Thursday, 9 November 2017
I welcome the Minister of State. Since this issue is not within her area of responsibility, I appeal to her to speak directly to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, who, I understand, is dealing with the problems posed by Japanese knotweed, to which I was alerted in recent times when travelling around County Mayo and elsewhere in the west. I saw signs popping up along the roadside asking people not to cut it. When I looked into the matter a little further, I found that Japanese knotweed was a highly invasive plant which had been introduced in Ireland as an ornamental plant in the 19th century. However, it has now become a major problem. It is spreading rapidly throughout the country along watercourses and transport routes and on unmaintained land. It is one of the worst invasive species because its root system and rapid growth can damage concrete foundations and buildings. It can come up through tarmac, roadways and so on.
There is a major problem with the species in County Mayo. I am aware of a scheme to deal with the problem along some national routes but others areas affected are not being treated. Overall, money is being spent. but there is a need for a strategic plan covering several years to sort out the problem which is expensive to deal with. That is an important point, but it would be better to do this in a strategic and planned way with the assistance of various agencies co-operating together rather than having each do its own thing and not knowing what the others are doing. Ballycroy National Park in County Mayo will be overrun by Japanese knotweed if there is not an overall strategy in place. Mayo is one of the counties worst affected.
Eradication, as I said, is costly. For example, it cost £88 million to clear the site for the Olympic village in London some years ago. The plant can be controlled successfully through the application of appropriate herbicides. However, eradication requires planning, since follow-up treatments are usually required. In that regard, consideration should also be given to the management and disposal of dead plant material and the treatment of contaminated soils. We need to prepare a management plan and seek expert help before tackling any significant infestation of the species. If we do not have such a plan involving all of the relevant State agencies, we are simply wasting our time and money.
I am aware that Transport Infrastructure Ireland was given a budget of €5.5 million to deal with this problem. A sum of €2 million would deal with the problem along national roads.However, there will have to be some way of going into private land to treat the whole infestation. If not, it will only be a control framework rather than a solution. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, or each county council needs to start a full treatment programme of all roads. So far, it has been a piecemeal approach, which is a waste of money and not good enough. All State lands within each agency need to be surveyed for the presence of these plants, especially land that may be required for building over the next ten years and State properties that will be sold like old HSE buildings or closed Garda stations.
The presence of an invasive plant on property can significantly reduce its value. Any flood relief schemes envisaged for any time in the future should be surveyed and treated now. There is a significant cost benefit to the State by doing it now in a strategic way. One of the main culprits for the spread of invasive plants is the rail corridors. It has been suggested that Iarnród Éireann to date has made little or no effort to treat these invasive plants and, as a result, the good work done by other agencies is not effective.
There is also a problem with the lack of facilities to deal with the disposal of material if it needs to be excavated. The material has no specific code, meaning local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, do not know how to categorise the material from a planning perspective. I have been informed the solution would be to create a new category and to get these facilities open as soon as possible. We need to ascertain at an early date what invasive plants we have on State lands and to work together to solve this significant problem.
I thank the Senator for raising this difficulty in rural areas. We even had difficulties with this issue in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am taking this Commencement matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys. She is aware of public concern about the impact of invasive species, including Japanese knotweed. Her Department is responsible for the implementation of the Wildlife Acts and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, Sl No. 477/2011, both of which prohibit the spreading of invasive species.
In law, control of invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, is a matter for landowners. In this regard, the Department carries out considerable work on controlling invasive species in national parks and nature reserves. However, it does not have the resources required to extend such work into the wider countryside or to provide funding to landowners and home owners. While there is no national eradication plan in place at present for Japanese knotweed, there are several initiatives in place across Departments and agencies, as well as local authorities, which support measures to tackle invasive alien species. Significant work is being carried out by a range of agencies in this area, including several local authorities.
The management of invasive alien plant species project, led by TII, is a €5 million project aimed at managing invasive knotweed and other non-native invasive plant species over the next five years on the national road network and its interactions with regional roads. The project involves collaboration with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. In 2015, an invasive alien species national stakeholder group was established, led by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This group includes representatives of a wide range of Departments, agencies and local authorities. It provides a forum to discuss the implications of the implementation of EU and national legislation, as well as to exchange information on the various initiatives being undertaken in this area.
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will consider options for improved national co-ordination of work on invasive species, including increased co-operation between local and central government. Information on the distribution of invasive species in Ireland, including knotweed, is available on the invasive species section of the National Biodiversity Data Centre's website. Incidences of invasive species can be reported via the website. I encourage members of the public to use this facility. Answers to frequently asked questions on Japanese knotweed are also available from the same website.
Invasive species by their nature do not recognise political boundaries. A considerable level of co-operation exists on this issue between Departments and agencies in both jurisdictions. The Department has worked closely over the years with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, NlEA, to fund and manage the invasive species Ireland project. It is hoped this project can recommence in the near future. Information on general management approaches to invasive plant species is available from the invasive species Ireland website.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. While I acknowledge initiatives are in place, there is a need for an overall plan and education on this matter. Japanese knotweed thrives on disturbance. People think they are sorting it out when they cut it back. That is why there needs to be education on managing it. If we are doing it in a half-hearted way, we are throwing good money away. We need co-operation and an overall plan. Otherwise, it is like trying to keep the tide out with a hayfork.
Will the Minister of State bring the points raised to the Minister's attention? It is important people know the dangers with the weed. There is a big gain to be made in tackling it but it needs to be done in a strategic and organised way. I urge that the Minister does that.