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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Jul 2012

Vol. 216 No. 8

Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2012: Committee and Remaining Stages

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I want an answer from the Minister. The Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2010 is almost as short as this amending Bill. Why did the Minister decide not to amend section 3 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2010. He is amending section 4 of the 2010 Act but he is not amending section 3. It was advertised to the public before the election as a specific promise by Fine Gael. I refer to letters from the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee and a famous letter from the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan to the National Association of Regional Game Councils. The Minister has not addressed my concerns on Second Stage. I thought I made a very valid point that a specific commitment had been made by Fine Gael and which was completely reneged upon. Why is section 4 being amended and not section 3, the section dealing with stag hunting and which was the subject of large scale promises by the Fine Gael Party?

This is my consideration and there is a degree of urgency. In the overall wildlife Bill there can be several considerations and I can come back to the House to discuss those with the Senator. He can make his case then but as he knows from his own legal background there is an urgent need to deal with this provision. I thank the Seanad for accommodating me by dealing with this Bill. There are a number of other issues apart from stag hunting which have exercised people. The next wildlife Bill will be presented before 2014, hopefully. I never promised to make provision for anything other than what is in the Bill.

I am sorry to dwell on this as the Minister was not involved in the promises but the party of which he is a member was involved as was his Cabinet colleague and the constituency member, but it is reasonable that I raise the issue as he is the Minister. Apart from pre-election promises, a leaflet was circulated in the Meath East constituency in November 2011 stating that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Shane McEntee, was working with the Minister and that the ban on stag hunting would be reversed shortly. The Minister was slapped down by the Taoiseach shortly after that. What was happening in the Minister's Department given that the Minister of State was able to tell constituents that the Minister was about to do this? That is the reason I was surprised that stag hunting was not addressed in the Bill. What has happened in the meantime that those pre-election commitments and the post-election statements have not been followed up on?

I am not aware of that leaflet which, perhaps, the Deputy will bring to my attention. The Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, has obviously raised the issue since the election in the House and made a statement on it. Certainly, there is no proposal to amend the Bill in respect of stag hunting. I have no proposal to bring to the House in the near future and I will be upfront about that. In the context of a wildlife Bill in the future, the Senator will get an opportunity to raise that issue.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Acting Chairman for chairing the debate and Senators for their positive contributions. Certainly there is room for further discussion, not only on the wildlife Bill that will be introduced but on the general issue of nature and biodiversity. I will provide information on the national biodiversity plan and other information which has not been discussed and is very much part of the European programme. It is important and timely to discuss what the European Commission and the Parliament are saying on nature. We will arrange for that debate.

I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House. The debate was positive. I support the point made by Senator Ó Clochartaigh that the Minister consider bringing the primary legislation first to the Seanad. This is not a reflection on the other House but I have found in respect of legislation and other matters, apart from the normal political cut and thrust, which is necessary, that Members do their homework and have definite ideas and put them clearly. When it comes before the House, that legislation would benefit and may also ensure the continuity of the Seanad in years to come.

Endangered species will be part of the wildlife Bill.

I congratulate the Minister for getting the Bill through as efficiently as he did. Senator Ó Clochartaigh made the point that the Technical Group had some experience. My experience is of trying to get something through computers having seen what happened in Ulster Bank in recent days. The question is how one manages to do this. It appears it could have been done in some other format but the Minister explained that was not possible. The efficiency of getting legislation through in this way is obvious.

I thank the Minister for a good debate. I agree with my colleagues on the other side in respect of the wildlife Bill and following publication I urge the Minister to bring it first to the House, where we can have a good debate. Farmers have been the custodians of the countryside as the Minister has said. We move forward to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the rural development programme that will be agreed next year, all of which links in to that area.

Ní ghabhfaidh mé i bhfad leis seo. There is a need to have a further look at the computerisation issue in a modern state if a simple change cannot be introduced without a massive cost. If it cannot be done quickly and efficiently there is a huge question to be asked about how we run our computer systems. I welcome the debate or statements on the wildlife area. The future of the National Parks and Wildlife Service should be part of that debate and the designations of special protection areas, natural heritage areas and special areas of conservation should be debated and the science behind the designation of those areas should be questioned. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong but there should be a debate as to whether the proper criteria were used and if the designations were done properly and, if not, if they can be reviewed.

As other Senators have done I thank the Minister and look forward to a debate on biodiversity. I share Senator Ó Clochartaigh's view in respect of wide consultation prior to the 2014 legislation. People have opinions about wildlife, the environment and biodiversity. The Minister was correct to praise the farmers as the custodians but many others want to have a share in that. An opportunity for a broad range of consultations will ensure wider and more encompassing legislation.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. While I am not a hunting person, nor do I claim to be, there are many who are and who were worried about the validity of their hunting licences. At least they can continue to hunt. I welcome the Minister's statement that he is coming in to speak on biodiversity. Last week, the Minister and I raised the green flag in our local schools for biodiversity. It was an education in itself to listen to the children speak about wildlife and biodiversity. In Kerry, we have what is called a bugs hotel. While Kerry is known for its great hotels, it has a bug hotel in Holy Cross Mercy national school. The children have set up a structure into which they entice little bugs of all species to enter. It is fascinating. They also have a wildlife garden. It is great that from a young age children are being taught about nature and to value the environment. A debate on biodiversity is welcome.

The Cooley Peninsula from which I come is rich in heritage and wildlife of all types. The arrival of the Brent geese can be timed as they land in my area also on 23 October. The Cooley Mountains are rich in wildlife. The Minister mentioned farmers and the part they play as part-time caretakers of our heritage and environment. Each of us has a part to play and each of us is a part-time caretaker of our heritage and wildlife for as long as we are on this earth. I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well in its completion in the not too distant future.

The hunting groups and gun clubs will welcome it also. I look forward to its introduction in the near future.

The tenor of the debate on the Bill is in contrast to the previous debate in 2010 when a similar amendment was brought forward and the Opposition, now the Government, threw brickbats at the Government in regard to it. It was controversial at the time but this debate is a complete reversal of that. It is happy-clappy time and everything is wonderful. I want to record that.

The Minister will be very much aware of the controversy that surrounded this issue. It had reached the stage where serious allegations were being made against the Garda authorities by members of the regional and national game councils who believed they were being inhibited in pursuing their sport simply because the gardaí were taking a negative approach, and a hostile attitude in some instances, to applications being made.

We must remember that following the passing of the original legislation hunters were hunting illegally under the then law. That is the reason for the amendment. For a number of months they were not legally entitled to pursue their sport and, as a result, the interaction with the Garda proved to be very difficult.

The Minister did not make any reference to that in his Second Stage contribution but he might give some indication as to whether that controversy has abated and that the relationship between the hunting community and the Garda——

The Senator's colleague——

I am asking whether the relationship between the hunting fraternity and the Garda in regard to endorsement of firearms licences to allow them hunt has died down, and that there is no particular controversy surrounding this issue.

Of course people in the hunting fraternity welcome this measure. Why would they not welcome it? Otherwise, their activity would be illegal. They would not be able to pursue it unless this was to be done. The Minister spoke about comprehensive legislation but this issue has been going on for a number of years. This was a sticking plaster measure in 2010. It is still that. I am not being negative but surely this issue should be resolved once and for all.

The Minister made the point that this is the result of a new computerised system but it seems extraordinary, in this technological age, that at that time provision was not made for this and that the endorsement had to be written on the licence to allow hunters to hunt legally. I presume that scenario has not changed because the Minister is now extending that legislation to allow for an additional number of years. I am curious to know at what point this will end and that a future Administration will not have to bring in emergency legislation to extend it yet again. I welcome the Bill.

In fairness to the Minister, I cannot allow him answer because he has already spoken and the Bill is passed. I was merely giving colleagues an opportunity to make some final comments.

I support the Bill. It ensures that people can shoot legally and that our precious bird and wildlife species are not endangered by a more open season than what is currently the case.

It was an interesting debate from which we all learned a good deal. It brought back happy memories for many of us who grew up in the countryside. I was reminded that when I was a youngster the fox was seen as a menace but in recent weeks I had the pleasure, even though I live in the town, of having a tame fox come into my back kitchen seeking food. Times change, but I welcome that the Minister will bring forward more comprehensive legislation in 2014.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss biodiversity, the general wildlife issue and our heritage. We have a Minister who is very much in tune with our heritage, our culture, wildlife, biodiversity and everything we hold dear in our countryside. We will welcome such an opportunity to have a broad and comprehensive discussion.

I was not aware that on the last occasion this issue was discussed in the House it was particularly controversial. In response to Senator Byrne, I am not sure that stag hunting in County Meath was the cause of the loss of all the seats.

The Senator is aware that he cannot refer to colleagues who are not present.

Other matters came into play. He should let go of it at this stage.

I thank the Minister and colleagues.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 2.05 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.