Special Protection Areas Designation

Ceisteanna (424)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

424. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the carbon sequestration potential of designated land, including hen harrier designated land, has been examined with respect to permitting some planting on such land. [50706/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

The conservation of habitats and species, through the designation of conservation areas, is required under Irish and European law. Natural and semi-natural habitats, such as those found in designated sites are natural carbon sinks, particularly peatlands. By protecting and restoring these habitats, their carbon sequestration potential is maintained and improved.

My Department is responsible for implementing the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018, which underpins the protection of biodiversity and nature in Ireland. The legislative framework in place to protect our natural heritage is further strengthened by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 SI No 477/2011, which also falls under the remit of my Department. These Regulations transpose the EU Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive into national law, and provide for protection of certain habitats and species across the European Union, giving a framework for specific measures to be taken to target areas of concern in each Member State. The main instruments provided for are the designation of those species listed on Annex 1 to the Directive as well as regulatory occurring migratory birds, and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), aimed at protecting other animal species and habitats. Under Article 4 of the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/ 147/EC), six Special Protection Areas (SPAs), covering a total land area of c.1,671km², have been classified for the conservation of breeding Hen Harrier populations in Ireland.

When considering a site for designation, proposed sites are evaluated by scientists within my Department under a variety of selection criteria. These criteria include the contribution to the conservation of one or more species which are considered vulnerable, rare or endangered in Ireland, the importance within Ireland of the site for its habitats or species and the significance of the contribution to the conservation of one or more species which are protected in Ireland under national or international law that the designation of such land will make.

 Any afforestation proposals in Special Protection Areas designated under the EU Birds Directive require the completion of an Appropriate Assessment by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in accordance with Article 6.3 of the EU Habitats Directive. The primary test in such an assessment is the potential for the planting of the SPA land to have a significant adverse effect on the conservation interest of the species and site in question. As per European Union Guidelines for State aid, any afforestation within the SPAs must be agreed in advance by the Competent Authority responsible for designating Natura sites, that is to say my Department.

National Raised Bog Management Plan

Ceisteanna (425)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

425. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to compensate farmers with land that has been affected by the reflooding of a bog; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50782/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

A key element of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, approved by the Government and published by my Department in December 2017, is to maintain active raised bog habitat and restore degraded raised bog habitat to active raised bog habitat.

The national restoration programme for Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas is contained within this Plan. It was intended to restore all designated raised bogs within 3 cycles, with the first cycle operating for the duration of the Management Plan.

The raised bog designated sites restoration programme can now be accelerated due to the announcement in Budget 2020 of €5 million for peatlands restoration.

Restoration plans for each of the 53 raised bog special areas of conservation have been drafted, to be developed further in partnership with stakeholders including landowners and local communities. Site specific restorations plans for the raised bog natural heritage areas are currently being developed by the Department using the most up-to-date scientific methodologies available and best practice models gained from other restoration projects.

Restoration plans have been designed to ensure that the impact of the restoration works to surrounding agricultural lands is kept to a minimum. By raising the water table it is not intended to flood the land but, rather, to ensure that it remains wet enough to encourage the growth of sphagnum moss, which assists in the formation of peat within a protected site.

In order to help allay concerns in relation to the potential impacts of restoration on areas of land adjacent to the designated bogs, the Department is in the process of developing drainage management plans for the majority of the raised bog special area of conservation sites as part of the restoration programme. Landowners and other stakeholders are being consulted as part of this process on a site by site basis.

Work on the raised bog designated sites restoration programme has already begun with a €5.4m project ‘The Living Bog’ which is funded under the EU LIFE 2014-2020 programme. The Department is managing this project and is contributing €1.352m, as well as ecological expertise, with the European Commission providing €4.056m. 

The Protected Raised Bog Restoration Incentive Scheme is operating on a pilot basis on the 12 ‘Living Bog’ special area of conservation project sites. The scheme is available to eligible landowners and turbary right holders whose lands are within these special areas of conservation or on the fringes of the special areas of conservation but linked hydrologically or ecologically and where it is considered that compensation should be made available to gain access to lands for the restoration works and/or for any loss arising from the impact of these works.

The scheme provides for the payment of once off amounts to eligible landowners and turbary right holders, the voluntary purchase of lands or the entering into a management agreement with the landowner.

Applications to the scheme are being considered on a site-by-site basis. Applicants are required to complete an application form and provide proof of title to the land or turbary right.

To date, under the pilot scheme, there are 36 applicants with payments processed to the value of €303,168, with payment offers made to a further 28 individuals.

If the pilot is considered successful, on review, it is intended that it will be rolled out to the remaining 41 raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas, in due course, as the national restoration programme is advanced.

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (426)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

426. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of persons employed on an agency basis in her Department and in each agency under her aegis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50800/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

I am advised that there are currently no persons employed on an agency basis in my Department.

I have also been advised that the total number of persons employed on an agency basis in the State Agencies under this Department's aegis is 24. A more detailed break down is included in the following table:

Agency

No. of Agency Staff Engaged

Arts Council

Nil

Chester Beatty Library

Nil

Crawford Art Gallery

Nil

Foras na Gaeilge

Nil

Heritage Council

Nil

Irish Museum of Modern Art

6

National Concert Hall

1

National Gallery of Ireland

5

National Library of Ireland

1

National Museum of Ireland

3

Screen Ireland

5

Údarás na Gaeltachta

Nil

Ulster Scots Agency

1

Waterways Ireland

2

Total

24

Heritage Sites

Ceisteanna (427)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

427. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans for the Grand Canal basin graving docks; and if she supports the preservation and restoration of this important historical site. [50815/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

There are three Graving Docks in the Grand Canal Basin, one of which is infilled with the other two having being opened up in 2002 by Waterways Ireland, who are freehold owners of the site.  The Graving Docks are an important part of the heritage and culture of the Grand Canal and the history of Dublin. 

The three graving docks at Ringsend have statutory protection as a Conservation Area in the Dublin City Council Development Plan 2016-2022.  As such, in order to obtain planning approval, any new developments which may impact on the graving docks will need to rigorously comply with objectives laid out in the Plan.

The continued preservation of the graving docks is afforded further protection within the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) Masterplan. 

The SDZ was adopted in 2014 with the graving dock site identified as City Block 19 in the planning scheme.  The scheme sets out a vision for the area under a number of themes, including that of built heritage with protection provided by requiring a feasibility be undertaken of re-opening one of the infilled graving docks in any development proposals. Waterways Ireland have already re-opened two of the infilled graving docks and have provided assurance that these will remain open as part of any future development proposals.

Waterways Ireland undertook a conservation assessment of the docks in 2018, which included a test trenching exercise under licence from the National Monuments Service, supervised by an Industrial Archaeologist.  The exercise confirmed that all three of the original docks have survived, with the possibility of the two open docks being restored, thereby enhancing the cultural significance of the site into the future. The conservation assessment concluded that the third, infilled dock should retain its historical significance under the hardstanding as archaeological heritage.

Waterways Ireland is currently considering options for taking forward the development of the City Block 19 site which includes the three graving docks.  Conditions of any proposed development will require adherence to the terms of the SDZ in relation to use mix of 40% Residential, 30% Commercial and 30% community and recreational or cultural.  It is the view of Waterways Ireland that such a development, under the terms of the SDZ, can be achieved whilst retaining the three docks in situ, using imaginative design and careful site methodologies.