Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Heritage Bill 2016: Discussion (Resumed)

11:00 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The witnesses from the ICSFA, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and BirdWatch Ireland are all very welcome. As a Deputy, I represent a rural constituency in south-west Cork. A witness from the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland said that it cares passionately about the wildlife. I am a farmer and I also care passionately about the wildlife. I grew up on a family farm. I worked with my aunt on a daily basis and she used to leave the doors and the windows open so that the birds could come in and feed. We should remember that the hills were still being burned at that time and the birds used to come in. They were alive and able to come in. I am engaged in organic farming, therefore, I am coming at this issue from an environmental perspective. There are two words missing from all the discussion that has taken place last week and this week. They are the words "common sense", which are two very important words.

The average income for ordinary farmers has dropped and they find it very difficult to manage. Of all the organisations represented here, I must pay tribute to the ICSFA. Everybody will say I am doing that because I am a farmer but that is not the reason and I have proof of that. The small farmers in particular in west Cork, Kerry and parts of the west were severely fined for having gorse on their land. Some farmers are facing fines of anything from €5,000 up to €25,000. We got some help from the IFA and ICSFA stood strong behind us. I mean no disrespect to any of the other witnesses present but none of their organisations ever stood behind us and that was the time to stand behind us. We had public meetings throughout the west. I attended them on different nights. We are bringing a case against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to put the matter straight and to protect farmers and the wildlife. There is nothing nicer than having some gorse on one's land, but the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has fined farmers for having it on their land and has put the gun to their heads. I was at those meetings most nights and Mr. Seamus Sherlock, seated behind Mr. Eddie Punch, can prove that. Whether it was in Mayo, Kerry, or west Cork, we had to raise money to take a case to protect the environment. I never saw any of the other representatives here at a public meeting shouting or roaring or giving us some support.

It would have been great at the time to have received some support. There is no point in shouting now because the damage is done.