Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010: Report and Final Stages

I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, each amendment on Report Stage must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"(c) that the Licensing Authority for this Act be the relevant Local Authority.”.

I acknowledge that the thrust of this amendment was raised by Senator Quinn on Committee Stage and on previous occasions by Senator O'Toole. There should be consideration given to the licensing of hunts, in this case the Ward Union Hunt, by the relevant local authority. It is always good to listen to apolitical, independent, objective views. We have tabled an amendment in that light. It is an important opportunity to empower local authorities in respect of this Act. It is worth considering giving local authorities an active role in the jurisdiction for administration and licensing. This could be examined in respect of other licensing arrangements. We are always looking for ways to empower local authorities and make them more relevant. This is an opportunity to do so.

I second the amendment. We heard much about subsidiarity during the debate on the Lisbon treaty referendum. This was explained to us as the idea that decisions should be made and laws should be passed as close to the citizen as possible. Is there a need to pass laws in Brussels or could it be done nationally or locally? This amendment arises from this question.

There is misunderstanding about many things that take place in rural life. There is misunderstanding by those who live in the city. They are not steeped in the involvement of rural life and it is very easy to understand someone sitting in Leinster House passing laws to define what should happen in the country. The ideal answer is subsidiarity, to have decisions made close to where they will affect the citizens. In this case, this means the decision on the Ward Union Hunt would be taken by the local authority in County Meath or Fingal County Council in north County Dublin. It may be that the local authority will decide not to grant permission for a stag hunt in the area. On the other hand, if it decides to do so, that is where the decision should be made. This amendment is worthy of consideration on this basis. Senator O'Toole mentioned the value of this in respect of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. I support the amendment, which is worthy of consideration, and should take precedence over the other options.

I would be surprised if either local authority was willing to take on the exposure created by being the grantor of the licence. Many local authorities are routinely unable to approve activities because of our over-zealous application of public liability. An interesting article by Frank McDonald was published yesterday on the impact this has in localised situations and how it affects civic amenities. Serious accidents and incidents do happen and I note that a few minutes ago, an unfortunate lady had to be taken away by Dublin Fire Brigade from this Chamber. Should a serious accident take place the idea that a local authority, which already was in straitened financial circumstances, would be in a position to grant such a licence appears highly dubious. For this reason I will not support and do not in any sense approve of this amendment.

I support this amendment, which I consider to be highly fair. As for local authorities taking on such responsibilities, everyone advocates giving more responsibilities and powers to local authorities. This is an ideal——

Yes, but not risks.

No interruption, please.

I thank the Cathaoirleach because on Second Stage, every speaker endured interruptions from the other side. Senator Dearey should simply look at the record.

No interruptions, please.

I was merely laughing aloud.

Senator Cummins, without interruption.

I refer to the policy as set out in 2005.

I am sure local authorities would be quite willing to take on the responsibility and risk regarding this matter. I refer to the people in whose jurisdiction the hunt will take place. Their peers and the people whom they represent should be those who decide what is best for them in their own local authority areas. The amendment tabled by Members on this side of the House is an eminently sensible proposal. While it certainly will not receive support from Green Party Members, I hope Fianna Fáil Members will consider giving support and greater power back to their local authority members by adopting the amendment.

This amendment is inspired. I congratulate genuinely and in a non-patronising way my colleague, Senator Coffey, who conceived this excellent amendment, which in many ways resolves the entire issue, with Senators Quinn and O'Toole. It is reasonable to take the entire debate back to people at local level and that such a decision be made ultimately by local people who should determine what happens in their communities on the basis of what is right for their people. The stated ambition of all political parties represented in this House is to devolve power, responsibility and decision-making to local communities and people. The ambition is that power should bubble upward, rather than the reverse, and that this model of administration, rather than its hierarchical opposite, should obtain.

I believe this amendment contains genius to the extent that it removes the debate and puts it where it should be, which is at local community level to be decided by local people. Such decisions should be made at county level or, as Senator Quinn noted in the case of the Ward Union Hunt, both Fingal and Meath county councils would come into play. However, each local authority, through its elected representatives who now are answerable to the people on a five-yearly basis should make a decision that would reflect what was right and culturally correct for that community, what was sensitive to the norms there and what was correct from the tourism perspective. I honestly believe that herein lies the solution to the entire issue and that this is the way to make progress in future.

Unless one merely wishes to pay lip-service to the concept of subsidiarity, local government reform and the empowerment of local people, one must begin somewhere and this would be a reasonable way to begin. It has become the case that to an increasing extent, local government bodies, including my own, are being asked to collect local revenues and development charges etc. As this becomes increasingly common, one cannot reasonably make progress without also passing on power to the local authorities. In that sense, this is a highly worthwhile amendment and it should be supported. There is a great intellectual dishonesty and elitism, almost amounting to a form of snobbery, in the converse. The belief that local people in County Meath are incapable of deciding what should happen within their own community shows a dreadful attitude towards them.

The essence and definition of subsidiarity is that it constitutes decision-making at the lowest effective level. The emphasis must be on the word "effective". From my perspective, the expertise on these matters lies in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which understands how wildlife works and understands the protection of habitats. In case I do not get the opportunity later, I wish to thank my officials for their hard work on this legislation. They were the very people who monitored and reported back on the Ward Union Hunt for years and I am grateful to them for that.

It is interesting that people suggest giving back powers and I am an advocate of so doing. At present, I am trying to grapple with this particular issue in the context of the forthcoming White Paper. However, I reiterate that the emphasis must be on so doing at the most effective level. In respect of planning, for example, when one is talking about local area plans or regional planning guidelines, I have discovered divergences among the various local authorities that consider such issues. In a specific example, Carlow, Laois and Kilkenny county councils operate side by side but we have discovered they have contradictory views. Sometimes one needs oversight and this constitutes an example of where such oversight is required.

As for community participation in such decision-making, which constitutes a further devolution of power, I suggest to Members that were they to conduct an opinion poll or plebiscite in County Meath, they may be astounded. Certainly, the data I have show that approximately 60% of the people in the Meath area want this hunt to be discontinued. Is one to listen to these voices? Moreover, this is not simply the result of one poll, as successive polls have shown this finding. In addition, when speaking of local councils, Councillor Shane Cassells from the Fianna Fáil Party has been a strong advocate on this issue and has stated that the hunt should be discontinued. Had one listened to those people who spoke recently on radio about the various incidents that have occurred, one would have learned they all stated that the hunt should be discontinued. I have a file in my office containing the representations made to my office when the Kildalkey incident occurred in which person after person requested me to ban this hunt. Not only members of the public but public representatives stated this was no longer compatible. While they acknowledged this was very much a rural pursuit, it was taking place in an area that now has become increasingly built up. Consequently, one must consider all those issues, that is, the expertise that is required and the fact this is a highly specialised subject.

Furthermore, what probably is the most important issue in this regard is that this particular hunt unquestionably contains many influential people. I have never seen a better conducted public relations or propaganda campaign. It was well funded and has been able to put enormous pressure on individuals. The campaign decided to so do by issuing misleading statements, engendering fear and by total scaremongering. We know some of the people involved, for example, the Bailey brothers — developers with plenty of money. At one time they had a hotline to Government Buildings. Is the Opposition now siding with people like that? Those are the people——

That is a fudge.

The Minister is talking about the people he is in government with.

——who have great influence.

The Galway tent.

No interruptions please. The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The Minister is digging again.

They could pick up the telephone and say they wanted this or that done. Those days are over. They cannot do it anymore.

That is why we want to keep it local.

No interruption.

If one can imagine the influence they have at central level it would be an absolute cakewalk for them at local level.

It is no wonder the Green Party has only three councillors.

We must be in a position to withstand that type of pressure.

It is no wonder the Green Party has only three councillors.

I can withstand that type of pressure, which is why we are introducing the legislation.

The Minister will be a martyr.

Why did the Minister's party go into government with the people who were involved with the Bailey brothers?

I call Senator Coffey. No other Member should speak.

Is it possible for Senator O'Toole to make a response?

I am unable to allow any speaker who did not speak when the amendment was moved.

On a point of order, can I respond on behalf of Senator Coffey?

No. It is my understanding that the person who moved the amendment and spoke first is the only person who can speak again.

The Minister's desire must be to be seen as a martyr to the cause. That is the way he is portraying himself this evening. He will be a martyr but I do not know how long he will be Minister. The sentiments expressed by him do not indicate much confidence in local authorities. That is evident across various sectors. I am concerned about that and I have debated the issue with the Minister on many occasions on various Bills. Every time he speaks he seems to undermine local authorities and their reason for existence. He seems to have a vendetta against local authorities or a serious level of suspicion at any rate. He should stop that approach and respect local democracy more.

The Minister said that if the licensing authority were to transfer to local authorities it would need to be effective. Local authorities are effective in many respects, for example, waste management, housing, sewerage and water. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform were ineffective in terms of the firearms certificate in the Bill. Central Government is not without fault or problems either.

Senator Coffey opposed it.

I did not oppose it. The Minister should look at the record.

The Minister should look at the record.

I signed the order for it.

The Minister should look at the record.

Local authorities already have veterinary departments. They already have dog wardens in whom the Minister has placed so much faith in terms of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. The Minister is being contradictory in his stance on this amendment. He is saying on the one hand that local authorities are effective in terms of ensuring animal welfare in dog breeding establishments, with which we do not argue, but on the other hand he has said local authorities would not be effective or would not have the role or responsibilities to manage effectively a licence for a hunt. What the Minister is saying is not good enough. He is not sending out a good signal as far as democracy is concerned. His approach is to take a dictatorial stance which is evident in many areas of Green-led legislation that is now being supported by Fianna Fáil. Whether the decisions made by local representatives are right or wrong they will be held accountable for them every five years. If, as a councillor, I vote one way or another on the issue of a licence for a hunt I can be held accountable for that when I knock on the doors of people who may or may not support the particular cause. What better democracy do we want?

The Minister should put it to the test and see what would be the outcome if local authorities had this responsibility. He has argued that they would not want the responsibility. I hold the opposite view. We should try to empower local authorities and give them more reasons for existence. We should give them the power of jurisdiction in their own areas. Deciding on whether to allow a hunt in the area is one good way in which we could do that. Some local authorities might oppose hunting. If that is the case we would have to accept the decision. The Minister should allow local people and their representatives to make the decision.

I regret what the Minister has said which undermines local authorities. He has consistently undermined elected local authority members and attacked councillors in various parties in recent months.

That is most unfair. The Minister is on the record in that regard. He is now making another attack on local government by saying local authorities might not reach effective levels of management. As Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the Minister does not inspire confidence in local government. He should examine his position and be more proactive in terms of encouraging and supporting local authorities and the democratically elected members. Subsidiarity my eye. The Minister does not recognise it.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 26.

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 12 noon on Tuesday, 6 July 2010.