside near traffic. They will go in and nest inside in the fields, of course.

This is nonsense. It is simply creating more regulation and keeping people in good jobs, with their briefcases and their travelling expenses and everything else. It has gone mad. It is mad for employers as well. There is so much regulation that it has lost meaning. A regulation was signed a few weeks ago by the Minister when all the representative bodies, including the IFA, the ICMSA and the Farm Contractors of Ireland were up in Naas for a meeting to continue the consultation. They were then told it was signed in a month earlier. Fair dues to the Minister, Deputy Ross, who saw that it was a sham consultation and withdrew it. There is too much of this going on. People are running amok. We cannot change the spelling of Soloheadbeg because we have to get permission from the TII. Soon we will not be able to use the leithreas without getting the permission of the TII.

The Minister is a country woman herself, from Monaghan and the border with Cavan. She knows all about the work that the gun clubs do, and how they control habitats and-----

Good woman, but this Bill needs to support them and allow them to do that. They are volunteers. They are taxpayers who have paid their taxes and are doing the work that they want to do and that they love doing, to help and foster nature and wildlife. We are not all mad with machines, cutting the heads off people along with everything else. We are constantly being talked at by the head of the RSA. I had a man who had a good idea on how to save people's lives. He got an appointment, after waiting for 12 months, in Sligo. The lady from the RSA did not even turn up. The appointment was made through the Minister's office. That is the contempt that ordinary people with good ideas about road safety are treated with. These people need to be reawakened, brought back down to reality, and made understand that people in Ireland must live, exist and have roads that are safe and where we can see signposts or have a view to make sure that cars or buses or lorries are not coming the other way. A lorry mirror costs €200 and they are driving out in the middle of the road because bushes are hitting them on each side. We should be allowed to cut almost all year round, with the exception of the very high season, to ensure road safety.

There are many regulations on road safety, yet when it comes to the simple things, the people in question cannot see beyond their noses. This also applies to the waterways which are governed by another quango that is trying to enhance the experience for people with big boats and forgetting all about ordinary people. The same applies to the fishing clubs. I salute the work that the fishing and gun clubs do. There is a wonderful fishing and gun club in my area which does tremendous work, as there are such clubs in many other areas of the country as well. They do not need the RSA to tell them what to do because they would not know gorse from furze, or a snipe from a swan. They do not care. They have such contempt for the ordinary people who know all about the countryside and want to protect it.

We need amendments to this Bill. I deal with the beekeepers in Tipperary who are part of a wonderful organisation. I will meet them and talk to them, because they are worried. They have concerns, but the ordinary people of Tipperary should be consulted. The ordinary people are not out to damage beehives or limit the production of honey. Fences by the roadside make up a small minority of the fences in rural Ireland. Some years ago we were paying people to set aside land and leave it idle.

It was crazy EU policy again. Now, we cannot cut the bushes or hedges. Some semblance of common sense must be introduced in this Bill. Somebody must put manners on the Road Safety Authority, RSA, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the plethora of agencies like them and not let them treat people like minions, as Cromwell and the British landlords did. People have to be able to exist rather than kowtowing and tipping their hats to these people. That went on for long enough. These home-grown people are worse, getting away with it because of so-called education. They roll out their files and come along flashing their badges to tell people to get out of the river or the like when the people are trying to clean the bridges to stop the roads being taken away. It is futile and wasteful. They should be put to do meaningful work such as supporting and learning from the gun clubs, fishing clubs and the people who look after and preserve the mountains for the wild species that need them. They should be learning from them to get an understanding. They should be sent out to do that for a fortnight every year. Perhaps they could do it voluntarily as well, like the volunteers who already do this work after having paid their taxes and reared their families. It is farcical.

I am very concerned about these issues. We must have some common sense because the lunatics are running the asylum with all the regulations. I am not referring to this House. We pass good legislation and then we find it is not enacted for two years. However, the rules and guidelines these people want are pushed in overnight. We must have common sense and allow people to travel the roads with or without their mother or father in the car. I do not mind if they are restricted to certain times of the day and certain speed limits. All of us cannot be at home to drive our daughters and sons around and let the country collapse into oblivion. Who will pay these fat cats then? Is that the type of anarchy they want?

This Bill appears to be about allowing the cutting of hedges in the month of August, an extension of a month, on a trial basis and the burning of scrub in the month of March, also on a trial basis. That is what it amounts to, after all the talk and hullabaloo in the Seanad. I can assure the Minister that we will table amendments to the Bill.

Roads must be kept safe at all times for the people who travel on them. The Minister and the Minister of State have a role to play in this regard. Roadside hedges must be kept cut all year round for the safety of the people who use the roads. I have been travelling to Dublin for a year and a half. The roadside of the motorway is cut day after day. It is shaved. A rabbit would not get enough to eat on the side of the motorway given the amount of cutting that takes place from where the motorway starts until it reaches the Red Cow. With regard to all the talk about birds, I do not object to birds, bees or any other wildlife. However, there is a place for them. The people who support the wildlife cannot put other people's lives at risk for the sake of birds. The birds are not so foolish as to make their nests on the side of the road only to have a lorry come along and blow their feathers off so they will be left standing naked on the side of the road. That is a ridiculous notion. The country is wide enough for the birds to nest. I am all in favour of them nesting but not on the roadside. We must keep the roadsides safe for the people who are travelling on the roads.

Consider the storm that occurred a few weeks ago, when trees and branches fell down on people. That must be stopped. A branch the length of one's arm, from the elbow to the top of the finger, could kill somebody if it fell off and hit the windscreen of a woman taking her children to school. There is no need for that. In France there is no tree within falling distance of any road. We should do the same. Our people are as valuable and important as the people of France. Some school buses cannot get up and down country roads. Farmers' vehicles, including lorries carrying hay and bales, are having their windows and mirrors broken. Deputy Mattie McGrath said that a mirror costs €200. Mirrors for some school buses and other vehicles can cost €900 to €1,300. Consider what could happen if the bus hits a branch sideways and it comes in through the side window. Two, three or four children in the school bus could be killed. What is happening is ridiculous.

On top of that, leaves are falling into drains and blocking them. If there is any rain it leads to ponds on the side of the road because the water has nowhere to go. The drains are blocked by the leaves. Take the example of people walking. People are told to walk and exercise because they are told they are all obese. I probably am one of them as well. We are told to walk but we cannot walk our country roads with the briars. One's eyes would be picked out. People are also tripping and falling. In addition, they cannot ride their bicycles safely due to the hedges and briars growing out across the road. People have never paid more in taxes, be it property tax, PRSI, USC or other charges, yet they see no services for them. If they saw the hedges being cut it would mean a great deal to them. Motorists cannot see around turns. The country roads in places such as Gneeveguilla, Scartaglen, Rathmore and Kilcummin are all blocked by bushes and briars and it is only with the height of ingenuity that people can travel in these places at all. There is a place in Shrone, Cathair Crobh Dearg, where the school bus driver is giving out that he cannot travel to collect the children anymore. That situation is replicated in other areas.

During the storm a couple of weeks ago roads were blocked and power lines were down. The Minister for transport and power has a responsibility for the power as well. The closures and outages for days cost companies millions of euro. That was due to trees putting the power out. People with disabilities such as amputees could not use their hospital-type beds because they had no electricity. They also could not operate their oxygen apparatus. Those people were severely impacted because the trees along the power lines and along our roads are not being cut. It is a sad reflection on Members of this House if we allow this to continue and we cannot ensure that people can travel the roads safely.

Consider the Sheen Falls in Kenmare. Due to the wind blowing in from the bay and knocking the trees down - a tree was being knocked down almost every day when there was any amount of wind - the people there took it upon themselves to cut some down. Lo and behold, some objectors arrived and made them apply for licences. Then there was a big investigation into why they were cutting the trees down. They were cutting the trees down for the safety of the people travelling on the road but some do-gooder came along and objected.

Fortunes are being spent on marketing and selling my county and our country. However, that is all spoilt by the hedges being overgrown throughout the summer. Places could sell themselves if the hedges were cut. People will recall that 50 or 60 years ago there were section men along every road. The local authorities at the time knew the value of cutting their hedges. They had to cut them with scythes and slashers. It was hard manual work, but it was done. We have all kinds of saws and hedge cutters now, but no roadsides are cut. It is all left to stand and grow out across the road. There are now tunnels on many roads where one cannot see the daylight. The Minister knows that what I am saying is right. That must be addressed if we are to claim to do anything in this term of the Dáil.

The Bill also refers to burning scrub and provides that farmers will be allowed to burn scrub in the month of March on a trial basis. At the same time, the farmers are being penalised if their lands are overgrown. These lands cannot be cut with a forage harvester, lawn mower or any type of mechanical equipment. The only way to put the place in order and keep it that way for the Department's officials who come out to check the land is to burn it off.

If one goes back a few years, Coillte used to help farmers to burn off their places but now farmers are stopped from doing that. It is supposed to be a great concession on a trial basis, I believe it is for two years, that they may burn in the month of March. It is a help but it must be understood that this has to be allowed to continue to allow farmers to do it when the weather is right for it. As we have said in the Chamber several times, the farmer knows best how to mind and care for his land without any interference or any advice from do-gooders around the country who do not own even a patch of land but who try to exert control. It is as though farmers do not own their lands at all now because they are told what to do and what they cannot do. It is very sad because whether it was handed down to them or whether they had to buy it at exorbitant cost, and many of them had to do that, farmers are the best custodians of the land and they should be left at it. They never wronged the countryside, and those who are there now value their properties as much as those who came before them. All they want to do is hand it down in the same way they got it from their parents or forefathers.

I thank the Deputy and call Deputy Catherine Martin who has 20 minutes.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas go mór i gcoinne an Bhille seo mar is léir don dall go mbeidh impleachtaí gan aon mhaith ag eiceolaíocht na hÉireann agus cruthóidh an Bille seo slad mór milltineach ar oidhreacht nadúrtha na tíre.

Just as my party colleague, Senator Grace O’Sullivan, opposed this Bill when it was before the Seanad, the Green Party will oppose it here. As far as the Green Party and the green movement is concerned, this legislation is anti-heritage and should be assigned to the scrap heap. Despite the hard work and justified concerns of many legislators from varied political backgrounds who vehemently opposed this Bill, the Minister persists on her mission to destroy our heritage.

I am taken aback that this Government and the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, would call on us to sanction the destruction of our beautiful habitats, our indigenous wildlife and our natural heritage. I was hoping, more than expecting, that the wild fires which raged out of control over the past year would have woken up this Government and the heritage Minister to the scale, urgency and gravity of the problem. Upland areas across the nation have been set alight. We have watched in horror throughout this year as over 1,500 ha of forestry and 2,000 ha of bogland were devastated by fire in Connemara, as the lake at Gougánbarra glowed with the reflection of roaring flames. The fires have roared even closer to home in my constituency of Dublin Rathdown in Ticknock.

In just under two months, from 24 March to 22 May of this year, the Irish Wildlife Trust recorded 97 illegal wildfires in rural areas. Some 39 of these were in special conservation areas which are protected by EU habitats legislation. The current law and the penalties or sanctions imposed on those convicted of such destructive vandalism fail abysmally to protect Ireland’s heritage. However, instead of putting in place real disincentives, carrying out a real investigation into what happened and providing appropriate support to those affected by the forest infernos, the Minister’s sole response appears to be a determination to pass this anti-heritage slash and burn legislation.

Those who have helped destroy our forests can rest peacefully in their beds, knowing that this heritage Minister is not pursuing them for causing millions of euro of heritage destruction, and she is not putting in place emergency legislation or even an investigation to assure the hundreds of thousands of people who care about our heritage that those arsonists will face the full rigours of the law.

This has been a golden but clearly missed opportunity for the Minister to leave a real positive protective mark. Instead with this Bill she has chosen to travel in the opposite direction, fuelling the flames.

Currently upland burnings are restricted to the period from the start of September to the end of February. We should be working tirelessly to ensure that strictly controlled fires take place solely within this timeframe. Instead, with wanton disregard to both wildlife and public safety the Minister seeks to extend this inherently dangerous burning period, to enshrine in law the destruction of Ireland’s nature. I congratulate the Minister. Coming so fast on the heels of her recent decision to designate 46 of our prehistoric raised bogs as natural heritage areas, not to mention their obliteration as having any further benefit as crucial carbon sinks, it assures only one thing: that her heritage legacy will reap havoc for not just this generation or the next generations but for generations to come.

Burning outside of the current season jeopardises a vast array of wildlife. For many birds, such as the endangered curlew whose population is in decline, March is a month of nesting. This is the time when they establish their territories, create their nests and prepare for laying their eggs. Curlews are facing global extinction. Alex Copland of BirdWatch Ireland has said that there are only 125 pairs of curlews left in Ireland and that the Minister’s proposed change in the rules would be the last straw for curlews, that there would be too few left and they would die out. Fires at this time can eradicate future breeding and decimate already declining populations. It is saddening that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, shows such scant regard for these creatures. However, I am delighted that it is not only the Green Party that sees this Bill for what it is. As long as protecting the environment is seen as the party policy concern and preserve of only one party nothing effective can happen. It is incumbent on us all, party and non-party, to protect our environment, to fight for it and to call out lazy, destructive pandering to a few who have no regard for the huge and far-reaching destructive consequences of such damaging legislation.

We need courageous leadership to face down vested interests in order to protect our heritage. Extending the burning season is not leadership. To put it in simple terms it is environmental sabotage.

The Minister does not seem content at destroying our uplands. She is also hell bent on attacking our hedgerows and the wealth of wildlife to which they are home. Our hedgerows act as linear forestry in Ireland. They provide feeding for birds, insects and mammals. They are integral to biodiversity, pollination, nesting and future feeding. Bumble bees and wild honey bees will also suffer by extending the permitted times to slash and cut down vegetation and flowering wild plants. The president of the Irish Beekeepers Association, Gerry Ryan, has said that:

allowing the destruction of vegetation in August would be devastating for Ireland’s bees. Clover and blackberries are still in flower. The bumble bees and honey bees need these blossoms and flowering ivy to build themselves up to survive the winter.

My colleague, Senator Grace O’Sullivan, with great cross-party and non-party support in the Seanad, challenged the extension by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, of hedge-cutting season. After weeks of debate on the matter in the Seanad, the Minister slipped in an insidious amendment at the 11th hour. I congratulate the Minister and give her ten out of ten for consistency. This convoluted amendment effectively overrides all the work done by the Seanad to protect our environment and goes so far as to undermine the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.

This Act stipulated strong oversight of any hedge cutting that takes place during nesting seasons on the grounds of health and safety. The Minister’s amendment, however, appears to remove this oversight, encouraging and ensuring that hedge cutting which is destructive to our environment will be a near free-for-all. It provides for no real monitoring and no disincentives for law breakers intent on wrecking and ruining nature.

What about the concerns about the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill? Was that scrutiny performed when the Bill was under consideration by the last Government? Has the Attorney General been asked to review the legislation in light of the amendments made on Report Stage in the Seanad? These are questions which need to be answered. Was the Attorney General satisfied that the provisions of the Bill, and in particular those contained in section 8, would be in compliance with the strategic environmental assessment directive and the birds and the habitats directives? My party and I call on the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to withdraw this Bill but I realise that my pleas, and the pleas of so many others who are not aligned at all to the Green Party, may fall on obstinately deaf ears. It seems as though the Minister is impervious to the criticisms of this Bill. It seems she is blind or immune to the destruction it will wreak on our countryside. It seems that, despite her ironic job title as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, she is anything but pro-heritage. I regret to say she has demonstrated no care for the heritage of our nation.

The question for members of Fianna Fáil, therefore, is whether we can rely on them to help quash this Bill once and for all. Fianna Fáil has a real opportunity to be a party of Opposition. It has an opportunity to hold this Government to account and to safeguard and protect the future of the Irish countryside. I call on Fianna Fáil to seize that opportunity and to do right by this nation. The Fianna Fáil Party can, if it so desires, remove itself from the shackles of supply and confidence, as this has nothing to do with the supply and confidence deal and therefore it is free to do the right thing. In fact let us all, as Members of this House, set party politics aside and unite in opposition to this Bill in order to secure our nation’s natural beauty for the generations to come. Let new politics give this Government a deserved political bloody nose by binning its proposed charter to destroy our environment. We must stop this Bill in its tracks because the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is on a mission to destroy our heritage. She is a Minister for heritage who has only shown disregard and disrespect to our heritage, our wildlife and our biodiversity. With this Bill she holds the match with which she will set our country’s wildlife aflame. Mo náire thú.

Admhaím go bhfuil mé tar éis éisteacht le hóráid bhreá ón gComhaontas Glas ach ní dóigh liom go bhfuil an ceart ag an Teachta nuair a deireann sí go bhfuil an Bille seo ag loit na hoidhreachta breátha atá againn sa tír seo. Ní aontaím le bunphrionsabal a hóráide - go bhfuil nithe á scriosadh againn go mórmhór ó thaobh na hoidhreachta de. I welcome the passion and the commitment of the previous speaker and I compliment her on her idealism and on expressing the facts as she sees them. No doubt the Minister will reply to her points. There is one fundamental area, however, on which the Deputy is wrong. This Bill will not destroy our heritage. Specifically in the context of Part 4 of the Bill, it will actually improve and protect our heritage. Currently the Heritage Council must co-operate with public authorities, educational bodies and other organisations and persons in the promotion of the functions of the council. In section 11 of this Bill the Minister is changing this and strengthening it to provide that it will now be a function of the Heritage Council to "co-operate with, engage with, advise and support public authorities, local communities and persons in relation to the functions of the Council". The council will now have to engage with, advise and support public authorities, local communities and persons in respect of its functions.

As was said in an article in The Irish Times, I think that the Heritage Council has done a fantastic job in the 20 years for which it has been in existence. Clearly, I would like to see an increased budget. Obviously the Minister will respond to that call later on. Last year there was an increase in the budget of €1 million. I am not quite sure of the position today. I do know that the core priority of the council is the promotion of jobs, education and tourism related to heritage in local communities. That is its core business and I think it is strengthened. I reject the principle that the Heritage Council is weaker as a result of this Bill. It is not. In this context, specifically speaking about the issues which I raised, it is stronger. We should build on the work of the former Minister, the President, Michael D. Higgins. He was a very imaginative and dynamic Minister. I believe that as the economy improves more and more funding will become available for these wonderful, hugely important heritage projects up and down the country, which are so important in themselves and in the context of increasing employment and bringing tourism into our country.

One of things which I like in the Heritage Council's plan, which is for the period up to 2022 if I am correct, is its commitment to help out in the housing crisis wherever it can. It makes comment about the many heritage buildings in our country which are lying empty, dilapidated and vacant. If it has not already been done, it is time to make an inventory of heritage buildings which are empty or abandoned and which could, and should if at all possible, be used to meet our housing needs. If I may mention one such building, I was in Cork at the weekend and I was looking at the old psychiatric hospital. It is a wonderful red-brick building which overlooks the River Lee. It was damaged in a very serious fire recently. I was looking at it and I said to some people to whom I was talking that it would be lovely if it was repaired and put into habitable condition. We could have habitable dwellings in it. I do not know the internal structure of the building, but we could have apartments or family homes in it. There could be a huge community living in it. It is now a vast and dilapidated historic space which is unfortunately empty. If that were applied up and down the country, we could make significant improvements. I welcome the commitment from the Heritage Council that it is prepared to help from a heritage perspective. Obviously it would not have the money to do it alone, but it is prepared to help, assist and promote and to ensure that issues such as this are dealt with.

As we face into the European year of cultural heritage - of literature, arts and crafts - our Heritage Council can also continue to function and to improve the services which it provides so well. I praise it particularly for its wonderful website. Anybody can have a look at it. I particularly like its involvement with schools and students. I do not have the exact figure, but I believe it has interacted with something like 12,000 or 13,000 students. I can be corrected on that figure. Clearly, it is making sure that the promotion of heritage in the broadest possible sense, particularly among our young people, is something which is available and resourced. The council goes so far as to identify individual people around the country who are qualified and capable to carry out all sorts of heritage projects, including in the areas of science, history and geography. One sees pictures of people on nature walks, which shows the council improving people's awareness of our culture, flora and fauna. I am not an expert on flora and fauna at all, but I do know that, unless we work together as a Parliament and as a people, we will lose significant, unique and special plants and animals.

The history of industrialisation and western civilisation generally has been appalling in that respect. I acknowledge absolutely the threat to our environment, including flora and fauna, from climate change and the impact of industrialisation and urban growth or creep on the rural countryside. I welcome commitments to retain green zones around developing cities and towns, develop heritage parks and increase investment to support, acknowledge and protect our considerable biodiversity.

If the European legislation is not strong enough, it should be stronger. I am not competent to judge the charges that have been made tonight but have no doubt the Minister will reply to them. On balance, I would like to see conservation and protection become a priority. I have no doubt this is the Minister's intention. I acknowledge the arguments made. I trust the heritage people to give us the answers on protecting our rich and important heritage.

The role of the Heritage Council is small in the context of the OPW and other better-funded organisations. This Bill arises from a review of the work of the council some years ago and it makes recommendations about it. The support of the council is very important if we are to retain traditional farm buildings and protect our urban and rural environments. While I acknowledge that some of the views aired are heartfelt, I believe they are missing the point, at least in this area.

We could go further. Many years ago, I stood up for the heritage of my town when a listed building was demolished in the middle of the night by a crowd of developers. They would have enjoyed doing so again only the law was changed. I found out who the friends of my heritage were, and they included the ordinary people of my town and members of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society. People from archaeological and cultural bodies all over the country supported our fight to have our heritage built up again. The Drogheda Grammar School has been rebuilt with handmade brick and it is just like it was before it was knocked down. We managed to protect the footprint of the building and it is there for all time, certainly the next 200 or 300 years.

The Heritage Council and such bodies are important in helping, informing and supporting. The council's grants are many and varied. In many cases, they are quite small. I am not belittling any grant that is given to anybody - I certainly would not - but I would like to see a significant increase in the council's budget. On my iPad, I noted 16 pages of bodies that the council supported. Works included walled town projects and the mediaeval festival. These are all important because they are driving our other agenda pertaining to jobs and attracting tourists.

The heritage tourists coming to Ireland are primarily in their 40s or a little older. They are generally well educated and have a lot of money to spend. That is what the profile indicates. Tourists from France, Germany, America and England are very clear about what they want and like in our country. One can look at the numbers oneself. The tourists want an authentic and enriching experience and to immerse themselves in local culture. They want to see our beautiful scenery and engage with history and culture. They want to meet friendly people. These are the factors everybody present wants to support and strengthen and that offer people a unique and special experience when they come to our island, which, unlike other parts of the world, is not blessed with the sun.

By developing our tourism industry, we will encourage many more people to come, including the sightseer and the culture seeker. The latter are people to whom exploring a country's sites and finding out about its culture are the key motivations for going on holiday. If we develop our industry, they will stay longer in our country and spend more. They are affluent, well travelled, highly educated and socially concerned. They are interested in learning while on holiday and seek themed and authentic experiences. Some 43% of these visitors come from mainland Europe to our country. Therefore, there are many good things to be proud of and hope for, and there are many good and important battles to be fought. Obviously, I will be listening to what the Minister will say on the charges made. In some cases, they were unnecessary and unfair.

We must all work together, build our heritage, support our communities, educate, inform and move forward together. It is not that the farmer should be fighting with the conservationist. It is not that we should be losing our biodiversity. It is none of these things. rather it is about working together and, as I stated, encouraging and supporting one another. All of our aims are the same. We want a better country. We all want to protect our heritage and to grow our jobs.

Some of the work I would like to see done may be for the OPW or another organisation. When I visit places, I love looking at the culture, heritage and built environment and taking on board the social and political history. I would like it if we could use our imagination even more. In 1860 in Drogheda, the British army was resident. I believe they were called sappers. They surveyed all the buildings in the town. It was a huge job of work. I spoke to the map people in the Phoenix Park and learned they could create a three-dimensional model of Drogheda town in 1860 quite easily. One could create it digitally and one could have it in one's museum. We should consider such initiatives, which are in all our bigger towns and cities. Through the historic record, we could recreate what places were like years ago. Some videos on the Internet indicate this is not uncommon in other countries. I would really like to see it. If we had interactive digital imaging of our history and culture, it would make a huge difference for people who want to come here, and it would educate and inform us all.

Annagassan is in County Louth and it was the primary site of the Vikings in Ireland, long before Dublin existed. There was a bit of a battle there in the 900s and the site was completely abandoned. It has not been built on or disturbed since. Local people in Annagassan would love to see archaeological work there. Some has been done, and people believe the place is unique and special. I am informed that the archaeological features of Linn Duachaill are unique and special, certainly the best on this island. Finding features of archaeological interest, building up a picture of life at the time in question and having a visitor centre in a place such as Annagassan to show its wonderful heritage are really useful and positive.

If we use our imagination and work with such bodies as the Heritage Council, the OPW and anybody who has an interest in this area we could devise a national plan, fund it and create jobs in areas where there are not enough jobs at the moment. That would be hugely beneficial to society.

I am happy with the parts of the Bill I have spoken about, but I understand people are concerned about other parts. There is no doubt they raise serious questions but I do not believe the Minister is the person some have painted her to be. I reject what was said in that regard. All my knowledge and experience of the Minister would indicate the opposite to the charges that have been personally laid at her door. I believe they are wrong.

I hope the Minister will get an increased budget in order to increase awareness. There is hugely increased awareness about heritage and the work bodies such as the Heritage Council are doing. However, sometimes those who do work are not seen and the commentary is that not enough people know what the Heritage Council does. The council needs to fly its flag a bit more, come forward more and get more funding. I welcome the principles outlined in the legislation, which I have enumerated. They are ones I support.

Deputy Fitzmaurice has the next speaking slot but under new politics he has kindly agreed to allow Deputy Niamh Smyth a few minutes.

I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice for facilitating me. I will begin by refuting some of the comments made by Deputy Catherine Martin. First, I congratulate her on her election tonight as chairperson of the new women's caucus in Leinster House. However, I refute her accusations that I or the Minister, two rural Deputies from the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, care any less about the biodiversity or heritage of our country or constituency. Heritage is one of the most important portfolios any Minister could have. I sat on the heritage board in Cavan County Council for a number of years out of sheer passion for the natural and built heritage and culture of my community as well as my county and constituency, and I represent my country here. I do not think it was fair of Deputy Catherine Martin to make some of the accusations she made tonight. I will deal with them in the course of my contribution. I again thank Deputy Fitzmaurice for allowing me to speak first.

As spokesperson on arts and heritage, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Heritage Bill. We in Fianna Fáil take very seriously the protection of our natural wildlife and protected habitats and species. However, we will examine further proposals and amendments on subsequent legislative Stages that will improve the Bill. In some cases, road fatalities have been caused by hedgerows and that cannot be ignored. It would be a case of burying our heads in the sand if we did not acknowledge that. There were 187 deaths on the road in 2016, a 15% increase on the previous year. I do not for one moment suggest that was due to hedgerows but, in fairness to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, he spoke in a practical way about the obstacles some careless landowners present that are a danger to people driving on the roads and, as he indicated, specifically for school buses. Hedgerows can present a danger for bus drivers, oncoming traffic and children travelling on the buses. It is vital that roadside hedges are maintained to ensure the highest standards in road safety and to make sure human lives are protected to the maximum extent.

While the Bill extends hedge management for the additional month of August, Fianna Fáil successfully tabled an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad restricting the extension specifically to roadside hedges only, as a proportionate policy approach, taking conservational considerations on board. In addition, changes in the Bill are qualified in that the Minister would have to bring forward regulations to give effect to such changes and specify the period of the extension and the geographic area covered. Regulations currently prohibit cutting, digging, burning or destruction of vegetation from 1 March to 31 August during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.

The main amendments to the Wildlife Act proposed in the Bill make changes on a two-year pilot basis regarding extending the period of hedge cutting of roadside hedges only, and the burning of vegetation. However, this increased flexibility is qualified in that the Minister would have to bring forward regulations to give effect to that and specify the period of the extension and the geographic area covered. During the pilot period, the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht will conduct a research programme to consider if the changes have had any impact on wildlife. That will facilitate a fact-based approach to future decisions in this area.

I will be brief given that Deputy Fitzmaurice has facilitated me with speaking time and I do not wish to overdo it. Canals come under the remit of the Bill and it would be remiss of me not to mention the restoration of the Ulster Canal. I have to be parochial, no more than the Minister. It is a flagship project for the Minister. I hope it will be further enhanced in any developments in the national planning framework or in capital expenditure plans and that we will see the project move forward.

Deputy O'Dowd referred to heritage officers, of which there are 28 in local authorities across the country. The Heritage Council is doing fantastic work. It is really flying the flag in terms of local authorities, education, heritage week and the golden mile competition. All of that is embedding and nurturing an appreciation and passion for the heritage of the country and the island. I acknowledge Anne Marie Ward and Shirley Clerkin, the heritage officers in Cavan and Monaghan county councils. I again thank Deputy Fitzmaurice for facilitating my contribution tonight.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is a long time coming to our turn on it. I welcome much of what is contained in the Bill. It is a pity that it is just a pilot scheme. It should be introduced for a longer term, but in fairness to the Minister, she has made an effort in introducing the pilot scheme.

I do not think it is a good idea to personally attack a Minister. I may have had many protracted talks with the Minister down through the years but I do not think a person should come out with the likes of some of the contributions I heard earlier. Many people right around the country would agree with what the Minister is doing in most of the Bill.

When one drives around the country, there is a major problem whether one is in a car, lorry or tractor regarding grass and hedges growing out on the road. Whether we like it or not - the RSA will blame this, that and the other when it has a tantrum - we in rural Ireland know what is causing many of the problems. People have done work voluntarily in areas to make sure that no one is killed or injured on the roads but unfortunately what has happened in recent years is that one had to go through such a rigmarole to get a problem sorted that nothing was done. In my opinion, lives have been lost because of it.

To be blunt, I am sick of listening to the Saturday and Sunday drivers who come out from cities and tell people who come from a managed landscape how to run it. Let everyone be very clear; everyone tells people in rural Ireland how to live their lives, how to protect their land and how to do this, that and the other, but the reality is that for the past 100 or 200 years people in rural areas have managed the landscape and have brought it to where it is today. They did not need all the so-called experts telling them how to do it or coming out on Saturday and Sunday telling them how to keep it. They are the people who learned it. One should remember that if people who live in rural Ireland make a mistake, it costs them. It is their pocket that is affected so they do not do it a second time.

Earlier, I heard reference to the likes of the curlew and the hen harrier. Unfortunately, it is these do-gooders who let go many of the minks that have taken out many of these birds. That is regrettable to see. A person born in rural Ireland is brought up to grow up with nature. A person born in rural Ireland knows to make sure that birds are not hurt. The way and nature of people who live in rural Ireland is a credit to them. These are handed on. They do not simply come from reading a book or going to college. They come from nature and are handed from one person to another. I do not like people referring to the uneducated thugs down the country who need a little education and who should be told what they need to do. Above all, no one will tell us what to do.

Reference was made to burning. We have seen the fires and there is no point in anyone saying there were no fires. However, there were fires in Portugal and America too. We are back to the one word again. If we do not ensure we have a managed landscape, then we will end up with fires. That is the reality of it. I put forward proposals - I hope they will be looked at - for areas that suffer from a lack of industry in the locality. I believe there is an opportunity to set up co-ops and ensure that we undertake controlled burning. We could pay those involved and put them on something like a rural social scheme. We could train them and ensure it is done well.

That is what BirdWatch Ireland is looking for.

Deputy Byrne, please.

I am supporting him.

These people are well able to do this. If that were done, it would be a good thing. What is happening at the moment is that some of these so-called NGOs are telling us how to live our lives in rural parts of Ireland.

There is a great deal of new legislation dealing with canals in this context. A previous speaker referred to the new de-designation of 48 national heritage areas. It is a pity the person did not read the reason they were de-designated. It was because we looked at the best possible scenario to increase active raised bog habitat. We came up with the tier 1 and tier 2 set-up. By doing this, we ensure that we have the best possible active raised bog habitat. That is why those responsible went for the tier 1 option. Some people do not like to read this. Accurate information is needed.

One aspect of the Bill concerns me. I read a section earlier and I will talk to the Minister later on about it. I am referring to the new reference to an authorised officer in section 7. If I have it right, such a person has a right to go in on private property. I question this provision. I would debate the point in the context of a High Court ruling on private property rights. I am referring to sections 7B, 7C and 7D as proposed to be inserted by section 5. I realise a garda can get a warrant and go in wherever he wants. That is understandable. However, I question how valid the provision would be for an authorised officer who is not a garda.

In rural parts of Ireland we have seen people trying to do good in recent years. Unfortunately, some were brought up for cutting a little grass or hedge on the side of the road.

The new GLAS scheme is one example of how nature can attack itself. Under the new GLAS scheme a farmer can put in sand in various areas, for example, down a field. Farmers have done that. The bee population has grown as a result. However, the bees went in towards the ditches and bored holes in them. Then, the badgers came out from the woods – I actually saw an example of it this year. As well as swiping at the bees, they are swiping the honey and the lot. Sometimes nature goes against itself.

In the last storm we saw some problems arise, unfortunately. Our thoughts are with the people who lost their lives. I am all for ensuring that a person should not cut a tree without planting another tree in response. However, there is a great deal of difficulty, especially with ash dieback. Ash dieback is a major problem throughout the country. One could look at an ash tree and not know whether it was ready to fall. We must ensure that the trees on the side of the roads that are causing problems are cut. We should be honest about it. Most of these trees are stuck abroad on the side of the road and they are causing problems. The proof is in the amount of wires that have been pulled down belonging to the ESB. The ESB has had to put up approximately 700 km of cable. Telephone wires have been taken out as well. In some remote areas, it has taken longer than weeks to replace them. Something needs to be done for the people who lost their lives. Most of the big trees grow 50 ft or 60 ft. I am not talking about ordinary trees. There is no problem with a hedgerow with whitethorn and all the various trees, but the big overhanging trees are a major problem. If we keep letting this go, more people will be killed. I speak bluntly here. The first thing to say is that we need to ensure that we plant two trees for every one felled and I would have no problem with that. In any event, I believe we need to ensure that is done for safety reasons.

There seems to be a myth around that people in rural Ireland are going to go into every field and start cutting bushes and trees in the first week in March. In case people might not know it, much of the land is wet in March. Some people think that in August the farmers will be flying in and cutting this and that. They will not. They do not do something unless it is necessary work. Anyone who watches farmers knows that they always watch the nesting seasons. It is a pity that some of these commentators do not come down and watch the way people live in rural parts of Ireland to understand what the inhabitants are brought up with.

The big problem has been on the roads. The Minister should talk to any of the school bus drivers or lorry drivers. They are in trouble with their mirrors. Approximately €5 million per year is the cost to insurance companies for car transporters that get caught with branches along the roads. Unless we sort that problem, it will continue to cost the economy.

We can have nature and we are brought up with nature. I believe that if we work with the community and farmers, then we can have everything working together. However, there is absolutely no point otherwise. We hear the way some people bullyrag others about the managed landscape. I heard someone refer earlier to Connemara. It is true that there were fires in Connemara and in other parts of the country. There were fires outside Dublin as well. Who gets the immediate blame? It is the fault of the farmer. Then, the complaint is that the farmer was not fined. That is all that is in anyone's head.

I am a long time going around rural parts of Ireland, but I do not know that people go out willy-nilly in the height of warm weather and decide to set a fire. Unfortunately, some people who may be visiting an area could throw something out a window and that could cause a fire. In any event, the farmer gets blamed. It was sad to see it happen in the instance I have outlined.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said that if a fire went through a farmer's holding, the grants may be stopped. I am not suggesting it was the Minister who said this and, in fairness, the Department had to clarify the point later. Everyone has seen bog fires since they were knee's height down through the years. The area regenerates. If a bog fire started years ago, it could spread across five townlands. Are we to blame everyone who has a bog for that?

Was the fire started maliciously? In most cases, the fire will not have been started maliciously, although I am not arguing that none was started maliciously. Unfortunately, some people were at work along the sides of roads with large volumes of traffic. It is disingenuous of the so-called do-gooders to blame farmers. We have managed the landscape for years yet we are treated like pupils in the classroom who are told what to do by teachers. I will examine more closely the authorised officer set-up because, based on my experience over the years, I am concerned about some of the proposals in the Bill.

I welcome the proposal to extend the burning season. While I am aware that this is part of a pilot scheme, the Bill provides that the two-year period may be extended, which is welcome. I hope the measure will receive support. While there is no problem listening to concerns people may have, there is no point ramming something down the throats of people who have been doing something for their entire lives and know how our communities and environment work. To do so would be like me telling people in the centre of Dublin what they should do. There would not be much logic in doing that as I did not grow up in Dublin and do not know the ins and outs of the city. People learn as they go along, not in school. It is like a baton that has been handed on from generation to generation.

People in rural Ireland who make a mistake must fix it themselves at their own cost. If they make a mistake once, they will not make the same mistake again. People in rural Ireland should be recognised and applauded for what they have done over the years.

Tá sé thar a bheith deacair chomh deireanach san oíche-----

Tá sé iontach mall.

Tá, ach déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall.

Níl ag an Teachta ach ocht mbomaite.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, however late it is. I will disagree with my colleague, Deputy Fitzmaurice, in a few moments, much as I regret doing so.

The difficulty with the Bill is that the Minister is trying to do too much. I wish I could support the legislation but I cannot do so. Before zeroing in on one or two aspects of the Bill, I will return to the comments made by Deputy Fitzmaurice and one or two previous speakers. It is unacceptable to reduce this debate to differences between those who are educated and those who are not educated or to a rural versus urban issue. That is not the nature of this debate. I will have no part in a divide and conquer approach. The issue is not the right to cut hedges versus nesting birds or the need to maintain diversity. As with climate change, the issue involves every one of us. It is unfortunate, therefore, that a divide and conquer approach has been adopted and we are not discussing what is necessary to allow farmers and those with lands who need to cut hedges to be protected, while also protecting diversity.

I understand the consultation process, particularly in respect of sections 7 and 8, resulted in 188 submissions being made, the vast majority of which appealed to the Minister not to extend the cutting and burning season. I also understand the submission made by the Environmental Protection Agency called for more research to be undertaken. What is the point of engaging in consultation if one does not listen to the submissions made as part of the consultation process? If the vast majority of those who made submissions appealed to the Minister not to extend the burning and cutting season, why has she chosen to proceed with this measure and introduce an amendment in the Seanad which removed the oversight that was in place?

The proposed measures run counter to everything we are trying to do to mitigate climate change, create environmental sustainability and promote Ireland, particularly through Origin Green and the green image of our agriculture sector. It also undermines the message of the Wild Atlantic Way which Fáilte Ireland has spent a fortune promoting. It seems as if one part of the Government is doing one thing, while another part is doing something else and there is no connection between the two.

I have not seen in any of the documentation from the Government side a scientific basis for introducing the proposed changes in section 8. I choose my words carefully when I say these changes would seem to impact on Ireland's commitments under European Union regulations and do not appear to have been formally discussed with the relevant EU institutions. If they are introduced, there is no doubt they will place additional pressure on already threatened species. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has not carried out an assessment of their implications for road safety.

The proposed measure is described as a two-year pilot project. How can a measure that covers 26 counties, lasts for two years and for which no methodology has been provided or baseline data recorded, despite two years elapsing since the Bill was introduced, be described as a pilot project? Moreover, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is already at breaking point because it does not have sufficient staff and resources and no additional resources have been promised.

I am tempted to say it would be for the birds to proceed in the manner proposed because these measures go against practically all of the submissions made in the consultation process. They are not based on scientific knowledge because the clear message from the scientific evidence available to us is that they should not proceed. Britain, our nearest neighbour, has learned from its mistakes in this regard.

As someone who comes from Galway, I wish to respond to the Deputy Fitzmaurice's comments on recent fires. I am sure he did not intend to speak in the manner he did. I believe 3,500 ha, including bogland and forestry, have been-----

Is Deputy Connolly suggesting farmers are to blame?

Not at all, but the burning has been extremely serious. The fact that there was-----

We are trying to resolve that.

I beg the Minister's pardon. I missed her comment.

If the Minister wishes to make a comment, I will allow her to do so, although I would prefer her to wait until she is closing the debate to respond.

I did not hear what she said.

Some 3,500 ha of forest land and bogland have been lost. That there was no loss of life is certainly something to be appreciated. While we are still waiting to find out how much these fires cost, we know it runs into millions of euro. They are not to be dismissed lightly. Extending the open period for burning without learning is not a way to proceed. I am still waiting on a reply - this is not a reflection on the Minister - in order that we can learn from these events. What has Coillte learned from the fires and who or what caused them? I do not know the answers and I am certainly not apportioning blame. We must wait to find out the cost of the damage done by the fires. In addition, the damage caused to the environment was not taken into account.

I have no choice but to repeat what previous speakers said. Burning in March destroys occupied nesting territories. This debate has been reduced to the birds and bees and air quality not mattering. It is crazy to approach a debate in this manner, without realising that all of nature is intertwined.

A Theachta, tá brón orm cur isteach ort ach tá sé in am an Dáil a chur ar athló.

Tá sé sin ceart go leor.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 9 November 2017.