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

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 5, line 31, after “function” to insert “, role in carbon sequestration, biodiversity and pollination”.

I second the amendment.

As carbon sequestration and pollination have been addressed at another point in the process and the issue of biodiversity is covered in a new section in the Bill introduced by the Minister, I am not pressing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35a:

In page 5, line 31, after “features” to insert “, having regard to matters referred to in section 16(6),”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 36, 36a and 37 are related. Amendments Nos. 36a and 37 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 36. Amendments Nos. 36, 36a and 37 may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 5, to delete lines 34 to 38.

I second the amendment.

I should not have agreed to the amendments being grouped. Amendment No. 36 is a straightforward proposal to delete the inclusion of blanket bog. This is possibly the last place in the Bill where we can constructively remove blanket bogs. The Bill was originally designed to deal with raised bogs, as we have discussed previously. I am seeking to ensure that with the small number of natural heritage areas we have, the small number of areas that have been designated as protected compared with most peatland in this country, we are dealing with what the 12-year process was designed to do. Raised bogs are where the consultations have taken place and the scientific research already exists. I may not like it but I respect the process. It is clear that it has been rigorous to some extent and involved public consultation. I emphasise that it was public consultation prior to proposals to de-designate. There has been a series of conversations on raised bogs and how they are managed in this country. Including blanket bogs at the last minute is a step backwards.

We must seize this last opportunity to ensure that the Bill only does what it was originally designed to do, which is address the designation, de-designation, protection and other issues in respect of raised bogs, and does not inappropriately drag in another environment with its own ecosystem, species, habitats, plant life - I have spoken previously about the levels of endangerment - and its natural wildlife corridors. It plays a role and has particular vulnerabilities due to soakage and because it is low lying. The question of wetting is more important and the draining is both more onerous and more dangerous in those areas. The specific issues with blanket bogs that have not been properly considered and reviewed are reasons that blanket bogs should be removed from the Bill. This is the last section where they could be removed from the Bill and the process of de-designation. That is why I am pressing amendment No. 36.

Amendment No. 37 refers to carbon sequestration, biodiversity and pollination. I have addressed those issues.

Amendment No. 36a deals with comparison and consideration. With the previous amendments, Nos. 33a, which referred to comparison and consideration, and 34, I acknowledge that Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Independent Senators, my colleagues in the Civil Engagement group and others voted for those improvements in the process and to ensure that the process would be one of appropriate consideration rather than the clumsy mechanism of comparison. When I raised this previously the Minister of State did not answer. How does he see comparison working? When he talks about one bog being compared with one or other bogs, can he tell us unequivocally he will not be comparing a natural heritage area bog that is due for potential de-designation and the loss of its status with a special area of conservation bog? Will the same single comparator, the gold standard as it were, be used in respect of multiple bogs? Where there is a proposal that five bogs be de-designated, for example, is there the potential that each of those five will be compared with the same single bog? What is the mechanism? I am not asking for a list of other things that go into the review in other parts or the things the Minister must do because Europe requires it.

How does the mechanism in the comparison work? Is it the case that if one bog is compared with another bog and the other bog has a better habitat and perhaps a better environmental component in the criteria, the bog that loses out in the comparison will automatically be open to de-designation? Will it be regarded as having failed the environmental criteria test because it did not win in a one-on-one comparison? The approach being proposed is unusual. Yes, we did a comparison at the original point when we were looking at which areas needed to be protected, but that was a national review and comparison. However, this is one-on-one. It is a type of a grand slam league between bogs. In a comparison mechanism one loses. I have not heard one word on it. There are other areas in the Bill where the Minister of State has made progress, added issues and addressed matters, but I have not heard a single word from him that the scenarios I have described are not how it will work. We have not heard how comparison works. That is why I propose that it be consideration rather than comparison. Each bog should be considered on its merits. If it is decided then to de-designate it, so be it. At least the bogs will have been considered in terms of what they do, the value they have and the wildlife and habitat there. Each bog will have been given proper consideration on its own merits.

The Senator makes valid points on this. There has been a great deal of consultation between the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, on the drafting of this definition and the use of words. I cannot accept the Senator's amendment but I am happy to refer back to the OPC and engage again with the NPWS to see if there is a better phrase and if we can include consideration.

On the points the Senator raised, this is about the approach to the bog network and contributing to the achievement of the overall nature conservation objectives. It is the same methodology that was used in the 2014 review. It appears that we will not conclude the Bill today so my officials are happy to engage with the Senator and the NPWS and the Department can engage again with the OPC to see if there is a better choice of words.

We have had the debate on the blanket bogs and the Bill was amended in the Dáil following discussion on Committee Stage. It provides for the Minister, at his or her discretion, to conduct a review of the blanket bog NHA as well as to continue and complete the 2014 review relating to raised bogs. This would not be done in a vacuum but would involve public consultation. It would not necessarily lead to proposals for de-designation of blanket bog NHAs.

As regards carbon sequestration, that is catered for under the Government amendment No. 11.

I am glad the Minister of State is looking to engage but it is a very troubling formulation at present. There are many local communities which are very keen to protect their natural heritage areas. I have spoken to people in areas from Clare Island to Carna and elsewhere who really care about the natural heritage areas.

Is the Senator saying that others do not?

They really care about the natural heritage areas.

The Senator will find that most people fit that bill. That is an insult to the rest of the people.

With respect, Senator Mulherin is out of order. She should allow Senator Higgins to respond.

I am not speaking to or about anybody in this House. I am speaking about communities. I am saying that there are those in communities who really value the natural heritage areas that are located near to where they live and to which they go. There is a danger that a natural heritage area, which might be extremely important to people in a particular region and that might be a natural resource for them, their children and their grandchildren, might be found to be comparatively of less natural intrinsic value because it has slightly fewer of the species, slightly less biodiversity-----

The Senator should go to Swinford and talk to people about environmental designation. I refer to the people who are actually living next to the environment, not those who live in some conclave or city, who do not have any bother with designation in rural Ireland. The Senator is way out of touch in what she is saying about the environment.

Order, please. Senator Mulherin can come in separately if she wishes. At this stage, Senator Higgins is responding to what the Minister of State said.

I am responding specifically on the issue of the comparator mechanism, not the amendments put forward by others. My point is that if there is a natural heritage area in a community which people want to continue to be protected and it is used in a comparator mechanism with another area of protected peatland in different community, it should not be the case that a natural heritage area valued by one community and a second valued by different community will be set against each other in terms of only one being preserved as a protected area. It is a very simple example. This is not a comment on anybody. This is a comment on a comparator mechanism. I continue to speak to people about this matter. There is a generation of people coming up who are really concerned about these issues. They do not solely live in cities; they are located all around the place. I have spoken to young people. As stated, a specific young person from Clare Island came to me and a number of people from Achill have talked to me, as well as people from across Carna. They have really good ideas. They like the greenways proposal, for example, and if that had been a proposal from the Minister, that would have been fine. There are many specific proposals that could be thought through and done right but the comparator mechanism is blunt.

I hope a better phrasing is found. I acknowledge that the Minister of State and I have a difference of views in respect of the inclusion of blanket bog. I will press the amendment and I hope we can address the other issues.

Does Senator Mulherin wish to speak on the amendments?

I am quite satisfied with what I had to say.

Go on. The Senator is on fire today. Give us a few more bars.

Does Senator Davitt wish to speak?

Does the Minister of State wish to comment further?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 5; Níl, 14.

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Colette Kelleher; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.
Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Maidin amárach ar 10.30.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 October 2019.