The policy of my Department, continuing that of successive Departments which have held responsibility for nature conservation, is to prohibit, on properties acquired for conservation purposes, any activities that would adversely affect the purposes for which the lands were acquired or interfere with the enjoyment and safety of members of the public availing of the resource. In this context, hunting on properties managed by the national parks and wildlife service of my Department has remained prohibited. This is a matter of national policy, rather than being mandated by international agreements.
I have recently examined this policy closely following requests by the National Association of Regional Game Councils that their members should be given access to some national parks and wildlife properties for the purpose of shooting game. For the following reasons, I have concluded that the prohibition of shooting on these properties should continue. First, the sites were acquired, in general using public funds, for the purpose of nature conservation and to serve as refuges and breeding places for species of wildlife. Hunting could also disturb "non-quarry" species and their habitat, thereby reducing the value of these sites as refuges for wildlife generally. Second, facilities for hunting are extensively available on Coillte lands, as well as those of private owners, and on foreshore. Third, I had to take account of considerations of public safety and the potential exposure of the State to claims for damages by persons harmed or otherwise adversely affected by hunting on national parks and wildlife services properties. The Heritage Council has recommended against any change in the long-standing policy of not permitting hunting on national parks and wildlife lands.
In reaching my conclusions on this matter I also had available the report of a joint scientific group comprising officials of my Department and nominees of the NARGC. Whereas this group considered that scientific reasons would not obtain for an automatic ban where hunting was sustainable, its report did not advance specific advice on how populations and sustainability should be assessed. While the group's report did propose a methodology for considering this matter further, the implementation of this would require significant national parks and wildlife personnel resources which would have to be diverted from other priority work. For the reasons indicated, I did not consider that the report of the scientific group justified a departure from the existing established policy in this matter.