Monday, 26 April 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Members should not be too jealous. I wish the vaccination roll-out programme in the South every success and every best wish because it is crucial that there not be too much of a disparity between what is rolled out in the North and what is rolled out in the South. A disparity works against our joint efforts in trying to battle through this.
On my main point this afternoon, I thank and express solidarity with all those in the emergency services and, indeed, the Air Corps, who have been battling the devastating fires we have seen in both counties Down and Kerry these past few days. The Government confirmed the establishment of the wildlife unit last year but it is crucial that it be given all the necessary resources. The last few days in counties Down and Kerry show us why. In parallel with the unit, we also need a proactive all-Ireland natural habitats management plan, similar in stature to the Irish Government's national planning framework. It would need major investment and resources.Otherwise, we will continue to mismanage our most sensitive and precious natural habitats.
The reality is that Brexit will starve Northern agencies of vital conservation and management funding. We need an all-Ireland approach to addressing this issue because our environment, ecosystems and biodiversity coexist as one. The same pressures caused by human behaviour in the kingdom of Kerry is affecting the land in the kingdom of Mourne. The prescribed period of burning in the South ends on 1 March, where in the North it is 14 April. That is very late, not least in the context of continued climate change. It is timely that we have an urgent reassessment of the applicability of burning. We should be investing in transitioning farmers and landowners away from such practices in an informed and collaborative way.
These fires will have a devastating impact on wildlife when we are already in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, is currently under review. It is important that the future of the NPWS ensures that it is organised as an independent authority like the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and that it has the resources and powers to investigate wildlife crime.
I ask for the agreement of the House that the Leader and the Cathaoirleach would write on behalf of all of us to thank the men and women who have been on the front line tackling these fires in both County Down and County Kerry over the past few days. I urge people to remember them and what they have endured when next visiting our mountains and parks, to respect our environment and to follow all the responsible guidance in ensuring we protect our people, our wildlife, our environment and our communities.