I welcome the Minister to the House. Before I speak about the native red deer species, I thank the Minister for his visit to Killarney on 26 July when he launched the updated management plan for Killarney National Park and signed an historic new five-year agreement with the trustees of Mucross House. Both are very much appreciated and I record my thanks to him.
The Minister and I have discussed this matter here before. At the time I did not receive any numbers as to the native red deer herd size. The first thing we need is an accurate figure. As we know, the native red deer were faced with extinction not too long ago. I have heard various numbers mentioned and if the Minister has an accurate number I would be delighted to receive it.
It is a pity that I have to speak before the Minister does, as my reason for tabling this matter on the Adjournment was to get an update from him on the information he has from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. While those working in the service are conscientious in their own way they have had difficulty with the herd. It is complicated by the fact that the native red deer are greatly outnumbered by the sika deer. Considerably more road accidents are caused by sika than by red deer. I accept that deer will wander in search of grazing and will stray beyond national park boundaries. If a cull is required, we should remove the imported sika species. Perhaps Killarney National Park should be the preserve of the native red deer.
Encroachment has taken place on the uplands mainly by sheep and also by rhododendron, etc. Many different accounts have been given. I ask the Minister to outline the Department's position on the cull. No one wants the danger of guns in the park. Many walkers traverse the park. We are encouraging more walking holidays and hill walking. While some of these hunters are probably very responsible, I would prefer if the sika deer could be shot with tranquillisers and taken out of the park. Deer are becoming a nuisance to farmers — in particular on the Mangerton side towards Kilgarvan. I can supply the Minister with the name of one poor farmer who is bedevilled by the animals. I accept that while they are on his lands they are his property but he will not seek a licence to shoot deer. However, perhaps he could be assisted in that work by an appropriate member of staff.
I appeal to the Minister to work with Kerry County Council to provide more road signs showing that deer are wandering. As we know, the road from Killarney to Kenmare passes through the heart of the national park. The 100 km/h signs on that stretch of road should be removed. It is hardly possible to achieve such a speed with the chicanes, twists and narrowness. I appeal for the signs between Mucross village and Fivemilebridge to be removed.
I tabled this matter to get an update from the Minister. Perhaps I might be allowed to make a quick response after the Minister has spoken.