Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Committee Stage

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 7 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“(2) Section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 is amended by the insertion of “for its role in carbon sequestration, or in respect of pollination” after “features” where it first occurs.”.

Amendments Nos.1, 5 and 7 relate to the amendment of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act of 2000. In section 2 of the Bill before us, the Government is amending section 16 of the 2000 Act and my amendment No. 1 is a further amendment to that section. It relates specifically to an amendment of subsection (6) of section 16 which sets out the various scientific factors that may be considered in the context of the designation of particular places as natural heritage areas worthy of conservation. There is a wide list of scientific factors that are included in the 2000 Act but that Act, by virtue of the time of its introduction, predates some of the key and most pressing scientific and environmental concerns that we have today. Most notably the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 in section 6 (6) does not include the key issue of carbon sequestration.

I may table amendments on Report Stage on the wider set of climate change impacts, but I have tried to be specific by focusing on carbon sequestration. In the past 90 years a considerable body of relevant scientific information that looks to the role of our forests, bogs and other spaces in sequestering carbon and helping to reduce carbon emissions has been built up. That is a fundamental matter. This is about ensuring that the section dealing with scientific factors in the 2000 Act is up to date. I do not believe it can be up to date if it does not include a consideration of the environmental impact of having carbon sequestered in our bogs and the role they play. I could cite at length the various statistics, and there may be a chance at a later stage to look to those, in terms of the role carbon sequestration plays, but I wanted to highlight that factor in the first instance.

I have mentioned on previous occasions, and I know that the Minister of State understands my point, that we face twin crises at the moment. There is a crisis in terms of climate change and in respect of biodiversity and the collapse of ecosystems. An abundance of scientific information has come to light on these topics. We are told that 40% or more of our pollinators may be under threat and may die. The University of Stanford in particular has produced large-scale research on this area. Bees have become so scarce that they are transferred from one side of a country to another to help with harvests. When we spoke about these issues during the debate on the Heritage Bill recently, I emphasised that it takes multiple visits, sometimes up to 20, from a pollinator for horticultural produce such as apples to develop fully. Pollinators have a key role, which has been recognised by the Government in the national pollinator plan. That plan, however, must be given recognition and substance. We have to be consistent. If we have a national pollinator plan and are looking at scientific issues in respect of special areas of natural heritage or environmental considerations, we must give effect to it.

Amendment No. 1 seeks to ensure that the environmental factors that are taken into account in the consideration of bogland when it comes to its designation or its environmental benefits include its role in carbon sequestration or in respect of pollination. Amendment No. 5 follows through on the same theme. While I recognise that there are positive aspects to the Bill, one of my primary concerns is that there are entirely different criteria set out concerning the designation and de-designation of a bogland as an area of national heritage. I will return to that in subsequent amendments, but it seems extraordinary that we would have entirely different criteria being applied to designating and de-designating areas of national heritage. To designate an area, section 16(6), which is the part of the Bill dealing with scientific environmental impacts, is referred to.

I am trying to double down on this. If my first amendment is not successful in including the role of carbon sequestration and pollination directly into section 16(6), I have taken those two factors and included them using the next amendment so that the Bill would include at that point consideration of "contribution towards the achievement of climate change targets or goals within the National Pollinator Plan" and "national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs" in the designation of a national heritage area. I think it is clear in the drafting, but I want to emphasise that the provision does not state that all of these factors are required.

It simply means that these are all factors that might contribute to the Minister of State's decision to designate a natural heritage area. Again I commend him and I recognise that he proposes to designate some 25 areas of public land in respect of national heritage areas but this would effectively future-proof the legislation and ensure it is truly responsive to the wide range of considerations that should be brought onboard.

I refer to amendment No. 7 on page 4, line 11. This is about bog habitats ceasing to be designated. My concern is that while section 16(6) may be incomplete, it includes key scientific measures in respect of environment. That is referenced in relation to designating a natural heritage area. However, in the decision to de-designate natural heritage areas, which I spoke about on Second Stage, that is the headline issue and that is what we are seeing in the papers. Section 16(6) is ostentatiously missing. It is a real concern if those scientific factors, evidences, concerns and environmental considerations that are looked at when deciding to create an area of natural heritage are not also considered when de-designation is being considered. If it is being considered to take something out of natural heritage protection, surely the same factors and criteria need to be addressed. Instead, environmental criteria are referred to and a definition of environmental criteria is produced later in the Bill, which is quite different to those factors outlined in section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. There is a concern here as it is an inconsistency. In legislation, an inconsistency is a concern, as well as those areas of omission such as climate change and pollinators that I mentioned. I hope the Minister of State can address that point somewhat. We will come back to it in some subsequent amendments but amendment No. 7 is just another quite blunt proposal to do that. I reserve the right to bring section 16(6) directly into the proposed section 18A(3)(b)(ii) and I may do that on Report Stage. In the meantime, I have put in the phrase, “and contribution towards achievement of climate change targets or goals within the National Pollinator Plan”. I have held back on bringing section 16(6) directly into the de-designation because I wanted to hear the Minister of State's rationale for that decision.

I thank Senator Higgins for her contribution. I am conscious of the benefits of the restoration of peatlands, its benefits for Ireland's commitments under our international climate change targets and to them functioning. Peatlands capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the form of peat and vegetation. The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, approved by the Government and published in December 2017, sets out how raised bog special areas of conservation are to be managed, conserved and restored and how the needs of turf cutters are to be addressed. The national restoration programme for Ireland's raised bog special area of conservation and national heritage area is contained within this plan. It is intended to restore all designated raised bogs within three cycles with the first cycle operating for the duration of the management plan. As provided for in the Bill, the primary focus of any review of bog habitats would be nature conservation in terms of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status. Restoration of bog habitats through the blocking of surface water drains by the insertion of peat or plastic dams, with the accompanying benefits regarding climate change targets and carbon storage will be a key element of the process. However, I am also conscious of the balance within the Bill between the needs to protect the environment, living up to our EU obligations and working with landowners and turf cutters. While I will not be accepting the Senator's amendments, I will consider the matter further, in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, with a view to bringing forward amendments on Report Stage, which take account of the issues raised. I understand where the Senator is coming from. I assure her that we will look at the language of her amendments in bringing forward an amendment on Report Stage.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 includes a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services on the island of Ireland. Its recommendations will be taken into account in developing any necessary regulations. Therefore, I do not see the need to include any of the amendments on the pollinator plan in this regard and I will not be accepting those amendments.

I thank the Minister of State for his engagement and I look forward to engaging with him further between Committee and Report Stages. In respect of that, I will not press all of these amendments.

I will not press all of my amendments but will possibly press one or two. Amendment No. 1 is probably the most comprehensive and represents the preferable way to move forward in terms of engaging with section 16(6) of the 2000 Act. I will not press it now but I wish to put a number of specific points to the Minister of State. I appreciate and welcome his comments on the national restoration plan and specifically what he outlined on re-wetting. These are very positive measures and the conservation plans will, of course, have climate benefits as well as habitat benefits. My amendments are not so much concerned with what happens after a designation but are related to the process of designation. They reference the decision to designate an area. I recognise, for example, that 25 areas of public land are being designated, which is very welcome. There may be scientific, environmental and other considerations that mean that some other lands also need to be designated. I will not go into some of the social considerations, of which I am very aware. The Minister of State will be aware that I have tabled a number of amendments on issues like fuel poverty and turbary rights, which I absolutely respect. However, this particular amendment is concerned with the kind of standards we apply to designation or de-designation. I ask the Minister of State to clarify his thoughts on section 16(6) of the 2000 Act and the application of that to designation but not to de-designation. I appreciate the Minister of State's engagement on these matters.

I accept that there is an eternal debate here. On the one hand, we have the concerns of local communities about what are often small areas of land and their designation. Communities may wish to remove small contentious areas of land from the designation because in their view, it will not impact on the overall status of the larger NHA. On the other hand, we need to protect the maximum amount of NHAs and bogland in recognition of the role they play in carbon sequestration, as the Senator rightly pointed out. Functioning peatlands capture or sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the form of peat and vegetation. They have a very important and positive role to play in mitigating climate change by enabling the storage of carbon. A balance must be struck between the need to remove what are, in many cases, very small areas on the one hand and the need to designate what are, in most cases, larger areas. One would not designate an area the size of this Chamber, for example, but one may wish to de-designate an area of that size for some specific purpose or role. The process of de-designation is simpler and the standards would be lower. However, there is still a process that must be gone through which is based on scientific advice. Obviously, we will have a wider debate on section 16(6) of the 2000 Act in the context of some of Senator Higgins's later amendments.

From my perspective, I am not looking for a laborious process but feel that the same kinds of considerations should apply. Perhaps this could be addressed on Report Stage by way of amendments from me or from the Minister of State, whereby size limits could be set on the spaces that can be de-designated. That may be a way of tackling this issue. I am very aware of the issues involved here. My own family comes from the Galway-Mayo border area and I have family members who have turbary rights. I know that in many cases, the holdings affected are very small but it is important, where we have considerations, that there is consistency. There may be ways to expedite the process but the same set of considerations must apply. I will reserve the right to table an amendment on Report Stage and am happy to engage with the Minister of State in the meantime. I believe that section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 is the area where this should be addressed.

There is only one minute remaining.

I could speak forever but will not. I could list all of the species affected but will not do so. However, it is very important that the national pollinator plan be factored into the equation here. I know that the plan exists but we are in a crisis situation in terms of our pollinators. When we spoke about these issues three years ago, the beekeepers of Ireland sounded the alarm bells. We know now that we have the equivalent of foot and mouth disease in our bee population. I have been contacted by beekeepers who do really crucial work. They have told me that they are burning down hives in the midlands because a number of different factors are affecting the health of bees. These essential pollinators are having to travel greater distances because the range of plant life around them is diminishing. This is not just about the bees but about all of us, as we know. I once attempted to put the national pollinator plan on a statutory footing. I am not trying to do that with this Bill but bringing it in as a more formal consideration would be useful.

I will not press all of these amendments now in recognition of the fact that the Minister of State is engaging. However, I may need to press one relating to climate change and pollinator plans.

I am happy to engage further through the officials on the pollinator issue to see if there is a wording that is acceptable to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC. Prior to Report Stage we will have guidance from the OPC on our own amendments to ensure that we get the most appropriate wording. I acknowledge the importance of bees. They are often underestimated and their role is not well appreciated in some quarters. That is why we are putting a strategy in place through regulation. I would welcome any further engagement between the Stages.

I will withdraw amendment No. 1 but reserve the right to reintroduce it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to give notice that I may table an amendment to section 3 on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 4

Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and Nos. 21 and 25 are related and may be discussed together. I understand that Senator Ruane is moving amendment No. 2 on behalf of Senator Grace O'Sullivan.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, lines 23 to 26, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 23 down to and including “(a))” in line 26.

I thank the Minister of State for being here. I am moving this group of amendments on behalf of my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, who cannot be here today. Her amendments all aim to limit the scope of the proposed review in order to better protect our natural bog habitats from being de-designated as NHAs. We are opposed to any regressive steps to de-designate these bogs due to their important role as our largest natural carbon sinks and the massive part they will play in helping Ireland to meet its climate action targets under various international and EU climate agreements. These bogs are resources of incredible natural, historical, environmental and cultural value and any review of their special recognised status as such should be approached with the greatest caution, care and respect for their environmental role in contributing to the Irish efforts on climate change, an approach which is sadly lacking in this Bill.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to remove section 18A(1)(b) which opens up raised and blanket bogs to potential de-designation while amendments Nos. 3 and 4 would limit the scope of the proposed review by only allowing it to apply to raised bogs and excluding blanket bogs from the process. Amendment No. 21 would also remove blanket bogs from the review process while amendment No. 25 makes a consequential amendment to the Title of the Bill, making it clear that the review would only apply to raised bogs. I hope the Minister of State will give these amendments favourable consideration.

I thank Senator Ruane. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016, as initiated, has been amended in Dáil Éireann and now provides for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, at his or her discretion, to conduct a review or reviews of the blanket bog NHA network as well as to continue and complete the 2014 review of the raised bog NHA network. The Bill now gives the Minister the power to conduct a review or reviews of the blanket bog NHAs at some point in the future without obliging the Minister to do so. Such a review of blanket bog NHAs would not be done in a vacuum. It would involve public consultation and would not necessarily lead to proposals for the de-designation of blanket bog NHA sites. There are principles and criteria in the Bill to guide a Minister in conducting a review and in making decisions, such as the carrying out of a strategic environmental assessment, public consultation and linking the achievement of nature conservation objectives for blanket bog habitats to the favourable conservation status of these habitats.

As provided for in the Bill, at the heart of any future review will be nature conservation in maintaining blanket bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status.

I do not share the views of the Senators on the blanket bog natural heritage area network. Therefore, I will not be accepting the amendments.

I know that Senator Grace O'Sullivan will return to this issue when she returns to the House, but others were clear that there had been a long process. There has been a substantial 12 year consultation process involving a large number of factors and conversations on raised bogs. It is not that it is inconsistent, but perhaps, with due respect, it is irresponsible, having had a 12 year process in respect of raised bogs, with long consultations and processes, to then simply throw in blanket bogs. I know that the Minister of State spoke about the matter on Second Stage. He said it had been discussed on Committee Stage in the Dáil when I know the proposals were made. However, proposals being made on Committee Stage in the Dáil is not the same as engaging in public consultation or having a considered review with stakeholders. It is not the same as monitoring work. In no way does a brief Committee Stage discussion in which the inclusion of blanket bogs was proposed and rejected by the Minister run parallel with a12 year consultation process in respect of raised bogs. I am not saying we need a 12 year consultation process, but we need a consultation process. Frankly, it would be irresponsible to allow blanket bogs to be included without having one.

We really will be pressing and fighting this. Even those who are advocates of some of the proposals made in respect of raised bogs are rightly concerned about the inclusion of blanket bogs which form a different kind of environment, about which they have other environmental concerns. We know that blanket bogs are crucial, not only for carbon sequestration. I will be bringing forward several proposals if blanket bogs stay within the Bill. They are also crucial as flood plains and for water retention. They are crucial in dealing with some of the impacts of climate change. We talked about the mitigation role they can play in carbon sequestration, but there is also a major adaptation role for them as they are particular environments. The work has not been done to include blanket bogs in this legislation, to which they do not belong. It is like adding apples on top of oranges. If they are different, they require the application of different considerations and thoughts. We simply cannot add in another thing at the end. This is too serious and important a process for that to happen.

We recognise the integral keystone habitat among Ireland's native flora and fauna. A total of 49% of all endangered species are to be found in peatlands. The Minister of State mentioned some of the later processes - we will come to this issue when we come to the environmental criteria to be considered - but they are really not adequate. The environmental criteria to be considered in the potential de-designation of blanket bogs include the conservation value of a blanket bog, taking into account a comparison made between its area, range, habitat, structure, function and ecological features and those of one or more blanket bogs elsewhere. We are saying we are definitely going to de-designate some blanket bogs and that it will be a question of the weakest link in determining which one is for the chop. That is what is set out as the environmental criterion and it is deeply inadequate. At least in the case of raised bogs there is reference to range, habitat, structure, function and ecological features. I still believe it is inadequate, but at least they get a mention. With blanket bogs, it is a question of picking the least favoured and deciding that is the one to be de-designated.

I know that many other parties represented in the House are supporting the Bill overall, but I hope they will engage with us and at least consider the removal of blanket bogs. The work has not been done in advance and it has not been done in this legislation. Senator Grace O’Sullivan has made proposals for the removal of blanket bogs. I may come with a different approach to the removal of blanket bogs, but I am keen to indicate that it really is a problem. I urge the Minister of State to revise and reconsider the matter, perhaps in subsequent legalisation designed more for this purpose and with an appropriate range of criteria relevant to engagin in public consultation on blanket bogs. That might be a better approach to take to the inclusion of blanket bogs.

The Senator mentioned a period of 12 years. It might have been mentioned in the media and in the ether, but the consultation period has not been 12 years. The consultation process followed the 2014 national heritage area review. The Senator is right in the sense that there has been engagement or that discussion has been ongoing for a long period. It was rather problematic and difficult and caused much public concern. There was engagement with officials in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, while there were some difficult situations in respect of turf cutting, as the Senator would have seen in the media. To be honest, the approach taken was not ideal, but the level of engagement increased and led to the review that took place which Senator Higgins supported in how it was enacted.

The approach taken stems from a recommendation made by Deputy Ó Cuív on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Any earlier proposal arising from a review would have been subject to a strategic environmental assessment and public consultation before the Minister would have been able to formally propose new sites for designation or designate or partially designate blanket bogs as natural heritage areas. It is envisaged that any review of the blanket bog NHA network will take place in the context of the development of a management system for blanket bogs. Consultation with local stakeholders will be required in advance of scientific fieldwork taking place on special area of conservation sites.

The review of NHA status for raised bogs was part of the process of relocation. The recommendation in respect of the de-designation of parts of larger bogs impacted on the most or those that offered the least benefit to the conservation of the overall habitat of a given bog was made with a view to protecting the majority of it. The idea was to try to relocate people from certain areas to bogs with less favourable status. Any review of the NHA status of blanket bogs will involve a similar approach. I cannot predict what will happen when the experts carry out reviews, but I anticipate a similar approach being taken. There are areas of blanket bogs that have been degraded greatly by active turf cutting. There are other areas that have been impacted on less and still others that have been untouched. There may be areas that have not been designated but could be as part of a review. Again, we need to look at State lands, as we did in NHA designations. It would all be part of a process in looking at special areas of conservation. The Bill does not allow for de-designation of SACs, but in a review of SAC blanket bogs that we will be obliged to undertake by the European Commission we will look at the overall package of blanket bogs, including those which have been designated as natural heritage areas. It is not as if anything would happen overnight. It would happen as part of a review of SAC blanket bogs. It would include NHAs and certain areas that have been overworked, as well as those that have been impacted on less or those that have not been impacted on at all.

SACs are different. They are referenced in the Bill and are required by Europe, but they are in a different category and do not relate to this. Our concern is those blanket bogs that are not protected by SAC status or all of the various requirements and caveats that come with that.

While the Minister of State has spoken about what might be anticipated or expected or what he might think might be considered, that is not in the Bill. That is the concern. There may be a number of factors that may be anticipated for consideration, but they are not in the Bill. Blanket bogs have been included alongside raised bogs which have already undergone those good processes that the Minister of State has spoken about. I recognise that there are areas that are very degraded. Again, that is one area where we need to take care.

We also want to ensure that we do not set up an incentive for the degradation of areas. While I am aware that it was not always managed well and that repair work has been done in the past two to three years in rebuilding relationships, actions were taken in that period such as, for example, key heritage areas being largely cut. Was it on 21 June in one year that a large-scale cutting in a quite symbolic area took place? We do not want in any way to create a dynamic whereby there is a sense that there is any reward for the degradation of heritage areas. That is why having all of these other considerations, like the track record and what the environment has been like over a period, would mean that it would not simply be a case that if there were to be degradation of an area this year, it would be more likely to get de-designated in a year's time. There needs to be a continuum of work and a joined-up impact assessment that looks at the bigger picture.

With due respect to the Minister of State, those factors that are there for SACs because they are obliged to be there for a SACs are not present in the Bill at the moment. I support all of Senator O'Sullivan amendments and I will not presume to press them without allowing her an opportunity to engage with them further on Report Stage. I urge the Minister of State to consider whether it may be a more expeditious and appropriate strategy to look at dealing with blanket bogs separately. He may end up with a blueprint that is useful and usable. We are not ready to add them in at the moment.

The environmental criteria that will be used in any review of blanket bogs will be the same as used for raised bogs. There are no immediate plans. A lot of expertise has been gathered over the recent period on methodology and process as to raised bogs, which would be transferred to any review of blanket bogs. The Senator has mentioned 12 years and I have mentioned four to five years of consultation. How we have done that and what we have learned from that will be transposed to how we deal with any reviews that we are obliged to do on SACs, but it will also encompass natural heritage areas, NHAs, as part of the overall package. I have met officials on this, and what we have seen with blanket bogs is that they are not all the same. There are areas that are more degraded and other areas that are relatively pristine. We want to transfer the knowledge that we have gleaned from the review of the raised bogs to dealing with the blanket bogs. I have been very cognisant of our obligations under European legislation and the fact that, as we are aware, there is a critical role in climate mitigation within which bogs have a very special place. Senator Ó Céidigh spoke last week about the special place that they have in parts of Connemara and elsewhere, an important role in climate change which we all appreciate.

Where the debate five or six years ago was all about designations and the perception that big bad Europe was trying to force us to do this, the debate in the future about bogs will be about the very important role they play in carbon sequestration and mitigating against climate change. This is where the debate is going. Anything that is being done on blanket bogs will be mirrored by what we have done on raised bogs in the same process and procedure.

I acknowledge the Minister of State's comments on Senator Ó Céidigh. I attempted to table amendments that reflected the issues mentioned around turbary rights, fuel poverty, and just transition. I had the opportunity to sit on the Committee on Climate Action, substituting for Senator O'Sullivan, and we discussed those issues. There are issues there and I had hoped that there might be potential for a review to look at all those issues on a legal basis. This involves co-operation with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but any amendments in this regard were ruled out of order for now. The Minister of State is right in that there is a package of issues to be considered. The human sustainability is both social as well as environmental.

Am I to take it that Senator Ruane is not pressing this amendment?

I will be withdrawing each amendment with the right to resubmit on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 3, after “maintaining” to insert “raised”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 5, after “suitable” to insert “raised”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 8, after “needs” to insert the following:

“and contribution towards achievement of climate change targets or goals within the National Pollinator Plan”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and Michelle Mulherin..
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 6 is in the names of Senators Higgins, Ruane and Kelleher. Amendments Nos. 6 and 20 are related and may be discussed together by agreement? Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, lines 9 and 10, after "having regard to" to insert “all of the matters referred to in section 16(6),".

I will not labour the point in respect of these amendments. They cover very much the ground we have spoken about previously. Although the Minister of State has addressed many of the specific environmental issues, and I thank him for his engagement on that, the specific issue of an openness to considering section 16(6) of the 2000 Act and the scientific factors set out in respect of the environment and merely updating them is one issue and the other issue is that amendment No. 6 specifically seeks to ensure that those same scientific factors would be considered regarding dedesignation as well as designation, a point I outlined previously.

Amendment No. 20 is consistent in that respect. It is an attempt to address the problem with the environmental criteria, which we discussed previously. There are different factors - habitat, structure and function. The Minister of State is correct in that it is the same provision in respect of raised bogs and blanket bogs in that regard but, again, the problem is that the environmental criteria are simply a comparison between those factors in one bog and in another bog, rather than a consideration of the scientific and environmental factors on their own terms. It almost sets up a weakest link approach in the sense of which will we go for? Part of that process is to indicate which are most suitable or not suitable for dedesignation but they are not environmental criteria; they are, effectively, pragmatic criteria. Environmental criteria need to include the same scientific objectives, environmental facts and points of research, data and reference set out in section 16(6) of 2000 Act. This is the same point but it is particularly pertinent in respect of amendment No. 20 of the section. If the Minister of State is not able to accept the proposed change to one area of the section, he might consider accepting amendment No. 20.

Section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 refers to special scientific interest in the process of proposing sites for designation as natural heritage areas under the Act. Section 16(6) is also specifically referred to in the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 as regards the criteria to be taken into account in selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated as natural heritage areas. In order that the selection process for the inclusion of sites in the reconfigured raised bog natural heritage area network adopted a sustainable approach, the selection criteria, while including the primary environmental and technical factors essential for raised bogs existence now and into the future, also include economic and social criteria.

The environment, technical, social and economic criteria used for the raised bog natural heritage area review were given equal weighting and in all categories the highest scores were given to the most favourable sites, which are those with the best existing environmental standing, the best restoration potential, the most socially appropriate and the most economically advantageous investments. At the same time, each site was examined by departmental staff from a nature conservation and management perspective to ensure that the final outcomes of the selection process were practical and achievable.

I would envisage that the undertaking of future reviews of blanket bog natural heritage areas would follow a similar sustainable approach in accordance with the previsions of the Wildlife (Amendment ) Bill 2016. That would include setting up terms of reference, environmental strategic assessment and providing for public consultation. There is no need, therefore, to specifically refer to section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 among the criteria to be taken into account as referred to in this Bill when selecting the most suitable bog habitats to cease to be designated as natural heritage areas. These criteria are environmental criteria, restoration potential and national, regional and local economic and cultural needs.

Within the Bill the definition of environmental criteria has been carefully drafted and there is no need to refer to section 16(6) within it. I will, therefore, not accept the amendments.

I should have said earlier that I intend to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage on the conservation of biodiversity. In consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, I intend to table an amendment or amendments on Report Stage to a section within the Bill with respect to introducing a biodiversity duty, which would place a requirement on public bodies to embed biodiversity in carrying out their functions so as to promote the conservation of biodiversity.

Senators have rightly referred to the importance of biodiversity and nature conservation. The proposed introduction of this legislation follows on from the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 and the recent national biodiversity conference attended by the Minister, Deputy Madigan. The plan recognises that biodiversity can only be maintained or restored by complementary actions by a wide range of sectors, as decisions and actions have a profound influence upon the natural environment.

I look forward to the amendments in respect of biodiversity. They will strengthen the Bill. The idea of a duty is important. There is scope in a number of areas in the Bill to revise and consider duties, responsibilities and actions that may be taken consequently. I may reserve the right to introduce an amendment in respect of that area on Report Stage.

With due respect, the concern currently is the environmental criteria definition. Along with blanket bogs, that is probably one of the main core concerns I would have about the Bill. The environmental criteria currently are simply a comparator. The section references a number of environmental words, including "range, habitat, structure, function, ecological features" but it simply states that it be a comparison between them in one bog and in another. That is not the same as examining the scientific, environmental and other factors and data that exist. As the Minister of State rightly described, a range of indicators were put in place in the designation processes set out in section 16(6). We cannot simply say that, if, for example, we discover five bogs are all of pristine quality that we will go for the 100% and the 90%, and that the 80% - the graded one - needs to go, if it emerges that they are performing key functions. There needs to be some element within the definition of environmental criteria, which is environmental rather than pragmatic, which I recognise is a concern, whereby if we have to dedesignate some, which one will we go for? That is the core of how environmental criteria are set out currently in a Bill. It is a matter of saying which is the best and getting rid of the worst. Environmental criteria need to have an objective space and there needs to be some reference in that respect. Section 16(6) fits that because it is already set out in statute by the Government. I could invent what I believe should be included in the environmental criteria but in this case I have simply attempted to include an existing frame and definition. I will not press amendment No. 6 at this point but I will return to this issue on Report Stage. I urge the Minister of State to examine that environmental criteria factor between now and Report Stage. I believe he recognises what I have said about it. It is a case of comparing A, B and C, and A, B and C; it is not an evaluation of A, B and C or pulling together indicators in respect of A, B and C. It is a mechanism for comparison rather than for evaluation such as would be appropriate for actual criteria. They are criteria almost for a decision rather than for an assessment of environmental importance. I will not press the amendment in regard to that but I urge the Minister of State to consider the definition between now and Report Stage.

As I stated, I assure the Senator that a strategic environmental assessment will be a requirement of any process of dedsignation, as will a public consultation and notification. She mentioned where that notification should be provided and she has tabled amendments in that respect. We we will debate that later and I agree with those sentiments. This process will take place. It will be based on what we have learned from the natural heritage bog review. We can take a great deal from that and replicate the processes that have led to the reviews that have taken place of raised bogs.

For the natural heritage areas raised bog review, there were different criteria, including environmental, technical and socioeconomic. The most favourable ratings were given to those of the highest and best environmental standing, which makes common sense. Requests for or the acceptance of de-designation will be based on those that are degraded the most, with a view to ensuring we will preserve the overall status of the bog complex or even add to it. That will be the process in any review of blanket bogs.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, line 11, after “needs” to insert the following:

“and contribution towards achievement of climate change targets or goals within the National Pollinator Plan”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 26.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and James Reilly.
Amendment declared lost.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.