Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Heritage Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage


8:30 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

A lot of politicians are all talk about the protection of the environment when in fact they collude in its destruction. We only have to look at the situation in Bantry Bay where the Government and previous Governments granted a mechanical harvesting licence against the people's wishes. The licence will cause havoc to the sea waters of Bantry Bay and will have a huge effect on the livelihoods of fishermen. Not alone this Government but previous Governments going back many years played a part in that.

Tonight we are debating whether the burning of our uplands in March and the cutting of our roadside hedgerows in August should be allowed. I am a farmer and like all farmers I have full respect for all living creatures, from livestock to birds to bees. I do not have a wish to create any harm to any living creature but I have to be realistic. A bit of common sense has to apply about the livelihoods of people who are dependent on the land. It is becoming massively difficult for farmers. I see this in my own constituency in areas of west Cork, farmers on the Mizen Head, Bantry, Skibbereen, Ballyroe, Timoleague, Ballinascarthy, Sheep's Head, Beara and Dunmanway. The list goes on. They are all finding it difficult to make a living and they are pushed to the pin of their collar.

I have pleaded with the Minister not to punish farmers whose land has been burned through no fault of their own. In the current heatwave the risk of farmland getting accidentally burned is extremely high. I have seen farmers being accused of burning their own lands in the prohibited period, but in all honesty no farmer in his right mind would do this and suffer the severe penalties afterwards.

I heard one Deputy saying that farmers should get paid for the protection of nature on their lands. They do not realise many of these farmers got fined tens of thousands of euro four or five years ago for having gorse on their land. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued them with massive fines. I know there is a legal case pending in that regard but it has been ongoing for quite some time. There is no help here. There is no funding available for farmers to protect their lands because every time they do so, there is a massive fine applied to them. A lot of farmers' land was burned through no fault of their own out of season last year and a lot of them have not received payments. If a fire was started on the roadside by somebody passing, that farmer and many of his neighbours ended up being refused payments on the basis that their lands were burned through no fault of their own. The Department has to have more understanding of this issue. If it cannot legally prove who burned the lands, it should step back and make the payments.

People are talking about our hedgerows and I ask them to look again and take note of the continued problem of litter being dumped into them. We are all here tonight talking about this Bill and what is the best for nature. We need to accept that billions of tonnes of plastic in landfill or in the sea are destroying our natural habitats. We need to address this urgently.

Someone who is in the countryside at the moment need only look over the hedgerows to see the sad sight of cattle standing in dry, dusty pastures with severe water shortages. These cattle are being fed from the first cut silage and next winter's fodder without any sign of growth. Farmers have suffered greatly in the last year with the fodder crisis and now the shortage of water. This affects them into next year, not just now. I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to put provisions in place. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the fodder crisis we had earlier this year by reacting when it is too late. We need action now.

One Deputy mentioned road deaths. We have had a lot of discussion about that issue in the last number of months. It has led to at least some understanding of rural Ireland and is some start in the right direction but it has taken us quite a long time to get the Minister to make moves. People make a lot of assumptions. During Storm Ophelia, roadside trees were the cause of three deaths in one day alone. People make assumptions if somebody dies or if somebody leaves a scene that the person was drinking. That is a crazy assumption and until they have proof people should not be making such assumptions and they should not be voting on a certain issue until they understand what is going on.

Verge cutting in August is a mistake - it should be all the year around - but it is a move in the right direction. When I was a child, Cork County Council workers used to be out every day during the summer. They did a fabulous job keeping the roadside lovely and clean and kept the people safe and sound in their community. Now when they are driving into a crossroads, people are pushing half the car out across the main road to make sure the road is clear to pass on the left and right and they are getting blown off the road. It is an absolute terror. I commend the thousands of people who are out with their strimmers every night cutting back the roadsides along their roads because of the dangers. It is obvious that a lot of city Deputies do not understand. It is beautiful weather and I invite everyone from the urban side of politics to book a holiday in rural Ireland and get to see the real facts of what is happening there, how people are trying to get about their daily business. They could do it in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and by God all those birds and bees were well protected by them but they cannot do it at all now. We cannot cut a verge.

I commend Cork County Council for making a fund available when the season is open. In my own community in Goleen every verge was cut in October or November last year by way of a grant that was applied for. It cost maybe €10,000 but it was well used and greatly appreciated by everybody. I heard nobody objecting to it. I have people coming into my constituency office pleading with me to get the verges cut and saying their road is in an appalling state. We are not talking about inside a ditch at all. I am in organic farming myself so I really have a fairly good understanding of nature. We are talking about roadside verges that have to be maintained. People are going back to the car rental companies and they are not getting their deposits back. It is shocking bad for tourism. Their cars are being damaged and torn asunder with briars. I will support the Bill as best I can.


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