I agree with Senator Burke on certain matters but I cannot support this amendment. There is already provision in the Bill for designation by the Minister. Environmental criteria can be considered in addition to national, regional, and local economic, social and cultural needs. That provision adequately allows for a balanced and appropriate consideration of economic, social and cultural needs. Where a strong community case can be made, it can already be made on the basis of the needs of an area.
The wording of the amendment, “which can be of major benefit to a community, enhancement of a community, sporting projects or facilities, golf courses, sports fields, greenways, community gain or strategic infrastructural projects,” is a list of almost anything anyone might want to do with some land. The real concern here is that there is still a frame of mind that regards our bogs, not only raised bogs but also blanket bogs, as being somehow empty space.
Our bogs are doing work. They are already of major benefit to a community and, indeed, the wider community. In fact, it is those limited areas that do the work given that Ireland does not have national forestry in the same way as other areas and does not have some of the other environmental carbon sequestration reports. The bog network already holds up our environment and ecosystems. Our bogs do that work.
I have a number of concerns about this amendment. I recognise that there are certain elements within this amendment that may well make a case for greenways. Let us consider the unfortunate loss of our railways such as the railway line from Galway to Clifden, which the Minister of State will be very familiar with, and the strong case that has been made for decades for the line to become a greenway. One of the things that greenways do is engage with the balance of the ecosystem and environment. Unfortunately, the greenways have been stuck right alongside golf courses, which have been recognised internationally as something that we simply cannot afford to continue in the same way. Ireland has many golf courses and some very famous people own golf courses in Ireland. We have a green environment and so forth, but golf courses have an environmental impact. Some that have already been established may be maintained but they need to be in balance.
Bogland, particularly blanket bogland, is very saturated with water. The environmental impact required to turn waterlogged blanket bogland into a golf course is immense. It not only does damage in terms of carbon but it does damage in terms of water retention, the water table and the flood plain. There is also a huge issue with the amount of pesticides and water needed for golf courses. We have well-established golf courses where the work has already been done. I understand that they may wish to be maintained but we give them too much privilege. The Minister of State may recall or perhaps it was the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, that I raised concerns about retaining the lower and more preferential VAT rate for members of golf clubs. In fact, we raised the issue for a number of other areas, including community exhibitions and local art centres. There are questions about how preferential a tax treatment we need to give to golf courses. We certainly do not want a situation whereby a willingness to turn large tracts of land into a golf course is enough to justify dedesignation. Unfortunately, that would be the effect of putting this section here because it goes into a section that says "notwithstanding 18(3)". So, notwithstanding the other considerations and all of the work that we have done and discussed in terms of other areas, there are real questions here.
I encourage the Minister of State not to accept the amendment because he can assure all in the House that in considering national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs, he has enough room. What is important about where they are currently placed in the Bill is that they are required to be set against the environment considerations rather than be a stand-alone provision on their own. I encourage those who proposed the amendment to consider tabling separate amendments on some of the different activities because there is a big difference between a greenway and a sports field, and a sporting project in a general sense or a strategic infrastructural project.
I am sure that the Minister of State will recall our discussion on blanket bogs. Perhaps we will have a chance to return to this matter again. He referenced the fact that it had already been discussed and debated on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Since our debate I checked to see exactly what was debated in the Dáil. What I found was that the case being made for many years for the dedesignation of blanket bogs was one where we have been trying to build a road through the heart of Connemara and designation has been a problem. I would ask the following when we say strategic infrastructural projects are enough of a reason to dedesignate a bog. Would a road through the heart of Connemara be considered a strategic infrastructural project that may benefit from this new loophole? I note that the Minister of State's colleague, the then Minister in charge of this area, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said that the Minster should not have "power to dedesignate an NHA without having carried out preparatory scientific analysis". We have discussed the fact that that has not been done yet and, indeed, that it would not send out a good signal for how we protect bogs and heritage areas.
It would not send out a good signal in how we protect bogs and heritage areas. There are not simply environmental issues in this. This is a matter of joined-up thinking. We know the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is under review. We know Ireland will have to make its case under a new and stringent set of rules as to how we meet our targets and what will be ever more specific targets in respect of the CAP, greening and so forth. Much of this bogland does overlap, as was discussed the last day, with farmlands and lands owned by others who will be seeking subsidies under the CAP. For them with bogland that is protected and suitably cared for, it will strengthen their case, as well as the case for communities and for Ireland. On a pragmatic level, leaving aside the environmental benefits, there are significant economic benefits from our boglands.
I urge the Minister of State not to accept this amendment. I know those putting it forward have done so in good faith. Will they consider breaking the amendment down into specific different areas to ensure we are not treating different matters the same way and recognising there is a difference? If this amendment is successful, I will be seeking to amend it on Report Stage.