The Minister was in possession.
Heritage Bill 2016: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Ciúnas, le do thoil. A new grouping has been proposed for section 1.
On a point of order and without being discourteous to the Minister, I will express concern that this information process has been very last-minute. We have only just received the groupings and working them out is complex. It is bad that we are getting them at the last minute. In the past five minutes, I have been told that three of my amendments have been ruled out of order.
That is not a point of order.
It does not help the correct processing of legislation. I just wanted to enter that caveat first.
That is not a point of order.
I thought that it would be.
It is a caveat. I call Senator Humphreys.
Go raibh maith agat. I just wanted to-----
The Cathaoirleach said "Senator Humphreys".
I am sorry.
Is this a point of order? The Minister has possession.
The Minister and I joke now and again. In earlier times, we were considered man and wife; we were never seen together.
Now, there is a question of sexuality for you.
Just to remind the Senators, the Minister has possession. Does Senator Humphreys have a point to make?
It is a serious point about the Bill. A large number of amendments only appeared on Monday. In fairness to the Bills Office, I understand why there was a delay regarding the groupings. I suggest that the Minister take a deep breath and use this opportunity to consult offline with those Senators who have a deep interest in this matter to try to resolve the many issues that have arisen with the Bill in recent days and months and make it a true heritage Bill, rather than a hedge cutting Bill or one that fundamentally changes the canals. That would be worthwhile for the House and the Minister.
The Bill has been scheduled. Senator Higgins.
I wish to raise a point of order on the groupings. It would have been useful had they been provided to us earlier. I cannot rule out further points of order on the groupings as we reach them. We have literally only seen them in the past two minutes. While I appreciate the pressure on the Bills Office, a longer period of consideration would have been useful for all parties.
The debate is already under way on amendments Nos. 1 and 6, which relate to the issue of road safety. Amendments Nos. 1b to 1g, inclusive, relate to a different section and topic, namely, the canals, but they have been inserted into the ongoing debate. On a point of order, we must finish our debate on amendments Nos. 1 and 6 before looking to debate amendments Nos. 1b and 1g, which are additional.
That is a reasonable request, so we will proceed with amendments Nos. 1 and 6. The Minister has possession.
I will respond to some of the concerns raised by Senators at our last meeting. I recognise that hedgerows are important wildlife habitats, providing food, shelter, corridors of movement, nests and hibernation sites for many of our native flora and fauna. It has always been my intention that the change in the timing of cutting set out in section 8 of the Bill would not interfere with any of these functions. Therefore, the regulations that I will propose on foot of this legislation will require that any cutting in the month of August may only be of the current season's growth and should not involve the use of heavy flails. I am doing this on a pilot basis. It will allow for the trimming back of one year's growth on land where reseeding or tilling is taking place. When a farmer is preparing a field for ploughing, reseeding or sowing crops, he or she will have an opportunity at that point to trim back one season's growth. This is not about permitting the use of flails and causing the type of damage to hedgerows that was mentioned in the Chamber. There was a great deal of scaremongering at our last meeting.
I intend for my Department to carry out studies to determine what, if any, effects there are during the pilot phase. The studies will involve the use of control areas where cutting within the prescribed period under the Wildlife Acts can be compared with cutting of the current year's growth under the Bill. If farmers and others need to carry out heavier cutting of hedges, such as grubbing and flailing, they must do so during the existing permitted period, that being between September and the end of February. This is being done on a pilot basis and is mainly for the purpose of road safety, although there are other special circumstances. If a farmer is reseeding or sowing crops, it would make sense to cut back one season's growth at that time.
The best advice is that heavier cutting of hedges should be carried out every three years. If people want to get the best results out of their hedges in terms of seeds, berries and flowers, it is best to perform a light cutting every year. This is recognised to be the best husbandry and leads to a better production of flowers, seeds and berries.
I have addressed most of the issues save one. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, is a part of my Department. NPWS staff were involved in this work throughout and managed the consultation process.
I rely on the advice of the NPWS and it will draw up the guidelines and regulations and bring them to me. It will also oversee the monitoring during the pilot phase.
Has the Minister considered the debate on the last occasion in the House during which a very important point was made by Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, that is, that there is a substantial difference between hedges that actually face the roadway and internal hedges? Road safety measures cannot in any sense be construed as leading to any treatment of hedges that are within the farmland and do not have any road frontage. Has the Minister considered that? Would she consider producing a Government amendment if Senator Ó Domhnaill has not tabled one? I have not seen one. There is a very substantial difference between the two types of hedges.
I have received a note that states Met Éireann rainfall data show that extending upland burning into March makes no sense as March rainfall is greater than that in February, and that it makes much more sense to burn in the autumn, if at all. It claims the EPA has grave reservations about the environmental impact of burning from air quality, water quality and general nuisance perspectives. It cites the mechanical removal of gorse, for example, as often being more effective.
A full-time farmer, a Fine Gael voter, was in touch with me to say he has been involved in nature conservation at local level and strongly urges us not to lengthen the period for hedge cutting. He says the season for cutting back vegetation is quite long enough at present for anyone to carry out needed work. That is a very good point. I have an e-mail from another farmer who points out that the problem is that farmers often do not do the cutting when they have the opportunity. They are actually making up time rather than operating on the basis of a need to cut. They might not have cut the hedges for a couple of years.
When one takes into account the volume we are talking about — this relates to my first point — one should consider the difference between the different kinds of hedges, namely, those that face the road and those that are internal. The hedgerow area in Ireland is estimated to be 37% of the total forest area. I had no idea it was so extensive. More than one third of the entire forest area of Ireland consists of hedgerows. I would like the Minister to consider these points.
In response to the Minister, I acknowledge it is quite difficult for her to respond to so many issues at the same time. Senator Ó Domhnaill has explained that if his proposal were accepted, it would clarify and eliminate the road safety issue in a very clear manner. I believe there are adequate controls and that the road safety regulations could be improved to manage the roadways. If the Government is dispensing with the myth that this is a road safety issue, it could opt for the Senator's proposal whereby internal hedges would not be cut.
I come from a pharmaceutical background where I learned that if something is done on a pilot basis, there is normally a control area. It has been pointed out time and again that one should not carry out a pilot programme on the Twenty-six Counties in one go. One has to have controlled areas and understand what one is trying to find out while engaging in the pilot.
The Minister mentioned the cutting back would just pertain to the most recent season's growth. Although I am a Dub — my wife is from Roscommon — I realise that our rural hedgerows, rivers and canals are highways for nature to move around. Hedgerows are important as a food source. It is the food source that is being cut down in August. The blackcurrants are just forming on the bushes. That is what one is talking about cutting with regard to the internal hedges. If we are to have a pilot study, let us have a valid one with a control area and proper criteria. To carry out a pilot study on the basis of the Twenty-six Counties and on every single hedgerow is totally unacceptable. I will certainly be asking the Senators to press their amendment. It is a logical amendment. Fianna Fáil has been considered in the compromise it put forward. I would strongly consider the compromise if I had to and if I am not successful. There is good logic to it. Fair dues to those concerned.
I urge the Minister to take a breath, reflect and meet Senators who have a really keen interest in this matter between now and the next time she is in the House. I do not expect this legislation to go through on Committee Stage at this point. We all want to protect our heritage and canals and to ensure we have highways of nature right throughout Ireland. The Minister will chastise me by saying the Bill went through Cabinet but it did so when we were heading towards a general election. There was no proper consideration. If this had been considered by my parliamentary party before then, it would have been enraged. The more one reads this legislation, the more one worries about its name. It is not actually about protecting our heritage; it is actually putting our canals and hedgerows in danger.
Towards the end of her speech, the Minister provided a clarification. I have spoken to her about the position of the NPWS on this. Where I am from, a rural area, the NPWS has quite a reputation for doing its job. If I heard the Minister correctly, she said the legislation was put together in conjunction with the service, which falls under the remit of her Department. The service approves of the pilot project and will be overseeing it.
I do not doubt that Senators are genuine in what they are saying. It is good to tease it out. After the Minister was last in the Chamber for this debate, somebody from BirdWatch Ireland mentioned to me that the NPWS was not in favour of this measure. Perhaps the Minister could set out the position very clearly. Perhaps that organisation could have a role in the pilot project and an input into how it might be conducted.
Safety is a consideration because the councils do not cut all the hedgerows; they are cut by individuals. Senator Daly made a very valid point on the last occasion, namely, that farmers are not rushing around seeking to cut hedges unless they have to. Road safety is one element. For certain farming practices, such as tillage farming, which is not the most dominant practice where I am from because the land is not the best, the month of August is critical. I refer to reseeding and the planting of winter crops, including winter barley. It is, therefore, not just about road safety but also about accommodating farm practices in an environmentally appropriate manner while respecting habitats, ecosystems etc. Farming is a livelihood and August is the month available to the farmers. The weather is so unpredictable and it is a question of trying to strike a balance.
I am minded of Senator Norris's great praise and admiration for the British hedgerows and his remarks on how neat they are. They are neat because they are being cut, and that is what people are trying to do here also.
They cut them at the appropriate time. They have always cut them.
We all know there is much better weather in the United Kingdom anyway.
We should never have left the empire. We would have had better weather if we had stayed with Britain.
I am not so sure about that.
I welcome this. It is a major issue particularly for farmers, and those concerned about environmental issues and birds. I agree with that too. As one speaker said when a pilot scheme is set up, it has to go back to the local authority. Who will enforce it? Who will police it? These issues need to be addressed. Is the Minister providing extra funding to local authorities because this will mean extra work for every local authority? If this has to be enforced or policed, the Minister needs to let people know. The biggest issue with introducing heritage Bills or any legislation is lack of information.
And lack of finance.
That is the biggest issue Senators and councillors deal with every day. People are not aware of legislation that comes in. Anything that goes through here must be communicated to the public so that the people understand the legislation. I ask the Minister to confirm that. I listened to the Labour Senator there. That party blocked all this when it was in government.
Senator Kevin Humphreys.
We need clarification on all this. The Bill deals with this, that and the other, but at the end of the day unless it is policed or enforced, it will not work.
I thank the Minister for returning to the House. As the debate was adjourned, it enabled us to get some more information to bring to her attention. She spoke about the public consultation. No report came from the consultation process. I did some research into local authority submissions to the public consultation on the issue and found that of the 19 participating councils only four called for an extension of the cutting period, including two that were only concerned about the road-safety issues. Three made no reference to the hedge-cutting dates and 12 indicated either no changes or even an extension to the closed season, which suggests a strong emphasis on wildlife protection.
In discussing the Part 3 provisions, the Minister said about the repeal of existing laws that would make it an offence to interfere with an office enforcing the Wildlife Act and reset fines for offences back to the 1976 levels. I have heard that sections of the National Parks and Wildlife Service are not happy with this and regard the amendment as a danger.
Regarding the consultation and communication process, from my information the National Parks and Wildlife Service was not fully consulted. Last week the Minister advised the Seanad that she had "met with the Environmental Pillar". I have three e-mails from it showing that this is not the case. One, dated 15 June 2016, states:
Dear Minister Humphreys,
The Environmental Pillar would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with you, at your earliest opportunity, in regard to issues relating to natural heritage, regional and rural development and sustainable tourism.
A letter in response from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs stated:
I wish to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence to Minister Heather Humphreys requesting a meeting in regard to issues relating to natural heritage, regional and rural development and sustainable tourism.
Unfortunately due to extreme time constraints on the Minister’s diary she is unable to commit to such a meeting...
That is just one of three letters and its response showing that the Environmental Pillar sought to speak to the Minister and was unable to do so. Several other NGOs, including BirdWatch Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust also felt they did not have the opportunity to consult with the Minister on the process.
The Department has generally not communicated very well on the Bill. Why was a regulatory impact analysis not conducted in advance of the introduction of the Bill? I understand this is normally part of the process, but it has not happened in this case. As I said last week, I have consulted with many farmers, rural dwellers, landowners and members of the IFA in preparing to scrutinise the Bill. I have yet to be convinced that an extension to the cutting and burning season is a priority for the majority of the people I have met so far.
I appeal to the Minister to adjourn the debate. She should go back to the Department and take the time to meet the many stakeholders that represent the views of the many citizens who are concerned about the issue.
Before dealing with the amendment on road safety that we are debating at the moment, I want to respond to some of the issues the Minister has highlighted. I concur with those who look for more consultation on the matter. There are proposals here, but the proposals she spoke to today are not reflected in the legislation. I urge the Minister to ensure that if there are amendments, if there are proposals, if there is a tightening of the focus that she wishes to put forward, then it should be put forward in the legislation here. There may even be opportunities for Members of her party to table constructive amendments in that regard.
The Minister spoke about only allowing one season's growth, but then spoke about heavier cutting being needed every three years. There might be a bit of a technical contradiction. She is making the case for heavier cutting every three years as an argument for the amendment, but then she is also saying it would only involve the current year's growth. The heavier cutting every three years should be done in the correct six-month period and would be done in the correct six-month period because under the Bill as the Minister is describing it, that heavier periodic cutting would not be done if we are talking about a one-year growth. It is just a technical issue, but it needs to be clarified.
Others have spoken about the role of the flower season and berries. Based on e-mails I have received, people are concerned over mixing things up. We are hearing that these are agricultural proposals. Why is the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine not putting them forward? We were told there were concerns over road safety. Now we see that the proposals relate to a combination of concerns over road safety and agriculture. We need more nuanced and clearer information on that.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service was mentioned and I am sure we will get to discuss that later. There are serious concerns over the repeal, in later sections of the Bill, of very basic protections for those enforcing these amendments, such as National Parks and Wildlife Service, including the right to not be assaulted in the course of their duties. That is a very serious concern.
We talked about the weather being unpredictable and August being the month that is available. However, there are six months. Based on the debate, it could be suggested we are saying there should never be cutting. There are six months of the year and while the weather in Ireland may not be as wonderful as in other parts of Europe, Ireland has a range of decent weather and within a six-month period there are usually suitable periods of time.
Many concrete proposals have been made. For example, much of the cutting that takes place in spring here takes place in autumn in Scotland. I am sure we will come to that when we address the relevant section. Perhaps the Minister might seek to add some more detailed information when we deal with that section.
We are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 and 6 relating to road safety. Some very important additional information has come in. We have heard of the need for the Minister to consult with environmental groups and key stakeholders in the area. However, speaking in the House yesterday, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport clearly said that his role in the Department covers road transport and road safety. He seems to be clear that road transport and road safety are within his remit.
There is a question as to the reason the work should be left to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or whether the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, may look to engage more actively and constructively with that Minister. This issue was raised already but could we hear whether there are attempts to do that? The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, stated:
My Department, in conjunction with other key stakeholders, is continuing to pursue the goal of safer roads through actions across a broad range of fronts. A mid-term review is taking place this month on the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020, which contains 144 actions intended to make our roads safer for all users.
On the specific amendment in respect of road safety will the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, let us know whether she has engaged with Deputy Ross on the mid-term review of the road safety strategy, or whether she plans to engage with the Minister on it? Is it not the case that a mid-term review would be an appropriate place for the issue to be discussed? Might the 144 actions to make our roads safer not be the means to address our concerns about road safety?
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport also stated: "High-level meetings are being held between me, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality,.... and other stakeholders...." . He is meeting other Ministers and I urge Deputy Humphreys to ensure she is also among the "other stakeholders" and is meeting him. It is surprising that when road safety was being highlighted, the road safety strategy was never mentioned. I think it would be very useful for those who are putting forward road safety concerns to put forward sensible proposals. There were sensible proposals put forward.
I am strongly supportive of amendment No. 6 which offers within the existing roads legislation the appropriate place for concrete measures which allow us to genuinely strengthen the operation of section 70 of the current Roads Act. This is crucial. It is not simply a matter of giving people carte blanche to cut the hedgerow. We know there are many landowners who should cut back their hedgerows to make the road safer who may not request section 70 orders. The strengthened proposals we have put forward would allow any concerned citizens to put forward a request for a section 70 order which would allow it to go through. There is full provision legally for this at present, but our amendment strengthens its operation. I urge Members to support amendment No. 6. Constructive proposals have come from across the House and perhaps Senator Grace O'Sullivan will speak on that. I hope the Minister would be willing to meet with all parties to see how that amendment could be strengthened to address all road safety concerns. If there is a specific proposal in respect of tillage farmers, let the case be made for them in its own right and separately.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, for coming to the Seanad again today to address Members. As a follow-on from last week's discussion, the Minister has made it clear there are two aspects of hedgerow management, one in respect of ensuring farmers have the ability to manage hedgerows in a restricted way both for tillage and reseeding. It is very important that farmers have an ability to ensure productive farming. This is in some way assisting them to do that. Second, there has been a great deal of discussion in respect of road safety. It is very important that we try to reduce hazards and improve visibility for drivers. I continue to get numerous calls on hedgerow management and the challenges for motorists using particular public and private roads in my area. This provision is an important step and is a pilot project to assess its impact. We know that hedgerows are very important as a wildlife habitat for our flora and fauna. It is essential that an appropriate and in-depth assessment is carried out to look at the potential impact, but this is not about tearing ditches down. That was a point alluded to in last week's debate. It is not about that.
That was never said.
It is about ensuring that we are able to have hedges managed in a specific way for two reasons, first, in respect of road safety and, second, in regard to tillage farmers reseeding their land.
I welcome the Minister's return to the House. I will confine my remarks to the section under review. I raised the question of distinguishing between different types of hedgerows. The Minister gave a commitment last week that she would consider this before Report Stage. There are many types of hedgerow. Senator Norris stated that 37% of all trees and shrubberies in the country are in hedgerows. When one breaks down where hedgerows grow, the statistics show that 19% of all hedgerows are fronting onto the road network. Tillage farmers who are planting winter barley put forward the argument for allowing them an opportunity to cut hedges in the closed period of August. If the objective of the Bill is to address the concerns in respect of road safety and the needs of tillage farmers, let us debate whether we put it in the Bill. To give carte blanche does not distinguish between the types of hedgerow. It is not being fair to everybody. Many citizens have raised concerns, not only to Senators but to county councillors around the country. We need to ensure that if we are debating public policy which will impact on wildlife and agriculture, we need to be clear about the pathway to where we are going.
Amendments have been tabled on hedgerows and burning scrub, but unfortunately the Heritage Bill 2016 covers three areas, aspects of the Wildlife Act, the Heritage Act and the canal network. Personally, I think this is a mistake. There should have been a standalone Bill to deal with the canals. Everything is being muddled up.
Farmers contacted me to question why I was holding up the passage of this Bill. I am not delaying the Bill. I am performing my role as a legislator to scrutinise legislation line by line, no matter how long it takes. If the Minister wants to bring the Bill to the House next week, we can go through it all week, sitting Monday and Friday. The Senators on this side of the House will not cause delays. We want to debate the Bill line by line and tease out all of the concerns and provide a balanced approach to the legislation.
There are issues in regard to section 70 of the Roads Act and I am not sure if this is the appropriate way to deal with the legislation. The first thing that needs to be enshrined in the Bill, whether it is done in this House or in the Dáil, is to distinguish between the various types of hedgerow. If we are concerned about road safety, we are only talking about the hedges that front onto roads. I think there are approximately 300,000 ha under tillage. Some tillage farmers grow spring barley, but it is the tillage farmers who grow winter barley who need to cut hedgerows. I am told that only affects 4% of the farming community. That is a small percentage and it does not affect other farmers. There may be arguments from the farming groups to look at other aspects of hedgerows, but they should put the case out in the open so that we can discuss it publicly.
The Minister gave a commitment that she would look at tabling an amendment on Report Stage to address the issues in regard to roads raised in the amendment tabled by Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
If that is still the position, we have a major problem.
Section 6 deals with the regulations the Minister and her successors will make on hedge cutting. If the Bill is passed in its current form the Minister would presumably have to sign a statutory instrument or regulation for the cutting of hedges in August. This House and the other House generally do not sit after the middle of July. If the Minister were to sign the regulation in early or mid-July, the 28-day period for consultation with the Oireachtas may not be possible because the Houses would not be sitting and the amendments would not come before us and yet the regulation would stand. There are issues of technicality on that. I have previously made this point on other Bills. If a Minister introduces regulations that are not specified in primary legislation, as is the case here, those regulations should come before the Oireachtas committee relevant to that Minister, so that they can be discussed before the 28-day period expires. It may mean that regulations for the August hedge cutting will have to be made well in advance of the Houses going into recess, which typically happens in the second week of July.
We need to tease out those practical elements because there has to be give and take here. Some of the concerns raised are very well founded. I do not agree with all the amendments and other people may not agree with my position. However, we need to achieve some form of balance which the ordinary citizen deserves. We have to take into consideration the issues with hedgerows relating to birds. I hope the Minister will accede to providing some leeway to satisfy the position on this side. She should fulfil the commitment she made last week by introducing an amendment on Report Stage or facilitate it in the Dáil. Any changes that might be made in the other House would ultimately end up coming back here anyway.
I wish to make some general points. Everybody is giving out about Donald Trump and he is on the lips of all the media in more ways than one. He is the seat of misogyny, despair, sexual innuendo, abuse - he is the seat of everything. I do not believe that for a moment. However, I have one problem with him, which he has no concept of climate change or the protection or preservation of our environment, which is very serious.
We could put the Senator in his cabinet; she would be a great woman.
I am wondering about the relevance to the Bill.
There is a spurious link to what I am about to say.
I hope it is not spurious.
It is trumpery rubbish.
Most of what I have heard in here has been quite spurious up to now.
It is an interesting point because climate change is an enormous issue. Protection and preservation, and the knowledge of how to protect and preserve our environment are tantamount because without our environment, none of us will be here.
I am concerned about the Bill and I agree with Senators who say that we do not have information. I do not see what hedgerows have to do with road safety. I understand the lack of visibility on country roads, but road safety usually relates to speed. There is no one reason for fatalities and accidents on the roads. There are lots of reasons, but hedges and hedgerows are not among them. There is a mismatch as to why road safety is sitting in the middle of this as a major reason for cutting them down when it should not be. Road safety should not be in a heritage Bill.
I have received hundreds of e-mails and letters from stakeholders involved with wildlife, bird watching and biodiversity; they cannot be wrong. These are people who work in this area and know what they are talking about. They are trying to give us advice on the Bill - mostly against it - and I want to believe them. Again I do not have enough information.
In the past six months I have travelled extensively throughout Ireland. I cannot believe what I have seen. On the previous day, Senator Humphreys alluded to the destruction of the foliage, trees and bushes on the side of the roads. They are hacked to death by the wrong hacking instruments in order to improve visibility. It is outrageous. If that is the kind of hedge cutting that will happen, I give up. They are hacked to death.
As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, three major areas are involved - wildlife, hedgerows and the canals. I am all mixed up because each of them has demands. The Department is an arts Ministry incorporating rural revitalisation and heritage; the Minister is trying to run a huge area. This is a part of it that is also enormous. When we come to dealing with the canals, it deals with alteration, regulation, prevention, obligations for removal and charging, but very little about the actual cleaning. The canals in Dublin are filthy.
I wanted to make the general point that I am not happy about this. We need more information and we need to look at it more closely. We need to take advice from some of the experts. I return to my original statement. The US President-elect seems to know nothing about climate change and how to preserve and protect our environment.
I seek clarification on section 8(2). In the Minister's initial comments she mentioned one year's growth, which is not what is stated in section 8(2). That section refers to "during the month of August ... grubbing or destroying otherwise". Does the Minister propose deleting section 8(2) and replacing it with what she proposed at the start, which is one-year's growth and not the grubbing as specified in the Bill?
So much has been said today. As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said, we have received many letters from different organisations. One letter from Neil Foulkes in County Leitrim sums up everything we are discussing today. It states:
I am writing to you in connection with the proposed changes to the hedge cutting dates contained Section 40 of the Wildlife Act referred to in 8(2) of the Heritage Bill.
I am hedgerow manager and hedgerow consultant with over 25 years experience of working on hedgerows and hedgerow related matters including working with Local Authorities. I have followed the debate in the Seanad and offer these thoughts in the hope that they might add to the ongoing discussions.
There is a lot of genuine and justifiable concern about public health and safety in relation to roadside hedgerows. We talk of 'public health and safety' as though the issues are straightforward, black and white but, as in all things, there are complexities. The risk factors that influence safety issues interact in complex ways and there is no scientific method of defining road safety problems. Obscured signs, reduced visibility at road junctions and encroachment of vegetation are obvious issues, but cutting back all roadside vegetation may be counter productive as there are aspects of hedgerows that contribute to road safety. There needs to be a rational approach to defining and addressing safety issues that recognises the complexities involved. The fact that health and safety issues are not black and white is reflected in the Roads Act whereby a land owner can appeal against a notification from the Roads Authority under Section 70 on the grounds that "the structure (or the use of such structure), tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation, as the case may be, is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road or does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of a public road, " S70 3 (a) (iii).
Mr. Foulkes continues:
As part of my work I have canvassed roads engineers and found contradictory views expressed on a number of different aspects of road safety related to roadside vegetation. This disparity of opinion indicates the complexities involved and a need for a wider discussion on the subject. In my experience, and I believe that most road engineers would concur, the major problem connected with the excessive growth of roadside vegetation is not landowners who want to cut hedges and cannot. The problem is the landowners who should cut their hedges and do not do so. The changes proposed in the Heritage Bill do nothing to address this situation.
Road engineers are on the front line and based on my feedback from them there is a lack of clarity on the current legislative provision. The amendments proposed to the Bill seek to provide some clarity and are a definite improvement and I was pleased to hear that the Minister agreed in principle with some of what has been put forward. The logical place for dealing with legislative matters in connection with the management of vegetation on public roads is through section 70 of the Roads Act. Trying to cover road safety issues and agricultural issues in one clause, as in this Bill, is a blunt approach that is unlikely to lead to good legislation. At the very least, amendments that separate and deal with the issues individually should be considered. However, given the level of public concern on this matter I would suggest that what is required is a full public consultation on the issue of the management of roadside vegetation so that all of the issues can be taken on board and appropriate and considered mechanisms, including, but not exclusively, legal mechanisms, can be developed and introduced. I have been recommending for a number of years that a task force, involving all key stakeholders, needs to be established to fully address this issue.
The proposed changes to the Wildlife Act contained in the Heritage Bill are a restricted and inadequate attempt at addressing the issue of road safety and, if passed, could result in a false sense of security that the issues have been dealt with. The fact that safety issues can arise at any time of the year but the proposed changes only relate to August shows the fallacy of this position. If this aspect of the Bill goes through as is then the management of roadside hedges probably will be off the legislative agenda. Do we want to see a token measure that probably goes a very little way, if any, beyond the current provision in law in this regard at the expense of a full and considered approach to what is clearly an issue of huge public concern on many grounds?
That is the question this wonderful man, Neil Foulkes, from County Leitrim, has asked. He should be heard today.
I was unavoidably absent last week and for that reason I wish to take this opportunity to welcome my constituency colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I did not get the opportunity to do so last week.
As a general point I suggest that the real and true custodians, those who have more than a vested interest in rural Ireland, are our farmers. I come from a rural community and I know this. With a few dishonourable exceptions the farming community of Ireland love the land, their environment and nature and they are the true custodians of these. I mean this and I am not suggesting complete deregulation or anything of the sort. What I am suggesting is that the House can rest assured that the farmers of Ireland can be trusted with the land and the hedgerows of Ireland. No matter what legislative framework is in existence, the love of nature and the goodwill of farmers will endure. The passion and extraordinary connectivity they have with the beauty of the environment and the historical connection and the heritage that exists will ensure farmers will protect, by and large, our environment. Indeed, they do this on a daily basis. The take-up of the green low carbon agri-environment scheme by farmers and the execution of the GLAS scheme with such excellence is testimony to their love of nature and the land and their willingness to preserve it. Department report after report confirms this.
The Minister has made a number of reassuring points today. I can understand why colleagues might ask the Minister for further specifics around certain points. That is reasonable and fair enough. As Senator Ó Domhnaill has said, that is precisely why we are here. That is our job and there is no issue with that. The Minister made some encouraging and reassuring points. I suggest to the House that we should accept the bona fides of the Minister and she will go through further detail on it. The Minister said that we were only discussing the growth of the current season and that she was not facilitating nor would the legislation or any statutory instruments arising facilitate the butchering of hedges or major incisions into hedges in the month of August. That is not what is suggested.
Bear with me and we will all have our opportunity to speak.
On a point of order-----
There is no point-----
The legislation does not refer to one year's growth. The legislation refers to growing out. This is simply misinformation.
That will be dealt with by the Minister.
That is not a point of order. I will give everyone a chance to speak.
It is important to echo the point the Minister has made to the effect that what is at issue is one year's growth.
We are not talking about heavy flails or heavy-machinery-type cutting or incision into hedges. I will set out why I wish to emphasise this point. A good neighbour of mine is a community activist in the town in which I live. He is a great person for local heritage causes, a wonderful person. He wrote to me with a concern that there was something akin to a major attack on the hedges that would amount almost to a removal of ditches in the month of August. I am happy to have a reassurance to bring back to that good citizen.
The Minister made a point but my good friend, Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, misunderstood the point made by the Minister. The Minister said that ideally hedges need a heavy cutting every three years.
She did not.
Yes, that is the case. However, the Minister did not for a moment suggest that this should happen in the month of August. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue in the month of August relates to road safety. The heavy cutting that Senator Alice-Mary Higgins is rightly concerned about would take place in the traditional season and would only happen on a three-year basis.
There are a number of important areas for farmers. There are difficulties with entering the land in the type of farming terrain and the area that Senator Hopkins comes from and represents so competently. The same applies in the area that I have the privilege of representing. Senator Gallagher is from that area too.
Senator O'Reilly does not represent a geographical constituency.
I will take Senator Norris's point. I am referring to the area where we have the privilege to live - I suppose we represent the entire country.
In tillage areas where there is re-seeding this is a necessary exercise. There are specific difficulties in certain types of areas where small farming is carried out as well as wetland areas.
It is important to emphasise another point that has been getting insufficient emphasis: this is a pilot scheme. In other words, there is a remedy if any operational difficulties arise in terms of misuse. I made the point at the outset that I am perfectly confident about our farmers in this area. Any misuse, any operational difficulties or any supervisory difficulties that arise during the pilot programme will of course be corrected in future statutory instruments. Senator Mulherin made an important point in respect of the involvement of the National Parks and Wildlife Service from the outset.
I wish to turn to road safety. Anyone who lives in rural Ireland understands it. I have great respect for Deputy Marie-Louise O'Donnell, who lives there on a day-to-day basis. People who live there know how to negotiate their way around those areas, but there is a real safety issue here.
That issue relates to hedgerows. I refer to the Oireachtas Library digest which was circulated prior to the Bill's introduction. The digest quotes the Road Safety Authority's submission during the consultation period. The reasons I insist on recording it will become apparent. It states:
From a road safety perspective, we would support the introduction of any measures that would ensure that hedges are kept in such a way as they ensure the visibility of road signage to road users all year round, do not cause damage to mirrors fitted to vehicles, especially large vehicles such as HGVs, buses and agricultural tractors.
In that regard, my good colleague, Councillor Peter McVitty, who is known to many in the House and who is a leading member of the Irish Haulage Association, has been in contact with me regularly to say that this is a difficulty for his drivers and a health and safety issue for them on a daily basis. The Road Safety Authority submission continues:
The issue of overgrown hedges obscuring the visibility of drivers, road signs, and forcing vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) onto the open road is [one] that greatly exercises the public and generates much correspondence to the Road Safety Authority on the subject.
This is a road safety issue and it is a concern of the Road Safety Authority. As such, it is right that it is addressed in those terms. It is not just an issue for tillage farmers who are seeding and those who have particularly difficult terrain with which to deal and demanding climactic conditions in which to operate. It is an issue for ordinary people traversing the roads and, in particular, for tourists who have difficulty with the fact that we drive on the left-hand side of the road here. It is very much a road safety issue.
The clarifications provided by the Minister should alleviate the fears of those who have genuine concerns about this matter. I welcome the fact that trimming will proceed, that it will be in respect of one year's growth, that it will be controlled and that it will be subject to a statutory instrument and ministerial order. Also, it is a pilot programme and, as such, will be constantly under review. Taking all of that together with the rightful concerns around road safety and farming issues relating to tillage, reseeding and the variations in climate and terrain nationally, the Bill is nicely nuanced and modulated. I make no apologies for finally reverting to the point------
Will the Senator sing it?
-----that we can trust farmers in the context of their discretion and love of the land. They have a passion for their hedgerows and nature. The way they took up and so excellently dealt with GLAS should be noted. There are abominable exceptions such as one gets in every facet of life, but with few and noticeable exceptions, I have yet to meet a farmer who does not take pride in his or her place and in its efficacy and who does not have a love of all forms of nature. In fact, they revel in it. They go out walking their fields and they love to have people visit so that they can proudly take them around their farms. I do not believe that many the fears that have been expressed are well grounded.
I welcome the fact that Senator O'Reilly referenced the fact that we are national representatives. This is a good opportunity to make the case that the urban-rural divide in this debate is problematic. Senator Black mentioned her joy in travelling across Ireland and I can attest to that having returned from Killarney at all hours of the morning and having travelled to many parts of this island. It is not simply that the urban people in the room want to protect our hedgerows. We acknowledge absolutely that covering front gardens in urban areas with Tarmacadam and manicured public realms also fail to support biodiversity. The students in the Gallery will tell one that eight out of ten plants depend on insects for pollination. Wild insects pollinate our food and improve yields for the crops we need. The pollinators help to provide one in every three mouthfuls of our food. I reject the urban-rural aspect of the debate.
I did not make the following point in the previous session. I do not want to repeat myself. Under the good agriculture and environmental condition, GAEC, requirements of the Europe Union, farmers are obliged to maintain their land in good agricultural and environmental condition. This concept includes the protection of soil against erosion, maintenance of soil organic matter and soil structure and the safeguarding of landscape features. It is member states, not the European Union, that decide the exact specification of these parameters, which set the context for where matters stand today. The current GAEC requirement states that hedge, tree or scrub cutting is not permitted between 1 March and 31 August, although hedge cutting is permitted in the period when there is a health and safety issue. These dates help those who farm the land to avoid damaging wildlife and any changes in these cross-compliance hedge cutting dates should be based on scientific research, evidence and the impact on biodiversity and agricultural practices. Obviously, the Department has no scientific research or evidence on which to base its policy. The closed period for hedge cutting should remain in line with the North of Ireland and we should not depart from the GAEC position, or the all-island position, in the interests of both our society and our environment.
I have spoken at length on the Bill previously and will not spend that long on it today. We are here again debating the same issues in the same vein and it is a very positive debate. In many ways, we have teased out many of the issues that needed to be teased out. There were questions last week as to why the agricultural community wanted to be involved and that has been clarified with regard to reseeding practices and winter grain practices. The agricultural community is involved because this is an important step for its members in order that they can be productive. That matter has been put to bed.
Some Senators stated that we need to ask the experts. Surely, the people who farm the land, live on it and have, for generations, been so much a part of it are considered part of that expert grouping. They have a very strong view which is that we need to amend legislation and look at a pilot scheme. That is why they have been so supportive of this project. That is why we need to push ahead with this proposal and the pilot scheme. It is not about flailing the hedges, but about trimming them for a one-year growth period on a pilot basis.
That is not what the legislation says.
That is the new introduction by the Minister.
I did not interrupt anyone else, to be fair.
Senator Lombard, without interruption, please.
A two-year pilot programme where one is not going out there and tearing down the hedges by flailing them, but is only taking a trim, is an appropriate step to give the agricultural community a chance to prove what they are saying regarding the month of August and farming practices in respect of winter grain and reseeding. It is a very logical argument and I take it on board.
I turn to safety issues. I spent 13 years as a proud member of Cork County Council and this was one of the key issues that came up in every election. The Cathaoirleach is from the same part of Ireland as I am. I note the number of phone calls one gets in rural Ireland from people regarding safety on minor roads. It is a huge issue.
This does nothing for that.
It is an issue and it would be disrespectful to those rural people to deny that. It is a big issue on the ground where people cannot walk on the roads safely.
That is about speeding cars.
To say it is not an issue is absolutely ridiculous. It is a big issue. If one looks at the representations I have received over the last 13 years, they are in the tens of hundreds.
It is everybody's fault but the motorist's.
The representations were from people who wanted the opportunity to cut these hedges in August but who did not have the ability to do so. To say it is a non-issue now is absolutely appalling. I was elected by those people.
I encourage Senators to meet them and ask for their views because they will tell them the truth.
You would be afraid you would be attacked by a hedgerow.
The Day of the Triffids.
Thirteen Senators have spoken and I have fettered no one; therefore, it is now appropriate, before somebody else wishes to contribute, to allow the Minister to do so.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. All birds are protected under existing law. It is incumbent on anyone cutting a hedge not to interfere with nests or birds during the period in which they are allowed to cut. It is incumbent on them under the rules and regulations not to do so.
Do they check it for nests? I very much doubt that they do.
It is incumbent on anyone cutting a hedge not to interfere with birds or nests. There seems to be a misunderstanding about this and I have consulted widely on the Bill. The Senator referred to a letter about a meeting. I have met those involved in the environmental pillar. They were consulted and those concerned sent me a letter shortly after I had met them. I do not know how many times they want me to meet them, but I have met them.
The Bill gives the Minister the power to change the dates by regulation on a pilot basis. The regulations will allow the trimming back of only one season's growth in the month of August. I propose that we allow the trimming back of one year's growth on land where reseeding or tillage is taking place in the month of August.
It is included in the regulations but not the Bill.
No; it is included in the regulations.
But not in the Bill.
If farmers and others need to carry out heavier cutting of hedges, including grubbing or flailing, they must do so during the existing permitted period, from 1 September to the end of February. They cannot do so in August.
Grubbing is explicitly provided for in the legislation.
Everyone will be allowed back in again. The difficulty is that there are two arguments. If a Senator does not like what others say, he or she should allow them to make their case, after which he or she may come back in.
I acknowledge that the Bill may appear complex and complicated to some, but I am happy to work through it and address the Senators' concerns. I informed Senators last week that I would accept the first part of amendment No. 6 in principle as it provided for the inclusion of notices served by a local authority on landowners under section 70(2) of the Roads Acts as an exempted activity under section 40(2) of the Wildlife Act. The amendment goes some of the way towards harmonising the provisions of the Roads Acts on works to be undertaken for safety purposes along public roads with the provisions of section 40 of the Wildlife Act. I intend, however, to consult the Attorney General on the wording of the amendment and will bring a further amendment to the House on Report Stage to reflect the proposal made by Senator Grace O'Sullivan. I will also bring an amendment to the House on Report Stage to deal with amendment No. 1 which deals with the collective citation for the Roads Acts.
On the second part of amendment No. 6, there are provisions in section 40(2) of the Act for some strict exemptions from the prohibition on burning and cutting during the closed period - an example being the destruction of noxious weeds for health and safety reasons - and during works permitted under statute. Specifically, section 40(2)(c) provides that public bodies such as local authorities can carry out hedge cutting for public health and safety reasons. The second part of amendment No. 6 provides that all public bodies would have to notify me of all such works during the March-August period. I do not believe it should be mandatory for public bodies to notify me of all such works. I would view this as an onerous task which could potentially delay the carrying out of urgent work on health and safety grounds. I have existing powers under section 43 of the Act to request details of such works from local authorities with a statement on the public health and safety factors involved. I have used these powers on a number of occasions in recent years. I believe my existing powers are sufficient in this regard.
On the third part of amendment No. 6, the proposed additions are to the Roads Acts and relate to structures that may pose a risk to public health and safety and are outside the remit of the Bill. I have pointed out that roads legislation, particularly on road safety, is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Accordingly, it is not possible for me to accept the amendments as they do not pertain to an area covered by the Bill; rather, they relate to other legislation. I will, however, bring the proposals to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
It is incorrect to say my staff are against this legislation. My staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be involved in the monitoring of the pilot programme which involves the use of control areas. I intend to launch a public awareness process in order that all stakeholders, including local authorities, landowners and members of the public, will be fully informed. I absolutely agree with Senators that it is important that people be fully informed of the restrictions on hedge cutting and burning.
Other issues concerning burning and hedge cutting were raised. They are dealt with in section 8 and we will deal with them when we reach that section.
It is important that we be very clear. There has been a lot of conversation today about reassurances that have been made. Unfortunately, they have been inaccurately described as points of clarification because what we have had is not clarification but a change of position. If so, I absolutely welcome it.
We are not having a general debate or a debate on future regulations but discussing very explicit and important legislation. It sets out extremely clearly - I will not elaborate too much because we have many points to discuss - that a person who owns land may, during the month of August, undertake the cutting, grubbing or destruction of vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch. It is stated this is subject to conditions that may be set out in regulations, but it is very clear that the intention of the Bill is to allow grubbing. Unless we are talking about grubbing one year old hedges, which I do not believe is common practice anywhere in Ireland, we really need to be clear that this is a different proposition. The propositions we have heard are different from those set out and from what we are being asked to vote on and support. Given the seriousness of the divergence between what is being spoken about and what is included in the legislation, we cannot wait until Report Stage. While I give due recognition to the very nuanced contribution of Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, I respectfully suggest we cannot wait until Report Stage. We certainly cannot wait until the issue is dealt with in the Dáil. It is not the practice of the Seanad to abrogate its legislative responsibility and transfer it to legislators in the other House. We have a responsibility to ensure legislation leaves this House having been given due consideration based on the deeply reflective contributions made on all sides. If the Minister has a more nuanced approach - I might still not agree with it, but at least I would recognise that these issues were being raised - let it be reflected in the legislation. There will be an opportunity for her colleagues in Fine Gael and others to produce more nuanced amendments to section 8 to allow it to match the description of the section we have heard in the House today, as opposed to the very explicit language used such as "grubbing or otherwise destroy". Perhaps she might support the amendments of others. The language used is not inflammatory; it is simply technical.
My respected colleague Senator Joe O'Reilly spoke about farmers. We have been very clear that they are regarded as the custodians and we will have great respect for them as such. Many small farmers have been contacting us. Many of them are concerned about their crops. We have a national pollination plan for a reason. Pollination is a key concern among agribusinesses, small farmers and various artisan producers.
Farmers are concerned about the impact of this measure on their crops, particularly organic food crop producers and what it may mean for them. These are serious issues for pollination and farmers. As Senator Joe O'Reilly said, many of our farmers are in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. They have the role of caretaker, a role which many of them take deeply seriously and about which they are diligent and concerned. I am concerned the measures set out in this Bill will weaken the case for funding for farmers in GLAS under the Common Agricultural Policy.
As Senator David Norris said, 37% of our forestry is made up of hedgerows and, as Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said, they are part of our climate change commitments. Hedgerows have a serious load-bearing role to play with regard to our climate change targets and commitments, as well as in the justification for GLAS funding for farmers. Farmers have concerns which need to be addressed. There are also concerns among tillage producers.
We also recognise the concerns about road safety. Amendment No. 6, put forward by my colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan, specifically proposes that an individual, a community or a school group which has a concern about a hedgerow and road safety would have the power, which they do not have currently, to seek to initiate a section 70 order which would require landowners to trim their hedges. I do not believe many section 70 orders are refused. Is it the case many landowners are regularly applying for section 70 orders and are having them refused by local authorities on a systematic basis? There may be instances where that is happening. If that is the case, let us address it.
When we talk about road safety, there is nothing in this regard for concerned members of the public, the ordinary people who live in the countryside but may not themselves be landowners. There is nothing to give them assurance. There is nothing to deal with their concerns with road safety. They are still at the will of a landowner and whether he or she decides to cut a hedgerow.
Moreover, we are looking at a great responsibility being placed on hedgerows. We talk about the regulations put into place. However, in this Bill, the Minister is removing any accountability. Given that the Bill gives no detail as to how this will be monitored, how does she then propose to monitor it? Is it placing all the responsibility on farmers while they are not given any assistance? We have raised constructive proposals along the lines of those in County Clare, where the local authority works with landowners and practically assists them where there are difficulties in accessing appropriate machinery. The local authority gives them practical assistance and payment for the cutting of areas of identified concern. There are practical proposals.
The Minister spoke about speaking to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. Does she plan to engage in the mid-term review of the road safety strategy? It is happening this month and is a key opportunity to engage in the overall road safety strategy. What are the Minister's proposals for engaging with that? That is an appropriate place for us to be teasing this issue out. She said she would bring her proposals to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Might there be a more deep and nuanced way in which we can engage with that road safety strategy? We will be engaging with it, as we have engaged with all stakeholders, including the IFA and other concerned groups, recognising there is expertise right across Ireland on this. It is our shared island and we do all have a stake with what happens with this legislation.
This is a peculiar Bill. When I saw it on the programme for legislation originally, I thought it might have something to do with the protection of historic buildings. It seems to me that the majority of this Bill's provisions should fall under the remit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Minister herself has just said that certain aspects were not contemplated by the Bill because road safety was the concern of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Road safety, however, is the principal argument for the Government in pushing this legislation. If road safety is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, that is where it should lie.
With regard to hedgerow and road safety, most reasonable motorists - I am rather a rapid motorist - tend to slow down.
He does drive a Jaguar.
I have a wonderful Jaguar. It is unscarred by hedgerows. I have not once been attacked by a wild hedgerow. Most responsible motorists will slow down when they see the intrusion of vegetation onto the road.
There is one important point quoted by the Minister from the National Parks and Wildlife Service with which I would agree.
There is a problem with road signage and hedgerows. A road sign warning about a dangerous turn, for example, could be obscured by vegetation. One needs only to snip a few feet, however. That should be the responsibility of the local authorities. It is their signage and they should make sure it is visible. It is not the responsibility of farmers.
I remember when this Bill was first produced. It was a blatant sop to the farming community in the run-up to an election. That is why it went unopposed in this House. It was fodder for the farmers buying their votes.
I have been advised by certain lobbyists that there was no mention of the difference between a one-year cut and a three-year cut. The Minister says it is in the regulations. We have to take that on trust as we do not have them. We are dealing with the Bill, which is very clear.
I quoted 37% of our forestation being hedgerow. Senator Ó Domhnaill said 19% was road frontage. There might be a little confusion here. The figure of 19% is more than half of 37%. If one takes a rectangle, one side only will abut the road while the other three sides will not. Mathematically, it could not then possibly be 19%. It must be 19% of the 37%.
No, it is 19% of 100%.
I do not agree. All right; I will clarify. I did have the wonderful the distinction of getting 11 honours but failing in arithmetic in the leaving certificate, however.
That might explain it.
That should be an encouragement to the wonderful students in the Gallery. They should not neglect mathematics but neither should they break their hearts if they do happen to fail it.
It seems perfectly logical that if one has a rectangle, one side cannot be more than half the sum of the other three sides. I will leave it at that.
The final point I want to address is this business of the whole scheme being a pilot project. However, Senator Kevin Humphreys has dealt with that adequately. There are no controls. A pilot scheme deals with a fraction of the general population in order to extrapolate particular information. That is the scientific basis of it. One does not do an entire country as a pilot scheme. For God's sake, that is absolute logic. I think the Minister has got it backwards. She is talking about a pilot scheme to find out. She should get the scientific information before she embarks on this kind of scheme. She might not be listening but that is what everybody is telling her.
I want to go home to my native bog, Laois. Wonderful Laois County Council believes no changes should be made to the current date for closed seasons until scientific evidence is produced which demonstrates these dates are no longer appropriate.
As does County Clare.
Yes, County Clare. A majority of councils have actually said this. I am not attacking farmers. God knows, my grandfather was a farmer. It is spurious to suggest that there is some kind of hostility between people who happen to live in Dublin and people who are decent farmers. Of course, they are the curators and protectors of the land and we respect them but that is no reason to give in to this Bill in an unquestioning way.
I will end by quoting from the Environmental Protection Agency. It states:
The EPA recommends that if any changes are to be considered that they be based on scientific evidence as to their relative merits as biodiversity protection and enhancement measures and as general environmental protection measures, particularly in relation to air quality and climate change. If insufficient evidence is available at this point in time and if there is a need for further research and study of the existing controls then it would be more prudent to leave the controls as they are until such research is completed.
The Environmental Protection Agency is advising the Minister not to do this until she has the scientific evidence. If she does not have the scientific evidence, she should not go ahead with it. I wish the Minister would listen to these words from the body that is charged with the protection of the environment. She can hardly challenge it. BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Environmental Protection Agency are all singing from the same hymn sheet. I put it to the Minister that it is obvious that we should await the proper scientific information and that this has not been done. The only work done on the nesting of birds and so on has been carried out by BirdWatch Ireland. There is no scientific evidence to support the Minister's case in arguing for this Bill.
I must admit that I always hate following Senator Norris who is always a difficult act to follow. I will respond to a couple of items mentioned earlier. Senator Lombard said cutting hedges on the roadside is always an enormous issue in Cork. It has probably been hotly debated on numerous occasions in the council chamber to such an extent that they made no submission in respect of this.
One of the things we are arguing about is the executive. There has been no submission from Cork about it. Senator Lombard neglected to say that many rural councils were seeking better protection for hedgerows. Senator O'Reilly taught in Ringsend College on many occasions. However, I must say that as a teacher, he would not get away with his contribution this evening in Ringsend College.
He would not get away with it in Ringsend.
There is a Ringsend upper cut that normally resolves all these things. What is very clear from the debate is that this is not about road safety.
If it was about road safety-----
It would be the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
It would be the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport but there would be an enormous exception with regard to amendment No. 6 that clarifies absolutely, and rules out, any ambiguity in respect of road safety so it is not about road safety. It is not about a pilot scheme because if it was, we would have a controlled area but sure we will wait two years and after a Thirty-two County pilot scheme is completed, we will see whether we have done any damage. It might be very late for all those nesting birds who are no longer nesting.
Farmers will look at the hedges to see if there are any nests.
As we bring legislation to this House, often for very good reasons, we do not bring it here for the majority of people. I want to say very clearly that I support the farming industry and the vast majority of responsible farmers. They will inspect their hedgerows and check to see whether there are nesting birds there.
We bring in legislation for the ones who are irresponsible. We do not bring in legislation on breaking into somebody's house for the vast majority of citizens. We bring it in for the tiny majority of citizens who break into other people's houses.
We have protection of hedgerows and we need to improve and increase them. Amendment No. 6 takes the ambiguity out of it and safeguards hedges. If we are being honest, we will accept amendment No. 6, tell the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport that this is needed quickly and the nonsense we constantly hear about this being about road safety and a pilot scheme would stop because it is not the case.
A certain group among the farming community obviously has somebody's ear and has pushed this ill-thought-out and badly framed legislation. I am going to oppose it at every amendment and every step of the way because nobody has been listening. There have been logical arguments and discussion but they have fallen on deaf ears, certainly in the case of Senator O'Reilly, who is a very good friend of mine. I do not know who he has been talking to and which farming friends were responsible because I imagine that the vast majority of his farming friends do not want this because they have been operating very well. The Minister and I know exactly where this came from so let us cut out the nonsense and get back to bringing forward good and logical legislation.
That is a different era.
I felt very insulted by the Minister's comments when she insinuated that the Bill was too complex and complicated and that she would explain it to us. I want to assure her that everybody in this Seanad has gone through this legislation line by line and that is why there are so many amendments. We do understand it. It is not too complicated for us. What is complicated to understand is why it is before this House in its current form. I felt insulted and that it was a very patronising comment on the Minister's part.
Does the Minister wish to respond before we put it to a vote?
I was told that this Bill was too long and too complicated. What I was saying is that I am happy to sit here with the Senators and go through it line by line because I do accept that it is complicated and that there are a number of different issues within it. Let me make it very clear that hedges impact on road safety. We accept that. It can happen. I have responsibility for the dates for hedge cutting. I am putting forward this Bill so that under regulation and on a pilot basis, we can allow hedge cutting for the month of August. I repeat that it relates to one season's growth on hedges on the sides of roads. The second part of it allows cutting of one season's growth on land involving hedges that relate to tillage farmers and re-seeding. That is it. No other hedges will fall within those regulations. I want to make that very clear.
Part 1 of this amendment to the Wildlife Acts is under my remit. I said I would look at that amendment. Part 3 is an amendment to the Roads Act so it belongs to the Road Act, which is the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I cannot change a Bill that falls under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I want to be clear on that.
I agree with Senator O'Reilly that farmers are the greatest custodians of the countryside. We talked about urban dwellers. Members should remember that urban dwellers are not allowed to cut their hedges. If urban dwellers are cutting their hedges before 1 September, they should not do so. I am trying to allow a degree of flexibility here.
The Minister is a friend of the suburbs.
What Senator Higgins referred to will be dealt with in section 8 of the Bill; I am currently dealing with section 1 and section 10.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Devine, Máire.
- Dolan, John.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Landy, Denis.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Conway, Martin.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Noone, Catherine.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
I ask the Acting Leader to report progress.
I report progress.
He is not acting at all; he is the real one.
The Leader is currently acting.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, 22 November.