Written Answers. - Biological and Landscape Diversity.

John Gormley

Ceist:

95 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if Ireland is party to the pan-European strategy on biological and landscape diversity; if so, the efforts, if any, being made by her Department with other relevant Government Departments to co-ordinate the articulation and implementation of a strategy for Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15237/98]

John Gormley

Ceist:

96 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands whether she has considered the all-island dimensions of Irish participation in a pan-European strategy on biological and landscape diversity; the discussions, if any, she has had with her counterparts in Northern Ireland in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15238/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 96 together.

Ireland has endorsed the pan-European biological and landscape diversity strategy (PEBLDS) and is one of the states participating in the pan-European ecological network. Ireland also provides an alternate representative to the executive bureau of PEBLDS.

The Deputy will be aware that in the Sofia Declaration of October 1995 European Ministers for the Environment agreed to establish the pan-European ecological network within ten years in the context of action theme I of the PEBLDS. Implementation of the network will build upon a range of existing European initiatives, including the NATURA 2000 network being established under the terms of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. Ireland has transposed the directives into national law. The European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1997, lays obligations on certain Ministers, local authorities and other bodies in regard to the protection of European sites of ecological importance such as special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protection areas (SPAs). The main part of Ireland's SAC network has, since March 1997, been publicly advertised for designation and has been legally protected from that date.
The Deputy will also be aware that PEBLDS is the pan-European response to support the implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which Ireland ratified in 1996. Among the aims of that convention are the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and a key means of achieving these is through the development of biodiversity plans by the parties to the convention. A national biodiversity plan is currently being prepared by my Department which will address the areas relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in Ireland.
As I was anxious to have the widest possible participation in the development of the biodiversity plan, I arranged for a public consultation process last year by announcing that such a plan was being prepared and seeking written submissions from interested bodies and individuals. Approximately 50 submissions were received and these are being taken into consideration in the context of the drafting of the national biodiversity plan.
The plan will review the state of biological diversity in Ireland and outline the measures which are currently in place for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in Ireland. However, the main focus of the plan will be on setting out strategies and actions to be undertaken for the conservation and sustainable use of such biological diversity in the future. The plan will examine biodiversity at ecosystem, species and the genetic level and it will cover all ecosystems, terrestrial, freshwater and marine and all taxonomic groups. The plan will pay special attention to the need for the integration of the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity into all relevant sectors and will consider the main sectors which impact on biodiversity, including agriculture, forestry and the marine.
In addition, an interdepartmental steering group on biodiversity has also been established, the primary function of which is to secure the involvement of the main Departments who are responsible for biodiversity, to provide for a point of direct contact between them, and to co-ordinate the response to and implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Ireland.
It is my intention to have the national biodiversity plan published before the end of the year and I am confident that it will represent a significant step in the process of Irelands implementation of its commitments in regard to biodiversity, not only under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity but also in regard to the PEBLDS.
I am very aware of the all-island dimension that exists in regard to biodiversity issues and have already agreed in principle to participate in a meeting with my Northern counterpart, Lord Dubs, regarding these matters. There has been some preliminary discussion at official level and I hope that the finalisation of arrangements in relation to a meeting at ministerial level can take place in the near future.