As the Deputy is aware, section 7(1) of the Heritage Act 2018 provides that I, as Minister, make regulations to allow the burning of vegetation during such periods as the month of March in such parts of the country as specified in the regulations. For me to be in a position to make a decision on whether to allow burning in certain areas this March, my Department initiated a public consultation process on the draft regulations and guidelines on 21 December last. Two documents were published. These included draft regulations to permit controlled burning only in March, only in certain parts of the country and only due to adverse weather conditions such as when winter rainfall is higher than average. The second document sets out draft best practice guidelines for burning management. It covers issues such as the requirement for consent on any Natura sites, advice on rotational burning, the prohibition of burning on blanket bog habitat and guidance on how to carry out controlled burning to benefit certain ground-nesting birds, including the hen harrier, red grouse, curlew and golden plover.
While I take the view that publishing these documents over the holiday period gave people the time and space to reflect on the proposals, I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed by several organisations and individuals on the closing date for the receipt of submissions being 16 January. In making the decision on the standard 28-day consultation period, my Department had allowed the latitude to automatically extend that period if stakeholder interests so demanded. My Department decided to exercise that automatic extension on Monday, 7 January last. Therefore, the consultation period referred to by the Deputy for this process is now open up to 31 January. The Deputy may not have been aware of this prior to tabling the question. I believe this deadline will allow all interested parties to be in a position to consider the documents and make submission if they so wish.