Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Josepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
I will try to cover all the Deputy's questions. The coastal protection measures in Portrane have been enabled by the National Parks and Wildlife Service so, with respect, the Deputy is not correct in that regard. The agency with primary responsibility is Fingal County Council, as he may be aware. The National Parks and Wildlife Service responded within weeks to the temporary sea protections being put in. From a special areas of conservation perspective, natural erosion takes place and it would not be appropriate to put protective structures in place for them, although that is perhaps slightly different.
On the EU biodiversity strategy, the Deputy is correct that it was released only yesterday. It is to be very much welcomed. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and I will have a meeting next week with the parliamentary state secretary to the German federal minister, Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, specifically relating to the contents of the strategy, in advance of the German Presidency of the European Council. It will be a good opportunity to discuss the strategy in more detail.
The Deputy raised the issue of the national pollinator plan. That does not just relate to my Department but is a cross-agency initiative, as the Deputy is probably aware. I take on board some of the points he made. Animal pollination plays a vital role in regulating ecosystems, but we can always look at enhancing and improving plans that are already in existence.
The Deputy mentioned buzzards. The incident that happened with them in Cork was shocking. I know we are speaking about buzzards in general terms but I did an interview on "Morning Ireland" on RTÉ Radio One specifically on that incident and also answering the question whether we need a wildlife crime unit. We have such a unit in the Department, which is headed up by principal officer John Fitzgerald. There is strong legislation on wildlife. In section 74 of the Wildlife Act 1976, one of the penalties on summary conviction is a six months' imprisonment. There is also a fine not exceeding €100,000 on indictment or two years' imprisonment or both. I am not sure if we can go any further than that. We have had a number of different prosecutions in recent years for poisoning. The grey heron in County Louth was the last one in 2016 but there was also a case in 2014 where two defendants were poisoning birds in quarries in Waterford and they were fined €8,000. In fairness to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it does a huge amount of work with An Garda Síochána. We have a memorandum of understanding there as well. The raptor, our bird of prey, is one of the success stories we have in Ireland.
The Deputy mentioned the cutting of hedges. The Wildlife Acts dictate when hedge cutting can take place, namely from September to February, and the Minister does not have any discretion in that. Roadside hedge cutting will always be allowed for safety purposes. Other hedge cutting is allowed for agricultural and forestry purposes.