Issues concerning the designation of Special Protection Areas (or SPAs) and the setting of conservation objectives are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. As previously outlined by Minister Madigan, the issue of afforestation within SPAs important to breeding hen harrier is an ongoing issue, and a previous protocol on the issue was discontinued as the European Commission considered it non-compliant with the EU Birds Directive.
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has prepared a draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan in cooperation with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and with my own Department. The draft Threat Response Plan must also undergo public consultation. Until the Threat Response Plan is completed, my Department will not be in a position to approve afforestation projects within the SPAs.