Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015

10:40 am

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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11. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her response to the proposed deer cull in Killarney National Park in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39503/15]

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I was worried for a moment that we would not have time to talk about Bambi. To be serious, however, this is an important question because a number of serious traffic accidents involving deer have occurred in the Killarney area. The response of the Department has been to authorise the National Parks and Wildlife Service to undertake a cull of red deer in Killarney National Park. This is an issue of concern to many people.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for raising this matter. With regard to Killarney National Park, every year, as part of the ongoing management of deer populations within the park, deer numbers need to be reduced. It is intended to commence culling later this month once the rut has finished. This work will be undertaken by qualified and competent National Parks and Wildlife Service personnel of my Department. The proposed cull is no different from what has happened in previous years.

I recognise that the red deer of Killarney National Park and the surrounding area are of national conservation significance and that the subject of culling is emotive. There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels and in a responsible and ethical manner. My Department routinely carries out localised deer counts on State lands such as in Wicklow and Killarney national parks. I am aware that deer species are increasing in range and numbers. Where appropriate and depending on the count and instances of damage caused by deer to habitats, especially woodland, culls need to be carried out to ensure deer populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences.

Park rangers, during their normal daily duties, often take spot counts of deer on the lowlands. Sika deer numbers are not out of control in Killarney National Park and are at much lower densities than can be found in Wicklow National Park. However, the National Parks and Wildlife Service would like to further reduce the numbers of this non-native species. While red deer numbers have not significantly increased in the uplands of the park, lowland numbers have increased and these deer are highly visible. Unfortunately, given that deer cannot be herded like domestic animals, it is not possible to relocate them from the lowlands to the uplands.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am a little confused by the Minister's reference to a count as I understood the Department had indicated that it did not have sufficient resources to conduct a count. If that is the case, it would bother me as the number of red deer in Killarney National Park is not especially significant. It probably stands at between 500 and 700 and, as such, one would expect the Department to have sufficient resources to count them.

The Minister's party colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, has expressed concern about the culling of red deer, while others have argued that any such cull would be blind if the National Parks and Wildlife Service was not aware of the numbers involved. We need to consider the history of the red deer, which stretches back nearly 10,000 years before Christ to the Ice Age. As the only native and indigenous deer, there is an understandable public reaction to the possibility of some red deer being culled. Will the Minister explain the position regarding the count and respond to Senator Paul Coghlan's comment that the cull should target the non-indigneous sika deer rather than the native Irish red deer?

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The cull is part of the ongoing management of deer populations in Killarney National Park and deer numbers may need to be reduced every year. The proposed cull is no different from what has taken place in previous years. Sika deer numbers in the park are not out of control and are at much lower densities than can be found Wicklow National Park. As I stated, the National Parks and Wildlife Service would like to further reduce deer numbers because lowland numbers have increased and the deer have become highly visible.

On the ongoing management of the deer population, the intention of any cull would be to focus on the red deer populations in Muckross and Knockreer in the first instance. I will clarify the details of the spot counts carried out by park rangers for the Deputy at a later stage if he does not mind.

A number of experts have concluded that a cull is required. Research completed and published in 2012 by Dr. Ruth Carden, an associate of the National Museum of Ireland and the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, highlighted that the native County Kerry red deer herd suffered from low genetic diversity. Dr. Carden outlined in the findings of a four-year research programme by scientists that the herd at Killarney National Park needed to number between 600 and 1,000 animals to be sustainable; otherwise, its health would be at risk from disease and weakening associated with in-breeding. According to a recent statement from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the service estimates the number of red deer in Killarney National Park to be approximately 500. Culls of older red deer are carried out to improve the herd. That is the current position.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is a good thing that those types of culls are not carried out in politics. One wonders why it is not possible to relocate some of the red deer in Killarney National Park to other State lands. The Minister and I both come from an agricultural background and appreciate the importance of proper husbandry and management of stock. It has always struck me as particularly sad when visiting the Phoenix Park, for example, that the deer one sees in the park are not indigenous red deer. What would prevent the Department from relocating red deer from Killarney and, in so doing, hopefully improve the health status of the deer?

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I will raise the Deputy's proposal with my officials. I do not know if relocation is possible and if or how red deer would integrate with the herd in another location. I will consider the issue, however.

As the Deputy noted, Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of deer causing traffic accidents on roads in Killarney. I will raise these issues with officials and revert to the Deputy.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I wonder if Kerry deer would get on with Dublin deer. I am afraid the clock has beaten us and we must move on. I apologise to Deputies whose questions were not reached, although I am sure they will receive written replies.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.