Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed)

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, line 3, after “maintaining” to insert “raised”.

This is the same core issue we have discussed repeatedly, of which I hope there is reconsideration happening, namely, the inclusion of blanket bogs in what was originally envisaged, designed and prepared as legislation in respect of raised bogs.

The 12-year period of consultation and research on raised bogs did not sufficiently address issues such as carbon capture or pollination and elements of it are out of date, as the Minister acknowledged with his amendments and by accepting mine. Nevertheless there was, at least, a process and we may be able to fix the issues retrospectively. By accepting my amendment No. 4, the Minister has given some regard to my argument and he has also introduced the issue of biodiversity. There was not the same period of consultation and research for blanket bogs and they have not undergone the same process. Blanket bogs, a particularly vulnerable environment, were introduced at the last Stage in the Dáil, effectively doubling the remit of the Bill. This meant that a whole new ecosystem was brought into the realm of the Bill, affecting things like designation and dedesignation procedures which we will talk about shortly.

This is a final appeal to the Minister to accept amendment No. 9 and further amendments which will narrow the scope of the Bill specifically to raised bogs and will allow for better and more up-to-date legislation. This would be preceded by appropriate consultation and scientific research processes on blanket bogs. If we have a Bill on apples it would not make sense to throw oranges in at the last minute. This is another issue which was added to a Bill that was designed for one particular environment. The debate has moved on since Fianna Fáil made the case for the inclusion of blanket bogs, to which the current Minister agreed. Our understanding of peatlands has moved on and is reflected in some aspects of the Government's narrative around the budget in terms of rewetting and increasing employment in bog restoration under just transition. The future for peatlands in Ireland is going to be more in the area of restoration than resource exploitation. I urge the Minister to narrow the focus of the Bill to produce fit-for-purpose legislation in respect of blanket bogs in the future, instead of the awkward stretch we have at the moment. I hope the Minister is able to accept the amendment.

I second the amendment.

The effect of this amendment would be to limit the provisions of the Bill to raised bog habitats only. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016, as initiated, has been amended in Dáil Éireann, following debate in committee. It 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 area, NHA, network and to continue and complete the 2014 review of the raised bog natural heritage area network. The Bill gives the Minister the power to conduct the review at some point in the future without obliging the Minister to do so.

As I have previously emphasised, such a review of blanket bog natural heritage areas would not be done in a vacuum but would involve public consultation and would not necessarily lead to proposals for the dedesignation of blanket bog NHA sites. There are principles and criteria in the Bill to guide the Minister in conducting a review and in making a decision to carry out a strategic environmental assessment, a screening for an assessment or, as the case may be, an appropriate assessment in accordance with the Habitats Directive. If required in the public consultation, there will be a linking of the achievement of nature conservation objectives for bog habitats to the favourable consultation status of these habitats.

Section 18A(5) of the 2000 Act sets out that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht cannot make an order to dedesignate an NHA, whether it be a raised bog site or a blanket bog site, without first having had regard to any environmental assessment undertaken, and observations and submissions received during the public consultation. As set out in the Bill, the heart of any review will be nature conservation, in terms of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status.

Any review must also take cognisance of our EU nature conservation obligations. Therefore, unfortunately, I will not be accepting the amendment.

What the Minister of State has described in terms of public consultation and consideration of our European obligations is a process that may happen regarding the effects on the environment of proposals arising from a review. All of the processes – the consultation, the consideration of our European obligations and so forth – concern proposals that arise from a review. They do not precede a review. In effect, the Minister of State is saying that if a review is conducted that comes up with proposals for the de-designation of a natural heritage area, including both raised and blanket bogs, then there would be public consultation. My point is that it is not really the same as what happened to raised bogs in that the consultation and research was not in consideration of a specific proposal on the designation or de-designation of specific natural heritage areas. There were overall scientific conversations, audits and public consultations regarding raised bogs, as to what our public policy should be in that area and, for example, if de-designation should even be a consideration in respect of raised bogs. We looked at what factors should be considered in de-designation and in generating a proposal for de-designation.

While I said the issues the Minister of State has identified were not addressed, he is correct to say they do come into play, but they do so in response to a proposal for designation or de-designation. As the Minister of State correctly said, there is no obligation on a Minister to have a blanket bog review. It is something a Minister may do. Again, it is a little akin to putting the cart before the horse. We should have an overall national audit of blanket bogs and consider how they fit into all our different national strategies and then consider the appropriate policy proposals in respect of them, rather than what we have here, which is simply that a specific proposal on the designation or de-designation of a specific blanket bog may go to a public consultation. It is not the same. In that sense, I am disappointed the Minister of State is not able to accept the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 13.

  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Colette Kelleher; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Maura Hopkins.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Amendment No. 10, in the name of Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendment No. 12 is consequential on amendment No. 10.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

"(b) assessing of the role and potential role of selected bog habitats in carbon sequestration, biodiversity and pollination;".

This amendment addresses the issue which the Minister of State acknowledged somewhat in his accepting of amendment No. 4 and partly addresses in the first lines of his amendment No. 11. My amendment provides that in assessing environmental factors in regard to our boglands and selected bog habitats, account be taken of carbon sequestration, biodiversity and the role of our bogs in pollination and in adhering to the all-island pollinator plan. I am proposing that these are issues into which a Minister may wish to conduct a review. As I said, some of this is incorporated into amendment No. 11 and I would like to be in a position to withdraw my amendment and support the Minister of State's proposal. However, the problem is that as well as incorporating my amendment in respect of carbon, pollination and biodiversity, he has also inserted a concerning new proposal that recreational and sporting needs may be a factor for consideration in designating or, more relevantly, de-designating an area of natural heritage. It is a real concern that a natural heritage area might be de-designated for the provision of, for example, a golf course. While amendment No. 11 refers to greenways, the provision does not relate exclusively to greenways but leaves open the possibility of any type of recreational or sporting use being applied. We will deal later with the fact that there is no definition in the Bill of which recreational and sporting needs might constitute a factor in making decisions as to the designation or de-designation of a natural heritage area.

To reiterate, I recognise that the Minister of State has come a little distance in amendment No. 11 in meeting the concerns addressed in amendment No. 10. Unfortunately, I cannot support his amendment because, as well as introducing the provision regarding sporting or recreational use, it retains the two fundamental flaws in the relevant section of the Bill. They are the same core flaws addressed in my amendments Nos. 13 and 14. First is the matter of the overreach in the Bill whereby it incorporates blanket bogs as well as raised bogs, which I addressed at length in reference to amendment No. 9. The second issue relates to the grounds on which a protected area may be de-designated. In order to designate a natural heritage area, there must be regard to section 16(6) of the Wildlife Act, which contains a comprehensive list of evidence-based considerations relating to the scientific environment, habitat, species and geology. However, the same bar does not apply when it comes to a decision to de-designate, with no reference to the range of scientific considerations and criteria set out in section 16(6). Instead, there is a new reference to "environmental criteria", which are problematically defined later in the Bill and effectively amount simply to a comparison of whether one bog is better or worse than another bog. That is more or less what is proposed as the key environmental criterion.

The Minister of State referred to environmental considerations, EU directives and so on, but they are not part of the de-designation review. Rather, they are issues the Minister may choose to consider after a review has taken place. Under section 3 of the Bill, the Minister conducts a review, after which, under section 4, he or she considers various issues and holds public consultations on the proposals arising out of the review. I am seeking in my amendments to improve the review process and ensure there is consistency. Amendment No. 14 simply provides that any de-designation of a protected area should be decided in accordance with the same standard as applies in respect of a designation. Amendment No. 13 addresses the issue of overreach in respect of raised bogs. We have a last chance to fix this issue. Accepting amendment No. 13 would remove blanket bogs from the Bill and ensure that the de-designation process applies only to raised bogs.

Amendment No. 12 is consequential on amendment No. 10. One of the reasons that I cannot support amendment No. 11 is that amendments Nos. 13 and 14 will fall if the Minister of State's amendment is passed. He and I are overlapping a little in what we are seeking to do here but, more broadly, we are contrary in our intent. I appeal to the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 10 and address either or both of the core issues of overreach and inconsistency by accepting either or both amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

Does Senator Higgins have a seconder for her amendment?

I second amendment No. 10.

My amendment No. 11 provides that a review of natural heritage areas will take into account the carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats and the actions relevant to bog habitats contained in a national plan or plan for the island of Ireland concerning reversing pollinator decline. I am conscious of the benefits of the restoration of peatlands for Ireland's commitments under international climate change targets. Functioning peatlands capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the form of peat and vegetation. The all-Ireland pollinator plan for 2015 to 2020 includes a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services on the island of Ireland. It was developed by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and is supported by a wide range of stakeholders North and South, including my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Heritage Council and public bodies in Northern Ireland. It puts forward a set of actions to benefit pollinators throughout the island and creates a framework to bring together pollinator initiatives from different areas. The objective, through this type of co-ordination and co-operation, is to improve the situation for pollinators.

The Government amendment addresses the concerns of the Senators on this issue and, therefore, I will not be accepting this amendment.

I have tabled amendment No. 11 in response to amendments proposed on Committee Stage by Senators Higgins and Kelleher and by Senators Paddy Burke, Mulherin, O'Mahony and Ó Céidigh. The amendment provides that the purposes of a review of the natural heritage area will take into account the "carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats and [...] actions, relevant to bog habitats, contained in a national plan or [...] plan for the island of Ireland for the time being concerning the reversal of pollinator decline", as well as the nature conservation objectives of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status, as already provided for in the Bill. Functioning peatlands, including restored peatlands, capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the form of peat and vegetation. The all-Ireland pollinator plan includes a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services on the island of Ireland. It is therefore considered appropriate to include these matters within a review of the natural heritage area, while at the same time allowing for the most degraded peatlands, with little or no restoration potential, to be taken out of the natural heritage area network.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 strikes a balance between the needs to maintain or restore bog habitats to a favourable conservation status, to live up our EU obligations, and to work with landowners and turf cutters. Bearing this in mind, there may be grounds for amending the boundary of a natural heritage area site to exclude appropriate recreational or sporting facilities, so long as areas of active bog habitat within a site can be maintained and areas of degraded bog habitat can be restored. There may also be opportunities to develop recreational facilities, such as walking routes or greenways, within natural heritage areas, building upon existing routes within these sites. Local communities are already working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department in this regard in respect of a number of protected raised bog sites. I have also ensured that any regard to recreational and sporting needs appropriate to bog habitats in a review of natural heritage areas will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, including public consultation and the carrying out of any other screening for an assessment or, as the case may be, assessment if required.

On the advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the amendment does not refer to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 but to "a national plan or, as the case may be, plan for the island of Ireland for the time being concerning the reversal of pollinator decline". I emphasise that the purpose of a review of natural heritage areas, NHAs, would include contributing to the achievement of nature conservation objectives for bog habitats by selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or to cease to be designated using the criteria provided for in the Bill and taking into account the carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats and actions relevant to bog habitats contained in a national plan or, as the case may be, plan for the island of Ireland for the time being concerning the reversal of pollinator decline, as provided for in the amendment. These would all be components of any review of bog habitats.

In any NHA review, including the 2014 NHA review of raised bogs, which is to be completed, a strategic environmental assessment must be undertaken and public consultation as well as, for example, a screening for an appropriate assessment or, as the case may be, an appropriate assessment under the birds or habitats directive, as required, carried out. I also stress that the provisions of the Bill already provide that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht cannot make an order to de-designate an NHA, whether a raised bog or blanket bog site, without first having regard to any environmental assessment undertaken and observations or submissions received during public consultation.

As the Senator has said, amendment No. 12 is a consequential amendment arising from amendment No. 10. I have tabled an amendment to the Bill which provides that the purposes of a review of the natural heritage area will also take into account the carbon sequestration of bog habitats and actions relevant to bog habitats contained in the national plan or plan for the island of Ireland for the time being concerning the reversal of pollinator decline. I am conscious of the benefits of the restoration of peatlands, including the benefits for Ireland's commitments under international climate change targets and the fact that functioning peatlands capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the form of peat and vegetation. The all-Ireland pollinator strategy includes a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services on the island of Ireland. As I have said, the plan was developed by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, North and South. The Government amendment addresses the concerns of Senators on this issue and, therefore, I will not be accepting the amendment.

The effect of amendment No. 13 would be to limit the provisions of the Bill to raised bog habitats only. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, as initiated, has been amended in Dáil Éireann and has been debated in committee. It provides for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to conduct a review or reviews of blanket bog natural heritage areas, at his or her discretion, as well as to complete the 2014 review of raised bog habitats. As I have previously emphasised, such a review of blanket bog natural heritage areas would not be carried out in a vacuum. I went through this earlier in respect of amendment No. 9. The same points apply in this regard and, therefore, I will not be accepting this amendment.

With regard to amendment No. 14, section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 refers to "special scientific interest " in the process of proposing sites for designation as natural heritage areas under the Act. Section 16(6) is also specifically referred to in the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 with regard to the criteria to be taken into account in selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated as natural heritage areas. To ensure that the selection process for the inclusion of sites in the reconfigured raised bog NHA network adopted a sustainable approach, the selection criteria, which include the primary environmental and technical factors essential for a raised bog existence now and into the future, also included economic and social criteria. The environmental, technical, and socioeconomic criteria used for the raised bog natural heritage area review were given equal weighting and in all categories, the highest scores were given to the most favourable of sites, which were those with the best existing environmental standing and restoration potential and which would represent the most socially appropriate and economically advantageous investment. At the same time, each site was examined by Department staff from a nature conservation and management perspective to ensure that the final outcomes of the selection process were practicable and achievable. I envisage that the undertaking of a future review or reviews of the blanket bog NHAs would follow a similar sustainable approach, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. I therefore see no need to specifically refer to section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 in the criteria to be taken into account when selecting the most suitable bog habitats to cease to be designated as NHAs, as referred to in the Bill. As already provided for in the Bill, these criteria include environmental criteria, restoration potential, and national, regional, and local economic, social and cultural needs. It is also proposed to include recreational and sporting needs, including greenways appropriate to bog habitats, in these criteria by way of amendment to the Bill. I will therefore not be accepting amendment No. 14.

A number of core questions have again arisen. While the Minister of State envisages a fuller process, envisaging is not the same as ensuring. Given the debate we had on Committee Stage, it is curious that section 16(6), which has the benefit of listing specific concerns including "scientific interest for one or more species, communities, habitats, landforms or geological or geomorphological features, or [...] diversity of natural attributes", is not to be referenced. It would have been very useful, and would have strengthened the case the Minister of State is making in respect of a future process, to clearly include those relatively important scientific factors in the environmental criteria. Whether or not this amendment is successful, these factors should be reflected. I am aware that should amendment No. 11 be successful, my amendments Nos. 13 and 14, which seek to improve the substance of section 4 of the Bill by the amendment of the proposed new section 18A(3) of the Act of 2000, will fall. I cannot amend text that has not yet been inserted but, in light of this, I hope that those in the Dáil will amend and insert changes to the Minister of State's amendment No. 11. I hope they will take on board the concerns in respect of narrowing the focus to raised bogs only and will include a parity of consideration by ensuring that section 16(6) of the 2000 Act is fully reflected in the Bill.

The wording of the Bill as discussed on Committee Stage referred to national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs. I did not object to that, although I objected to the overall section, but I think it captured quite a lot. I do not know what is added by including "recreational and sporting needs". If we have serious concerns in respect of the community, culture, the GAA, greenways, or access routes, the phrase "national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs" is already wide enough to address such concerns. I am therefore cautious and concerned about the explicit inclusion of recreational and sporting needs. I do not see what additional benefit there is for the cases the Minister of State mentioned, such as walkways, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and access for heritage or environmental routes.

They were already covered. I am concerned that the words "recreational and sporting needs", especially as they are not defined in the Bill, could be taken as referring to golf courses, hotels, car parks or anything else because the meaning is wide open. The Bill includes a definition of "greenways", but it does not include a definition of "recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats". I have tabled amendments to seek to address that issue and hope the Minister of State will be able to provide some assurance for the public on it. I have received many expressions of concern about what the words "recreational and sporting needs" mean. I hope the Minister of State will also be able to accept my later amendments which seek to involve the Environmental Protection Agency or others in defining what is meant by "recreational and sporting needs". It is wide open and the words could be taken to mean almost anything connected to tourism, a commercial or other use that has a recreational element.

The core issue is what the Minister of State said about considering the impact on the environment, the level of degradation, etc. If we were referring simply to considering those issues, that would be something. This, however, involves a comparison. The core problem I am seeking to address is that it is possible to make a comparison of the 36 natural heritage areas, to decide to dedesignate 20 of them and to only keep the best 16. That would be instead of each bog being considered on its own merits. I am worried that there will be a "Weakest Link" elimination process and that that is what is covered by the environmental criteria. I refer to it as being a mechanism for comparison, not consideration. It could allow a decision to be made to dedesignate 34 of the areas and keep only the best two. The wording used is not substantial enough.

I appreciate that after the Minister of State makes proposals for dedesignation, there will be public consultation and consideration of other factors. However, I would much prefer if that consultation and consideration under the European habitats and bird directives happened before specific proposals were made. I will, therefore, press amendment No. 10. I hope we can work together to address, or ameliorate, some of the concerns I have expressed about the amendment, particularly changes to section 18A(3), in the context of later amendments in my name.

Amendment No. 10 is covered by the proposed Government amendment.

We talk about carbon sequestration, the national plan and decline in pollinators. I am confident that the amendment is covered.

If amendment No. 11 is passed, Dáil Éireann will, of course, have the right to amend it, as is normal.

Turning to section 18A(3), the terms of reference for an NHA review are included in the subsection and they must all be taken into account. It is clear regarding areas that will cease to be designated, having regard to environmental criteria, restoration potential, etc., that all of it is being replaced by amendment No. 11. The addition of the words "recreational and sporting needs (including greenways)" comes from the concerns expressed in the debate about projects that we all support such as walkways, greenways, etc. They encompass sentiments expressed in earlier debates and add to what we are trying to do. It is not about wholesale dedesignation; rather it is acknowledged that in certain cases such as projects for the good of the community there may be a need to dedesignate small amounts of land. We want to ensure clarity in that regard. We could discuss several projects that might be delayed because of things like this. Either way, a strategic environmental impact assessment and public consultation will be required. As that aspect is covered, the Senator need not be concerned about the addition of the words "recreational and sporting needs" to the amendment.

As mentioned by the Minister of State and Senator Higgins, the amendments will either be passed or fall in their entirety. In that case we will not have an input to the make-up of the amendment. I want to flag that we will probably be bringing forward amendments to the amendments in the Dáil.

Senator Higgins has indicated that she will be pressing the amendment.

First, I have a technical question for the Minister of State. Am I also to understand that, with the Government amendment inserting a new section 18A(3)(b) and changing section 18A(3)(c), any review will involve section 18A(3)(a), (b) and (c)? Is that correct?

Yes, that is correct.

Technically, I should not have allowed Senator Higgins to make a comment at this stage.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 15.

  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Colette Kelleher; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Maura Hopkins.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 4, to delete lines 5 to 11 and substitute the following:
“(b) contributing to the carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats and to actions, relevant to bog habitats, contained in a national plan or, as the case may be, plan for the island of Ireland for the time being concerning the reversal of pollinator decline;
(c) selecting the most suitable bog habitats—
(i) to be designated as natural heritage areas having regard to—
(I) all of the matters referred to in section 16(6),
(II) national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs, and
(III) recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats,
or
(ii) to cease to be designated as natural heritage areas having regard to—
(I) environmental criteria,
(II) restoration potential,
(III) national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs, and
(IV) recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats.”.
Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 7.

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.

Níl

  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maria Byrne and Maura Hopkins; Níl, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Fintan Warfield..
Amendment declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, cannot be moved.

Amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 14a:

In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“(4) Any review under subsection (1) for the purposes of selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or cease to be designated as natural heritage areas must also include all other purposes listed under subsection (3).”.

I second the amendment.

I thank everybody who supported amendment No. 10 in my name, although it was unsuccessful, and those who are considering the issues that arise from amendment No. 11. As a result of its insertion, the Bill now states the purposes of a review under the section may contribute to the achievement of nature conservation objectives and maintaining bog habitats, or restoring those favoured for conservation status, which is great. I recognise that paragraph (b) reads: "contributing to the carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats". It also refers to studying national plans concerning pollinator decline, paraphrasing amendment No. 10 in my name.

The core paragraph (c) refers to the selection of bog habitats for designation or de-designation as natural heritage areas. Amendment No. 14a in my name tries to ensure that where designation or de-designation takes place, a review would include other considerations such as the achievement of nature conservation, carbon sequestration and pollinator decline. The Minister of State gave me a verbal assurance, but the amendment is an attempt to copperfasten it in legislation. The way he has phrased it in the Bill - "The purposes of a review under subsection (1) include..." - shows that he regards it as being inclusive of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).

The Minister of State has made it clear about the way he phrases it in the Bill, which states, "The purposes of a review under subsection (1) include", so the Minister of State regards that as inclusive of (a), (b) and (c). My amendment is to copper-fasten that so that it is very clear and we do not have a review to designate or de-designate that does not also encompass the issues in (a) and (b) of subsection (3) of section 4.

I second the amendment.

I emphasise that the purpose of a review of natural heritage areas would include contributing to the achievement of nature conservation objectives for bog habitats, selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or to cease to be designated using the criteria as already provided for in the Bill and provided for in the Government amendment. It would also contribute to the carbon sequestration potential of bog habitats and to actions relevant to bog habitats contained in a national plan or a plan for the island of Ireland, for the time being, concerning the reversal of pollinator decline as provided for in the Government amendment. These would all be components included in any review of bog habitats. I will not accept this amendment.

If the Minister of State is accepting the point, I do not understand why he is not accepting the amendment.

It is clear that (a), (b) and (c) are covered. The new section 18A(3) includes (a), (b) and the new (c) as per amendment No. 11.

Is the Senator pressing the amendment?

I appreciate the verbal and interpretative assurance from the Minister of State. I accept that is the good intent of the Minister of State. I feel it is better to have these things copper-fastened in law. A future Minister might interpret it differently. I accept the bona fides of the Minister of State but I might press the amendment nonetheless.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 13.

  • Daly, Paul.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Fintan Warfield; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Maura Hopkins.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 14b and 14c are related. Amendment No. 14c is a physical alternative to amendment No. 14b. They may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 14b:

In page 4, lines 12 and 13, to delete “the proposals arising from” and substitute “any proposals being considered during”.

Section 4 lays out the process that will apply to a review. The two amendments relate to the sequence in which the elements of a review and a post-review will be taken. The Bill indicates that the Minister will carry out a review of three issues which the House has discussed at length. I refer to section 4(4) which states:

The Minister shall, in relation to the effects on the environment of the proposals arising from a review under subsection (1)—

(a) carry out an assessment, including public consultation, under the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 (S.I. No. 435 of 2004), and

(b) if it is required, carry out any other—

(i) screening for an assessment, or

(ii) as the case may be, assessment, including public consultation.

The Minister of State has articulated his intent to apply the provisions of section 4(4)(a) and (b). I would much prefer if he engaged in public consultation under the relevant European Communities Acts and regulations and if the findings of social and environmental impact assessments were applied prior to proposals being made. I am concerned that there will be a ministerial review within very limited criteria in designating or dedesignating from which proposals will arise, following which there will be public consultation and so on. Particularly when social and cultural needs will be among the factors to be considered when making proposals, it seems economic, social and cultural needs would be a natural fit. I would, therefore, like public consultation and both social and environment impact assessments to be part of the development of proposals, rather than something that will happen after the fact.

If amended, the section will read: "The Minister shall, in relation to the effects on the environment of any proposals being considered during a review under subsection (1) ... carry out an assessment" and so on.

The Minister of State made it clear they are part of his intent. Why not do these things during the consideration of proposals rather than after the fact? It is a simple step but it would ensure the proposals that emerge from the review process under this legislation will be more robust and that it will not be the case that a Minister will conduct multiple reviews and then discover there are problems subsequently. It would be better if the review itself were more comprehensive and included all these factors. It would lead to better outcomes. With regard to the actual issues associated with the bogs the Minister may wish to designate or de-designate, about which I acknowledge the Minister of State is concerned, it would probably be a smoother process to incorporate them into proposal generation.

I hope the Minister of State might be able to consider accepting my amendments. I recognise they might not be perfectly worded and that is why I introduced both amendments Nos. 14b and 14c. I am hopeful that in the limited time left to the Minister of State, and perhaps to the Dáil, he might be able to address the timeline issue. If he has an alternative proposal as to how it might be addressed, I would, of course, be very willing to see it accepted instead of mine.

Section 18A(4) of the Bill provides that a Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in conducting a review of the natural heritage area, must undertake a strategic environmental assessment, including public consultation, and carry out any other screening for assessment or, as the case may be, an assessment, such as an appropriate assessment in accordance with the Habitats Directive, if required. Subsection (4) has been carefully drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, as the Senator accepts. I do not propose to accept these amendments to it.

Does the Minister of State see the issue? They are considering the proposals rather than these factors before making proposals. I suggest a more robust sequencing of the process. I will not press both amendments but I will press one. I hope the Minister of State might have better wording to address the timeline issue but, if not, I will press amendment No. 14b.

Does the Minister of State wish to comment further?

Public consultation is a vital component of any review. A review cannot be completed without it, nor can de-designation take place without it.

Just to be clear, it is a matter of proposals arising from a review. The public consultation comes after the review. It is not a part of the review; it comes after it. That is exactly the issue I am trying to address. I acknowledge public consultation is important, and I thank the Minister of State for recognising it, but right now public consultation comes after the review and is not part of it. My amendment advocates that it be carried out during the review.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 14.

  • Daly, Paul.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Fintan Warfield; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Maura Hopkins..
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14c:

In page 4, line 13, to delete “arising from” and substitute “during”.

I do not believe I have the support of the House for this amendment. I appreciate those Members who supported me but I know do not have a majority in the House for it. That said, I will withdraw it, although I would urge others in the Dáil to consider revisiting this issue and this section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 4, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“(c) have regard to any recommendations as may emerge from any relevant Oireachtas Committee in relation to climate action.”.

I second the amendment.

The Minister of State will know I hold the view that it would have been better to take this Bill in two months' time because we are making all these decisions and taking all these votes on the policy of how we manage our peatlands with the designation or de-designation of bogs just two weeks ahead of the Joint Committee on Climate Action giving consideration to a peatlands strategy. We will be having a review of our national peatlands strategy, of issues of just transition and of how we manage the future of Bord na Móna in terms of energy. We will be considering all these issues at the Joint Committee on Climate Action over the next month but it is possible the legislation will already have passed. The cart is being put before the horse. Why are we passing legislation, setting out the processes and policies around the designation or de-designation of natural heritage areas, in advance of expert testimony being heard at the Joint Committee on Climate Action on issues that directly overlap with this? For example, Bord na Móna will attend the committee, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland will speak at the committee, we will hear from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and we will hear about peatland regeneration. All these issues are pertinent to the substance of this Bill. My concern is that we will effectively be in a situation whereby that testimony is too late to be taken on board in the drafting of this Bill.

This amendment cannot fix that problem. That is a matter of the Government's choice in scheduling and timing, but the amendment tries to somewhat ameliorate that issue. I refer to section 4(4) which lists a number of issues that will be considered in regard to this matter. Amendment No. 15 basically asks that, as well as carrying out that assessment, including the public consultation mentioned, and as well as carrying out other screening for assessment that might be required, including under the European Communities Act 1972, in the shaping of each individual consideration of proposals arising from a review, the Minister would have regard to recommendations that may emerge from a relevant Oireachtas committee on climate action.

I am simply saying we have not incorporated those proposals into the shape of the Bill so perhaps we can at least give space to give the Minister the option of incorporating them into the designation or de-designation process. I hope the Minister of State will be able to accept amendment No. 15.

Before I call on the Minister of State, I welcome Deputy Rock and the Wheatley family from Louth to the House.

I have already emphasised that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht cannot de-designate a national heritage area without first having regard to any strategic environmental assessment, or other environmental assessment undertaken and observations or submissions received during the public consultation. The Senator has mentioned a number of initiatives, including the midlands fund that was announced in the budget, the re-wetting of bogs and the carbon fund, which is going towards the rehabilitation of bogs. Some €5 million will come from that and money will come from the environment fund to create a package of €7 million for peatland rehabilitation. I know one of the committees will be engaging with officials on that in the coming weeks. There is a lot of positive action we can agree on and that is being backed up with funding as well. The public consultation process provides an opportunity for any Oireachtas Member or committee to make observations or submissions, including on climate action. Therefore, I will not accept the amendment.

Those are Government strategies and initiatives and some of them are welcome. The funding for them is too low, given the scale and speed of the crisis. I know the levels of funding are not entirely within the gift of the Department but I would like to see more funding in those areas. Nonetheless, while those are positive initiatives arising from the original Joint Committee on Climate Action recommendations, my amendment is really on future recommendations that might arise from the Joint Committee on Climate Action subsequent to the hearings we are expecting in the next month. I appreciate that any Member of the Oireachtas or any member of the public may participate in a public consultation, but allowing for public consultation is not the same as reflecting the considered proposals or recommendations that may emerge from the cross-party work of an Oireachtas committee that is directly tasked with the issue of climate action. I would prefer if the Minister of State was able to accept the amendment. I commend some of the schemes and initiatives he has mentioned. They are positive but I am trying to allow for something that would pertain in the future.

I agree they are positive. This is the first year of the carbon fund that has specifically been ring-fenced. It is an issue for future Governments as to how the trajectory of carbon increases is put to use. I assume and suspect more of this would be funded toward peatland rehabilitation and the midlands fund, as well as other initiatives. We can agree this is a start and more will be required.

Is Senator Higgins pressing the amendment?

I am pressing the amendment.

We will not have time for a vote.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Seanad adjourned at 6.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 October 2019.