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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 1

Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Report Stage

I welcome the Minister. Before commencing I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage with the exception of the proposer who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

A number of amendments have been judged out of order and, therefore, I will go through those at each stage. Amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Boylan, Gavan, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield is out of order as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, in the names of Senators Boylan, Gavan, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield are judged out of order as potential charges on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 5 in the names of Senators Higgins and Flynn is judged out of order as in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.

Amendment No. 6 in the names of Senators Higgins and Flynn arises out of Committee proceedings.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 15, line 11, after “width” to insert “, subject to such additional criteria that the Minister might set out in regulations”

I second the amendment.

I will speak to amendment No. 6. I am compelled to comment, and I believe it is a wider discussion. As the Acting Cathaoirleach may not be in a position to answer but it is something that is going to have to be examined. I am concerned on the grounds on which some of the amendments have been ruled out of order. It creates a very significant concern in regard to democracy. For example, the idea of not being able to oppose a section is a concern, especially if that section is requesting that the Oireachtas transfers power in primary legislation to a Minister to make regulations in secondary legislation. It is appropriate that we would be able to make amendments in respect of that. I am also very concerned that the amendments relating to time, which we will come to later in amendment No. 11, is being made into a difficulty. A sunset clause is a basic parameter of legislation. Amendment No. 6 speaks specifically to-----

I encourage any Senators with queries to contact the Seanad Office.

I have contacted the Seanad Office and I will be raising it at the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight because it is a very serious concern.

The amendment relates to the very serious concern that the Bill as it is currently worded could effectively allow for strip planting in the widest sense. The definition of "native tree area" relates to spaces of less than 1 ha is one part but also basically just relates to the width of the planting. The concern in this regard is that long, narrow strips could fulfil the criteria of native tree area but cover an area larger than 1 ha and evade the criteria that would normally be applied to them under the forestry legislation. The Minister might say that these will not be defined as "forestry" but I have been looking up the original forestry legislation and there is quite a strong opinion of many that in fact 20 m wide strips as currently planned do fall under the definition of "forestry" as land under trees with a minimum of 0.1 ha and a tree crown cover of more than 20% of the total area or the potential to achieve this cover at maturity. Currently, strips of 20 m width fall under the forestry legislation and would be subject to it. There is a danger that under the new native tree area people will be incentivised to avoid the Forestry Acts process by going for strips that are possibly separated in that regard rather than planting in contiguous forest areas. When I spoke about this with the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, she said that there are certain contexts in which such narrow 20 m wide strips might be appropriate. She mentioned riparian planting, waterways and the importance of certain areas in which it is appropriate and desirable to have native tree planting in this stripped format.

The problem is that the Bill does not contain such caveats about how native tree areas are defined. It simply leaves them open as strips of 20 m wide. Effectively, the amendment proposes to give the Minister the power to specify additional criteria for strips of planting that may exceed 1 ha, but that may be only of certain width. They will outline which will be defined as "native tree areas" and which will not. This will be important when it comes to later issues, such as the issuing of grants. It is much harder after the issuing of a grant for a native tree area to say that, “Only this kind of strip area or this other kind of strip area". This is where the Minister can clarify it. That is why this is empowering the Minister to make sure that a hostage to fortune has not been inserted into the Bill in respect of potential strip planting. This could create a perverse incentive that might encourage strip planting over proper large-scale forestry for those who are going to cover an area that is larger than 1 ha, but for those who do not necessarily want to come under the remit, as they properly should, of the Forestry Acts.

It is important to note at this point that this also would make the Bill more legally robust to an extent, although the problems will still apply. It is not really the case in case law that screening or environmental responsibilities can be avoided by simply having a size limit that is tied to an area of planting. However, it certainly should not be the case that we should have strip planting, which is, in fact, bad for the environment in most situations. However, there are exceptions, such as along waterways and others. A negative, less desirable form of planting would effectively become incentivised by the Bill.

Would any other Senators like to speak? Senator Gavan may go ahead.

With the permission of the Acting Chair, I would like to welcome the people in the Gallery. We have a number of workers and some of their families here. They have travelled all the way up from County Kerry. That was a long journey for them today. My heart goes out to them. Due to the fact that all of Sinn Féin’s amendments have been ruled out of order, I do not see the scope to raise the key item that they would like to hear about, which is just compensation. In its own way, that is outrageous. Let me be clear that this is not about me; it is about the fact that these people are about to lose their livelihoods. They have come up here in good faith to see the democratic process-----

I thank the Senator. I very much understand the concerns.

With respect, the Acting Chair can dismiss me by all means, but please do not dismiss the people who are sitting behind me. They have found that their livelihoods are about to be snuffed out----

-----and the Minister has consistently refused to offer decent compensation-----

-----or any words of reassurance.

As I mentioned, all these amendments have been ruled out of order. Have you contacted the Seanad office? If not, please do so subsequent to this. However, all of these amendments have been judged out of order and they cannot be discussed. We have to move on.

With respect, I have just one question to ask you, then.

Is the question in relation to amendment No. 6?

What does she say to the people who are sitting here behind me?

Senator, we are in the middle of Seanad business here.

I appreciate that, but these are the most important people in the room.

You will not allow the issue of just compensation for these workers to be raised at all, just to make it convenient for the Minister who has dodged-----

------and weaved and bobbed and who has avoided any commitments to these people behind me. That is the disgrace here today.

Please, Senator. Going forward, does any other Senator wish to speak to the amendment that has been tabled by Senator Higgins? As no other Senators have indicated, I will ask the Minister to respond.

I want to acknowledge the presence of families and some workers from the three fur farms, who are present in the Gallery this evening. Obviously, the Bill has massive implications for their livelihoods and for the professions that they have built up over a couple of generations from the early 1960s with the support of the State. A number of the amendments have been ruled out of order for further discussion. They were discussed on different Stages earlier in the legislation process. I have been clear throughout this process that I fully understand the responsibility on me as Minister to ensure that there is a fair outcome for the farmers and the families concerned that reflects what this legislation means for them. They will no longer be able to continue what they do. They will no longer be able to have that livelihood that they have built up and to which they have been so attentive. They have complied with all regulations over the years. Indeed, they have provided employment in their local communities and these are rural communities, at that.

I was clear here in the Seanad when we spoke last on in the issue of repurposing buildings that I would deal with that in the regulations. I will also deal with the issue of additional payments and financial allocations to the employees in regulations to recognise the impact on them. I will also meet further with the farmers. When I last met with them, I committed to meet with them once again. As I said here on the previous occasion, as soon as this legislation is passed, I will sit down to meet with them further. As I said, I am also willing to sit down with Senators to have further discussions on that issue. The final negotiations cannot be dealt with here on the floor of the Seanad. It is a responsibility on me as Minister to bring those to a conclusion. I am cognisant of the responsibility that is on the Government and on me to ensure the impact on them is fair.

They have not asked for this. At all times they have conducted their business with ultimate professionalism and in line with the standards that have been asked of them. They want simply to be able to continue their livelihood. We as a State are deciding this, because we believe that this industry has outgrown its ability to be an industry anymore. Yet, we as a State and as a Government are making that decision and we are ending their livelihoods. That is a big thing for a Government, a Chamber or the Oireachtas to decide. It is important that this is properly reflected in the way that the farmers are engaged with. My clear commitment is to promptly sit down further with them, following on from the legislation.

I have no doubt that it will be frustrating for the farmers present this evening that the amendments will not discussed further because they technically cannot be facilitated on Report Stage. It is no desire of mine to evade anything. In fact, I want to get to the stage where I am sitting down to bring this to a conclusion. I know that the farmers want to get to that stage as well. They want to ensure that the conclusion is fair to them, as do I.

The amendment tabled by Senator Higgins proposes to insert provisions that additional criteria may be set out in the regulation to establish narrow native tree areas. This provision exists in section 9(d) under which conditions for an exemption to an afforestation licence may be prescribed under a regulation and, therefore, the Bill already facilitates in its current form the application of additional criteria in relation to the width of native tree areas. Furthermore, in advance of the introduction of any scheme, the Department will undertake a strategic environmental assessment, in which the public will be able to participate, as well as an appropriate assessment alongside that.

Following the completion of that strategic environmental assessment and the appropriate assessment, and subject to the findings of those two assessments, the Department will finalise the design of the scheme and associated terms and conditions around that. For that reason, I am not in a position to accept this amendment.

I note, and for the benefit of observers in the Gallery, that these amendments were ruled out of order on Committee Stage. I have just been informed that the rules are clear, namely, that if defeated on Committee Stage, amendments cannot resubmitted for Report Stage.

Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, was in the Minister's place in the Chamber. Am I right?

It was the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon.

Sorry. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, gave a commitment that we would see the regulations before we got to this point. Is it possible for the Minister to share those draft regulations? We should at least have that, given that the families have come all this way. The Minister of State gave that commitment to the Seanad. We accepted they would be draft regulations and could change, but we would at least get to have a look at them. We are taking the Minister at his word. This is the last throw of the dice for the families. Will the Minister give that commitment to share the draft regulations with us before we conclude business?

The Minister will respond to that but, again, to be clear, we are speaking to the amendment. If it is not to do with the amendment, we cannot speak on the matter.

On a point of order-----

My point is a point of order in respect of what the Acting Chairperson just said regarding commenting on amendments. We need to be clear that all the amendments on the clár are valid. They were ruled out of order but were validly and legitimately received. They were put on the agenda, circulated to us and have been subsequently ruled out of order. To be helpful, and I want to be helpful to the Acting Chairperson, I ask that when an amendment is being ruled out of order - this is provided for and there is precedent for it - as we go through the remainder of the debate, the reason for its exclusion should be read into the record in order that we all understand why it happened. Does the Acting Chairperson know where I am coming from? There is a report before her on the amendments; I looked at it because I am chairing the next session. It would be helpful to give reasons for amendments being ruled out of order for the sake of the people who have travelled from Kerry and Donegal. It sets the record here. That is provided for, it would be helpful and it is in the Acting Chairperson's gift.

I thank the Senator. I appreciate that. Are there any other Senators who wish to speak to amendment No. 6? Does Senator Higgins wish to come back in?

I regret that the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment because it is constructive. With respect, the fact that regulations may be made regarding an exemption is referenced in section 9, which the Minister spoke about, and we looked at the issue in the context of section 9(d), but I was talking about the definition. The problem is very different things are being bundled under a single definition and regulations will later be made as to how native tree areas, as defined here, may be exempted from the requirements of the Forestry Act.

It is better to get things as correct as possible as early as possible. In that regard, it is a concern if a new entity is being created that will have certain privileges in being able to bypass components of the Forestry Act. That entity will be subject to certain privileges and, potentially, access to certain grants in respect of proactive supporting measures. In that context, how the native tree area is defined is very important and really matters. That is why, again, when I referenced the regulations that will come later, I wanted to put in the definitions a clarification, which will also save the State from further future challenges, that the definition of native tree area itself would be subject to caveats in the regulations, especially as it applied to strip areas and strip planting.

The reason it is very important is strip planting, which is at risk of becoming strip farming, should be in native tree areas. We know there is a requirement for it to be long term and permanent but strip planting is more likely than the other part of the native tree area. We know the area of not less than 0.1 ha and not greater 1 ha is a certain kind of area, but these 20 m in width infinite-length components are far more likely to be in breach of EU laws and far more likely to create problems for this scheme. We should consider not just the idea of appropriate assessment, Natura 2000 sites and so on, but all the directives, such as the habitats directive, and the impact non-contiguous planting and areas that may be in strips can have on that directive, in addition to the impacts on the water directive, especially if much of this planting is likely to take place along river areas. That is why I said the Minister should make specifications that even certain kinds of river planting and repair planting be subject to particular constraints. For example, one of my later amendments relates to the fact of biodiversity removal. It is very important that we do not, in effect, say that here is a grant for planting a strip along a river that leads to existing biodiversity along a river bank and the existing habitats in respect of, for example, otters, freshwater pearl mussels and many other species, being damaged by planting that is being allowed to bypass normal screening by this Bill. That is what I am talking about.

If this is one of the hostages to fortune we are creating in the part of this Bill that relates to strip planting, we are more likely to end up in this situation. I have made this point to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and will make it again to the Minister. This is not about slowing things down. A previous Minister for Agriculture had to come to the Dáil to talk about the fact that Ireland had been dragged over the coals for failing to deliver proper environmental standards for forestry and was in trouble for not having applied proper screening and practices for forestry, which was before summer 2020. We then had the forestry appeals legislation that autumn. The past two years should have been used to boost and improve our environmental impact assessment capacity and to massively increase support for the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action and I am as keen on planting as anybody. I want planting to happen, but in that committee we know that, for example, wind farm operators are saying to give more resources to better environmental thinking, and to having more people who are skilled and able to apply all the EU laws to projects quickly and effectively. I worry that we have yet more legislation that is instead focused on getting around those laws rather than applying them quickly and effectively. When that happens, there is a risk we will end up in situations that breach an EU directive. I am very worried about the proposal relating to strip farming in the Bill. It is something that may not be addressed in this legislation but I hope will be addressed in the regulations. If we end up with a situation where habitats get dug up, and water gets damaged and polluted, in order for somebody to access a grant to plant new trees, that will be a problem. We will have created an environmental problem rather than an environmental good.

I thank Senator Higgins. On Senator Boylan's point, she was mistaken. The Minister of State in question was not Deputy Peter Burke, but Deputy Heydon. She was also mistaken as regards what he said. The Minister of State said he would discuss the matter with me and bring it back to me, which he did. As I said very clearly during the engagements I had previously in the Seanad, I will be sitting down with the farmers to bring the regulations to a conclusion. Farmers have had a copy of the regulations, which are in draft form and not yet finalised. It is now important that we bring those regulations to a conclusion. It is my responsibility to engage with farmers on that. The Minister of State followed through on what he committed to.

As I said very clearly in the Chamber previously, I did not think it was appropriate that the Seanad would be in the middle of negotiations. No doubt there is an onerous responsibility, as there is on all of us, but it ultimately rests with me as the Minister to bring those negotiations to a conclusion. I will very promptly engage with farmers now that the legislative basis for me to do so has been provided by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I understand the points that Senator Higgins has made but the Bill provides the capacity to address those issues following on from both the strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment, and then that to be accommodated in the regulation. I take on board the points that she has made and raised as part of her amendment.

Is Senator Higgins pressing her amendment?

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, are in the names of Senators Boylan, Gavan, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield. Please note that the amendments are out of order as they were previously rejected in committee of the whole Seanad. The amendments must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 159.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 10 is in the names of Senators Higgins and Flynn. It arises out of committee proceedings.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 16, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

“(vi) appropriate procedures to allow for the screening of projects in relation to Environmental Impact Assessment or other appropriate assessment,

(vii) criteria and limitations that shall apply to where a woodland area is greater than one hectare,

(viii) measures to protect existing biodiversity and ecosystems, and

(ix) a requirement for continuous cover in respect of native woodland areas covered by this section,”.

I second the amendment.

It is good that we read the reasons. Some of the reasons are particularly concerning in terms of the amendments that have been ruled out of order. Like others, I would have liked the opportunity to speak to some of those other aspects but I will focus on the amendments that are still in play.

On amendment No. 10, I have combined the reasons for expediency but each of them could be their own amendment and debate. I wish to note that the term "woodland area" should be "native tree area" but that is by the by because the core issues still apply. These are an attempt to strengthen the regulations and regulatory mandate. I am conscious that this Bill concerns his Ministry but I also spoke to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, about these regulations in order to strengthen her hand. I used a similar principle when I spoke to the Minister about the regulations that he will make on the exit from fur farming and I highlighted the importance for us, as an Oireachtas, to strengthen the message that we give. When a Minister seeks from the Oireachtas the power to make regulations, then we are saying that while primary legislation is how legislation is normally done, there is a request from the Minister to have power transferred to secondary legislation in the form of regulations. That was why when we had those amendments that we said that in giving him the power to make regulations on the exit from fur farming, we wanted him to be clear that the regulations will include issues that address and strengthen employees' rights or address environmental concerns. I acknowledge the Minister acknowledged my amendment on the repurposing of buildings. In that sense, we are trying to strengthen and clarify the mandate that we give him, and even almost the conditions of the mandate that we give him, to write regulation. That statement is important because it relates back to some of the amendments that were ruled out of order. I will not talk about them but will simply state that they relate to the same issue. It is one thing to say that there are grounds for refusing amendments, and they were refused already, but some of them have been ruled out of order simply using the argument that the Government might not like it and are against the effects of the Bill.

I ask Senator Higgins to confine her comments to the amendment, please.

I will utter a single sentence that will make things very clear. Much as it is proper for us to add conditions in respect of regulations that we give the Minister, it should also be proper for us to say that we do not wish to transfer power to a Minister to make regulations in terms of excluding a particular section of the Bill.

The amendment refers to the powers or elements that I ask for the Minister to include in the regulations that get made under section 9(d) and there are four key issues that must be addressed. For me, these are essential issues in terms of addressing problems that will come up. One is that there will be appropriate procedures to allow for the screening of projects regarding the environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment. The Minister mentioned the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, of the regulations that is going to happen. That is the overall regulations and looks at their strategic environmental assessment. My reference to an appropriate assessment relates to the impact on a Natura 2000 site. It is very hard to see how an appropriate assessment of a scheme, which does not have a geographical specificity but applies to any area of planting of a certain size, potentially, anywhere, can satisfy the requirement for an appropriate assessment in terms of Natura 2000 sites. In such an assessment, one needs to ask when we plant here whether it has an impact on a nearby or related Natura 2000 site. Very blunt measures like simply the distance from a Natura 2000 site are not necessarily going to be sufficient to ensure that anything that gets planted under this provision will not need a further appropriate assessment. That is why I want it, even if it be a streamlined measure, to be different from the Forestry Act, in that there would be a screening whereby each project would have some mechanism where it is considered. The screening is not to do those things but is where there would be a consideration of whether this particular project needs an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment. Somebody making that decision for each project is really important and needs to make it with clear criteria.

The other parts of my amendment relate to a concern that I mentioned to the Minister before and I refer to the loophole clause. It is more of an unravelled thread than a loophole in terms of the strip planting. The amendment states that there would be "criteria and limitations that shall apply to where a woodland area is greater than one hectare", and by "woodland area" I mean a native forest area. There is a concern that we end up with a situation whereby anything that happens to hit the 20 m width would end up falling into the native tree area. One may have a situation where one almost incentivises people to keep and trim expanding native tree areas so that they do not expand beyond the 20 m area, which, I imagine, is a perverse incentive that we do not want.

It is crucial to include "measures to protect existing biodiversity and ecosystems", which will be a core element of the scheme. I am very concerned that the hawthorn tree was defined as a shrub in the last debate. I say that because if we had a situation where hawthorn trees were dug up as one of the most core environmentally biodiverse pieces because they did not fit the criteria so that somebody could plant a willow tree then that is not good for nature or for biodiversity. We really need measures to ensure that does not happen because at the moment, it is not clear why that would not happen. It is crucial that we protect existing biodiversity and ecosystems. We do not want to create a perverse incentive where we just have lines of trees but lose nature and ecosystems. Even if those trees grow in ten or 15 years' time, then the actual pathways, pollinator pathways and wildlife corridors can be lost if there is a period of grubbing. I remember that we have had great lengthy debates here. I know that the Minister feels that this Bill has been here for ever but we had a lengthy debate on the Heritage Bill when we discussed hedgerows and how the impact of grubbing on biodiversity is very telling.

Last, I wish to address two core concerns that came through in the last Committee Stage debate. In fairness, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has given me some traction on this matter but it is vital that it be addressed.

It relates to concerns about this scheme being used for commercial planting. The concern about willow planting or biofuel planting potentially coming indirectly under this scheme has been mentioned. Moreover, there is concern about the grants being given in respect of long-term forestry projects only. This part of the amendment is a reasonable compromise that addresses both these issues. It addresses thinning, and while thinning can be problematic, there are to some extent certain cases in which thinning might be needed.

Second, the amendment addresses the requirement for continuous cover such that if, under the Bill, areas of native trees are to be planted, continuous cover will be a goal and requirement. That is a little more than the 20% canopy requirement under the Forestry Act 2014. If we are saying we will do something special with these areas, the idea of continuous cover is a good one, such that there will not be, for example, any clear-felling and it will not be the case that something that has been planted will be removed wholesale. That is a core requirement. It will give some greater credibility to this scheme in respect of its impact on nature.

My contribution has been lengthy but I tabled four separate amendments which, for the purposes of expediency, have been combined. I hope the Minister will indicate how these issues are going to be addressed and, in particular, how he foresees the environmental impact assessment or other appropriate assessment unfolding. Is there a promise of protection against biodiversity destruction? What are his thoughts on the issue of continuous cover?

I thank Senator Higgins for her significant work on the amendment. It comprises, as she said, four subsets of ideas, all of which are reasonable. Her argument is strong, good, robust and well founded and I am impressed by how she condensed her points in her contribution. It resonates with me because the Irish Environmental Network made similar points and highlighted these issues. I acknowledge that body for its close work with environmentalists in all parties and none. Some people think they are advocates for organic farming only or other specific issues, but most of us are advocates for sustainable development, sustainable farming, respect for biodiversity and so on. I am certainly one of them, and all my colleagues on this side of the House have firm records in respect of these matters.

Senator Higgins spoke about the environmental impact assessment or other appropriate assessment and the impacts thereof, and the measures to protect the existing biodiversity and ecosystems. We are legislators and, as we are told time and again, this is the Upper House. We have the power to amend legislation and polish it up. Of course, the problem is that there is in place a broad Government involving a tripartite regime, that is, a three-legged stool in the form of the coalition of the Green Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Most Senators come to the House with a script they read into the record and, therefore, there is no leeway for real engagement and debate, although that might be different in the case of the Minister during this debate, as I hope it will be. The amendment is logical, referring to the environmental impact assessment or other appropriate assessment, criteria in respect of woodlands and measures to protect the existing biodiversity and ecosystems. How could the Minister, or anyone in this House, not agree with that? It is worthy of support.

I acknowledge the NGOs in the environmental sector, which daily grow more disillusioned by the political system because the people they helped to elect and thought were representing them do not seem to be doing so any more. They have left them behind, whether for expediency or whatever other purpose, but that is another day's work. I am constantly reminded by those NGOs, as are other people, of their involvement in and concerns about this area. The amendment resonates very much with what they and others have championed.

I thank Senator Higgins for taking a lead on this and for tabling the amendment, in respect of which she has my full support. I hope the Minister will in some way address those key issues, even if he cannot accept the amendment. He might give us some reassurance in respect of his commitment and that of his Department to this area.

I did not agree with Senator Boyhan when he said that many Senators come to the Chamber with scripts. I think he was referring, in particular, to the Government side. Senators on all sides of the House have spoken for themselves and made their own points and their own cases. The debate on this Bill is just one example of that happening.

Likewise, I did not agree with Senator Higgins when she stated that the grants should be for long-term projects only. There has to be a balance between long-term projects and the need for the harvesting of timber. It is more than likely that modular housing will be coming downstream, and there will be a greater need for timber as a result.

I raised the issue of planning permission with the other Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Heydon, during the previous debate on the Bill. The system of applying for planning permission is very cumbersome. People have to apply for many licences, including felling or harvesting licences, in order to remove timber. This is an area the Minister might examine. The process should be streamlined. When a planning application is submitted, it should be dealt with all the way from the planning stage, through harvesting and on to extraction. As he will be aware, there was recently a very difficult period in which people were seeking harvesting licences and there was a significant backlog. He will know that better than anyone given the county he is from, Donegal, where a great deal of timber is produced. His Department should consider issuing one pass, from planning all the way to harvesting and extraction.

I echo what Senator Boyhan said and I commend Senator Higgins on tabling these amendments. I am keen to hear the Minister reassure Senators in respect of how we will protect the environment and environmental law with the regulations. Part of my frustration and that of the Irish Environmental Network - I am sure Senator Higgins will agree - relates to the fact this provisions of the Bill have not undergone any pre-legislative scrutiny. That is part of the problem. This paragraph was introduced without that scrutiny, which is why we are raising these concerns. For instance, the wording as drafted is such that the regulations "may" have regard to “the requirements of the environmental and environmental law”. Surely that should state "shall have regard for" them.

I am keen to hear the Minister's response to Senator Higgins's points in order to reassure us that the Bill will be robust and will not result in maladaptation, even if it is going to pass tonight. He might reassure us that there will not be planting of native species in the wrong places because that would have an impact on the riparian environment and peatlands and would realise all the concerns we raised on Committee Stage.

I will support the amendment. I commend Senator Higgins on tabling it. The Minister might reassure us in respect of what I outlined, given that the provision in question was rushed in without pre-legislative scrutiny.

This is a very interesting debate about where and what we plant. Given what is happening throughout Ireland, whether through schools, community organisations or farming groups, this ethos of planting trees has taken root - pardon the pun - in the past five or six year in particular. Co-operative societies have been giving perhaps 200 trees per year to farmers in order that they can plant on their hedgerows and build them up, which are a really positive part of the environment that has changed dramatically over the years. This legislation will go a long way towards removing any anomaly that may exist whereby farmers might be deemed to be offside. Even in the case of my community, which has started a campaign of planting trees including through our local school, I would be fearful that without this legislation, those elements of the community could be deemed to be offside.

We must acknowledge that the idea of going out and planting trees of such nature, indigenous trees, in our urban and rural environment is something that should be promoted. This legislation is a very important part of that. I welcome it and I believe that the Minister is doing the right thing. If there is any loophole it would be closed here tonight to ensure that community groups and farmers have done the right thing over the last few years. It is a very positive step.

It is important to remember that this legislation is born out of a passion for planting trees and for increasing the footprint of forestry across the country, and for ensuring that everyone can take part. That is where it is coming from. Sometimes, it is more appropriate to do things in regulations than in primary legislation. It allows one to do the appropriate assessments. I understand that this is where it is coming from.

I agree with a lot of Senator Boylan's comments. People are looking for assurances, and that is fair enough. When this came before us on Committee Stage a lot of the ideas were welcome. I would agree with a lot of what is being said and the ideas that are there. We just want to make sure that this is in the regulations and that the proper consultation happens, which should happen under appropriate assessment so that all the ideas and expertise that people have will inform the regulations. As I have said, and I go back to the very important point, without this legislation we would not have the idea of small-scale planting. That is where we want to get to. I thank all Members for their contributions and I thank the Minister.

I thank all of the Senators for their very constructive suggestions on this. I have an update on amendment No. 7. There had been a request previously for a note to be sent from my Department to supply statistics on local electoral areas. I can confirm that this had been forwarded on as part of the debate on that amendment.

I thank Senator Higgins for the comprehensive explanation and description behind the rationale for putting forward this amendment. Senator Pauline O'Reilly described very well the rationale behind this Bill and the objective to promote forestry and native woodland planting, and that it is very much born from the passion to improve and increase on that planting.

Senator Higgins's amendment proposes to insert four additional categories of conditions that may be prescribed under a regulation. It is asking that the legislation would prescribe specifically what should happen under the regulation. I believe that the existing conditions in the Bill provide ample scope to include the points raised by the Senator in the proposed amendment. In particular, the Bill references conditions having regard to the environment and to environmental law, which would be an integral component of any new scheme developed. The Bill as it stands requires that this would have to be a key component of any new scheme that is developed by the Department under this legislation and under regulations.

The requirements for conditions will be fully considered also during the strategic environmental assessment, in which, very importantly, the public will be able to participate. The public will be able to feed in and contribute as part of that and the appropriate assessment. Following on from the completion of both of those, and subject to their findings, the Department would then finalise the design of the scheme and associated qualifying criteria, which would then become conditions of the plantation scheme itself.

As Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, there are things that are appropriate to regulation and there are matters that are appropriate to the actual scheme itself, and then there are the key overarching principles that are contained in primary legislation, which we are passing here. I feel that the issues being raised, on which the Senators have very constructively contributed, can be included and considered as part of those assessments in advance of any scheme being put in place and, very importantly, it provides the opportunity for the public to participate in that formulation also.

I am certainly looking forward to the public engagement. That is good and I hope there will also be - as has also been committed to previously - engagement directly with Members of the Oireachtas who have shown an interest in this area by the Department. However, I do still have outstanding concerns which are not really addressed. To build on what Senator Boylan has said, the context is that we did not have pre-legislative scrutiny, which would have been very important. In something such as this, it is always a concern when the Bill has not been through pre-legislative scrutiny first of all.

I appreciate that the Minister has indicated he is open to the kinds of points I have been raising, and I have no doubt that the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is open to those points. The problem is that there is no guarantee for us, as we hand over the power to regulate away from the hard powers in the Forestry Act into the secondary power area of regulations. For example, it says that regulations "may" provide for different things. I know this from debating the climate Bill. We talked at length about what different language means. "Have regard to" is not in fact very binding language. Under this provision at the moment it is only requiring that they "have regard to" the requirements of the environment or environmental law. It is not "comply with" or "be consistent with" the need for increased planting of native tree species, public safety and others. Again, there is a concern there. This is why I was trying to improve this section of the regulations. There is also an overall concern that we do not know what will be in the regulations. We do not know if they will address properly those issues of the environment and environmental law.

The strategic environmental assessment and a public consultation is one thing, but I reiterate that it is not clear to me how a scheme can do an appropriate assessment with regard to Natura 2000 sites. Natura 2000 sites are specific and real places. The question then is, will what happens have an impact on them. Given that we do not know where these native tree areas will be, again this would be a very nuanced issue. Is it going to be a blunt measure of distance from a Natura 2000 site? What will the criteria be for assessing whether or not there would be an impact?

If it is simply about size, we have the case law that has come through. Case law in the European courts, specifically cases C-392/96 in forestry and C-66/06 on size-space thresholds, is very clear that simply because a thing is small or of a particular size this does not exempt it from having to go through the proper environmental considerations. How an appropriate assessment gets done on this scheme is the kind of detail we could have teased out if we had pre-legislative scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister will understand that this is the context in which I had looked for something that strengthened the appropriate assessment in my amendment. I really do not see how it is going to be done in a way that will be consistent with environmental law.

I also want to pick up on another issue with these regulations and the intent. I do not doubt the genuine passion of the Ministers who are putting it forward, but when one creates the power to make regulations they can change and they may or may not continue to serve the purposes as set out here. For example, we heard an appeal for this to be used for forestry. Then we would have crop planting being used and planted in a way that would bypass the forestry legislation, which is not something we should be aiming for. Once we make these powers, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, or the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, or future Ministers, may use them. This is why it is really unacceptable that attempts to insert a sunset clause, or even a review and renewal clause, in this legislation has been blocked. This fundamentally undermines the democratic balance between Parliament, the Oireachtas and the Executive. That is a serious issue and I will be raising it at the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight.

It would set an extraordinarily dangerous precedent in terms of the transfer of powers between Parliament and Government. I wish to be clear on that. The Minister is in the crossfire on that issue but it is a concern.

To conclude, as most of my other amendments have been ruled out of order, I will not be coming in on many amendments. I wanted to come back to the biodiversity and ecosystem piece. The Climate Change Advisory Council was very clear about planting the right tree in the right place. The regulation does not specify exactly how we will determine, not the right size, but the right place when planting trees. That is a core issue we need to get to. Planting trees is good but not always. Any tree is not necessarily the right tree in a particular localised biodiversity area or ecosystem.

The Minister did not answer the question on continuous cover. It would be good if he could clarify that when he comes in again. I am somewhat concerned when I hear talk of potential felling of trees for timber. Will continuous cover be part of the criteria?

A lot more detail is required, which will follow through from the regulation and subsequently to the forestry scheme that will be put in place to enable this. The Bill provides the platform to enable that to happen. It also sets key principles that will inform the regulation and the scheme. The points the Senator has raised are points that can be accommodated and considered further. There will be opportunities for involvement through the Oireachtas committee system, the wider public consultation system and environmental assessments, to ensure the scheme that is put in place is appropriate and achieves its objective, as well as being a balanced scheme. I thank the Senator. It has been useful to have this engagement but I believe the Bill, as it stands, will accommodate the points she has raised. They will be further reflected on with much wider involvement and participation in regard to the framing of the final scheme.

Question put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 11 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

I move amendment No.12:

In page 17, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"

Native Irish pine (Burren pine)

"

I was told amendment No. 11 was ruled out of order because it conflicted with the purpose of the Bill. However, the amendment did not conflict with the purpose of the Bill. It simply set out that there would be a review after 36 months. That is a sunset clause amendment. It is entirely unacceptable to say that all legislation must be permanent and cannot be reviewed. It is totally inconsistent with previous practice in respect of commencement or review dates, or indeed expiration dates of clauses in legislation. I wish to state that for the record.

On a point of information, amendment No. 11 would amend the Bill so that the section is irrelevant to the "native tree area" grant and would be a temporary scheme only. The Bill, as read a second time, is for the purposes of establishing a permanent fund.

That is not written in the Long Title of the Bill. This is simply an assertion of the Seanad Office. I appreciate the Minister has not made this decision.

The amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 154.

It is a decision that the Government is assuming it wants permanence of all powers to make regulation when it is made, that it is assumed and should not be challenged by way of legislative amendment. It is a very concerning precedent. It is fine, as it will be addressed further. We will take it up next week.

I wish to point out that it was ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 154.

By way of an interpretation of that standing order, which we need to clarify.

Amendment No. 12 relates to a number of amendments. I thought the other amendments in this area were going to go forward but they have not. This amendment is about the Schedule of native tree species. Perhaps this needs further consideration but I am sure the Acting Cathaoirleach will be very aware of this issue. There was an assumption for many years that Ireland no longer had a native pine and that it had become extinct. In recent years, good work has been done by local community activists and environmentalists in Clare, in particular, where they have found a native Irish pine, closely related to the Scots pine, in the Burren area, which is now being cultivated and recognised. In the wording of this, it would be important in the place where a limit is put on the amount of Scots pine, that a similar limit be put on the amount of native Irish pine to ensure we do not have a tree planting area that is predominantly pine. It is about acknowledging this and including it in the Schedule. Whether or not it can be done now, I hope it will be done in the future.

This relates to a number of concerns around the Schedule on native tree species. I know Senator Boyhan has been clear on concerns about yew trees, about which the Minister might speak again. When we talk about the right tree in the right place, there are many situations in which yew is the wrong tree. It can be quite a dangerous tree when planted in certain areas.

I am devastated that hawthorn is not included in the Schedule. When one talks about a Bill in terms of what is rewarded, one must consider the laws of unintended consequences and perverse incentives. I am concerned by having these trees recognised as native trees but not having a hawthorn recognised as a native tree. According to the debate last week it was defined it as a shrub. I have never heard anybody call a hawthorn tree a shrub. There is a danger that we could incentivise people to dig up hawthorn trees in order to plant trees that will qualify under this Bill. If there is a danger or jeopardy, and perhaps it needs to be set out specifically in the regulations on biodiversity, to a tree that does incredibly important ecosystem-work. The hawthorn is not a tree that people who plant trees love because it is messy, spindly, and it literally protects nature. It creates a dense part of the undergrowth system. It is not as simple as the trees that can be easily thinned, the kinds of trees people might like to plant because they are easy to manage, plant and grow, as well as move around. A hawthorn is a tree that works for nature and has been reflected in our culture for thousands of years in the protective role it plays in nature.

I am concerned the hawthorn is not on the Schedule list. I would also like the Burren pine included on the list, or at least a process to achieve that. When the Minister responds to me on this amendment about the Burren pine, he might also indicate how the Schedule can be amended. Would it be through new primary legislation or through other processes? What if we find negative situations emerging through the planting of yew? What if we see excessive planting of willow because it is easy? What if we see hawthorn or other trees being removed in favour of trees on the Schedule, or any such perverse incentives? This is why the review clause that was ruled out of order would have been so important.

On a point of information, we are just discussing the native Irish pine.

I am discussing the native Irish pine and its insertion into the Schedule.

Yes, but not anything else. Let us stick to that. The Senator has mentioned hawthorn and yew.

I am talking about the insertion of the-----

It is literally just the native Irish pine. The Senator not mentioned hawthorn or yew in the amendment. Let us stick to the amendment, please.

Sure. The native Irish pine is one tree, but the question is the context in which it sits, which is the Schedule. I would like to know what is the mechanism whereby the native Irish Pine, or other trees excluded such as the hawthorn, may be included in the Schedule in the future?

If it is the case that trees are included in the Schedule - perhaps that is where the native Irish pine should be - then they should be reviewed in terms of the impact they are having. If we see that there is a lack of diversity in the context of the Schedule and the native tree species and plantings that are the subject of reward, we should also know how that might be addressed.

One cannot but admire Senator Higgins for her tremendous skill, ability to debate and craftsmanship in the art of politics. I say fair play to her for referring to the crataegus and to other trees. I also say well done to her regarding her commitment in respect of this entire area.

To go back to the native Irish pine, it is important that we acknowledge the tremendous work of the botany school and environmental faculty down the road in Trinity College Dublin. They have done a great deal of collaborative work on this and a lot of research. I hope the Acting Chair will indulge me for a moment, but when I was making some inquiries about trying to restrict Scots pine, I was somewhat surprised about the native Irish pine, the Burren pine. Such a thing does exist, and I went down and had a look at some of the paperwork relating to it. I ask the Minister and his officials to take stock of and look at that because it is exciting. This is something that we should look at and seek to increase.

I genuinely have concerns about pine trees, given the problems arising now due to pathogens and diseases with some pine trees in Ireland. That has been well documented by Teagasc. We are familiar with Dutch elm disease and ash dieback. We must be very careful. Let it be a marker to us all here today. Teagasc has serious concerns about the pathogens relating to some pines and that is something on which we need to keep a watchful eye because we do not want it to get out of control.

I am very happy to support the amendment. I say well done to Senator Higgins for the imaginative way she got a number of trees into it.

The list of trees in the legislation is the list. If Senator Higgins was writing the legislation, she might have missed a couple because she did not include them in the amendment.

I had included them in an amendment on Committee Stage but, unfortunately, it was defeated.

Okay. Overall, the thrust of some of her previous arguments is that we should be particularly prescriptive in the legislation lest some pesky Minister in the future might wreak havoc and do things via the legislation that we would not have intended. What she is saying now is the reverse, namely, that there should be more flexibility in addition to what is in the primary legislation in order that-----

I am just asking, for the purposes of information, what the procedure is.

It is in the primary legislation. Regarding the amendment the Senator has tabled, which is to insert the native Irish pine, the Burren pine, I understand that the reference relates to the small population of Scots pines in Rockforest, County Clare, which are said to be derived from the original native Scots pine trees. While people refer to these trees as native Irish or Burren pine, these trees are still considered Scots pine and will therefore be eligible to be considered for inclusion in any future scheme aimed at planting native tree areas.

As the existing provisions in the Bill already facilitate the planting of native Irish pine, I do not propose to accept the amendment. The good news is that it is covered and will be accommodated in the future. The other good news is that because the hawthorn is categorised as a shrub and because the legislation facilitates within the regulation of the schemes the promotion of shrubs, it can also be included. We are pretty well covered and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

In one way it would be lovely for the native Irish pine to get its own recognition and not just to be treated as a subsection of the Scots pine, but I am also pleased that it is covered. There is a valid point that we do not want to see all pines in any of the plantings, and that is the case with the restriction of 25% that is set out in section 9(a)(b). There would not be more than 25% pines, so it is good that it is covered by that as well as it being good that it can be included.

I am glad about what the Minister said about hawthorn but we will all be watching the regulations like hawks in relation to the question of biodiversity and the planting and ecosystem context, so it is not just about trees or particular trees. The question of how shrubs get planted will be really important. The devil will very much be in the detail of the regulations so that we do not have anything that incentivises the removal of existing biodiversity. That will be crucial. In that context, I will not press the amendment, but I will look with some interest at the regulations.

Fair play to the people of the Burren for keeping the native pine going. As a Clarewoman, I am very proud.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 13 has been ruled out of order as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.

Amendment No. 13 not moved.
Question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I wish the Minister well with the Bill. We spoke here at great length over quite a number of meetings with the Minister and two Ministers of State. As has been said, this is new territory for the Minister and for everyone in circumstances where we are closing down a business. There is no problem with that across the floor of the House, but there is a problem with the way people have been treated by the Department. There is a lot of mistrust, which was spelled out by various Senators on all sides. I hope that the assurances that were given to us by the Minister of State on the previous occasion and that the Minister will give to us again today that when it comes to compensation that the farmers and workers will be happy when it all comes to a conclusion.

The appointment of an assessor will be very important. Whoever the successful assessor will be, he or she should be acceptable to all sides. The farmers should have a say in who the assessor is and find the person acceptable. Previously, we saw in disputes with various Departments or local authorities that a former county manager or someone of that nature was appointed. In this case, I hope there will be some input from the farmers when the person is appointed as assessor. The person will be appointed by the Minister after a panel and interviews. This is a big blow to the farmers and to their workers. They are losing their livelihood and the farmers are losing very lucrative businesses that they have built up over many generations, as the Minister has outlined. We must be very fair to them and to the workers. The two week statutory redundancy is all that the farmers have to pay. The Department, through the assessor, must make sure that four, five or six weeks are paid to the workers and that the farmers are recompensed for handing over that or making sure that the workers get it.

There will also be problems with the disposal of asbestos. That must be taken into account. It seems the Grant Thornton report was not carried out on the ground at all but was done using Google, from what I am led to believe. That does not give a fair reflection of what happens under the roofs of buildings. It does not reflect what has been built and the amount of effort and cost that have gone into putting buildings in place. I hope the assessor will carry out a thorough investigation of the three farms. It is not a big ask to visit all three farms.

There was an issue about whether the compensation would be based on three years' income or five years' income, while the farmers were looking for ten years. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, said that three years is the norm but the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is going for five years. Why should it not be ten years? If a company takes over another company, the company being taken over will more than likely get a chance to build up and make itself profitable and to flush its sales or whatever else. In this case, those farmers had no opportunity to do that. Had they known this was coming down the tracks, they probably would have changed tack and may well have increased sales over the past five years, cut down on costs or made their farms more profitable. I ask that the assessor looks at the ten-year proposal from the farmers. I hope the Minister will look at all of those issues.

It is a sad day for the farmers and workers who are here. It is the end of the line for some of them. Some may never work again. It is a sad day for me, as a Member of the House, to say we are closing businesses. I have never before seen legislation that closes businesses pass through these Houses. We know the reason those businesses are being closed and there have been no objections from anybody in this House.

I wish the Minister well with the legislation. The appointment of the assessor will be important and I hope the Minister gives some say to the farmers on that appointment.

To follow correct procedures, I had thought the Senator was asking for the last Stage of the Bill. When is it proposed to take the next Stage of the Bill?

Senators will be able to speak after the Bill has passed.

We can speak now.

I spoke on the Fifth Stage.

Yes, but I must now put the question that the Bill do now pass.

No, we want to speak before that.

Senators can speak after the Bill has passed.

We will speak before that.

That is not the way it works. We can speak on the Fifth Stage.

That should be on the schedule the Acting Chairperson has in front of her.

The next Stage is to be taken now. The Fifth Stage proposes that the Bill do now pass because we have gone through all the amendments.

We are not going to speak after the Bill has passed. We are not going to speak twice.

That is what I have been instructed by the Seanad Office. I am just following procedure.

We can speak now. We have started doing so. A precedent has been set.

It was not a precedent. I spoke on the Fifth Stage. There are five Stages to every Bill and I spoke on the Fifth Stage.

May I speak on the Fifth Stage as well?

Is it agreed that the Bill do now pass?

On a point of order, we are speaking on-----

I am speaking on a point of order under the instruction of the Seanad.

I wish to outline the point of order. I am on my feet. We have not passed the Bill yet. We are speaking on Fifth Stage. A number of Members have indicated a wish to speak. We have plenty of time.

There is no question of Senators not being allowed to speak.

Will the Acting Chairperson facilitate contributions on this Stage?

I will allow Senators to speak on Fifth Stage. Is it okay if we keep contributions brief? Many people want to come in and we have an audience who are probably falling asleep. Let us keep contributions brief and we will get this wrapped up.

I will be brief because Senator Burke has said a lot of what I was going to say and there is no point in repetition. For the benefit of my colleague, I never read any statement I make in the House. It is a gripe I have. If a Member is reading a speech, who knows who wrote it? I try to keep on top of my brief, come into the House and speak. I will do that now.

I compliment the Minister on being in the House this evening. Since our respective appointments to our positions, this is the issue on which we have had most contact. I have had contact with the Minister and his officials. I feel for the people in the Gallery. I have tried to represent them in consultations with the Minister as best I could. The Minister has been a willing and able partner in those negotiations. I fully get what he has been saying. He cannot negotiate a compensation package on the floor of the Chamber. That will be done through the regulations. I, for one, have no reason to doubt the Minister's bona fides. He has shared the draft regulations. He will meet the farmers before the regulations are finalised. He has also given a verbal commitment to do something about the workers' compensation. I have no reason to doubt him. However, despite the fact that the legislation will have passed when we leave this evening, I will not be going away. I will still work for those farmers, workers and families to ensure the Minister delivers the best deal possible for them. I thank him again for his co-operation during every stage of this matter.

We are coming to an important part of the Bill. We have debated it for ten or 12 hours. It has been a significant debate. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine also went through the Bill. I am not going to rehash the arguments about just transition and how communities and families are going to be affected. This is a significant moment. We are closing an industry because of Government policy. That is a heavy burden on us all tonight.

We have spoken about compensation, whether the time concerned should be three, five or ten years, and where it will kick in. The Minister and his office have given significant commitments during the last eight or ten hours of this debate. The Minister is a man of his word and we will hold him to it. I have confidence the Minister will deliver for these people and communities. We in this Chamber are giving him exceptional powers on the back of the commitments he has given to us. I am very aware of that and will watch with interest and an open brief to make sure these families will be protected, going forward. Senator Burke was right when he said some of these people will never work again. It is an unusual day for this Chamber when we are casting the die on someone's working career. I am very much aware of that.

There are issues around compensation and just transition for the communities. The Minister has made good commitments in that regard and I look forward to seeing them being followed through upon. Society needs to be protected. While "big government" is a dangerous phrase, I am sure the Minister, having given his honourable word, will stand up for these farmers and ensure they get an honourable deal.

To be honest, I am concerned, as I made clear in my previous contributions. I am concerned specifically about the lack of guarantees around the workers' package. The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, made the point that this is not the place to negotiate the package. I get that and I was clear in that regard. I was, last week, seeking a negotiation of the principles that would underpin a package and I was disappointed that those principles were not accepted.

I agree entirely with Senator Burke when he said that we should be talking about compensation with regard to an enhanced redundancy package based on weeks per year of service. We need to be talking about a significantly enhanced package. I would suggest a minimum of six weeks' compensation per year of service.

A number of us, across parties, have become engaged with this process because we have heard at first hand the dramatic impact on the workers themselves. We received correspondence from the farmers this week telling us just how anxious and stressed the workers are.

To be frank with the Minister, they do not have confidence in the way he is doing this. If they had confidence, they would not have travelled from Kerry and various other parts of the country this evening. It was frustrating not to be able to discuss their concerns here at length this evening. The Minister has the scope to do more. The decisions ultimately come down to him, not his Department. He has power over the Department. I have no qualms about calling on him to ensure a full and generous package is given to these workers to enable them to move forward with their lives. It is shattering to see their livelihoods taken away, notwithstanding that all parties agree these farms have to close.

My last word is that in the event these people are not treated fairly and given a generous package, I assure the Minister I will bring the matter back into this Chamber. I am sure I will not be the only one. We will watch intently to see how the Minister keeps his word to these workers after their shabby treatment. He could have done more, met with them and given them reassurances at any point over the last months. He chose not to. I went out of my way to try to give a formula of words last week that would give some assurance about the principles involved and fairness. The Minister of State, acting on the Minister's behalf, chose not to. The Minister has much to live up to. He should not let these workers and their families down.

Senator Gavan addressed many of the issues about the workers that we spoke about with a unified voice in this House. We are all in favour of the ending of mink farming, but we are concerned about the workers and how they will be treated. As I have said repeatedly on all Stages of this Bill, there is a concern not just in the short term for the workers in mink farming who are directly affected, but also about the precedent it sets for workers with the just transition.

In the medium to long term, we will watch how the forestry provisions of this Bill are implemented. It goes back to the fact that there was no pre-legislative scrutiny and whether this legislation is coming from a good place, which I do not doubt. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is committed to environmental issues, forestry and native woodlands, but we have to future-proof legislation because there might be a different Minister in the future.

The concerns raised by the Irish Environmental Network are all legitimate. I hope they will not be realised and that we will not see woodlands being planted on peatland or on riparian habitats. We should not remove hunting grounds for birds of prey by planting all along motorways. We have heard repeatedly that the provisions are for small-scale planting. However, it could be 20 m wide and I have heard nothing to convince me that there will be no limit on the planting of native woodland under this exemption. I hope the concerns raised will be addressed in the regulations. We will be watching not just how the workers on mink farms are treated, but also to make sure that regulations for forestry address the legitimate concerns of the Irish Environmental Network.

I thank the Minister for his time today. It has been a difficult debate. A cohort of Senators from all sides of the House have followed this through on all Stages. I will put myself in a mink farmer's boots tonight. I think I would be disappointed and disheartened. They have come tonight from Donegal, the Minister's constituency, from Laois and from Kerry. They have businesses. The message that has to go out, loud and clear, is that all of these mink farmers are decent, upstanding people with the utmost integrity, who have operated legitimate businesses within the law, complied with tax and regulations, and have had previous engagement with the Department. They are not an underhand operation. There is no illegal activity in this operation in the State. In my mind, they are entrepreneurs, farmers, businesspeople, and respectful people who have put their money on the table, toiled hard and reaped some rewards. Suddenly, as a result of a decree by the Government, through legislation, it has been decided to wind the farmers' legitimate businesses down. Next week, it could be someone involved in turkey production or something else.

We heard much talk about sustainable farming, rural development and commitments to rural communities. We have continuously heard that. The Government prides itself on supporting town and village centres and rural people, communities and enterprise. What message does this send to these people who wanted to continue their business?

I have always opposed mink farming. I do not think it is right. It has passed. It was supported and encouraged, as the Minister acknowledged, by his Department. I take some comfort in his words. He said he wants to be fair and equitable, and that he does not want to have a deal on the floor of the House, which I can understand. This is not the place to be dealing. We were left with no option, because these farmers had little or no leverage. The only leverage they had is on us as elected politicians in this House. We have the power and capacity, if we have the support, which I accept and respect, to change the legislation. No amendment was accepted. This is par for the course with all sorts of legislation under this coalition Government. There will be a time, in a few years, when the parties will have to split up and go their own ways. They will share the frustration that some of us in the Opposition have every day with all legislation. It is clearly a numbers game.

I do not doubt the Minister's commitment to rural communities or to the people of Donegal, including the mink farmers who reside and operate in his constituency. In principle, there are many good aspects to this Bill. It is the nature of politics that one comes in here to tease out issues and to make amendments. That is the reality of politics, which I respect at all times. I have hope from what the Minister said. He recognised that farms are legal and compliant, and that the farmers are decent people. He recognised that their livelihoods will suffer. They will drive away to the north west or wherever else, dejected in some ways, as I would be.

I am trying to get myself into the shoes of others. At the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I, more than anyone, was rigorous and robust in my questioning of these farmers. I think they will admit that themselves. When I teased it out more, the concern was not animal welfare, because I am clear where I stand on that, but the livelihoods and businesses of compliant entrepreneurs. I hope the Minister will keep in touch with us and them. I hope he will set out to seek to support them and be conscious that, whatever deal we do with these farmers and their families, there will be impacts for them personally, their businesses, employees and communities. I say to the people of Laois, Donegal and Kerry that we have done our best within the confines of the political system. That is all we can do. They will have their moment and opportunity to voice their concern and make their judgments about this legislation. We have done our best within the parameters of the system. It now rests with the Minister. I am more than confident that he will be decent and fair, and that he will deliver for these people. Hopefully he will keep Senators in the loop.

The two main things that this Bill addresses are animal welfare and nature, through the planting of woodland. It is a positive Bill and a positive story. We have known for a long time that mink farming had to end, as it has in other countries. I would say it is a cruel practice, which is now recognised. Only by ending it do we enable businesses to be compensated.

We must pass the legislation in order for that part to happen.

In answer to issues around the ending of mink farming and small-scale farming, regulations are put in place. That is the way legislation works. The Minister has been consistent, as have all the Ministers, in that they truly care about the people behind this and getting it right for them. It is difficult when people cannot see the regulations in front of them. I appreciate that but each farm will have to be assessed individually. That is just the reality of it. I will return to the point that the Minister has consistently said he will be fair. We have also consistently said that we want a small-scale planting scheme that increases our native woodland. That is where we are trying to get to with this. Our hearts are in the right place. People being able to involve themselves in the consultation, as they can under an SEA and appropriate assessment, is the correct approach.

I understand the points that have been raised around people not knowing what the make-up of future governments will be but, let us be honest about it, primary legislation can be changed too. We have to have some level of trust in the Ministers who are in place at the time to get the regulations right. The best way to do that is to have appropriate assessments, which we do not have in legislation. That can only be done when it is time to put the scheme in place.

I believe this is the correct approach. I look forward to the consultation. As I said, many of the issues raised were very valid.

I am under a little time pressure because I have to be in the Dáil. I thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly for being brief in her final comments. I thank the Senators for their contributions throughout the various Stages of the Bill. There are a lot of good things in it. It is very positive to see the 1 ha initiative. I commend the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on her role in that. It will also make a real difference to how we can promote forestry nationally.

There is no doubt that it is a very sombre day for the farmers here. It is highly significant. It is not something the State does lightly and not something it likes to do. These farmers and their families have a long history and tradition in this profession. As Minister, I understand that is significant, as we all do. In bringing this to a conclusion, I will meet promptly with the farmers to finalise the regulations.

I recognise the role my staff has played in this. I know there is not agreement at this point, but people are coming to it with the right motives. It is very important we reach a fair outcome that recognises what this means for farmers and their employees. I am glad the legislation has now passed and we have concluded this so I can take that forward and finalise that stage. I thank the Senators and the Acting Chairperson for their co-operation throughout the passage of this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

I thank the Minister for his time. When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 8.44 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 30 Márta 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.44 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 March 2022.
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