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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 1

Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Senator Hackett to the House. It is always a pleasure. It is a different type of welcome for the Minister of State because she is very familiar with the Seanad but it always a pleasure seeing her in the House. It is good that Seanad Éireann has a Member who sits at the Cabinet table.

Ireland is the envy of much of northern Europe where this bee used to be prevalent. Due to hybridisation, the pure Apis mellifera mellifera is now only found in a few pockets. Ireland is fortunate to have a pure population of its own native honeybee that is perfectly adapted to this island, this climate and this flora. For years it was thought the native Irish honeybee was extinct but scientific research has well and truly proven otherwise. However, it is threatened with extinction by hybridisation due to continued increasing and unnecessary imports of non-native honeybees. Imported honeybees mate with natives and destroy the delicate balance honed by thousands of years of evolution. The unique genetic traits of the native honeybee get lost.

Once genetic diversity is lost, it is lost forever. This topic is slightly complicated so I ask Members to bear with me.

Under law, honeybees are generally treated in the same manner as fully domesticated livestock, with free movement of honeybees committed throughout the EU in much the same way as cattle or pigs. However, while cattle and pigs are controlled in their mating habits through artificial insemination and fencing, bees mate in the open so it is not possible to control their mating. As many Members will know, a hive comprises drones, which are the males, workers and a queen. Drones from miles around will congregate in an area. The jury is still out on why they select a specific area but it is normally 10 or 15 m above ground level. That is called a drone congregation area, where they await virgin queens. That is in stark contrast to cattle and pigs and therefore deserves much more consideration. It is a complex matter, considering the drone has a mother but no father, two grandmothers and one grandfather. It is very different and very precious and merits special attention.

The distinctive characteristics of the native Irish honeybee are the result of natural selection over thousands of years, which has produced a honeybee well-adapted to the current environmental conditions found in Ireland. Furthermore, its genetic diversity means the population is best equipped to face future challenges the climate and environment may present. In a nutshell, it is more frugal with its stores, less aggressive, less prone to swarming and is adaptable to the climate and the flora. We do not want it to go the same way as the curlew. The indigenous curlew, I fear, is almost beyond return. I live in hope and BirdWatch Ireland is doing great work but we have lost our curlew. We do not want to lose our native Irish honeybee. Professor Tom Seeley, the internationally renowned honeybee expert, referred to this in his foreword to the book published by the Native Irish Honey Bee Society. I welcome distinguished members of the executive of that organisation who have joined us today, including some of my former teachers, Colm O'Neill and Seán Byrne. They are candid people so no doubt they will tell me later if I got something wrong but I hope I am accurate in what I have said so far. Well done to the Native Irish Honey Bee Society for fighting this campaign year after year for well over a decade. The words of Professor Seeley, in the prelude to that excellent book, are very profound. He says:

Ireland remains home to a widespread and remarkably pure population of Apis mellifera mellifera. This is the subspecies of Apis mellifera that originally lived throughout northern Europe, from the British [and Irish] Isles to the Ural Mountains. Over the last 100 years, however, this subspecies has been largely replaced over most of its range as beekeepers in northern Europe have imported countless queens of two subspecies native to southern Europe, A. m. ligustica and A. m. carnica.

We have to say "Stop" when there is still time and take appropriate legislative action. There are other bonuses to doing this. Professor Seeley goes on to say:

Ceasing imports will support a drive to boost the abundance of wild colonies of the native Irish honey bee. Having a sizable population of wild colonies fully exposed to the agents of natural selection - including climate change and novel parasites - will favour the long-term survival of Apis mellifera mellifera in Ireland.

According to Dr. Helen Mooney:

The genetic integrity of the black bee population in Ireland is the envy of black bee breeders across Europe. Ideally, our entire country should become a special area of conservation.

We are the last stronghold in Europe.

Genetic studies carried out in NUI Galway and Limerick Institute of Technology, funded by the Government and the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, established beyond doubt that our native Irish honeybee has survived on this island and that the population is genetically diverse. These findings were published in international, peer-reviewed scientific journals. It is essential to stop imports of non-native bees to protect this valuable genetic resource. Cross-breeding with subspecies of strains that were not selected by local conditions produces maladapted bees because the delicate and complex genetic systems that took millennia to evolve will be disrupted. The extent of the risk is emphasised by the fact that in some parts of the island over 70% of swarms or wild colonies show clear evidence of being hybridised to some extent.

Last Friday, I had the honour of chairing a seminar at the Bar Council of Ireland, run by the Climate Bar Association. One of the guest speakers at that seminar, Kyle Petrie of OpenHive Honey, said that 75% of the swarms he caught are non-native. Once imports of non-native honeybees are banned, the degree of introgression will be reduced as non-natives are naturally and gradually replaced by native Irish honeybees. Given the valuable genetic resource that is the native Irish honeybee and its suitability for apiculture, it is under further threat from parasites and pathogens that may be imported with honeybees of any strain, all originating from outside the island of Ireland. The most destructive pests and pathogens afflicting the native Irish honeybee originated from imported bees. The two most serious at the moment, the mite varroa destructor, together with its associated viruses, and nosema, are here because of imported honeybees. Keeping the island clear of the wholesale introduction of pests and parasites reduces the need for chemical treatments to counteract these diseases.

It was reported last year that Ireland recorded a 327% increase in the importation of non-native queens. This Bill will stop that happening. It is not too late. The demonstration outside Leinster House was very effective and done in a very dignified way. It is not a protest. The beekeepers are standing in solidarity asking and pleading for action. They are encouraging the Government to take action.

It is clear that the proposed ban on the importation of honeybees raises a number of important legal issues, including EU law considerations. Any ban on the importation of honeybees must be a restriction on trade and therefore would not be done lightly. We are aware of that. It would have to be justified and proportionate in light of the risk posed. For fear I would fail the objective bias test as a beekeeper, I approached the Climate Bar Association to give me its independent expert report, conclusions and feedback. I fully concurred with what it concluded, namely, that it is not repugnant to EU law. That assessment was done under its chairperson Clíona Kimber SC, who is here today. So are Donnchadh Woulfe, Sara-Jane O'Brien and Mema Byrne, barristers-at-law. They have made wonderful contributions to this area and the Bill. We would not be here today without the Climate Bar Association.

Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allows member states to take measures having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions or barriers to trade when these are justified by general non-economic considerations. That expressly includes public policy or security and the protection of health or life of humans, animals or plants. Measures adopted under this article are exceptions to the general principle of the EU and ought to be invoked. Generally there are no barriers to trade between member states but there can be in this specific exception. I accept this exemption should be interpreted strictly. It cannot constitute arbitrary discrimination or be a disguised restriction on trade between member states. It must have a direct effect on the public interest to be protected, not going beyond the necessary level in order to respect the principle of proportionality which is at play here. The precautionary principle is set out in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and allows for a higher level of environmental protection thorough preventative decision-making in the case of risk.

The habitats directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species and does not at present cover bees native to a particular region of Europe. However, bees other than apis mellifera mellifera are imported into Ireland and they may threaten or adversely impact our biodiversity and related ecosystems. A member state can add to a list of invasive species by suggesting the name to the Commission, together with a risk assessment, and filling in the form, which is set out in the regulation. As there are a number of honeybees that threaten the Irish ecosystem, rather than classifying specific bees as invasive alien species, it is submitted that it is preferable to introduce legislation banning the importation of any bee not classified as apis mellifera mellifera. This approach is in accordance with the precautionary principle and has the added advantage of ensuring that any ban on the importation of honeybees does not go further than necessary to achieve the stated aim.

For too long, we have been saying it cannot be done. The beekeepers know it ought to be done and the expert independent lawyers have told us how to do it. There is a way forward. I will now hand over to my Green Party colleague, Senator Garvey.

I welcome the Minister of State. I appreciate her taking the time to be here. I know she understands the importance of this issue. As Minister of State with responsibility for biodiversity, I am sure she is more aware than most about this issue.

I thank Senator Martin for pushing this, as well as Senator McGreehan. It is great to see all the parties united on this because that is a rare thing. To me, the native Irish bee is like our language or like our hurleys - it is such an integral part of who we are as a nation. We have struggled with our language, we have struggled with our native trees, and now we are struggling with our native bee. It is important that we have had the backing of scientists, of beekeepers and of Comhshaol, which is a great organisation of senior counsel who care about climate so much. We all know there is a biodiversity crisis. It would be hypocritical in some ways if we did not get this Bill passed by the senior civil servants, even though we are saying there is a biodiversity crisis.

I was going to talk about other things but what really hit me today, when I went outside, was that I met a lovely 15-year-old, Cillian Fraher, who is a beekeeper. He is making a living out of it and he is also wheeling and dealing in bits and pieces for the beekeeping industry. If that is not enough of a reason to pass this Bill, I do not know what is. I used to work with green schools which teach about biodiversity. All the children are obsessed with the bee and with saving the bee. We see this everywhere now and SuperValu is sponsoring a thing around it as well, jumping on the bandwagon.

Our native Irish bee is integral to who we are. It is part of our culture and a big and important part of our nature. We have to do all we can to make sure we get this across the line. We have precedent in this regard. The programme for Government does not specifically mention bees but the national pollinator plan states that Ireland has a duty to conserve this genetic resource. The pollinator plan targets promotion and education of beekeepers to protect the native honeybee, so that is in our national plan. There is peer-reviewed research from Dr. Grace McCormack of NUI Galway, so we have scientific backing to show that Ireland has a pure population of apis mellifera mellifera, the native Irish bee.

While I know this is unprecedented in Ireland, it is not unprecedented in other countries. We have seen it on Scottish islands, Finnish islands and Danish islands, which have had similar challenges around native species. The international treaties require Ireland to take action to protect native species where they are at risk from invasive species, which is what we are talking about here. If they were not under threat, we would not be looking for this Bill and neither would the beekeepers. There is an invasive species that is threatening to take over our native species. We must learn from other mistakes we have made in not doing enough for biodiversity and protecting our native species.

This is very important. Senator Martin is a beekeeper so he is not just making it up as he goes along. This is coming from the heart of somebody who is a beekeeper and has worked with many beekeepers around Ireland to better inform himself of this issue. It is very important that we recognise the work of the members of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, which does its work on a voluntary basis. We have all been volunteers and it can be exhausting. However, they are still here and, hopefully, this Bill will get them what they want and truly deserve.

I welcome the Minister of State. It is appropriate that she is here because I know she has a great understanding of this area, particularly when we talk about habitats, biodiversity, research, etc. It is apt that she is here to preside over this Bill.

I want to thank Senator Martin in particular for his enthusiasm. From day one, he has been talking about the bee. We have certainly had lovely gifts of honey from him. He is a great ambassador for the native Irish bee and I want to acknowledge that. He has engaged and tapped into many people and I have received many emails. Politicians know that email is nearly like a barometer of public opinion, public support and public lobbying, and he has certainly done that well. I acknowledge the campaign Senator Martin has run in this regard.

It is also important that we acknowledge the co-sponsors of the Bill, Senators Martin, McGreehan, Garvey, Seery Kearney, Boylan, Ó Donnghaile, Norris, Higgins, Craughwell, Gavan, Warfield and Wall. That indicates the cross-party dynamic that exists and cross-party support for the Bill, which is, as the previous speaker indicated, very important. It is important because it brings that sense of unity, purpose and function.

I want to say a few things about the Bill without going into detail. I fully support the Bill and I will be voting on every stage. However, let us not use language that it somehow might be delayed by civil servants or anybody else. We are the politicians. This is the Legislature. These are the Houses of the Oireachtas – the Dáil and the Seanad. This Bill is going to be happen. It has to be driven by the legislators; it has to be driven by the Deputies and Senators. I do not want to hear in six months time some sort of excuse that it is going to get a Second Reading or Third Reading, or it is going to be gathering dust, or "We have ticked a few boxes, kept a few people happy and they are off our back - get the monkey off our back." I want to see real progress. I put that challenge to Senator Martin, who is a member of a Government party, in particular. He can drive this. He will have support across the Houses. I will be supporting him. However, I want to see that being driven because it is important. As I said, I acknowledge that cross-party support.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the habitat of the bee. It is important that we look at biodiversity and that we help to increase the rich flora which is very important for the bee. The bee is a pollinator. We know the role and significance of pollinators and the need to create habitats where bees can thrive.

It is important that we have further education. This is not that simple for people to understand so we need simple, clear language about it. Of course, we also need to look at the issue of research. Senator Martin talked about the varroa mite, which is a real issue in the context of bees. There are very significant issues and we need a multifaceted approach. It is about protecting the bee but also, as I said, it is about talking about habitats, biodiversity, education and research, because that is all part of it. It is also about how we can help in terms of Irish honey and the Irish bee. It is important that we put our hands in our pockets and support the produce. There are many ways in which we can support this.

I thank the guests in the Visitors Gallery. It is great to see so many people. The Gallery has not been full for a long time, certainly not with as many people as are here today. I thank them all. Their presence today is very significant and it endorses the importance of this legislation. I thank the Senators from across the parties who have signed up to this Bill. In particular, I thank Senator Martin for his continuous and positive engagement to drive this legislation. I wish him every success. He will have my absolute support at every stage of this Bill.

I have so much to say about this and I am very excited that we are at this point. I congratulate Senator Martin for his work on this Bill. I am a proud member of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society. I love to get its booklets and information every month because it is something I am passionate about.

A very positive form of nationalism is ecological nationalism. We can really work to look after our own ecology. We can be very insular in this country in looking after what we have - all of our native crops and our native bees.

I have a project, Míle Crainn Na hÉireann, that is all about native Irish trees. I have planted approximately 1,500 native Irish trees so far as part of that initiative. It is very important that we embrace it. It is also really important, and is the reason we are here today, that the Department embraces it. We want the Department to be bold, brave, and to say that it will look at EU law and the reality that we have to protect our native biodiversity and our native bees.

I will go local for a minute. County Louth has a very strong tradition of protecting and enhancing bees. The County Louth Beekeepers Association was founded in 1910. Mr. Turlough O'Bryen, who is known as the father of beekeeping, was born in 1853 in Ardee and was reared and educated there. The earliest written record of bees in Ireland dates back to the 12th-century Mellifont Abbey, which takes its name from the fountain of honey. It is also very important to note that the Cooley area, where I hail from, is one of the few places in the world that produces bell honey, which is produced from bees that have gathered nectar from the bell heather. All this beauty and history, and our heritage, is at risk of being lost if we do not act progressively and positively for the protection of bees.

The Minister of State is absolutely in favour of this Bill and there is cross-party acknowledgement and acceptance of it. I know the Taoiseach is a committed biodiversity addict - he takes photographs of butterflies and bees when he is on his evening walks - and is passionate about this matter. He wants this too. We all want this and have accepted it. I have a major ambition for beekeeping and bees. We can work on many areas. We know, and it is widely accepted, that bees are superpowers within their little bodies. Not only do they produce honey, they are essential pollinators in this agricultural country we all belong to. The Department needs to listen to that. As I said, we have a long history of producing quality honey. As we all know, bees have a complicated and innate ability to create and pollinate. However, they need to survive. What they need to survive is incredibly modest: pollen, nectar, honey, water and a safe environment. It is up to us to provide that safe environment.

Pollen and nectar are foraged from nearby flowers. That is why it is so important for bee colonies to be situated near a substantial number of native trees, native flowers and native flora. It is also important we look towards the Department's significant increase in the budget for organic farming in this round of Common Agricultural Policy funding. That is also one of the very important ways we will protect our native bees and all our native insects and pollinators. I have put forward proposals, since our bees are classed as livestock, that we should work towards them being a unit of livestock. Farmers should be encouraged to have beekeeping on their farms and beehives should be classed as a unit of livestock so farmers are able to claim for that and look to that. If we positively encourage, we will get more beehives.

In the context of this Bill, I want to highlight that all honeybees are not born equal. There is a real necessity to protect the native Irish bee. We must protect it from all external species and uphold the integrity of our native stock. Studies from the Limerick Institute of Technology prove this and that we have enough native bee stock to save it. It is low enough to be considered endangered but we have enough to save it and to ensure its native survival across Europe. We can be that island. We can be a safe sanctuary.

I am very excited about this. It could be said I am buzzing about this because it is very important. I look forward to this matter being continued and to bringing it up continuously at parliamentary level because it is necessary, it can be done and I am sure it will be done.

I very much support this proposed legislation. I join with others in thanking Senator Martin for proposing it and for all the work he has done regarding it. I met the protestors outside Leinster House this morning. There is a real sense of urgency regarding this legislation. That is apparent when I meet people and talk to them on the ground, and even on the basis of the number of emails I have received in the past ten days, in particular, on this issue. It is very welcome legislation.

I look forward to going through the legislation section by section. There are issues I will want clarification on through that process. From reading the Bill, one of the clarifications I am looking for relates to the all-Ireland dynamic of this legislation and where and how that will fit in. There are no borders when it comes to biodiversity. How will we deal with that on the island of Ireland and how will we legislate for it? It is a question we need to think about and have a solution for as we go forward. Do we need to engage with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Do we need to start talking about how we will have an approach to this that will affect the entire island? I am fearful of how we will practically deal with it due to the Border. I am unclear on that. Maybe the proposer of the Bill and the Minister of State might bring clarity on how they will make sure that will be a functional part of the legislation. There has to be functionality here. I am a little concerned about how that will practically work through. My only real concern is on the functionality of how it will work. If I could get clarity in that regard, it would be very welcome.

As for the Bill, the principle of it and where it is going, it is very important. It is something we need to start talking more about. There have been some very passionate contributions in the Chamber regarding this issue. I add my voice of support to this Bill. It is to be hoped we can work with all parties to make sure it gets through the Houses very swiftly.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I commend members of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society who are here today, and the scientists, on their work on this Bill and for not accepting the excuses or lack of interest from departmental officials. Through their persistence and dogged research, they have produced incontrovertible evidence that the native Irish honeybee is not only alive and kicking but is doing better than the non-native imports. It is better in terms of bee health, hive health through the collection of propolis, and honey production, due to its frugal use of food collected and its ability to fly, gather pollen and mate at much lower temperatures proving it has evolved to the Irish climate. The case for protecting our native Irish honeybee can no longer be dismissed by departmental officials on the grounds of a lack of science or a lack of evidence for the bee's existence. That is where we see resistance to protecting the species within the Department falling back on that age-old excuse or golden nugget, which is that we cannot do it because the EU will not allow us.

I commend the Climate Bar Association on its work and input to this Bill and for pointing out why that argument fails to stack up. Not only is there a legal precedent in the European Court of Justice, with the Danish case, but all existing EU laws support greater protection for our native species. The EU Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union clearly accepts that bans on trade are permissible, providing they are proportional and warranted for the protection of the health and lives of humans, animals and plants. Furthermore, Article 191, which covers the precautionary principle, is much cherished by those of us who are involved in any environmental issues. It is a principle I am proud to have fought hard to protect as an MEP, when it came under threat from trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP.

The precautionary principle aims to ensure a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-making in the case of risk. From the evidence that we heard today and the briefing we got in advance of this debate, there has been a 327% increase in the importation of non-native bee colonies. Professor McCormack's research shows increased levels of hybridisation. We would be remiss not to invoke Article 191 and ban the importation of non-native honeybees, especially given the way bees breed. We have heard that they breed in the open which makes it much harder to control hybridisation. We know that Ireland has a very poor track record historically on environmental protection and this Bill is a real opportunity to start to correct that.

We have an obligation to protect biodiversity. We are not only in the midst of a climate crisis, but people forget that we are also in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. The Bill is a very positive step in protecting a species of significant importance to our heritage. I hope it will not only pass through the Seanad unopposed today but also that it will spark a conversation on how we can best protect bees and all pollinators. Lots of people mistakenly believe that we should put hives everywhere or that getting a hive is the way forward, but unless someone is properly qualified and educated in how to keep bees, and also how to keep the right species of bees, then he or she could be doing more damage than good. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for biodiversity is to let nature do the work by rewilding and stopping the use of non-essential pesticides and chemicals. If we make space for nature, we will be rewarded. However, we are legislators, and we have a responsibility to act when we are in the full knowledge of the information. We know we have a native Irish bee. We have the evidence and science to support that. We know the native Irish bee species is under threat. For this reason, we must pass this Bill and not just in the Seanad. As Senator Boyhan has pointed out, we need the Bill to pass in the Dáil and to be enacted. We cannot have a situation whereby we pass this Bill and then it gets buried. It should be progressed swiftly. It is not controversial. We have heard that 90% of beekeepers on the island of Ireland support this legislation. The beekeepers are asking us to act.

My colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, will speak to the Brexit-related issues and the all-Ireland dimension. It is regrettable that the Assembly is not up and running. We want it to be back up and running and we are happy to reach out to the Green Party in the North to see how we can help progress the work MLAs have done on the issue to date in the North.

I commend Senator Martin on his work on this Bill and his dedication to getting it to this point. I hope he continues his work to get the Bill progressed all the way through the Dáil. He has ensured that all of the arguments against progressing this Bill have been effectively removed. He has science, beekeepers and the law on his side, but perhaps more importantly, he has cross-party support win this Chamber, but that must continue at Cabinet level and in the Dáil. Otherwise, we are wasting the beekeepers' time and coming in here and giving them false hope. I want to hear the Minister of State give a commitment to progress the Bill through this House and ensure it will not get buried then but will progress the full way and become enacted.

I was in my office dusting off my "What is Plan B?" posters that we had from debates in the previous Oireachtas on the Heritage Bill. It was a debate on the related issue of habitat and the crucial requirement to protect hedgerows in the context of that legislation. The focus in particular was on habitats that are crucial for pollinators. At that point, we recognised the intrinsic role of pollinators, in particular our native bees, in every part of the ecosystem. These are the enliveners, the continuers. This is what makes for our ecologically rich biodiversity and also plays a crucial role in horticulture.

The fact is that we rely very heavily on pollinators, and we do not do enough to protect them. If lost, they are not something that can be magically found again. A loss can be devastating. A bad decision, such as the ones we have seen regarding importation, can be devastating. We have heard about the scientific examples such as the small hive beetle. Ireland was free from varroa mite and we had managed to avoid the devastating impact on our bees but then we lost that status following the importation of that pathogen and disease. Habitat is one crucial issue and the other one is hybridisation, as Senator Martin correctly identifies.

There are many advantages to the native Irish honeybee. We will be praising it and outlining why it is particularly suited to Ireland, and why it is the favourite bee for beekeepers in Ireland. Some 90% of beekeepers use it. The reason is based on the temperatures it can live at and the placid nature of the bee, which is very important given that we are seeing more urban beekeeping, and more attempts to create the contiguous territories that are needed in terms of bees and pollinator pathways. We are not simply talking about the role of pollinators in a rural context, but also in an urban context, which is crucial in terms of our national pollinator strategy. It is why we are pressing towns and villages now to have pollinator plans.

We must bear in mind the nature of Apis mellifera mellifera, the native honeybee, the fact that it is the best bee suited to our environment but also, crucially, the dangers that are created by importation and hybridisation. I looked at the research from NUI Galway, which confirms that 90% of Irish beekeepers choose to work with the native Irish honeybee. The science is very clear on this matter.

I was going to make many of the same points Senator Boylan made, but I will not repeat everything. The law is also very clear. The precautionary principle is a core principle underpinning EU law and that is also evident in case law in the Danish case and other examples in the European Court of Justice. It is within the remit of a country to seek to protect the life and health of species of animals. We must consider the intrinsic dangers that are presented by the importation of diseases and pathogens for the horticultural industry as well. The law is very clear on this. It should not be an obstacle. I say this as somebody who spent way too long deep in EU trade law. The law is not an obstacle in this regard. We are empowered to take the actions that have been outlined by Senator Martin in this regard. I think it will be followed through.

I also wish to make a point that has not been mentioned concerning the sustainable development goals. Again, they are something to which Ireland has signed up. An implementation plan is being considered at the moment. Target 15.8 of the sustainable development goals explicitly calls on governments like ours to "introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems and control or eradicate the priority species." Indicator 15.8.1, as a measure of the delivery on which that sustainable development goal is based, refers to the "Proportion of countries adopting relevant national legislation and adequately resourcing the prevention or control of invasive alien species." This is literally something we have signed up to in the sustainable development goals, as well as being allowable and indeed required if we are to be true to the precautionary principle under EU law. In addition, the science tells us that it works and that it matters. The support is there.

Let us celebrate and protect something precious we have. I urge the Minister of State to ensure this does not get blocked in red tape because if we lose the native honeybee, it cannot be recovered in the same way. If we expose ourselves needlessly to such a loss, we are endangering our national ecosystems, heritage, horticulture industry and future.

I pay tribute to the beekeepers outside and to Senator Martin for bringing forward this legislation. As an inner-city Dub, biodiversity and bees do not come naturally to me and I found it a learning experience over recent days with the emails we have been getting and the threat the Irish honeybee is under.

The Civil Service response is to the effect that it contravenes EU law. Trade should not and does not trump climate, biodiversity or the need for protection of pathogens. If we are to get to grips with our climate response, we have to understand that. Sometimes that will require making balances against trade. It is important, particularly given that the Bill comes from the Government side of the House, that Government parties work in co-operation with Opposition as a political system to try to change that and challenge the inertia we might see from the Civil Service when it comes to doing that. The Green Party has the full support of its Government partners, as we can hear in this full House, and across the board in the Opposition. We need to work as a political system to challenge that and ensure this Bill is passed.

It is vital that native Irish honeybees are protected for themselves and for Ireland's ecosystem. We have talked an awful lot in this Chamber about biodiversity and how important it is to protect it. We have also talked about how sometimes biodiversity requires taking no action. This is not one of those cases. The beekeepers outside have told me that while you might not have one or two generations, when you have the super hybrid of cross-pollination against bees you might in a couple of generations end up with dangerous bees and you do not know what you are importing or bringing in.

The Labour Party is supportive of the Bill and would like to see it progressed as quickly as possible. I assure Government Members that this side of the House will back and support them using the weight of the political system to fight the inertia we might see from civil servants who do not necessarily want to progress this. I urge Senator Martin to engage with people on pushing to get this beyond Second Stage so it is not one of those Bills that goes into the ether and that nobody else will address. We do not have time on our side when it comes to something like this.

I am glad to be in the House to support Senator Martin's Bill. I extend a céad míle fáilte to all the people in our Gallery and a major thank you to the people who gave us a wonderful presentation this morning. I am sorry that I had to come into the Chamber when the bells rang but I was enjoying the presentation.

I pay tribute to Senator Martin for bringing this Bill forward. More than a year and a half ago through a Commencement matter I brought the same issue to the House but it was in the middle of Covid, down in the convention centre and did not get the coverage it should have got. This is a far better way to do it by bringing the Bill forward and bringing everybody with Senator Martin. At that time, a number of people involved in beekeeping contacted me. The concern at that time was because of Brexit and bees coming in from Europe through Northern Ireland to go into England.

I fully support the Bill but the most important issue is the message that needs to go out to the public on the importance of pollination for the production of food. In our country, not enough people understand that but our younger generation is getting better. The all-Ireland pollinator plan is important. I see many communities and schools becoming involved in that. It is so important that we protect our native honeybees. This is workable. Although the Minister of State has to have some concerns regarding Europe, those can be overcome. The important thing is that all the people, whatever side of the House they are on, are fully supportive of what the Senator is trying to do. It is important for existence and nature. If any of us takes heed of nature every day, which I do as a former horticulturist, people will ask where our bees have gone and what is happening to nature. Even people without a great interest in it will say nature has changed. Surely that is enough for us as legislators to be supportive of this type of thing and to bring forward suggestions. I will have some suggestions to add to the Bill when it goes through the House.

It is the road and path we must take. We have to do it for future generations and for the world to be secure. Our population in Ireland and over the world must understand how important pollination is for the production of food. I thank Senator Martin, the Acting Chairman, the Minister of State and all Senators for showing a great interest and helping us along this road, because that is important as well.

I welcome the Minister of State and all our beekeepers and scientists. I apologise because I was in committee and could not come to the presentation this morning.

It is my great honour to have been invited by Senator Martin to be a co-signatory of this Bill. On the day I received his email, it brought me back to being a child. I have beekeepers in my family. I do not claim to know anything about beekeeping except having been a child standing and watching my family members as beekeepers. I always visit the stand at Bloom with an ambition to do this at some point when I do the courses and learn what I should be doing.

When I got the email, I reached out to family members to ask if this was something we needed. I also wondered how many beehives there are in my constituency of Dublin South-Central. I had the great honour of connecting with Austin Campbell of the Robert Emmet Community Development Project. Here today we have Anthony Freeman O'Brien, who is the manager of Bee 8, which has two projects with 100 hives. It has gone further and has a community development project that has partnered with the Digital Hub to put sensors on bees to monitor air pollution in the area. Even in Dublin city, we have that ability. I asked their advice regarding the Bill and they came back and said they absolutely supported it and asked if we could look at moving away from a reliance on honey-related revenue towards charging urban businesses to engage in a hive management model that would allow the likes of the Robert Emmet Community Development Project to provide local employment opportunities and enhance the urban environment. There are opportunities with this.

I asked the beekeepers in my family and those I know to put this in layman's terms for me. The people who speak a lot in this Seanad are terribly impressive but also intimidating to engage with because I would never have the language to be able to engage with somebody who speaks with such great authority.

The feedback, for those of us who are lay people and know nothing, was that the native black bee was the only bee suited to our climate. It has survived and thrived. Currently, there is no ban on importing bees. If someone wanted Buckfast or Italian bees, in order to have a tamer bee, the difficulty is that over time, bees inter-breed and this means that the hybrid bee is not able to adapt to the environment, humidity or rain and the colony starves and dies off. It is rather challenging to keep a colony going through the summer to harvest time and even more so over winter. By not acting to protect what we have, we are significantly contributing to the destruction of our native bee stock. Absolutely anything and everything necessary to support native bees should be enshrined in legislation as soon as humanly possible. That is provided that we plan on human beings being around a whole lot longer. That sums it up in an incredible way.

Those of us who are not beekeepers do not think about temperament. From a temperament point of view, another beekeeper contacted me to say that the beekeeper's experience of having hybrid bees was that they were incredibly aggressive. When replaced with a native bee queen, peace now reigns in the garden and it is safe for that beekeeper's grandchildren to come to visit.

It is my honour as a lay outsider to know that fundamentally we need to support our native bee. I plant particular flowers in the garden to ensure that I am supporting the bees in the way in which I am familiar. I thank Senator Martin and the Climate Bar Association for all the work it did with him. I thank him for the opportunity to support this. I will enjoy and relish the experience of learning as we go through this. I am looking forward to going out to Bee 8 this summer to annoy Anthony Freeman O'Brien with a load of questions and enjoying that. I embrace the fact that here in the city we can keep bees. It is not the preserve of any one quarter. We should be doing this everywhere. Why not?

I welcome the Minister of State and our guests in the Public Gallery. I apologise for the fact that I did not make it out to them this morning due to prior engagements. I compliment Senator Martin on his enthusiasm in promoting this Bill and bringing it to this Stage. I am a firm believer that a stich in time saves nine and that prevention is better than cure. While it is timely now, to an extent, it would have been preferable to have had this Bill ten, 15 or 20 years ago. However, it is never too late. We need to seize the opportunity when it shows and affords itself. I am delighted to support the Bill and hope to see its speedy passage through this House and the Lower House.

Prevention is better than cure. I am a farmer and my party's spokesperson on agriculture. The Minister of State and I would have had various meetings with regard to forestry. The case of ash dieback always comes up. Ash is a prime example of one of our native trees which, through hurling alone, is one of our most famous. It is threatened by virtue of a disease that was imported. There are many different species of animal, including cattle. Our red squirrel was taken out by the grey squirrel. Our cattle breeds were allowed to diminish mainly, unfortunately, for commercial reasons. More commercially viable breeds were brought in but we have Moiled cattle and Kerry cattle.

I will fight tooth and nail that there can be an EU law which can prevent us from stopping the importation of bees which can and will endange,r and have been proven to endanger, the existence of our native bees. EU laws were very easily twisted and manoeuvred during Covid when we were the species under threat. The old saying is no food, no people; no bees, no food. I do not know how an argument can be an argument made that under EU law, we can stop the importation of what can be perceived to be a threat to our native species.

With regard to prevention, as opposed to cure, we seem to be able to get money readily from the EU, when we decide to close the door after the horse has bolted and want to rejuvenate a species that is extinct or almost extinct. Unbelievable sums of money are spent through CAP on hen harrier schemes. We look at "Ear to the Ground" and see projects which are costing the taxpayer considerable money to reinvigorate rare cattle breeds and protect the corncrake, another native species that is almost extinct. How can the EU justify promoting schemes to reinvigorate and rejuvenate species once they reach that crucial stage of warranting the word "extinct", rather than putting up barriers to help us to try to prevent getting to that day? We need the Minister of State, the Department and its officials to argue that case at a European level. At this juncture, it is not a valid argument and should not be used as such.

I have been beating this drum previously in terms of what was said earlier by my colleague from Louth, Senator McGreehan. I am also a firm believer that within CAP and other schemes, a controlled keeping of bees on a farm in a pro rata ratio of numbers should equate, at some stage of the viable bee-keeping operation on a farm, to a livestock unit. That would be very beneficial for our biodiversity and our ecosystems. Without pollination, we do not have food. Without food, we do not have people.

Dé a beatha chuig an Aire Stáit. Tá mé chomh sásta go bhfuil an seal agam labhairt ar son na reachtaíochta tábhachtaí seo ar an mbeach meala dúchasaí Éireannaí. The Minister of State is very welcome to today's debate on this important legislation. I am very proud and privileged along with my colleague, Senator Boylan, to be able to support the Bill. I am very keen to see it progress through these houses speedily, efficiently and, most important, effectively in terms of outcomes. It is amazing what this issue can galvanise among people. Our guests are very welcome to the Public Gallery.

I put a tweet up having met with some of our guests out the front. We know that a load of pinging on Twitter is not always good but it was instantly very good, warm and supportive today. People spoke about their own experiences supporting projects to protect our indigenous bees. I was invited up to see a mural which included the native Irish honeybees at Ardoyne Kickhams GAC. It is on the grounds of Bunscoil Mhic Reachtain. I texted my colleague, Francie Molloy, who is the MP for mid-Ulster. Mr. Molloy is a long-time beekeeper which many people may not know. Much like other speakers, I am by no means an expert in this field and I had to explain this over and again to the people with whom I enjoyed speaking to out the front. I asked Mr. Molloy for an idiot's guide to this because that is what is required. He texted back to say that native Irish bees are much calmer and easier to work with and that protection is important, as bees being imported brings the risk of infection which can wipe out the colony and that local honey is good for one's health.

Does that conclude Senator Ó Donnghaile's contribution?

It nearly does but I will move on to my notes. As the Minister of State knows, the scientific argument for this Bill is impressive, but I am not a scientist or an ecologist. I have left it to other colleagues to address the scientific merits. All I will say is that, from my lay person's perspective, the threat of hybridisation to the native Irish honeybee warrants this legislative protection. That is why the Bill is most welcome.

I will instead look at some of the legal questions around the Bill. It has incredible support from 90% of beekeepers throughout Ireland. Some concerns were raised about how it impinges on freedom of trade within the EU. However, at a briefing this morning, Cliona Kimber, senior counsel, argued that not only is it possible to ban the import of non-native honeybees, there is a requirement for us to act.

We can point to many EU treaties that allow us have exemptions to free trade, but I mention just one, namely, Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. It states: "Invasive alien species represent one of the main threats to biodiversity...especially in geographically and evolutionarily isolated ecosystems, such as...islands". Ireland, as an island, is a single ecological unit. The free trade in bees from abroad is a threat to the native population, so we can avail of exemptions to free trade for islands. It underscores the point that if we are going to address the biodiversity crisis, it will very often need to be done on an all-Ireland basis.

One of the other legal questions raised is, if we ban the importation of bees down here, could they still be imported through the North. Donnchadh Woulfe of Comhshaol address this point. In Britain, there is a ban on the importation of broods. The North is exempt from this British ban under the protocol because of the need to align with EU law and this jurisdiction, which has no ban. However, if we were to bring in this ban down here, the reason for exemption would go away. Thus there is no fear of broods coming in the back door. However, non-native queens could still be imported under British law if it was applied in the North. That is why, as I understand it, the assembly could work to introduce a similar ban up there as we are debating here. I will be raising this with my colleagues in the North so that they can advance this solution when the Executive is up and running, which I hope will be sooner rather than later. Colleagues in the Green Party will no doubt do likewise.

I conclude by paying tribute to Senator Vincent P. Martin for all his work in drafting the Bill in collaboration with Comhshaol, the climate bar association. He found an issue that has not only widespread support among beekeepers across Ireland, but crucially, among Seanadóirí from across the House. I hope the Minister of State, as a proud and respected Member of this House, will keep that in mind as we progress this legislation. In commending Senator Martin and wishing him well, I hope we get to see this back speedily.

I thank the Senator. Before I bring in Senator Kyne I welcome to the Public Gallery former Senator Seán Barrett and his guest, László Molnárfi from Hungary. They are joining us and observing our proceedings. They, along with our other guests, are very welcome. It is good to see them all here for this debate.

I support this Bill and commend Senator Martin for initiating this legislation that, as the Cathaoirleach said, has generated cross-party support. I acknowledge also the presentation this morning and the briefing in the AV room, which was informative and well-attended. There were many valuable contributions in the field, both legal and those involved in beekeeping.

I will be brief in my comments. I absolutely support this initiative. It is not often you see 90% support among a group of individuals, in this case beekeepers, on a policy initiative. There is some opposition and that is to be expected and respected and we should work with those individuals as well. The Bill has not taken a heavy-handed approach to existing hives in the country. Working with those individuals is a better way to go. I mention some of the issues here. If you are talking about a hive or a brood that is a larger structure, if you like. It is not as easy to hide. An individual queen or a small number of them could be more easily hidden. That would be the concern with the implementation of this legislation and the sourcing of such queens, which, as I said, can be stored in small boxes. I do not know how they would be transported but they are small. It is not an elephant. In fact it is the opposite. It is about how this can realistically be instigated. How non-native bees could be found is my concern.

Overall, there is much work to be done continuously on education about the importance of bees. I am aware many groups do important work on this but more is needed on the important role the bee plays across our country, countryside and ecosystems. I commend all involved in this legislation and supporting it. I hope to see it advance to Committee Stage and go to the other House as soon as possible.

As no other Senators are indicating, I call on the Minister of State.

I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. I thank the Senators who have contributed. I welcome the visitors to the Gallery and acknowledge their genuine passion to protect Apis mellifera mellifera. On behalf of the Government, I acknowledge also Senators' commitment to protecting the native Irish honeybee. Clearly, the support across the House is stark; it is across all parties and none. While I was in the Chamber earlier for the Order of Business, officials from my Department met the representatives of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society outside Leinster House to reassure them of the Department's commitment to the protection of the species. I understand they have agreed to meet formally with the society in the coming weeks to discuss how we can best work together to deliver the protection for this special bee.

Bees and other pollinators have thrived for years, ensuring food security and nutrition and maintaining biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems for plants, humans and the bees themselves. I was struck by Senator Martin saying in his introduction that bees breed in the open. It is so true. As farmers, we certainly strive to prevent our livestock breeding out in the open but it does not always work. However, many Senators will be aware the Government has some concerns a statutory ban on bee imports into Ireland would constitute a restriction on trade under EU regulations. I am aware that has been debated in the House today. We are taking advice around the compatibility of the Bill with EU Single Market rules. As Senator Martin highlighted in his opening statement, any such restriction on trade would have to be demonstrably necessary and proportionate to achieve an objective permitted by EU law. Furthermore, it would also need to be demonstrated it would not be possible to achieve the policy objectives proposed, namely, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, without such a restriction on trade and by any less stringent measures. Additionally, it would be necessary to establish based on robust scientific evidence there is a threat to the native Irish honeybee arising from the importation of non-native species. Senator Lombard raised a concern that would need to be examined and fully addressed around the all-island nature of this and how we might be able to operate this Bill on such a basis. That is something that will also need to be ironed out. Senator Martin may or may not address this in his closing statement but it is an issue.

There are other concerns that need to be addressed but, as Senator McGreehan said, let us look at this. We are willing to look at this and let us see what we can do to fix this. I understand during Covid there has been something of a proliferation of beekeepers. I have spoken to some of those casually and asked people what type of bee they have and they do not know. The education piece Senator Boylan mentioned is therefore important and something my Department has tried to support. We must be careful here and people need to be educated not just on the management of the bees but also the species they are purchasing and where and how they are doing that.

The Government and my Department have put in many supports to date to protect the native Irish honeybee. These were not only about raising awareness among beekeepers about the importance of that native species. Funding has been provided by my Department through the scheme for the conservation of genetic resources and the scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector. There will also be supports for apiculture under the next round of the CAP.

We try to support beekeepers in sourcing native bees to assist breeding activities and ensure they are available to meet beekeeper demand. Support is also being provided to beekeeping organisations, including financial support, for the conservation of the native Irish honeybee. There is a focus on education and awareness-raising initiatives aimed at new beekeepers.

Senator Higgins spoke about the urban context of biodiversity and pollinators. Senator Seery Kearney also addressed that matter. I am pleased to announce that, last month, we saw the reintroduction of native Irish honeybee hives to the roof of Agriculture House, which is in the middle of the city. Those bees are doing their bit for pollinators on St. Stephen's Green, Merrion Square or however far they fly. It is nice to know that they are up there.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2021-2025 is a new five-year roadmap that aims to help bees, other pollinating insects and our wider biodiversity. It includes the All-Ireland Honey Bee Strategy 2021-2025, which seeks to conserve not only the native Irish honeybee, but also our bumblebee and solitary bee populations.

I thank Senators once again for their interactions and comments. Their contributions were valuable. I look forward to engaging further with them on the progression of this Bill once the Government has received the detailed legal and technical advice around its concerns.

It is always nice to chair a debate where everyone is on the same side and there is not too much controversy in the room.

Senator Ahearn wishes to contribute. Unfortunately, he will not be able to get a response from the Minister of State, given that she can only speak once, but he can certainly put his thoughts on the record.

Before he does, though, I welcome to the Gallery a person I knew a long time ago when he was in university. He is back now and helping with this legislation, namely, Mr. Donnchadh Woulfe. He is here with his son. He has put a great deal of work into the Bill. They are both welcome to the Chamber. It is good to see Mr. Woulfe.

I am sharing time with Senator O'Reilly.

The Senators can each have six minutes. If Senator Ahearn does not need his, we can just move on to Senator O'Reilly.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute. I had a busy morning and have only just come back on time, as I wanted to make a contribution on this important matter, which affects many people in Tipperary. We have many beekeepers in the county and Clonmel is the home of honey. It is an important sector for us. I acknowledge the work that the Minister of State has done on this matter over the past two years in her role in biodiversity, which will play an important part over the coming years.

It is great that we are all on the same side. This is a technical Bill and we need to work together on it. We will do so. I support the Bill. I thank my colleague, Senator Martin, for having the commitment and energy to introduce it. In my eyes and those of the people to whom I have spoken in Tipperary, this is important legislation. We might need to make changes, and that is fine. We can all work together to make that happen. It is important that the Bill be supported from all sides.

I thank my colleague, Senator Ahearn, for offering to share time. As the Acting Chairperson said, it was not necessary.

I welcome our colleague from the Seanad, the Minister of State, to the House. It is apt that she should take the debate on this legislation.

I congratulate my great friend, colleague and neighbour from home, Senator Martin, on introducing the Bill and, in his inimitable way, achieving unanimity on it among the parties and Independents. That is a testament not only to his sincerity and competence, but also his skills in mediation and organisation. I salute him for that and for this legislation.

The Bill is worthy. I was busy today, but I watched on my monitor as our colleague, Senator Boylan, whom I understand has a level of expertise in this area, made the apt point that the Department was now being presented with incontrovertible evidence on the science behind the need to preserve our native bee - the black bee - and the legal frameworks within European law. The science is established and the legal situation has been well established by the best of legal experts. Well-known and published people on European, international law and commercial law have stated that this Bill will pass muster legally, although that is a secondary consideration.

From the point of view of biodiversity, the preservation of this important and indigenous species of bee and our honey production industry, there is a case for this legislation. I might not be able to stay and listen to him - he will not mind, as I will be able to read it in the Official Report - but I would like Senator Martin to answer a question for me. I understand that they are few in number, but how will we deal with those who are importing non-indigenous bees and stand to make a certain level of commercial loss under this Bill? If I understand the matter correctly, they would be phased into the new situation, but there might have to be some compensation for them, especially if they have employees. It is important that the Senator comment on this matter and that the Minister of State respond.

The Minister of State will not be able to respond.

I am sorry. I did not realise.

I am sure she will be able to on Committee Stage.

Given Senator Martin's eclectic and great intelligence, I presume that he addressed in his mind before producing the Bill the question of how to deal with those who could be impacted commercially, including how to phase them into the new reality.

This is excellent legislation. I had the privilege of attending the briefing organised by Senator Martin, where good questions were asked. There is an incontrovertible case for this Bill. It is timely legislation that is supported by us all. I am enthusiastically backing it, as is my party. I wish it well and I hope it goes through all Stages quickly and successfully. I will read the Official Report, or speak to the Senator privately, to see how he proposes to address the question I raised. I can think of no other issue.

I thank the Acting Chairperson for the opportunity to contribute.

Next is Senator Maria Byrne. I cannot say yet whether she will be a supporter of the Bill, but I imagine she is.

I was listening to the debate upstairs because I had some work to do. It has been a fruitful debate and I compliment Senators Martin and Garvey on tabling this worthy legislation. I lend my support to it. Much of what I would like to say has been said and I am not in the habit of repeating comments, but the Bill has my full support and I am delighted that it has support from across the House. I wish Senator Martin and the legislation all the best. We see bees every summer and we are all aware of them.

I thank my colleagues for their kind words and for their support, bar none, for this legislative initiative.

I deliberately set out to have, if one looks at the list at the back of the Bill document, a representative from each of the groupings in this House and there are others who are not on the list who ought to be on the list. I know that Senator Keogan is a supporter as is horticulturalist, Senator Murphy, who made a contribution earlier and I regret that he did not make the deadline for this short opening and window of opportunity.

I think Senator Martin might have had mine and all names on this list if the Senator had pursued all Members in this regard.

The Public Gallery attendees may get the wrong impression that the Chamber is like this all of the time and it is not. That is why it is so incredibly amazing today.

Last week we had the first member of the U.S. Congress here to address the House in the 100 year history of the Seanad and I was struck by the bipartisan congressional delegation. In America, politics is so fragmented but they spoke with one unified voice on the protocol and the way forward for Northern Ireland and on protecting the Good Friday Agreement. That is just one positive moment to reflect upon and I find it uplifting.

I also find it very uplifting to get this cross-party support which we are forever grateful for. I also thank the Minister of State for her contribution. If it is ever going to happen it will happen now. The beekeepers are around long enough to know that this is progress today. We are not getting carried away. If it gets through today, it will be put to a vote. I am not a betting person but it looks like this measure could easily get passed today from the contributions I have heard.

It is probably the safest bet the Senator would ever make.

I would also like to single out Senator McGreehan as part of that collaborative approach. We brought a Commencement matter together on this issue. I also acknowledge the support of Senators Boylan and Seery Kearney. Senator Seery Kearney's modesty pervades her when it comes to beekeeping but she is a respected member of the Law Library and would know this area of law and the legalities of it sit easily with her. It is also good to have her support.

The members of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, NIBS, are the volunteers on the front line. They are not paid officials and do this for love and dedication. They know the price of this and what is at stake. As was said, this was tested in the courts when biodiversity was less in vogue and it stood the test in the Court of Justice of the European Union, ECJ, in the Denmark case. There is what is called a precedent there.

I thank Sinn Féin. I lost my two Green Party colleagues and representatives in the recent election in Northern Ireland, Rachel Woods and Clare Bailey, who gave us a voice there but this is beyond politics. For Sinn Féin, Stormont should be up and running as soon as possible. This biodiversity crisis knows no borders and does not recognise party political coloured jerseys.

To draw a far-fetched sporting analogy, there was a team in the English soccer Premier League years ago that just wanted to stay up and not get relegated and it occasionally tried to score on the break. They were defensive and not offensive and the full team was accused of parking a bus in front of the goals. It is not time to park the bus now but is time for what the Netherlands did in the 1970s, which was to play total football and to be proactive. We do not have time to hang around.

This is a crisis. The planet is burning and time is not on our side. We have declared a biodiversity and climate emergency. What does that mean in practical terms? This is a golden opportunity. We have to go beyond decade-old concerns which have been in the Department for years that there will be a trade war. Will all butter be banned? Really, this is not going to happen. There are exceptions laid down and people cannot afford to be conservative.

There is a potential to develop jurisprudence here and this approach may be judge-led and created, where there is positive discrimination in favour of ambition and of giving the bounce of the ball to being proactive to protect our climate and our biodiversity, if it is the case that this protection does not come through legislation. I foresee that because the EU is a changed place. It is no longer a cold home. It is a very welcoming and radical home for the protection of our environment.

It is crucial that we preserve a vital piece of Europe’s biological treasury. To take up the issue raised by Senator Joe O’Reilly, there are some who will not like this and for whom this will not be music to their ears, namely, commercial importers of non-native species. We have many commercial beekeepers, however, of native bees and this measure is not just for people who have a hobby.

I will conclude by saying that all of the representative bodies support this. In respect of the few people who may not, I received four emails when I introduced this Bill last October, all from people who worked in the commercial sector who imported the non-native species. They must be respected and listened to as it could affect their livelihood. We must support them in this step change and in adapting a new way for them, show them that it is not the end of the road and that they can bring this forward.

At the end of the day, with the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach, I omitted to mention the economic value of this legislation. Trinity College Dublin prepared a report for the Environmental Protection Agency on the market and non-market value of pollination services in Ireland. It found from these data that the global value of animal pollination to crop production was estimated to be $158 billion to $412 billion. Using the same approach, the annual value of animal pollination to home-produced crops in Ireland was estimated to be €20 million to €59 million per year. We do not need the economics but it is also on our side.

This is more important than pounds, shillings and pence. This is a biodiversity crisis. We cannot undo it if it happens. The Germans are very upset that they let their bee go. We have to stand up for our bee and to be ready for action. We have to go big or go home and we cannot fall aside for lack of ambition. It is time to be very proactive and not to be afraid of litigation. We are doing the right thing. If truth, justice, resilience and prioritisation of biodiversity are on our side, we cannot go too far wrong. Gabhaim buíochas.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed that we take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 7 June 2022.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At noon on Tuesday, 14 June 2022.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 2.47 p.m. go dtí meán lae, Dé Máirt, an 14 Meitheamh 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 2.47 p.m. until 12 noon on Tuesday, 14 June 2022.
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