I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter for debate. This matter is of great concern to tens of thousands of people. I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Noonan, is here. He will recall that we discussed this proposed EU regulation in a Topical Issue debate on 16 July. During that debate, I requested that the Minister of State consult those who would be affected by the regulation, which proposes to ban the use of lead of gunshot bullets. On that occasion, Teachta Clarke also raised the issue of the presumption of guilt, which would be introduced by the regulation. She also referred to the definition of wetlands in the Ramsar Convention being intended for use at a global level, and not locally, regionally or nationally. The Minister of State acknowledged the challenge that the regulation would pose to farmers and gun owners. He also acknowledged the challenges presented by the Ramsar Convention definition, as well as the proposed buffer zones. People were reassured when the Minister of State acknowledged and accepted those concerns. On that occasion, the Minister of State stated: "While the Commission has proposed to progress this measure, I believe it is time we received some support on this matter." He also told us he was "more than happy to meet with the lobby on this issue".
After that exchange, I emailed the Minister of State to formally invite him to meet groups, such as the National Association of Regional Game Councils, NARGC, but I did not receive a response. On 3 September, Ireland voted in the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, REACH, committee to support this regulation. Despite several attempts to get clarification from the office of the Minister of State, it was only on 15 September, via a response to a parliamentary question that I had submitted, that we received confirmation that Ireland had voted to support this regulation. All the evidence suggests that the Irish position was changed at the direction of the Minister of State. If that is the case, I would consider it to be an act of bad faith, as would the thousands of farmers and gun owners who will be impacted.
I have no doubt we will now hear that all will be well and any issues arising will be handled during the transitional phase. I do not believe that will be the case. I fear that it is the intention of the Government to overcome the challenges posed by the Ramsar Convention definition of buffer zones by banning the sale and use of lead gunshot entirely. If that is not the intention, I invite the Minister of State to outline how it could possibly be workable to implement this regulation in Ireland.
I have a letter from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as it was known, dating from June, stating that "the various issues raised by Ireland relating to a longer lead-in time for Member States without restrictions and issues surrounding buffer zones around wetlands do not appear to have been addressed by the Commission in the current draft of the regulation. Accordingly, Ireland is unable to support the current regulation in its current form, unless changes are made to address these concerns". Will the Minister of State tell me what changes were made in the time since that letter was written? Was it simply the case that the position of the Minister of State changed and then the Government's changed? People will be interested in hearing his response regarding this issue, especially since I have emails from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, from just days before the September vote, indicating that Ireland would reiterate its concerns at the meeting on 3 September. How did this current draft differ from the previous version? On what date did Ireland formally change and reverse its position? Did the Minister of State intervene to sign us up to a position that will create substantial difficulties and costs for Irish farmers and game club members without any consultation?