I propose to take Questions Nos. 1412, 1415, 1418 and 1427 together.
The Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018 are the primary statutes designed to afford protection to the various species in the State and which set out the framework for dealing with wildlife crime. In addition, the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 include provisions affording strict protection to a number of species and habitats.
Wildlife crime takes many forms ranging from persecution of badgers, illegal hunting of deer species, illegal hunting of hares with packs of dogs generally known as lurchers, trapping of wild birds such as native finches for illegal trade, wilfully disturbing or destroying the eggs or nests of wild birds, poisoning of raptor species and the illegal cutting of hedges during the nesting season for birds.
Within my Department, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has responsibility for the protection and conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage, including species protection and biodiversity at national level.
As well as more senior regionally based officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of my Department, NPWS Conservation Rangers are stationed around the country and deal with enforcement matters under the Wildlife Acts. Conservation Rangers are deployed through a regional structure and assignments are determined in light of Departmental business needs and priorities.
Some of their work entails scientific research and survey work and the monitoring of compliance with national and European law in relation to nature conservation and wildlife crime across the country. The team also conducts patrols and site visits to enforce the various provisions of national and EU legislation and investigate reports of breaches of legislation including the various types of wildlife crime I have already described. My Department works closely with An Garda Síochána who are also specifically empowered under the Acts to investigate alleged wildlife crime offences and to prosecute as they see fit.
In the period 2013 to date in 2020 some 90 prosecutions were taken by my Department for breaches of the Wildlife Acts ranging from illegal deer and hare hunting, the cutting of hedges and vegetation and the poisoning of bird species. I will arrange for Deputy Whitmore to receive a yearly breakdown of prosecutions since 2010. These cases are heard in District Courts and my Department has issued press statements on individual cases over the years. For example, in 2019 my Department issued some 10 press statements on successful wildlife crime prosecutions. While bringing perpetrators of crime to justice is important, the success of dealing with wildlife crime cannot be judged on this alone, as ensuring compliance in the first instance is clearly of critical importance.
Given concerns about wildlife crime, an internal Wildlife Crime Group made up of senior Departmental officials and regional field staff has been established and meets regularly. The primary purpose of the Group is to ensure that the NPWS can realise its enforcement functions under the Wildlife Acts and European legislation as effectively as possible including consideration of how working with other agencies and organisations can enable the Department to fulfil its functions in tackling wildlife crime.
The Wildlife Crime Group has pursued many important initiatives including the organisation of a major Wildlife Crime Conference in 2018 which was attended by An Garda Síochána and representatives from organisations in Britain and Northern Ireland dealing with wildlife crime.
I am committed to ensuring that we continue with vigour our actions to tackle wildlife crime including incidents such as the recent killing of buzzards in Co Cork and to working with other agencies, including An Garda Síochána and the I.S.P.C.A to counteract these illegal activities.