Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I understand the purpose of amendment No. 38a is to exclude “golf courses” from the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion that is proposed to be included among the criteria to be utilised in selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or to cease to be designated as natural heritage areas. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 strikes a balance between the need to maintain or restore bog habitats to a favourable conservation status, live up to our EU obligations and work with landowners and turf cutters. Bearing this balance in mind, there may be grounds for amending the boundaries of a natural heritage area to include appropriate recreational or sports facilities so long as areas of active bog habitat within a site can be maintained and areas of degraded bog habitat can be restored. There may also be opportunities to develop recreational facilities such as walking routes or greenways within NHAs, building on existing routes within the sites.
The Government amendment to the Bill provides that the purposes of a natural heritage area review include selecting the most suitable bog habitats, first, to be designated as NHAs and, second, to cease to be designated as NHAs having regard to various criteria, including “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats”. The provisions of each criterion have been and will continue to be carefully considered in conducting and completing any review of NHAs. In addition, any regard to recreational and sporting needs appropriate to bog habitats in a review of NHAs would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, including public consultation and the carrying out of any other screening for an assessment or, as the case may be, assessment, if required. I understand the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would be obliged to consult the Environmental Protection Agency in the strategic environmental assessment process. Therefore, I consider that there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs. Therefore, I will not be accepting the amendments.
My understanding is Senators Higgins and Ruane have concerns that the provisions in the Bill will allow for new golf courses to be built within raised bog or blanket bog NHAs. I do not believe that was the intention of the Senators and they certainly did not state it in reference to new golf courses, although I know that there was a debate about existing golf courses, which is the reason the amendment has arisen. Therefore, I am willing to consider whether the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion within the Bill might need to be amended to set out clearly that the development of new golf courses would not come within it. Even though I believe there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs, I will also consider whether it would be appropriate for the Bill to be amended to provide for guidelines to be drawn up for what may or may not be considered to be "recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats". I will look at this issue again in the context of amendments in the Dáil. Given the views Senators have expressed on existing, rather than new, golf courses, I will be discussing the matter with colleagues, departmental officials and at Cabinet level in advance of discussing amendments in the Dáil.