Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Planning and Development, Heritage and Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

 

2:40 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank Deputies for providing me with the opportunity to set out the provisions of the Planning and Development, Heritage and Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2021.

This technical Bill is necessary to allow for the transfer of functions relating to heritage under a number of enactments to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Normally, such transfers of ministerial functions are effected through orders made under the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939. A number of powers and functions in relation to heritage have already transferred to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage under the Heritage (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2020. However, two problems arise in relation to the transfer of the remainder of the functions relating to heritage to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which must be addressed by the Bill. First, section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 prohibits the primary Minister under the Act - the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage - from exercising any power or control in respect of any particular planning case. Section 30 must now be amended to provide for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to lawfully exercise certain heritage functions proposed to be transferred from the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, in particular certain functions regarding commenting on planning applications and draft development plans from a heritage perspective. Second, the Supreme Court decision in the Mulcreevy case of 2004 holds it to be impermissible to use secondary legislation in the form of transfer of functions orders to merge into one Minister functions that the Oireachtas, in primary legislation, that is, an Act, had intended to be divided between two separate Ministers; this being seen by the court as breaching a key constitutional principle that only the Oireachtas can make and amend primary legislation. There are certain legislative provisions relating to heritage in which this problem arises and must be addressed by the Bill.

If the Bill is enacted and commenced, the remainder of the heritage powers and functions held by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media may be transferred to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage by a transfer of functions order.

The Bill contains three parts. Part 1 - preliminary and general - of the Bill contains standard provisions in relation to the Short Title, collective citations, construction, commencement and expenses.

Part 2 contains five chapters and 13 sections the purpose of which is to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Wildlife Acts, the European Communities Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations of 2011 and planning matters relating to heritage.

Section 3 is a standard provision providing that in this part, the "Act of 2000" means the Planning and Development Act and "the Minister" means the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Chapter 2 contains eight sections related to amending the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Section 4 amends section 13(2)(a) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 by the substitution of "to the Minister, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media" for "to the Minister, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht" and similarly amends section 13(8)(c) of that Act. Section 13 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 deals with the adoption by planning authorities of variations to development plans. With regard to sending notice to specified bodies regarding proposed variations and notice to such bodies on the making of a variation, it contains references to "the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht", as the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media was titled in 2014, along with references to "the Minister", the latter being the primary Minister under the Planning and Development Act, 2000 and now titled the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Without amendment to primary legislation, the merging, by means of a transfer of functions order, of the notification to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media under the section with the notification to the Minister exercising the function of primary Minister under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, namely the Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage, would result in a Mulcreevy problem.

Section 5 amends section 30(2) of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 to allow for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to exercise certain heritage functions transferred or proposed to be transferred to him or her in particular, certain functions regarding commenting on planning applications and draft development plans from a heritage perspective.

Section 6 amends section 51 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 by providing that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage shall prescribe the form of a record of protected architectural structures. The text of section 51(2) of that Act raises problem a from the point of view of the judgment in the Mulcreevy case. Section 6 of the Bill solves this problem by providing for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make regulations regarding the form of a record of protected structures without needing to consult with another Minister.

Section 7 amends section 52 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 by providing that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage shall issue guidelines to planning authorities concerning development objectives for protecting structures, or parts of structures, which are of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest and for preserving the character of architectural conservation areas. As already stated, the text of section 52(1) of the 2000 Act raises a problem from the point of view of the Mulcreevy judgement. Again, this amendment solves this problem by providing for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to issue the guidelines to planning authorities without needing to consult with another Minister.

Part XAB of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for consultation by the primary Minister under the Act, namely the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media was titled at the time of enactment, as to whether the compensatory measures specified by a competent authority in an imperative reasons of overriding public interest case are sufficient to ensure that the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network, that is, European sites which are special areas of conservation or special protection areas, is protected, where the making of certain land use plans specified in the Act or the granting of consent for a proposed development under the Act would adversely affect the ecological integrity of a European site, but it is proposed that it should still go ahead for imperative reasons of overriding public interest.

Sections 8 to 11 amend sections 177X, 177Y, 177AB and 177AC within Part XAB of the 2000 Act. These sections provide for the transfer and merger of the consultation functions of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Part XAB of the Act to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage resolving the Mulcreevy problem in Part XAB.

Chapter 3 contains one section relating to amending the Wildlife Act 1976 and one section relating to amending the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000. Section 12 amends section 59(3) of the Wildlife Act 1976 by providing that where the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is regulating access to or use of the foreshore for nature conservation purposes, those regulations shall be made: following consultation with the Commissioners of Public Works; with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform; and where the regulations relate to foreshore in relation to which functions are vested in a Minister of the Government other than the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with the consent of that other Minister of the Government.

Section 13 amends section 16(2)(a) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 so that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage shall seek the observations of any Minister or Ministers of the Government as the Minister considers appropriate in the circumstances in respect of the proposed designation of a natural heritage area rather than seeking the observations of certain specified Ministers. The Ministers from whom observations would be sought would depend of the functions of those Ministers which may vary over time.

Chapter 4 contains one section relating to amending the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. Section 14 amends the designation of sites as special areas of conservation and special protection areas and direction provisions of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 by providing that, in the designation or direction process, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will inform another Minister or Ministers of the Government of developments. As with the amendment to section 16(2) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, the Ministers to be communicated with would depend on the functions of those Ministers which may vary over time.

Section 15 provides, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000, for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, when he or she is performing a function in respect of heritage to: make a planning application to a planning authority; make an appeal to An Bord Pleanála; make a request for a declaration to a planning authority, a referral for a decision to apply for a determination to An Bord Pleanála in relation to exempt development; and do any act or thing pursuant to the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 relating to any of these matters.

Part 3 contains two sections and these relate to amending the Broadcasting Act 2009.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to outline the provisions of the Bill. I look forward to hearing Deputies' views on it.

2:50 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. Sinn Féin will be supporting this largely technical Bill as it is essential to ensure the transfer of all of the necessary powers and functions to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as it is now called. I would like to use the few minutes available to me to address a number of matters that are being dealt with by way of this transfer and to seek a response from the Minister of State, if possible.

We have all been deeply saddened by the scenes of devastation in Killarney National Park. The Minister of State visited the park, saw the devastation for himself and spoke about it publicly. It must be said that one of the key problems that we have is the lack of independence, powers and adequate funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS. I know that the Minister of State is absolutely committed to trying to address those three problems. A consultation process is under way and I have corresponded with the Minister of State to seek an assurance that before the outcome of that consultation is finalised, he and his officials will engage with the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and seek its input into the process. This is a really good opportunity for us to try to transform the NPWS into an agency not unlike the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, or other similar independent, well resourced bodies. If the Minister of State is looking for an ally in the work he is doing in respect of that, he certainly has one on this side of the House.

I know the Minister of State also has a specific involvement in the consultation process and, subsequently, the legislation pertaining to marine protected areas. This is such an important piece of the growing architecture of legislation and institutions to ensure that our marine environment is properly regulated and that the multiple uses we all want to see of the marine area, whether they are economic activities such as fisheries or renewable offshore wind generation or activities to protect marine biodiversity, are all done in ways that are mutually reinforcing. Many of us are concerned that the long time lag between progressing the Marine Planning Bill, the marine planning framework and the legislation on marine protected areas is not best practice.

3 o’clock

That is not the fault of the Minister of State. I know this is an area that he is passionate about. However, our committee has been told by marine biology experts that the time lag is a big problem and even if the marine protected area legislation comes to the House before the end of this year and is passed, there will still be a lengthy time lag before designations take place. Of course, designations are of no value unless they are adequately enforced and regulated.

I urge the Minister of State to do everything he can to ensure that as the legislation is introduced, designation activity, where it's appropriate, is prioritised along the east cost where a first tranche of major offshore wind energy project would be seeking planning permission and that the genuine concerns of inshore fishermen and the communities for whom they provide economic stability are not disregarded.

There is a concern among environmental NGOs that deal with marine biodiversity and the inshore fishermen's association that the interests those two groups advocate for may not be as high on the priorities of other partners in government as I am convinced they are for the Minister of State and, therefore, it is an issue he needs to raise in the Department and in his engagement with his line Minister.

I express concern that there are further delays in the advancement of the State's architecture policy. This is important work and good work has been done by the officials but it has been quite some time since the initial consultation concluded. Many of us on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government are keen to participate in that. The Minister of State has willing partners.

With respect to the historic monuments legislation and specifically the national monument of Moore Street, we need to see greater urgency in progressing these Bills. As our committee chairperson who is sat beside the Minister of State, Deputy Matthews, will tell the Minister of State, we have a heavy Government legislative schedule but we cannot allow heritage to continue to be marginalised in the way it was under previous governments. The Minister of State and the housing committee members would like to play as positive a role as possible in advancing those as well as the other issues the Minister of State has responsibility for.

We are certainly happy to pass the Bill and look forward to having the Minister of State in front of the Oireachtas housing committee to talk about these matters and others that are important to all of us.

3:00 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I support the Bill also. I wish to ask the Minister of State about the heritage side of things. Recently, Cork City Council unanimously passed a motion put forward by my Sinn Féin colleagues, Councillor Kenneth Collins and Councillor Henry Cremin, to rename Anglesea Street in Cork city MacSwiney Street after Terence MacSwiney, the former Lord Mayor, who died and his family, for their activism and work and in recognition of the whole MacSwiney family. That type of heritage and renaming is something we need to promote more.

I highlight another issue in Cork city because some ad hoc groups are trying to change our heritage and our history. There is an area in Cork city that some people are calling the Victorian quarter. The Victorian quarter does not exist; it is not an official place. An ad hoc group of people decided to come up with this marketing tool. It is wrong because Mac Curtain Street was named after Tomás Mac Curtain who was murdered in his home in Blackpool by Black and Tans and Royal Irish Constabulary, RIC, officers who drove to his house on what was then called King Street and killed him. It was renamed Mac Curtain Street in honour of Tomás. A group of people want to call it the Victorian quarter. They are trying to change our history and heritage. When I was a councillor on Cork City Council, I put forward a motion that this should not be allowed and I ask the Minister of State that no ad hoc group should be allowed to make up names because they think it is a marketing tool. We must respect our heritage and history. I know the Minister of State cares about this subject and I hope he will take it on board.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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The people are way ahead of the Government when it comes to protecting our environment and our natural heritage. I have seen it over many years in regards to groups such as the Kells Anglers which have been the custodians of the River Blackwater and look after its stock and quality.

In recent weeks, the communities along the River Boyne rallied in defence of it. In the space of a number of days, over 6,000 people in a small rural area joined an online campaign in support of the environment and the River Boyne. The "Save the Boyne" campaign now has over 8,100 followers. There is a planning application that will be judged on its own merits and I will not get into that. I commend the forum and its active members and the local angling clubs, community groups and businesses on their efforts and interest in protecting their environment and on protecting our inland waterways. It was something to be proud of and to be commended.

On their behalf, Government needs to work with these communities and support them. That goes for the Government's agencies as well, in terms of local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Irish Water and other authorities. From my experience as a public representative and working with these communities, they have a mixed experience of working with these agencies that have an official responsibility to protect our natural and built heritage.

On a related point, I raise the Hill of Tara. As the Minister of State knows, it is one of the richest archeological landscapes in Ireland. Over 230,000 people visit the Hill of Tara on an annual basis. I do not live far from it. Increasing numbers of people have visited during Covid-19. Where is the Hill of Tara conservation management plan? It is work in progress since 2018. I commend stakeholders such as the local Rathfeigh Skyne Tara, RST, group and the Friends of Tara group. It is clear what needs to be done to conserve the area, but also to enhance it in terms of public amenities, parking, toilet facilities and interpretive centres. There is significant opportunity which needs to be grasped. I encourage the Minister of State to provide an update and to ensure the work gets done.

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Bill and it is great to see more movement by Government to look after the media landscape in Ireland. I particularly focus on the broadcasting point of view in relation to this Bill.

Over the last year, we have seen the critical importance of our community radio stations. I am thinking of shows such as the Patricia Messinger show on C103 or county sound, as many of us affectionately know that station, which are so important to keep people informed and Community Radio Youghal in my home patch in the Cork East constituency. They play an exceptionally important role in keeping people informed of what is going on in their communities and having local, legitimate voices from their communities giving them the correct information where possible.

The Government must ensure they get every support possible because they have suffered badly as a result of the fact that there is not as much advertising revenue coming into radio stations as before the pandemic. This is because businesses are, obviously, suffering and cannot afford to advertise, particularly those that are shut, and so much of that business has disappeared. It is important that the Government continues to ensure we do everything to protect those industries and broadcasting. Legislation such as this is exceptionally important.

I have said umpteen times since I got elected that as the youngest Deputy elected to the Dáil in a long time, I have grown up with technology and see the damage it is doing to so many people. We have seen the rise of political forces the likes of which have never been seen which are driven by conspiracy theories, whether around Covid-19 or the Government's efforts to save people's lives over the last year. It has been deeply troubling. An Garda Síochána has suffered badly as a result of it. The abuse public representatives, from county councillors to Government Ministers and the Taoiseach, are getting as a result of it is frightening.

We have to understand the power of social media. The Government needs to make sure we are doing what we can to ensure legitimate, correct information is getting out to as many people as possible. It is not about policing social media. I am not talking about putting further restrictions on social media. However, from the Government's point of view, it is important that we make sure we use social media to get legitimate information to people.

I am concerned about the idea of banning advertising online. Doing so would mean that public representatives who are elected with constitutional functions, including Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and members of local authorities, whether they are county mayor, chairperson of a municipal district or county councillors, and Ministers and their Departments would not be able to get legitimate information out. It would create a false situation with an entire platform, across multiple social media companies, where there is no way of getting correct information boosted online. That is important. If I say anything here over the course of the next year, I ask the Minister to take that information away with him. We will suffer in the long run if we do not do anything about it. Every parliamentarian in this country and anyone who is listening today should watch "The Social Network" on Netflix. It is an exceptionally important film that shows how social media can manipulate how people think. We all need to understand the negative power that may have for democracies in the next couple of years.

3:10 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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This happened slightly faster than I anticipated. We are dealing with a number of issues. This is obviously a technical Bill. We all support it since it is necessary. A number of Deputies have already spoken about heritage. We welcome that much work is done by bodies on protecting heritage sites and ensuring continuity of such but there are difficulties. It is a problem that we have with communication across the board. When I spoke on the climate change legislation I stated there was an onus on the Government and the Minister to engage with farmers and others who have a difficulty when they hear of heritage, wildlife moves or climate change. I have met the IFA and other organisations over many years and I have seen that there is a group of people who accept that the world is changing and that we all need to work together. We absolutely need communication at Government level to ensure that happens. It has been a failing across the board to date and is something that we need to deal with.

I add my voice to Deputy James O'Connor's comments on the difficulties with online services. We have to have a major showdown or conversation with the social media giants to ensure they do not publish everything, that we have controls and constraints and that people are getting the real deal and not just algorithms that provide them with nonsense on top of nonsense. That leads to danger, especially in the current pandemic.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I will share my time with Deputy Cairns. I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill, which I understand is technical. We will support it.

As the Minister will be aware, I am incredibly passionate about this area. I have spent many years working either as a scientist or internationally as a policy adviser on this issue. I am honoured to be able to talk to the Legislature about heritage and the issues that we need to focus on. When we are looking at the transfer of functions, I understand that they are necessary under the current structure, but the Department with responsibility for housing is not the right place to have the heritage function. Our biodiversity and issues relating to biodiversity do not belong with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. They should be with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

We have a fundamental problem in this country in that we try to compartmentalise the environment. We say that climate change goes into a particular box, the environment goes into another box and biodiversity goes into another box. Anyone who has ever worked or studied or has any interest in our environment will understand that it does not work that way. Every single aspect of our environment is interconnected and our relationship with our environment is interconnected. If we are going to make the changes we have to make to address climate change and biodiversity loss, we must have a cultural shift. The way in which we deal with these issues has to start at Government level. They should not be separated out. We should not have one committee saying it cannot look at the issue of biodiversity because the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is looking at it. We need to look at these issues together, connect them and make sure we have coherent policies and whole-of-government approaches to these issues. I understand and acknowledge that the Minister is passionate about this area and I imagine I am probably preaching to the converted when I raise it. We need a cultural shift and I will continue to raise and support such a shift.

For the unfortunate week that is in it, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fires in Killarney National Park. I welcome that the Minister went to visit the site and also that he was first on the ground when a fire occurred in Wicklow. I had a look through the Dáil records for the past years and there is a playlist when it comes to these fires. When there is a fire in an area, the relevant Minister will describe it as devastating for our environment and flora, say it should not happen and is illegal and speak of needing stricter enforcement and stronger measures. A list of things is rolled out each year when these fires happen.

We have to move past that playlist and photo opportunities. We need to put concrete actions in place. We have potentially lost 7,500 acres of an area we should be protecting. Our national parks are areas where nature should be protected and safe. What we have seen is an ecocide. When we see what is happening in the Amazon, we say it is disgraceful and should not happen. This is our Amazon and we cannot accept it any longer. I hope the Minister will put concrete measures in place. I understand farm payments are stopped in affected areas but it is only for one year. I recommend that we consider stopping farm payments for ten-year periods because when a fire such as the recent one happens, it can take ten, 20 or 30 years for the land to recover. That needs to be acknowledged in farm payments. It is not just about intensive measures and penalties. At the moment, the Government is incentivising people to start these fires. We need to flip that on its head and get these people to protect and value the land they have under their guardianship. That will be key. Farmers are great at doing what one asks them to do. They are good at getting their job done. We need to make sure their job is protecting land on behalf of the State. I ask the Minister to consider that.

As I have stated a number of times, we need active management plans that make biodiversity and nature conservation the number one priority for our national parks. I ask that the Minister consider that too.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I will raise two issues related to the Bill. The spate of gorse fires in recent months is regrettably predictable. Every year, these dangerous fires destroy large parts of our landscape. The devastating fire in Killarney National Park has featured prominently. It should also be noted that there were several fires near Dunmanway, Clonakilty and Bantry in west Cork last week. Several units of the county fire services and Air Corps were involved in getting them under control. As the Taoiseach pointed out, wildfires are not a naturally occurring phenomenon in Ireland. Although we often do not know the exact cause, the most likely explanation is that those fires were started deliberately. In recognising this reality, we must also face up to the policy context of gorse fires.

Government agriculture policy and the Common Agricultural Policy are some of the key drivers that shape our landscape and the types of activities that are rewarded and punished. Unfortunately, both the CAP and the policies of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are geared towards certain types of farming and have neglected the needs of upland farmers and more marginal land for years. Only last week, the Opposition sought to have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine oppose changes to the new CAP which would see the exclusion of rich carbon soils, including uplands and drained peatlands, from the basic payments. Unbelievably, areas with gorse and heather have also been removed from the list of areas for which payments will be made in the new environmental scheme. The Minister has to work with his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to put in place ambitious policies for sustainable use of these lands, including habitat restoration schemes, afforestation and payment for carbon sequestration. Planning and heritage legislation cannot be treated in isolation from agricultural policy, given its significant role in the Irish landscape and environmental impacts.

This is a cross-departmental issue which requires greater focus and commitment from the Government.

On a related point, section 13 of this Bill concerns the designation of natural heritage areas, NHAs. I urge the Minister to make progress on advancing proposed natural heritage areas for these 632 sites of significance for wildlife and habitat. While some of the protection is given by the proposed category, places such as Garrylucas wetlands near Kinsale need full protection.

I have raised the status of several sites in west Cork, such Garrylucas, with the Minister of State and through parliamentary questions he has informed me that a review of the sites is foreseen. We need this review now and we need the proposed sites to be properly recognised. Community groups are working hard to value and enhance these natural heritage areas and the least they can expect is that the State would do its part too. Damage to uplands and natural heritage sites usually falls under the remit of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage but it overlaps with the responsibilities of many other Ministers, especially that of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. To ensure the protection and responsible and sustainable use of these areas, we need a cross-departmental approach that is clearly working towards the same goals. Unfortunately, this has been lacking. We need the Minister of State to take an active role in providing greater coherence in Government policy to support farmers and landowners in managing the landscape.

3:20 pm

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am delighted to see the final transfer of the heritage function to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I think the right place for it is down in the Customs House with the planning, local government and water sections. I am particularly delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, take on this role, given his lifetime of experience, activism and commitment to protecting our natural, built and cultural heritage.

Our built heritage is of vital economic and social value. Throughout our regional towns and cities, we have spectacular examples of Victorian and Georgian architecture. Sadly, these buildings are often neglected and derelict and they are often subjected to alterations which badly damage their architectural merit. When these buildings are not listed on the record of protected structures, there is little can be done to stop that.

Our town centres first policy, which is also under the remit of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, seeks to bring life and vibrancy back to our town centres and to sustain local economic growth. Many of the unused and vacant heritage buildings in our towns can, with the right supports, provide town centre residential use and bring life and living back into those towns. I look forward to the progress that will be made by the Department on the town centres first policy.

Our natural heritage has long been neglected. Our wildlife and the habitats in which it exists are under constant pressure. Loss of habitats, fragmentation, destruction of ecological corridors, pollution, invasive species, herbicides and pesticides, intensive land use, water quality and climate change have all created the biodiversity crisis in which we live. It is a long list of issues which we must tackle. We have no choice but to do so. Increased protection for urban trees must also be introduced and not just a reliance on tree preservation orders. A clean, healthy and functioning environment is a necessity for all life, for communities and for our economy.

The forest fires on which other Deputies have commented today are not new events; they are annual events. Some are accidental but many are deliberate actions to clear land. The destruction in Killarney is heartbreaking but I expect to see something similar in Wicklow and other locations soon. I really and truly hope I am wrong about that but it will not be surprising if it happens. It will be condemned by everybody, and we will see loss of habitats and species that are already under severe pressure. There must be concerted action on this issue between the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Housing, Local Government and Heritage to address this problem. Investigations must be thorough and those responsible must be held to account and penalised for their actions. I welcome the significant increase in funding for the NPWS, the increase in resources and the proposal to create a wildlife crime unit, which is vitally important.

I also stress the importance of our marine environment. It is a vital part of our entire ecosystem. We must invest urgently in research and data gathering to progress the designation of marine protected areas. We are committed to designating 30% of our sea area as protected but we need to act quickly. I look forward to continued engagement with our environmental NGOs and with the Minister of State's Department and to the outcome of the ongoing public consultation on marine protected areas. The Minister of State has a long list of issues to address in the heritage section. I know from meetings with him and his departmental officials that he is committed to the task and I look forward to continuing to work with him and with our Oireachtas joint committee on these matters.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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This is a short technical Bill, necessary to allow for the transfer of functions relating to heritage under a number of enactments to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. One aspect of legislation it amends is section 52 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. This provides that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage shall:

issue guidelines to planning authorities concerning development objectives— (a) for protecting structures, or parts of structures, which are of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest, and

(b) for preserving the character of architectural conservation areas.

I urge the Minister of State to use his newly-found freedom under this Act to protect the Hill of Allen from inevitable destruction if it continues to be left unprotected. It is home to Aylmer’s Folly, a tower which was built in 1859, and to an ancient burial chamber and burial mound. On St. Brigid’s Day, lights shone from the tower and were visible from all over Kildare, and this was a beacon of hope in these dark times. I ask the Minister of State to take steps to add these structures to the record of monuments and places, the register of historic monuments, and ask that the option of bringing the site into public ownership be explored by the Department.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am not sure if Deputy Boyd Barrett will be here in time to share with me but I will say what I have to say anyway. I noted what the last speaker said about heritage and development and the protection of structures to do with our heritage. Obviously, once the Minister of State has these powers, I would like to see him intervene to protect the Moore Street battlefield site and the legacy of 1916.

However, I want to focus on the question of development and housing development in particular. Successive Ministers, including the recently retired former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister before him, Deputy Kelly, and many others, have brought us to the point where if we look around some of our cities now what we see is dereliction and the neglect of buildings. I heard a piece about Cork city in that regard this morning. Around my city of Dublin, however, it would not be necessary to go far from where I live into Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 to see how strategic development zones, SDZ, and strategic housing development, SHD, plans have utterly destroyed what should be considered proud heritage sites.

I refer in particular to the Coombe and parts of Dublin 8, which are the oldest parts of the oldest city in the country. They have been given over to the vulture funds and to the developers who care little for the character of the inner city and those living there. They only care to see development undertaken on a massive scale. Dublin 8 alone is littered with aparthotels, student accommodation, co-living developments, buy-to-lets and all sorts of stuff which bypassed councillors and normal democratic planning through the strategic housing development process. Not only have these developments not dealt with the housing crisis and the lack of housing in our city, they have actually exacerbated the crisis and made the situation worse.

Therefore, we must pay a great deal of attention to our heritage and to protecting structures and seeing that as important but we must also pay attention to the people who live in the cities. We must ensure their heritage and environment is not destroyed by the total nonsense and greed of developers without paying attention to what is needed, which is public and affordable housing.

I cite the Dublin 8 area in particular, but I also refer to the area along the canal between Drimnagh and Bluebell. In the next few years, the population there will almost treble because of the addition of another 4,500 apartments. That is being done without any thought being given to the required strategic infrastructure, namely, schools, transport, shops, post offices and doctors' surgeries. None of that has been given any thought. It is the same in Cherry Orchard and Dublin 8. Unless a Minister or a Minister of State really gets a grip of strategic development for city living soon, this city and other cities are going to be in desperate trouble due to the lack of resources, the overcrowding in badly-built accommodation and the lack of the required social and affordable housing. I do not see how our heritage can gain one way or the other from that scenario. We must protect our heritage but we also need to protect our people and development within our cities.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett is not with us, so I call Deputy Tóibín.

3:30 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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In the wake of the vandalism and illegal destruction by developers of the home of the revolutionary hero, The O'Rahilly, I submitted a question to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, asking whether an investigation had been carried out in relation to this destruction. I expected that the Minister responsible for heritage, having seen the level of destruction of that heritage, would have taken it upon himself to hold an investigation, particularly in light of the fact that when I asked the Taoiseach a question in the Dáil just before that, the Taoiseach responded by saying, "Given the significance of The O’Rahilly in terms of the war for independence and his historic significance, to go in yesterday at dawn to destroy the building is absolutely shocking and unacceptable." Those are the Taoiseach's words.

I also thought the Minister would have investigated it because I raised the issue with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, in advance of the building being knocked down. I told both the Minister and the Minister of State that the building was under significant threat of demolition in advance. No action was taken, the building was demolished and a significant element of the heritage of this State was floored forever. When I asked the question, shockingly, the answer I got back from the Minister was that he has "no official responsibility" for holding an investigation into the destruction of the home of The O'Rahilly.

From what I can see, it is a typical example of Ministers saying it is not their responsibility, that one should look elsewhere and deflecting to other Departments. I ask the Minister of State whether, if possible under the new regime, he will undertake an investigation into what happened to that building. Will he ensure that we find out who was responsible for the destruction of our heritage? Also, will he go about seeking for that building to be rebuilt and returned to its former state?

The second issue I wish to raise in the short time I have is that of Moore Street. The Moore Street battlefield site is the birthplace of the Irish Republic. It is where the men and women of 1916 risked everything for an independent, democratic republic. Part of the reason why the Minister and the Minister of State are able to be Ministers in this Republic, is because of the sacrifice of those men and women.

Yet, Moore Street is in a shocking situation. It could be an international heritage hub or a cultural hub for the people of Dublin and the rest of the country. It could be a market to rival the great markets of the rest of Europe. What is Moore Street now? It is an outdoor toilet. It gives me no pleasure to say that. If one speaks to many of the people who work on Moore Street, they will say that there is violence, drug use and people defecating in that street. Moore Street has been allowed to fall into that level of dereliction by at least two Governments in the last while. It is an incredible situation. The Government actually owns buildings on Moore Street and is refusing to rejuvenate those buildings and turn them into heritage sites where people can engage and learn about the sacrifices of the men and women of 1916.

I urge the Minister of State to take it upon himself to make sure that he does not leave office in the same manner as repeated Ministers with responsibility for heritage, leaving Moore Street standing in dereliction.

The final point I wish to raise concerns Slieve na Calliagh, which is located in Loughcrew in the north-west part of County Meath. It is a phenomenal passage tomb. It is a tomb to rival Newgrange. I have heard archaeologists refer to it as "Newgrange without the lipstick". In other words, it is probably a more real example of what a passage grave would have looked like. At the top of Slieve na Calliagh, one can see 18 counties. In the past week, people have scribbled graffiti on neolithic art that has been there for thousands of years. The tomb lies there and anyone can go up and lift anything they want from it.

I ask that under this new regulation, the Minister and the Minister of State commit to safeguarding that particular site in order that the people of the world can celebrate the value that it has and can engage and learn about the people who lived at that time.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I welcome the Bill, which largely tidies up the Mulcreevy judgment problem and ensures that the primary legislation complies with statutory instruments enacted. I also welcome the move of responsibility for heritage to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. As my colleague, Deputy Tóibín, has highlighted the issue of The O'Rahilly house and what happened there, it is beneficial that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage now has oversight in the area and that responsibility for heritage falls under its remit.

I understand that the Minister will still be allowed to put on a heritage hat, as it were, and comment on proposed planning applications where there are heritage aspects involved. Indeed, the Minister will be able to ask for full heritage studies in advance of SDZ planning or before An Bord Pleanála takes note of applications. This is to be welcomed. We have a rich and historical heritage in Ireland and we must do our best to protect it. It is the envy of the world and one of the main drivers of foreign tourism into Ireland.

Under the Bill, there is support for the broadcasting sector. As other Deputies have done, I would like to call for support for local radio stations, specifically, WLR FM and Beat FM in Waterford. They provide a tremendous public and community service. Like many businesses, they have seen their advertising revenue plummet. I ask that the Government continues to provide support to these businesses and to the sector.

Going back to the issue of heritage, I want to talk about heritage in my own county. Waterford city is the oldest city in the country, dating back 1,100 years. In the environs of the city is the oldest Viking site in the country, and probably the largest Viking site outside of mainland Europe, dating from 850 AD. There are plans in the future to put some interpretation on this, and I hope that the Department will be supportive in the provision of revenue for that.

I would also like to highlight two other initiatives that are presently ongoing in Waterford, namely, the development of a new time museum and a silver museum. I hope that the time museum will soon be designated as the national Irish horological museum. I invite the Minister and the Minister of State to come to Waterford for the opening of this museum. It contains examples of European clockmaking dating back to 1550 and Irish clockmaking dating back to 1680. These exhibits are unparalleled anywhere else in the country. I hope that they will help to drive tourism. Indeed, the new Waterford silver museum is opening, which contains exhibits of Irish and British European silver that are unique in some parts of Europe. I commend the previous Government on introducing section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Credit must go to the Government which has allowed people to claim tax benefits there and to provide exhibits to that museum.

I also echo the comments of Deputy Tóibín and others about the Moore Street situation. I would also like to see support for that centre and for plans to be developed in order to protect its structures.

On another point in respect of heritage that will come up shortly under the national climate Bill, we will be looking at the issue of landscaping in terms of heritage. I would point out that in the south of Ireland, there is a very different topography to that found in the west. We have a significant amount of hedgerows. I wonder how these are going to be calculated in the climate Bill. It may be a discussion for another day, but I wish to flag that there are a significant amount of hedgerows in the south of the country. They are part of carbon sequestration. I would like to see how they are documented within the climate Bill.

I would also like to highlight the issue of the national marine planning framework, which is going through at the moment and is opening up the country to significant wind development, particularly along the south, south-east and south-wests coasts. Again, as part of our national climate strategy we have not spoken about Government interaction with international data centres. I contend that much of the wind generation that we are proposing to put offshore is going to be used up in powering these data centres. In essence, there will be no green coupon for Ireland in terms of climate mitigation. This is an issue which I hope this Department can take up with the Departments of Finance, and the Environment, Climate and Communications to ensure that we have a strategy that makes sense going forward.

I welcome this largely technical Bill. I extend a warm welcome to the Minister and the Minister of State to come to Waterford when the time museum opens shortly. I hope it will be designated as the national horological museum in future.

3:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Deputy Shanahan. Many of us hope to head to Waterford before the year is out.

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill because it gives rise to an issue of particular pertinence to my constituents and me. It is an important Bill and its provisions should not be underestimated. It enables the transfer of heritage functions from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

I want to use this opportunity to highlight the wealth of heritage sites in County Clare. From east to west, there is an abundance of natural sites in the county, including native woodlands, cliffs and caves, as well as settlement sites, such as castles and walled gardens. These sites tie us to, and remind us of, our history, roots and ancestry. They also serve as tourist attractions that allow revenue to flow into less urbanised parts of our island. At present, there are tree sites in Clare under the management of the commercial property company, Shannon Group plc, namely, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen Castle and Knappogue Castle. The issue that is brought to my office on a regular basis by constituents revolves around their concern that a commercial property company, driven solely by profit, is responsible for the management and preservation of these ancient historic sites of our shared heritage. I and other elected representatives have raised this matter in the past and put forward proposals that the Office of Public Works, OPW, or Clare County Council become the steward of these sites and assume responsibility for managing them.

I request that the Minister of State look into this matter. I invite him to engage with the elected representatives in the county and liaise with potential stakeholders, including Clare County Council and the OPW. I will conclude by mentioning the Trojan work the council has done in reinvigorating interest in the Cliffs of Moher and creating a huge amount of footfall there.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I propose to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath. This is a technical Bill, the purpose of which is to amend existing legislation to allow the transfer of functions relating to heritage under a number of enactments to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. These powers and functions come under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, the Wildlife Act 1976, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.

My expectation is that this Bill will further help to protect wildlife. That is welcome, especially in a week when the Government introduced a new farm scheme, the results-based environment-agri pilot programme, REAP, as a successor to the rural environment protection scheme, REPS. The REAP, which is being piloted in rural Ireland, exempts farmers who have heather on their farm from participating. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is not responsible for agriculture but, in the name of God, how could a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government, which also includes the Green Party, attack our wildlife in the way it has? I have very serious concerns for our wildlife arising out of this initiative and I ask the Minister of State to intervene personally, with his fellow Ministers.

This has happened before. When farmers were penalised for having gorse and heather on their land on that occasion, it led to a community group in west Cork taking legal action against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is a terrible infliction on the people of rural Ireland when, whether we like it or not, those plants are present on most farms. At that time, I said to the people in the Department's office in Portlaoise that the decision would lead to an inferno throughout the country. Sadly, that turned out to be the case, as people had to burn their land because they were being seriously fined. If the REAP is introduced, I am afraid it will lead to the destruction of habitats. It is a very serious issue.

This Bill gives the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage new powers. I am concerned that those powers may not be exercised fairly. Two years ago, the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, struck out a democratic vote in a committee of the Oireachtas on heritage legislation. That vote would have seen verge-cutting dates extended, which would have helped with an issue that is a nightmare for rural communities. She did so with the stroke of a pen. I chaired the meeting of the committee, of which I was Vice Chairman, in which the vote was clearly carried that the verge-cutting season should be extended a month both ways. That was a fabulous provision that would have given people a chance to have safe roads. However, the then Minister, Deputy Madigan, attended some meeting or other, after which she came in and struck out that provision with the stroke of a pen. My worry is that if we give too much power to people, power is taken from this democratic Dáil. I am very concerned to ensure that does not happen in this instance. There is nothing worse than having overgrown verges, which are a great danger to parents travelling with children in their cars. The overgrowth causes accidents on rural roadways. I said to the then Minister at the time that she was surrounded by tar and chipping and it was lovely for her that she did not understand how it is to live in a rural community and have to cut verges.

I want to talk about the broadcasting aspect of the Bill. The State must change how our main broadcaster works and the monopoly on funding that exists. RTÉ commands the full licence fee, which gives it tens of millions of euro, but will not put out a fair and balanced programme one day after another. In its reports on the climate action Bill that went through the Dáil last week, RTÉ had speaker after speaker on television and radio, all of whom were "Yes" people. The Rural Independent Group is the only group in the House that has raised concerns about the provisions of that Bill and we were not allowed a minute to voice them on any programme. This raises a very serious question about the fairness of our national broadcaster on this and other issues. I have been inundated with calls, emails and texts from a public furious at the way RTÉ has been allowed to carry on.

Today is a turning point. The Rural Independent Group will make sure we call out this disgraceful carry-on. The only way that the tables will turn in a fair and distributive way is if the television licence money is spread out to other media providers, including Virgin Media, Gript and local radio stations and newspapers. The situation of local radio stations has been raised before in the House. In Cork, we have C103, RedFM and 96FM. They are fabulous radio stations that get very little of the funding they need from the State. We also have local newspapers, including the Southern Starand The Echo. Perhaps the television licence should be renamed the television, radio and newspaper licence and the fees distributed fairly. The State's money should be spent in a fair and proper way as we move forward. We cannot continue to fund a State broadcaster that decides to keep out one side of a story and has no fair balance.

I will finish by talking about sculptures. We have some fabulous sculptures in west Cork, including one in Crookhaven. The Ceann Comhairle said he would like to go to Waterford. We would be delighted to see him down in west Cork, in Mizen Head, the Beara Peninsula, Clonakilty or any of the beautiful places there. The Taoiseach and many others like to swim there. The Ceann Comhairle would be most welcome to come and see our sculptures.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I hope to be there.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Hope springs eternal. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will get a night in Hanora's Cottage before the year is out, which is in the lovely and famed Nire Valley, just across the boundary from me.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please God.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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In discussing this Bill, I want to talk about our built heritage. I approached the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, a short time ago to raise an issue I have written to him about before, namely, Knocklofty House Hotel, the wonderful, majestic and historic building on the pleasant banks of the River Suir in County Tipperary. The Ceann Comhairle may be surprised, given that a bust of Queen Victoria and a statue of William of Orange are to be found there, that I want to keep the building safe. I do so for the very particular reason that it is part of our built heritage. It has 365 windows looking out to sea. There is an amount of history in it, about Labhraidh Loingseach and the fiddle that would only play and bhí dhá chluas capaill ar Labhraidh Loingseach. I will tell the Minister of State the story when he goes there. He would be most welcome. When he goes to Waterford, he can go trasna na habhann to Tipperary.

Knocklofty House was home to Lord and Lady Donoughmore, their family and, indeed, the Guinness family. I remember knocking on the door one day as a young man selling grass seeds. I was greeted by the lovely Lord Donoughmore, in fairness to him, and his two Alsatian dogs. I thought I was going to be eaten alive but, no, I got a lovely welcome. I have a story about the house from back in the troubled time. It was not a case of "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi". I got it directly from my father, who was an active service member in the old IRA, and proud of it, in the third Tipperary brigade. He was in the Newcastle battalion, the greatest of battalions. In the business I was in back in the 1980s, I was involved in clearing some of the orchard attached to Knocklofty House. Those freedom fighters dwelled and practised in that orchard. They later got refuge in some of Knocklofty's outhouses and other buildings during the troubled time when they were on the run. They were looked after there pleasantly.

Lord Donoughmore went over to the House of Lords and condemned the actions of the Black and Tans in Ireland and what was going on here. His house was spared. It was never burned, like many houses in Tipperary were burned to the ground. We must keep that memory and the heritage of the building, including the statues of Queen Victoria and William of Orange, even though one gets a one-sided story about King Billy when one goes to Belfast City Hall. It is our heritage and we must look after it. The building has been raped and plundered and the lead taken out of the roofs. I thank Jonathan Flood, senior planner, and Tony O'Mara, technician, in Tipperary County Council, who have come out to look at the building at the request of me, Councillor Máirín McGrath and others. A Facebook page has been set up to save Knocklofty House.

It is a wonderful part of our built heritage, as I have said. When I was young, there were 50 or 60 people working there with a big bell, like a church bell, in the yard to call people to their meals. So many families were looked after and fed there, and many who went on to do great things had parents who worked there. I remember one, Mr. P.J. Cullen, who worked there as a gardener when the gardens were spectacular. The house has gone to rack and ruin and we must do something to preserve it.

I know it is caught between vulture funds and the owner in the courts but it should not be allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. Weddings, fun fairs and county council meetings were all held there. LEADER programme launches were held there as well. It should not be the way it is now because it is part of our heritage. The Minister of State is welcome to come see it. I and many others want to have it restored. It is very important to learn from the history we have, especially in this decade of commemorations involving all traditions and none. Tá fáilte roimhe go léir go Tiobraid Árann theas agus Knocklofty House.

I welcome today's announcement that 60 new heritage officers or wildlife rangers will be appointed. That is very welcome because they have a difficult job. However, we need balance. I was appalled when Deputy Madigan, a predecessor of the Minister of State in the Department, threw out, like a bucket of water over a gate, two years of hard work done by committees, farmers and different groups who were trying to bring about sensible hedge cutting on roads and dangerous areas. It is not about going into fields when birds are nesting or where they normally nest. The safety of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians must come first at all costs as far as I am concerned.

I also have a concern about RTÉ. There should be fair distribution of funding. Television licence fees are paid by the majority of people. Tipp FM and Tipperary Mid West Radio must get a fair share, along with community radio stations and even smaller operations. They should be allowed some of this funding. It is time we dealt with the matter as the funding is not fairly distributed. TG4 must be supported and we must look at broadcasting, including podcasts, in a different way. It is not a monopoly any more. It is important that the heritage and history of people all around Ireland is heard, and not just in Montrose or Dublin 4. Ireland does not end at the Naas Road and RTÉ should be made aware of that.

3:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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As we do not have anybody else offering, I am happy to go to the Minister of State.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies who contributed to this debate on the Planning and Development, Heritage and Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2021. Ireland’s heritage, including that which is built, natural, cultural and linguistic, tangible and intangible, is of fundamental importance to all aspects of our society, identity, well-being and economy. However, our heritage faces many challenges, including those stemming from land use change, climate change and biodiversity loss, dereliction and a lack of awareness of the value of heritage.

The Government is making a significant investment in the heritage sector with a view to addressing biodiversity loss, habitat restoration and species protection. It is also undertaking essential investment in our national parks, nature reserves, heritage estates and national monuments. For example, earlier this year, funding of €1.35 million was announced for local authority biodiversity projects, including €500,000 for projects targeting invasive alien species. A significant funding increase in 2021 to €1.89 million means that the NPWS farm plan scheme has been expanded. Some €14 million, including €5 million from the carbon tax fund, has been allocated to the conservation, management and restoration of protected raised bogs in 2021.

Our national parks and nature reserves have remained open for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been important to keep this 87,000 ha network accessible to the public in order to provide areas where people can get fresh air, experience nature and exercise, while still being able to adhere to physical distancing protocols. It is very important we have these facilities accessible to the public and keep them open.

More and more we are looking to nature to assist in solving some of the biggest challenges society faces. This includes in cities, where it can offer a range of benefits, from sustainable urban drainage to air purification to urban cooling. It also includes rural areas. Nature-based solutions, such as protecting and restoring wetlands, peatlands and coastal ecosystems, and the sustainable management of marine areas, forests, grasslands and agricultural soils are essential for emissions reduction and climate adaptation.

The intention behind the Planning and Development, Heritage and Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2021 is not to alter existing Government policy or to introduce new policy. It is a technical Bill, the primary function of which is to facilitate the transfer of the heritage powers and functions to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage under a number of enactments currently held by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. In that regard, the overall objective is to give legislative underpinning to the full transfer of these powers and function to the Minister through amending certain primary and secondary legislation as required.

This transfer arises as part of the reorganisation of ministerial and departmental responsibilities following the formation of the Government in 2020. The heritage powers and functions come under the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Wildlife Act 1976, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. Issues arise, which the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, mentioned, that require primary legislation in order to fully implement the transfer of the powers and functions from one Minister to the other.The purpose of the Bill is to amend certain sections within the various Acts, the 2011 regulations and the Broadcasting Act 2009 and to make provision relating to certain planning matters relating to heritage.

In summary, the proposed amendments in the Bill with respect to the heritage functions provide for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to: be sent notice regarding proposed variations to planning authority development plans and the making of such a variation; undertake certain heritage functions without needing to consult with another Minister, for example, to prescribe the form of a record of protected architectural structures; lawfully comment on planning applications and draft development plans from a heritage perspective; and seek the observations of any Minister or Ministers, as the Minister considers appropriate, in the process of the designation of sites as natural heritage areas. The Minister may also keep them informed of developments in the designation or direction process for special areas of conservation and special protection areas by, for example, causing a copy of the particulars of a candidate special area of conservation to be sent to another Minister or Ministers; causing notice of the designation of a site as a special area of conservation or an amendment to or the revocation of the designation of a site as a special area of conservation to be sent to another Minister or Ministers; causing notice of the designation of a site, an amendment to or the revocation of the designation of a site as a special protection area or of a decision not to designate a site as a special protection area to be sent to another Minister or Ministers; and causing a copy of any direction given under regulation 28(1) of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 to be sent to another Minister or Ministers.

The Ministers to be involved in the process would depend of the functions of Ministers, which may vary over time. For example, they could include the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, food and the marine, the environment, climate and communications and rural and community development. This could be done to make regulations with respect to access to or use of the foreshore for nature conservation purposes and to engage in the planning process with respect to the heritage function, such as in making an application for planning permission or an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, notwithstanding section 30(1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which prohibits the Minister from exercising any power or control in any particular planning case. This will ensure, for example, that the Minister is in a position to lodge planning applications for developments, which may be required as part of the heritage brief.

Some of the proposed amendments set out in the Bill have been prepared to allow for the amended sections in the relevant Act or the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 to function without further amendment in the event that ministerial heritage functions were, at some future time, separated again from planning functions. Examples include section 13 which amends section 16(2)(a) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, and section 14, which amends the designation of sites as special areas of conservation and special protection areas and direction provisions of the 2011 regulations.

4 o’clock

I should also mention that in various sections of Part 2 of the Bill, there are standard saver provisions providing that no amendment by the Bill shall be construed as to affect the continuance or validity of anything done under the relevant provisions of the Wildlife Act 1976, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. We are working hard to deliver on the ambition set out in the programme for Government with respect to heritage. This Bill will assist us in that process.

The Bill also provides for technical amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009 to allow for the transfer to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media from the Minister for Transport of consultation and consent functions held by him under the Act that are now inconsistent with his role. As the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, mentioned, Part 3 of the Bill contains two sections amending the Broadcasting Act 2009 arising from the establishment of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in 2020. Responsibilities for broadcasting and sport, previously under the remit of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, now rest with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. However, the Minister for Transport has retained consultation and consent functions under the Broadcasting Act 2009. In order to facilitate the completion of the transfer of these functions to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, it is now proposed to amend the Broadcasting Act 2009 as set out in sections 16 and 17 of the Bill. We are pleased to be in a position to do this.

With regard to outdoor amenities, I wish to announce that Scragh Bog Nature Reserve, which was closed for a number of months due to issues there, will be reopened during the May bank holiday weekend, hopefully, on Monday. This is very important for the many people in Mullingar who were advocating for it to be opened. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of Dearbhla O'Sullivan who set up an online petition to highlight this issue and how important it is for people in Mullingar. It is a treasure on the outskirts of the town. The Government is spending €170,000 in capital expenditure to upgrade it.

4:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Undoubtedly, that will be good news for the local residents. That brings the debate to a conclusion.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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A Cheann Comhairle, I was due to speak on the Bill.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry, but the Minister of State has spoken. You cannot contribute after the Minister of State has concluded..

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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I was to speak after the Government on this, for one and a half minutes.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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No. I am sorry, but once the Minister of State is called to respond to the debate, as he was, no other Member can contribute. Before the Minister of State spoke, I asked if there was any other Member present who wished to contribute and there was nobody here at that stage.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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I will speak to the Minister of State afterwards.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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I intended to make two points regarding the courthouse in Tralee-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You can speak to the Minister of State directly. I am sure he will facilitate you.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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-----and the fire in the national park.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.