Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 19, line 30, after "measures" to insert "including management plans".

I second the amendment.

The amendment proposed by the Senators is not well founded for two reasons. First, it would be superfluous and, second, it would very much weaken the protection for NHAs. An NHA order may include whatever provisions are required to provide for the conservation of the site, including stipulations concerning the management of the site. There fore, there is no need to make specific reference to management plans.

Furthermore, in addition to management plans, there are various other types of plans or protective measures which could well be relevant to the conservation of an NHA. Examples include habitat conservation guidelines, commonage framework plans, individual farm plans and aquaculture zoning plans. If a reference to management plans is included, it would be necessary to refer to all other potential conservation measures. It is not appropriate, nor would it be a wise course of action to detail all these in primary legislation. One danger of detailing such a list is that the validity of employing a measure not included on the list could be called into question. Additionally, it is possible that further types of conservation measures which are not in existence at this time could be devised at a future date. Therefore, I cannot agree to include a reference to management plans as sought by the Senators because to do so is not only unnecessary, but it would ultimately weaken the protection afforded to NHAs by limiting the range of conservation measures the Minister could employ to ensure the conservation of natural heritage areas.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 20, line 3, after "works" to insert "excluding turf cutting privately undertaken for domestic purposes".

Amendment No. 4 proposes to amend section 19 and it also has relevance to section 20. I am attempting to protect turf cutting in areas where the bog, or area of peat, is in an NHA or an SAC, although there are separate regulations for SACs. As the Minister knows, this has been a controversial issue in relation to the designation of SACs. People in western counties, in particular, have engaged in the timeless practice of cutting their own turf for their domestic heating purposes. They found that under the regulations made for the special areas of conservation this practice had to cease, although the Minister intervened at a later stage to allow a period of ten years by which time people who cut or extracted turf for their own use would have to find alternative means.

I welcome the designation of NHAs. There are many sensitive areas that need to be designated as natural heritage areas. I support that power being put into law. Turf cutting is taking place in many of the areas that will be designated in counties such as Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare, the Minister's constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, will know much about it because the practice is very prevalent is his constituency. It may be an out of fashion practice but it is timeless and is important to thousands of people, particularly in the western counties.

It was interesting to note what the Minister had to say in relation to orders she made after the SAC designations. She made an order in relation to blanket bogs and a separate one for raised bogs. In respect of the order on turf cutting for raised bogs under SAC she said:

Most damage to SACs is caused by industrial and commercial operations. Cutting for industrial and commercial purposes in these bogs must cease before the 1999 cutting season. In exceptional cases, to protect employment the Minister may agree to allow cutting in 1999 where the operator has already entered into a formal agreement with the Department. The Department will then transfer the operations to non-SAC sites and will cease operations within the SAC at an early date.

In the case of domestic cutters [this is the interesting and important point] it is clear that despite the fact that there are much more users than individual and commercial operators, the damage done to the bogs by an individual in a year is small in most situations.

The Minister has acknowledged that the amount of damage caused by a domestic cutter is small in most situations. I have been careful to state it is turf cut for domestic purposes only. That point is repeated in the order she made on 8 March 1999 in relation to turf cutting on blanket bogs which states:

There are, of course, some relatively small areas of blanket bog where turf is now being cut which will have to remain within the boundaries of the SACs because total cutting in these areas would lead to damage of the more sensitive areas of the bog. In almost all of these areas people who have been cutting for their own domestic use may continue to cut the amount of turf needed for their own use for up to ten years to allow them time to make new arrangements.

I want to protect the right to cut turf for one's own domestic purposes in an area of bog belonging to a landowner or farmer where that land may be designated a natural heritage area. I raise no objection to these areas being designated natural heritage areas.

There is a timeless practice of turf cutting. The Minister has acknowledged in her statement of February 1999 and in her statement on blanket bogs in March 1999 that the amount of damage caused is very small. If the Bill proceeds to become an Act, without this insertion which makes an exemption for turf cutting, it will be defined as works and it will be illegal to do any excavations, digging or removals from the site. Section 19 defines works and put limits on the works that can and cannot be done; mostly it refers to works that cannot be done.

We noted last week that local authorities are exempted. A local authority can cause serious damage and change to a natural heritage area if, for example, it wants to realign a road passing through such an area. It appears local authorities can carry out major excavations on a natural heritage area for any other reason, perhaps to place a sewage treatment works in such an area or in pursuance of any other works in which it may be involved.

I have no doubt the Minister understands what I am seeking because she has constituents who would have raised this matter with her. I merely ask that turf cutting for domestic purposes only be exempted where references to works appear in sections 19 and 20 of the Bill.

The Minister's thesis is quite right in regard to what she is trying to do. This group of people will become smaller and smaller and it is not as if they will be a growing problem. I have not noticed the youth of Ireland going into turf cutting at a terrific rate. This group will become less of a factor. I suggest some of them will, unwittingly, infringe the legislation. They will not have the famous electronic means of getting information. Given that this will not be a great problem the Minister should accept the amendment.

I support this reasonable and appropriate amendment. This is the type of work that will be carried out in the bogs of Ireland in the future, despite the concerns of Senator Henry that the younger generation is not likely to take up turf cutting in great numbers. Nevertheless, there are turbary rights throughout the country. Much of the land that is likely to be designated as natural heritage areas is likely to include some bogland because it has that type of flora and fauna which is part of our natural heritage. While the Minister includes in the legislation an interesting clause under which works may not be carried out, namely, works "which are liable to destroy or to significantly alter, damage or interfere with the features", presumably work that would not alter or damage the features significantly could be carried out. Can the Minister give a cast iron guarantee that private cutting of turf for domestic purposes would be covered by that clause?

Obviously it could be argued that cutting turf over decades would alter the shape and character of a landscape. Nevertheless, given that the private cutting of turf for domestic purposes is a time honoured tradition and that turf is the normal fuel used in many areas and is not produced on a commercial basis, the Minister should specifically exempt this type of work from those which are precluded in natural heritage areas. This matter will remain a grey area if the Minister does not accept an amendment of this nature.

I do not agree with the amendment simply because of my experience of what has happened in the past in the area I represent. The Department purchased existing bog and gave those who wished to cut turf the opportunity to relocate in areas that were not affected by the relevant NHA or SAC. The Minister bent over backwards in allowing those who did not wish to relocate to cut for a further ten years in those locations.

There is no danger that people will be prevented from cutting turf. They will be afforded an opportunity to cut turf at another location if the one they are using is part of an natural heritage area. While that option exists, as it has in the past, there will not be a problem and I oppose this amendment.

I cannot add to Senator Connor's contribution. I hoped the Minister would accept my amendment because we are talking about domestic purposes only. It seems quite likely that in a natural heritage area there may have been, as Senator Connor mentioned, timeless rights or rights over many generations. As Senator Henry said, fewer people will become involved in this activity in the years ahead. It would be a shame to lose these rights for domestic purposes only. We are not talking about commercial use and I urge the Minister to accept my amendment.

The Senator's amendment concerns the overall framework to be put in place for the conservation of areas of natural heritage, with particular regard to peat extraction from bogs.

I will outline the context in which peatlands and the conservation of nationally important bogs should be considered. There is no doubt that peatlands are among the most important wildlife areas in Ireland. This is true of both blanket and raised bogs. Being so familiar with bogs it is often difficult for us in Ireland to fully appreciate their significance on a global level. Most people take them for granted.

Ireland contains some of the best remaining examples of raised bogs in Europe. In the EU context, we are practically unique in still having intact active raised bogs. On the world stage Ireland's raised bogs are probably the most extensive of their type. Ireland supports 8% of the world's blanket bog, more than any European country. One particular type of blanket bog, lowland blanket bog, occurs only in Ireland and Scotland.

Unfortunately, the scale of damage and loss of both types of bog has been significant. The sad reality is that 80% to 90% of Ireland's raised and blanket bogs have been degraded or destroyed over the past number of years. Of the original area of 300,000 hectares of raised bog in the country only about 6% remains with less than 2% in quality condition. This represents a significant loss of our natural heritage and of the global natural resource.

The recently concluded OECD environmental performance review of Ireland provides a broad snapshot of environmental and nature conservation issues in Ireland. The critical importance of Irish peatlands was highlighted in this review. The two main recommendations in relation to nature conservation was to ensure effective protection of designated nature protection areas and to give particular attention to protecting peat bogs of great ecological significance. Clearly, our remaining bogs are important and we must strive to conserve them.

Obviously the extraction of turf impacts on peatlands. We are not focusing on all peatlands but on those which are recognised as being of national significance and which deserve protection in the common good.

It is not tenable to suggest that extraction of turf, even for domestic purposes, should be completely unrestrained in such critically important habitats. The core purpose of designated NHAs is to conserve our most important natural heritage sites. Neither I nor any other Minister could be expected to stand over legislation allowing the destruction of these irreplaceable sites. At the same time I appreciate the tradition of turf cutting for domestic use in Ireland. Many people have fond memories of their exploits in the bog. Turf cutting adventures feature extensively in our literature, songs and art.

Therefore, while recognising the imperative of protecting important sites I intend to adopt a fair approach to the issue of small scale domestic turf cutting. The aim is to achieve a balance between the needs of the people on the ground and the conservation of this nation's heritage. It is my intention to devise, in consultation with relevant interests, a set of arrangements to deal with peat extraction in NHAs as has already been done in relation to SACs. I am conscious of the social and economic impact an immediate cessation of turf cutting could have on small communities. This will inform my work in bringing forward practical arrangements for domestic peat extraction.

I regard it as wholly wrong to include a blanket exemption for private domestic turf cutting in the legislation. Many people will agree to cease cutting in the short term. The extraction of turf by other people in NHAs could be brought to a conclusion over a period of years. General lifestyle changes will facilitate progress in that regard over the extended period – a point was made by Senators this morning.

I will recap on the situation with regard to the SACs because I know Senator Connor has a particular interest in them. Senator Moylan mentioned that my Department has given a great amount of attention to raised and blanket bogs. Members will be aware of the compensation arrangements that I have put in place. They are good, fair and significant. There is also a question of the choice of relocation. Those who wish to continue to cut turf for domestic use and will be able to do so for another eight years. There was a derogation, if one wishes to use that term, from the very start. I wanted to ensure that there was a fair balance between the conservation of our bogs and the tradition of domestic turf cutting.

I made the point, and I think it is an obvious one, that a great deal of damage was done to the bogs where the industrial and commercial sectors were concerned. It is a different situation for domestic cutters and that is why I was able to ensure that they can continue turf cutting until 2008.

The compensation available is generous. Arbitration is available on compensation amounts because we wanted to be fair and open about all of the procedures. There are the relocation arrangements that Senator Moylan and others referred to. There has been a largely positive response from domestic cutters. To date a sum of £3 million has been paid in compensation to a substantial number of people who ceased domestic turf cutting.

I have attempted to ensure that any arrangements made for NHAs will proceed on foot of a great deal of consultation. The procedures put in place for SACs have been fair and given people an opportunity to continue domestic cutting for a number of years to come.

I know that the proposal here is to ensure that turf cutting could continue without any time limits. However, I hope that in my reply to the amendments this morning I have outlined that we are only talking about special areas of conservation or natural heritage areas. These areas have a particular significance. We have done our utmost to ensure that there has been a fair approach to this issue.

The statistics show that bogs are under threat and it is important, therefore, to introduce balanced and fair measures to ensure there is conservation while at the same time taking account of the wishes of those who wish to continue with domestic turf cutting. My approach is the best that can be achieved under the Habitats Directive.

I am grateful for the assurances given by the Minister that there will be consultation with communities affected by the extension of NHAs to areas where turf cutting takes place and who are not already affected by the SAC directive. The problem is that the Minister will hold all the cards when she goes to negotiate.

The people involved are beaten from the start because the legislation has placed a blanket ban on works. The Minister will always be able to wave the big stick of the law against them if they do not settle on her conditions. I know that sounds harsh and I appreciate what the Minister did in relation to the compensation package for SACs. However, the majority of the people who wish to continue cutting turf are not satisfied with the compensation that has been put in place because most of them have nothing to do with it. They wanted to continue this timeless practice and right to cut turf where they have turbary rights and full turbary ownership. We are interfering with what is often an absolute right. Most people would have no difficulty with the extension of the protection of an NHA to these sensitive areas. This practice is acknowledged in several statements by the Minister as causing little damage.

The Minister made points about the 80% or 90% destruction of bogs to reinforce the argument against small domestic turf cutters. Let us deal with all the facts here. Some 80% or 90% of it has been extracted or destroyed by a State agency, Bord na Móna, over the past 60 years of its operations. It has been the main agent for extracting peat from the bogs of Ireland. It is responsible for altering at least 80% of the bogs. I would be amazed if domestic turf cutting amounted to more than 10% of the destruction over the generations. Bord na Móna is continuing its operations and gives very valuable employment.

I am not old enough to remember the war years. However, in the 1940s the Minister's grandfather, who was the then Taoiseach, and the Minister for supplies, Mr. Lemass, used the bogs extensively to meet the fuel supply shortage during the war. It was in those years that we lost so much of our raised and blanket bogs.

I know people who would be ashamed to say they own bogs because they associate them with poverty and deprivation. They would turn their heads the other way when they passed them. However, we recognise that they are very important archaeological sites.

I am sorry I have to press this amendment to a vote. While I recognise that the Minister is willing to enter negotiations with the communities, their great disadvantage will be that the Minister will have enacted legislation which will state that any works they carry out will be illegal. That is a great disadvantage for anyone coming to negotiate with the Minister, notwithstanding her generosity. I acknowledge fully that the Minister will approach this with generosity, but she will be advised by officials who may take a different view.

We must not forget the economic importance of turf to many people. We live in an age of rapidly increasing oil prices. Thousands of people in rural Ireland still depend on peat or turf for their domestic heating and cooking, in many cases, however old fashioned that might sound.

I cannot accept the Minister's arguments. I would accept some amendment of the wording in my amendment. I would be willing to accept the application of the Minister's ten year rule, so that turf cutting for domestic purposes could continue for at least ten years. That is guaranteed under the SAC regulation but it is not yet guaranteed to anybody under the NHA regulation, although there is some promise in what the Minister said.

Senator Moylan and the Minister made the point that relocation was important. That was a total failure. People were offered relocation to alternative sites. However, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, which is the successor of the Irish Land Commission and holds most of the State owned bogs, told people to go to totally unserviced and inappropriate areas. The Land Commission advised people to move to sites which were fairly pristine and virgin and were imminent candidates for becoming NHAs. It was completely wrong to allocate to people portions of bog in such areas. The number of people who accepted relocation was minuscule, if not zero.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.

Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.O'Dowd, Fergus.Quinn, Feargal.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.

Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Coogan; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 20, line 24, after "and" to insert "the owner, occupier or user as the case may be has after the expiration of the said period of 6 months given the Minister 14 days' further notice of the intention to carry out or cause or permit to be carried out the works concerned and".

I second the amendment.

The Bill provides that a landowner must notify the Minister if he or she wishes to carry out work on a designated NHA. The Minister can either prohibit such work or agree to it being carried out. If the Minister does neither within six months of being notified, the landowner can proceed with the work. My view is that it is only reasonable that landowners have an assurance that they will have a decision on their proposed works within a specified period. The Attorney General's office is also strongly of this view. I am satisfied that six months is a reasonable period within which to make a decision both from the point of view of the landowner and of the Minister.

Senators Costello, O'Meara and Ryan propose that an onus be put on the owners, occupiers or users of the land to give a further 14 days' notice to the Minister at the conclusion of the stipulated six months period for a decision on proposed work in a designated NHA. While I appreciate where the amendment is coming from and that it is motivated by a desire to avoid damaging any NHA, I do not feel it would be satisfactory. It would involve the use of the applicant as part of the management process to ensure that his or her application is not overlooked. This would be unfair. It would be a most unusual approach and would not constitute good legislation. Neither would such drafting be to the liking of the Attorney General's office. There is always the possibility of replies not being issued due to pressure of work, oversight etc. However, I intend to address this through proper management systems in respect of the process in my Department.

We intend to put proper management systems in place in the Department. It is not considered proper that the applicant should become part of the management administration system. The Minister will have six months within which to prohibit or agree to proposed works in a designated NHA. The six month period is appropriate and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 20, line 32, to delete "3" and substitute "6".

I second the amendment.

This proposal is for the amendment of section 19(2), a provision I inserted on Committee Stage in the other House to enhance the protection to be afforded to proposed NHAs. The provision requires that a person shall not carry out any potentially damaging works in a notified NHA without first giving three months' notice to the Minister. Proceeding with work without giving such notification would constitute an offence. In most cases it will be possible to make the final decision on designation of an NHA within the three month period. Furthermore, section 20 of the Bill enables the Minister to apply to the courts to seek the prohibition of such works.

The amendment proposes that the notification period to the Minister before undertaking works in a notified NHA be extended from three to six months. It is considered that the requirement for three months notification amounts to placing a burden on a landowner. The Attorney General's office is clear that any burden placed on a landowner in such circumstances must be reasonable and the legal advice is that the period of three months is appropriate. However, the imposition of a restriction of six months on a landowner runs the danger of being found to be unreasonable and unnecessary.

From the prospect of allowing sufficient time to the Minister, a period of three months is adequate to facilitate any necessary action. Three months allows time to the Minister to undertake an assessment of the applications of the proposed works for a notified NHA, to move to designate the site as an NHA, if deemed appropriate, or to proceed to seek a court injunction in the event of it being considered necessary to do so. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Perhaps the Minister will clarify a point relating to Senator Connor's amendment which states, "turf cutting privately undertaken for domestic purposes". Is it the case that under section 19 anyone who has turbary rights on a bog must apply to the Minister to do work which is for a domestic purpose?

If the person in possession of that NHA or piece of bog wishes to carry out such work, he or she must contact the local officials of my Department for advice on how to proceed. We do not want significant damage to be done to the bog.

Question, "That the figure proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 22, line 41, after "Where" to insert ", otherwise than in accordance withsection 19,”.

I second the amendment.

Section 21 provides powers to the Minister to order restoration of damaged natural heritage areas. The Senator has proposed to limit the application of section 21. There is a danger that this amendment could lead to a weakening in the protection afforded to NHAs. Conditions can be attached to a consent issued under section 19 and it is prudent to have the power to order restoration in the event that such conditions are not met. It could happen that a person who obtains consent to carry out works under section 19 does not subsequently abide by the conditions attached to the consent. In such cases, if damage was caused to an NHA, restoration might be appropriate.

If the words proposed by the Senators, "otherwise than in accordance withsection 19,” were inserted into this section, it would leave open the possibility that people could evade having to carry out restoration on the NHAs in cases where restoration would be appropriate. It may be that Senators are concerned about a hypothetical situation where a person might be directed to restore a site after they have carried out works in good faith in accordance with section 19 consent. I assure Senators that it is not the intention that this section should be used in this manner. I have no doubt it would not be proper, nor would it be legally feasible, to give a person consent and then require him or her to restore the site if damage was caused as a result of actions taken on foot of that consent.

I cannot accept the amendment as it would lead to a weakening of the protection of natural heritage areas.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 23, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

22.–Where works are carried out on land, an application undersection 20 may not be made, nor may a direction under section 21 be given, later than 10 years from the date of the carrying out of the works concerned.”.

I second the amendment.

This amendment was tabled in the Dáil and on Committee Stage in this House. While the intention of the Senators is understandable, I have examined the suggestion in detail and I cannot accept it is appropriate to incorporate the amendment in the Bill. If adopted, the proposed amendment could give rise to practical difficulties.

The essence of this problem is the requirement that would exist to establish definitively when the alleged works within an NHA were carried out. This would necessitate establishing specific dates involved. It would be extremely difficult to prove the exact date or dates when the relevant work was carried out, particularly if a number of years had passed, which is quite likely in the scenario envisaged by the Senators. The obligation on the Minister under the proposed amendment to determine precisely when works were carried out could be used efficiently and effectively by the occupier-owner of the lands to avoid having to restore the lands in question.

In the case of alleged damage to NHAs, it will be determined that, when restoration is an option, my Department will act expeditiously to remedy the situation by endeavouring, where appropriate, to have the site restored as soon as reasonably possible. I cannot envisage a situation where more than ten years after the works have allegedly been undertaken my Department would intervene to order the restoration of an NHA. In any event, I expect that after such a period it could prove extremely difficult to restore an NHA. I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 32, line 49, after "regulations" to insert "which in the opinion of the Minister is fit for commercial exploitation".

I second the amendment.

The proposed amendment draws particular attention to one of the principal changes arising from the Bill. Section 32 is a totally new provision which will affect our approach to the conservation of wildlife in Ireland, and it is a provision of which I am particularly proud. Senators may be surprised to note that the Wildlife Act, 1976, actually excluded from its general scope all fish and aquatic and vertebrate species. In practical terms, such an approach at the time meant that tens of thousands of species from both marine and fresh water ecosystems were, strictly speaking, off limits from any conservation consideration. While this may have been understandable in 1976, it would be completely at variance with events today when an ecosystem or holistic-based approach to biodiversity conservation is being adopted. The new Bill brings all wild animal species, as well as wild plant species, within the scope of the Act, apart from certain species relevant to fisheries, whether commercial or recreational, which will be excluded.

Section 32 contains a provision which provides for the exclusion of species relevant to fisheries which will, in turn, be specified in regulations to be made under the section. The intention is that species relevant to any type of fishery can be excluded by being listed in the regulations. Species listed are likely to be relevant to existing commercial fisheries and other types of fishing such as sport or recreational fisheries, for example, coarse fish. Species which are not yet subject to commercial exploitation but which are under consideration, or are the subject of trials to investigate the potential for exploitation, or which may become so in the future, may be listed under section 32 regulations. Limiting excludable species, as the amendment proposes, to those fit for commercial exploitation would be overly restrictive.

I repeat that the overall change in the scope of the Act to comprehend the vast majority of wild species represents a fundamental departure for wildlife conservation. This broadening of the basis of wildlife legislation is of great significance and establishes a new and comprehensive framework within which the conservation of biodiversity can be addressed and advanced. In the circumstances, I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 34, line 44, after "published" to insert ", including by electronic means,"

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 50, line 7, after "published" to insert ", including by electronic means,"

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 57, line 39, after "Iris Oifigiúil” to insert “and also by electronic means,”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.

Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.McDonagh, Jarlath.O'Dowd, Fergus.Quinn, Feargal.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.

Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Henry and Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 60, line 12, after "Iris Oifigiúil” to insert “and also by electronic means,”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.

Hayes, Tom.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.McDonagh, Jarlath.O'Dowd, Fergus.Quinn, Feargal.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.

Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Henry and Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 72, to delete lines 1 to 9 and substitute the following:

"and

(ii)by the substitution, in paragraph (a), of ‘conviction, to a fine not exceeding, £1,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both' for ‘conviction–

(a)in the case of a first offence under the particular section or subsection, to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds,

(b)in the case of a second such offence, to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, and

(c)in the case of a third or subsequent such offence, to a fine not exceeding two hundred pounds',”.

I second the amendment.

Section 74 of the principal Act outlines the level of fines that may be imposed for offences committed under the Wildlife Act. The principal Act outlined three levels of offence with varying penalties applying, depending on the level of offence committed. In the case of lower level offences, the penalty also varied, depending on whether a first, second or subsequent offence was involved.

In section 68 of the Bill, the graduated system of penalties is maintained but the level of fines applicable has been substantially increased. I also provided for the imposition of prison sentences at all levels of offence. Under the principal Act, the maximum fine was £500 with no possibility of imprisonment. The maximum fine has been increased to £50,000 and a term of imprisonment can be combined with a fine or imposed separately. The maximum term in relation to a lower level first offence is three months and this rises to a maximum of two years at the top of the scale.

The Senator's proposal would end the current graduated system of penalties for ordinary offences under the legislation. As I outlined, I do not favour this approach and I am supported in this regard by the advice of the Attorney General's office, which is that it would generally be inappropriate to have the same level of penalties for first offences as for repeat offences. Many circumstances could arise where an individual, through an oversight or a lack of knowledge of the relevant legislation, might commit a relatively minor offence under the wildlife legislation. In such cases, it would be unreasonable to impose a sizeable fine, possibly £1,500 and/or 12 months imprisonment under the Senator's amendment, on that individual.

The proposed maximum fine of £500 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to three months provides adequate scope for an appropriate punishment. Under my proposals, if the same person committed a further offence, he or she would potentially be liable to increased fines and a longer term of imprisonment as a defence based on ignorance of the legislation would not hold as much weight. On a third conviction, the maximum level of punishment would be the same as for a summary conviction on the more serious offences under the Wildlife Acts.

In relation to section 68 generally, the provisions stipulate that the offences committed in respect of natural heritage areas will fall within the category drawing the heaviest penalties. I have decided to also provide that offences committed in special areas of conservation will be dealt with similarly. It would be inappropriate to impose a lighter regime on SACs than NHAs.

The substantially increased penalties, taken in conjunction with the other measures introduced by the Bill, will serve to enhance greatly the protection and conservation of our important habitats and our wildlife generally. I do not intend to accept the amendment.

Question, "That the words and figures proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister and her officials for the Bill. I also thank the Members who participated in the debate.

The Minister put her heart and soul into the Bill and she was dedicated to it. I did not realise that the Bill was 16 years in gestation before the Minister grabbed hold of it. I congratulate her on the Bill and also on her dedication, commitment and enthusiasm. We expressed some differences on how the legislation might have been improved, but the Minister's intentions are clear in this good Bill. The country will thank the Minister for it in the years ahead.

I also thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and ensuring it was passed in both Houses of the Oireachtas. When I was a Member of the other House in the early and mid-1990s, the Wildlife Bill was raised on the Order of Business on a number of occasions and various Taoisigh were asked when it would be introduced. As the Minister said, it is a long time coming. It is of particular importance to people like me and the Minister in terms of the protection of the type of landscape in which we live. Despite my misgivings about turf cutting, which were debated in full, I am delighted that this important legislation will be on the Statute Book.

I also congratulate the Minister and her staff on bringing forward this fine and necessary legislation which undoubtedly will do much to protect our natural heritage. I come from a similar type of background to Senator Connor in the Minister's constituency of County Clare. Everybody there will be delighted that these measures are to be implemented. We are disappointed that no amendments were accepted in the Seanad because we always feel that some of the best amendments come from this House. We would have preferred if the Minister had accepted some of them, but she dealt with the Members' points in a thorough and courteous manner.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Senators who contributed to the debate for their co-operation and insights. I also thank my officials who were very helpful through what was a long gestation period for what we believe is good legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.