Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne. I ask the Acting Leader to move that the Bill be recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 2 and 40.

I move that the Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 2 and 40.

The Acting Leader moved a motion and I asked whether it was agreed.

What motion? Sorry, I could not hear.

That the Bill be recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 2 and 40. Is that okay?

In respect of other amendments, I remind Senators that on Report Stage a Senator may speak only once, except the proposer of the amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1, 5 to 7, inclusive, 9, 13 and 36 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

We have not seen the list of groupings. Has it been circulated?

I will request the list for the Senator.

What grouping did the Acting Chairman propose?

Amendments Nos. 1, 5 to 7, inclusive, 9, 13 and 36.

Amendments Nos. 9, 13-----

Amendments Nos. 9, 13 and 36 are related and will be taken with amendments Nos. 1 and 5 to 7, inclusive.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are not related.

I think we should take them all separately.

It is amendments Nos. 5 and 7.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are related to each other but they are not related to amendment No. 7.

Would the Senator like to have them discussed separately?

All of them should be discussed separately.

I think so. I ask that they be taken separately.

They will be because we will take each amendment as it comes. Does the Senator want to speak on them together or separately?

No, separately.

I would be happy to speak on them separately. I would prefer that if possible.

Yes, separately.

I will agree to speak on amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together because they are related but the other amendments should be taken separately.

The Minister of State's notes are all based on the groupings, that is the only thing. There may be some repetition.

I am sure we can come back to points and I am sure we may not need to go into them in the same length when issues arise.

I call on Senator Higgins to move amendment No. 1.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 5, after “of” to insert "raised".

This amendment relates to one of the core issues in the Bill. There was a lengthy process under way and aspects of it have become outdated, for example, the previous process on consultation and review on developing the Bill was with regard to raised bogs. That process predated the strong focus we now have on climate change. On Monday, the Taoiseach was making statements on how he hopes Ireland will have a reputation for deep environmental concern. In this regard, it is unfortunate the debate on the Bill is taking place at the same time as the Joint Committee on Climate Action is meeting. More crucially, we are taking Report and Final Stages weeks before the committee is due to consider the future of our peatlands and to hear from Bord na Mona, experts on sustainable energy, the National Parks and Wildlife Service on the national peatlands strategy and experts from UCD and elsewhere. On the one hand, a process is under way in respect of climate change and consideration of our peatlands while, on the other, a Bill that will make quite radical changes to the usage of our peatlands is going through weeks before that discussion. As a result, the Bill will not be informed by the discussions that will take place at the Joint Committee on Climate Action.

This is directly relevant to the amendment because it relates to the question of process. There was a process - with gaps - which, in some senses, became outdated but there was a process for raised bogs. There was consultation and a review by the Peatlands Council. Action has been taken, documents have been published, opinions have been circulated and environmental assessment has been carried out. In the context of blanket bogs, no such process has taken place. However, at a late stage in proceedings in the Dáil, blanket bogs were added to the Bill. We have had a 12-year process for the raised bogs and, effectively, no process for blanket bogs but they will be opened for de-designation under the Bill in the same way as raised bogs.

It is important to take amendment No. 1 separately because it relates to the fundamental purpose of the Bill. I am simply saying that while I disagree with the Bill, at least let us insert the word "raised" and make it clear that it does not apply to all bogs. Let us be clear that, under the current formulation, it applies effectively to all bogs in Ireland, with raised and blanket bogs being the main concerns. It is wide open. Let us at least narrow the scope of the Bill to its original policy intent, which is based on some kind of process, and insert the word "raised" in the title.

There is particular concern about blanket bogs because we know they have a particular vulnerability when it comes to drainage. The environmental concerns relating to them are different. Such bogs perform different environmental work. The process of the original review was to ensure that new raised bogs would be designated. There was public consultation but in any of the engagement with the public, there was no mention of the potential de-designation of blanket bogs.

I will highlight one particular issue regarding blanket bogs. The diversity of habitats and the communities of plants and animals are quite different. The Minister of State has given some acknowledgement later in the Bill to the question of biodiversity and the idea of a review. Does the Minister of State at least not agree we should be looking at a full biodiversity review of blanket bogs before we proceed with including them in the legislation?

I will deal with my concerns on carbonation later when there will be opportunities to discuss them. The Minister of State added blanket bogs to the Bill at a very late stage and perhaps he might consider putting forward separate legislation appropriate to blanket bogs and narrowing the scope of this Bill. I also appeal to Fianna Fáil because it was a Fianna Fáil amendment that widened the scope. Given the environmental concerns that Fianna Fáil and its leader have expressed, will they support a narrowing of the Bill to limit its impact to the question of raised bogs? I put all of these issues with regard to consultation, transparency and environmental assessment to Fianna Fáil in this regard. This is why I want the amendments taken separately.

I am speaking about the wording in the Title. It is a symbolic point. Later, I will move amendments on very meaningful and impactful points on de-designation. I hope that even at this late stage Fianna Fáil may consider supporting amendments to remove blanket bogs from the Bill. This is one of the reasons I want the amendments to be discussed separately. This amendment is with regard to a symbolic point regarding the purpose of the Bill but later we will come to the question of what can and cannot be de-designated and that is an important point.

The Peatlands Council was established 12 years ago based on recommendations in the Quirke report, which outlined a plan for managing raised bogs.

So all of that consultation I mentioned, including the foundation documents on which the consultation was based, came out of a report which was specifically based on a premise of dealing with raised bogs. Again, that is a huge expansion and I think it will be one that will stand as a great shame for Ireland internationally if we allow blanket bogs to be dedesignated without due process. I know there is a subsequent process that the Minister of State will suggest happens around designation. It is an inadequate process and certainly not comparable to the process that is under way for raised bogs.

The Bill as it is phrased is fairly general in its introduction. It states: "An Act to provide for review of bog habitat." It does not specify raised bog, blanket bog or any other kind of bog. As I understand it, Senator Higgins's intention is to exclude blanket bogs and concentrate the impact of this Bill entirely on raised bogs. Am I correct in that?

To clarify, my amendment would limit the effect of the Bill to raised bogs.

Yes, so it is excluding blanket bogs.

Exactly. It narrows the focus.

I understand that. I would welcome a little more explanation on that, as to why that is necessary, because I caught some echoes of the Senator's concerns but they did not seem to be central. If it is possible, I would like to have a greater explanation of why Senator Higgins wants to exclude blanket bogs and simply refer to raised bogs. She did say, through the Chair, that there were certain differences and I presume that is where the argument lies. I wonder if Senator Higgins could specify that and why there should be a distinct, separate treatment of blanket bogs.

I am happy to support amendment No. 1. My understanding is that blanket bogs were not part of the public consultation, which is the consultation that has brought us to this point and the proposed legislation. It undermines somewhat the process of the public consultation if we suddenly make seismic changes to the scope of the Bill with no consultation having been completed. As a result, I have no reflecting data on the need for an extension to blanket bogs. In comparison, we have 12 years of data and submissions that relate to raised bogs. Has the Government thought this through? Has it considered the environmental impact in the same way that it has done with raised bogs? It seems a little suspect that blanket bogs were not included in the Bill, as proposed, and now that they have been included in the Dáil the Government has reignited its interest in the legislation. As of now, I support amendment No. 1.

I thank the Senators for their comments. As they know, the proposed change that was passed by the other House came from a comprehensive committee discussion going back some years and which was subsequently brought forward by amendment to the Dáil when it was decided to include blanket bogs with raised bogs as part of the legislation.

As Senators are aware, the main objective of the 2014 raised bog natural heritage areas, NHA, review was to look at how the network contributes to our conservation objectives for raised bog habitats, while avoiding impacts on the traditional rights of landowners and turf cutters and minimising the costs arising from compensation payments. Reconfiguration of the raised bog network, which this Bill will facilitate, is based on sound scientific evidence and will have a positive impact on the network.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016, as initiated, has been amended in Dáil Éireann and now provides for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, at his or her discretion, to conduct a review or reviews of the blanket bog natural heritage areas network as well as to continue and complete the 2014 review of the raised bog natural heritage area network. The Bill now gives the Minister the power to conduct a review or reviews of the blanket bog natural heritage areas at some point in the future without obliging the Minister to do so. Such a review of the blanket bog natural heritage areas would not be done in a vacuum. It would involve public consultation and would not necessarily lead to proposals for the dedesignation of blanket bog NHA sites. Those are principles and criteria in the Bill to guide a Minister conducting a review and in making decisions such as the carrying out of a strategic environmental assessment, public consultation and linking the achievement of nature conservation objectives for blanket bog habitats to the favourable conservation status of the habitats. As set out in the Bill, the heart of any future review would be nature conservation in terms of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status.

The ministerial amendments are to provide that when the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht dedesignates all or part of a natural heritage area by making an order to amend or revoke a natural heritage area, the Minister will inform the general public of the notice or of the making of the order, place an advertisement in a national newspaper and publish it on the Internet. The Minister will also cause a copy of the notice or a copy of the order to be sent to the Oireachtas committee whose remit encompasses natural heritage. The Bill already provides that an amendment of the making of a natural heritage order to amend or revoke a natural heritage area order will be placed in a local newspaper and copies of the order will be sent to various Ministers, public bodies and defined owners or occupiers of the land. The proposed amendments will facilitate the widespread dissemination of the making of an order to amend or revoke a natural heritage area order in order to dedesignate all or part of the site of a natural heritage area. Therefore, I will not be accepting amendment No. 1.

There would be public consultation for any blanket bog review before any decision would be taken regarding dedesignation. While the discussion heretofore has been about raised bogs, it has not been done in isolation from blanket bogs. I have been at plenty of meetings in the heart of Connemara, which has a predominance of blanket bogland. This has been in the public consciousness as long as issues concerning raised bogs. It has been the feature of a number of meetings, consultation and engagement between Department officials and turf cutters in those areas. The inclusion of blanket bogs as part of the legislation makes perfect sense. We have had a review of the raised bogs and this will allow for consultation and designation or dedesignation of blanket bogs within strict criteria such as strategic environmental assessments and public consultation. It makes perfect sense in terms of the nature and spirit of what we are trying to do. Let us not forget, it is not just about dedesignation, it is also about designation. We want to put a greater emphasis on the State-owned lands, which are easier to manage, which are in public ownership. That is something many turf cutters wanted. They feel there is an undue burden on the small guy, as it were, and that the State is negating its obligations in terms of the land blocks it has. Designation is as important as dedesignation in the context of this review.

Designation is not just as important as dedesignation, designation is more important if we are to in any way address both the ecological collapse that we are facing, on which we have seen endless reports and endless evidence, and environmental and ecological damage that has been done in Ireland and on a wider scale and also with our climate change and carbon targets. We need both feet moving forward. That is my concern, not the question of designation mentioned by the Minister of State. I welcome the designation of new bogs. My question is on dedesignation. I do not believe we can afford to take steps backwards, and if we are taking such steps backwards they need to be taken very carefully.

From what the Minister of State has mentioned in his speech, I hope he intends to accept my amendment No. 8, which is coming up shortly. That would help. The Minister of State mentioned public consultation, environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment. That is exactly the language in my amendment No. 8, but it is not in the Bill. The strategic assessment and all of those wonderful things we are supposedly going to do before we go near our blanket bogs are not there.

That is not in the Bill. One can go right ahead and de-designate a bog simply based on criteria one sets out later which, as we will see, do not include any of those things. The Minister of State talks about the credibility of these processes and what will happen, particularly with blanket bogs, but there has been no public consultation to answer the key concerns. We could talk about blanket bogs and levels of difference and dangers in terms of subsidence and all of the rest compared with raised bogs, but the key difference is that there was a public consultation and environmental review in the case of raised bogs. There was a national discussion in that regard. I have no doubt that there have been discussions and possibly extensive lobbying on the blanket bogs issue by those who would like to see certain blanket bogs, especially in their own areas, de-designated. That is not the same as an environmental impact assessment or a formal public consultation which allows for all of the experts and stakeholders, which includes everyone on this issue, to have their say and provide an input. It is unfortunate that the Bill does not provide for public consultation or environmental review at this point. Again, I regret that the opportunity is not being taken at this point at least to narrow the focus of the Bill to something more manageable.

I cannot speak about all of the terrible consequences that may come from de-designation of blanket bogs because we have not done the reviews and the data and research are not there. I am sure I will have the opportunity in years to come to speak about the damage the ecological devastation that has been done through de-designation, but I do not feel I will take any satisfaction in that.

I hope the Minister of State will accept amendment No. 8 when we come to it, as his speech seemed to suggest he might. I am sorry that he and I are not in agreement on amendment No. 1.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 25.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 40 are related and amendment No. 2 is consequential on amendment No. 40. These amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 2.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 3, line 6, after “orders;” to insert “to provide for arrangements concerning biodiversity;”.

Are we speaking on amendments Nos. 2 and 40?

Yes. Does the Minister wish to speak?

The proposed amendment amends the Long Title the Bill so it would read: "An Act to provide for review of bog habitats; to further provide for making, amendment and revocation of natural heritage area orders; to provide for arrangements concerning biodiversity for those purposes to amend the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000; and to provide for related matters."

On amendment No. 40, on Committee Stage I indicated that I intended bring an amendment or amendments to the Bill on Report Stage relating to the introducing a biodiversity duty, which would place a requirement on public bodies to embed biodiversity in carrying out their functions so as to promote the conservation of biodiversity. Senators rightly referred to the importance of biodiversity in nature conservation and the proposed amendment follows on from the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017 to 2021 and the national biodiversity conference held in February. The plan recognises that biodiversity can only be maintained or restored by complementary actions by a wide range of sectors whose decisions and actions have a profound influence on the natural environment. It is proposed to insert a new Part, Part VA in to the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.

Within Part VA, section 59A sets out definitions for “the Agreement”, namely, the 8 March 1999 agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland establishing implementation bodies, “biodiversity”, taken from the UN Convention on Biodiversity, “guidelines”, “National Biodiversity Action Plan”, “plan, programme or strategy”, “public body” and “relevant Minister”.

Section 59B provides that every public body, as set out in section 59H, will be required, in the performance of its functions, to have regard to: a plan, programme or strategy prepared by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and approved by the Government concerning the promotion of the conservation of biodiversity or part of a plan, programme or strategy concerning that promotion; the objectives and targets in a national biodiversity action plan; and guidelines prepared by the Minister, providing practical guidance to the public body concerned or all public bodies, in relation to a plan, programme or strategy or meeting the objectives and targets of a national biodiversity action plan.

This requirement on public bodies will apply from the date of the publication of a notice of the publication of the plan, programme or strategy, national biodiversity action plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them. In practice, the Minister publishes plans and strategies from time to time. Examples include the National Peatland Strategy 2015 and the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022. Recent national biodiversity action plans were published in 2011 and 2017. Guidelines, such as guidance on Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, have also been issued by the Minister on an occasional basis. The requirements in this Part of the Bill would apply only to future plans, programmes and strategies.

Section 59C sets out the timelines for the preparation and publication of a national biodiversity action plan and guidelines and the means to be used to publish same and similarly with regard to a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines. It also provides that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will publish a notice of the publication of a national biodiversity action plan and guidelines or amendments to them in Iris Oifigiúil, a national daily newspaper and on the website of his or her Department not later than four weeks after publication and, similarly, for a plan, programme or strategy.

Section 59D provides that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht may consult, as he or she considers appropriate, with public bodies and the public during the preparation of a plan, programme or strategy, national biodiversity action plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them. The Minister will consider observations or submissions received during consultations before completing the preparation of a plan, programme or strategy, national biodiversity action plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them.

Section 59E provides that, at least eight weeks before he or she publishes a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines under section 59C(1) or a national biodiversity action plan and guidelines under section 59C(4), the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will give notice in writing to public bodies of his or her intention to so publish.

Section 59F provides that, not later than 18 months after the date of publication of a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines or a national biodiversity action plan and guidelines, and not more frequently than once every 12 months thereafter, a public body shall prepare and submit a report to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht specifying: measures adopted by the public body for the purpose of compliance with section 59B(1); and progress made by the public body in the performance of its functions in accordance with that subsection. Where a public body is prescribed under section 59H(2), its first report shall be submitted to the Minister not later than 18 months after the date following that prescribing, of publication of a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines or a national biodiversity action plan and guidelines.

Section 59G allows for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to give a direction to a public body requiring it to adopt measures for the purpose of compliance with section 59B(1). The Minister will consult and agree the terms of the direction with the Minister who performs functions in connection with the public body, before giving a direction. He or she must also consult the public body and, where the public body was established by the agreement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade before giving a direction. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht may amend or revoke a direction. The same consultation procedures, as for giving a direction, apply. A public body must comply with a direction given by the Minister.

Section 59H(1) sets out the public bodies which will be required to promote the conservation of biodiversity. These public bodies are those that it is considered have functions that have or may have a bearing on matters concerning biodiversity or are in a position to promote the conservation of biodiversity. In addition, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht may prescribe a body, other person, company, organisation or group to be a public body where the Minister is of the opinion that any of them has functions that have or may have a bearing on matters concerning biodiversity or is in a position to promote the conservation of biodiversity. Before prescribing a body, other person, company, organisation or group to be a public body, the Minister must: obtain the consent of the Minister who performs functions in connection with the public body; consult the body, other person, company, organisation or group; and, where any of them was established by the agreement, consult the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

These are positive amendments to the legislation. I have questions relating to what happened with the wetlands in Tallaght last week. To what extent will this amendment prevent what happened in Tallaght from happening in the future? The statement from the local authorities was not satisfactory and did not show that they cared very much over how hurt people were by what happened. I watched the progress of the conservation effort and the efforts to preserve the biodiversity of the wetlands, in which Collie Ennis was especially involved. In the days before their destruction, we had written to local schools to try to get them involved in understanding the biodiversity of the site. I was honoured that Collie asked me to reach out to the schools to help in an education process around the site but we have no real idea where it will go now. I have not had time to go through each section of this amendment. As they are only coming through now, I guess we can treat them as if we were on Committee Stage and I ask the Minister of State to give us more information. The amendments mention strategies and action plans but will there be regulations protecting sites such as the Tallaght wetlands? Will they make it illegal to destroy conservation areas such as this, or will there just be guidelines?

The loss of the wetlands was very regrettable. I saw the before and after pictures and an investigation is taking place within the Department into what happened. I cannot say who, what, why or when in answer to the Senator's questions but the impact is very noticeable from the pictures. Given the interest in schools and other places, it is a shame that this loss of habitat happened. Grants used to be given to drain wetlands under agriculture development programmes but those days are long gone. The biodiversity strategy in this plan is to be welcomed in terms of protecting such areas.

Areas designated as national heritage areas, NHAs, or special areas of conservation, SACs, are generally larger areas so it is unlikely that the area in Tallaght would have been earmarked for such a designation. However, local area plans for county councils should recognise areas of amenity and habitat and give them specific protection. We need to engage with all local authorities so that these areas are designated and the authorities are aware of their significance.

Amendment No. 40 is a huge amendment. Will it be enacted straight away? If the Bill is passed, it will have to go back to the other House to be passed into law. Is it the case that the full effect will not come into being until the Minister so prescribes which could be years after the Bill is enacted? In Castlebar, where there are three lakes, the mink have killed all the swans which come back to those lakes. There is an infestation of mink. Could this amendment resolve this? It is a serious issue as hundreds of swans have been killed by these mink. Will the Minister be bringing forward regulations around this amendment on an ongoing basis? How will it proceed when the Bill is fully enacted?

I thank Senator Paddy Burke for those comments. The Department carries out mink control in the most important areas for ground-nesting birds, including in County Mayo. If the Senator gives my officials the names and locations of those lakes, we can ask the local rangers to investigate the issue.

The Senator is right to state that the amendment is comprehensive. The Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht may by order or orders appoint either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or different provisions. If secondary legislation is required in order to ensure that the provisions of a Bill are enacted, that can take time. I know of a Bill passed in 2017 that has yet to be implemented because secondary legislation is required. If there are comprehensive issues within the area of biodiversity or if secondary legislation is required, then that will take some time.

I welcome these amendments, which reflect the outcome of the conference on biodiversity and the debate that has been taking place in the context of biodiversity. It is very positive to see that translated into action. A question arises as to how that comes into effect and how it will be implemented. How can we ensure that this will become practice in each public body? The Minister of State mentioned possible different implementation dates for aspects of the legislation. My colleague spoke about the heartbreaking destruction visited upon the Tallaght wetlands recently. Senator Kelleher and I spoke when the Gearagh woodlands in Cork were devastated by the ESB during the clean-up after Storm Ophelia. This was one of the oldest of ancient woodlands in Ireland. As I look through the public bodies, there is a litany of situations that have arisen whereby if there had been a biodiversity imperative or a requirement for that consideration, perhaps the body involved might have taken a different approach.

How will the consideration of biodiversity be taken on board by these bodies through their strategies and plans in dealing with situations such as happened with the clean up after Storm Ophelia? Road safety concerns were discussed during the proceedings relating to the Heritage Bill. It would be good to know that attention will be paid to difference in practice in how this rolls out. We should not simply have a document that sits on the shelf on each of these bodies, but that there is a review of practice in each of them. I know those public bodies make a report to the Minister under section 59F. I hope we will have the opportunity to engage and look comparatively at those reports.

This is very positive. I have a few concerns. The Minister is required to publish the plan "Not later than 36 months after the coming into operation of section 59B". Three years seems a long time given the current rate of biodiversity loss. We are in the middle of what has been called the sixth mass extinction, with 200 species becoming extinct each day. Research this year indicates that humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. Experts have warned us about this. The assessment is that 85% of habitats are reported as being in unfavourable status or condition and 46% of habitats demonstrate ongoing and declining trends. This has been echoed by bodies such as BirdWatch Ireland in local specific research in Ireland. For example, we know that wintering water birds have declined by 40% in the past two decades. There has been an acceleration of ecological collapse, environmental damage and biodiversity loss. In that sense, I would prefer if it was 12 months rather than 36 before we look to our first plans. I hope that Departments and individual public bodies are not allowed to drag their feet on these actions. Obviously, this is Report Stage so we will not have an opportunity to amend the section. However, I will support the section and the Minister of State's proposals.

I ask him to address a concern I have over section 59D, which states, "The Minister may consult as he or she considers appropriate with public bodies and the public during the preparation of a plan, programme or strategy". I know flexibility is needed, but is it envisaged that the Minister might not feel he or she needs to engage in such consultation? I feel it is too broad and seems to leave it almost entirely to the Minister's discretion. I imagine that certain bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service should definitely be in consultation with the Minister on this strategy.

The Bill provides for the designation of new public bodies. The amendment states that the Minister may prescribe a body, "where the Minister is of the opinion that the body, other person, company, organisation or group has functions that have or may have a bearing on matters concerning biodiversity or is in a position to promote the conservation of biodiversity." Are they public bodies for the purposes of this section of the Bill and therefore this Act? The question of the definition of public body came up in another Bill. For example, a private company may be on contract to the State for three or five years. It is appropriate that is should be held to the standards of public bodies in executing any services it may be executing at the behest of the State. At the same time, it is still different from a public body. We would not want a company contracted by the State that is determined to be a public body based on the function it performs for the State to be able to categorise itself as a public body in the context of slightly different functions it may also be performing.

Regarding section 59D, I assure the Senator that the Minister is fully intent on public consultation. The wording is legalese, but it is fully envisaged that there full be full consultation on all plans and strategies done within the Department. The amendment contains a full list of the public bodies and includes a planning authority within the meaning of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The amendment states, "The Minister may, for the purposes of this Part, prescribe a body, other person, company, organisation or group ... to be a public body where the Minister is of the opinion that the body, other person, company, organisation or group has functions that have or may have a bearing on matters concerning biodiversity or is in a position to promote the conservation of biodiversity." That is positive and if additional bodies, companies or individuals are not listed there, they can be designated by the Minister.

The legislation requires public bodies to report to the Minister specifying the measures adopted and any progress being made. It will require local authorities to plan ahead better in terms of managing nature in order that they might prevent actions such as those which occurred in Tallaght through better planning. The duty will also require publication of the new biodiversity plan which is unlikely to be done before 2022. We will work to bring that forward if possible. We have in place an excellent biodiversity plan up to 2021. If it can be resourced, full implementation by all sectors will substantially address the threats to nature as set out by the Senators.

As I told the House before, in past the State actively promoted the removal of biodiversity through the promotion of agriculture. There were grants to drain wetlands or remove hedgerows or walls. We have done an about turn on that. Through our membership of the European Union and so on, we recognise that we have a responsibility to protect and enhance biodiversity on our farms. Ever since the introduction of environmental programmes in the early 1990s, such as the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and other schemes, it has been about recognising biodiversity and enhancing it, ensuring that we plant more trees and hedgerows, maintain landscape features such as stone walls and hedges which are a requirement under all the farm payments. Satellite technology means that they know if anything is interfered with so there is an onus on farmers and landowners to ensure that biodiversity is enhanced. The reviews of bogs is about designating those which are worst impacted and unlikely to be rehabilitated while allowing for the designation of other areas to enhance the overall area of habitat in the State, with particular reference to State lands.

I suggest that under dedesignation, that the constituent bodies of the National University of Ireland and their grounds be part of the biodiversity habitat. They are some of the more extensive natural grounds in some areas. I was proud to launch the sustainability strategy for NUI Galway which has put in a wildlife walk along the river banks where much of the land is owned by the university, and ultimately public land. It is not listed as one of the key categories but they are important land and natural space owners in many of our cities and towns and it is important to include them.

The role of protection is important, and thank the Minister for acknowledging that, but it is also about recognising that land which is not being used for a specific economic activity is not empty space. That is a fundamental shift. For years there was a mindset that green space that was not serving a clear and specific human function all the time was somehow empty space. It is wonderful that people can visit such spaces and that, for instance, children in Tallaght could visit the wetlands, but even if we never visited them, those spaces including green and wild spaces perform incredibly important work in sustaining our environment and the biodiverse life on our planet. It is important that there is a huge shift in mindset. I commend these amendments in terms of biodiversity and hope they become part of a shift in perspective in the way we engage with the diversity of life on our island.

I am advised that the national universities are not public bodies, nevertheless they have a very important function to play in biodiversity. I will discuss this with officials as they have an important role. It is a fair point that there may be lands that may not be farmed actively, some owned by the State or State bodies or are private owned by them, which are zoned for future development where there would be the removal of habitat to development. I saw a case on social media today where that had happened in a part of Dublin county. Those points are valid and I will discuss what can be done on this with officials.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 20 to 28, inclusive, are related; amendment No. 21 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 20; amendment No. 22 is consequential on amendment No. 21; and amendments Nos. 24 to 27, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 23. Amendments Nos. 3 and 20 to 28, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed?

Sorry, I did not think there would be groupings at this stage.

The groupings were circulated.

Is it amendments Nos. 3, 20 and 28?

No, the grouping was amendments Nos. 3 and 20 to 28, inclusive.

Okay, that is fine.

It is agreed. Does the Minister of State wish to speak to amendment No. 3 and Nos. 20 to 28, inclusive?

I will speak to No. 3 and Nos. 20 to 27, inclusive.

The grouping I have is amendment No. 3 and Nos. 20 to 28, inclusive.

My speaking notes for this grouping are for Nos. 3 and Nos. 20 to 27, inclusive.

It is possible that some of the Minister of State's speaking notes on that were incorporated into his comments on the last amendment.

Government amendment No. 3:
In page 3, lines 12 to 14, to delete all words from and including “Section” in line 12 down to and including line 14 and substitute the following:
“Section 16 of the Act of 2000 is amended—
(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):
“(1) Where the Minister is of the opinion, having regard to subsection (6)(a), that any land forms, or is part of, a natural heritage area, or, is satisfied under section 18A(5)(a) that a natural heritage area order should be made, the Minister shall publish or cause to be published in Iris Oifigiúil, in a national newspaper, in at least one newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land is situate, and on the website of his or her Department, a notice in the prescribed form of the Minister’s intention to make an order designating the land as a natural heritage area.”;
(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):
“(1A) The Minister shall cause a copy of the notice published under subsection (1) to be sent to the Committee appointed by either House of the Oireachtas or jointly by both Houses of the Oireachtas to examine matters and make recommendations in relation to natural heritage.”.”.

I propose these amendments in response to amendments proposed on Committee Stage by Senators Higgins, Ruane and Kelleher. The amendments provide that when the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht publishes a notice of his or her intention to make an order designating land as a natural heritage area or when the Minister dedesignates all or part of a site as a natural heritage area by making an order to amend or revoke a natural heritage area order, the Minister will, to inform the general public of the notice or of the making of the order: place an advertisement in a national newspaper; and publish it on the Internet. The Minister will also cause a copy of the notice or a copy of the order to be sent to the Oireachtas committee whose remit encompasses the natural heritage.

The Bill already provides that an advertisement of the notice of the Minister’s intention to make a natural heritage area order or of the making of a natural heritage area order will be placed in a local newspaper and copies of the notice or order will be sent to various Ministers, public bodies and defined owners or occupiers of land.

The proposed amendments will facilitate widespread dissemination of a notice of the Minister’s intention to make an order designating land as a natural heritage area and of the making of an order to amend or revoke a natural heritage area order in order to dedesignate all or part of a site as a natural heritage area.

I thank the Minister of State for engaging on this matter. It relates to amendments I put forward on Committee Stage with my colleagues and I thank him for putting forward this proposal. I refer to amendments Nos. 20 to 22, inclusive, and amendment No. 28, which I put forward. I will not speak to those amendments as they arise but I will probably withdraw them, as I believe there is a strong overlap between them and those proposed by the Minister of State.

I have one concern on amendments Nos. 5 and 6 which relate back to this grouping. My amendments Nos. 5 and 6 relate to certain provisions around transparency, publication, information, consultation with relevant other Ministers and so on that are currently set out in section 18 of the Wildlife (Amendment) 2000 Act which do not seem to apply to the new section 18A which the Minister is trying to insert. I refer to section 18(4)(a) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act which states:

(4) Where the Minister proposes to amend or revoke a natural heritage area order—

(a) the Minister shall publish, or cause to be published, in the Iris Oifigiúil and in at least one newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land to which the order applies is situate a notice of the Minister's intention to do so.

Section 18(4)(a) is improved upon in the Minister of State's amendment, and I welcome that the Minister has taken on my suggestion of including an online publication and a national newspaper. It is a positive step. However, section 18(4)(b) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 also provides that the provisions of subsections (2), (4) and (5) of section 16 should apply. Those provisions mean the Minister is required, for example, to consult other Ministers in related areas, including the environment, and to ensure appropriate maps are provided, with sufficient information on any area that might be de-designated. A number of transparency measures are added.

There is a little concern. If the Minister of State is able to accept either my amendments Nos. 5 or 6, those additional requirements would be dealt with under the existing section 18. The Minister of State has proposed to remove the reference to this section only. If the Minister of State allows section 18A to be subject to the same criteria as section 18, it would be fine. However, amendment No. 4, relating to publication and suitable notice, does not fully balance or replicate all the provisions under the current section 18. It improves one of them but omits other elements. I know this is quite complicated but these are quite dense and interlocking parts of the legislation. I apologise but-----

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 3 and 20 to 28, inclusive, but I will allow the Senator to continue as I take the point about amendments Nos. 5 and 6, etc.

This is what those amendments relate to. They relate to the publication in Iris Oifigiúil and local papers. The section 18 provisions relating to transparency include those and some other elements. I thank the Minister of State and I acknowledge that there is a very strong and credible attempt to engage and increase transparency in one aspect.

Debate adjourned.