Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to the House. I was absent yesterday so I take this opportunity to welcome our new Senator, Senator Hackett, to the House. I congratulate her on her election and wish her well in her career in this House, the finest of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as the Minister of State will attest.
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Paul Daly, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Pippa Hackett, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Ned O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. a37a:
In page 5, line 36, after "features" to insert ", having regard to matters referred to in section 16(6),".
This issue has been addressed before. I propose to amend the definition of "environmental criteria" to ensure the inclusion of the environmental, conservation, geological and biodiversity provisions in subsection 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. This addresses the anomaly we have already discussed whereby the designation of a new protected area requires reference to the scientific and environmental criteria in subsection 16(6) whereas de-designation requires only a reference to the environmental criteria in the Bill, which do not include all of the criteria in the subsection. I hope the Minister of State might be able to find a way to incorporate the criteria in subsection 16(6) when assessing the environmental criteria concerning the potential de-designation of a raised or blanket bog.
I thank the Senator. We had a good discussion on this on a number of occasions insofar as it relates to the environmental criteria and blanket bogs under the Bill. The definition of "environmental criteria" has been carefully drafted in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and, of course, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The Bill was drafted taking into account what has already been done for raised bogs. I refer to an eight-year review. The various attributes set out within the definition link to national conservation objectives and favourable conservation status for bog habitats and the selection criteria set out in Annex III of the habitats directive.These were utilised for the 2014 review and, as set out in the Bill, would feature in any future blanket bog review.
In determining the ecological condition of Ireland’s raised bog network for the 2014 review, the criteria used included the area of active raised bog, the geographic range, the habitat quality and ecological diversity. I envisage a similar approach will be used for any future NHA review based upon sound scientific evidence in accordance with the provisions of the Bill.
I would like to emphasise that I do not foresee that SACs would be used as comparators to justify the dedesignation of an NHA. For example, 75% of the national active raised bog conservation target is to come from the SAC network and the remainder will come from the proposed new NHA network. Any proposal to designate or dedesignate NHAs has to be done in a manner that ensures that the contribution of the NHA network to this target is achieved. The same approach would be adopted for any review of blanket bogs.
Within the 2014 NHA review, SACs were included in the assessment of Ireland's raised bog resource. The SAC sites were not used as comparators to justify the proposed dedesignation of NHAs and I envisage that would also be the case for any future reviews of blanket bogs.
I have indicated that departmental officials will liaise with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to see if "a comparison made between” within the definition of “environmental criteria” in the Bill, as per the Senators' concerns, could be replaced with “a consideration of” as proposed by the Senators. I hope that assists in allaying their concerns. I will check that with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in respect of bringing forward an amendment in the Dáil.
I thank the Minister of State especially for his consideration of my amendment to move from a comparison model to a consideration model. That will vastly improve the operation of this section. I also thank him for his assurances regarding SACs. I look forward to consideration of this provision in the Dáil and that will assist matters. The mechanism as currently provided for in the Bill does not mirror the 2014 review in that it required a full overview of all 75 raised bog NHAs. It was a comparison on a full scale as part of the wider audit and consideration. This relates to my amendment No. 50, with which we have yet to deal, which seeks to ensure we will have that same overview. Environmental criteria in this section relate to specific proposals that may relate to a specific dedesignation prospect. For example, it could be geographically limited or it could be one bog, as the Bill provides for, versus another bog. That is why I was keen to ensure all those factors would be properly considered.
Some of what the Minister of State said has given me some comfort regarding the process. It is vital we move past a blunt comparison tool. It will also be vital that before he gets to the point of making proposals and considering environmental criteria in this section that he has at his disposal a full audit and report particularly of blanket bogs. My chief concern when it comes to blanket bogs and a comparison model is that we do not want to do anything that would create a perverse incentive where people might be encouraged to act on the basis of knowing that a more degraded bog compared to another bog may be dedesignated. We certainly do not want to create any inadvertent or inappropriate incentive.
I will press the amendment on principle but I acknowledge the distance we have travelled.
Amendment Nos. 37a is in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, are related, while amendment No. 37c is a physical alternative to amendment No. 37b. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Minister of State for being present for this debate. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, relate to proposed changes to the definition of "favourable conservation status" within the Bill. The definition is important, as the criteria it sets out will essentially set out how bogs will be evaluated within the review under this new section 18A, which ones will be determined worthy of receiving special status to preserve into the future and which will be designated as a result. The definition, therefore, of "favourable conservation status" needs to be comprehensive, developed and able to fully capture the current and future environmental value and capacity of a bog habitat. While I recognise the Government has committed €5 million in 2020 to peat bog restoration, this will need to double and treble in 2021 to 2022, as €5 million is unfortunately inadequate given the current state of our bog network and habitats and the important role they will need to play in the future in respect of Ireland's targets on climate action. We, therefore, need to ensure the definitions in this Bill that will cover the review of our national bog network are robust and can be stood over.
Amendment No. 37b proposes to add an additional clause when a bog habitat is being evaluated whereby in addition to judging whether the structure and functions exist for its long-term maintenance and such maintenance into the future, there would be an evaluation of whether such conditions are likely to exist in the future. These are natural biodiverse and organic environments and an assessment of their condition at a single moment in time ignores their future potential. People are also currently being trained in bog restoration and there will be more people with the necessary skills in the future to support work of rewetting, conservation and restoration. By altering this definition to incorporate the potential future growth of long-term sustainability, we need to make this amendment to broaden the definition and to account for the evolving skill base as more and more people become trained in bog restoration.
Amendments Nos. 37a and 37b are important and make a key change to the criteria on which the conservation status of a bog or species can be considered favourable. The current definition uses terms such as "stable" and increasing" in subsection (a) and "favourable" in subsection (c). However these terms are incomplete in fully assessing the environmental value of a bog habitat in terms of its potential dedesigation, which is why we propose that the term "significant" would also be included in the assessment. It is certainly the case that something may be diminished but it may still be significant. Land may have shrunk but it could still be a key wildlife corridor. A species may have diminished but there may be a small number as a reservation which make it significant. To only view the environmental value of these habitats through the prism of the words "stable, increasing and favourable" is limited and inadequate without also an assessment of their significance. "Significance" is a broader term which the Minister of State can cite in making these crucial evaluations where the limited metrics of their current stability or favourable status can be looked beyond in a fuller, more comprehensive analytic assessment. I urge him to accept these amendments considering the now widespread fears this Bill has aroused in the wider conservation and environmental movements in Ireland.
I thank the Senator for her comments. We commented on the previous occasion on how some of the carbon fund was being allocated towards peatlands restoration. The Senator mentioned what should be done from 2022. It would be for a future Government to decide the trajectory of the carbon fund as set out by the committee, and where that money will be focused. Whether that will be peatlands will be up to them but the €5 million commitment we have made is a positive start and will allow that important restoration and rewetting work to commence.
One of the main aims of the habitats directive is to ensure that the habitats and species listed in it achieve favourable conservation status. In essence, this means that these habitats and species are being maintained in a satisfactory condition and that situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. In this regard, the definition within the Bill has been derived by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel from the definition of "favourable conservation status" in article 1 of the habitats directive and in the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. I do not propose, therefore, to accept these amendments. The definition is not by accident; rather it is based on the important definitions in the birds and natural habitats regulations. That is in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and, therefore, I do not believe there is a need to change the current definitions.
I move amendment No. 37b:
In page 6, lines 4 and 5, to delete all words from and including “exist” where it firstly occurs in line 4 down to and including line 5 and substitute the following:“either exist and are likely to continue to exist for the foreseeable future, or are likely to exist in the near future, or”.
The amendment proposes a new definition of "recreational and sporting needs" which shall not include golf courses. In the original iteration of the Bill economic, social and cultural needs were included as a factor for consideration. A significant and arguably an excessive concession was made by the Minister of State to also include recreational and sporting needs. This was a regrettable and regressive move. However, in our last debate on the Bill this already extraordinary concession was widened even further in the forcing through of amendment No. 19, an absolutely appalling amendment, to specifically allow for the de-designation of bog habitats to build, among other developments, golf courses. That Fine Gael Senators would force through this disgraceful amendment against the advice of their own Minister of State was shameful. It flies in the face of any attempt by the Fine Gael Party to speak with authority in tackling climate change and about the protection of national habitats and biodiversity. I hope the Senators who supported the amendment will think long and hard about what their support for that change to the Bill says about the attitude of this House and the Oireachtas to the movement which is demanding action on climate change. It puts all politicians in a bad light and I was ashamed to be a Member of this House when it was tabled. The Minister of State has acknowledged the damage it will do to the Bill and I hope he will be seeking internal disciplinary action within Fine Gael for the mass breaking of the Government Whip.
There is a definition of "greenway" in the Bill, but there is no definition of "recreational and sporting needs". That opens up a concern about how it might be interpreted. I urge the Minister of State to include some definition of “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats”. The idea that a natural bog habitat would be destroyed to build a golf course would fill most people in the country with horror. We need to provide some assurance that that will not be the case and establish this House as one that is serious about tackling climate change and protecting the natural environment, of which we are the custodians. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment. I have also tabled amendment No. 47 which would allow the Minister to ask the EPA to draw up guidelines for what would constitute recreational and sporting needs, in the absence of a definition being added to the Bill, and which I urge the Minister of State to accept as an alternative.
I too was shocked, disappointed and ashamed to be a Member of this House when the Fine Gael amendment was passed last week, particularly given, as Senator Ruane said, that we had already in previous weeks passed a Government amendment to allow for the designation of a natural heritage area to cease on the basis of sporting needs. Why, then, is there a need for a reference to golf courses? I support amendment No. 38a. Bogs cultivate over thousands of years and their removal for the purpose of the development of a golf course is terrible State and Government policy. When we think of the removal of woodlands across the island throughout our history, going from almost complete to minimal coverage, and the environmental impact it has had, we should also consider the impact of the removal of bogs for something that would probably only benefit the next generation in the short term. It would take hundreds of years to regenerate the peat removed. For example, 15 cm of peat contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest. For the purpose of the development of an 18 hole golf course, or the extension of a golf course from nine to 18 holes, 40 to 80 ha of peat layer would be removed when 15 cm of thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest. We will be supporting amendment No. 38a. As I said, the Fine Gael amendment passed during the debate last week does not differentiate between mass removal and something that might infringe slightly on bogland. It is way too blunt. It is entirely unreasonable to suggest we should enact an amendment to provide for the removal of peatland for the purpose of the development of a golf course. I ask others to support amendment No. 38a.
I understand the purpose of amendment No. 38a is to exclude “golf courses” from the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion that is proposed to be included among the criteria to be utilised in selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or to cease to be designated as natural heritage areas. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 strikes a balance between the need to maintain or restore bog habitats to a favourable conservation status, live up to our EU obligations and work with landowners and turf cutters. Bearing this balance in mind, there may be grounds for amending the boundaries of a natural heritage area to include appropriate recreational or sports facilities so long as areas of active bog habitat within a site can be maintained and areas of degraded bog habitat can be restored. There may also be opportunities to develop recreational facilities such as walking routes or greenways within NHAs, building on existing routes within the sites.
The Government amendment to the Bill provides that the purposes of a natural heritage area review include selecting the most suitable bog habitats, first, to be designated as NHAs and, second, to cease to be designated as NHAs having regard to various criteria, including “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats”. The provisions of each criterion have been and will continue to be carefully considered in conducting and completing any review of NHAs. In addition, any regard to recreational and sporting needs appropriate to bog habitats in a review of NHAs would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, including public consultation and the carrying out of any other screening for an assessment or, as the case may be, assessment, if required. I understand the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would be obliged to consult the Environmental Protection Agency in the strategic environmental assessment process. Therefore, I consider that there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs. Therefore, I will not be accepting the amendments.
My understanding is Senators Higgins and Ruane have concerns that the provisions in the Bill will allow for new golf courses to be built within raised bog or blanket bog NHAs. I do not believe that was the intention of the Senators and they certainly did not state it in reference to new golf courses, although I know that there was a debate about existing golf courses, which is the reason the amendment has arisen. Therefore, I am willing to consider whether the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion within the Bill might need to be amended to set out clearly that the development of new golf courses would not come within it. Even though I believe there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs, I will also consider whether it would be appropriate for the Bill to be amended to provide for guidelines to be drawn up for what may or may not be considered to be "recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats". I will look at this issue again in the context of amendments in the Dáil. Given the views Senators have expressed on existing, rather than new, golf courses, I will be discussing the matter with colleagues, departmental officials and at Cabinet level in advance of discussing amendments in the Dáil.
Regardless of what we may or may not believe to be the intention of the Senators, the fact is that this provision allows for new golf courses to be included. The Minister of State has said that this is something he needs to look at. Obviously, it is hard for the Minister of State to stand up and make this case, given that he came out against the inclusion of this provision in the first place and in light of the allowances that were made previously. On that basis, I will press this amendment.
Jerry Buttimer, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.
This amendment relates to the restoration potential of bogs. We are proposing to remove an additional and unnecessary qualifier to what should be regarded as restoration potential. It is of concern if there is too high a threshold for what bogs may qualify for having restoration potential. Adding an additional criterion for assessing the likelihood that measures taken will be successful is setting the bar higher and brings the assessment further into the realm of subjectivity. Further, we are aware that the skills and workforce for restoring bogs are evolving and what might be considered unlikely now may yet evolve in the future. This amendment would future-proof the legislation and I urge the Minister of State to accept it.
My understanding is that this amendment seeks to amend the definition of “restoration potential” within the Bill. This definition within the Bill has been carefully drafted and links to the methodology utilised for the 2014 raised bog natural heritage areas, NHA, review. I do not propose to accept this amendment to it.
The 2014 raised bog NHA review proposes the de-designation of sites where it has been judged that their conservation potential is expected to be marginal and-or that restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved. The review also proposes the designation as NHAs of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs, which are in public ownership or where there is reduced turf cutting pressure. These sites are to be proposed for designation to make up for the loss of habitat within the NHA sites where turf cutting is to continue.
The 2014 review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitats through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. The review clearly set out that the proposed newly configured network would have considerable advantages over the current natural heritage area network, including a greater area of both active and degraded raised bog still capable of regeneration compared to the current network and increased potential for more rapid restoration of raised bog due to the inclusion of State-owned lands into the new network. This is the point, namely, that the network will be enhanced in terms of area and would be reduced in terms of ownership, that is, individual owners, because more State lands would be designated, which would be positive because of the overall view taken by small farmers or small landowners that the State has loads of hectares of land that are not designated, and that these small farmers or small landowners are being targeted. That is a positive development as the overall network has increased with this review.
The heart of the 2014 review and any future review would be the nature conservation objectives of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status. Bearing this in mind, any future NHA review would follow a similar approach to the 2014 review, as provided for in the Bill. Therefore, I will not be accepting this amendment.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Report on exercise of turbary rights 5. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights
including a definition, or definitions, of “household use”.”.
In terms of amendment No. 41, we propose that within 12 months of passing this Act that the Minister produce a report on guidelines and thresholds around the exercise of turbary rights for peat extraction and a definition of what would constitute "household use". We have throughout this debate said that the distinction needs to be drawn between turbary rights, which is the extraction of peat for personal and household use, and commercial peat harvesting which has far greater environmental impacts. We want to ensure and to promote responsible bog management and it has been clear that this is not at odds with turbary rights or traditional practices. The way turf is being extracted has changed. There are, for example, concerns about the increased use of machines and their impact. This amendment is one of several proposals seeking to give clarity to this area. I know the Minister of State has suggested that the regulation of commercial cutting practices and associated machinery falls within another Department and I contest that. However, there is no doubt that the turbary rights as a heritage issue fall directly within his remit. I, therefore, hope that he will accept amendment No. 41.
My understanding of this amendment is that it provides that the Minister shall lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights, including a definition, or definitions, of “household use”.
The focus of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and her Department, is and will be on the management, conservation and restoration of the special areas of conservation, SAC, and NHA networks, which contain bog habitats. In budget 2020, €7 million made up of the carbon and the environment funds has been allocated to embark on an accelerated programme of peatland restoration and conservation works.
As I already mentioned, I understand that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for smaller scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. Guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights could come within the development of this framework.
Therefore, I have some concerns as to whether it would be appropriate for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to produce the report as requested by Senators. I understand the principle behind the amendment and I will request departmental officials to liaise with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the matter.
I am prepared to accept the amendment on the understanding that an amendment on the matter in the name of the Minister may need to be moved when the Bill returns to the Dáil.
I thank Minister of State. I appreciate where we have moved with this amendment. I will raise a note of concern which is that that engagement happens, and whether it is possible for the report to be done within his Department, rather than disappearing as soon as this goes to the Dáil. We are apprehensive when we do so much work on amendments here, that they can be accepted, in principle, but lose their force then when the Bill goes to the Dáil. I accept that this is not the case and that it is something that the Minister of State is willing to engage with and look at. We are willing to accept the Minister of State's views on this amendment.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“Report on intergenerational justice and equity issues5.The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas considering intergenerational justice and equity issues in respect of bog lands; to include a consideration of turf cutting, peat extraction, climate change and other environmental considerations.”.
Amendment No. 42 would require the Minister to lay a report before the Oireachtas within 12 months considering intergenerational justice and equity issues and how they relate to boglands. This should consider the issues of turf cutting, peat extraction, climate change and other environmental considerations. We acknowledge and support the similar amendment No. 48, which is sponsored by Fianna Fáil Senators and addresses some of the same issues. However, the intergenerational issue is also important and this amendment addresses it. Young people in rural Ireland will not be able to practise the same rights as older generations. Intergenerational justice is not just about young people bearing the worst effects of climate change. It also concerns the way turf is cut now, which may impact on young people's ability to cut turf in the future. In light of amendment No. 48, I will withdraw my amendment, however I hope these concerns will be added to the Bill in some form in the Dáil and the intergenerational dimension of this issue will be considered further.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“5.(1) Any cutting of turf on bog or bog habitats de-designated under this Act shall be subject to regulation with regard to:(a) permitted or prescribed machinery;(2) Regulations under subsection (1)(a)shall be set out by the Minister in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant bodies and shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.”.
(b) limitations on quantities of peat extraction per annum;
(c) limitations on commercial activities, without prejudice to turbary rights.
Amendment No. 45 sets out how the extraction of peat from bog habitats that lose designation under this Act will be regulated. This will include limits on the type of machinery allowed, the quantity of peat that can be extracted every year and a limit on the commercial extraction of peat without prejudice to turbary rights.
Amendment No. 46 is a slight variation allowing for consultation with relevant bodies without specifically mentioning the EPA. I urge the Minister of State to engage with any initiatives looking at turbary rights from an intergenerational perspective and to ensure that the rights currently enjoyed are preserved for people in the future. This is an important aspect of intergenerational justice as it concerns heritage and tradition. We must not allow commercial extraction to take place under the guise of turbary rights at the expense of younger generations. I, therefore, urge the Minister of State consider these amendments and to accept one of them if possible.
We support amendments Nos. 45 and 46. They are reasonable measures. Amendment No. 46 ensures that bogs subject to agreement with turf cutters will be protected and that we utilise peat to heat homes while allowing it to regenerate and continue its role in carbon sequestration. The terms of the regulation will largely be at the Minister's discretion. This will create a clear path to show the EU that we are in compliance with the habitats directive. I welcome the limitations on commercial turf cutting, particularly given the recent High Court decision to revoke regulations in that regard.
I thank the Senators for these amendments. My understanding is that they provide that the cutting of turf within sites whose designation as NHAs is reversed shall be subject to regulations set by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in consultation with various bodies. This regulation is to concern the machinery to be used, limitations on quantities to be extracted and limitations on commercial activities. Regulation of turf cutting outside of SACs and NHAs is not a matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, whose focus is on the conservation, management and restoration of protected sites. I understand this falls to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in accordance with planning legislation. That Department has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for smaller scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. I will write to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to request that his Department takes account of the issues raised in these amendments in the development of the framework. However I will not accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“5.The Minister shall request the Environmental Protection Agency to draw up guidelines as to what may or may not be considered recreational and sporting activities appropriate to a
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“Report on climate justice and just transition5.(1) The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas considering climate justice and a just transition to a low-carbon economy in respect of turf cutting and peat extraction.
(2) The report under subsection (1)shall contain recommendations in relation to—(a) protective measures and supports for adversely affected workers and communities,
(b) training and development of alternative low-carbon employment, and
(c) rehabilitation and restoration of peatlands in order to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with any existing obligation of the State on climate change under the law of the European Union or any international agreement.”.
This amendment goes in the same direction as amendment No. 42, which has previously been withdrawn by Senator Ruane. I thank her for withdrawing that in support of our amendment. We feel this is more specific and addresses the issues of a just transition and the communities and workers that have been impacted in a more detailed manner. I hope it can be supported by all sides of the House. The amendment is fully in line with the commitments made in March 2019 by the Joint Committee on Climate Action. It makes reference to climate justice and a just transition to a low-carbon economy in the specific context of turf cutting and peat extraction.
It is important that an equitable approach, rooted in social justice and early engagement with communities, is taken to the movement away from peat extraction and turf cutting. We cannot have a situation where impacted regions are left at risk of major disruption as is currently the case in the midlands. Protective measures need to be put in place first. These amendments, therefore, call for a necessary analysis in this regard to be made by the Minister. We also need clarity on how and whether emissions are being saved and what steps can be taken to further rehabilitate and restore peatlands in light of our climate and environmental obligations.
I thank Senator Daly for his amendment. In budget 2020, €5 million has been allocated to the carbon fund and €7 million has been allocated to an accelerated programme of peatlands restoration within the raised bog designated sites network. The injection of this funding is intended to restore more than 1,800 ha of protected raised bog in 2020. This programme will also contribute to employment in the midlands region.
In accordance with the Standing Orders of the Dáil and the Seanad, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is obliged to report within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill to review the functioning of the Act. This report is relayed to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The provision of the report will provide an opportunity for the Minister to set out the restoration measures which will have been undertaken on raised bog NHAs. I understand the issues raised by Senators will also be comprehensively covered in some length and detail in the upcoming climate Bill. It would not be good practice for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to either pre-empt that legislation or to legislate for the same issue twice. Such matters fall in the first instance to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, who has functional and statutory responsibility for the issues converging here. I, therefore, do not propose to accept the amendment.
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Paul Daly, Maire Devine, Pippa Hackett, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Ned O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“5.Before an order can be made in respect of a raised or blanket bog under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 a report shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the re-wetting potential of all natural heritage area bogs.”.
With amendment No. 49, we seek to require a report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas before any dedesignation orders of natural bogs can be made under the Act. This report would assess the rewetting potential of all natural heritage bogs. When Dr. Renou-Wilson was before the climate action committee last week, she clarified that the survey previously undertaken on raised bogs looked to restoration potential but did not consider rewetting. The ideal outcome for a bog is full restoration but rewetting is still of considerable value. While a bog which is restored may draw carbon from the air, a bog which is rewetted may still prevent carbon emission. Rewetting is a baseline activity. A total of 46 bogs were designated as having less restoration potential. Those bogs have not been examined specifically for their rewetting potential. We need to know that in any decisions made as to their NHA status, their rewetting potential has been considered. Let us not forget that there has been a direct cost to the State as a result of carbon emissions in terms of both environmental damage and fines paid. These costs will significantly outweigh compensation payments being paid to landowners with raised bogs designated as NHAs. In the future we must move past compensation payments and towards giving landowners payments that actually support carbon sequestration and conservation on their land. We have consistently tried to remove blanket bogs from the Bill. A review over the course of 12 years was undertaken in respect of raised bogs but none was undertaken in respect of blanket bogs.
With amendment No. 50, we seek to set an overall survey and a baseline minimum. We need to ensure we do not simply allow for consultation over a particular bog on whether it is designated but rather that an overall survey is conducted in order that we know the total blanket bogland we have and its restoration or rewetting potential. This is essential before we look to the process that may lead to the dedesignation of boglands. All 75 raised bog NHAs were fully examined in the past but we have not had any similar examination of our blanket bogs, including rewetting and the other kinds of scientific criteria. This amendment would ensure we have a baseline. The amendment also relates to amendment No. 51. It would be very worrying if we provided a perverse incentive for dedesignation, whereby there would be intentional degradation of bogs in order to increase their likelihood of dedesignation. This must happen before any orders are made and I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment.
The 2014 review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network, which, under the proposed new network, will be 765 ha, compared with an area of 694 ha in the current network. This restoration programme links with the peatland actions contained in the Government's climate action plan. Under the 2014 review, 36 existing NHAs are to remain designated. This includes seven sites which are to be divided, with part to be conserved and part dedesignated, and 46 NHAs which are to be dedesignated, including the relevant areas of the seven sites to be divided, where it has been judged that their conservation potential is expected to be marginal or that restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved or both. Twenty-five currently undesignated raised bogs which are in public ownership or in respect of which there is reduced turf cutting pressure are to be proposed for designation. This is in order to make up for the loss of habitat within the NHA sites where turf cutting is to continue.
In summary, 61 sites are scheduled to be restored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department as raised bog NHAs in order to maintain or restore active raised bog habitat within these sites. There is a balance within the Bill, as regards the 2014 review of the raised bog NHA network, 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 am concerned that amendment No. 49 would upset that balance and I am therefore not in a position to accept it.
I believe that the current condition, restoration potential and matters referred to in section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 would all be essential components of any future review of blanket bog NHAs. Therefore, I am prepared to accept amendment No. 50 on the understanding that an amendment on the matter may need to be moved in the name of the Minister when the Bill returns to the Dáil. The results of the review of the raised bog NHA network were published for public consultation in 2014. I will consider if the report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas should also be published for public consultation.
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“5.Before an order can be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 a report shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on current condition, restoration potential and re-wetting potential, matters referred to in section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 and other such factors as the Minister may deem necessary of all blanket bog natural heritage areas.”.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“5.No order may be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 where there is reasonable evidence of acceleration in the rate of deterioration of a blanket bog in the 24 months prior to a review under subsection (3)(b)(ii).”.
With amendment No. 51, we propose that where rapid acceleration in the deterioration in the quality of a bog has occurred in the previous 24 months, that bog would not be eligible for dedesignation.I do not wish to name specific examples. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of cases of bogs being used for inappropriate purposes, deemed to be degraded and subsequently opened up for other uses such as building. This amendment will copperfasten the principle that there may never be a reward for the intentional degradation of bogs. This emphasises why we need the snapshot assessment in amendment No. 50, which I thank the Minister of State for accepting. We do not want the provisions of this legislation to cause actors who are working in bad faith to pursue the deterioration of the bogs as a deliberate objective in order for them to be de-designated. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment. If he decides on the basis of advice that this needs to be amended further, he can do so in the Dáil.
I thank the Senator for the amendment. I emphasise that the purposes of a review of NHAs would include contributing to the achievement of nature conservation objectives for bog habitats and selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated, or to cease to be designated, utilising the various criteria set out in the Bill. All of these considerations would be components of any review of bog habitats and would be included in the review. Decisions on the designation or de-designation of NHAs would not be made in a vacuum. The Bill sets out principles and criteria to guide the Minister of the day in this process. I will, therefore, not accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:"5. No order can be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 prior to the publication of regulations by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of peat cutting and small scale peat extraction.".
This amendment will ensure no orders for potential de-designation of bogs may be made until the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has issued regulations on peat cutting and small-scale peat extraction. These regulations would be crucial in ensuring the maintenance of bogs following their de-designation. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment.
As I have indicated, I understand the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for small-scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. I fail to see a reason the 2014 review of the raised bog NHAs cannot be continued and completed irrespective of the development of this new regulatory framework. It is possible that the new framework will be developed before the review of the blanket bog NHAs is commenced or completed. If so, the new framework can be taken into account, if appropriate, in a future review of blanket bog NHAs. If the new framework has not been developed by the time of a future review, a review of blanket bog NHAs could still take place. I envisage that any blanket bog NHA de-designated arising from a future review would be subject to the new regulatory framework to be initiated and progressed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 53:
In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:"5. Where a comparison is made between raised bogs or blanket bogs in regard to environmental criteria that comparison shall not be made with a special area of conservation.".
It would be helpful if the Minister of State could respond to this amendment, which seeks to provide that when a comparison is made between raised bogs or blanket bogs in regard to environmental criteria, the comparison shall not be made with an SAC.
Senator Higgins has raised this point in previous discussions. I do not foresee that SACs would be used as comparators to justify the de-designation of NHAs. Any proposal to de-designate or to designate has to be done in a manner that ensures the contribution of the NHA network to national conservation status for bog habitats is achieved. In the 2014 NHA review, the SACs were included in the assessment of Ireland's raised bog resource. The SAC sites were not used as comparators to justify the proposed de-designation of NHAs and I do not envisage that they will be used for this purpose in the future. I am prepared to examine the matter further in light of the concerns that have been expressed by Senators. I am, therefore, prepared to accept the amendment on the understanding that an amendment on the matter in the name of the Minister may need to be moved in the Dáil.
I welcome the Minister of State's acceptance of the amendment. We are coming to the end of the amendments to which my name is attached. I thank him for his engagement with Senator Higgins. It is acknowledged that the Senator has put a significant number of hours into this legislation. Her mantle passed to me today because of a clash with the meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action.
I thank my officials for their work over recent months and years. I thank all the Senators who have contributed to the debates in this House, particularly Senators Higgins, Ruane, Warfield and Paul Daly. My colleagues have also contributed. It is likely that a number of amendments on this contentious issue, which has been the subject of national debate over many years, will be brought forward in the Dáil at a future time. The proposal to reconfigure the network by including State-owned lands is a positive one that has been warmly received by turf cutters and small landowners. I welcome the work that has been done by Senators on this Bill.