Seanad debates

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

4:00 pm

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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As the Minister of State will be aware, the stand-off between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Killarney jarveys is happening in the middle of our tourism season. Sadly, this year's is a very poor season with information released by the CSO showing that tourism figures are down 20%. In Killarney and the remainder of County Kerry, tourism figures for the year to date show a decrease of 37% to 40%.

The Minister will appreciate that the jaunting car is a unique mode of transport. The jarveys have been operating in Killarney since the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861, if not before. For all of the intervening period, they have taken tourists on journeys through Killarney National Park in their jaunting cars.

Both sides, including the Government side, must see sense. They must enter into meaningful discussions because although the national parks and wildlife service, NPWS, and the jarveys entered into discussions, the impression is that they merely sat around a table and talked for the sake of it, without either side aiming to get anywhere. Moreover, the local authority, which is the licensing authority has not been involved. It must ensure the jarveys have insurance, their cars are roadworthy and so on.

My plea is that access be restored immediately and that talks be resumed, which might also involve the local authority. The traps are rather high and given the uniqueness of this mode of transport, they may not be best suited to these devices without some modification. I read today that the Department had provided many of these devices free of charge. It might consider grant aiding modifications to the cars. That is a point for legal discussion.

I also refer to these people's legal rights. As the Minister of State is aware, an eminent solicitor, Mr. Paul O'Donoghue, represents the jarveys and I am sure he is not misleading his clients and that they have legal rights. It would be a pity were this matter to remain deadlocked, thereby requiring resolution in the courts. However, that is where it appears to be going at present. I make this point regardless of the merits of the environmental arguments the Minister undoubtedly possesses. It is sheer lunacy to allow them to override other considerations at present and is what has led to this lock-out. If the Minister is acting on serious health and safety grounds, such grounds must be advanced because I do not know how such requirements enter the legal mix in regard to this matter.

Consultation and dialogue is the only way out of this impasse. In common with any other strike, it will not be resolved by allowing a stand-off to continue and someone must break this deadlock. I note the mayor of Killarney has offered some sound advice and perhaps he might be available to mediate. I am sure everyone involved in public life seeks a resolution to this matter. However, my plea is on behalf of all the tourism interests that are suffering badly this season in particular. In the middle of the Killarney July racing festival, people have been faced with this situation since 6 a.m. yesterday. Moreover, I understand from a telephone call made half an hour or so ago that the stand-off continues and no one is making a move. I am pleading for an immediate move, for access to be restored and for talks to be resumed immediately.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. I thank the Senator for this opportunity to update the House on this important issue. Within Killarney National Park, up to 45 jarveys, operating 66 jaunting cars, ply their trade under licence from the national parks and wildlife service across a network of approximately 15 km of internal roads within the park. An unfortunate consequence of so many horses frequenting the park is that the roadways are consistently fouled with horse dung. The presence of this untreated dung in the park has long been a concern from the point of view of aesthetic, environmental, tourism and health and safety grounds. Consequently, while the jarveys can add to the visitor experience, the soiling of roads in the park simply is no longer acceptable.

The national parks and wildlife service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government first set out to address the problem of soiled footpaths in the park to make it clean and safe for visitors approximately four years ago in the context of the management plan for Killarney park from 2005 to 2009. That plan included a commitment to research and demonstrate the best methods for the disposal of horse dung and to implement a methodology in consultation with the jarveys. Since October 2007, the NPWS has embarked on a serious and extended effort to engage with the jarveys. This involved multiple meetings during which the NPWS presented the options, supported both by a UK-based equine expert on the issue and one of Ireland's leading equine veterinary consultants.

I assure the House that the clear preference, on the basis of extensive research, expert advice and investigation, is that the dung catcher device offers the best solution to this problem. This option was further supported in various field trials conducted towards the end of 2008. At the end, therefore, of a long period of consultation with the jarveys and following the successful field trials, the dung catcher option was committed to.

In early 2009, the jarveys were invited to a briefing at which it was explained that the dung catcher was being introduced on 8 June 2009. As such, jarveys were given three months to familiarise their horses with the new devices. A further two demonstrations were held in April and early June. Regrettably, the jarveys have consistently signalled their opposition to the new devices. However, they have never trialled the device on their own jaunting cars to illustrate where they perceive the problem to lie. This makes it difficult to pinpoint what are their actual reservations and consequently makes it impossible for the NPWS to address them.

The NPWS has been patient in enforcing the implementation of the new requirements. The jarveys have been reminded in writing since 8 June that they are operating illegally in Killarney National Park as they do not hold a valid licence; a condition of the new licence being that the jaunting cars are fitted with a dung catcher. In the meantime, the State continues to pay for the cleaning of paths and roads in the park. The situation of unlicensed jarveys could not be allowed to continue indefinitely and so, reluctantly, the NPWS took appropriate enforcement action yesterday by preventing access to the jarveys to the park.

I trust the House will appreciate the efforts to date by the NPWS to move forward on an agreed basis. I acknowledge the support and understanding the Department has received from the trustees of Muckross House and the business, tourism and wider community in Killarney. The action today by the jarveys in blocking the entrance ways to the park to all visitors is not acceptable. The NPWS will be happy to welcome back the jarveys to the park on the basis of the new arrangements for dung catchers which, as Members are aware, are in widespread use throughout European cities.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Yes. I thank the Minister of State for the outline of the position, which is an outline of recent history and an apologia from the national parks and wildlife service. This is what it believes and it may well be correct. However, the Minister of State said that this practice now is illegal on foot of the order made by the Minister, which gave the jarveys three months to comply. However, that effectively is a unilateral decision and I wish to be apprised of the legal basis behind it. Of course, if the matter goes to the High Court or a similar destination, the Minister of State will be precluded from providing such information. My point is that unless common sense prevails, this matter will be resolved by the man in the wig. However, this lock-out is serving no purpose.

I consider this material to be more objectionable when found on the streets of our town and the connecting roadways than in the park. In the latter, there are NPWS staff and others to remove it and transplant it to the rose bushes or wherever it will do good. Moreover, people can avoid it as it is clearly visible in the middle of the paths and one can walk on the grass. For that reason, I believe the licensing authority also must be involved. I do not know what legal right the NPWS has to make a unilateral decision in this regard. Moreover, if the matter becomes tied up legally, it might be difficult to find out. I completely accept in good faith the Minister of State's remarks. However, the matter is crying out for resolution and this stand-off is damaging our tourism further. We all are in the business-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question about the nappies?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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No, the question is more about the viability of our tourism that is suffering so badly this year. Many tourists wish to visit Killarney National Park and they choose this unique mode of transport to so do. We cannot afford to have this lock-out and stand-off. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State conveyed this point in the strongest terms to her colleague, the Minister, Deputy Gormley.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Coghlan and assure him that I will pass on his concerns regarding tourism and the other queries he raised with me.