Tuesday, 9 April 2019
Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2016: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 4, line 31, after “land” to insert the following:
"which can be of major benefit to a community, enhancement of a community, sporting projects or facilities, golf courses, sports fields, greenways, community gain or strategic infrastructural projects,".
I spoke on this section on Second Stage, as did a number of Senators, and I welcomed that the Minister has included in the Bill section 4(18)(A)(5)(b), which states, "notwithstanding section 18(3), where he or she is satisfied that land should cease to be designated as a natural heritage area, make an order to amend or revoke the natural heritage area order which so designated the land."It did not go far enough so I tabled an amendment along with Senators Mulherin, O'Mahony and Ó Céidigh. The amendment reads:
In page 4, line 31, after “land” to insert the following: “which can be of major benefit to a community, enhancement of a community, sporting projects or facilities, golf courses, sports fields, greenways, community gain or strategic infrastructural projects,”.
The sports fields referred to could be those for Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, games, soccer, rugby and also athletic tracks. In County Mayo, we have seen many objections to infrastructural projects and many other projects, which has held them up. I am sure the same is the case in counties Galway, Donegal, Kerry and many other places. It is not just because of natural heritage areas, NHAs. There are also other aspects involved. The delays, however, have cost taxpayers millions of euro. In the Ballina electoral area alone, millions of euro have been spent and nothing has been done because of objections. I am not saying any or all of those objections relate to natural heritage areas.
I have proposed this amendment because we should put many things aside for the benefit of the community. The Minister should have the power, as stated in section 18A(5)(b), to take an area out of an NHA if it is an enhancement of or benefit to the community, or a benefit to an infrastructure project such as a major road scheme. I am supported by Senators Mulherin, O'Mahony and Ó Céidigh. I have no doubt the Minister is well aware of how community projects and various other projects can be held up because part of a project is in an NHA. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. It would enhance the Bill and greatly strengthen the hand of the Minister regarding issues such as this.
I and my party support the amendment. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Burke's statement. I have come across some instances where community projects on the outskirts of towns and villages include one little corner of a natural heritage area on the site map. The whole project is then thrown into jeopardy. Community projects developed in and around natural heritage areas will in many cases enhance them. Some projects may also be nature or biodiversity related and allowing them to be developed would enhance the natural heritage area. I support the amendment for those reasons.
I agree with Senator Burke on certain matters but I cannot support this amendment. There is already provision in the Bill for designation by the Minister. Environmental criteria can be considered in addition to national, regional, and local economic, social and cultural needs. That provision adequately allows for a balanced and appropriate consideration of economic, social and cultural needs. Where a strong community case can be made, it can already be made on the basis of the needs of an area.
The wording of the amendment, “which can be of major benefit to a community, enhancement of a community, sporting projects or facilities, golf courses, sports fields, greenways, community gain or strategic infrastructural projects,” is a list of almost anything anyone might want to do with some land. The real concern here is that there is still a frame of mind that regards our bogs, not only raised bogs but also blanket bogs, as being somehow empty space.Our bogs are doing work. They are already of major benefit to a community and, indeed, the wider community. In fact, it is those limited areas that do the work given that Ireland does not have national forestry in the same way as other areas and does not have some of the other environmental carbon sequestration reports. The bog network already holds up our environment and ecosystems. Our bogs do that work.
I have a number of concerns about this amendment. I recognise that there are certain elements within this amendment that may well make a case for greenways. Let us consider the unfortunate loss of our railways such as the railway line from Galway to Clifden, which the Minister of State will be very familiar with, and the strong case that has been made for decades for the line to become a greenway. One of the things that greenways do is engage with the balance of the ecosystem and environment. Unfortunately, the greenways have been stuck right alongside golf courses, which have been recognised internationally as something that we simply cannot afford to continue in the same way. Ireland has many golf courses and some very famous people own golf courses in Ireland. We have a green environment and so forth, but golf courses have an environmental impact. Some that have already been established may be maintained but they need to be in balance.
Bogland, particularly blanket bogland, is very saturated with water. The environmental impact required to turn waterlogged blanket bogland into a golf course is immense. It not only does damage in terms of carbon but it does damage in terms of water retention, the water table and the flood plain. There is also a huge issue with the amount of pesticides and water needed for golf courses. We have well-established golf courses where the work has already been done. I understand that they may wish to be maintained but we give them too much privilege. The Minister of State may recall or perhaps it was the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, that I raised concerns about retaining the lower and more preferential VAT rate for members of golf clubs. In fact, we raised the issue for a number of other areas, including community exhibitions and local art centres. There are questions about how preferential a tax treatment we need to give to golf courses. We certainly do not want a situation whereby a willingness to turn large tracts of land into a golf course is enough to justify dedesignation. Unfortunately, that would be the effect of putting this section here because it goes into a section that says "notwithstanding 18(3)". So, notwithstanding the other considerations and all of the work that we have done and discussed in terms of other areas, there are real questions here.
I encourage the Minister of State not to accept the amendment because he can assure all in the House that in considering national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs, he has enough room. What is important about where they are currently placed in the Bill is that they are required to be set against the environment considerations rather than be a stand-alone provision on their own. I encourage those who proposed the amendment to consider tabling separate amendments on some of the different activities because there is a big difference between a greenway and a sports field, and a sporting project in a general sense or a strategic infrastructural project.
I am sure that the Minister of State will recall our discussion on blanket bogs. Perhaps we will have a chance to return to this matter again. He referenced the fact that it had already been discussed and debated on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Since our debate I checked to see exactly what was debated in the Dáil. What I found was that the case being made for many years for the dedesignation of blanket bogs was one where we have been trying to build a road through the heart of Connemara and designation has been a problem. I would ask the following when we say strategic infrastructural projects are enough of a reason to dedesignate a bog. Would a road through the heart of Connemara be considered a strategic infrastructural project that may benefit from this new loophole? I note that the Minister of State's colleague, the then Minister in charge of this area, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said that the Minster should not have "power to dedesignate an NHA without having carried out preparatory scientific analysis". We have discussed the fact that that has not been done yet and, indeed, that it would not send out a good signal for how we protect bogs and heritage areas.It would not send out a good signal in how we protect bogs and heritage areas. There are not simply environmental issues in this. This is a matter of joined-up thinking. We know the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is under review. We know Ireland will have to make its case under a new and stringent set of rules as to how we meet our targets and what will be ever more specific targets in respect of the CAP, greening and so forth. Much of this bogland does overlap, as was discussed the last day, with farmlands and lands owned by others who will be seeking subsidies under the CAP. For them with bogland that is protected and suitably cared for, it will strengthen their case, as well as the case for communities and for Ireland. On a pragmatic level, leaving aside the environmental benefits, there are significant economic benefits from our boglands.
I urge the Minister of State not to accept this amendment. I know those putting it forward have done so in good faith. Will they consider breaking the amendment down into specific different areas to ensure we are not treating different matters the same way and recognising there is a difference? If this amendment is successful, I will be seeking to amend it on Report Stage.
Níl uaim ach dhá nó trí nóiméad. Sin an méid. Tugaim tacaíocht láidir don mholadh seo. I strongly support this amendment put forward by Senator Paddy Burke and supported by Fianna Fáil. It is a good amendment which takes the local community into account. Local communities in rural areas can often be forgotten. We have to think about the people who live there, their involvement and their engagement. The best environmentalists for an area are those who have lived in it for generations. We have to consider them as well. They are part of who we are and what we are about. I see several words written all over this amendment, namely, the common good of those who primarily live in a region.
On another matter of driving roads through the heart of Connemara, I invite anybody to drive along the N59 all the way to Clifden. They should talk to the locals who have to live there and get tourists to and from the town. All they want are roads on which they can move a car from A to B. They just want roads a fraction of the quality of those in the east and other parts. They want to live a normal life as well as they can. For that, one needs to be able to tar roads and maintain them.
This amendment would give greater clarity to the Minister of State and the Department in defining what is community and not. Dá bhrí sin, táim ag tabhairt tacaíochta dó.
Like Senator Higgins, I oppose this amendment on the basis of the natural value of a bog in environmental, economic, regional and international terms. It is important for carbon storage and greenhouse gas mitigation.
The community is more than just the people.
It is about biodiversity and natural value. As Senator Ó Céidigh said, the people who live around the bogs recognise their value. Regarding suggestions of using bogs for golf courses, sporting fields or greenways, we have to take into account the greater community and the greater value in a cultural and environmental sense.
The term “strategic infrastructural projects” is wide open. What does that mean? Will those behind the amendment take a look at it again and break it down into a proposal we could support? As it stands, it is wide open in terms of destruction of the habitat. A strategic infrastructural project could be an airport. It is too broad.
This amendment is potentially negative on a range of levels. Accordingly, I will not support it. If it is accepted, I will also seek to amend it on Report Stage.
I support this amendment and the contributions made by Senators Paddy Burke, Paul Daly and Ó Céidigh. It is about achieving a balance. I live in a rural area and have spent many of my summers on the bog. I am familiar with the challenges of rural life. It is about ensuring we achieve the objective of preserving our bogs, as well as being proud of the flora, fauna and biodiversity we have. It is also about supporting people living in rural areas, however.
Senator Grace O’Sullivan spoke about the definition of strategic infrastructural projects. We are proud of Ireland West Airport being built on a foggy, boggy hill. We saw 700,000 people going through that airport last year. We need to achieve a proper balance with regard to allowing communities to thrive, flourish, as well as supporting them. Alongside that, we need to support our biodiversity. Senator Ó Céidigh spoke about how people living in rural areas are the custodians of the land. We are proud of where we live and we want to ensure we maintain that heritage. We also need to make sure we support our local communities. As a young person, I want more young people and young families to return to rural areas. That means a level of investment and balance. I strongly support this amendment and hope the Minister of State will take it on board because it is necessary.
Sinn Féin will not be supporting this amendment. What is already in the Bill is sufficient. It states that a review of natural heritage areas will have "regard to environmental criteria, restoration potential and national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs".That is sufficient. The amendment is well-intended but it is also problematic and too detailed. I agree that the community benefit of revocation should be weighed up, as should the environmental impact. A substantial removal of bogs would probably be needed for the construction of some of the projects detailed in the amendment, such as a golf course. It is too detailed. What is in the Bill is sufficient and I asked the Minister of State to not support this amendment.
I am opposed to this amendment. Before I am challenged, I come from generations of people from the heart of the bog. I used to spend my summer holidays on the bog and I loved it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the bog cotton and the little squishy watering holes in the bog. I can see the Minister of State smiling at my recollection and in recognition of the truth of what I am saying. To me, the bogs are an essential part of Ireland. We have these humorous phrases such as "bogman" and "bog trotters". I am proud to be a bogman and a bog trotter. This sounds a bit like the Trump effect in practice. The hairs on the back of my neck rise when I hear references to golf courses. Surely, we have enough of those already. If we do not stop building them, the whole island will be a golf course. They are everywhere. My colleague referred to the lack of preparatory scientific analysis. That is a fundamental point. I think it was Senator Higgins or another Senator who said it.
I apologise and I beg the Senator's pardon. I am very old, but not too old to run again for the Seanad. I was on the road from Galway to Clifden in 1967. I gave a big party in a big house in Connemara. It was wonderful. There was a tarred road then. I do not know what has happened to it now.
That is grand. I cherish Senator Ó Céidigh very much. He is a good friend of mine. On this occasion, however, when he spoke of the common good, he was actually referring to the parochial good. The common good extends, in the Constitution, to the entire population of the island and does not cover just one small area. There is terrible potential here for local politics to get involved. I do not like that at all. I am frightfully ignorant and do not know what a greenway is.
The bogs of Ireland have diminished significantly in my lifetime. I would hate to see them subjected to further unnecessary depredation. I agree my colleagues. I think it was Senator Warfield who stated this amendment needs to be further spelt out. I think perhaps it might actually have been Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
I think all of us opposing the amendment agree that it is rather vague. I refer to phraseology such as "the community gains strategic infrastructure projects". There is already provision in section 18A(5) for the Minister to make an order to amend or revoke. I am not sure what this extra aspect involves. I would prefer to leave the Bill as it stands. I do not know if a vote will be called. I suppose it would be a fairly hopeless exercise except to raise a flag and show where we stand. If there is a division, I will certainly be voting against this amendment.
Yes. I have gone past it on the Sky Road as well. Nobody is suggesting that we do not have roads in Connemara or that we do not have surfaces on roads.
I will pick up on points that have been mentioned. I refer to claims that this amendment would add something to the Bill. It would not. It is subtracting from the Bill. The crucial issue is that what it proposes would be inserted after the phrase "notwithstanding section 18(3)". Section 18 sets out the rules by which a bog is designated. The purported purpose of this Bill is to set out the rules for designation and de-designation of natural heritage areas. The impact of what is proposed would be that the Bill would state that the Minister may, notwithstanding the reasons listed in section 18(3), namely, "environmental criteria, restoration potential and national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs" de-designate on the basis of those reasons listed in the amendment, which does not contain any text in respect of the environment. With respect, Senator Hopkins, this is not about balance. This amendment would remove balance. It would literally remove the words "environmental criteria" from consideration in the context of a decision to de-designate in these circumstances. If this amendment was a supplement to section 18(3) rather than being a way to circumvent its provisions, I would have no problem supporting it. It would be the same if the amendment referred to national, regional and local community, economic, social and cultural needs. We could have a definition of "community" inserted after the phrase "national, regional and local". It is important to state that not accepting this amendment would not mean that it will be impossible to undertake projects relating to infrastructure or greenways. It means that when a decision is being made, it will be balanced against the environmental criteria.
An example would be the western rail corridor . That project was on the cards for a long time. Unfortunately, the Government removed it from our national development strategy, even though we had potential for co-funding from Europe. If we had a western rail corridor that went through the bogs, it would be possible to make the case that it has social, community and regional benefits and connects places in the area. It would also contribute to carbon reduction and, therefore, balance the environmental criteria. That project would probably be successful under the criteria already contained in section 18(3). The position relating to greenways is similar. It would certainly be possible to have infrastructure. It is necessary to ensure, however, that the case for it is made and that the same balance outlined in the Bill is maintained.
I do not like the way in which environmental criteria are defined. The Minister of State knows that and we will have a chance to debate the matter later. The important point, however, is that there was at least an acknowledgement of the environment. We are simply creating a loophole if we accept this amendment. Is a hotel with a golf course attached going to be considered a community benefit? Will the Minister of State or any of the proposers of the amendment guarantee that this will not lead to another set of hotels? We have seen the pressure on building and how the rules need to be relaxed even in the city of Dublin. What buildings were erected after those rules were changed, however? We have seen hotels. Community centres have been mentioned. I would love a strategy for community centres. I would support it and it would fulfil the criteria. The amendment before us would be wide open to misuse, however, and I will oppose it.
Tá fíormheas agam ar an Seanadóir Higgins, más atá a fhios aici, ach tá cúpla rud gur mhaith liom a rá. Ní tógfaidh mé ach cúpla nóiméad. Má táthar ag caint ar an N59. Labhróidh mé i mBéarla ar feadh tamaillín. Regarding the N59, I was responding to a reference about driving a road through the heart of Connemara.
Tá brón orm - 1967. I was there as well but I was not driving a car at that stage. As the Minister of State knows very well, there is a committee of local people who have been lobbying to improve and tarmacadam the road between Galway and Clifden to make it safer. That committee has been on the go for four of five years. All the people want is a proper road for their community. The amendment proposed by Senator Paddy Burke and others tries to create a balance and give greater opportunity and clarity for the Minister and his team in the Department to take decisive action. This is important. I trust the Minister of State and the Department to do this. This is what we do when we support or challenge the Government. It is not an individual thing, it is collective.
Approximately two weeks ago, there was a programme on TG4 about Rosmuc. I do not know whether Senator Warfield saw it. The captain of the girls' football team teaches in Dublin and drives all the way to Rosmuc to train with the team of seven or eight girls. I played on that football pitch. It was a bog. If it had not been turned into a football pitch, we would not have the soul of that community.
A point was made about hotels in Dublin. There are many more vacant houses in the middle of Mayo, Roscommon and Connemara than there are hotels. Nobody will build a hotel where it is not financially viable to do so. Certainly the hotels in the middle of Connemara, Mayo, Roscommon and the midlands are struggling to survive. The current tiger, whatever we call it, is fine for Dublin and those of us living here but it has not reached the parts of Ireland it needs to. The amendment is important to put the local community back in the centre. It is like the advertisement at Christmas about a dog being not just for Christmas. Connemara is not just for holidays. I ask everybody, and the Minister of State in particular, to support the amendment.
Senator Higgins said it all when she said that perhaps we should have the definition of a community included in the Bill. We all know what communities are. We do not have to have a definition of a community in the Bill. We know what our communities are about and what they are.
With regard to infrastructural projects, Ballina is a town of more than 15,000 people and Castlebar has more than 15,000 people. They are 24 miles apart. They are linked by a national secondary route. The speed limit on that national secondary route is now down to 80 km an hour because a route over the River Moy cannot be found. A bridge cannot be built over the River Moy because of the freshwater pearl mussel and alluvial woodland. The taxpayers have spent millions on reports, routes, preferred routes and all types of routes. The taxpayers have paid millions because we cannot get a route for a bridge over the River Moy. The freshwater pearl mussel in my view, which is a common man's view, is as common as the mushroom. It is found in the area where the Minister of State lives on the route to Connemara and in the River Erris and River Moy, which is a long river. We can find them for sale on DoneDeal.ie. I found them for sale on that site
Pearls. This has cost the taxpayer millions through holding up projects, not just a bridge over the River Moy and works on the road from Castlebar to Ballina but also in the area of the Minister of State extending from Galway to Connemara. As Senator Ó Céidigh has said, nobody will build a hotel or an airport for the sake of building it. As previous speakers said, the amendment addresses many areas, for example, it would allow a piece of ground to be removed from a national heritage area to allow a project, including an infrastructural project, of benefit to the community to proceed. This is all the amendment is about. I hope the Minister of State can see this and will accept it. It is not in the interest of any individual but in the national interest and the interest of the community.
I thank all of the Senators for a very interesting debate on this topic. It is one that all councillors will appreciate and many of the issues raised will resonate with them. The primary purpose of any review of national heritage areas must be with regard to nature conservation, in terms of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status. The area of any new proposed national heritage area network should contribute to the national conservation objective target area of a bog within special areas of conservation and national heritage area networks. Additional bog habitat in the national heritage area network would make a contribution to the overall objectives of the habitats directive to maintain or restore the habitat to favourable conservation status.
The Bill strikes a balance between the need to protect the environment, live up to our EU obligations and work with landowners and turf cutters on whose lives these obligations can have a very real impact. I must be conscious of the need to achieve this balance to maintain or restore a bog habitat to favourable conservation status and any national conservation objective target area for a bog habitat within the special areas of conservation and national heritage area networks. However, I understand the sentiments that have been expressed by Senators and the comments made by Senators Burke, Ó Céidigh, Daly and Hopkins on road projects. The N59 and the R336 have been debated in my county of Galway by the local authority for a long period of time. The community value that has been discussed is something I absolutely understand and it is fair to say there is need for a balance to be struck. I very much understand the sentiments expressed by Senators. Senator Norris is always welcome, as is any tourist, to Connemara. I will welcome him any time. It is an absolutely beautiful place.
The challenges with regard to upgrading some of the roads are what Senator Ó Céidigh meant in his commentary. We have seen this with regard to the N59 and the R336. Senator Mulherin also commented on this last week with regard to projects. We must always remember some of these projects are about the upgrade of roads to make them safer as much as they are to make them faster. This is always a balance that needs to be struck.
With regard to the comments of Senator Higgins, I mentioned the criteria last week and I will read them into the record again. The principles and criteria in the Bill are to guide the Minister on conducting a review and making decisions, such as the carrying out of strategic environmental assessments, public consultations and linking the achievement of major conservational objectives for blanket bog habitats to the favourable conservation status of these habitats. Any of the designations we speak about would be in this vein also. Subsection 3(b)(ii) of the proposed section 18A might be a more relevant section to insert the amendment.
I believe a majority in the House will accept the amendment based on what I have heard. The amendment as proposed is too broadly based, particularly with regard to what strategic infrastructural projects mean.It would need to be refined on Report Stage. If there is a majority in the House to support it, I could offer engagement with officials with a view to possibly inserting it in a different section, which may lessen the concerns of Senator Higgins. The amendment would need refinement before Report Stage, in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, with a view to narrowing its scope and focus. There are a lot of issues involved. The issue of golf courses was brought up a good number of times. I am not sure whether Members are referring to planned courses, new courses, expansions, or established courses. Greenways are hugely popular among those who support them but some landowners have a different view. I agree with the overall thrust of the amendment. As I have said, if there is a majority to support it I will offer engagement with officials on whether it could be included on Report Stage, perhaps under the new section 18A(3)(b)(ii) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.
In view of what the Minister of State has said, I could withdraw the amendment. However, this amendment is to the benefit of the community. We have seen the community losing out time after time, particularly in the west and in rural areas. This amendment was designed to address much of that. If this amendment can be accommodated in a different section, I will withdraw it until Report Stage, provided we are not taking Report Stage today.
Amendments No. 9 to 16, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 10 is consequential on No. 9. Amendments Nos. 12 to 15, inclusive, are consequential on No. 11. Amendments No. 9 to 16, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 4, line 39, to delete “and” and substitute the following:“(b) place an advertisement in at least one national newspaper to inform the public of the making of the order, and”.
I know we are speaking on the amendments together but I have the amendments divided into groups so I will speak to amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, together. Amendment No. 9 again relates to the conversation we have been having about community. We all have a sense of what a community is but we need to be clear on certain things such as the phrase "the common good". As Senator Norris pointed out quite eloquently, the common good is mentioned in our Constitution and is recognised as being for the benefit of all those who live within the State. Amendment No. 9 seeks to build on the provision whereby the Minister, when he or she has made an order to de-designate lands as a natural heritage area, will "place an advertisement in at least one newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land to which the order applies is situate to inform the public of the making of the order". My amendment simply provides that he or she will also place an advertisement in a national newspaper to inform the public of the making of the order. Such orders are not only a matter for those whose lands adjoin the natural heritage area, NHA. They affect all of us. They affect our environment. Many will have strong relationships and opinions on this issue. The obligation to place an advertisement in respect of the de-designation of an NHA in a national newspaper - which again is a decision the Minister makes on behalf of the nation - is in line with the constitutional point made in respect of the common good. It is a reasonable proposal.
In amendment No. 11 I suggest that in addition to sharing a copy of the order with the various bodies mentioned in the Bill - the planning authorities, the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and so forth - a copy also be shared with the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I do not believe anybody would object to that committee having the opportunity to examine this issue. I reserve the right to suggest a copy also be shared with other committees, given that new committees have emerged since I tabled these amendments. It is important that cross-party committees are aware of such orders and have the opportunity to discuss them if they so choose. I also suggest that, in addition to a copy of the order being sent to these bodies directly, a copy should be published online. Perhaps the Minister of State has suggestions as to the appropriate place to publish such orders online. Out of duty to the general public, they should be available online.
In amendment No. 10 I suggest that a copy of the amendment be sent to-----
Yes, it proposes "to delete “(b) cause” and substitute “(c) cause”." because I have proposed a new section 18A(6)(b). As the Acting Chairman mentioned, it is a consequential amendment. It is really a drafting amendment. Amendments Nos. 12 to 15, inclusive, are all effectively drafting amendments. I do not know if we needed to submit them to be honest.
They are all consequential amendments. I was wondering where this list of amendments came from. I can probably thank the expert drafters, who are precise about the inclusion of details. Given that they are consequential amendments, I do not believe there is any need for me to speak to them.
I agree with Senator Higgins on the placing of the advertisement. It is not enough to put such an advertisement in the local newspaper only. I am a big fan of local newspapers. I was at the Laois Association lunch with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, on Sunday and I was delighted to hear that the Leinster Expressis still going. Local newspapers are very important. That association lunch reminded me of how many people from Laois are living in Dublin. It is exactly the same case for every small village, townland and town around the countryside. A large number of people would be affected by these orders in one way or another, even at one remove, although they do not live in the local area anymore but rather live in the capital city or in other cities. They should be considered and have the right to a say.
With the greatest regret, I also have to support the business of publishing orders online. I hate online services. I have never switched a computer on or off and I never intend to. I propose to go my grave as a computer virgin. I find increasingly that even the ordering of airline tickets has to be done online. It is ghastly, but it is a fact and one has to face it. I face it by putting my secretary on the front line and getting her to do these nasty things which I do not want to do myself. I believe that one can even watch this House online. How one can watch something online is completely and utterly beyond me, but then I come from a different age. I was alive and sensible in the late 1940s. In those days, as I said to the taxi man who brought me here today, a taxi was a horse and cab. We have gone from that to gates opening automatically because there is a twiddly thing in the car. Taxis are told where to go via satellites miles up in the sky.
I support Senator Higgins's amendments. The peatlands and bogs of Ireland are of consideration beyond Ireland. People in the Netherlands are very interested in the state of Irish boglands. Peatlands make up approximately 3% of the earth's land area.They contain 33% of the world's soil carbon so they are of international importance. The national newspapers are a good way to advertise and draw attention to anything that may happen to the bogs. Young people are interested in the issue of the bogs in terms of their carbon sequestration potential and we should look to other ways of raising awareness around the issue of our boglands. Social media is a fairly easy way to advertise and reach large numbers. As we know, the Taoiseach uses social media all of the time. He uses it very effectively to get his message out. One could also look across the water to America and another politician who uses social media very effectively. We have to use whatever means are available to us to build awareness. Good old-fashioned radio is also a good way-----
Yes. The wireless is a good way to advertise. The boglands are not just of importance to communities in rural Ireland, in Connemara in particular. They are of importance to the people of Waterford, my local area and also of international importance.
We do not have a definition of the term "community" here. For me, it refers not only to rural communities but also to urban communities in our cities as well as to the community of plants and animals that live in and on our bogs. A definition of community in Ireland would serve a real purpose because we have no such definition. In our last discussion, we talked about infrastructure and strategic infrastructure development but that could be anything.
In the context of climate change we need to think in terms of ecological systems. We know about ecological impacts and the decline in biodiversity. The communities of biodiversity in our bogs must be taken into account in the future. We need to change our thinking around ecosystems, of which we humans are part. We are part of the community but we need to think big when it comes to climate change. The bogs are important here in Ireland. Our blanket and raised bogs are of national, regional and global importance as well as being of real importance to the people of Connemara.
I agree with the Senators that when an order has been made to amend or revoke an NHA order, there should be widespread dissemination of the making of that order. Following comments made by Senators on Second Stage, I instructed the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to draft an amendment to the Bill proposing that an advertisement be placed in national newspapers to inform the public of the making of the NHA order. Therefore, while I will not accept these amendments now, I intend to bring forward amendments on Report Stage, following consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which will take the Senators' amendments into account. The office will now be requested to include dissemination to an Oireachtas committee and online, as well as via national newspapers. In that context, I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments and I will ensure that amendments will be brought on Report Stage to cover the areas outlined.
Perhaps we could engage on this before Report Stage because there may be other committees that are relevant here. This was brought to my attention after I submitted my amendments. We may be able to liaise on this just to ensure that our amendments do not overlap.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 5, line 13, to delete “Agency.” and substitute the following:“Agency,
(d) publish it online.”.
I look forward to engaging with the Minister in respect of the issues raised in the previous group of amendments.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 5, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:(8) Where an area ceases to be designated as a natural heritage area under subsection (3)(b)(ii), without prejudice to turbary rights for household use, commercial harvesting shall not be permitted.”.
These amendments relate to the core of the debate that we had previously.
They are slightly different. In amendment No. 17 we are suggesting, where land is de-designated and is no longer an NHA, that without prejudice to turbary rights for household use, commercial harvesting should not be permitted. I have been very clear that I support turbary rights but there are intergenerational justice issues involved here, not simply in terms of climate change and the damage we have done to the planet, the consequences of which young people will have to live with. Even within turbary rights and within families, there are intergenerational justice issues. Turbary rights are deep and historical and like seaweed harvesting rights are traditional rights associated with household use. We are talking about the cutting of turf for household use, to which I am not opposed. Turbary rights are important which is why these amendments seek to protect them. However, there is a problem in that we do not have a definition of household use. The intergenerational justice issues are not simply around climate change, carbon emissions or the injustice that has brought young people onto the streets in Ireland and around the world. The equivalent of what five generations would have cut in the past is being cut by one generation through the use of industrial machinery. We are seeing the cutting of turf on a scale that is purely commercial. We need to find a balance in terms of protecting turbary rights for future generations. That does not mean a blank cheque or a blank slate that tells people they can do as they wish.
We passed a Bill on fossil fuel divestment in these Houses and we know that we are coming to the end of the fossil fuel era. Why, in that context, would we continue to encourage and open up new areas for commercial turf cutting? My fear is that we are entering a period where we have a "last orders" mindset, where people try to commercially cut as much as they possibly can in the time remaining.That is why my preference is that, after areas are de-designated as natural heritage areas, turbary rights continue and are protected but commercial harvesting of turf is not allowed.
I have a strong preference for amendment No. 17, which calls for a complete end to commercial turf cutting in natural heritage areas after they are de-designated. However, the intent behind amendment No. 18 is even harder to disagree with. The amendment states that commercial harvesting shall not be permitted beyond 2030, which is the target date by which Bord na Móna has committed semi-State and State bodies to ending commercial harvesting of peat and ceasing its use as a fuel. It is very reasonable to ask that the same standard apply in respect of these privately-owned lands which are going to be de-designated. If the plan is for the State to move out of this area after 2030, that is too far away. I would prefer it to be 2025 because 2030 is the year when scientists tell us it will be too late to stop extracting. The 11 or 12 years we have left on climate change are not years in which to get around to changing what we do. They are the years in which we need to repair the damage that has been done if we are going to save our planet. It is a minimum standard that privately-owned bogs are not cut commercially when the State stops commercially cutting for fuel in 2030.
Amendment No. 17 strikes a better balance because it respects turbary rights. If amendment No. 17 is accepted, grandchildren may be able to get turbary rights on the de-designated bogs and keep the connection with the land. That means not giving it all away in one go and managing it responsibly. I ask the Minister of State to indicate if he is open to accepting either amendment No. 17 or amendment No. 18.
I support these amendments. Like Senator Higgins, my preference is for amendment No. 17. The commercial burning of turf for the generation of electricity is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions so it is not to be recommended. Just because it is turf does not mean it is clean. Speaking as an Irishman from a bog, I am very glad that this amendment respects turbary rights. My grandfather and all his ancestors had turbary rights and used them. In the 1950s, I remember going down to Laois and there was a particular point on the Limerick Road where one would start to get the smell of turf, which gave me to start thinking I was nearly home. I love the smell of turf. There is something quite characteristic about it and I have an enormous wicker basket full of hand-cut turf in my house at the moment. My principle suppliers are Deputy Timmy Dooley and the Earl and Countess of Rosse, who all seem to have their own bogs.
I am very grateful to Senator Higgins for stating that turbary rights should continue and I think this is an excellent amendment. I am not crazy about amendment No. 18 because 2030 is far too far away. I support amendment No. 17 and am interested to hear the Minister's response.
It is proposed that when a national heritage area is de-designated, domestic turf cutting may continue on the site, while larger-scale or commercial turf cutting will continue to be regulated through other systems such as the planning system or integrated pollution control licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. In that regard the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has made supplementary regulations to provide that large-scale peat extraction, which involves an area of 30 ha or more, will be an activity controlled by licensing by the EPA. The regulations came into force on 25 January 2019.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has also recently advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for smaller-scale peat extraction, that is, in respect of areas below 30 ha, will be initiated and progressed. Planning permission is generally considered to be required under the Planning and Development Acts for developments such as domestic turf cutting in a new or extended area of 10 ha or more where the drainage of the bogland commenced on or after 21 January 2002. Planning regulations state that peat extraction is generally considered an exempted development only where it is in a new or extended area of less than 10 ha or, where it is in an area of 10 ha or more, the drainage of the bogland commenced prior to the coming into force of the relevant planning and development regulations.
Large-scale peat extraction does not fall under this Bill but is regulated by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It would not be appropriate, therefore, to regulate commercial turf cutting by means of this Bill. I will not support the Senator's amendments but I understand from where they are coming.
When we discussed this previously, the Minister acknowledged that many areas tended to be large contiguous territory, which is one of the advantages of the newly designated areas, but many of the areas to be de-designated are, in fact, small. I know many people with less than 10 ha, although that does not mean there is no commercial usage. Another approach might be to outlaw certain kinds of machinery. I will not suggest people go back to using the slean to cut turf but sausage machines are used in small areas and move from area to area and such machinery may be rented for a period. The Minister has indicated that areas of 5 ha, 6 ha or 7 ha may be the ones to be de-designated but if they become a patchwork of areas for harvesting, there is a problem. These are key questions and the Minister needs to have the information about these areas if he is giving himself the power to make decisions about de-designation while balancing community, social, environmental and cultural factors. We discussed the scientific information he will need but he also needs regulatory information. The environmental impact of de-designation is different as between one which comes under a regulatory framework and one which does not. The regulatory framework matters, as we discussed in the context of the pollinator plan.
The Minister said a regulatory framework was being developed but I am sure he will see that there is an area of concern with that so we need a lot more clarity about what the framework will look like. The Minister may be able to achieve the goals without using such a bald term as "commercial turf harvesting", for example, by indicating what forms of harvesting are appropriate. This comes back to the question of turbary rights and what we define as household use, recognising that households are different. It is not simply a free-form interpretation. When we de-designate a bog under 10 ha and state that it is no longer a natural heritage area, it should not fall into being an area of unregulated usage. There needs to be some kind of bar set.I will retable the amendments on Report Stage.