Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements


8:45 pm

Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)

Kind of, yes. I am certainly a nature lover. I am a committed angler and like other Deputies and many people throughout the country I have seen a silver lining in this pandemic by enjoying nature and in being allowed to enjoy nature more than we usually are.

I shall front load my contribution with some questions and I would appreciate a written response from the Minister to anything she does not get to reply to here.

The all-Ireland pollinator plan is reaching the end of its natural life. It is a five-year plan from 2015 to 2020. My assessment is, as Deputy Noonan has also said, that it has been a successful plan. I believe it has been successful because it won the hearts and minds of people around pollinators and raising awareness. Eight or nine years ago our local authority introduced a wildflower meadow policy. It was deeply unpopular. People living in housing estates felt it was just an excuse by the local authority not to cut the grass. The hearts and minds had not been won. When we go canvassing now and meet people we see grass verges that have been appropriated for wildflower meadows or little wildflower stretches. It is a wonderful success. Is the Minister or her Department planning specific measures to improve the next five year all-Ireland pollinator plan 2021-2025?

I shall now turn to the destruction of hedgerows. It is happening up and down the country in almost every county. It can happen on a relatively large scale or on a smaller scale. Each occurrence of it, be it inside or outside nesting season, is a disaster for biodiversity and nature. Is the Minister satisfied with the detection rates for hedgerow destruction and with the prosecution rates against these crimes? I am aware the National Parks and Wildlife Service works very hard to combat this and I commend the service on this element of its work, which is a difficult job. I would appreciate the Minister's comments on this.

I wish to raise again a matter that was raised last week which is the raptor buzzard deaths at Timoleague. The deaths occurred in December but we were only made aware of them recently. This is only the latest incident. It happens in Wicklow, but is also happening up and down the west coast from Donegal down to Cork in particular. Our birds of prey and our raptors are being targeted. The majesty of these birds and what they bring to tourism and to the variety of our nature offering cannot be quantified. It almost hurts more when one sees this happening. It is an awful crime against nature. Does the Minister support conservationists' calls for setting up a wildlife crimes unit? If not, does the Minister have a better idea for how to tackle these crimes? There are very few crimes against nature more wounding than seeing the deliberate poisoning of our birds of prey and our raptors.

My final question relates to the EU biodiversity strategy that was published yesterday. As it was made public only yesterday, the Minister has probably not had a chance to digest it, but there are some interesting elements in it. A proposal in the strategy calls for one third of nature protection sites to be strictly protected. We interpret that as meaning that they should have no human activity. Particularly in the case of beaches or elements of bogland that are open to the public and that the public respect and use appropriately, would it preclude people from using parts of our beaches and that kind of land if the strategy were implemented in the way we have interpreted it? I am interested in the Minister's thoughts on that.

I will conclude with a comment. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, does a very good job - a very tough job - of protecting wildlife and biodiversity. It is a battle it fights against local, national and global environmental trends. Nevertheless, it is not always right and it does not always make the correct decisions. In the context of coastal erosion at the Burrow in Portrane, the NPWS would not listen to local people, local public representatives or independent experts when we all said we needed coastal protection measures to protect the dunes and the very habitat the NPWS wanted to preserve. We lost many years in our fight against coastal protection at the Burrow in Portrane because of the NPWS's intransigence, rigidity and inability to communicate effectively, not only with public representatives and local people but also with the local authority.

Those dunes are now gone. Property has fallen into the sea, homes continue to be threatened and local businesses are on the verge of also falling into the sea. Important local amenities such as public toilets are only centimetres away from being destroyed. Measures are being put in place but those lost years will never be got back. Thanks to the proactive nature of the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, who visited the site a couple of years ago, he managed to get the various stakeholders on board, including the NPWS, but it was too slow. It continues to be too slow and those years are gone.

I hope the Minister hears this message clearly and the intent with which it is given. While I acknowledge, as I have done previously, the great job the NPWS does in respect of hedgerow destruction, in its job of protecting wildlife, habitats and, ultimately, the community in Portrane it failed utterly. That habitat and the terns that were nesting there, for which they were protected, are now gone because they have nowhere left to nest. The community is vulnerable and more properties will go. It is important the Minister is cognisant of that and that a clear message goes to the NPWS that sometimes it is important to listen to the community, representatives and independent experts.


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