Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Ceisteanna - Questions

National Risk Assessment

4:25 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I may have to disappoint the Deputies a little. The latest weather forecast indicates that it is going to rain on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. It may well be the case that the anticipated drought and dry weather-related fodder crisis may not materialise on this occasion.

Damage to biodiversity is not a stand-alone strategic risk in its own right in the current draft. It is covered under the issue of climate change. I am certainly open to including it but a line has to be drawn somewhere. What I will have to do is examine the submissions with my officials . I suspect that when we examine them, we will see 20, 30, 40 or 50 other risks that people think should be included. One does need to draw the line somewhere. However, I am certainly not hostile to including additional risks if the submissions indicate that there is a consensus in favour of adding additional risks, like the risk to biodiversity. I will take account of what was said here today and consider it for the final iteration before it goes to Cabinet.

Regarding biodiversity more generally, the action plan recognises that there is an increased need for funding. That was set out at the launch of the national development plan by the Ministers for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Finance, Deputies Madigan and Donohoe, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy McHugh, as well as the State agencies which have been asked to contribute to the drafting of the plan. The plan's main aims are built around the need for all sectors of society to participate if we as a society are to conserve nature. The aims are: to mainstream biodiversity across decision-making in the State; strengthen the knowledge base underpinning work on biodiversity issues; increase public awareness and participation; ensure conservation of biodiversity in the wider countryside; ensure conservation in the marine environment; and expand and improve on the management of protected areas such as national parks, special areas of conservation, SACs, and protected species.

The actions that the Government is taking include: legislation, for example, a Bill on national parks and the introduction of requirements that public bodies consider biodiversity policy in decision-making; actions involving forestry and agriculture, which account for 70% of total land use in the State; measures to reduce the impact of invasive alien species; and commitment to integrating biodiversity in our overseas aid programme.

We recognise that biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a role to play in underpinning many of the sustainable development goals and stronger partnerships are required in the area of sustainable development and climate finance to ensure that we protect our biodiversity. We are also investing in farmer-led, results-based payment schemes in the Burren, which have been a huge success over many years, and new schemes to protect the endangered hen harrier and the freshwater pearl mussel. Farmers are also paid both for work undertaken and for the delivery of defined environmental objectives, including sustainable management and restoration of high-nature farmland and improvements in water quality and water use efficiency.

4 o’clock

Continued investment in farmer-led results-based payment schemes will certainly benefit biodiversity and provide an excellent model for future agri-environmental supports in Ireland and in other countries. We are also investing in research into natural capital accounting and biodiversity financing to inform policy on the management and restoration of our natural capital stocks in Ireland and options for mobilisation of funding to address key biodiversity concerns.

With regard to Bantry, which was raised earlier today, I am told it is a misconception that the licensee would be harvesting vast quantities of kelp from within the bay. Not all of the seaweed in the bay will be harvested. In fact, the total area licensed is 750 ha. This accounts for 0.7% of the bay and is split into five distinct zones. The licence provides for a four-year rotation of the zones with a stand-by zone only to be harvested if the weather is adverse. On average, 175 ha will be subject to harvest annually. The rotation will ensure that only a portion of the bay is harvested each year to strengthen the sustainability of the harvesting plan for the licensed areas in the bay. The harvesting is also subject to strict monitoring, which is required by the approval baseline study. The monitoring programme includes comparisons between harvested and non-harvested areas in each zone for density and height of kelp, together with a quantitative measure of flora and fauna.

It has been suggested there has not been a public consultation on this issue. This is incorrect. The licence originally applied for back in 2009 was processed in the same way as other foreshore lease and licence applications and the normal public consultation procedures were followed but there were no submissions from the public. The public notice was published in the Southern Starand the application documents were on display in Bantry Garda station in December 2009 and January 2010.

It has also been suggested that kelp will not grow back. There are, in fact, 21 peer-reviewed papers on kelp harvesting. They all prove that kelp grows back after harvesting. No paper shows that kelp does not grow back. Indeed, as kelp generates three to six years after harvesting, suggesting, for example, that it is akin to cutting down ancient woodland is not correct. Kelp maturity is reached after six years and on average kelp lives for eight years. There is no root system and it is easily lifted from the sea floor during storms. This is evidenced by the fact that 20% of Ireland's kelp is washed up on our beaches every year.

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