Tuesday, 8 November 2022
Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021: Committee Stage
The next item is Committee Stage of the Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021, which will adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded. It is my pleasure to welcome our colleague and friend, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, in her official capacity. All the interested people are assembled, I think.
I thank Senators for the prompt and unreserved support for the Bill on Committee Stage. I welcome the Minister, Senator Hackett, my Green Party colleague, to the Chamber. She is a supporter of this Bill and is doing her best to find a way forward for it. That is to be acknowledged. Since around 2012, there has been an almost 1,200% increase in imports of non-native honey bees into Ireland. If, despite increased efforts by lobby groups to create conservation areas and to improve education, this continues, there is no doubt Ireland would lose its unique position with respect to Apis mellifera mellifera. The continuous imports of other sub-species, which do not survive our winters and need to be continuously minded by beekeepers, interrupts the adaptation of our native bees to the unique conditions in Ireland, generating hybrids that do not have the same characteristics of the native bees that have evolved here. Continued imports mean that even those hybrids here now will not have the opportunity of adapting because each year new bees come in for long enough to mate with local bees and cause disruption to the traits that have emerged in local areas to cope with local environments. We will end up with a population of primarily crossbred bees, as has happened in the UK and elsewhere. That may forever require beekeeper assistance because they cannot survive in this environment anymore. We will see a huge loss of genetic variation in an already endangered sub-species. Our wild honey bees would also struggle to survive this onslaught.
In 2020, an increase of-----
-----by saying that in 2020 alone, an increase of 327% in the importation into this country of non-native honey bee queens was documented.
I thank Senators for their steadfast and continuing support. We have a wonderful gathering of Senators in the Seanad, including the horticulturist, Senator Murphy, and Senators Higgins and Wall. On the front line, we have more than 500 beekeepers in our county. I thank the people in the Gallery who have come in this evening. I also thank Senator Maria Byrne from Limerick, which is famous for traditional beekeeping.
It is not over yet; we have to keep the pressure on, but so far so good. I will be pushing this for Report Stage at the earliest opportunity. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence, as well as the Minister of State, Senator Hackett.
I congratulate Senator Martin. I had highlighted this issue more than a year and a half ago, having been alerted by beekeepers throughout the country who were very concerned. I appreciate what the Senator is doing here and I fully support it, as do our party members. We should never underestimate how important the bee is to our lives and, sadly, that is underestimated in life. Students in every school should be taught about it. Pollination is very important to the production of food. We will continue to support the Senator. I also congratulate the beekeepers, because if they had not kept getting on to us, this would probably would not have happened.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House for this all-important issue. I compliment Senator Martin on introducing a very worthwhile Bill. I have had contact from beekeepers from Limerick, Tipperary and Murroe. I know some of the issues Senator Martin raised are of concern to beekeepers. I look forward to working with the Senator on the matter because I know a number of issues need to be addressed. I hope the Minister of State and her team will be able to work on those.
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I congratulate my Kildare colleague Senator Martin on introducing this very important Bill. I assure the House of his beekeeping skills and attest to the quality of his honey. My family would compliment him on the honey. I also welcome our guests in the Gallery this evening. This is a very important Bill and I was very happy to put my name to it. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Martin and the Green Party to ensure it completes Report Stage as quickly as possible.
I compliment Senator Martin. I am also very happy to be one of the co-sponsors of the Bill. We have taken our lead in not expanding on the different sections. The key point is that, if this keeps moving through, it is an opportunity to ensure we deliver protection for the native Irish honeybee next year. It is important we complement that with really strong measures in protecting the habitat. In that regard, we need to look to our hedgerows and pollinator plants, including in urban areas. It is vital for our ecosystems as well as for our horticulture. We certainly do not want to end up with bees becoming an input like seeds or fertiliser. This is something that is part of the fabric of Irish life.
I extend my thanks to Senator Martin for introducing this Bill and his interest in this area. His honey is delicious.
I fully acknowledge, as does my Department, the important contribution bees make not only to agriculture but also to biodiversity as both pollinators and as honey producers. My Department supports the important work of all the beekeeping associations in Ireland in the promotion and protection of apis mellifera. I certainly welcome the support of the members of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society who are in the Gallery today. I thank them for being here today.
I acknowledge and welcome all the Senators' comments on protecting the native Irish honeybee. I reiterate my support for this overall objective. Senators will recall that, on Second Stage of the Private Members' Bill in June, I expressed my Department's concern that a statutory ban on bee imports into Ireland might constitute a restriction on trade under EU regulations and that further advice would need to be sought on the compatibility of the Bill with the EU Single Market rules. Trade in bees is permitted and governed by EU law. EU animal health regulations set down rules for imports into the EU and for intracommunity trade between member states.
My Department has sought advice from the Office of the Attorney General on whether the Private Members' Bill would give rise to legal concerns having regard to EU law and in particular Articles 34 and 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. We have received this legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General in recent days. The Attorney General considers that a total ban on the importation of certain species of honeybees is likely to face significant scrutiny on proportionality grounds, having regard to the case law of the European Court. While the need to protect the native Irish honeybee is recognised, the advice of the Attorney General considers that the legal and-or scientific basis to impose a full ban of all other species of bee has not at this point been established with the required certainty. The Office of the Attorney General considers that an evaluation of proportionality and necessity by way of scientific assessment is required to substantiate the specific measure proposed in the Bill. Without robust independent scientific evidence capable of demonstrating proportionality of the draft legislation, we were advised that there is likely to be significant risk of legal action on the part of the European Commission or affected businesses.
I have asked my officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to procure that independent scientific evidence and data as an urgent priority. The Government will be in a position to come to a fully informed view on the Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill on receipt of the necessary independent scientific evidence once the relevant data has been collated and assessment completed. I look forward to receiving that evidence and assessment as soon as possible.