Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Heritage Bill 2016: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister to the House. On 2 March, progress was reported following a substantial and lengthy discussion on amendment No. 1h and related amendments. Unless Senators or the Minister have any additional contributions to make on these amendments, I will put the question on amendment No. 1h. On the last day there were Second Stage speeches and a total rehash of the same thing. We are not making any progress on any side and I am trying to be sensible. Later tonight, people might be asking why we did not get to a, b, c and d, having spent so much time on amendment No. 1h.
There are three amendments in this group that I will be pushing. I propose a line on each to remind the House what they apply to because it was a few weeks ago that we discussed them. I will not be making a Second Stage speech. Will we take the group as a whole or do I wait until we get to mine?
Each amendment will be decided. The amendments will be debated together and, therefore, we cannot reopen the debate. The Senator can press any amendment to a vote. That is her prerogative. I am not trying to stymie debate, but I do not want the issue to be debated. Later today, people will run out of time and ask why we did not deal with other amendments.
Amendment No. a1k tabled by Senator Craughwell is crucial and will ensure that Waterways Ireland must consult user groups and local authorities when it is making by-laws that will close canals. People who live on canals and local authorities which administer them should be made aware of any canal closures. This amendment will ensure that happens.
Amendment No. 1m is also crucial as it sets sensible limits on the rate of increase of the costs of permits and licences. It will ensure that all cost increases must be appropriate to the intended use and linked to the rate of inflation in the economy. The incremental increases in costs are also vital to ensure that houseboat owners are not put into precarious positions regarding the cost of maintaining their homes.
Amendment No. a1w is also crucial, as it speaks to the issue of fixed payment notices that we will debate more fully as we progress through the Bill. I do not think it is appropriate that Waterways Ireland should be able to issue fixed payment notices without any formal appeals process and this amendment will delete the ability of Waterways Ireland to do this. It works in conjunction with the more extensive amendments we have tabled relating to fixed payments notices, which will be taken later.
I move amendment No. 1l:
On page 4, line 36, to delete “boats on the canals or other canal property” and substitute the following:“the canals or other canal property by all users. Any permits or licences issued should be set at a cost appropriate to the intended use and linked to the rate of inflation in the economy”.
I move amendment No. 1m:
In page 4, to delete line 36 and substitute the following:“the canals or other canal property by all users. Any permits and licences issued should be set at a cost appropriate to the intended use and linked to the rate of inflation in the economy. Any increases from current cost levels should be introduced on an incremental basis, subject to public consultation;”.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Rose Conway Walsh, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Grace O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
I move amendment No. 1o:
In page 5, line 3, after “canals” to insert the following:“within agreed procedures on a temporary basis, taking into account with due diligence the safety of boats that may be on that stretch of the canal that could be effected by the alteration of water levels, that may need to complete the journey underway and notifying owners of same;”.
I move amendment No. a1q:
In page 5, line 10, after “property” to insert the following:“having due regard to the architectural heritage of the structures near which the berths, buoys, or moorings are proposed to be placed”.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Grace O'Sullivan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
I move amendment No. 1x:
In page 5, line 30, to delete "(1), it shall publish a notice of the proposal—" and substitute the following:"(1) and following the conduct of any screenings and assessments necessary to comply with Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, it shall publish a notice of the proposal—".
It is very important that a notice of the proposal should be published after any screenings and assessments, because there have not been any screenings or assessments. Something we have hardly mentioned is the question of moths and butterflies. There has been no screening or report to the House on the impact of this proposed legislation on them. I would welcome a screening, but there is not much point in having a screening unless it is published and made available to those with concern about this area.Some 27 out of the 35 butterfly species breed on hedgerows and hedge banks. Of the common hedgerow plants, a total of 115 moth species breed on willow, 62 moss species breed on common hawthorn, which is also known as the whitethorn plant, 49 moth species breed on common blackthorn and 46 moth species breed on common hazel. It is important that we take into account the impact on these often neglected species of insects.
Roadside hedges, in particular, for example, because of the traffic that is passing and the fumes of the cars, are often warmer than internal hedges and that means they provide better quality breeding grounds than internal hedges for butterfly and moth larva which need warmth to develop. Roadside hedges are beyond the range of chemicals used in agriculture, also making them more suitable.
Upland areas often hold populations of more specialised rarer butterflies, such as the legally protected marsh fritillary butterfly. The sociable caterpillars of this butterfly emerge from hibernation in late February-early March feeding on grassland containing its food plant. Burning destroys this species by burning the larva.
These are the kind of issues that need to be considered in any screening and assessment and it is important that not only are these screenings carried out, but that they should be published. For that reason, I am happy to strongly support the amendment in the name of Senator Kevin Humphreys.
I will speak briefly to the group.
In principle, when a notice is published in respect of a proposed by-law it should have already been screen. We do not want to see by-laws published where there is a 90 period and there is information missing. We would expect that if Waterways Ireland is publishing by-laws, it would have already ensured that all of the necessary screenings and checks are taking place. We certainly should not be relying on members of the public to express concern, to ask for a review or to ask that these obligations would be met because in many cases it will not be feasible within a 90 day period to get the necessary information. It is a practical amendment. If the Minister, for example, indicated that she wanted to include it anyway, I am sure we might not even need to press it. We will have the opportunity to see if that is the case. That would be useful.
I recognise my colleague has a similar amendment in respect of birds. This may be an area where the Minister can indicate that she would plan to ensure that this is a necessary prerequisite on Waterways Ireland before it brings a proposal to the public and opens a 90 day period for consultation. I recognise and appreciate that the Minister indicated she is open to that 90 day period rather than the previously proposed 21 day period. It is an improvement.
I will not speak to all of the amendments in this area. I recognise there has been some engagement. We will be watching closely and hoping that many of our other amendments will be reflected by the Department on Report State due to the Minister's contact now with groups such as the canal users, but there are a few amendments which may need to be pressed because they are important points of principle.
In respect of amendment No. a1z, Senator Craughwell has a proposal, which I strongly support, which states that it is not enough that notice of a proposed by-law should be published. It is important that a local authority should be directly communicated with in writing to be informed that a by-law will impact on its local area. I imagine there will be support across the House. Many of us across the House have contact with local authorities. It is a reasonable request that if Waterways Ireland is bringing in a by-law, it would write to the local authorities in the area which will be affected by the by-law and simply notify them of it so that they have an opportunity to act in the 90 days.
I will skip through to another one, which is amendment No. 1ad. Given the new authorities and the creation of new by-laws, if persons are approached by an authorised officer and informed that he or she is in breach of by-laws or laws in respect of the canals, the persons should be immediately informed of and shown what by-law they are in breach of or in danger of breaching. These are pragmatic requests. The reasons they are the ones we intend to press, unless of course the Minister indicates to directly absorb them into the Bill, is because they are important principles. The amendment states that an authorised officer should be able on request to offer or show physically the by-law - it may be as simple as a booklet. They should be able to show somebody the by-law which he or she is in breach of. It is a simple and appropriate amendment. In terms of any due process of law, it is very reasonable that a person who is told he or she is breaking a law be told what law the person is breaking and that the person is able to see it. It is simply that they would present a hard copy of the by-law. It is not enough to be told one is breaking a law and to go and check it on the website later. One needs to be able to see it, there and then.
In terms of amendment No. 1ae, this is another crucial and important point. It is in respect of the new by-laws. There are considerable powers in respect of by-laws being given to Waterways Ireland. We have a reasonable proposal here - we would be happy to work with the Department if it has a counter suggestion which is similar and achieves the same policy intent - that Waterways Ireland should, every 36 months, review its by-laws with a specific focus on the new by-laws that have been introduced in the past three years. They should review how these new by-laws are working and whether there are any unintended consequences and they should hold a public consultation so that they can assess the effect, positive or negative, of the by-laws introduced, and that public consultation should take place during the open season. Of course, what nobody here wants is a situation whereby a by-law is brought in in October, November or December and it is only in the following summer season, in June, July and August, that is the peak tourism season, where we see the effect of the by-law and maybe some inadvertent consequences. This ensures that we are able to ensure that by-laws that are put in place are reviewed and tested and that we all can learn and benefit from assessing their impact.
One last amendment is important. Proposed by Senator Norris, it is amendment No. 1af. Waterways Ireland can, in addition to producing by-laws with the 90 day provision that we have heard, add ancillary provisions it deems appropriate. We do not want to see a by-law the interpretation of which extends at great length to mean all kinds of different things and that we have one by-law with seven subsections that get added at a later stage. Every new proposal should come through with the same kind of robust public engagement - the 90 day consultation for which the Minister has rightly allowed.
Apologies. I did not realise. I have spoken on it and will not need to speak to it again.
These are pragmatic proposals. I look forward to the Minister's response. As I say, in our group we do not intend to press the other amendments at this time but in respect of these amendments, in deciding to press we need to hear the Minister's response in respect of these issues.
I rise to speak on amendment a1z. This requires that by-laws be communicated in writing to each local authority. There is no way that we can allow organisations to operate on the hope that the message will get through at some stage or other. We have to put it into the legislation to ensure that local authorities are aware of them and are communicated with at every stage. Given that the waterways cross several local authorities, we do not want in five years' time to find out that somebody thought somebody else was doing something. We need to ensure that it is enshrined in the legislation.
Under amendment No. 1ab, the Minister will see that I am looking for an extension for public consultation, from 21 to 60 days in most cases. I note, from the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, that 21 days is not enough notice to get an organisation in to give a presentation.
I will touch on a number of the grouped amendments. I thank the Minister for facilitating the helpful consultation period in the AV room with Waterways Ireland staff. However, I was deeply disappointed by their level of interaction. There was none, and we felt as if our views did not matter. I can relate to the experiences of residents and others along the Barrow line, given that Waterways Ireland, which is a North-South body, seems determined to proceed irrespective of democracy or the wishes of local users. I was disappointed with the consultation. Perhaps we can touch on that issue later.
Regarding amendment No. 1x, Waterways Ireland must comply with screening and assessments under European legislation. I would appreciate clarification on the matter. Any planning process should cover this, but I would like to hear the Minister's comments on the by-laws in terms of this amendment.
Amendment No. 1y refers to 21 days, but the Minister indicated that she would increase the period to 90 days, which we welcome. Will she clarify how she will implement that? Presumably, a departmental amendment will be submitted on Report Stage. If so, that would be good. Not just local authorities, but all stakeholders and users should be covered by the 90-day period.
In light of the recent presentation given by Waterways Ireland in the AV room, an element of local democratic accountability must be brought into the mix. I do not mean "consultation" where people are told what will happen. That is not consultation, it is dictating, and it is what has happened to date. Consultation has to be prescriptive and there must be a statutory obligation on Waterways Ireland to engage with the element of democracy closest to the people, namely, the councillors and officials of local government. This must be done so that the interests of local stakeholders are protected. That is why the 90-day period is so important. While I welcome the period, there may be a requirement to follow up with additional measures, and I would be interested in the Minister's comments on same. Amendments Nos. 1aa and 1ab are linked to the matter of 90 days and I welcome that the initial amendment is being accepted.
Amendment No. 1ad refers to "Authorised Officers", a matter discussed by Senator Higgins. The amendment seeks to require authorised officers to present copies of the by-laws. This is only right. If there is an enforcement issue, at least the individual on whom it places a requirement knows which by-laws are being enforced.
I have lost the number of the next amendment, as they are confusing.
I am referring to subsection (2)(a)(ii) on the advertising of proposed by-laws. Senator Norris and I have submitted an amendment to the effect that there should be a wider publication of the by-law. According to subsection (2)(a), the by-law shall be published on Waterways Ireland's website and in newspapers circulating in the vicinity, but Waterways Ireland is not required to notify all registered users of the canal. That should occur. For one reason or another, people who utilise a service might not have access to the website or read the local newspapers. Most people have moved away from reading newspapers and do not buy them. There should be a mechanism requiring Waterways Ireland to notify all users of when it makes by-laws so that people can be aware and engage in the 90-day consultation period.
I am sorry, but I have lost the amendment's number. It may be No. 1ad.
Yes. I strongly support Senator Ó Domhnaill. It is clear that the users of the canal should be consulted when Waterways Ireland is constructing by-laws, but my real point is that I was told by the Chair that it had been impossibly confusing to create a coherent list of the amendments. I will wave this around. The civic engagement group has provided it. It is helpful. There is no reason that it should be done the other way. Everyone present is confused - the previous speaker, the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Minister and her advisers - about the numbering of these amendments. In my opinion-----
Had I realised that there would be this degree of confusion, I would not have consented to the groupings at all. When matters are so completely confused as this, we could easily spend more time on these issues. We have plenty of time, given that we only meet for a day and a half a week, but no consideration has been given to that. When matters are so confused, we should address each amendment in isolation. Then everyone would be clear as to what we are discussing. The next time that we have such a complex Bill, we should produce something like the civic engagement group's document, that being a consistent, coherent, logical and understandable listing, and then discuss amendments individually.
Amendment No. 1x is commonsensical. If the Minister incorporated it on Report Stage, it would save quite an amount of time.
Senator Ó Domhnaill's point on how to engage with users applies across the board. When we got involved in politics, we used letters and telephones. Now, we use e-mails or engage through Facebook. When users register, they must provide their e-mail addresses for notifications. Many of the canal's users come from other parts of the country, so advertisements in local papers will not be sufficient.
I thank the Minister for taking on board the extension of the consultation period. Regarding the review of by-laws raised by Senator Higgins, will the Minister revert to me on a query? The amendment reads "36 months", but sometimes there must be common sense about the capability of Departments to conduct reviews.When such a comprehensive review is taking place through the Heritage Bill 2016, we should come up with an achievable date for review of the by-laws being introduced. If 36 months is not practicable, the Minister should outline what would be a practicable time to review the operation of these new by-laws and have a possible debate on it.
As I outlined previously, officials from my Department had a very positive meeting with the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland to discuss some of the concerns over the canals provisions. Many of the issues covered in the amendments were discussed along with other canal-related issues. There was a shared understanding on both sides of the importance of the canals to rural areas for tourism development and local communities. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland recognised the rights of the regulator to regulate and that legislation should cover regulators, user requirements and by-laws. The importance of having regular engagement was acknowledged and my officials are happy to work with the IWAI on any issues of concern it may have. My officials also had a very good meeting with Senators for which I thank them.
The proposed amendments Nos. 1x and a1y are not needed because any provision in the Canals Act that makes or may make provision for land use must comply with the obligations under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. As with everyone else, Waterways Ireland is subject to habitats directives. If we keep repeating it in legislation, it becomes very cumbersome. It is given that it has to comply with them so there is no need to put that in.
Amendment No. 1y is about notifying identified users. Waterways Ireland automatically notifies all registered boat users, representative groups and local authorities as part of the process. My problem is that there is no such thing as a registered user of a canal. It would be very hard to identify them. This public consultation or notification would be run on the same basis as a local authority would do it, by advertising in the newspaper and publishing it on the website. It is incumbent on those using the canal to make themselves aware of any changes that might be made.
As I have indicated, I am happy to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to extend the consultation period for making the by-laws to up to 90 days. That gives people with an interest in the canals and waterways 90 days to make a submission. By stating registered users, someone could be left out and we would not even know who had been left out. It is very hard to do that. However, there is a register of boat users and we will advise them.
Amendment No. a1z seeks the insertion of: “(iii) and shall communicate such proposal in writing to each local authority within which such proposal relates,”. I am happy to accept that in principle but I need to consult the Attorney General on the wording to be used. I will introduce another amendment on Report Stage.
As a matter of form, Waterways Ireland will write to the local authorities. I believe I have addressed most of the issues there.
On the consultation with Waterways Ireland, it must be remembered that Waterways Ireland works very closely with local authorities. I have a number of examples where it has worked very well on a collaborative basis on projects. On the Shannon-Erne Blueway, from Ballyconnell down to Carrick-on-Shannon there have been a number of projects that have worked extremely well. There is a good working relationship between local authorities and Waterways Ireland. In my county, Waterways Ireland was the lead partner in an application for funding in conjunction with the local authority that actually produced €5 million in indirect money to develop the blueway along the route of the Ulster Canal from Smithborough to Middletown on a cross-Border basis. They work very collaboratively. I have complimented Waterways Ireland on how it works with local authorities in introducing good projects with tourism benefits for the local community and the wider public.
I thank the Minister for arranging the meeting with her officials which I found quite helpful.
The Minister did not address the review mechanism. While it is not my amendment, I would be quite flexible in that regard. I would like to see a review mechanism built into the legislation. No precedent is being set in this regard. When I brought legislation through the House in the past, I accepted amendments to introduce a review mechanism. Given the number of amendments in the Heritage Bill, it would be good practice to have a review mechanism.
As the proposer of the amendment, I can confirm that if the Minister was to indicate she was happy to look at what might be an appropriate review mechanism, we would be happy to withdraw the amendment until Report Stage. We thought that 36 months seemed like a reasonable period. The Minister might like to consult with Waterways Ireland, but we need a review mechanism.
On the review mechanism, by-laws are organic in themselves in that if an issue needs to be changed, it has to be changed. That must be done through consultation. We have the full consultation period if something needs to be changed. They are not left sitting for the next three years with nothing happening to them. If something arises that needs to be addressed, a consultation process will take place and changes made if necessary. I take the Senators' point. Perhaps we could examine the possibility of reviewing all the by-laws every five years and put that in. I will look at that. It is just about getting the right wording for an amendment on Report Stage.
Requiring an authorised officer to walk around with a book of by-laws in his hand when dealing with an issue with somebody would be quite cumbersome. He will obviously tell the person the by-law under which the offence has occurred. However, having to bring a book of legislation around to show somebody the by-laws could be quite cumbersome and not something I would like to impose on them.
That said, given the complexity of the amendments we have seen in the House, we all know how complex it is to have numerous subsections in by-laws. We cannot expect all officers to have all by-laws in their heads. It might not be a book; it might be in online format or perhaps it is commonly accessed by-laws. If people could be told, "It's X by-law and here's where you see it", that would be something. It is still not enough. We do not want people being told they are breaking the law without being shown what law.
I need to come back in twice. I accept the Minister's point that by-laws are organic. We are dealing with legislation today and what I am asking to be reviewed is the legislation we are putting through the House today. The Bill is an enabler for by-laws. The purpose of the amendment is to review that mechanism.
Amendment No. 1ad is in my name and that of Senator Ó Domhnaill. It seems to me that the fundamental basis of democracy is that one knows with what one is being charged. One has to know the offence with which one is being charged. It should be referenced. It need not necessarily be an enormous book. I do not think the by-laws would necessarily be an enormous book. Presumably authorised officers would have a satchel of some kind. It is not an unbearable duty on them to carry these things. They could also do it through their telephones. Most people have telephones that show these things. All I am saying is that the principle of the amendment, with which I am sure the Minister will agree, is that an individual member of the public should be placed in a situation where they know with a degree of exactitude absolutely with what they are being charged. People are entitled under law to know the offence with which they are being charged. It is a fundamental principle of democracy. I am sure the Minister will agree.
I have no problem with the authorised officers telling the person under what law they are being charged. This amendment states that they have to have "for reference purposes a hard copy of the bye-laws". That means they have to go around with a hard copy of the by-laws and show it to people. It appears to be a bit cumbersome for an officer out there enforcing the by-laws on the canal to have this book and have to show it to people when he or she wants to outline to them what they are doing wrong and that a prosecution may follow.
It is the same as asking gardaí to carry the Statute Book around with them to tell people which law they are breaking. Do Senators know what I am trying to say? I am trying to be helpful. These people are trying to implement the by-laws so we can all enjoy the waterways and ensure that the people who break the law are prosecuted. That is what we are trying to do.
I want to ask about the by-laws and their implementation. Over the years, we have all worked through the local authorities. There was always confusion over local authorities, OPW and Waterways Ireland. Who will implement the by-laws? Are there extra jobs involved? Where will the money come from? Like with everything that is set in writing, we must ask where the funding is coming from. Will this be an extra charge on the users of the canals? I have massive concerns. Unless by-laws are controlled and implemented, they are absolutely a waste of time. The by-laws are mentioned but there is no further information about how it will happen and how it will work apart from the public consultation, which I understand. Everything has to be controlled, which the Minister knows. Over the years, my biggest issue has been that nobody takes full responsibility in their areas, for example, through local authorities. We are always trying to find out who will take ownership and control of it. Can the Minister give more information on what is happening and the bigger picture?
The authorised officers of Waterways Ireland will implement them. They are appointed by Waterways Ireland. There will be no extra charges for users. The cost will be funded out of the Waterways Ireland budget and its own resources.
Amendment No. 1ae has already been discussed and is in the names of Senators Humphreys and Ó Ríordáin. I apologise - it is amendment No. 1ac. My macular oedema is coming into play now. I am not reading these ones right. Amendment No. 1ac is near the top of the page of the list of amendments.
I move amendment No. 1af:
In page 6, to delete lines 26 to 28.
The intention is to limit the capacity of Waterways Ireland to keep coming in with additional provisions for the by-laws. It seems to be a very wide and sweeping arrangement to allow them to do this. The intention of the amendment is to restrict this provision.
This is a standard provision that potentially addresses some of the issues addressed elsewhere in the proposed amendments. It allows the body to decide what provisions may be necessary and expedient to include in the by-laws for the management of the canal and the canal property. This basically gives flexibility to Waterways Ireland to change the by-laws, which is exactly what the Senator was speaking about. If something comes up that needs to be changed, this provision gives the flexibility to change it, notwithstanding the fact that it has to go through the full process - the 90 days consultation and all of that. The purpose of this is to allow necessary changes to be made to the by-laws if deemed necessary.
I move amendment No. 1ag:
In page 6, line 32, to delete “a class D fine” and substitute “warning notices and fines as defined within the bye-laws”.
Senator Humphreys's amendment and my own seem to be going in opposite directions because I am attempting to reduce the fine and put in warning notices and fines as defined within the by-laws and Senator Humphreys wishes to, I think, increase the fine.
The proposal here is to reduce the fines issue to a fixed penalty notice system. The class D fines, at the moment, are in the financial bracket from €501 up to €1,000. I am not sure if Senator Humphreys's amendment meant a class E fine instead of class B, because class E is below €500. Perhaps that was what was meant or maybe it is a misprint.
On the fines, this is a contentious issue within the fishing sector at the moment and has been for some time. I introduced legislation in this House which would introduce fixed penalty notices for minor offences for small fishermen instead of convictions in court and fines. That is what is proposed here as well, a fixed penalty notice with a reasonable limit. If the only recourse here is a class D fine, then the person or persons convicted are looking at paying out between €501 and €1,000 per offence. There could be additional offences as well. There are consequences here and the risk of major financial liabilities. There should be a staggered system, if nothing else, and not just the option of a class D fine. If someone is in contravention of, for example, four or five different by-laws it could stack up. There should be some sort of a staggered system introduced which would include fixed penalty notices. I would be willing to withdraw the amendment if the Minister had another look at this.
I think the Senator's suggestion is that we should all withdraw our amendments and have a conversation on the matter, but I would certainly be anxious that there would be a suitable penalty for the crime. On occasions a fixed penalty fine, or a lower one, may be correct but the penalty for major offences has to reflect the damages that could be done to Waterways Ireland and to our water systems. The breaching of serious by-laws can be detrimental and costly. I would be happy if the Minister would engage with the Senators to ensure that the fines reflect the crime.
On the fixed penalty notice, the Bill already provides for a fixed penalty notice in section 7A. Class D fines are only prosecuted if the fixed penalty notice of €150 is not paid. There is a fixed penalty notice in place there. That will cover the concerns the Senators have. It is when the fixed penalty notice is not paid that it moves into the more severe fines. I think that answers the Senators' questions.
We will take amendment No. a1ai in the names of Senators Frances Black and Lynn Ruane. Amendments Nos. a1ai to 1al, inclusive, and amendment Nos. 1an to 1ap, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
The amendments that I have tabled determine that there has to be proof of the commission of an offence. It is important that people, as I have said already, need to know what they are charged with. They then need to have an opportunity to challenge that and require the engaged officer to produce a burden of proof. Amendment No. 1aj says, "details of reason for grounds for believing that an offence has been committed and details of proof". It is the same idea.
This means that an authorised officer would have to produce evidence or proof when they serve a fixed penalty notice. That seems to me, again, to be reasonable. If a person is charged with something, the person charging needs to have some degree of credibility, proof and evidence. Another amendment, No. 1al, would insert the term “determining reasonable proof”. This is, as the wording says, reasonable. It is reasonable that there should be a requirement for proof.
On amendment No. a1ai, if lines 12 to 44 are deleted it means that everything about fixed penalty notices would be deleted. There would be no fixed penalty notices. The fixed penalty notice is €150, that is the first chance. If it is not paid, then we move on to the higher fine.
That is okay, I just wished to explain that. To address Senator Norris's comments, "reasonable grounds" are sufficient. There has to be reasonable grounds to charge somebody. It is normal for legislation to use this term.
My point is that reasonable grounds would have to be demonstrated to the offending person. It is not enough for the person charging simply to say that they believe in their heart, or they think, and so on. They have to produce these reasonable grounds to the person who, it is alleged, committed the offence.
There is a fundamental point here. I do not want to get into it, because I know we are all keen to move forward, but there is a fundamental point and it came up in the previous section. It is very unusual that we would look at fixed payment notices without an appropriate appeal mechanism and so forth. There are many other areas where fixed payments are due. The reason that there are so many of these amendments is that we are looking at a situation whereby somebody is effectively being charged, judged and paying the penalty all in the same moment, as it were, because it is a fixed payment notice.That is why there are these complications. Normally one would not have to go through the whole process there and then, but if we do not have an appeals mechanism which is something we need to examine overall in respect of fixed payments, it all has to be done there and then. If there was an appeals mechanism, a fixed payment notice could be issued and the mechanism would be available to the person in the rare cases where it was contested. They should be able to contest it and ask about evidence, etc. Some of these issues arise from that core aspect of the Bill.
That would be regarded as very unusual. Fixed payment notices are used in very few areas, except in the area of the marine. This is an appeal to the Minister to consider having an appeals mechanism to avoid the courts. With the Mediation Bill and so on, I know that the Government is keen to move away from having a court based solution to every issue.
As the Minister is moving through them quickly, amendment No. 1an proposes to substitute €150 with €1,000. It would future proof the Bill as the section allows for lower amounts to be specified for contravention of canal by-laws. A sum of €150 is a little low. Will the Minister reflect on the matter and consider increasing the figure? It might mean not having to amend the legislation quite so quickly?
I was just speaking to my colleague, Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, who highlighted an important issue related to this section also. Fixed penalty notices are the way to go. They make sense. The justice system and the courts are clogged up enough without having to deal with minor offences such as these. The comparator would be fixed penalty notices for driving offences such as speeding which start at €80. In this instance, they start at €150. Presumably the system is staggered, depending on the nature of the offence involved, and that there is not just a flat rate of €150, irrespective of the severity of the offence involved. I am not even sure what the offences could or would be. Will the Minister give examples of offences and tell us whether she believes a sum of €150 is appropriate? Should lower sums be specified staggered upwards according to severity?
Amendment 1ak relates to increasing the payment period from 21 days to 30. This is a reasonable request as most people are paid monthly. These are new financial times in which people are in mortgage distress and have bills to pay and so on. In the financial calendar credit cards, etc. work on a 30-day period. Would it not be reasonable, therefore, to increase the period to 30 days?
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor will speak on this issue in more detail, but I agree that there should be some appeals mechanism at the fixed penalty notice level. It is most likely that the only way to appeal it will be to not pay it, meaning that the person concerned will end up in the courts. There should be some internal appeals mechanism similar to the appeals system in the Department of Social Protection whereby individuals could within 30 days register their grievance or appeal. Within a further 30 days, Waterways Ireland would issue a response. Perhaps there might be some such mechanism.
I agree with Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill. Will a new appeals system be set up? What are the offences? We are passing legislation that concerns offences and appeals, yet we do not know what system will be in place. This is crucial. I agree that many people do not have €150, which is a lot of money. There should be some system in place to help with an appeal.
I understand where the Senators are coming from in terms of having an appeals system in place, but I do not want to start to layer this excessively. If people are breaking the law, we do not want to have a system whereby it will be appealed and they go to court. If they feel strongly about it, they do not have to pay the fine and can go to court to make their case. However, the sum of €150 is the maximum. I did not want to make it more complicated. I was trying to make things simple. We can assume that most of the people involved are actually breaking the law. The authorised officers will not be stopping people to make false accusations against them. The purpose behind the section is to ensure there will be rules and regulations in place by which people will have to abide in order that we can all use the waterways which will be available for the enjoyment of both boat users and the public in general.
I will be very brief. I have suggested an amended wording to include after "notice" the words "determining reasonable proof". I have also proposed inserting a subsection providing "where a person wishes to contest notice served, the matter should be referred to an independent appeals board who will adjudicate on the matter as determined in the bye-laws". I do not believe there is provision for such an independent appeals board and believe it is important that there should be. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the position. I just do not know if there is.
I think the Senator is putting the Minister in a log-jam if the amendment was ruled out of order, but he can raise the matter again on Report Stage. For the purposes of clarity, is Senator Lynn Ruane pressing the amendment?
It is quite obvious from the support expressed in the House that all of the major groupings have said "Tá". Traditionally, a question is declared lost if a Government Senator says "Níl", but it is quite obvious that there is support in the House for the amendment. In a voice vote I would say "Tá". I also think the Minister might be inclined to accept the amendment.
The period is 21 days because that is the standard provision in legislation, but I will be happy to examine the matter. I do not mind if it is 21 days or 30. It does not really matter, but 21 days is standard. If the Senators want me to examine the matter further, I will.
I move amendment No. 1ap:
In page 8, line 3, after "defendant" to insert the following:". This will be determined by the issue of a receipt by Waterways Ireland confirming that a payment has been received".
How else can one prove without a receipt that one has paid the fine? There is no other-----
I move amendment No. 1 aq:
In page 8, line 5, after "appoint" to insert "from within its own staff".
The amendment would make it possible for proper authorised personnel with qualifications in the area to be appointed. It seems to be a fairly rational provision. We need people who know what is going on on the canals and who have a good knowledge of the life of canals. They need to know exactly what they are implementing. Without this amendment, people who lack the knowledge and understanding of the canals required could be appointed. The amendment would make it clear that those appointed should have the proper qualifications. It is an inarguable position.
These are fundamental amendments because the legislation vests further powers in Waterways Ireland and its authorised officers, including in the issuing of fixed payment notices. It would be simple to state such officers need to be appointed from within the staff of Waterways Ireland. For example, we do not want a scenario where this work might be contracted out to a private security firm. Hospital security services and so on have been contracted out. We do not want a scenario where a private security firm would have the power to issue fixed payment notices and enforce by-laws. These officers need to be appointed from Waterways Ireland staff. That may mean the organisation will decide to hire additional staff, but that is for it to determine. Accountability is important and we do not want a situation down the line where Waterways Ireland states the company it contracted to enforce the by-laws did X, Y or Z. There is a need for direct accountability. Similarly, it must be ensured that the officers are suitably qualified because they are being given a new series of powers. I am happy to engage with the Department on the detail of the amendments, but the Minister will understand they are about taking seriously the powers, accountability and training of authorised officers.
Section 7B(1) states: "Waterways Ireland may appoint such or so many of its officers or classes of its officers as it considers appropriate...". They will be appointed from within Waterways Ireland staff and suitably qualified.
I appreciate the Minister's assurance. I may engage further on this issue because there are public procurement concerns and about trade agreements for planning. It is important that we ensure where there is public delivery of a service, it is retained for public delivery. In some cases, this may need to be reflected in legislation. I am happy to withdraw the amendments, but I might engage with the Minister on specific concerns in order that we will not leave this to standard practice. We must ensure it is covered in legislation.
The making of by-laws is to regulate boating on canals and manage the use of canals. The amendment would render the provision meaningless because it would delete the word "boats" and substitutes "canals and canal property". This is a repetition of section 5C and would delete Waterways Ireland's authority over boats.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Michael McDowell, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, David Norris, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Keith Swanick, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. 1az:
In page 9, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:“(iv) if this evidence is not available then an individual should be able to produce said evidence within a reasonable period of time as determined in the bye-laws,”.
I move amendment No. 1aab:
In page 9, line 14, to delete “owner of a boat” and substitute “persons on canal property”.
My amendment is important because it seeks to give power to people not just to direct the owner of the board.
I move amendment No. 1aaf:
In page 10, line 12, to delete “a named authorised officer” and substitute “a member of an Garda Síochána or a Customs or Revenue Official”.
The amendment highlights an important principle. We did not have an opportunity to discuss the previous section but it dealt with allowing people to board boats. Amendment No. 1aaf refers to search warrants. My colleague and I are concerned that the current legislation allows authorised officers to get search warrants to enter and search boats accompanied by anyone whom they believe to be appropriate. My colleague and I believe this aspect must be clarified. In ideal circumstances search warrants should only be issued to a garda, a customs official or a Revenue official. The ability to grant search warrants to authorised officers is quite a considerable power.
We are concerned about the provision which states: "A search warrant under this section shall be expressed and operate to authorise a named authorised officer, accompanied by such authorised officers or other persons as the named authorised officer thinks necessary." We believe that if an authorised officer is issued with a search warrant, he or she should be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána, a customs official, a Revenue official or health and safety inspector. We also believe that they should be the determinants. Perhaps authorised officers from Waterways Ireland could also ask for a search warrant.
The power I have alluded to is very considerable. My colleague and I will probably not push the amendment. We urge the Department to review granting a considerable power to search and enter people's private properties and homes to authorised officers as stipulated in this legislation. This is particularly important given the fact that we have not been reassured about the accountability of authorised officers. I do not plan to press these amendments at this point but I want to discuss the matter. The granting of search warrants is quite a considerable power and the persons who use search warrants must be accountable. I am concerned about this power and ask the Minister to address the matter.
I agree with the Senator that these powers usually reside with a garda, a Revenue official or a customs officer. I also agree that it would be well worth our while examining the matter to ensure that the appropriate person is used. These are very wide powers. They include the power to enter the personal property and home of an individual. Let us remember that some people live on houseboats.
Amendment No. 1aah deals with the presentation of a warrant. As the legislation stands, persons must request the presentation of a warrant. They may neglect to do so, or may not know they have the right to do so, or may not do so for one reason or another. It is important that a warrant is presented to the person who is alleged to be guilty of an offence.
Amendment No. 1aai extends the provision from merely covering a boat to include other canal properties.It does not restrict it to the question of a boat.
A floating community, including families and children, is developing in Grand Canal Dock. We need to be very careful about search warrants and so on. We need to recognise that we are talking about people's homes, and people should have the same rights and protection under the law as any one else. I understand that to be the intention of the Minister. The community to which I refer has a fear around that.
The community in Grand Canal Dock in Dublin is in the middle of the silicon dock. When the pricing structure is set, I ask that we make sure we do not price ordinary people out of the area. I ask the Minister to consider that the homes of many people in the area will be affected by the search warrants we are discussing.
These are very specific provisions tied to the operation of the by-laws, and expertise in the operation of these by-laws lies in the staff of Waterways Ireland. The officers executing a search warrant have to go to court to get a search warrant before they can execute it. That will allay some of the fears around search warrants. They will go to court to ask for search warrants on the basis of breaches of the canal by-laws. A judge would have to be satisfied, based on the sworn information of an authorised officer, that there are reasonable grounds granting a warrant. That is what this section is about.
Senator Norris said that if an officer does not automatically produce a search warrant that would invalidate the search. At that stage, he or she probably should have known that there was an issue and it should not come as a surprise because he or she would have had to go to court to get a search warrant.
I refer to amendment No. 1aai. It suggests that Waterways Ireland would need a search warrant to enter its canal property. That does not make sense.
I am not talking about that. Rather, I am talking about the question of presenting the warrant. If a person has gone to court and obtained a warrant, what is the reason for not presenting it to the alleged offending individual?
I was aware of the question of the court. That does not address my concern that the testimony or opinion of an authorised officer will, in effect, be given the same standing as a garda, who might say he or she has reasonable grounds to seek a warrant. I am very aware of the court process. The Minister's comments do not allay my concerns, but I am happy to have a discussion on that question. A new category of person is being given the same powers-----
I realise there is a process, but it is appropriate that authorised officers have the same powers as Revenue officials or gardaí currently have without any allusion to that. Let us engage further on the matter.
If the officer is required to produce the warrant on request, he or she must have the warrant in his or her possession. Why on earth would he or she not present it? There does not seem to be any good reason for an officer to think that because someone did not ask for it, it is a case of, "Sucks, boo to you". If an officer has a warrant in his or her pocket, why would he or she not present it? It seems perfectly logical.
I intend to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to update the title of the Minister in the Schedule. It is intended to change it to the current title, namely, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I also intend to introduce an amendment to amend the definition of "road authority" in section 16(1) of the Schedule. The wrong references were used.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 11, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:“8.(1) The Minister shall conduct a comprehensive national baseline study over a period of at least 3 years to collect data on bird nesting and other aspects of hedgerow and countryside biodiversity in order to inform the protection of biodiversity and of other aspects of the environment including the consideration of appropriate closed season dates for burning vegetation and cutting of hedgerows (without prejudice to current limitations as set out in the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2010).
(2) Before initiating the study referred to in subsection (1) the Minister shall consult with interested parties in relation to the purpose and methodology of the study, the arrangements for review and publication of the study, including through a public participation process which conforms to Article 6 of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters adopted in Aarhus, Denmark on 25 June 1998.
(3) The study referred to in subsection (1) will also have regard to the key areas of policy coherence as enumerated elsewhere in this Act.
(4) No regulation or legislation allowing for an extension of the burning or cutting period of the cutting of hedgerows or burning of uplands beyond that set out in the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2010 shall be initiated prior to publication and full consideration of the baseline study.”.
This amendment refers to the baseline survey. The Minister is putting the cart before the horse, in respect of the suggestion that the season for burning hedgerows and upland be extended. That would, in effect, go against a proper scientific baseline survey.The Minister's proposal would damage biodiversity. We are proposing that a baseline survey is carried out in consultation with the various stakeholders, namely, the different environmental organisations. It should take place in the next three years and when the data are collected the Minister's proposals can be considered.
This is the crux of the matter. It is absurd for a Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to come in here and blather on about hedges. What have hedges got to do with heritage? It is a complete and absolute nonsense. The absence of scientific evidence on the part of the Minister has been underlined throughout the debate. No survey has been done and this is disastrous. It is appalling that the Government would introduce policy based on no scientific research whatsoever.
The Heritage Bill proposal to allow burning in March would have a very serious impact on upland breeding birds. Birdwatch Ireland, a professional body engaged in this area, presented the best available data to the Minister but the science is being totally ignored. It might as well not have been done. We need Irish data so we need a proper pilot study, not a mass implementation of a policy which is unsupported by science. The necessary research must take place before this is implemented.
What science underpins the proposed changes to ensure birds are not impacted? What evidence has the Minister got for this? She has presented none to this House. If a pilot study shows that nesting birds have been impacted what will the Government's policy objectives be? Will this alter the situation? Can we have the details of what secondary legislation is envisaged by the Government?
According to Derek Mooney, a well-known populariser of natural history, modern farming practice has taken its toll on wildlife and the destruction of hedgerows has greatly reduced the cover of mammals and birds. He said seed-eating birds will decline drastically in numbers and the shortage of insect larvae will make it difficult for birds to raise their young. Three quarters of an hour ago in this House I adverted to the impact on the moth and butterfly population so I will not regurgitate it.
We do not have much scientific evidence in Ireland as it simply has not been done. I would, however, like to put on the record the results of a survey conducted by the University of Leeds on the impact of peat burning on the chemical composition of the landscape. It states that prescribed burning on peatlands was shown to have clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river ecology. It is a substantial impact. It also states:
Burning reduces the organic matter content of the upper peat layers. The net result is that the peat is less able to retain important particles known as exchangeable cations. In other words, the peat in burned sites is deprived of chemicals which are important for plant growth and for buffering acidic rainfall. [By burning peat we are creating conditions that are adverse to important plant growth.] Lower concentrations of nutrient elements found in peat soils in burned river basins do not support the idea that burning enriches the peat with nutrients from ash. [We are often told that by burning on grassland, gorse and scrub areas one gets a fresh growth of grass but this does not appear to be the case with regard to peatlands.] Rivers draining burned catchments were characterised by lower calcium concentrations and lower pH relative to rivers draining unburned catchments. Rivers draining burned sites had higher concentrations of silica, manganese, iron and aluminium compared to unburned catchments. There was no difference between burned and unburned catchments in peat nitrogen concentrations or in carbon to nitrogen ratios (high C/N is considered unfavourable to microbial decomposition of peat) ... Water-table depth is very important in peatlands for maintaining their stability and function as a carbon store. Water tables were found to be significantly deeper for burned catchments than for unburned ones. Deeper water tables would suggest a greater scope for degradation of the peat and loss of carbon to the atmosphere.
In other words it is carbon negative. The report further states that sphagnum is an important peat-forming species. Sphagnum grows on the bogs and in historical times it was used as a dressing for wounds as it has powerful medicinal properties. The report goes on:
Changes in the hydrological properties of the peat after fire make the peat less conducive to Sphagnum moss growth. River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher flow peaks during heavy rain. However, this was not a conclusive finding. Burning vegetation alters the natural peat hydrology in the upper layers of the peat affecting the balance of where water flow occurs. Recovery of many hydrological properties appears to be possible if a site is left unburned over many years. [This means the site shows a capacity to recover.] Thermal regimes appear to recover as vegetation regrows. This recovery was also seen in soil hydrology data from burned plots of different ages. Macroinvertebrates play a vital role in aquatic food webs by feeding on algae, microbes and detritus at the base of food chains before they themselves are consumed by birds, fish and amphibians. The research found that river macroinvertebrate diversity was reduced in burned sites. [This means there is a reduction in the small fauna in burnt areas.] In burned sites, river macroinvertebrate populations were dominated by groups that are commonly found in higher abundance in disturbed river systems, such as non-biting midge larvae (Chironomidae) and burrowing stonefly larvae (Nemouridae). Increases in the abundance of disturbance-tolerant taxa counteract declines and/or losses amongst some groups (e.g. mayflies) which are typically sensitive to reduced pH, increased aluminium and deposition of fine sediments. These changes show that burning increases the effect of biological stressors compared to unburned rivers.
All these things suggest a dramatic impact on the chemistry and ecology of peatlands. In addition, section 8 extends the burning period which would affect a significant proportion of our most threatened species. Upland burning has been shown to have some positive aspects but it is essential that threatened species are not wiped out. Among those species are curlew, which used to be a very common feature of the Irish landscape. Now one hardly ever hears the curlew's call, or the golden plover. This section needs to vigorously opposed and then rethought. I ask the Minister to do so.
I have a real problem with this. It might not go far enough in collecting information over a three-year baseline but we need a baseline. The Minister's officials told us that three or four counties were sensitive to this but we do not have enough information. The first thing to do is put in place a database so that we know what we have and to know what we damage and do not damage.
The discussion has moved on from when the Bill was first introduced.On Wednesday, 9 November 2016 when the Bill was first introduced the Minister spoke nine times on road safety. On 17 November 2016 she spoke at length six times on road safety in connection with this section of the Bill. On 2 March 2017 she also spoke at length three times. I can give her the details if she requires. We have moved significantly on this section of the Heritage Bill from road safety to a pilot scheme to a baseline study among other issues. We can now rule out once and for all that the Bill has anything to do with road safety-----
-----and everybody here should accept that. When Senator Alice-Mary Higgins tabled amendments which would have greatly improved the road safety aspect of dealing with hedgerows her proposals fell on deaf ears.
I agree with Senator Norris that the measure must be opposed. I call on Members to support the amendment because at the very least one must support good science, which is what it is. One must investigate and carry out a proper baseline study and then one can move forward. Our neighbours in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland moved in that direction but they have moved back. Recently, Northern Ireland voted to ensure that August was still included. It is important to acknowledge that was done. I support the amendment. I will possibly table an alternative to the baseline study on Report Stage in terms of time, area and distance in kilometres. We need good science. What is proposed today relates to the Twenty-six Counties. The Minister asks us to trust her to do it by regulation. We would be failing citizens if we were to take it on trust. This is primary legislation and the baseline study must be outlined in detail in terms of what counties are covered and how many kilometres of hedgerows will be taken into account. Let us kill off the notion once and for all that the issue relates to road safety. Let nobody in this House try to justify the argument because that is not the case.
I have listened carefully to the contributions of Senators not just today but on previous occasions when I was in the House. In response to Senator Humphreys, sometimes I do not get the opportunity to speak because I do a lot of listening when I am in here.
Senator Humphreys was counting when I mentioned things. I wish to be clear that sometimes I do not always get the opportunity to speak.
I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed by a number of Senators on the impact the provisions might have on biodiversity. I share the views of Senators that hedgerows are a very important wildlife habitat that provide food, shelter, corridors of movement, nests and hibernation sites for many native flora and fauna. The changes in timing of cutting which are set out in the Bill will not interfere with any of those functions. As I stated previously, my intention is that any hedge trimming in the month of August may only take place on road sides or on land where reseeding or tillage is being carried out and that the trimming may only be of the current year's growth and should not involve the use of heavy flails or grubbing. If a person needs to carry out heavier cutting of hedges such as grubbing and flailing they must do so during the existing permitted period between September and the end of February. I wish to be clear; it was never my intention to allow the grubbing, heavy cutting or destruction of hedges in August. The text reflected the wording in the original legislation and I now propose on Report Stage to delete the words "grubbing" or "destroying otherwise" from section 8(2) of the Bill.
To be clear, this is a pilot scheme for two years, subject to regulations and guidelines and there will be monitoring of the pilot phase. After two years it must come back to both Houses of the Oireachtas, which must pass a resolution – that means it will not be a nodding exercise – for the pilot period to continue and if it is not passed the pilot scheme will fall and the scheme will cease.
Section 8 also allows for the controlled burning in certain areas to be specified by regulation during March should it be necessary, for example, due to adverse weather conditions. Members are all aware of the illegal burning that takes place. What I want to do is allow flexibility to work with landowners and to do that in a managed and safe way.
Section 8 also provides for managed hedge cutting to be allowed under strict criteria during August to help ensure overgrown hedges impacting on roads can be tackled. The sunset clause of two years provided for in section 8 can only be extended by separate resolutions of the Seanad and the Dáil. It is good practice for the provisions to be reviewed during the two-year period in order that we can assess the works in practice and determine if there are any lessons to be learned or if any improvements are needed. We must also ensure that the new provisions should not adversely impact on wildlife. That will be a key aim of mine, taking account of my responsibilities for natural heritage.
I am aware of some concerns surrounding scientific data to underpin the nesting and breeding periods for wild birds. I am satisfied that the provisions to be put in place in section 8 fully respect the requirements of the nesting and breeding seasons for wild birds. Furthermore, Senators will note that the provisions in the section provide that the cutting of hedgerows in August will only be possible if it is done in accordance with regulations which I will make in relation to hedgerow husbandry and to ensure that wildlife and other flora and fauna are protected. No cutting will be possible in the absence of the regulations. The provisions in the Bill are for a pilot phase of two years. In that time my Department will monitor activity under the provisions and an assessment of the impacts will be carried out before any decision is taken on continuing the measures beyond the pilot phase.
I also intend to launch a public awareness process for all stakeholders, including local authorities, landowners and members of the public so that they are fully informed as to the restrictions on hedge cutting and burning. Accordingly, I am of the view that the monitoring regime that will be put in place during the two-year pilot phase will allow my Department to decide on whether to continue with the provisions post the two-year pilot phase based on the scientific data available. For that reason I ask Senators to support section 8.
The Bill will not make it compulsory for anyone to cut a hedge in August.
Could I finish please? However, if a hedge is blocking the view of road users or where land management requires, the landowner will have the option to cut back one season's growth in the month of August if he or she so wishes. That is a serious issue on local byroads in rural areas where hedges grow out on roads in particular in the month of August following heavy rain. I know because I live there and I have experienced it.It damages cars, it restricts the view of motorists and it is dangerous for cyclists. People prefer local authorities to have the power to cut hedges. There is a provision whereby local authorities can cut hedges in the interests of road safety. However, the reality is that local authorities simply do not have the manpower or resources to be out on every byroad in the country inspecting and trimming hedges. They just do not have that capacity. Anyone who lives in rural Ireland will be aware of that.
I recently established a special curlew task force to examine what steps can be taken to support our native curlew. This has been warmly welcomed by groups such as BirdWatch Ireland. Similar funding has been provided by my Department to support important conservation projects, such as the red grouse management plan in Boleybrack Mountain in County Leitrim. That project, which involves a collaborative approach by farmers, gun club members and wildlife groups has brought about an increase in grouse numbers locally. That shows what can be achieved when there is a collaborative approach with local landowners.
I want to replicate the approach in my county, Monaghan. We have six nesting curlews in the Sliabh Beagh area. I arranged an information evening some time ago to raise public awareness about what we can all do to work together to protect the curlew. There were many farmers at that meeting and they genuinely want to protect the curlew. It infuriates me when accusations are thrown around that all farmers are looking to destroy our wildlife. That is not-----
This legislation is not and has never been about widespread heavy cutting of hedges. It will allow hedges to be cut in August in certain circumstances only, subject to strict regulations, and in this regard, any cutting of hedges in August may only be of the current season's growth and may only be carried out on roadsides and on land where reseeding or tillage is taking place. This represents only a small percentage of the overall hedgerows in the country. Furthermore - I have said it before and will say it again - I will prohibit grubbing and flailing in August. If farmers and others need to carry out heavier cutting of hedges such as grubbing and flailing, they must do so during the existing period between September and the end of February.
I was going to speak strictly to amendment No. 2. I will not go extensively into amendment No. 3, which I believe we will be debating together.
I need to correct two key points for the record. We have had this debate and I do not think it is constructive. As a Minister for all of Ireland, the Minister needs to be very clear that it is not constructive to suggest or ascribe comments to the Seanad. Nobody here has cast any aspersions about farmers. That has been clear. We spoke as custodians. My colleague spoke as her father is a proud member of the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA. We have spoken about the interests of farmers, for example, horticultural farmers, those growing crops who are deeply concerned about the impacts of this legislation on pollinators. We need to be very careful and appropriate and not try to create division where division has not been sown in this House.
I would also like to make a technical correction. The Minister said "as all who would live in rural areas". All who live in rural areas and many of us who now live in urban areas are aware that the legislation is currently that councils can issue a permit which will allow the landowner to cut the hedge. The Minister suggested that councils can cut hedges but do not have the capacity to do so. The section 70 order allows a landowner to cut the hedge. I do not believe in this context that this was accurate. Let us be accurate about what the legislation provides.
That said, I believe there is a resource issue. It would be useful, as we have often said before, if we looked at places like County Clare and others where resources have been given to county councils to allow them to support the hedge cutting in issues of road safety. I acknowledge that my colleague, Senator Kevin Humphreys, kindly acknowledged the amendment I put forward along with my colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan, which would have strengthened road safety. Our amendment is the only amendment to this legislation that is explicitly set out to strengthen road safety. It was to ensure that not only landowners would be allowed to cut hedges where they feel there is a road safety concern, but that individuals could do so too. We heard passionate testimony from persons with a disability about the obstructions for them. Any person who is a road user or a path user could ask for a section 70 order to be issued. It was a strengthening provision to allow road users who are concerned about road safety to ask for an exception. Where road safety is a concern, section 70 allows for cutting at any time of year, 365 days a year.
I wish to speak on amendment No. 2 and my other concerns around gorse-burning and hedges.
It is amendment No. 2. We are speaking only on amendment No. 2. Those were simply clarifications of the Minister's speech.
On amendment No. 2, unfortunately, the Minister did not comment on her views on baseline data. We have been hearing at length that this is a pilot. We have been hearing ideas as to what might be done. We need to be very clear on the messages the Minister has given today with regard to one year's growth, what is or is not included and where it will be targeted. None of this is currently in the legislation. At present, the legislation gives clear and wide permission, and none of the constraints or the concerns on which we have heard very welcome suggestions from the Minister are in the legislation before the House. We need to be very clear. It is imperative that the Minister puts what she is saying here in the Chamber into the legislation. We have a very wide divide at the moment between stated policy intent and the legislation that is before the House.
There is also a concern when we talk about a pilot. We have not really heard what is the intention of the pilot. Why are we doing a pilot on cutting? What is the urgency? We know that road safety can be addressed elsewhere. What is the driver? What is the Minister's perspective as Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs? What is the major heritage concern in rural areas that is driving this intrusion into our wildlife legislation? It is a template that has stood for a long time and has been copied across Europe and in the UK. We need to know why we are doing this pilot, and the case for doing it needs to be strong. There is a key concern. The Minister talks about science and such, but she is still talking about assessing the impacts. If we do not have a baseline, we do not know how to assess the impacts.At present, there is no provision for baseline data gathering. If, in two years' time, we simply say here is the situation now for whatever species may have expired or still be there, there will be no indication as to from where we have come or what we may have lost. As I have said before and I will not repeat it in the Chamber, we know from the people who write to us and who monitor nature in their own areas that they have seen what has been lost already. What about a baseline? The Minister has not made provision for a baseline or indicated for a baseline. Amendment No. 2 is separate to our general provision. We have put forward very reasonable and appropriate scientific terms under which a baseline could be conducted so we know what is the biodiversity in our hedgerows right now, what is the nature of our hedgerows, what is there and what species are there. We have information from the UK, which has done this research, and it is very interesting that when the UK conducted research on its hedgerows and looked at its baselines and impacts, it decided to change and copy our legislation because it was better. It decided to remove August from the period of cutting and burning. We also need to be clear that there needs to be freedom.
The Minister mentioned assessment. At no point in the legislation do we have clarity on what assessment will be published, where it will be shared and how we will all be able to talk about what has happened during the two year period. There is no plan for the pilot at present. There is no specification. It is not simply enough for the Minister to ask for blanket permission to invent a pilot. The pilot cannot be all of Ireland and the Minister needs to set out what proportion of Ireland will be covered and not covered. The Minister is giving assurances which, sadly, I do not believe she is in a position to give, that no wildlife will be affected. We just do not know this unless we have the data and the science.
I welcome the Minister's comments on grubbing. That is dealt with in amendment No. 3. I imagine the Minister plans to accept our amendment on grubbing and destroying. I also welcome the Minister's comments on flailing. I note we will have an opportunity in this regard, if the Minister is genuinely serious about addressing issues of grubbing and flailing, as amendments to section 10 look to strengthen and set out regulations in respect of both of these practices.
I will not speak to the substance of section 8 until we come to the next group of amendments. Will the Minister indicate whether she will accept the amendment on a baseline? Will she put forward her own amendment on a baseline on Report Stage?
This debate, which is on a substitute section 8, has, perforce, gravitated towards a discussion on the section 8 in the Bill. This is no surprise because in essence it is quite clear this section is designed to pre-empt any measure such as section 8 without a baseline data study being put in place to justify it. There are a few points we must consider on what is being proposed. The Minister has indicated road safety is an issue which concerns her and motivates the legislation. If this is the case, I would like to see some mention of road safety as one of the criteria for making regulations in her section when we come to it.
It seems to me if this is one of the genuine motivating factors one would expect it to appear as one of the criteria by which regulations would be crafted, but we do not see this. In a spirit of genuine conciliation in this debate it seems to me the Minister should indicate she is open to accepting the introduction of road safety as one of the constraining factors in section 8 if her section 8 is to proceed.
The second point that occurs to me is there is a distinction between section 8(1) which is a burning section and section 8(2) which, at present, is a cutting, grubbing or destroying section, but the Minister now indicates it is purely to be cutting. It is very notable from the wording of section 8(1) it is proposed it should apply to such part or parts of the State as the regulations may permit. When we look to the regulations envisaged by section 8(2) no such geographical criteria are there. If we were considering a genuine pilot study to evaluate whether this should take place on scientific grounds, and bearing in mind the implications for wildlife and flora and fauna, one would expect, even from the point of view of having control studies and the like, that any scientific approach to a pilot study would look at areas where it was permitted and areas where it was not permitted, and see whether there was any significant difference between the two. I was interested that Michael Viney in an article on this subject in The Irish Timespointed out there are particular species which produce second clutches of eggs and chicks in August each year. The beekeepers of Ireland have come forward and their objections are based on the needs of bees with regard to cutting back that year's growth.
This brings me to the next point the Minister mentioned in her contribution. She mentioned the regulations she had in mind would deal with roadside hedge cutting and non-roadside hedge cutting where it was necessary for land management in a tillage context. Why is this not mentioned in the section? I am worried by a particular point in all of this. I do not doubt the Minister's good faith for a minute, but it is all very well to say that cutting would be restricted to that year's growth, whatever that would mean for bees and animals dependent on berries, but if somebody brings a machine into a field and starts cutting, afterwards who will say the person cutting went further than this year's growth? In the real world what inspector will be sent out, and by whom, to crawl along the hedges and state that cutting has gone a bit further than this year's growth and it is 4 inches into last year's growth? Where will the line be drawn? People will not be out with secateurs and measuring tapes. Either a hedge cutting machine will be deployed on a hedge or it will not. In the aftermath, there will be nothing to show how far into last year's growth the cutting actually went. There will be no person whose job it is to state the cutting went further than this year's growth because that person would have to prove he or she was there last year and saw the state of the hedge last year.
Indeed, I forgot about that. If the Minister is actually saying this is the justification for this, how will anybody control it?
I come back to the point about the provision on cutting, grubbing and destroying being a nationwide operation as section 8(2) stands. There is not the mechanism, machinery, resources or capacity on the part of any wildlife agency or conservation body to do anything effective to stop widespread cutting of hedges in August once an order is made under this regulation.Nobody will be able to police any regulations effectively. I do not see why we have not been shown the draft regulation. We pass referendums and we see the draft Bill. The child adoption Bill was put before the people, the abortion Bill was put before the people, divorce legislation was put before the people in draft, various pieces of legislation are put before the people on occasions so they could work out what they were actually voting for. On this occasion no attempt has been made to produce a draft regulation which has the limiting factor such as tillage and land management and this season's growth, all of these issues are just absent from the legislation. It occurs to me that if this season's growth is to be a genuine criterion, there is absolutely no reason it should not be mentioned in the legislation in respect of off-road hedge cutting. I presume the Minister would tell me before we go much further that she would accept an amendment on Report Stage to do that. If she is not willing to say that, and put it in the legislation that it is intended to have that minor effect, there is no point in making a speech justifying it in this House by reference to something she is not willing to commit to in legislation.
Likewise, if it is required for the purposes of reasonable land management, what do we mean by that? If it is to be in a tillage context, let us see what is actually meant by all of that. What I am coming down to is this - that the amendment proposed is effectively putting in place a standstill until some scientific basis for a change in this area is established on scientific grounds. That is the precautionary principle that we are supposed to follow in environmental matters. It worries me that this seems to be a very unscientific, broad-brush approach and one which gives a free licence to all farmers to attack any hedge. Even if the Minister took out grubbing and destroying, as long as there is something left at the end of the operation the possibility of proving that any particular landowner had infringed the legislation would be very small indeed as would the the chance of enforcing it.
Lastly, I do not want to reignite the controversy that we saw some moments ago. This is not a question of the townies versus the farmers. This is not about idealists. Some of us are very conversant with rural Ireland, and know what it is like when a bramble grows out of a ditch and it forces bikes out into the road and such like. No one needs to have a particular background to know what growth occurs and what the road safety implications can be of roadside hedges growing out onto the road in summer. By the same token, although some people may get hotheaded on social media and use broad-brush language about this particular proposal, the Minister should not underestimate the feeling that there is on this issue. It is not just that The Irish Times wrote an editorial on this and praised this House for querying what the Minister is doing. There is a huge amount of people in Ireland who object to this, they object to its unscientific basis, the manner in which it has been done, the absence of draft regulations, the unthought-out way that this has been done; they object to what they suspect is just a deal done with farmers' organisations and that it why it is being pushed forward with such vehemence. We live in a very uncertain world but I do believe that if by any chance the Minister manages to progress this into legislation she should bear in mind that this Government has a lot of problems - we only have to look around at what has been happening in the last week - and this is going to alienate a very significant area of votes from it. They are not just people who sit on beanbags thinking about San Francisco in the 1960s
This is not a case of a minority of tree-huggers or people who live in some sort of idealistic world. This is a case of real ordinary people who are upset about this. It is a significant group in Irish society. As somebody who uses them myself, I cannot object to there being some order on them and if resources permitted somebody might enforce minimum standards of safety on the use of our canals and rivers. If the Minister wants to bring order to Irish waterways, I have no problem with all of that but I ask her to consider this. This legislation could do without section 8.
I do not think it would be regarded as a humiliation for the Minister if at this stage, she said she would like to think about it further. There are an awful lot of people outside this House who would say she should get on with her Bill and leave out section 8. Those people would be well disposed to the Minister if they felt that she had listened to a debate in this House where considered opposition to section 8 had been voiced. I do not think that it would do any harm to her electorally or to her ministerial standing. As one of the people who admires many of the things the Minister does, I do not believe that it would detract in the slightest if between now and Report Stage, she were to reconsider her support for section 8. I do not think that the farming organisations would go mad if she modified section 8 along the lines that she says she intends to do and could do by restricting its application. I do think that with so many political problems around her neck, this is not a case of her taking the hard decision in the national interest. It does not fall into that category and the Minister should not think of herself, or the Government of itself, as taking the hard decisions with a whole lot of intemperate, ill-informed critics voicing half-thought out opposition. This is something where most people, I think reasonably, come down against section 8 if they consider the issue. Most independent commentary comes down against section 8. I ask the Minister, between now and Report Stage to consider whether this Bill would not be a far better Bill if she walked away from section 8 and said that she had listened to the debate in this House. That is what the Seanad is for. She has not tried to push it through on a whip. The balance of opinion in society is against it. There is not a very good scientific basis for enacting section 8 at this stage; in fact there is none.The Minister is not merely a Minister. She is also a politician, and I am saying that it would be good politics to delete section 8 from the Bill completely.
I have to respond to the earlier remarks. I am very supportive of the Irish farming community. We would not have the landscape we have without the farmers. They have cared for the environment. We have what we have because of them. In this House, we have actually listened to each other. We may have started from different places but we have moved closer together. At a very early stage, I made the same suggestion that section 8 be shelved, and that we look at the signs and develop a logical approach. If we want to deal with the road safety element, Senator Higgins's road safety amendment could be adopted by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, when he gets around to doing something.
I doubt anyone is happy with the idea and taking it on trust. We have to understand what the baseline is. The baseline cannot be Twenty-six Counties. If we are asking for a study to be done, or a change in legislation to allow a study or a pilot project be carried out, it cannot be on a Twenty-six County basis. I said earlier that this is a place to start from, if we insist on going forward. This is not a townie versus rural Ireland. It is actually the opposite. The vast majority of e-mails I have received on this issue come from outside the Dublin area from the agricultural community and from people who live and work in rural Ireland. I was accused earlier of just being a Dublin 4 person. Hedgerows are an important part of our environment. I thank the Minister for the indication that she is removing the words "grubbing and destroying". I also notice she has changed her language. In the Bill the word used is "cutting" but she is using the word "trimming". Does that refer to a different length or distance?
A job well done would be to allow the canal section of this Bill to progress, and possibly send section 8 into an Oireachtas committee. Let us invite everybody in to discuss this in depth to ensure we are doing the right thing. It is not just the birds, bats and hedgehogs. It is about farmer's livelihoods as well. There is REPS and payments are made to the protection of the environment. That all has to be considered.
Rural Ireland is facing great problems with Brexit. Its economic viability is going to be threatened in the coming two years, and as a country and a nation we need to stand together. To build trust between the communities we should remove section 8 and send it to an Oireachtas committee, perhaps the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Let us invite BirdWatch Ireland, the tillage farmers, the livestock farmers and the small farmers in and let us have a very informed and focused debate about section 8 to see if it should be brought forward. I certainly support the previous Senator's position that we should drop section 8 completely. If we do not, I will vote for this amendment too.
I have not spoken on this very important Bill today but I thank the Minister for bringing it forward. I have sat here or in my office for most of the day listening to the contributions, and many Senators mentioned the amount of communications we have received. We have received communications by e-mail, on Facebook and on Twitter, and I have read most of them. I have also met people. I went to Bantry a week ago last Monday night, to the Cathaoirleach's home town. I met 500 people. Rarely have I gone into a room with 500 people. There was an unfortunate feeling, as other Senators have mentioned, that it was them against us. That was an unfortunate feeling to get from that room. Entrenchment has become an issue in this debate. That has been the unfortunate thing in this debate. Rural people feel that they have been driven into the ground on this. I am not saying that is on purpose, but they do feel that it has become "them" and "us". That has been the unfortunate outcome of this very important debate.
There is an issue. Everybody in this House who understands rural Ireland is aware that when one goes to the local council one of the key issues is cutting hedges. Anyone who has served on a rural county council knows it is one of the key issues with the engineers at the area roads meeting. As most of us here who went through the local authority system will be aware, the first thing that the engineer will say is that they do not have the money and that it cannot be done because it is against the law. It is an issue. In many ways, this legislation is trying to put something to bed. Let us look to see what will work and what will not work. Let us look at a two year pilot study and at trimming back hedges for two years where they must be trimmed back. Some Senators have said that maybe we will cut every hedge in Ireland. We will not. A small percentage of hedges will be cut.
I can use my own example. I live in a place called Minane Bridge. I will not be cutting a hedge in August because I do not need to. I am a grassland farmer. I do not need to cut those hedges. I can cut them when it comes to the appropriate time that is in the legislation at the moment. However, I have neighbours who have grain farms and when it comes to winter cereals, which is a huge issue further south from me near Kinsale, they need to cut their hedges back because they are doing their tilling and their sowing and their setting in August. They cannot do it at any other time of the year. At the moment, they do it afterwards. The weather goes against them and it affects their crops. It just does not work. The use of phrase "land management" by the Minister is such an appropriate one because that is exactly what it is. In many ways, it is helping the environment because at the moment they are doing double the work.
This legislation is looking to see if there is a better way. It will come back to this House in two years' time if it is not a better way, and we can take that into consideration then. This legislation allows for the results of the information to come back to these Houses. Then the Seanad can look at the results of what we have seen. That is appropriate, and is what the farming community wants. It has been an unfortunate, damaging debate. This is our third day in the Seanad. I have seen it in the e-mails and text messages I have received from my own part of the world and it is unfortunate how entrenched people have become. That is something that I am deeply conscious of.
This legislation set out to do two things. One was to help the farming community manage certain conditions when it comes to land use regarding re-seeding and winter cereals. That was the idea of it from an agricultural point of view. The other issue was to help road safety for the month of August, for the 31 days required. That is what the Minister has proposed, and if she brings the information back from this two year pilot study to these Houses, we will have a say. That is important and appropriate and is what people want to know, namely, that the reports will come back to these Houses when we will know exactly what is happening. How many hedges will be cut in August? Will it be everywhere? I would say less than 5%. In major grassland areas, there will be no hedge cutting done in August. That is why it is limited to such a small area. There are parishes further south from mine which have nothing but dairy cows. There will be no hedges cut there. There are parishes near Kinsale where they will be cut because that is where grain is grown. It is location, location, location.
I commend the Minister on this good legislation.We are working towards a system wherein we can see what will and what will not work. The thing I am concerned about more than anything else is the damage that has been done in terms of the urban-rural divide. That has been the unfortunate fallout from this debate. I have seen it in the public meeting I attended as well as in the information I have received from rural Ireland.
It is not appropriate for one Senator to have a conversation with another. They should speak through the Chair. Senator Warfield will have a chance in due course to rebut what Senator Lombard is saying. Otherwise, the debate will fall apart.
This debate is important for rural Ireland and Ireland in general. The legislation is appropriate and the Minister has done the right thing by bringing it forward. I am afraid that an unfortunate side effect will relate not to hedges, birds or bees but the relationship between rural Ireland and urban dwellers.
The debate has certainly moved on. In the last Parliament, I was the only Member of the Seanad to oppose section 8. I could not get another Member to stand for me to get a vote or to act as a teller. It is really terrific that we have had such a diverse expression of opinion.
We have to take into account what the facts are. The Minister has pretty much accepted that a large number of birds are under threat of extinction. She instanced six pairs of nesting curlews. How fantastic. It is hardly overcrowding on a grand scale. Many birds and small mammals are actually getting very close to extinction, including the curlew and the corncrake. When my mother was in central Africa, she used to ache for the sound of the corncrake. Now, one can travel the length and breadth of Ireland but one will not hear one. The cuckoo was another bird one used to hear regularly but it is practically gone. Small mammals such as bats, hares and stoats are also endangered.
I will not rehearse the whole debate but I will put a few established scientific facts on the record. Yellowhammer, linnet and greenfinch nest well into September. As a result, hedge cutting is damaging to them when it takes place at this time. At the other end of the season, curlew and other upland breeding birds have begun their nesting in March and they will also be impacted. They require tall vegetation in which to nest. Burning in March will destroy this kind of habitat. Other wildlife animal areas have also been affected. I have already mentioned butterflies, but moths, hedgehogs, bats and so on are also affected, not to mention bees. This is at a time when we are just beginning to roll out the all-Ireland pollinator plan. One policy contradicts another.
As has been said before, there are six months in the year when they can already cut the hedges. I did not quite understand what my colleague from Bantry was saying when he set out that he was one particular kind of farmer whereas there are others. Perhaps it is a lack of information on my part. I do not see why being a tillage farmer sowing seeds means one has to rape the hedgerows. I do not see it at all. I will leave it there for the time being except to say in conclusion that reviewing legislation from other member states demonstrates that we are quite out of kilter with what is happening there. They are far more conservation conscious than we are.
What I am trying to do is introduce flexibility into the system. Managed hedge cutting will be allowed under strict criteria during August to help to tackle issues such as overgrown hedges on roads. Controlled burning will also be allowed in certain areas around the country to be specified during March should it be necessary due to adverse weather conditions such as those we had this month. I had announced a review in late 2014 of section 40 of the Wildlife Act which relates to hedge cutting and burning. These measures are being implemented as a result of the review. Over 200 submissions were received in that regard. I am trying to strike the right balance. Hedgerows and scrub are important wildlife habitats, but they have to be managed in terms of biodiversity and land management. I am not changing the closed period. What we are doing is permitting cutting and burning in a managed way within the current closed system. I want to collect more information on the impact, if any, of these changes. I will collect that information on bird life and different hedgerow types during the pilot period.
To provide some extra information to the House, my Department is monitoring 59 habitats, 175 NHAs, 100 animal species and 180 bird species. I have issued a call to experts in the area to get a baseline. We need to set a baseline as that is important. We will then monitor the impact of the pilot. To be clear, the Wildlife Act prevents the disturbing or destroying of nests and, as such, it is incumbent on land owners to ensure that they are not damaging wildlife if they decide to cut or trim back within the specified time of 1 to 31 August during the pilot period. That law is still there and land owners must be mindful of it. A two year study to track the breeding outcomes of individuals from several bird species, with particular attention on the yellowhammer, will include hedges that are uncut as well as those subject to cutting in early August. Additional focus will be given to estimate the bird use of the hedgerows in the study areas outside the breeding season and the linear extent of hedges necessary to provide robust data will have to be estimated as part of the study. There is also a hedgerow monitoring project aimed at providing robust contemporary data on the extent, timing and intensity of hedge cutting at sample sites around Ireland including but not confined to August. As such, the Department will consider interested parties contributing to data collection and the use on a pilot basis of the nature conservation web address.
I do not want to put these regulations into primary legislation because this is a pilot project. The legislation remains and this is just giving me a degree of flexibility to carry out the pilot project. Concern was raised about enforcement. I will launch a public awareness process for all stakeholders, including local authorities, land owners and members of the public, so that they are fully informed about the restrictions on hedge cutting and trimming. Enforcement is the job of the authorised officials of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They enforce the law and will continue to do so. I have already advised the House that I will introduce an amendment on Report Stage to align section 70 of the Roads Act on hedge cutting for road safety purposes with section 40 of the Wildlife Act
Frances Black, Gerard Craughwell, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
If nobody is prepared to speak, may I just contribute a line from Finnegan's Wake? "Ere the hour the twattering of bards in the twitterlitter between Druidia and the Deepsleep Sea." That characterises the debate we have had here this afternoon. The twattering of the bards.
The Minister has said she will remove grubbing and destroying at the next stage and I want to acknowledge that progress. Senator Ó Domhnaill tabled the amendment 3b, to delete "land" and substitute "roadside" which meant that internal fields could not be cut. I want to mention that I have an amendment which would mean that 10% of hedgerows in the State. A huge quantity of hedgerows grow onto the roadside. It would concern me that it is limited cutting in relation to road safety, a much abused term here. I want us to be careful that it is limited and I hope that Senator Ó Domhnaill can support my further amendment to that.
I will pursue our amendment No. 3b. I have listened with great interest and intent. This is our third time here to discuss this Bill. If nothing else, as the Minister told a previous contributor, she may not have commented on everything but she has been listening and has come today with a lot of information and new points which unfortunately would have been very beneficial had they been in the Bill we received and have now spent over 12 hours discussing. With a view almost to compromise, we will pursue our amendment, that while we support the main objectives of the Heritage Bill, we will examine any further proposals or amendments at the subsequent legislative stage.
I have listened to a great deal of the debate on the section, which is one of the most contentious sections of the Bill. I agree with a great deal of the sentiment expressed around the fact that the section is not relevant to the Bill. Certainly, it is not relevant to the work of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is more akin to the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I read the submission of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the public consultation process on this issue. It submitted that hedge cutting could have been more comprehensively addressed through reform of section 70 of the Roads Act. That course of action was not pursued, however. The eight submissions on hedge cutting by local authority members all focused on roadside hedges as did those by local authorities themselves.
There has been condemnation of people who have raised issues on this section because they were perceived to be people who are based in the city. I have reservations about this element of the Bill and I consider myself a small farmer as someone who grew up on a small farm. At this time of year, I often work on the family farm at home at weekends as it is the lambing season. Many of my neighbours who are members of farming organisations are not supportive of a universal permission to allow everyone to cut hedges for an extended period. There is an agenda among some to open this up as proposed in the Bill, but it is the wrong approach to take. Arguments have been expressed here today which are balanced and reasonable on introducing legislation based on scientific evidence. That should always be the backdrop to legislation and changes of this nature which have the potential to affect our natural habitats, wildlife and, indeed, farmlands. This element of the Bill requires further scrutiny and I support very much the suggestion of Senator Humphreys that the section be referred to committee to undergo further pre-legislative scrutiny before entering Dáil Éireann so that every interested stakeholder has an opportunity to express an opinion. It is my understanding that many of the stakeholders who wanted to engage with the Department were not afforded the opportunity to do so, including some of the key interested stakeholder groups. I have some written correspondence to that effect which has been sent to me.
Further scrutiny is required. In an effort to restrict cutting to roadside hedges, we have submitted an amendment that would have the effect of reducing hedge cutting by more than 81% in circumstances in which 19% of hedgerows intersect the public road network. That figure came from a consultant who is a hedgerow manager living in County Leitrim. He gave an excellent presentation in Buswells Hotel prior to the Bill coming before the Seanad. I have received, as has every Senator, very reasonable, balanced and well-thought-out e-mails and phone calls. I have met many people, including farmers, to discuss the Bill. The farmers I know are in receipt of Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, money. In the previous Seanad, I was Fianna Fáil spokesperson for agriculture and I advocated for a fairer, more balanced payments mechanism under the CAP so that moneys would be taken away from the east coast and provided to the west coast of Ireland. In other words, it should be removed from the larger intensive farmers, such as the Larry Goodmans of this world, who are in receipt of over €500,000 of CAP money and transferred to rural areas in economic decline where it would be better spent. In those areas, people are leaving because the family farm is no longer viable and people are struggling, particularly elderly farmers, to maintain the farm enterprise. The money could have been better spent but that did not happen. Some of the farming organisations opposed that proposal, which I fail to understand. They had no credible justification apart from the protectionism that exists for the bigger intensive farmers. In any event, there are conditions attaching to the money available under the CAP and those conditions relate to greening, GLAS, REPS and environmental protections to protect natural habitats.
While farmed animals are farmed, other animals also exist on our landmass which I understand comprises 6.9 million ha and they are protected under legislation underpinned in the Minister's own Department. That is why I fail to understand why legislation is being introduced which is in stark contrast to the legislation protecting those species within the Minister's Department, which is without scientific justification and which will result in the widescale destruction of habitats, including hedgerows. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is lacking in Ireland for this. However, my attention was drawn to scientific evidence from our nearest neighbour, Britain, which shows that widescale cutting of hedges destroys natural habitats, including flowers. We have even had the beekeeping community contacting us on this, because they are being affected. The honey bee is affected. There are many implications which I am not qualified to go into in detail, but we should listen to all of the concerns that are being raised. The best mechanism to do that is the committee system.
In the meantime, we will press the amendment to restrict this to roadside hedges. It was said in previous debates that road safety was the driving force behind the introduction of hedge cutting. If that is the case, I am sure the Government parties will have no hesitation in accepting the amendment. It deals with that issue. If there are particular issues around tillage farmers who may require a special dispensation, that can be dealt with also. However, it is something that should be teased out at the relevant committee where all stakeholders have an opportunity to express a viewpoint. I concur with my colleague Senator Mark Daly and put the Minister on notice that we will press this amendment to restrict hedge cutting.
Amendment No. 3b proposes to delete "land" and substitute "roadside". Senator Ó Domhnaill has pointed out that in some way he wants to support tillage farmers, but this removes the ability to do that. The Minister has stated clearly-----
The Minister is trying to introduce on a pilot basis the management of hedgerows in order, first, to deal with road safety and, second, to do so in a managed, restricted way for tillage and re-seeding.It is as simple as that. The terms and conditions will be set out in the regulations. We have a commitment from the Minister that officials from the National Parks and Wildlife Service will monitor, inspect and keep a close eye on ensuring a proper pilot scheme is undertaken. The Minister outlined today that studies are being carried out on a wide number of habitats across the country. We have a level of baseline data. We need to be reasonable and practical. We also need to make sure we are supporting the two issues that are before us today. I am very disappointed that Fianna Fáil has brought this amendment before us today. It has been mentioned that others have met lots of farmers. I have also met lots of farmers and they tell me we need to support them in a practical way using common sense. That is what we intend to do. We want to ensure that we do this in a managed way. I have listened intently to this debate. The words "raping" and "widescale" have been used. It is complete scaremongering.
"Raping hedgerows" were the words that were used. "Raping hedgerows" and "widescale" are the words that were used. This is about ensuring, first, that we protect our habitats. We will do so by undertaking a pilot scheme, which will last for two years, to look in depth at our flora and fauna. Second, we will ensure we are supporting farmers with regard to tillage and reseeding and, third, we will ensure we have better visibility on our roads. They are the objectives of the Bill before us. I am very disappointed by the proposed substitution of the term "roadside". There is a sense that Senators want to support farmers yet at the same time, there is a sense that they do not want to support them. We need to be clear about the objectives. I am very disappointed.
I concur with my colleague, Senator Hopkins, on this issue. I am deeply disappointed that Fianna Fáil has pushed this amendment. It is an anti-farmer amendment. There is no point saying it is anything less than that. They have taken from farmers who want to reseed or grow winter grains the opportunity to cut their hedges. It is an appalling outlook.
I was at a meeting in Bantry at which a Fianna Fáil Deputy gave a commitment that this would not happen and it has happened here tonight. It is disappointing. We deserve better than this. With this amendment, Fianna Fáil is telling farmers who want the opportunity to reseed or grow winter grain that there is nothing that can be done about it, that it is their issue and Fianna Fáil will not step in. Fianna Fáil is blatantly stopping this from going ahead. It is appalling. This is politics on a different level than I ever thought I would see.
At the end of the day, these people are trying to make a living. They do not want to go out and spend money cutting hedges. They do not want to spend time cutting hedges. They do not have an agenda about cutting hedges. They want to survive in rural Ireland. It is damn hard to survive in rural Ireland at the moment. It is damn hard to survive. We are putting another impediment in their way today.
We have the opportunity to amend this legislation. I appeal to Fianna Fáil Senators not to press this amendment. I realise they might be under pressure from above but at the end of the day the farming community will not thank them if they push this forward. This is a common sense proposal. We are on about trimming hedges. We are not on about cutting them back. We are on about 31 days and it is logical all the way through. The Minister has explained the logic. It is a pilot scheme for two years with reports to come back to the House for due consideration. What more can we do? We need to look after our communities. We need to look after everyone if we can. This amendment will not take care of the farming community. Senator Ó Domhnaill said the public will not be thankful when it comes to the polling booths. I assure the House, when it comes to the polling booths, Fianna Fáil will not be thanked for what it is doing to the farmers here today.
Now I have heard everything. I have never heard such tripe in my life - farmers going bankrupt because they cannot sow seeds underneath hedges. Come on. What kind of eejits does the Senator think there are in Seanad Éireann? Sowing seeds underneath the hedges - I never heard anything like it. It is absolute rubbish. I hope Fianna Fáil will press the amendment. It refers to public roads. It seems to be a very sensible amendment. I wonder if the Minister will consider accepting it or it might be put back in on Report Stage. It has a very beneficial effect of removing over three quarters of the hedgerows.
I am addressing the Chair. I am addressing the Chair to say that if anybody is genuinely concerned about road safety, here it is in black and white. We are allowing the trimming of hedges on the roadside. That is road safety covered. I will certainly be supporting this amendment. I rather wish Fianna Fáil had seen its way to opposing the whole of section 8 but at least this is something. There seems to be a rationale behind it of which I approve. I think it was Senator Ó Domhnaill, formerly of Fianna Fáil, who spotted this loophole in the first place. Well done to Fianna Fáil Senators for galloping into the breach and getting the amendment down before he did. I commend them on their political acumen. I will be supporting the amendment.
Earlier in this debate, which we started many months ago, Senator Lombard let the cat out of the bag by remarking that if people had a couple of weeks' downtime in August, what else would they do but cut their hedges. After his very passionate speech about bringing people together, I remind Senator Lombard that the first people who started calling people names was the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, when he was debating with me. His answer to the argument was that I was from Dublin 4.
The Senator should think of that if he wants to talk about dividing. The Senator played the political card here today. Fianna Fáil has tried to bring a compromise, thought-out amendment yet the Senator threatens them that they will lose the farmers' vote. Is that the position the Senator started at - to try to win the farmers' vote, to divide communities?
This is a compromise. The Senator raised this very early in the debate when he was a member of Fianna Fáil. I am not fully satisfied with the compromise but I see a logic to it. Politics is about trying to move a step forward. I will be supporting the amendment reluctantly.
How can a pilot scheme be carried out all over the country? It is unacceptable. For Fine Gael to stand by something that does not make sense to the normal person does not add up. The Minister should pick a part of the country, carry out a pilot scheme there and see how it works.
Then we will know it works. Until the Minister can come in here and tell us that she has something in place to pilot a scheme on a small basis, we cannot support it. I have never in my life seen a pilot scheme carried out across the entire country. It does not add up for the Minister to come here and say that carrying out a pilot scheme across the country would work and for her Senators to agree with her. We are trying to find a balance here today. We want to work with the farmers and all the different people involved in this.This is what it is about. It is not political points. What I am saying is -----