Thursday, 2 March 2017
Heritage Bill 2016: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I am astonished that this matter is before the House again. It was an election gimmick to buy the farmers' vote. For that reason, Fianna Fáil colluded in it. It was complete and absolute nonsense. I wish to quote what the Taoiseach said during a Second Stage debate in the Dáil on 15 December 1999. He stated:
The Minister referred to the issue of hedgerows, which really are corridors of wildlife. I have had meetings with various groups who are interested in this. The local authorities, for reasons of public safety, feasibility, etc., have, under contract in some cases, cut these hedgerows and the quality of the cutting has ranged from neat to environmental savagery. I am glad to see that the Minister proposes to regulate this. In Britain, the regulations are much stronger. The species and licence requirements are identified and one just cannot cut at random because it is seen as a social and criminal offence to stray outside the legislation in that regard. We may need to discuss all of these areas at some length on Committee Stage. For instance, the Minister specified that hedgerows may only be cut during certain periods by public bodies, including local authorities, for reasons of public health or safety. When the people of village X or Y get on to a hard pressed local authority, it will send down the flail-cutter to cut hedgerows, saying it had to do it for public health or safety because the people were complaining. The legislation must be much tougher and regimented here in the sense that local authorities should be under no illusions that there are times specified in the Bill during which hedge-cutting and trimming may be legitimately carried out. We do not want environmental savagery to which I referred to take place in the middle of the nesting season on the excuse that it is for public safety or health.
I recall being a member of Mayo County Council in the mid-1970s when a then independent member, the late Councillor Nellie Robinson from Ballina, introduced a by-law, the first lady member in Ireland to do so, whereby no hedge-cutting should take place during the nesting season. She was before her time in that sense and I am glad to see that this kind of thing is now being recognised here.
Why is the Government doing a complete volte-faceon what the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said so very clearly in Dáil Éireann in 1999? That is the first question for the Minister. Why is she flying in the face of what the Taoiseach said so vigorously in defence of the nesting periods in Dáil Éireann in 1999? What has happened and what are the arguments? We have had no argument on this Bill but rather statements and so on.
Funnily enough, we could have made progress on this Bill if we could have had conversations offline on many aspects of the Bill. I have just had quite a heated discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, on RTE, as he seems to think this Bill is only for the hedges along the roads and that it is a baseline study and a pilot scheme. A pilot scheme needs a baseline study but there is no such study.
It is across the Twenty-six Counties. Similar studies have been taking place in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland where they have clearly indicated it is illegal to cut hedgerows from March to August.
I have a problem speaking to this as a heritage Bill, as the last thing it seems to be doing is protecting our heritage. One of main concerns relates to bird nesting patterns across the country. The wren, blackbird, song thrush and robin nest in August; the bluefinch, yellowhammer, greenfinch, goldfinch etc. nest in September; and nesting in March is the curlew, which is on the red list because we have seen a drop of 86% in breeding pairs over the past 25 years. The yellowhammer has seen a 61% decline in breeding pairs in Ireland since 1970. Hedgerows play an important role within that. We can also speak about their importance to bats, which are still feeding their young at that stage using hedgerows. Hedgehogs are an endangered species across the country and they need hedgerows for food so they can lay down fat for hibernation.
The accusation is levelled that anybody who wishes to stand up for the environment is from Dublin 4 and does not understand rural Ireland, as the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, recently shouted at me. The argument is that if a person has never lived in rural Ireland, he or she does not understand it. As I stated to the Minister of State, I have spent many a year in rural Ireland. I worked in places from Donegal to Kerry, west Cork and Galway, in small villages and towns. I very much understand the issues and everybody in the House wants to ensure rural Ireland is viable, with a strong agricultural community. Destroying the food source of pollinators, however, such as the bees in hedgerows, will cause immense damage to farmers struggling for a living.
Is there the possibility of compromise or a way forward? My understanding is Fianna Fáil will probably support the Government on this issue. If the issue is road safety, let us examine it. I certainly do not want to see anybody injured on our roads or cars damaged because of overgrown hedges. It is a matter of compromise so let us look at cutting those hedges that abut onto roads. We can examine the Road Traffic Acts and put in place legislation for where a danger exists, such as for pedestrians who are pushed further into the road because of an overgrown hedge. If the Minister is open to it, the issue could be dealt with in the Bill before us today.
The good Senator from Cork is sitting in front of me and unfortunately, he let the cat out of the bag when he made his contribution. He stated that as there is a bit of down time in August, what else would one use the old machinery for?
Use logic. A pilot scheme should be for a small area and a baseline study should be used. We must ensure we do no harm as the figures are truly frightening when we look at our wildlife and the loss of habitat for birds and bees. I will hear again the question of what I would know, being from Dublin 4. We know it as we are part of Ireland. We want to see all of Ireland thriving and ensure that agriculture is vibrant. We want to see a strong tourism industry but slashing and burning our hedges is not the way to do it.
Destroying our natural habitats is not the way to build a strong tourism industry. It is a case of doing a pilot study over the entire Twenty-six Counties and then seeing what wildlife is still alive after two years. There may be bloody little and we will not be able to get it back. It will be destroyed over what is being called a pilot period.
I am not anti-rural. I ask the Minister to think very carefully as many farmers in the country depend on subvention from the European Union. Grants are paid to tillage farmers and under various schemes across the country and these all have rules and regulations. One could see an enormous loss of earnings for small tillage farmers if they do not maintain hedgerows to the standard laid down with regard to EU funding. Farmers have raised the issue with me as not all of them see me as being anti-rural. We want to see this work in the Twenty-six Counties and indeed in the Thirty-two Counties. However, we have protection in the Six Counties and we need to keep that same protection for the rest of the country. We must ensure wildlife thrives and that farmers and local communities thrive through agriculture and tourism. That is why I oppose section 1 of the Bill. This may be a very long day that is followed by many more long days on this Bill. It is not the Minister's intention but the Bill could do untold harm to the countryside.
The Senator let the cat out of the bag. This section is very technical and we have already dealt with the amendment. I ask Senators to stick to the section. We must make progress. Attempting to stall legislation by repeating what has already been said on Second or Committee Stage will get us nowhere.
I absolutely agree with the Acting Chairman and we must move on with the debate. I welcome the Minister to the House again today but I am disappointed she has not formulated any amendments that might give us food for thought based on the last debate. I welcome the debate on this Heritage Bill 2016.It has allowed me to go and consult farmers. I am a farmer's daughter and live in rural Ireland. My father was a member of the IFA for all of his life. He passed away a few months ago. I have used the opportunity to talk to farmers about the Bill to assure myself that I was not missing part of the picture. I listened to BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations which is engaged in a magnificent demonstration outside today. I talked to its representatives in Kildalton College to get their views. I had to get to the nub of the issue and that meant getting to the farmer. I started to consult farmers along the highways and byways near where I lived and further afield and was pleasantly taken aback. I knew that heritage was hugely important to farmers. We said in the last debate that they, with local authorities, were the managers of hedgerows. In many ways, they are the custodians of our landscape.
I was also told by farmers that the issue was being clouded in matters of road safety. We discussed it at length on the last occasion. Matters of road safety and the Road Traffic Act can be dealt with outside this issue. It is not a road safety issue for farmers. The Minister is suggesting roadside hedges be cut and that this is what many farmers disagree with. A farmer said to me last night that hedges inside a field were cut, even though that did not have to happen. Farmers have told me that it is not a big issue in the month of August. There is an issue not only for the various environmental wildlife groups but also farmers. I speak on behalf of the wildlife groups and farmers with whom I have consulted. There is ample provision made for road safety.
I turn to the Fianna Fáil Party. One of its Deputies has been replying to some of the letters sent by the different federations and using the Road Safety Act as the reason we have to cut and grub. Senator David Norris referred to grubbing on the last occasion and said this was a grubby Bill. It is certainly grubby. Grubbing means taking the roots and branches and pulling out every component of the ecosystem. As Senator Kevin Humphreys said, it deprives the people of Ireland of a beautiful heritage and wildlife of roosting. It affects mammals and different wildlife species. As a farmer's daughter, I am fundamentally opposed to it. My father has passed away, but the land is still there. One of the reasons I am here is that he used to bring me out onto the land, on which there were hedgerows. He had a dairy herd. What the Minister is prescribing is cutting in the month of August, lock, stock and barrel. I fundamentally disagree with him.
I also fundamentally disagree with the proposal to carry out a survey. It would be absolutely unscientific. It would be a joke and totally flawed. I suggest carrying out an environmental impact assessment of the hedgerow system and wildlife corridors throughout the Twenty-six Counties. In that way we would be able to assess the true ecological value of the system from all perspectives, including climate change and drainage. We would then gladly come back here and the Minister could prove me wrong, but what she is proposing at this stage is absolutely the wrong way for the country to go. This is not about greening Ireland but destroying it. It is an attempt to damage our natural environment. It will damage the rural way of life and is potentially damaging to the farming community which, as Senator Kevin Humphreys said, wants to avail of all of the funding mechanisms available, including GLAS. What the Minister is proposing can damage this for them and the livelihood of the small family farm in rural Ireland. I am, therefore, fundamentally opposed to the Bill and hope the Minister can do better for us.
I am loath to intervene while Members are speaking, but most of the points made have nothing to do with the section. If we continue in this way, we will get nowhere. I might as well leave this chair and sit with the Minister in the anteroom. If we want to have a reasoned and sensible debate, we have to move on because we are legislators, not commentators. Senators should, please, stick to the section. Many of the points being made have to do with other amendments and the passing of the Bill, from which we are a long way away.
I sympathise with the former Minister of State, Senator Kevin Humphreys, who spoke about the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to whom I spoke in a committee room yesterday when I expressed concern about this Bill. He responded in the most amazing way by saying he was glad that I was not from rural Ireland because if I was, I would actually understand it. I suspect that, in contrast to the Minister of State, I have actually read the Bill. I told him that I was not referring to hedgerows along the roadside which is what he said the Bill was about. That kind of parochial language and the presumption that I am not interested in rural Ireland are extremely insulting to a political activist and someone who came to this House not in the interests of any one constituency but those of society. I am interested in what happens in all of Ireland. Today people in the North go to the polls. Sinn Féin's leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill, was Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. In December 2014 she clarified the position on legislation dealing with the closed period for hedge cutting. Responding to calls from the Ulster Farmers Union for consideration to be given to further exemptions, she stressed the importance of hedgerows which supported a wide variety of plants, birds, mammals, insects and wildlife. She will potentially be First Minister or deputy First Minister following negotiations after the election. The Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is not in a Department with responsibility for agriculture, rather she is Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I urge her to appreciate the views of those Members who are arguing in the interests of rural Ireland based on their scientific knowledge and the knowledge of local authorities across the State that have strategies in place and scientific evidence which support our amendments. I urge her one last time to appreciate the amendments proposed.
I will speak to the section which outlines the Short Title of the Bill which is the nub of the concern being expressed. The title of the Bill is the Heritage Bill. There is serious concern about whether this is a heritage Bill or whether it contains components which make it an anti-heritage Bill or will result in a dilution of heritage. I welcome the Minister to the House. However, as the Minister with responsibility for heritage, the onus is on her to prove this legislation is driven by and serves the purposes of heritage at its core. It is not a Bill coming from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It comes from the heritage side and that must be the threshold we cross. That is why I believe it is relevant that everyone is reminded of the issues of heritage in respect of the Title of the Bill.
We want to ensure we pass the Heritage Bill as a heritage Bill. It is unfortunate that there has been much confusion as well as direct differences in respect of what was said in the House during the last debate and the components of the Bill under examination today, that is to say, the text. For example, we were told there would be provision for one year of growth. However, the legislation refers to the destruction and grubbing of hedges. All of this clashes within the language of the Bill. The opportunity was not taken in the period between the last debate and this debate to put forward more substantial Government amendments to clarify the exact purpose and intent of the Bill.
There has been an interim period, during which people have had ample opportunity to engage and work with others across the House as well as civil society groups to put forward amendments to address issues. For example, we constructively engaged on the proposal of road safety. I do not intend to speak to it because I know we will come to vote on it and we have debated it at length. We put forward real proposals to address the important issue of road safety and to strengthen the existing adequate protections. Section 17 enforces these provisions further. However, we hear that people in Fianna Fáil are sending letters on the road safety issue. If road safety is a core component of concern to them, where are the amendments from Fianna Fáil to address road safety? An opportunity has been missed not only by the Government but by our colleagues in Fianna Fáil, unfortunately, in respect of addressing road safety. Excellent ideas have been floated, even by members of Fianna Fáil, around limiting the hedgerow cutting to the road side of roadside hedges. We heard that proposal. The Minister needs to follow through and demonstrate whether that is her core concern. I appeal to the Minister to narrow down, delve into the detail, as we have done, and try to improve this legislation in order that we can stand over the Title.
I will not go into our pilot. We will debate the matter later. However, it is an example of what a heritage Bill would look like. The Bill should look to reflect all the obligations under the various heritage related Acts as well as the many national and international environmental, social and other heritage acts to which we have signed up. They would be visible in a heritage Bill. New measures would also involve rigorous and appropriate baseline work.
It is disappointing that the proposals put forward by us have not been matched by proposals from the Minister. We have specified that the Minister is responsible for heritage matters and we urged her in our previous discussion to discuss these matters with her fellow Ministers, not only in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but also in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as well. I would appreciate if the Minister would let us know how these conversations unfold and how she has put the heritage case to them.
I will come to a conclusion presently because I know we need to move to the section.
I will leave it to the substantial debate. I want to signal that we are talking about the hedgerow networks. They represent a network and corridor for wildlife throughout Ireland. This is something to which every group should pay attention. All we are asking for is that everyone would pay attention to the detail. We need to move past sweeping statements and look to ensure this is rigorous and appropriately analysed legislation that we can stand over.
The hedgerows of Ireland matter. All of us have received the letters from people throughout the country who have been watching and monitoring nature for generations. They know when fewer bees are around. They know when birds that used to land in their gardens or fields no longer land there. That information is crucial. Citizens are paying attention to these matters and we need to match it.
We are also speaking about another network, one which, given the divisions we have heard, joins rural and urban Ireland. I am referring to the canal networks. I realise we will move to discuss the matter, but that is another area where, unfortunately, not enough attention has been made. Similarly, it is difficult to see how the proposals put forward in the canal section directly relate to the concerns of heritage.
Thank you, Acting Chairman. I look forward to the debate. I urge everyone to listen to what we have been hearing from the beekeepers, small farmers and all those concerned. We should bear all of that in mind today. I hope that on Report Stage we will see more constructive proposals from across the House.
I realise we are speaking to the section, but we are having a broad debate. I had to contribute on the previous day. I had not decided whether I would not speak until the end or at all. I had to stand up and defend farmers, given some of the language being used.
I appreciate that today we have come full circle. It was I who said the previous day that farmers are the custodians of the hedgerows and of nature in rural Ireland. I also said the previous day that as a farmer I have sowed more hedges and hedgerows than I have ever removed or cut.
I am glad that this day is not about an attack on the farmer. Unfortunately, we have now moved around and it is now an attack on Fianna Fáil. Again, I believe I have to stand up. It must be something personal to me because the common denominator for me is Fianna Fáil and farming.
Those of us in Fianna Fáil, along with the farming community, are as much nature lovers and custodians of nature as anyone else. However, we have to represent everything and everyone equally, including the birds. We have to represent all the birds. I will offer an example. The red grouse was extinct. The species was down to two pairs on the Boleybrack mountain in Leitrim. Thanks to innovative moves by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, local farmers and the local community, we now have 100 pairs. It is clear to anyone who studied this project that an integral part of the project was controlled burning. However, we have a major issue with that today. Red grouse needs mature heather for nesting and new growth after burning for food.
It has happened in the past two weeks. Yesterday was 1 March. Under the existing law, following yesterday it is illegal and impossible to carry out any burning. In the previous ten to 15 days, we were subject to storms Doris and Ewan. How could anyone carry out controlled burning? What is the difference in one day per week? The Bill suggests the Minister will define the geography, timing, location and who is permitted to carry out the burning. It is not a free-for-all. As I said the last day, when we are discussing the Bill, it is made to sound as if it is passed and that on the first day of August every farmer in the country will be lined up with his tractor and hedge-cutter to go and get the birds. That is not the position. This is going to be controlled.
What is the red grouse going to do if we do not make an allowance that the controlled burning can be done in March because February was missed? We have to represent all the birds equally. There has to be give and take as well as compromise.
When the Bill is passed, the Minister will come back with the relevant regulations. The regulations will have to come before the relevant committee. I presume that will be either the joint committee responsible for heritage or the joint committee responsible for agriculture. It is not as if we are opening up the floodgates. However, that is the impression being given and I believe we are going to be here until tomorrow morning as a result if we do not have some-----
You will have an opportunity to come back, if you wish, Senator Higgins. However, I am moving on to the next speaker. Thank you, Senator Daly. I did not know you had such an in-depth knowledge of birds and I commend you on it.
I wish to comment on the hedgerows and whatever. My colleague, Senator Daly, has summed it up. Fianna Fáil is here to offer support. It is about give and take. It is a question of balance. I have represented this issue from the local authority side. People would have come to me about various issues related to tree-cutting and hedges and so on.
Two issues arise. We need to get a balance. We also need to work with BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust, the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations. We will do so.
I have one thing to ask of the Minister. I know she will respond to it. This is a two-year pilot scheme. Everyone needs to work together and everyone should have an input. If everyone has an input, including farmers, this could work.
I have major issues with the canals. The principal reason is that there is no enforcement.I shall outline a small issue that concerns the River Barrow. We have the OPW, Waterways Ireland and local authorities but nobody takes responsibility for the river. The one thing that I seek from this Bill is that enforcement is put in place, that someone is appointed to mandate everything, and that everything is regularised and done properly. If that happens then this Bill will work better than anything that has gone before but everything must be regulated, enforced and done right.
We do not need this Bill in order to trim the hedgerows along roadways. That work can be done under by-laws.
I have never been contacted by so many people and received so many polarised views on every aspect of this Bill. Sections of this Bill should be dealt with by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Bill is a mishmash of a load of different things.
The Acting Chairman wants me to speak on the section that deals with roads. Many of the farmers who have contacted me have said they do not mind trimming hedgerows along roads. I have driven every road in this country. I have driven great big 40-foot trucks so I know what it is like to have overgrown hedges.
I was not going to speak on the section but I felt compelled to do so.
I admit that topics like heritage and hedgerows were very new to me a few months ago. My research on the topics took me right back to the 16th century because I got some documents sent to me about hedgerows. I have read a large amount of documentation on this matter, some of which is in front of me today. Having read the documentation I do not understand why burning hedgerows has been mentioned in a heritage Bill. I researched this matter with fresh eyes and it was a new experience. Even though I am new to this topic I realised that the matter should never have been part of this Bill.
There was an historical reference in one of the pieces that dates back to the 16th century. A poem was included in the documentation but I would be blamed for delaying this debate if I read it out. I might hold off reading the poem until the end in case I need it.
The historical reference was on the hedges. It stated that the planting of hedges and hedgerow timber had been advocated by improvers since the 16th century. The ordnance of the Government of Ireland in 1534 laid down the following sentence: "Every husbandman having a plough within the pale, shall set by the year twelve ashes in the ditches and closes of his farm." I believe heritage dates back well beyond what any of us can understand. I do not understand why the burning of something so historical, which is obviously very much our heritage, is in the Heritage Bill.
I shall briefly refer to a technical correction. Senator Paul Daly mentioned that the regulations would be laid before the committee. We do not have anything in the legislation that ensures these regulations would be reviewed and laid before a committee. This is a key concern.
I wish to emphasise that at no point did I make an attack. I simply pointed to the valid arguments that Senator Paul Daly made during the last debate. I urged him to follow through and table the legislative proposals. Let us not wait to see what regulations may emerge after the fact or be laid before a committee because there is utterly no requirement in the legislation. We can talk about our aspirations for the Bill. It behoves us, as legislators and where we have constructive points to make, let us translate them into the legislation and ensure it moves through this House and is fit for purpose.
I echo the view that we should send a strong message to farmers that there has not been an attack. My colleague spoke passionately about her farming background. I spoke about my genuine concern for Ireland's Common Agricultural Policy payments and the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme or GLAS scheme, on which so many of our farmers rely. Many small farmers have a genuine concern about the impact damaging our hedgerows will have when we go to Europe and plead for funding. We, as custodians, potentially endanger our case for funding, which is essential for farmers.
Lastly, pollination is crucial to small farmers and anybody who produces orchards, crops and practices horticulture in Ireland. Pollination is genuinely in serious jeopardy in this Bill. We have heard from the beekeepers of Ireland that bees gather pollen in August to have a store of food to survive winter. We must ensure we have a healthy bee pollinating population because they are necessary to pollinate fruit, vegetables and everything that needs pollination. We have a national pollination plan. It is reasonable to say that pollination is a farming issue, as well as a heritage and natural environment issue. I would like to correct the record. We are talking about farming. Everybody in the House might not always talk about the same farmers but many farmers in Ireland are concerned about this matter.
Senator Ruane mentioned the 16th century. We need only to look back to 1999 when we heard Enda Kenny speak in favour of protecting the hedgerows. The wildlife legislation came through this House and Senators have a duty to protect wildlife.
To clarify, the Senator's very words makes it sound like this provision will be mandatory. If farmers are worried about and disagree with this measure, they will not be obliged to cut their hedges in August or burn them in March. Let us be honest. When one drives through a stretch of the road that has a 50 km/h speed limit that switches to 100 km/h at the end it does not mean one must drive at the higher speed. If farmers are worried about their GLAS payments or anything, nobody will put a gun to their head to comply with this measure. The legislation will leave the option open in circumstances where it may be required or necessary for whatever reason. The Senator has made it sound like it will be mandatory to cut hedges in August or burn in March if this measure is introduced. Far from it.
It is the free will of the farmer, the individual or custodian. He or she can choose to cut hedges from September to February. Just because this Bill is introduced he or she does not have to deal with hedges in March or August. It is his or her own choice at the end of the day. In cases where it may be a necessity it may be a requirement or an advantage to a farmer, pedestrian, motorist, bird or nature then the option exists, with the Minister's permission.
In many ways, it is the farmers in rural Ireland who have maintained the environment over a long period. As I have said previously about the Heritage Bill, the rules and regulations that we bring in are not aimed at the people who look after the land and protect the heritage and wildlife.We are bringing it in for the small percentage of people who do the opposite. In the same way that the vast majority of people never break into a house, we make breaking into houses illegal not because the vast majority of people obey the laws but because of the tiny minority who do not. We have to protect the environment.
The example of the red grouse is a good example. The numbers dropped disastrously, quite close to the level of extinction. That happened because of poor science and lack of research. Some 70% of its natural habitat was destroyed. We are now fighting for an endangered species to be brought back again. It is being brought back through good science. There were in-depth surveys carried out between 2008 and 2010 on how red grouse numbers could be restored in Ireland. It was carried out on the basis of good science. Unfortunately, the good science was not done before 70% of the habitat was destroyed. We are now talking about a possible loss of habitat for many endangered species.
We need to be cautious. All I am arguing for today is good science, proper pilot schemes, proper measurements, and a look at the impact on habitat. Senator Daly's example is good. I admire and commend him on the work he has done and the work done by many people in rural Ireland. We got to that point because of poor science, research was not carried out, and 70% of the natural habitat was destroyed. We are now trying to build up the numbers and it is costing a hell of a lot more money than it would have had a percentage of that habitat been protected in the first place. That is why people in the House are so passionate on this matter. It is a little bit like a doctor, who should do no harm. If we are going to do this, let us research it properly with a small pilot area.
We do not know the regulations. I thought that there may have been a possibility of having that conversation as to what those regulations are rather than it being a question of trust. Is it that we are going to protect a certain species, extend an upland burning ban to protect red grouse and ensure the numbers increase? Those are the types of regulations. There was ample time, and there is still ample time before we finish debating and go to Report Stage in this House, for the good science to be shown to us and for us to test and analyse it. Are we doing the right thing for the heritage of this country? That is why I am objecting to section 1, because I believe it destroying the heritage of this country.
I will resist the temptation to follow my colleagues into the wider aspects of the Bill. I will reserve that for later on.
I would like to say to Senator Paul Daly that I have not attacked farmers at all. I do not recollect a large-scale offensive against farmers. I think there is a little bit of over-sensitivity there. Most of us have connections with farming. My grandfather had three or four farms in County Laois. He was a farmer. My uncle very much wanted to take it on but my grandparents said that it was such a heartbreaking job they would not let him, and he went into the bloody Bank of Ireland, which is a hell of a lot worse.
Senator Daly made a point, which has some validity, about emergency situations. They are already coped with in the existing legislation. A farmer can apply to have this situation looked at. I do not think that is a real argument in defence of this Bill, but like Senator Humphreys, I recognise and applaud the work Senator Daly has done with regard to endangered species.
We all recognise that many farmers live with the land. It is an organic part of their life, so of course they respect it. We understand that, but it is not a reason for withdrawing our opposition to this Bill. I very much hope that, as happened in a previous instance when we were talking on a motion by Senator Alice Mary Higgins about the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, Fianna Fáil Members slightly altered their position and abstained, allowing us to defeat the Government. It would be a very good day if Fianna Fáil took a little time to consider this in the interest of the country generally.
If it is a problem, the legislation is there to deal with it. With regard to the grouse, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations are extremely concerned because it is from 15 June to 31 August when the bees get most of their pollen through the hedgerows. The red, unripened blackberry provides their protein for the winter. The federation has told me that cutting hedges during that period will do huge damage. The population of bees in Ireland is in decline. We must be cognisant of that.
I really respect what Senator Daly has said about the grouse and the work he has done.
- Colm Burke
- Paddy Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Lorraine Clifford Lee
- Paudie Coffey
- Martin Conway
- Mark Daly
- Paul Daly
- Aidan Davitt
- Robbie Gallagher
- Maura Hopkins
- Gerry Horkan
- Terry Leyden
- Tim Lombard
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Michelle Mulherin
- Jennifer Murnane O'Connor
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- John O'Mahony
- Ned O'Sullivan
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond
- Diarmuid Wilson
Ciúnas, le do thoil. If Senators want to talk they should move out of the Chamber. We are on section 3 now and there will be people saying they missed the section. If I do not get order, I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.
Amendment No. 1a is in the name of Senators Kevin Humphreys and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and is deemed to be out of order as it would result in a potential charge on the Exchequer.
I should not have to repeat the point I made. Section 1a in the names of Senators Kevin Humphreys and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has been deemed to be out of order as it would result in a potential charge on the Exchequer.Amendment No. 1b is in the names of Senators Lynn Ruane and Alice-Mary Higgins. Amendments Nos. 1b to a1h, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed?
I move amendment No. 1b:
In page 4, line 3, after “property” to insert “to protect the interests of natural heritage”.
This amendment relates to Waterways Ireland and the fact that it currently has no obligation to consider heritage factors - be they historical, natural or cultural - as part of its duties. Obviously, this is unacceptable and needs to be a matter of major consideration, given this is the Heritage Bill. When I researched the natural heritage of the canal areas, I found that a number of different species are endangered, such as the otter, the badger, the stoat and the long eared bat among others, and this is why we need Waterways Ireland to have that obligation.
On the historical heritage, I believe that during a period of flooding some time ago, many historical artefacts that were in the canal came to the surface. These included items such as clay pipes, bayonets and three-headed fishing spears from the 19th century. There is so much historical and natural heritage along our canals that it would seem to be natural for Waterways Ireland to have an obligation to consider heritage factors in respect of the canals.
We had prepared individually for one, but I will come back in on the other amendments. Amendment No 1b is very reasonable because it is a reminder that the protection of the interests of natural heritage is part of the role and obligation that is required under the Bill. In a way, by putting in this practical and reasonable amendment, Members are going some way toward justifying the Title of the Bill. We would at least be ensuring that natural heritage is recognised as part of heritage. We spoke earlier of the hedgerows as corridors for nature. The canals are not just an important public and social amenity but also are a vital corridor for many species and for much of our nature in Ireland by making sure they have pathways along which to travel. This amendment simply puts back into the Bill the phrase "natural heritage" and the duty to natural heritage, which strangely was missing from that section of the Bill. I cannot see how there would be anything in this amendment on which to disagree. I will speak on the other amendments together. I had not realised about the groupings. I am just looking at that now.
I support Senator Ruane's amendment on protecting the interests of natural heritage. I take that in a general way, not just about the pikes and muskets but also the wildlife along the banks of the canals. Amendment No. 1c proposes that in page 4, line 9, after “designate” to insert “, without impeding navigation,”. One aspect of this is to ensure the canals are open and available for navigation by boats and so on.
Amendment No. 1d proposes the insertion of “, except for areas subject to protection or proposed protection for natural heritage or used by species listed in Annex IV or V ... on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora”. On this I take a slightly more general approach. I point out to the Minister that some 26,000 people signed the petition against this Bill and are totally against it.
On the issue of the county councils, Laois County Council, for example, has stated that no changes whatever should be made without recourse to the best scientific evidence. This has simply not been done. I want to emphasise this to the Minister. It is outrageous that a Minister should come into the House totally scientifically unprepared. There has been no preparation or examination of scientific data whatever. I could put on the record of the Seanad the list of birds that are threatened by this Bill. The beekeepers have also protested against it.
The Minister speaks about a pilot scheme. There is already a pilot scheme in existence that will report this month. Tipperary County Council has conducted a real pilot scheme in conjunction with Donegal County Council. As it will report this month, why are we having this debate on a Bill just before a vital and relevant pilot project makes its report? It is quite extraordinary. I saw the Minister shaking her head when I said there was no scientific basis for this Bill. I put it to her that between December 2014 and January 2015, she convened a working group. It reported back with a full report, which was made to the Minister in October 2015. One of the most significant points made by the working group was that it would be important to engage with the European Commission regarding any proposed changes, given the interests in the protection of wild birds generally and in the context of the implementation of the birds directive. Based on the response to an information request, it is my understanding that there has been no formal correspondence between the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the EU Directorate General for Environment on this subject. Where is the scientific evidence to back this up? The report of the working party was clear that the Minister should engage with the European Commission. She has signally failed to do so.
In addition, the Minister has placed - on the record of the House - quite inaccurate information, which is contradicted by the scientific facts. For example, I refer to the question of cutting hedges and the resulting impact on natural fruits and so on. On 17 November the Minister said in this House:
If people want to get the best results out of their hedges in terms of seeds, berries and flowers, it is best to perform a light cutting every year. This is recognised to be the best husbandry and leads to a better production of flowers, seeds and berries.
I have a communication from a professional hedgerow manager and consultant. Let that sink in. Someone who is directly involved at the coalface as a professional consultant has written the Minister is 100% wrong in this regard:
I would like to point out to you that the scientific evidence does not support this statement; quite the opposite in fact. The annual trimming of hedgerows (particularly early in autumn) reduces the potential of hedgerows to produce flowers, seeds and berries. Whitethorn, by far the most dominant hedgerow shrub and found in 98% of hedgerows (National Hedgerow Database, NBDC), only flowers and fruits on wood that is at least two years old.
There are numerous research papers on this subject and he has said that he would be happy to supply this information.
My final piece comes from another correspondent who is also professionally qualified. I am talking about people who have a real standing in the matter:
In my capacity as an Agricultural advisor in the past I have never heard of farmers checking to confirm if breeding birds were to be disturbed by hedge cutting as suggested by the Minister. Farmers hire a contractor to cut and that's the end of it. As I followed the debate I found it very disheartening and insulting that the Minister never addressed the overwhelming evidence of the loss of breeding birds, the nonsense of a proposed pilot and why she was ignoring the existing body of evidence that would lead any rational person to conclude the proposed legislation in relation to hedgerow cutting will only serve to hastened the loss of birds.
Here I have put a substantial body of opinion from those engaged at the heart of this question with full scientific rigour and they contradict the Minister. I have also shown the absence of any contact with the European Commission despite what the working party report given to the Minister recommended. The scientific evidence is all against the Minister and I cannot understand why she is so obdurate in pushing the Bill through.
There are already six months of the year when farmers can do this. Senator Paul Daly made the reasonable point that there have been two major storms in the past couple of weeks. That is two weeks out of six months. Surely to goodness there is enough flexibility in the six months that are available already. I respectfully ask Fianna Fáil Members to consider their position and even take a neutral position. It would be a very good day for the Senate if we could knock out this Bill. It does not implicate Fianna Fáil in any negative response to the Bill. It can just be a neutral position. I respectfully ask that, as with the Canadian trade agreement, Fianna Fáil take this political position.
The Senator is speaking to the group of amendments. She is obviously free to highlight any of them she wants. I remind Senators that each of these amendments only needs to be moved. No seconder is required on Committee Stage. However, after putting the question on amendment 1b, the other amendments can only be moved and voted on. We cannot reopen a debate then. The Senator is free at the moment to do so and if she wants to come back, I will let her in.
Under EU obligations the conservation of wild birds must be taken into consideration. The whole canal system is like a wildlife habitat. As a result of the threat to many bird species it is really important that in all aspects of the canal legislation we recognise the annexes of the EU directives which protect natural habitats and flora and fauna along the canal system.
Regarding amendment No. 1b with the expansion of the greater Dublin area, the canals and rivers act as a very important wildlife corridor for migrating birds to go into rural areas. As custodians of that, it is necessary for us to ensure those wildlife corridors exist to protect the interests of the natural heritage.
Not too far from here one can see the commercialisation of the canal bank which I am not totally against. However, the over-commercialisation with food markets, tents and fast-food locations all springing up along the canal is affecting wildlife. I support amendment No. 1b and I ask the Minister to consider accepting it. It is a very minor amendment but would allow us to deal with some of those items.
Amendments Nos. 1c and 1g are very important. Our canal ways are nothing without barges and other canal boats on them. We need to maintain navigation, which is covered in amendment No. 1g. Amendment No. 1c states, "In page 4, line 9, after "designate" to insert ", without impeding navigation,"." These are two good amendments that strengthen the Bill. To be of assistance, I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 1d, but reserve the right to table it again on Report Stage because amendment No. 1e is possibly a stronger amendment.
We need to ensure we preserve the heritage and keep the canal ways as a wildlife corridor into the hinterland. The amendments deal with the over-commercialisation of the canal banks, which is very important in city areas, and maintaining navigation. These are common-sense amendments and it would be helpful for the Minister to indicate at an early stage whether she will accept them.
Section 3 deals with the new powers being given to the North-South body, Waterways Ireland, for the care, management and maintenance of Ireland's canal network. Those powers, heretofore with the Commissioners of Public Works and Córas Iompair Éireann, are being given to a North-South body. We need to be certain that the local views of all users of Ireland's canal network will not be impacted negatively by any of the changes being introduced or any of the additional responsibilities being given to the North-South body.
The current legislation was drafted in 1985 and came into law under the Canals Act 1986. It recognised the historical importance and heritage role of the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and later the River Barrow, as well as the emerging tourism potential for recreational users, boating activities and so forth. Many people use canals every day. Some people live on the canals because they have boats located on a canal, whether here in Dublin or further down in other parts of the country. It is important to recognise the historical and cultural significance of these canalsThere is also wildlife associated with the canals, which we will come to in later parts of the legislation.
In the context of this particular section, the amendments I have proposed relate to ensuring that the canals remain open to the general public. For more than 200 years, the canals have been utilised by the public - families, communities, farmers and so on - for commerce, recreation, amenity, walking, etc. If new powers are being bestowed on a North-South body, it is important that there is an assurance written into the legislation that will require that body to keep the network open when designated works are taking place. The concern relates to section 3, which states, "Waterways Ireland may designate particular parts of the canals and other canal property for particular purposes including purposes incidental to such purposes as aforesaid." Amendment No. 1c in my name requests that while Waterways Ireland may designate - that is fine - it must do so without impeding the navigation of the canal. I believe that is important for all canal users. Powers will be provided without consultation here, so we have to be careful.
Section 3 also states, "It is the duty of the Board and Waterways Ireland to undertake the care, management and maintenance of common interest property while such property is under the control of the Board or of Waterways Ireland.” I request that it be responsible not only for the care and management and maintenance of common property but also for the overall maintenance of the canal network. There are further questions here about local public consultation, about the democratic responsibility and accountability of Waterways Ireland, about the democratic engagement with councillors and local authority members and about the impact of decisions being taken by Inland Waterways.
I will give the Minister a moment if she needs one. On this particular issue-----
Amendment No. 1g in my name has exactly the same aim, which is to maintain the navigations while any of these works are taking place simply to ensure that users are not going to be discommoded because works are taking place. That would in its own right ensure that Waterways Ireland would have to engage, consult and liaise with users, local communities and so forth. There are other amendments that we will come to at a later stage by which I am seeking that consultation will not be at the discretion of Waterways Ireland, but rather that it would be imposed on Waterways Ireland.
There is a major controversy brewing down in the Barrow region. My colleague, Senator Lorraine Murnane O'Connor, has raised many concerns with regard to the Barrow line. Sorry, I meant Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor.
We saw the eminent broadcaster, Ms Olivia O'Leary, raise concerns with regard to the tearing up of a green space on the Barrow line. I visited the area. I went down and spent a full day walking the Barrow line down at St. Mullin's and through Graiguenamanagh to simply understand what was happening. The engagement or lack thereof between Waterways Ireland and the local communities leaves a lot to be desired. It is talking about ripping up a green area that is used by joggers, walkers, cyclists and all of the wildlife, including the otter protected under legislation enshrined within the Minister's Department, and replacing it with a gritty almost tarmacadam surface from County Kildare right down to St. Mullin's in south Kilkenny. In my view, that is absolute destruction.
It is unwarranted. There is a huge amount of money to be spent on it. I am told anecdotally that it will be in the region of €7 million. Is there not a better way to spend that money? Surely there is. I question the democratic accountability of Waterways Ireland, which is thus far not engaging with the local communities in those areas, which have had to initiate their own campaign at their own cost and have held public meetings attended by 400 or 500 people. This organisation seems to be non-accountable. It is raising major concerns. It is only right that we would question such things when this Bill is coming before this House today. The canal network is so significant to our communities. Regrettably, we have very little canal network in County Donegal. It is an Irish resource that has to be protected.
I am sorry that the Bill is not a stand-alone measure and that it is confused in with other issues-----
-----including wildlife and heritage. It should really be a stand-alone Bill because it is so significant and important not just today or historically but for the future and for the generations to come that will use the canals and the walkways that run alongside them. It was a retrograde step not to have it as a stand-alone measure. However, we are where we are and we will engage with the Minister as best we can. There is going to have to be some compromise because, without the democratic accountability and without those assurances for local communities and users, the Bill, as constituted, is not going to work. That is my view.
I wish to agree with the previous speakers, particularly Senator Ó Domhnaill. There is so much confusion. This is about the people who use the canals. The Barrow runs through my own area. We have had massive meetings about the Barrow walk, as it is known. An issue I have had for years is that between Waterways Ireland, the OPW and local authorities, there is nobody responsible for anything anymore. If someone wants to get something removed from the Barrow, its track or its walkways, one does not know who to go to because there is nobody taking responsibility. That is the biggest issue.
There is another issue that I feel is not being addressed. If we look at Carlow when considering the Heritage Bill today, the county does not have a heritage officer. Many other local authorities do not have heritage officers. That is unacceptable. We are here today to promote the counties, the heritage, the hedges, the hedgerows, the birds and the bees. We are here today to ensure that is all looked after. However, when I ring up and wait for ages while seeking information, there is no heritage officer in Carlow from whom I can get such information.
The Minister needs to put all these things in place. I know that we are passing Bills here and doing what we can. However, at the end of the day, if the community is not represented, if people do not know where to go between local authorities, OPW or Waterways Ireland, if nobody is taking responsibility and if there is no enforcement, this is not going to work. Those are the biggest issues that face us. Somebody has to be accountable. As far as I can tell, nobody is taking responsibility for anything. As previous speakers said, if Waterways Ireland is to be given this extra responsibility, which the Minister seems to be saying, where is it going to work from? Who is going to organise it? Will it be through local authorities or will it work with the communities? Where is this going? The Minister needs to clarify that because people are confused. We need to make sure to let them know that this Bill is for the users of the canal and the River Barrow. This is for all of them. That matter needs to be resolved.
I agree with the previous speakers. It is all very well setting up organisations such as Waterways Ireland but they must be accountable locally. There is this notion that somebody in an office somewhere in the midlands can make decisions for the entire country without any local accountability. We are moving further and further away from local accountability as we progress legislation through this House. There are people in every county who know what is going on and who are in touch with local organisations, sporting groups and various walking groups.I could not believe it when I heard about the notion of putting a roadway along the canal. Unlike my colleague, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill - God bless his strong legs - I have not walked it. The person in an office somewhere who decided that it would be a great idea to do this must not have spoken to anyone. I support the amendment fully.
I will call some Senators for their second contribution on these amendments. I will not allow them in for a third time because the Minister has to put her case also. It is very hard to know what her response will be and we cannot anticipate it. I will call Senators Lynn Ruane, Alice-Mary Higgins, David Norris and Kevin Humphreys in that order.
No worries. I would like speak about a number of amendments. I think the issues covered in many of the amendments boil down to amendment No. 1f. Given that the Heritage Bill is sponsored by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, it is bizarre that it requires Waterways Ireland to engage "with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources" rather than the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. As this matter clearly falls within the ministerial remit and portfolio of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, she should be consulted on it. We are proposing the amendments because we do not think the Minister, having brought the Bill to the House with the intention of pushing it through, should remove herself thereafter from any communication on a heritage or wildlife matter. I ask Senators to consider amendment No. 1f, in particular, in order that we can provide for consistency in relation to the Minister and her office.
Amendment No. 1e refers to "wild fauna and flora". Our environmental obligations as an EU member state mean that certain areas are protected, or potentially protected, because of their value as natural habitats and specifically because they are used as habitats by certain wild flora and fauna. I was surprised to see the findings of a study carried out in Clondalkin by an environmental group and several community groups which focused on the Royal Canal in the Clondalkin area. According to the study, there are 74 bird species in the Clondalkin part of the canal alone. This also ties into the argument that has been made for why the Minister needs to row back on what she is proposing in the case of hedgerows. The study found that as a result of the development of Grange Castle townlands and the construction of the outer ring road in the vicinity of the Grand Canal, the pheasant breeding grounds had been all but destroyed and that birds of prey, including the long-eared owl-----
I thank the Chair. I was making a point about the canal and hedgerows. The long-eared owl and other birds of prey lost an established habitat when pipeworks were laid along the route of the outer ring road near the Grand Canal. We lost our long-eared owls when large sections of hedgerow were removed from the north and south banks of the Grand Canal. When we consider the amendments which seek to ensure our natural heritage is protected, we need to look at the species we have lost to date, including the pheasant and the long-eared owl. I believe our natural heritage belongs to everyone and it is up to us all to protect it. I suggest the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs demonstrate this by considering the amendments and allowing us to protect heritage, wildlife and flora along the canals.
I would like to comment on some of the amendments. I have already spoken about amendment No. 1b. I echo Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill's eloquent point about amendments Nos. 1c and 1g, both of which relate to the idea of navigation, the core purpose for which the canal network was originally designed. We must recognise that substantial work has been done over the decades in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and elsewhere to make navigation along the canals an option again. The maintenance of the canal network to facilitate journeys between the Republic and Northern Ireland along the canals is more essential than ever in the light of the unique North-South role of such navigation. It is surprising that this is not mentioned in the Bill. It is essential for navigation to be mentioned in both places in order that this core use of the canals can be maintained.
I have seen the canals from two or three ends. When I was growing up in Galway, I saw the importance of the canals there. I am also familiar with the role of the canals along the Shannon waterway which many tourists take great joy in navigating. It is also worth mentioning that many people live and work on the canals. Many of us who live in Dublin will know that there is a point in the year when boats come to the city from all over Ireland via the canals. This essential navigation is a joyful and key role of the canals. The maintenance of navigation is needed to ensure the canals function effectively. I am happy to co-sponsor amendments Nos. 1c and 1g and strongly support the message we have heard from Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill.
I thank Senator Kevin Humphreys for proposing amendment No. 1d which differs slightly from what Senator Lynn Ruane and I are proposing in amendment No. 1e. I appreciate that Senator Kevin Humphreys has indicated that he might be willing to withdraw his amendment while withholding the right to resubmit it. I will explain the slight nuance in our amendment. We are concerned that amendment No. 1d provides that Waterways Ireland would have this responsibility "except for areas" covered by the Heritage Acts. We have tried to change that by providing that Waterways Ireland would have this responsibility "with appropriate exception and allowance made for" such areas. Of course, there will be areas which will need to be maintained by and under the responsibility of Waterways Ireland but which will also require an allowance to be made for their protection.
Senator David Norris spoke about our European obligations. We have tried to put them back in because it would be appropriate to do so. This is where they belong. If we have subscribed to certain obligations at European level, we need to ensure they are in this Bill and part of what is being considered, "with appropriate exception and allowance made for areas subject to protection or proposed protection for natural heritage or used by species listed in Annex IV or V or Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora". When we talk about natural corridors - Senators have listed eloquently the species in question - we are not talking in some abstract or loose way. Our comments are based not only on debates we have previously had in Ireland but also on the debates that have taken place across Europe on identifying what we collectively need to do to mind flora and fauna. There are rules and regulations in place. In amendment No. 1e we are simply seeking to ensure the rules and regulations to which we have already subscribed are adequately reflected in the legislation. We need to recognise that the functions of Waterways Ireland in undertaking "the care, management and maintenance of the canals" will be carried out in a way that is informed by all of our obligations.
We must speak about the canals as amenities, in addition to speaking about them in terms of navigation. I reserve the right to table amendments on Report Stage with regard to tourism, another key purpose of the canals for which we have not provided. Unfortunately, the list of canal amenities in the Bill, as it stands. is unimaginative. The proposed new section 5(1)(a) of the 1986 Act refers to "navigation in such parts of the canals as are open to navigation from time to time" and to "fishing or otherwise". The things Waterways Ireland might need to consider as its duties, as listed in this core starting point of the legislation, are narrow and unimaginative. I ask Members to support one of the amendments seeking to ensure "natural heritage" is mentioned in the Bill. I reserve the right to include an amendment in respect of tourism and tourism purposes.
I do not intend to speak at length about the proposal for the River Barrow because it would be more appropriate to do so in the context of the next section. However, I acknowledge what has been said about the matter. Members of my family who live by the River Barrow use it. I know that this routeway is of massive importance to counties Carlow and Kilkenny. The lack of consultation on the proposals for the river has been extraordinary. Perhaps we might have an opportunity to discuss the matter when we reach the section of the Bill that pertains to public consultation.
I have referred to all of my amendments other than amendment No. 1h to this section.I formally propose it. This is to ensure-----
In amendment No. 1h, we are drifting into the area which is covered better in the next section, where we are looking to a lack of a clarity around how powers are to be exercised. What we have in this proposal is simply a statement that any actions taken under this section would be “subject to agreed criteria for safety standards aboard a vessel and adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person”. We do not want a situation where the regulation "under which boats may be used on the canals" is used in an arbitrary fashion, given, for example, that heritage vessels such as the Guinness barges are such a part of our heritage. We must be clear that once a boat is meeting agreed safety standards, because safety is, of course, paramount, and once this has been adjudicated in a transparent and appropriate way, then it is appropriate that regulation may be set. However, what we do not want is an arbitrary power that a class of boat might be randomly removed. While that is to move more deeply into the section, and is a slightly different topic, these matters were grouped together.
I acknowledge my colleague had points to make in regard to birds which we did not address in these amendments, although we may look at that on Report Stage. I would ask the House to support amendment No. 1f, which relates to the inclusion of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Is it not extraordinary that this Bill seeks to abrogate and move responsibility which, as we heard, previously sat with the OPW and others from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and to state that Waterways Ireland should only report on fish stocks and other environmental issues to the "Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources"? Our amendment simply states that the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs should also be consulted and talked to. It is an abrogation of responsibility in an area that should be led and owned by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
There is a concern here, although I know the Minister rejects that. We need to see the footprint of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in this legislation. We also need to see amendments from that Department, which I would welcome. We need to see where the channels of responsibility and accountability will be in this section and the other sections of the Bill. They need to be a lot more visible because, at the moment, there is a real concern as to where this would go. For example, we heard farmers will be making their own decisions of their own free will, and I also think we will free up the local authorities, which should be supporting this. We have seen very good initiatives in places like Clare with regard to hedge cutting, for example. Local authorities have a responsibility around safety and they need to step up but there is a danger we would move away from having the local authorities fulfil their responsibilities. Similarly, I would be concerned that, in giving these powers to Waterways Ireland and not ensuring enough of an accountable political structure upwards, we are potentially abrogating responsibility.
I very much hope the Minister will be able to accept amendments Nos. 1c and 1g. I do not think there is any use having a canal if it is not navigable - it is just a blot on the landscape, a kind of weed-strewn expanse, and there is absolutely no point to it. The only point to the canals is if they are available for navigation and people can sail their boats through them. I would have thought that was pretty obvious and I do not see any reason the Minister should object to that. It seems to be a fundamental purpose of the Bill.
With regard to amendment No. 1f, it seems extraordinary that the Minister should introduce a Bill and then include a section that holds another Minister responsible. There is a sustainable argument that Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has no business sticking her nose into fishing and that there should be a separate Bill on this subject. However, given this Bill has been introduced by this Minister, I do not understand why she is running away from responsibility for this. If she is taking responsibility for introducing this Bill, she should continue to have responsibility with regard to the provisions of the Bill.
Amendment No. 1h, which was dealt with very well by Senator Higgins, reads as follows:
In page 4, line 29, after “canals” to insert the following:
“subject to agreed criteria for safety standards aboard a vessel and adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person”.
Again, I hope the Minister will be able to accept this. Without agreed safety standards, what is being implemented? We do not know what is being implemented. It has to be set down what the standards are. We know that every year, tragically, there are quite a few drowning accidents, mostly in the sea but some could well be in the canals. Therefore, we first need to know what are the standards that are being implemented. If we do not have these standards set down, then we do not what we are implementing and people are working in the dark. Those standards should then be adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person. Again, it is obvious and logical that we should have somebody who has suitable qualifications. There is no point having unqualified people with no training in this area and who do not understand the circumstances. It seems absurd to allow a situation where there are no standards, we do not know what is being applied and the person applying it has no qualifications. Surely we need to establish very clearly what the standards of safety are, given this is a critical matter in terms of the welfare of citizens of Ireland. We then need have people who are actually qualified. I could not just walk on and say, "I think this is unsafe", because that would be rubbish. We need properly qualified personnel and they need to know what they are implementing. I cannot see any argument whatever against this.
I have spoken on each of the amendments except amendment No. 1f. There is no question of the Minister's good intentions in this regard. Amendment No. 1f strengthens the Bill by naming the Minister. As outlined by Senator Higgins and other speakers, it does not make sense for this to fall to the "Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources" and it should also specify the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is really a matter of future-proofing legislation to ensure there is enough and proper oversight. Among all the amendments, of some of which I am co-sponsor, I do not see any that undermine the Minister's intention. I would ask her to accept each of the amendments because they do not contradict her intention but strengthen it.
We are dealing with section 3. The amendments to the Canals Act 1986 are primarily enabling provisions to allow Waterways Ireland to make by-laws to regulate boating on the canals and to manage the use of the canals, and they will enhance the ability of Waterways Ireland to manage these waterways for the benefit of all users. That is the purpose of this provision on the canals. With regard to section 3 in particular, I intend to bring an amendment on Report Stage to update the title of "Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources" to the current title of "Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment".
There are no new powers in section 3 because it substitutes an existing section of the 1986 Act.There are a number of technical amendments updating references to the commissioners with Waterways Ireland. It is a tidying up exercise. We are taking what was in section 5 of an old Act and putting it into this Bill.
Absolutely, but I am just explaining the reason we are doing it. We cannot give Waterways Ireland new powers. Given that Waterways Ireland is a North-South body, we must work on a North-South basis. We cannot act unilaterally to change its remit. While I accept the Senator's intentions in proposing the amendments, Waterways Ireland is a North-South body and I cannot alter its remit. The purpose of the Bill is to allow for the proper regulation and to manage and control the canals and waterways properly. It is to strengthen the powers of Waterways Ireland to regulate activity on the canals and allow the canals to be used for the benefit of everybody.
Regarding amendment No. 1b, Waterways Ireland is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of the inland navigable waterway system throughout the island, principally for recreational purposes. This statutory remit is set out in the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. The amendment would alter the body's legislative remit from one to manage, maintain, develop and restore the inland waterways primarily for recreational purposes to one which makes the environment the primary driver of Waterways Ireland. Waterways Ireland complies with all legislative protections for the navigations. The proposed amendment is not within the statutory functions of Waterways Ireland and would alter the body's legislative remit. Waterways Ireland does everything in its power to protect the interests of natural heritage. It is a statutory body and complies with all the legislation to protect the natural heritage.
Amendment No. 1c inserts the words "without impeding navigation". It is not the intention of Waterways Ireland to impede navigation. The primary purpose of the canal and Waterways Ireland is to keep it open.
The amendment would restrict Waterways Ireland's ability to provide new infrastructure such as moorings and weirs along the canal. Water levels need to be lowered due to flooding and other circumstances which would impede navigation. Waterways Ireland regularly closes navigation, through its marine notices, to allow special events to take place. That is for the enjoyment of the public. The change of the wording in the legislation would preclude it. The wording in the legislation has been in place for many years and it works well. It allows all navigation users' interests to be represented and accommodated. It has never caused any difficulty in the past. There has been no problem with the wording. There is no intention to stop people from using the canal.
The purpose of Waterways Ireland is to engage with people. It has carried out projects such as the blueways. Members should go to Carrick-on-Shannon where there is a wonderful project whereby Waterways Ireland has worked with the local community to explore how to increase the use of the waterways, not just for boat users but for water-based recreational activities. That is what Waterways Ireland is trying to do. It wants to manage the canals in such a way that everybody can use them.
Amendments Nos. 1d, 1e and a1f are unnecessary in that compliance with EU directives is legally binding. It is not necessary to restate it here. Waterways Ireland works within the EU directives. All the canals are designated as proposed national heritage areas or special areas of conservation, SACs. Waterways Ireland must comply with EU directives and it already has to carry out assessments of all its activities under such legislation to ensure it does not negatively impact on the natural heritage or the environment. There is no need to make the amendments given that Waterways Ireland complies with all the EU regulations and all the necessary assessments are carried out. The canals are already designated protected areas under the EU directives on SACs or natural heritage areas. Waterways Ireland must comply with all EU and national regulation on protected species and natural habitats.
The Barrow towpath was mentioned and it has got a lot of attention. Waterways Ireland has engaged in a number of information meetings during the past month following the planning application. The closing date for objections to the planning application is today. Regarding amendment No. 1e, I have already outlined that Waterways Ireland complies with EU directives and is legally binding. Therefore, the proposed amendment is unnecessary. The same applies to amendment No. a1f.
Amendment No. 1f is, again, regarding compliance with an EU directive. The amendment proposes, in page 4, line 15, after “canals” to insert “, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs”. By not putting it in I am not running away or letting any future Minister off the hook. Nobody wants to run away from his or her responsibility. Under the British-Irish Agreement Act, there is an obligation on Waterways Ireland to obtain the Minister's consent for making by-laws. There is no need to mention the Minister here. It is all in the British-Irish Agreement. Waterways Ireland is a cross-Border body and there is another set of rules it must work with as well as what I am trying to do here, which is to put in enabling legislation to allow it to pass by-laws in order that it can control activity on the waterways for the benefit of all users.
Amendment No. 1g is to maintain navigation. In the Canals Act 1986 "the board" means Córas Iompair Éireann, CIE. CIE has no statutory responsibility to maintain navigations. Waterways Ireland's duty to maintain navigations is set out in section 5(1)(a) and it is unnecessary to repeat it here. This is why I do not feel the amendment is necessary. Amendment No. 1h is not within the statutory function of Waterways Ireland and would alter the body's legislative remit. It is not in the interests of the public or of community users.
The Minister's response is ambiguous and rather confused. On the one hand, she said we cannot introduce these amendments because this is an all-Ireland body and, on other hand, she said what they seek to do is already provided for. Did she consult the Northern Ireland authorities regarding this Bill generally? Was there any consultation, was there no consultation and, if not, why was there no consultation? These are very obvious matters to be introduced.
I am happy to resubmit amendment No. 1c on Report Stage with a qualification whereby it would read: "after "designate" to insert ", without unnecessarily impeding navigation,"." Will the Minister indicate if she would be able to accept it?
Okay. I will resubmit that amendment in that case.
With regard to safety, I said this was a nonsense because the Minister seemed to dismiss the area of safety as being insignificant. The safety of the public should be a crucial and critical element of legislation. I will leave it at that.
We need to be careful in this respect. I am referring to amendment No. 1f, which relates to page 4, line 15 of the Bill. The section states: "Waterways Ireland shall consult with the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources in relation to any matters which affect or may affect fish, fish life, fish stocks or fishing in the canals." This amendment does not cut across the obligations of Waterways Ireland, rather it strengthens the Bill. I will not delay on this if the Minister is prepared to consider the amendment on Report Stage.
In dealing with the section the Minister has referred to the precise wording of the amendment, but she will note that we are amending the text of the section. Similarly, Senator Norris's amendment seeks to ensure that the canal remains open for navigation. He is not proposing that the canal cannot be maintained or drained for maintenance works. Many of these amendments support the provisions of the Bill.
The Minister has mentioned Waterways Ireland many times and I would make this point. Everybody is of the view that we cannot criticise Waterways Ireland because of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace accord. In my short term in government and serving as a member of a Government party, it is sometimes treated like the Holy Grail. We cannot say things are wrong because this body is part of the Good Friday Agreement and it is the only all-Ireland operation. It is generally a good body but this needs to be amended.
These amendments will strengthen the section. I am not saying that the wording of this amendment is precisely accurate. Rather than focusing on the sections, it would be helpful if the Minister considered if she could use the suggestions put forward by Senators in their amendments to support the legislation, as opposed to folding them down. Many Senators made very good contributions. The Minister realises where they are coming from with their proposals. It is too simplistic to say because Waterways Ireland is an all-Ireland body and its headquarters is in Enniskillen and so on that we cannot amend the by-laws without consultation. We are introducing legislation and already starting to make changes in respect of by-laws in terms of who can make them and how they can be improved. Rather than not accept the amendments, the Minister should engage further with Senators to see if we can we strengthen the legislation and she can consider the amendments again on Report Stage.
I would like to ask the Minister about an issue that is related to the Bill and it ties in with what the previous speaker said. What does the Minister consider the role of Waterways Ireland to be in general with regard to this Bill and with regard to its functionality in future in a Brexit scenario? Is there something we should be addressing here? Are we speaking somewhat hypothetically? This body has an all-Ireland function and we all make reference to the Good Friday Agreement. However, will the 27 member states who will be negotiating Brexit make reference to the Good Friday Agreement? Is there not a far bigger problem or crisis coming down the line for Waterways Ireland while we are here talking around in circles about changing the wording of a Bill that will be dysfunctional depending on how Brexit goes? The Minister might address that point. While it is not directly related to the Bill, it is very much a concern for the future and it will be integral to this Bill.
I wish to make a few points. Even though I was not in the Chamber to hear the Minister's replies, I was listening to them in the ante-room. She considers that amendment No. 1e is unnecessary because what it proposes is already protected by our obligations in regard to the EU, but I do not believe it is unnecessary. Any amendment that strengthens the measures that are already in place by pointing to specific provisions with respect to, for example, flora and fauna can only strengthen the Bill in regard to the EU regulations. If we are already accountable in regard to the EU regulations and that is accounted for elsewhere, there is no harm or nothing to be afraid of in inserting the wording of this amendment in the Bill.
With regard to flora especially, the marsh marigold, which is a wildflower, can be found in urban areas of Dublin along the banks of the Royal Canal and is considered locally to be of importance because nationally it is in decline. It is important to focus on some of those areas with respect to amendment No. 1e.
Following on from what Senator Paul Daly said, this section presents a serious problem. As Senator Daly said, we do not know where Waterways Ireland will stand post-Brexit? This entire section may be deemed totally and utterly useless. We could have two countries, the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland, each having a different set of regulations and different criteria. This has thrown the cat among the pigeons. It creates serious concern. There appears to have been no consultation with Northern Ireland on the drafting of this Bill, and the Minister might clarify if there was consultation. Unless we are all singing off the same hymn sheet, North and South, we could find ourselves in serious trouble with this.
We have to address the implications of this Bill in a post-Brexit world. As the 27 member states go forward to negotiate, I do not think they will be too pushed about the canals in Ireland. This causes a serious problem and perhaps we should withdraw the canals element from the Bill at this stage and deal with it separately.
I agree with Senators Craughwell and Paul Daly. This issue creates a new dynamic in a Brexit world. The Good Friday Agreement and its institutions are enshrined within the European Union and within the United Nations, so I presume they would override any post-Brexit scenario, but I am not sure of that. One would assume that but we cannot be sure. There may be a requirement for clarity here.
Has the Minister's Department sought the advice of the Attorney General or sought advice elsewhere regarding this particular issue? This Bill was drafted and introduced pre-Brexit and now we are in a post-Brexit situation. Has there been any engagement between the Minister and her northern counterpart regarding the canals element of the Bill? Has any concern been expressed by the office of the Minister's northern counterpart regarding this Bill being within the confines of other items of legislation within the Republic. It is not a standalone Bill, there are other aspects attached to it.
I wish to raise two points regarding the Minister's response, with which I would disagree. The first is that she argued there are no new powers being provided under this legislation.The Minister is right in saying that. There are, however, powers being taken from an exclusive State-owned entity, Córas Iompair Éireann, CIE, and given to a North-South body. There is a dilution of powers in the overall island context. The communities in the bowels of Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois and Kildare are seeking assurances that the navigation network will not be disturbed. That is why these amendments are being put forward. What I have heard so far does not reassure me.
I attended a very welcome briefing in the Minister's Department where the officials engaged, as did Senator Daly. The Department has confidence in Waterways Ireland. I would reserve confidence in it, however, for the following reasons associated with the Barrow Line saga. A planning application has been submitted to Carlow County Council. There are two other local authorities, Laois and Kildare, where it is anticipated that planning applications will be submitted for ripping up a grass surface and replacing it with chippings. I travelled along the grass and along a section where the new suggested surface in Graiguenamanagh has been installed and it is a mess. The surface is gritty. Potholes emerge after a while. If there is flooding on the river there is nowhere for the water to go. When there is a grass verge at least the water can get away and it is natural to the local environment. Cyclists, walkers, fishermen, everyone can use the current surface.
A civil engineering report by Kildare County Council which was released under freedom of information to the Save the Barrow Line committee highlights that the current towpath is not wide enough to accommodate the proposed two-way cycling route which Waterways Ireland is trying to develop. The report also states that it is suggested that the towpath, which is 115 km from Monasterevin in Kildare to St. Moling's in Carlow, be replaced with this hardcore surface of rolled, crushed, limestone dust. According to the civil engineer with Kildare County Council, it would be 50% more expensive than a bound surface over the same lifetime. It is the kind of surface that will be washed away when the river floods, a complete and utter waste of money. It will cost, anecdotally, €7 million to put the surface in place, then it will costs thousands of euro every year to maintain the surface because of the mess we see at St. Moling's.
The Minister may have faith in Waterways Ireland but I do not because the consultation the Minister speaks of is a statutory consultation being brought about because it is applying for planning permission, not because it is instigating the consultation. None of the correspondence sent from the Barrow Line volunteers and committee members to Waterways Ireland has been answered. How can we have faith in this organisation? How can we give it exclusive powers to maintain and develop when it will not listen to the local people? There are local landowners, farmers, walkers, users and boat owners and we must exercise care.
I appreciate that the Minister comes in here with the best will in the world but her good intentions will be shortlived if Waterways Ireland proceeds with the plan it is trying to get permission for. The consultation has been non-existent. There is a report from Kildare County Council. It is fairly detailed and I could read many paragraphs from it here today but, to summarise, the report is damning about the recommendations of Waterways Ireland. This is written by a civil engineer employed by a local authority. We have to revisit what Waterways Ireland is engaged in. Its consultation and motives are questionable and are not in keeping with the views of locally-elected councillors and other public representatives in these Houses.
A former Member of this House, Larry Butler, has been to the fore in raising concerns in his own area along the Barrow Line outside Graiguenamanagh. It would destroy a beautiful grassy surface to dig this up and replace it with what Waterways Ireland suggests. It would be abandonment of a natural resource and would be a disgrace. I walked along there and took pictures. I am not sure if the Minister or any of the officials involved in drafting this legislation have visited the area. While that issue may be a planning matter, outside the realm of this Bill, they are linked because of the consultation period here and Waterways Ireland's role in respect of its development plans. I do not have faith in it and that is why we seek the designation to make sure that people can use the navigation system. If Waterways Ireland is not listening to the local people at the moment with a development plan, can we be sure that with powers being transferred from Córas Iompair Éireann to Waterways Ireland it will listen in the future? I am not so sure.
The Minister mentioned a concern about amendment No. 1b that it would place natural heritage ahead of the other considerations. I do not believe it necessarily does so and that is why Senator Ruane and I tabled that amendment separately from the amendment tabled by Senators Humphreys and Ó Ríordáin. We had the concern the Minister expressed that natural heritage would be one part but that the other functions are equally important. That is why we seek to remove the phrase "where consistent with that objective".
I believe we have managed in amendment No. 1b to ensure that natural heritage, which needs to be visible, is visible. I do not believe anything in the original terms precludes us from making it visible and being appropriate. We tried to get that balance. If, however, the Minister were to propose alternative wording that she would be happy to insert we would be very happy to withdraw our amendment and resubmit alternate wording. It is essential to recognise that role in the duties of Waterways Ireland. It is not a change of powers, it is to protect the interests of natural heritage. It is crucial to put that alongside the other functions. We have heard that at length today. We have tried to address that point but if there is a wording the Minister feels would improve it, we will be very interested to hear that.
In respect of amendment No. 1e, what the Minister and others in the House have said about Brexit points, if anything, more to the necessity for this amendment. The amendment is very carefully worded. We leave it open to allow, "appropriate exception and allowance". We make sure that is there. We specifically state, "protection or proposed protection for natural heritage or used by species listed in Annex IV or V". We acknowledge the EU legislation but we are particularly and explicitly protecting the species listed under that legislation. That is important because, post-Brexit, there may be a question as to whether the EU directive will be enforceable in respect of the northern parts of the canal. We are copperfastening the list of species correctly addressed and recognised by the directive as ones that travel throughout our island, without regard to boundary. This list of species, put together at great length by experts in the Commission, agreed to by Ireland and other EU countries, would be a reference point for protection all along the canal.In fact, it future proofs those protections because while we hope it will be the case, we cannot necessarily rely on the fact that these EU directives will be enforceable, accountable or reportable in Northern Ireland. By inserting this amendment we take that list of indigenous species, some of which are very vulnerable, and make sure that the species therein are explicitly recognised and protected. In fact, in the context of Brexit, there is an even stronger case for the inclusion of amendment No. 1e and I will be pressing that particular amendment. I believe Senator Grace O'Sullivan has tabled a similar amendment but we must push to include this particular one.
The Minister referred to by-laws and said that she was accountable in respect of such laws in the context of amendment No. 1f. However, that amendment does not simply relate to by-laws. Senator Humphreys elaborated on that point so I will not go into detail on it. The amendment relates to any matters which affect or may affect fish life and fishing along the canal, which is also part of our heritage. It deals with "any matters", not simply by-laws. I would respectfully suggest that the Minister's power in terms of by-laws under the Act does not specifically address the concern that the amendment is attempting to address by ensuring the Minister is part of any conversation on fish stocks and fishing practices along the canal. It is not commercial but is, in many cases, a cultural, heritage and tourism activity. This is also an issue of importance in Galway.
Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke an amendment No. 1g but the objections the Minister made in reference to amendment No. 1c do not stand in respect of amendment No. 1g. That amendment is very practical. The Minister regards it as unnecessary but it is certainly useful. As there is no concrete reason to oppose it and it adds a clear narrative and reminder of the function of navigations, it should be supported.
There may have been some confusion in the House with regard to amendment No. 1h. I know that it was not the Minister's intention to disregard that amendment and perhaps she will have a chance to address it, dealing as it does with safety statements. The Minister spoke to the other amendment which deals with living on the canal, as I understand it. Again, I appreciate that the wording may not be ideal in terms of the rights of those who are living on the canal but we were trying to ensure those people are visible and included in the legislation. Perhaps the Government has its own suggestions in respect of the appropriate language to use in amendment No. a1h.
In respect of amendment No. 1h, which is about safety standards, the Minister did not get a chance to reply-----
In that case, I am happy to leave amendment No. 1h for now. The last point I would make, although I will wait until we reach section 4 to discuss it in depth, relates to consultation. The Minister mentioned the role of Waterways Ireland in consultation with all citizens. This legislation is frustrating and detailed but the reason so many amendments have been tabled to it, which none of us wants to be ploughing through, is because of a lack of consultation at an early point. Many of the issues we have raised could have been addressed before this legislation was published if there had been adequate consultation with Waterways Ireland. We do not want to be going through every single detail, bit by bit, but these amendments are based on responses from stakeholders who feel strongly about these issues and who have contacted us, as legislators, because their concerns had not been heard prior to the drafting of the Bill. That is the unfortunate reality. Consultation will be discussed further when we reach section 4, but the Barrow Line scheme is another example of the lack of consultation. Clearly, one month of information meetings after the planning permission application was submitted, is inadequate consultation. Obviously, there must be consultation before planning permission is sought and before a route is designed. I say this as someone who is passionate about routes for cyclists but there are many other users of the canal and we need-----
In reference to the canals, and I am familiar with the Barrow in my own area, it seems that nobody has overall responsibility, whether it be Waterways Ireland, the Office of Public Works or the local authorities. Going forward, this must be sorted out. If one wants to cut a tree down along the river Barrow, one is not allowed to do so. No one will take responsibility.
In terms of the Barrow Line and the Barrow walk, as previous speakers have said, this is a massive issue for people. This is the Heritage Bill but we are taking away our heritage. If we remove the grassy surface from the Barrow walk, we are taking away our heritage. That grass has been there since the walk was opened and will continue growing. If we put in a hard surface, there will be no money made available to maintain it. Nobody wants this. This is particularly important for the people who live along the Barrow. Grass can be used by both cyclists and walkers. We are discussing the Heritage Bill today. We are fighting to keep what is left of our traditions and heritage. Controversy has arisen because the Department is trying to remove that heritage by putting in a hard surface. That offends everything we are fighting for, and removing the grassy surfaces that we want to keep as part of our heritage is unnecessary. Money should be spent on filling the canals and rivers with fish, on promoting our waterways, improving the signage and highlighting their value as a tourist attraction. If I were to ask for a sign to put up for the River Barrow, I would be told that there is no money available to do that.
The Minister must concentrate on what we have. She must focus on our rivers and canals and make them an even bigger tourist attraction by putting fish into them and attracting people to them. That is what the Minister must do in the long term. That is what heritage is about and that is what this Bill should be about.
I wish to make clear that with amendment No. a1f, I am seeking to focus on the conservation of wild birds. Senator Higgins addressed other issues, including mammals and wildflowers, but my amendment is concerned with the conservation of wild birds along our waterways. Indeed, when I say waterways, I am not just talking about the water itself but also the hedgerows and tree lines that run alongside the canals. At this stage, I am prepared to withdraw my amendment but reserve the right to reintroduce it on Report Stage.
Okay. I support what Senator Murnane O'Connor has just said regarding the amenity element of the waterways but we should not forget the community of canal dwellers. Senator Murnane O'Connor and I are members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government which regularly discusses the issue of our housing stock. There are 200 or more people living on the canals and their homes are part of our housing stock. The function of the canals and the rights of the people who live on them must be supported, recognised and upheld.
I want to be clear on what this legislation is about. The legislation is about altering the old legislation by taking section 5 of the Canals Act 1986 and putting it into this legislation. It was a tidy-up exercise. This is enabling legislation. The real purpose of today is to allow us to pass by-laws for the control of the canals for the benefit of the public. That is what this is about.
The point was made that there should have been more meetings and more information should have been given. However, I point out this Bill started its passage well over a year ago. Since our last meeting on the Heritage Bill in November, officials from my Department have had significant and successful meetings with the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, to discuss issues of concern around the canal provisions in Part 2. Many of the issues relating to the amendments were discussed along with related canal issues. There was a shared understanding on both sides of the importance of canals to rural areas for tourism development and local communities. The IWAI recognised the rights of the regulator to regulate and recognised that legislation should provide equally for regulatory and user requirements as well as by-laws. The importance of having regular engagement was acknowledged and the meeting concluded with a desire to continue this relationship. I absolutely believe that a better solution is achieved if we consult with people and explain the position. It was a positive and constructive meeting and there is a commitment to have more with the IWAI.
One of the main issues was the consultation period on the by-laws. There was considerable concern. Many Senators have brought this to my attention. I will be bringing forward a proposal on Report Stage to address those concerns. We are going to have 90 days for consultation. I imagine that will be broadly accepted.
Let us go back to the River Barrow. I fully understand that there is much concern on this issue. I am going to ask Waterways Ireland to brief the Senators. I will arrange a briefing on the issue around the River Barrow. It is an operational issue for Waterways Ireland. In any event, I am giving a commitment to the House today that I will ask Waterways Ireland to give the House a full briefing on what is happening on the River Barrow.
The question of Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement has been raised. We must protect the Good Friday Agreement as part of the Brexit negotiations. The Good Friday Agreement and the follow-on document, A Fresh Start, is a priority. It is so important. No one knows this more than those of us from Border areas.
This legislation has nothing to do with Northern Ireland. It is enabling legislation in order that Waterways Ireland can pass by-laws. The by-laws relate specifically to the waterways that are south of the Border. These are our laws and it is up to us to make them. The by-laws are a matter for those of us in this jurisdiction. This is simply enabling legislation. There was no need to consult with Northern Ireland because the legislation does not apply there. There are references to changes that would apply to Northern Ireland. That is why it would not be in our interests to accept some of these amendments. They would contravene or impact upon the special status that Waterways Ireland has as a North-South body. Legislation is in place to cover that. This legislation is specifically to deal with the issue of by-laws on this side of the Border.
I appeal to Senators to come back to me if I have missed anything - numerous points have been raised.
Reference was made to amendment No. 1f. I realise that people are keen for a provision relating to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to be included. I will read out a prepared note. Waterways Ireland shall consult with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in respect of any matter which affects or may affect fish, fish life, fish stocks or fishing in the canals. That is where the skill set lies and that is where the expertise relating to fish is located. That is why the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is not included. Under the legislation covering the North-South body, that is to say, the British-Irish Agreement, there is an obligation on Waterways Ireland to obtain the consent of the Minister responsible in order for that body to make by-laws. Therefore, there is no need to include a reference to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in that section. The reference to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources - that title is to be changed - is included because that is where the responsibility lies for matters relating to fish and Inland Fisheries Ireland, which is the expert body in that area.
Reference was made to towpaths. I understand that not all canal towpaths are under the control of Waterways Ireland. Some of them are under the control of the local authority and some are under the control of the NRA. Perhaps we need to do something. If a problem needs to be addressed, we need to know who is responsible. Perhaps some arrangement could be made to ensure one point of contact. I understand those responsible are trying to create a blueway on the River Barrow. In fairness to Waterways Ireland, the organisation has done some magnificent work along the Shannon-Erne Canal. The canal progresses on to the Shannon. The investment in the blueways is wonderful, as is the way the organisation is engaging with schools and local authorities. Waterways Ireland works in a collaborative way to put together wonderful water-based recreational amenities for people. In Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, Waterways Ireland has done wonderful work. The organisation is very good at working with communities. It has invested a good deal of money in developing other amenities on the canals for a variety of canal users, not only amenities specific to the boats.
I believe I have addressed most of the issues.
I thank the Minister for setting up the meeting. It is important. I hope it happens as soon as the Minister can manage it. For me, it is important to relay this information to the people I represent, as is the need to find a balance.
I want to go back to amendment No. 1f.There is a certain responsibility in respect of fisheries for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, but sometimes that crosses over, for argument's sake, in the case of coarse fishing for roach, pike, etc., and the encouraging of spawning grounds and planting of reeds and lilies. There are different areas where there is crossover. There needs to be communication. This is nothing other than a safeguard to ensure that there is a consultation on it. If the Minister accepts that, it will strengthen the Bill. Putting the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in there at that stage does not weaken the Bill, therefore it strengthens it.
I would just like to say that it would be very helpful if the Minister arranged to merge all the amendments and for them to be rationally numbered in advance of our next meeting so that it would be easier for Members to follow.
I will be pushing amendment 1g because it is obvious that part of maintaining navigation is the proper management of the waterways. If that actually involves closing them down for a period, that is encompassed in it. With regard to amendment 1c, I am prepared to withdraw "without impeding navigation" and insert "without unnecessarily impeding navigation", but to maintain navigation is essential. As I say, the canal can be closed for proper maintenance. It is contained in the words "maintaining navigation". Navigation is maintained by properly servicing the waterways so I will most definitely be pushing that amendment to a vote.
If the Senator goes to the top of page 4, and to the proposed section 5(1(a) that would be introduced to the 1986 Act, he will see it states: "it is the duty of Waterways Ireland to undertake the care, management and maintenance of the canals and other canal property as a public amenity for use by the public". I did not feel there was much point in putting it in again with amendment 1g because it is already there. That is the point I was making.
If I can reply to the Minister on that, she has already said that it is quite often the case that sections of the canal can be closed so that other events can take place and so on and so forth. The management and maintenance of the canals does not really fully cover maintaining navigations. They can be maintaining the canals but maintaining it so that sections can be cut off and navigation impeded for a particular time. I will still be pushing this and I ask the Minister to be a little flexible. Even if she thinks it is duplication, it is making the point. Will the Minister give a statement now as to whether she is prepared to accept any amendments at all?
I want to note the Minister's contribution in terms of a consultation period. As the Minister has alluded to, there has been constructive engagement with Waterways Ireland recently. Obviously it is very important that there is sufficient time to consider any proposed by-laws. There certainly was concern around the proposal for 21 days. I certainly feel reassured now that the Minister has said that this will be pushed out to 90 days, which is very encouraging, to make sure that the public and public representatives are aware of any proposals and whether any submissions need to be made. I certainly feel this is a very positive change and I welcome that constructive engagement with Waterways Ireland.
I also want to recognise that. Most Senators had tabled similar amendments in respect of that and it is good to recognise local authorities' very strong role in it.
Can I just go back to Senator Norris's comments in respect of maintaining navigation? Can I give the Minister a practical example of this? We are speaking about it in the abstract and of course navigation is being interfered with. I refer to the lock gates coming from the Liffey into the basin. The Minister will know the area reasonable well. For ten years, if not more, those locks have been taken out of operation, which has impeded navigation. There is no way to do it because only small vessels can come in. The larger lock to bring in larger vessels has been taken out by Waterways Ireland. We have not been able to get them repaired and it impedes navigation.
In fairness to the Minister's predecessor, Jimmy Deenihan, he wanted to fund the repair of those lock gates because he saw the benefit of making sure larger boats could go into it, but because of the co-funding between the North and South and being unable to get agreement on funding from the North on a proportional basis, those gates are just lying there. Navigation has been impeded in the whole inner basin.
We need to have something in there about maintaining navigation without impeding navigation. I very much support Senator Norris on this. I just wanted to give a practical example that everything is not rosy. These things are happening already.
I welcome that the Minister is willing to accept the amendments which have been put from all sides of the House in respect of the 90 days. That willingness to engage and extend that consultation period will absolutely expedite and make it much easier when we approach the next section.
On the maintenance of the canals, in the proposed section 5(1)(a)(i) to be introduced to the 1986 Act, it states, "navigation in such parts of the canals as are open to navigation from time to time". An area can very quickly slip from being an area that is open to navigation to one that is not, and then it is no longer required to maintain navigation in it. There is a bit of a chicken and egg dynamic within the way that section is currently phrased. That is why the amendment we, Senator Ó Domhnaill and others have tabled clarifies the maintenance of navigation. We should not be rolling backwards. It is actually adding value there. It states really specifically that we should maintain the navigations that we have at the moment. We should not have situations arising where an area becomes not open to navigation and slips off the agenda.
I will be very brief. To go back to what I mentioned earlier on Brexit, I still believe there will be problems down the line. We have to look at funding and how feasible, in the case of a hard Brexit, it will be for Waterways Ireland to have its head office in Enniskillen, outside the European Union. It is something we need to keep a very close watch on. I welcome the extension of the consultation period. That was something that came across very strongly from our briefing when we met the Department officials. I welcome that and I want to tell Senator Norris that we will be supporting amendment 1g.
I also acknowledge the Minister's willingness to engage, listen and interact. The 90 days were certainly a breaking point from my perspective.When the amendment was submitted by various Senators and groups, it was the democratic crux of the input at local authority level about the workings of Waterways Ireland. I want to acknowledge the Minister's willingness to engage and accept that.
On navigation, Senator Norris, myself and others submitted the relevant amendment, which is very wide-ranging. Not only does it cover what Senator Kevin Humphreys was saying about locks and so on, it also covers dredging. There are issues along some stretches of the canal network whereby dredging is required but has not taken place. Dredging is required in order to make full use of those canals. The purpose of this is to compel Waterways Ireland to ensure that the 2,000 km of our canal network remain open, viable and usable. It is very simple and reasonable. I agree with Senator Norris that this is not a management issue. This is to ensure that anyone can use the canal network. I encourage the Minister to reflect on the amendment and accept it if possible. It is an amendment which we will press.
There were several references to a briefing between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I am disappointed that we never had any contact about a briefing. Hopefully, as this Bill proceeds, we might have an opportunity to sit down with the Minister and engage more on Report Stage.
Amendment 1g relates to the new section 5(3) which states, "It is the duty of the Board and Waterways Ireland to undertake the care, management and maintenance of common interest property while such property is under the control of the Board or of Waterways Ireland." The "Board" referred to is the board of CIÉ and these are properties in which both entities have an interest. If, as suggested in the amendment, we include the phrase "to maintain navigations" after Waterways Ireland, the new subsection would read "It is the duty of the Board and Waterways Ireland to maintain navigations". Is there some way in which that is putting an onus on the board of CIÉ to maintain navigations? Can I look at this then return to it on Report Stage? Would that be acceptable?
I move amendment No. 1e:
In page 4, line 11, after “aforesaid” to insert the following:“, with appropriate exception and allowance made for areas subject to protection or proposed protection for natural heritage or used by species listed in Annex IV or V or Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora”.
- Ivana Bacik
- Frances Black
- Gerard Craughwell
- Paul Gavan
- Alice Mary Higgins
- Kevin Humphreys
- Gerald Nash
- David Norris
- Grace O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Lynn Ruane
- Fintan Warfield
I move amendment No. 1h:
In page 4, line 29, after “canals” to insert the following:
“subject to agreed criteria for safety standards aboard a vessel and adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person”.
In the course of my speech, I will refer to a number of the amendments that relate to Irish Waterways, canals and the communities at their heart.
I believe the Bill in its current form represents an attack on these communities, the public good and the services that Irish Waterways provides to Irish people. The canal network that stretches across the country plays a number of roles. It is a significant tourist attraction for those who wish to cross the country by boat. It serves many people who live on houseboats on the waterways and, as a result, is an example of a thriving and close community that should be encouraged and celebrated by the State.
The Heritage Bill 2016 will impact on houseboat owners in a drastic way. The issuing of permits and licences should be reconsidered. The consequences of permits and licences being too expensive will add further to an already inflated housing crisis. A sudden rise in the charges will put houseboat owners in a precarious housing situation. People from various backgrounds have houseboats on canals, professionals, students, those from lower wage households, the unemployed. The houseboat owners instead of being priced out of a place where they can live, should be encouraged to live on the canals. Keeping that heritage active will keep it alive and prevent it from falling into disrepair.
Amendment No. 1m, tabled in my name and that of Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, will protect houseboat owners from sudden and significant increases in costs. If this amendment is accepted it could prevent the introduction of by-laws under the Canals Act 1986 that would increase mooring costs for houseboats to as much as €3,500. The rich and thriving nature of canal communities across Ireland would be attacked and most likely would not be able to survive such a prohibitive increase in costs. Moreover with the sudden increase in charges, boat owners who use the canals may not be inclined to continue using them. These boats are as much a part of our heritage as the canals themselves. Therefore, we should be encouraging boat owners to use the beautiful Grand Canal and the Royal Canal.
In addition, the houseboat owners are entitled to have privacy and security like any other house owner in this country, therefore the issuing of warrants should not in any way differ from the issuing of search warrants for houses on land. Simply put, the same rules in regard to the issuing of a search warrant should apply to a home that is built on land or a home on the canal. This is to address the power given to Irish Waterways to gain access to boats on the canals and search them. I think that is the equivalent of giving Dublin City Council the privilege of being able to access a person's home.
The Bill proposes to give the granting of search warrants beyond the normal remit. The Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise, and the Revenue Commissioners are the accountable officials who grant search warrants and no other authority should have the power to grant search warrants.There is no good reason to grant another authority such powers. This simply does not make any sense. I do not believe it will do any favours for maintaining the relationship between those boat owners and Waterways Ireland if it becomes as authoritative as An Garda Síochána. If a search warrant is needed to enter a houseboat then the normal procedures should apply and this is why I have tabled amendment No. 1aaf. Ultimately, I do not believe that the Bill in its current form protects or strengthens our heritage in any way. Instead it challenges the rich history and community surrounding our canals.
I will speak briefly on amendment No. a1l regarding the water levels and the raising of the water levels. The amendment refers to the issue of no consultation with the boat owners being written into the legislation around when the water levels are going to be changed. I would imagine that is the equivalent of a person having a house on land and waking up to find that something has lifted the house up higher than when he or she went to bed the previous night. This lack of consultation has an effect on people's ability to access their boats and to know their boat, which is their home, is in a stable position each day with regard to the water levels. I ask that the Minister considers this amendment to allow for boat owners to be consulted and that water levels cannot be changed unless they have been consulted and have been part of that process.
Sinn Féin will be supporting the amendments in this section to support the safeguarding of the canals. It is my understanding that previously section 3 and now section 4 are not what had been expected or committed to canals and waterways-based organisations. The absence of a canals Bill is noted. A canals Bill would give focus to all of this and would be an effective way to run our waterways. It also would give reasonable obligation to the communal value in terms of cultural activity and tourism. I appreciate that a canals Bill could not happen during the last Government term, but could it not happen now? This compromised position does not satisfy anybody as to what a canals Bill could have been.
In the last section we heard that Waterways Ireland was established as an all-island body, one of the six all-island North-South implementation bodies under the Belfast Agreement. Waterways Ireland maintains and develops the Barrow navigation, the Erne system, the Lower Bann, the Royal and Grand canals, the Shannon-Erne waterway and the Shannon navigation. It does so effectively and it is worth noting that the Bill only applies to those named waterways or canals monitored by Waterways Ireland. Other waterways do no fall within that remit. This could create a disparity in how the law is applied, where one canal may have different laws to another. The powers, however, with which Waterways Ireland can maintain canals and waterways, require clear and thorough analysis. While we can generally trust Waterways Ireland and the powers this Bill seeks to infer, that does not mean that those powers are not imprudent.
Senator Ruane has spoken about the numerous concerns that have been addressed to Members on section 4 on its lack of clarity and the inconsistency the legislation would pose if passed by these Houses. The lack of an appeals process will leave so many people trapped with fines that it may deter canal activity by those who use our canals or waterways for accommodation, livelihoods or leisure. They may have to make pressured decisions as to whether their activities could continue, based on heavy fines that they cannot question. A sufficient appeals process would give substantial clarity to this legislation and Sinn Féin will support amendments to that effect today.
The stop and search provision is very concerning. This is where authorised Waterways Ireland officers can search property if reasonable cause for offence is given. In no other instance in the State do any other public workers, apart from An Garda Síochána or agents of the court, have the right to search a person's home on the basis of offence caused. That is because An Garda Síochána and the other agents are trained to do such searches and are subject to stringent legislation on what is and is not acceptable. If Waterways Ireland officers are given this power, when we do not know the level of training they would receive, it would leave a huge uncertainty in real communities, as mentioned by Senator Ruane. Should the powers to stop and search be carried out with any level of flaw, it would leave Waterways Ireland subject to even greater scrutiny - and rightly so.
The five-day move-on rule that aims to clear stoppages on waterways gives a mass of uncertainty to those people who are living in houseboats or barges. People who live in these properties largely do so where they dock for a majority of the year and build a life in the surrounding area on land and off. The five-day move-on rule gives them no real level of certainty on where they call home or the confidence to settle within a local community.
In conclusion, it is the opinion of Sinn Féin that sections 3 and 4 in this Bill give confusion to those who use canals and waterways where it actually seeks to give clarity. Misapplication and misappropriation may be prevalent should this legislation pass and this is why we will support the amendments that improve the legislation as it stands.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Senator Ruane has outlined the life of canals and how they are used to accommodate people whose lives go on there on a daily basis in the tourism area and for those who uses the boats as homes. One of the concerns is around certainty for barges. Amendment No. a1j looks for the Minister to insert “recognising the dimensions of heritage vessels currently using the navigations”. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to Guinness barges, and we seek certainty for them. We do not want a situation where a gate or a lock is narrowed at some stage in the future and one of the larger barges would not be able to navigate the canals. People would then be in a situation of trying to figure out what was meant on the day the legislation was drafted and we would finish up with people having to run to the High Court. Basically, all we are trying to do with this amendment is to secure the existing situation to ensure that people who currently enjoy the canals can continue to enjoy them with no risk of being limited at some stage in the future.
Amendment No. a1k is about due notice. This concerns the closure of sections of the canals, and the Minister has been fairly straight and upfront on this issue but we are trying to offer certainty to those who use the canals on a daily basis and for whom the canal is their life regarding closures of sections of the canal. If a section of the canal must be closed for maintenance or other reasons, we ask that there would be due notice or consultation with people. It brings the issue back to the local authority again. We are making sure that as far as is practicable, no surprises occur for people. I accept that from time to time there may be emergencies and there may be a requirement to close a section of the canal. This amendment provides for the closure of a section of a canal for emergency purposes.
I bring both of these amendments forward to the Minister as a way of strengthening the Bill and to give certainty to those who live on and use the waterways in Ireland on a daily basis. These people have built their lives on the waterways. I do not know if the Minister will agree with me, but I hope she will. I am not going to take a longer time as there is no need for long speeches. What I am trying to do is self-explanatory.
I will start with amendment No. a1w. This amendment is necessary as it is not acceptable to introduce legislation to apply penalties without any independent appeal mechanism other than the courts. It is not appropriate to make canals less user friendly by discriminating against tourism development on our canals through the introduction of a completely different set of rules, charges, regulations and fines that are not in place on the adjoining waterways. How will that encourage tourism growth?
The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, has called for a dedicated canals Bill with proper pre-legislative consultation with canal users, local canal communities, elected local authority representatives, local authority management and the tourism sectors. It believes it is a negative and imbalanced approach to introduce legislation that penalises 99% of waterways communities to address the problematic area of 1% due to unlicensed boats harbour hogging. These matters can be legislated for without effectively penalising the other less populated areas.
The proposed legislation should promote the development of the tourism potential of the canals and support tourism initiatives on the canals such as the IWAI green and silver circle trip to Dublin via both canals. Equally, it should provide for the regulators and the users requirements. In the absence of alternative private marinas on the canals, it should provide for boaters moving through these linear waterways in safe areas, not isolated known problematic areas, and without having to risk fines of €150 per day after five days. It should allow for the introduction of by-laws that put user requirements, tourism development and local communities at the centre of the regulations in a manner that allows adequate consultation. It should ensure that the enforcement of penalties regime governed by these by-laws includes a suitable independent appeals mechanism. It should protect and maintain navigation heritage and usage for future generations.
The IWAI advised that while it would welcome and support proper regulations, the proposed Heritage Bill does not put user requirements, local communities or tourism at the centre of the regulations. Rather, it is a heavy-handed approach that will result in a detrimental reduction of boat traffic on the canals.
The proposed Heritage Bill gives Waterways Ireland the authority to appoint officers to carry out stop and search and seizure activities on boats and personal property on the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and the River Barrow. In the Republic of Ireland, search and seizure acts are limited to a number of specially trained and professional groups such as gardaí, health and safety inspectors and Customs officers.
The boats affected by this new Bill include residential barges, hire boats and barges, restaurant barges, motor cruisers and fishing boats. Boats will opt to move to the other Irish waterways managed by the same regulator, Waterways Ireland, where the regulations and facilities are more user friendly and there are no oppressive fines and penalties.
The powers proposed in the new Bill will affect those on the waterways of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath and elsewhere.
I refer to amendment No. a1aag. It is not acceptable that persons other than An Garda Síochána, a Customs officer or a health and safety officer have the right to stop and search boaters, walkers and cyclists on Waterways Ireland property such as the canal towpaths, greenways or blueways. Section 7(c)(2) would give the right to stop and search to any authorised officer. Local authority elected representatives have already stated that. It is unacceptable that a body with no corporate governance structure or board will be empowered to bring in any by-laws they want with only 21 days consultation. That is insufficient time to allow the local authority to consider any proposed by-laws.
It is not appropriate to legislate for the introduction of fines and regulations that are overly penal, will not encourage use of the canals and that are not in place on the other Irish inland waterways under the management of Waterways Ireland. No other similar body has those sort of powers. Coillte, Irish Parks & Wildlife Service and Office of Public Works officers do not have those powers. Why should Waterways Ireland not use the gardaí instead, as everyone else does?
Waterways Ireland should be required to make available hard copies of by-laws to gardaí so that they can make those available to people arrested or charged under those by-laws. It is not acceptable that Waterways Ireland has the right to impose fixed payment notices without providing a suitable appeals process. The suggested appeals process entails a court appearance. That may prove too costly for some people. It should be possible for the appeal to be made by simple e-mail to any appeals section as is the case with the parking or motor tax fines issued by some parking companies on behalf of local councils. An appeal e-mail can be sent accompanied by scanned copies of any relevant documents and the outcome of the appeal can be conveyed to the appellant within 28 days.
Carlow is one of the areas that will be most affected by the fee, if it is introduced, of €150 after the five day rule. When I read the Bill again I was very disappointed to note that there is no reference to tourism. I have said previously to the Minister that if I look for a sign to get to the River Barrow, I cannot find one yet tourism is not referenced in this Heritage Bill. The River Barrow and the canals are the jewel in the crown. They are part of our heritage-----
-----but they are areas on which we need to work. They are being neglected, and we are not promoting them. We need to work with every local authority to promote our areas. Carlow, Laois and other areas are badly affected.
Imposing a fine is not good enough. In Carlow town, we have the most beautiful town park in the country. Boats moor there in the summer, which is great for us. People come to visit the town but if we start to impose fines on them, we will lose those tourists. There might be a view that it is all the one in the sense that money might be gained for, say, the Department or whatever but we will lose out in the long term in areas such as my county, neighbouring counties and others throughout the country. If we promote an area we will attract more tourism, our heritage will benefit and we will learn more. That is what we need to consider for the future.
I will speak to a couple of the amendments. I realise they are complex but we are in an unfortunate situation in that the public engagement and consultation on the legislation is happening simultaneously to the legislation being before the House. I appreciate that the Minister acknowledged that she met with waterways users but the reason we have such complex amendments before the House is that they are happy for them to be inserted here. It would be much better if we were able to address a number of these concerns on which each of us has responded separately to the lobbying we received on them. Where there is any question of duplication, withdrawing some, supporting others and so forth, we are happy to make sure we can expedite that response.
I had mistakenly spoken to amendment 1h so I will not speak to it in detail again but that amendment simply ensures that Waterways Ireland is considering safety standards aboard a vessel in its deliberations. I will not reiterate the point I made earlier but someone cannot have a class of vessel that has been arbitrarily ruled out of order. It is a matter on which there are agreed safety standards and boats which meet those standards in a transparent way, adjudicated on by a qualified individual, will have the use of the canal.
Similarly, my colleague, Senator Craughwell, spoke about the question of heritage boats. Canal users have spoken to us on the question of maximum dimensions. All of those point to the same gap in the legislation. When a ruling is to be made on whether certain kinds of crafts are acceptable or not on the canal, there must be clear guidelines around that and they must have regard to heritage and existing dimension vessels. We are trying to get to the same point, and I am merely pointing to a gap in the legislation because the current power is too sweeping in terms of Waterways Ireland having the power to determine which boats should be used. I will address a couple of the other key by-laws contemplated by the section. To be clear, I am pushing. I have an amendment on the permits and licences being introduced. The House has debated what happens when rent increases, including the impact of that on people. My colleague enumerated the many people who dwell on the canal. Others make regular use of our canals for tourism and personal purposes. Amendment No. 1m proposes that the permits or licences that canal users are required to have be set at costs appropriate to the intended uses and linked to inflation. Any increase in cost should be introduced incrementally and should be subject to public consultation. This is about ensuring that the cost for those who rely on using the canal does not spike suddenly and negatively. I am open to suggestions from the Minister. I wish that this issue had been addressed in advance. If the Minister has proposals on ensuring that cost increases are made manageable, predictable and subject to consultation, I will be happy to work with her and withdraw this amendment.
We have a core problem with how fixed fines are applied, as outlined extensively by Senator Black. This is an unusual situation, in that there will be fixed payment notices that cannot be appealed and will be administered by a designated officer outside the Garda. The OPW and CIE cannot demand fixed payments. We discussed whether the Bill creates new powers. This seems to be one. If it is not, then it is certainly a power which is being applied differently and which will have an effect on people. It is a significant jump and is out of line with what we normally do in terms of fixed-payment notices. What is the justification for that?
Surely there must be an appeals mechanism. There are only a few fixed-payment fines that do not have appeals mechanisms. Appeals are used to clarify the situation or bring forward witnesses. What is the appeals mechanism in this context?
Other Senators have co-signed amendments Nos. 1n and 1s but, having reflected on the wording, I am happy to withdraw them. The core problem is the wording.
Senators Norris and Ó Domhnaill will speak to amendment No. 1k, so I will move-----
The problem is that the Bill has dragged on. A number of amendments were notified initially, then more were notified before a third set was notified. It has been difficult for the Bills Office, which is trying to deal with a bad deck of cards. I do not want to blame the Bills Office, given that this has become-----
Probably. I am certainly confused, and when one is confused, one is not able to get to the heart of the amendments. This section allows Waterways Ireland to make by-laws on, for example, the type and class of boats that can be used on canals, the issuing of permits and licences, the regulation of boats on canals and canal property, including homes, closing the canals to navigation, the fixing of fees, toll charges and the fixed-payment notices to be applied. These are wide-ranging powers.
I will address a number of amendments. Senator Norris touched on the premise of amendment No. 1h, which is to set strict safety standards aboard vessels. We do not want accidents or the loss of life on the canal network, so we want safety standards that are universally accepted after adequate consultation with all users.
The heritage boat issue is covered by amendment No. 1i. Senator Craughwell has an amendment in that regard, which I am happy to support. Boats have been using the canals for more than 200 years. The Bill should acknowledge and protect the existing dimensions of traditional heritage boats for which the network was originally built. There is a fear that this will not happen. For that reason, we have submitted this amendment.
Amendment No. 1j relates to subsection (c) on the closing to navigation of any part of the canals and proposes that this can only be done in the event of emergencies, within agreed procedures and on a temporary basis. Contrary to Waterways Ireland being allowed the unilateral power to open and close canals to navigation for any length of time, they would only be closed during what the Minister prescribed, namely, specific events or emergencies.
Amendment No. 1k is to subsection (d), which states, "the restriction or prohibition of navigation on the canals or any part of the canals at any time by any boat or type or class of boat". This is wide-ranging. The amendment addresses this excessive power by requiring that it can only be applied in exceptional circumstances and where existing by-laws "are not being adhered to on a continuous basis". In this way, there would be a lead-in to the restriction after a certain number of instances of non-compliance and there would not be a rush to apply a blanket ban to certain vessels.
Amendment No. 1l relates to permits and licensing. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland has raised concerns about providing Waterways Ireland with this power. Waterways Ireland must modernise the charging structure, which was put in place in 1986. The fees relate to that time. All users fear that Waterways Ireland will increase the fees substantially. Given that this legislation will provide it with the tools to do so, no one can say what the new charging arrangements will be. That the cost should be appropriate to the intended use and linked to the rate of inflation is reasonable.There are other amendments also. Without going on, that covers the main thrust of the amendments.
I support amendment No. a1k, which is Senator Craughwell's amendment. The Senator is talking about consultation in the new section 7(1)(c) in terms of "the closing to navigation of any part of the canals". It also was discussed earlier, but the amendment provides that would only happen "after due notice to canal users' groups and local authorities ...", which is only right. It fits into the consultation. It may well be covered under the 90 days. I think the 90 days is more to do with substantial works and, therefore, I do not believe it would be covered under it. This is about closing canals. It is an important amendment. It is all part of that local democratic consultation process and having all stakeholders, particularly those who live closest to or who utilise the canal, treated equally.
I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister which I hope will be helpful. It is likely to be at least a week before we come back to this matter in Seanad Éireann. The Minister cited the problem that it was an all-island authority and the Northern Ireland authorities had an input into it. I suggest that the Minister or her officials get in touch, as a matter of urgency, with the Northern Ireland authorities to run the amendments past them and ask if they have any objection and to let us know as a matter of urgency if they do because this will be discussed next week in Seanad Éireann. I cannot see that they would have, but that would then clarify the situation. The Minister stated that we could not legislate for this because it was an all-island framework, the Northern Ireland authorities had an input into it and we could not take over the situation by force majeure. I suggest that over the next short while that the Minister gets in touch, as a matter of urgency, with the Northern Ireland authorities informing them of these amendments which are before Seanad Éireann and asking if they any objection and if they do, to let us know by return.
It is about one line, and it could have been covered when I left the Chamber. If so, I apologise. Throughout this section, we have been using the words "permits" or "licences". I want to draw attention to the fact that licences for canal use do not exist, but permits for barges to dock do. I wonder is it the intention to create licences. I am open to correction on this, but I do not believe licences exist. I merely want to mention that in case I need to bring it in on Report Stage.
Amendment No. a1w relates to the issue of fixed payment notices. There will be no recourse to appeal in this regard. I reiterate the importance of an appeals mechanism and the fact that sweeping powers, which go beyond the Garda Síochána, need to be addressed in the reply from the Minister.
To clarify something in regard to the cross-Border body and the agreement on which it was set up, we cannot extend the remit of Waterways Ireland. We can legislate within the remit for the South, which is for the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal, the Barrow and the Shannon, but not the Erne part of it. We can do that within the remit of what we have but we cannot extend the remit of Waterways Ireland. We cannot legislate here for anything that extends the remit of Waterways Ireland because it is a cross-Border body, agreed between the North and the South.
I will answer some of the questions raised. A fixed payment notice is already in the Maritime Safety Act 2005. That is nothing new. There was talk about houseboats. If somebody wants to live on a houseboat, he or she will be able to apply for a long-term permit for mooring. That is an annual permit.
On the concerns expressed about giving authorised officers the right to stop and search boaters, walkers and cyclists on Waterways Ireland property, such as canals, towpaths, greenways and the blueways, it is a misconception. It is incorrect to state that authorised officers have the right to stop and search boaters, walkers and cyclists. Let me assure Senators there are no provisions in this Bill giving authorised officers the right to stop and search any person on canals or canal property. In addition, the authorised officers do not have powers of detention or arrest. The authorised officers' role is clearly set out in the Bill in the new section 7B. In regard to search warrants, they always have to be issued by the court. The word "stop" appears only once and only in the context of stopping a boat that is under way on the canal for the purposes of boarding it and inspecting it. The Senators will accept that is sensible in the case of moving a boat.
The penalty for non-compliance and breaches of the canal by-laws is a maximum fine of €1,000, that is, class D on summary conviction. A person may also be served with a fixed payment notice of an amount up to €150, which must be paid within 21 days from the date of the notice to avoid prosecution thereafter in the District Court. Somebody mentioned an appeals system. The way that would work is one would appeal it through the courts if one was not happy with what one had been levied with.
There was talk about the size of boats. Canals restrict the size of boats that can travel on them because they are obviously based on the size of the canal. Parts of a canal can be narrow enough.
The cost of the permit is in the by-laws, and that will go out for consultation. The word "licence" is not mentioned; it is actually refers to a permit. We want to stop people from mooring boats on a long-term basis that cause an obstruction for others who want to use the canal. There are facilities for those who want to live on houseboats, which is fine. Where people are mooring boats, it is like parking a car in a town for three or four weeks and just leaving it there. We do not want this to happen. We want to be able to control that so that people move their boats on and that the canal can be used and enjoyed by everybody. That is what we want to do here.
A number of amendments were mentioned. Amendment No. 1h relates to the insertion of "subject to agreed criteria for safety standards aboard a vessel and adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person". Safety standards on the vessels are a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. What we are doing here is regulating the use of the canal, not the boats on it.
My point is there is regulation of the boat. The previous lines state, "the regulation of the conditions (including conditions as to safety) under which boats may be used on the canals;". I am merely stating that is within the remit of the legislation in front of us.
Following, "the regulation of the conditions (including conditions as to safety) under which boats may be used on the canals;", the Senator wants to insert, "subject to agreed criteria for safety standards aboard a vessel and adjudicated upon by a suitably qualified person", but what I am saying is that safety standards are a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I will come back to the Senator on it. We are regulating the use of the canals not the use of the boats.
In regard to Senator Craughwell's amendments Nos. 1j and a1k, these proposals overly limit the closing of navigation to emergency situations and does not take account of other reasons why a navigation can be closed, such as land drainage, flood management and control, when a loss of water occurs, when a vessel sinks or a need arises to protect workers etc.. Those are the times when it may be necessary to close a canal. Everybody wants to see the canals open. It is the purpose of Waterways Ireland to maintain the canals for the enjoyment of people. It is not its purpose to close canals, rather its purpose is to keep them open but there may be times when it is necessary to close them. It is often not practical or workable to give due notice before closure of the navigations, such as in emergency situations. What is provided for in the amendments would be restrictive in that regard.
Yes but the issue is what are "agreed procedures?" We could end up tying ourselves up in knots as to what is an emergency situation. An emergency is an emergency. We do not want to legislate such that if a person is drowning it would be necessary to consider agreed procedures. I accept that is an extreme example.
I accept what the Minister is saying but an agreed procedure could be as simple as the officer on duty in the location on the day closes the canal for whatever purpose. That could be provided for in the regulation.
It will go out for public consultation. I have a response to Senator Alice-Mary Higgins's earlier question. We can regulate use of boats, for example boats passing each other or the speed of boats, but we cannot regulate for safety on board boats.
With respect, I still think the provision is unclear. The Bill provides for the regulation of the type or class of boat, including its dimensions, so I do not see anything that precludes regulation in this area. However, I am happy to discuss it at another time.
I wish to inform the House at this point that I intend to bring an amendment on Report Stage to the proposed section (7)(1)(j) to update the title of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the current title of Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as well as to subsection (7)(1)(p). I also intend to bring forward amendments to sections 7(2)(b), 7(2)(c), 7(2)(d) and 7(2)(e) to extend the period of consultation for the making of by-laws to 90 days and to section 7(2)(e) to update the title of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to the current title of Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I also intend to insert a new section regarding communication with local authorities in regard to canals in their areas.
I understand this debate is due to adjourn at 5 p.m., at which point we will have deliberated for seven hours on this Bill but we will still be a long way off concluding Committee Stage. I am prepared to stay here longer. In fairness to the Minister, she has now spent seven hours in this Chamber. This is Committee Stage. This Bill has yet to go to the Dáil and it will then return to this House. A great hero of mine was Charles Stewart Parnell. He would be very proud of what we are doing today. We all know how he operated in the House of Commons. The Minister is a very busy person. She has a very important profile. Is it intended to bring her back to this House another day for a further four hours of consideration of this Bill?
I can understand Senator Daly's point but this is important legislation. The Minister has been patient in terms of the manner in which she is working through this legislation. Very little legislation is coming before this House and when legislation does come before Members, it is important that is examined properly. We will spend practically all of next week on statements. The Minister is a busy person and has other things to do but we should be discussing how we can facilitate the Minister coming back to the House next week for further consideration of this Bill rather than taking statements. As I said, this is important legislation that may have a long-term impact on rural Ireland. We need to examine it in detail and debate it to ensure it is robust legislation. I do not accept the point made by the Senator. The business of the House has been ordered and agreed but I am asking the Leader to facilitate further consideration of this legislation next week, rather than statements.
In regard to the statement that the Bill will return to this House, it may not. If we get it right in the Seanad then when it goes to the Dáil it passes at that stage. Our role in the Seanad as legislators is to ensure the legislation leaves this House in the best possible shape. If it comes back to the Seanad, so be it but it is not for us to wait to see what the Dáil does.
I cannot let this get out of control. The Order of Business was agreed at approximately 12.15 p.m. It was agreed that if Committee Stage of the Bill was not concluded by 5 p.m., it would come back to the House on whatever day could be agreed between the Leader and the Minister. The Leader is not here and as I do not have any proposal to amend the Order of Business, my hands are tied.
I thank the Minister for her reply. During my earlier remarks I did not address amendment No. a1q. On page 5, line 10, reference is made to the regulation of berths and moorings and the placing of buoys in canals and other canal property. My amendment proposes that construction work of that type must have due regard to the architectural heritage of the structures near by. There is nothing worse than work being carried out in respect of which cheap materials is used. In fairness, we have been really good in this country at looking after our heritage, national buildings and so on. I would like that to be underpinned in this legislation.
The problem is that we are dealing with two issues, namely, the canals and the Heritage Bill. My concern is the Heritage Bill and this particular section. It is important that that is not lost. The Minister has acknowledged the proposals from stakeholders came in during the legislative process. That is the key problem. I want to ensure that adequate time is give to the later sections which deal with a completely different set of issues.