Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Sorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
I am conscious that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and I have never spoken in this Chamber or outside of it. A great deal of concern has been expressed to me in regard to the derogation which classifies the wood pigeon as a pest. Will the Minister give clear and concise clarification as to whether she intends to sign this derogation?
This species causes enormous destruction to standing crops, putting unnecessary pressure on the tillage farmers who have, for decades, depended on the game and conservation organisations for crop protection. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has stated that this decision was based on scientific advice but it has yet to publish that advice even after the National Association of Regional Game Councils, NARGC, called on it to do so. Without that advice being published, the only easily available evidence to give credence to not signing the derogation is from the UK. However, after a similar ban was enforced in that country, farmers reported yield reductions from 10 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes per hectare, resulting in enormous financial losses. I am firmly of the opinion that this will be replicated here if the derogation is not signed.
The current procedures to protect crops have been in place for decades. Without any consultation with the stakeholders involved, the Minister appears to have removed from tillage farmers their most effective form of crop protection and then created even more uncertainty by failing to make a clear statement with regard to a possible deferral. The conservation status of the wood pigeon is not threatened. The September 2018 final report on the review of the derogation process put its population at an estimated 2.8 million and classified it as secure. With more than 300,000 ha of land being used by tillage farmers, the majority of it for cereal crops, these farms produced 1.8 million tonnes in 2018, which was actually down on the previous year, according to the Central Statistics Office.
The Minister will come back and tell me that a farmer can apply for a section 42 licence, but the reality is that this is counterproductive for tillage farming and crop protection. The farmer may apply to take appropriate steps but that application is subject to an assessment being carried out first by National Parks and Wildlife Service staff. Only then will a permit be granted, after the damage is done to the crops. I urge the Minister, on behalf of the tillage farmers of this State and the thousands of responsible game and conservation club members, to give clarification on this matter and ensure that any further decisions by her Department in this regard are taken in consultation with the stakeholders involved.
Second, will the Minister provide a detailed breakdown of staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service on a county-by-county basis? Rural Ireland needs to be confident that staff levels are sufficient but, right now, that confidence is simply not there.
Finally, of the approximately €14 million in licence fees that is taken in every three years from legally held firearms in this State, not including the tax receipts from secondary retail component sales or repairs, not a red cent is put back into the clubs that provide a vital service in relation to conservation and preservation. The perception is that everything these organisations contribute to rural Ireland is entirely forgotten. In the 1990s, the native grey partridge, one of only two native game bird species in Ireland, was on the brink of extinction, with only 20 birds nationwide. The national grey partridge conservation project, carried out in conjunction with the NARGC, was launched in 2006. Today, that bird's population is more than 900. How is this money being spent and why is it not contributing back into the local organisations that have provided services to this State, essentially free of charge, in terms of conservation and preservation?