Thursday, 13 July 2023
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Motions
We move to the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016.
A message has been received from Dáil Éireann concerning amendments made by the Seanad to the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016. The message has been set down on the Order Paper. The list of amendments made by the Seanad and considered by the Dáil has been circulated for the information of Members.
The Dáil has not agreed to amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, or to amendments Nos. 11, and 13 to 15, inclusive and desires that Seanad Éireann does not insist thereon. The Dáil has made amendments consequential to its disagreement to amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive and 13 to 15, inclusive. The Seanad must now decide whether it wishes to insist on amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive and amendments Nos. 11, and 13 to 15, inclusive and if not, whether it agrees to the amendments made by the Dáil consequential to its disagreement to the Seanad amendments.
With the agreement of Senators, we will discuss related Seanad amendments and consequential amendments made by the Dáil together. The House can decide separately on each action proposed. Senators have also tabled further amendments to Dáil consequential amendments with the agreement of the House. These further amendments will be considered in the context of the consequential amendments to which they relate. These amendments must be seconded. In each case, Senators may speak once only on the question proposed, except the proposer of a motion or an amendment, who has a right of reply.
With the agreement of Senators, we will discuss related Seanad amendments and consequential amendments made by the Dáil together. The House can decide separately on each action proposed. Senators have also tabled further amendments to Dáil consequential amendments with the agreement of the House. These further amendments will be considered in the context of the consequential amendments to which they relate. These amendments must be seconded. In each case, the Senator may speak once only on the question proposed case, except the proposer of an amendment who has a right of reply.
I will call on the Acting Leader to move the motion in each case. I will call on the Minister of State and then on the Senator to speak and I will call on the Minister of State to reply.
I will now move to the amendments. Seanad amendments Nos. 1 and 2 and consequential Dáil amendment No. 1c are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I will first outline a little of the background to the Bill as it has had an extended journey to get to this point. I am sure Senator Kyne is familiar with it. I thank him for his work when he was the Minister of State responsible for this.
The purpose of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 is to give legal effect to the proposed reconfiguration of the raised bog natural heritage area network. This reconfiguration arises from a national study of our raised bog resource in 2014, called the Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network. The Bill also allows for a review of blanket bog natural heritage areas, puts the national biodiversity action plan on a statutory footing, and places a biodiversity duty on public bodies.
The Bill had completed all Stages in the Dáil and Seanad and had been returned to the Dáil for consideration of the various amendments made by the Seanad, when it lapsed with the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil on 14 January 2020. My Department has been working to refine some of the amendments passed by the Seanad. The Bill was restored to the Houses of the Oireachtas on 28 June.
The main objective of the 2014 raised bog natural heritage area network review was to look at how the network could contribute to our national conservation objectives for raised bog habitats, while minimising the impacts on the traditional rights of landowners and turf cutters, and minimising costs for the State. The reconfiguration of the network, which this Bill will facilitate, is based on sound scientific evidence and will have a positive impact on the network. The Bill allows for the completion of the review.
Decisions on designation or de-designation of natural heritage areas will not be made without careful consideration of all the factors involved. There are principles and criteria in this Bill to guide the Minister in this process. The focus is on nature conservation and having a positive impact on the relevant network.
Sixteen amendments to the Bill were passed in the Seanad. These consisted of 11 Government amendments and five non-Government amendments. In the Dáil session last week, these 16 amendments were considered along with the Government's counter-amendments. Eight of the Seanad amendments were accepted by the Dáil and eight were rejected, with replacement amendments being proposed in most cases, which were in turn adopted by the Dáil. Our main focus today is on these eight amendments and the counter-amendments now proposed by Senators. As Senators will be aware, under Standing Orders there is limited scope to make changes to the Bill because of the advanced Stage it has reached in the legislative process. Therefore a minimal approach to any changes has been adopted. In redrafting non-Government Seanad amendments, I have sought to reflect the general intention of the amendments insofar as possible. Overall, the Government's intention is to respect the views and additions proposed by the Seanad when the Bill was last in this House.
I will now move to amendment Nos. 1 and 1c. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 from the Twenty-fifth Seanad were rejected in the Dáil last week. Amendment No. 1c replaces them. Amendment No. 1 was proposed by the Seanad to amend section 16 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, which sets out the statutory process for when a Minister intends to designate a natural heritage area. Amendment No. 1 was a Government amendment in the Seanad. It was drafted in response to issues raised by the then Opposition in the Seanad. The amendment simply sought to facilitate wider dissemination of notice of the Minister's intention to make an order to designate a natural heritage area. Amendment No. 1 was rejected in the Dáil and replaced by amendment No. 1c, simply to deal with referencing changes as a result of changes elsewhere in the Bill and to incorporate changes to Seanad amendment No. 2, which I will now discuss.
Seanad amendment No. 2 also amended section 16 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. It was proposed in the Seanad on Report Stage and accepted by the Minister in the Seanad, subject to further checking. The effect of the amendment as proposed was that, in deciding a site is worthy of conservation, the Minister could propose a site for designation by virtue of its role in carbon sequestration or in respect of pollination. Section 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 already provides that the Minister may propose a site for designation as a natural heritage area by virtue of its "special scientific interest for one or more species, communities, habitats, landforms or geological or geomorphological features, or for its diversity of natural attributes".The proposed amendment would provide the Minister with additional criteria, namely, carbon sequestration and pollination, in proposing to designate a site as an NHA in the future, in accordance with section 16 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.
The amendment proposed by the Seanad could be interpreted as meaning these criteria may be considered in their own right, for example, as sole criteria. This could lead to sites being designated that may have very limited nature conservation value, which could divert the resources we have in this area away from the core work on nature restoration and conservation. It is considered that this objective would be better achieved by ensuring carbon sequestration and pollination are factors that must be considered when drawing together the scientific advice the Minister must have regard to when deciding whether to propose a site for designation as an NHA. In this way, carbon sequestration and pollination would be considered as factors to be taken into account within the scientific advice available to the Minister, alongside the birds directive and the habitats directive, as well as the size, location and features of the site and other factors.
This is the thrust of the alternative amendment the Government proposed in the Dáil. The relevant part of the subsection within section 16 of the Act would now read:
(b) The scientific advice referred to in paragraph (a) shall take account of, as appropriate, the size of the site, its location, the type of natural feature or features contained in it, its role in carbon sequestration or pollination, its importance for the purposes of the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive and the degree of negative, or potentially negative, human impact.
The alternative amendment proposed by the Government and accepted by the Dáil achieves the thrust of the intention of the Seanad amendment but in a more appropriate manner. As a result of the changes made in the Dáil, Seanad amendments Nos. 1 and 2 were deleted and Government amendment No. 1c was inserted in their place. I recommend the acceptance of amendment No. 1c to the Seanad.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his comments. I was Minister of State in the Department when the Bill went through Committee Stage in the Seanad. I acknowledge the significant amount of work Senator Higgins put into it. There were a large number of amendments. The Minister of State noted that five non-Government amendments were accepted by me at the time. It goes to show how generous I was as Minister of State, not that it did me any good.
This is an important Bill. The basis of it was not that we sought to reduce the footprint of NHAs or whatever; in fact, we were looking to increase it but, in doing so, to prioritise State-owned lands over private boglands. We know the very difficult job National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers had ten or so years ago in having to deal with, in some cases, confrontations and protests when they tried to enforce issues in regard to turf cutting. The Bill is a reasonable grasp at allowing for the continuation of turf cutting in those areas where there is already damage, while enforcing the State's obligation in regard to its land banks, as held by Bord na Móna and elsewhere. I wanted to put that summary on the record.
The approach to the Bill has been somewhat confusing. It was introduced in 2016, passed in the Dáil on 13 December 2018, and Second and Committee Stages in the Seanad were taken in 2019. Then the election happened and now we are back here again. The Bill has had a convoluted process and it is somewhat confusing dealing with the Seanad amendments, some of which were accepted in the Dáil, others not and some replaced, as well as there being Opposition amendments. It is worthwhile legislation and I support the Government's decision on amendments made.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for bringing this legislation to the House. As my colleague indicated, the Bill has had something of a meandering route to get us to where we are today. It is important legislation. I do not intend to compound or overcomplicate the convoluted nature of dealing with the amendments by speaking at length on them. We support the Minister of State in progressing this important Bill. There are three elements to it, namely, the review of blanket bogs, putting a national biodiversity plan on a statutory footing and placing a biodiversity obligation on public bodies. They are three important actions the Government is taking to protect, enhance and champion our biodiversity. The Minister of State has our support. I will not delay proceedings by speaking any further.
Seanad amendment No. 3, consequential Dáil amendment No. 3c, amendments Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, to consequential Dáil amendment No. 3c, Seanad amendment No. 4 and Seanad amendment No. 11 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
The Bill amends the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 by the insertion of a new section 18A after section 18 of the Act. Section 18A sets out how the 2014 review is to be completed and the requirements for future reviews of blanket bog NHAs. Seanad amendments Nos. 3 and 4 from the previous Seanad proposed changes to the criteria to be utilised in selecting more suitable bog habitats to be designated, or cease to be designated, as NHAs. The changes brought in additional criteria, including recreational and sporting needs and greenways. Amendment No. 4 also added further criteria in regard to facilities and projects that can be of significant benefit to a community, and went on specifically to list golf courses, sports fields, greenways, etc.
These proposals were put to a vote in the House and both were carried by a majority. Having considered all these matters, an amendment to section 18A is proposed through amendment No. 3c, which seeks to strike a balance between the requests made in the Seanad and an appropriate selection process for nature conservation. It is considered that the specific references in the proposed Seanad amendment to recreational and sporting needs, greenways, golf courses, etc. are not appropriate for inclusion in the Bill as they are considered too prescriptive.
Government amendment No. 3c is a compromise. It retains most of Seanad amendment No. 3 and captures as much as possible of the intention behind Seanad amendment No. 4 in that it includes facilities and projects that can be of significant benefit to a community or to strategic infrastructure development. However, it does not specifically prescribe them. In this way, it is much less likely that dedesignations would happen because of individual prescribed projects. Nonetheless, the significance of individual projects can still be factors when considering whether a site should remain designated. These will be factored alongside other factors such as environmental criteria, restoration potential, and economic and social factors. Decisions on individual sites, therefore, need to be made in a balanced way, taking several factors into account. Amendment No. 3c still respects and reflects the thrust of the intention behind the Seanad amendments but provides a better balance in terms of nature conservation.
Senators should note that because of the changes in the Bill during its course, such dedesignations can only be considered as part of a wide review of bog habitats and scientific appraisal of sites. The full resource will be looked at in the round, not just on individual sites. In addition, any proposals to change designation will be subject to a full environmental assessment, which gives further important protection against unwarranted dedesignations. I include in that public consultation. Amendment No. 3c strikes a better balance between the various issues raised during the Seanad debate and the central role of the Minister in conserving nature.
Before we move to the Members, with great pleasure I welcome Edward Thornton to the House. He is the dad of Samantha Long, whom we all know. She works with Senator McDowell and is very friendly with all of us. I also welcome her auntie, uncle George and Etta to the House. They are most welcome. We hope they enjoy their stay. I am sure they will be meeting up with Samantha today. Céad míle fáilte from all of us. I call Senator Clonan.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have been asked on behalf of my colleagues, Senators Ruane and Higgins, to move several amendments for them. Regarding Dáil amendment No. 3c to this legislation, the rationale for the Senators' proposed amendments to this amendment is as follows: this grouping of amendments relates to an issue that my colleague Senator Higgins raised extensively when this legislation was last before the Seanad in 2019.
We are concerned that "national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs" and "facilities and projects", which can be of significant benefit to communities, are undefined and could refer to things such as golf courses or car parks. There is also concern regarding paragraph 4 which also lists "projects which relate to strategic infrastructure development, within the meaning of the Planning and Development Act 2000". Data centres, for example, are regarded as strategic infrastructure, along with many other things. It should not be the case that habitats are allowed to be de-designated for such projects.
To add some context in respect of why we need to protect our bogs, peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store in the world. The area covered by near-natural peatlands worldwide is in excess of 3 million sq. km and it sequesters 0.37 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year. It stores more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. Emissions from drained peatlands are estimated at 1.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. This is equivalent to 5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This is a disproportionate amount considering that damaged peatlands cover just 0.3% of landmasses. Fires in Indonesian peat swamp forests in 2015, for example, emitted nearly 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide daily, which is more than the entire economy of the US.
Worldwide, the remaining area of near-natural peatland, over 3 million sq. km., sequesters 0.37 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. Peat soils contain more than 600 gigatons of carbon, which represents up to 44% of all soil carbon and exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including all the world's forests. A group of Ireland's top peatland experts got together in 2019 and calculated that up to 15% of global emissions could be saved by restoring our peatlands. These are also vitally important in terms of our biodiversity. The designation and de-designation process that the Bill proposes is not fit for purpose and the idea that we would allow such criteria, which is not based on science, when our world is literally on fire, is absurd. The amendments proposed here to this amendment provide several options to strengthen this legislation.
Amendment No. 1 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would insert a new paragraph (d) which would provide that in the designation process the Minister would have regard to "all of the matters to which the Minister is required to have regard to under section 16(6), "the list of proposed natural heritage areas", "the need to protect bog habitats both for biodiversity and carbon sequestration" and "the need to adequately implement Article 10" of the habitats directive.
Amendment No. 2 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would simply delete clauses (II), (III) and (IV) of paragraph (d)(i) as things to have regard to when making a designation.
Amendment No. 3 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would delete paragraph (d)(i)(III).
Amendment No. 4 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would amend paragraph (d)(i)(III) to specify that the Minister could only have regard to facilities and projects which can be of significant benefit to a community when they are "environmental" facilities.
Amendment No. 5 to Dáil amendment No. 3c is related and adds the caveat that it would be environmental "projects".
Amendment No. 6 to Dáil amendment No. 3c is an alternative to amendments Nos. 4 and 5 to Dáil amendment No. 3c and would add a caveat in paragraph (d)(i)(III) that facilities and projects described must be those "having a primary objective of environmental conservation, restoration or protection".
Amendment No. 7 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would stipulate that projects and facilities described in paragraph (d)(i)(III) would not include "football pitches, golf courses, hotels or car parks" as part of the consideration of whether to designate.
Amendment No. 8 to Dáil amendment No. 3c is an alternative to amendment No. 6 with slightly different wording.
Amendment No. 9 to Dáil amendment No. 3c seeks to amend paragraph (d)(i)(III) adding the caveat that the Minister must have regard to national, regional and local economic, social and cultural needs where these "have an associated clear benefit accruing to the wider public".
Amendment No. 10 to Dáil amendment No. 3c seeks to delete paragraph (d)(ii)(IV) which has the same dangerous and unclear language as paragraph (d)(i)(III).
Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13 to Dáil amendment No. 3c would insert the same provisions as amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, into paragraph (d)(ii)(IV).
We have given the Minister of State several ways in which to address our concerns and we urge him to accept some of our amendments to alleviate some of our significant doubts about how the designation and de-designation process will work under the legislation. Environmental groups, including the Irish Wildlife Trust, have been sounding the alarm for years on problematic parts of this legislation and we need to see the Minister of State engaging with us and making serious changes.
To summarise the debate on the last occasion, concerns were expressed regarding the impact NHAs may have on certain community projects. We are talking about small sections of NHAs and not about damage to large sections. Pitches, for example, were mentioned. The sports capital grant process has opened. In this context, if a community wanted to build a running or walking track around a pitch which impacted or came close to an NHA, the question would be whether making a slight change to its boundary could assist in the furtherance of that community development project and the gain to be made in this regard. This was the ethos of the debate at the time.
The uses listed were quite prescriptive. Indeed, I could include graveyards or cemeteries as well as areas where problems might also be encountered. In Connemara, certainly, this would be an issue in certain areas proximate to NHAs. This was the basis of the debate. It was about small areas of land that could impact community gains and projects. I would go so far as to wonder if we were trying to make safe a bad bend on a local road, where there was a small bit of NHA, if this could be de-designated to assist in improving visibility, sightlines and safety, for example. These were the sort of suggestions mentioned. It was not about destroying whole sections of NHAs but being able to re-designate, change the boundaries slightly and perhaps designate another area to compensate for an area removed. This was the basis of the debate on the last occasion regarding these amendments.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. I thank Senator Higgins for her work on this Bill. The amendments she put forward in the last Seanad have certainly helped to improve this legislation. I again acknowledge this point. She is probably watching these proceedings and I wish her all the best. She is on maternity leave and I congratulate her.
Regarding these proposed amendments, because there is a perception among NGOs and others that this legislation is going to give carte blancheto mass de-designation of blanket bog habitats, I assure the House it certainly will not and far from it. In his contribution, Senator Clonan mentioned the science. This is based on science and the scientific criteria will be the priority. What we are trying to do in the context of the Seanad amendments is to strike a fair balance, as far as possible, between the different amendments passed by this House and the different views expressed in them.
Amendment No. 4, as passed by a vote in the House, provided for an array of facilities to be included - Senator Kyne referred to them - and to be individually factored into the process of considering de-designation. These again include sporting facilities, golf courses or greenways.The Senator mentioned that cemeteries could be included. Amendment No. 3 was also carried by a vote of the House. It was a Government amendment made in response to issues raised earlier in the debate and it mentioned recreation and sporting needs. These provisions were debated at length in the Seanad and there was no clear consensus at the time. The Government's counter-amendment, amendment No 3c, which was passed in the Dáil, seeks to come up with a reasonable balance on this. As I said earlier, both the Seanad amendments were too prescriptive and could lead to unwarranted de-designations. With amendment No. 3c, we are trying to ensure that we have that balance without leading to unnecessary and unwarranted de-designations. If anything, it is an added level of protection for these important habitats.
There was a really important vote in the European Parliament yesterday on the nature restoration law, which will put all member states on a path towards developing nature restoration plans. Our peatlands will be critical to that. The reconfiguration of the raised bog natural heritage area network, which this legislation will facilitate, is based on sound scientific assessment. I give assurance that this will be a priority and will have a positive impact on the network. The Bill supports the peatland conservation restoration by protecting the highest nature value bogs. These are the sites that are of higher conservation value and less degraded, which can more realistically be restored and contribute to our national restoration targets. Doing so will also support Ireland's implementation of the habitats directive and environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive, which is a priority for the State. Senator Kyne pointed out that we will get a larger territorial area and perhaps larger State-owned sites which will contribute positively towards our restoration targets.
The amendments in this grouping seek to delete or to change much of amendment No. 3c. I appreciate where the Senators are coming from on this. However, we are respecting the decisions made in the previous Seanad, which the Dáil also supported last week. Amendment No. 3c seeks to reflect the wishes expressed and voted through at the time in a balanced way, while still ensuring adequate protection for nature. As I have said, amendment No. 3c is a compromise. It reflects the overall thrust of what was contained in Seanad amendments while still ensuring that the amendments stay true to the original objectives of the Bill. I believe it significantly improves the balance in favour of nature since the Bill was last approved by the Seanad. It would only be in very exceptional circumstances that any of the types of projects envisaged by the Senators could result in a designation being changed. Therefore, I am not in a position to accept the amendments to the amendment.
I move amendment No. 1 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 3c:
To delete paragraph (d)(i) and substitute the following: "(d) selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated as natural heritage areas having regard to—
(i) all of the matters to which the Minister is required to have regard under section 16(6),
(ii) the list of proposed natural heritage areas,
(iii) the need to protect bog habitats both for biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and
(iv) the need to adequately implement Article 10 of Directive 92/43/ EEC,".
I move amendment No. 12 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 3c:
In paragraph (d)(ii)(IV), before "facilities", to insert "environmental".:
In paragraph (d)(ii)(IV), after "projects", to insert "having a primary objective of environmental conservation, restoration or protection".
I move amendment No. 13 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 3c:
In paragraph (d)(ii)(IV), before "facilities", to insert "environmental".:
In paragraph (d)(ii)(IV), after "community," to insert "which shall not include golf courses, hotels or car parks,".
Amendment No. 13 is an Opposition amendment from the previous Seanad. The Bill, as passed by the previous Seanad, contained a new section as a result of amendment No. 13. This new section provided that the Minister would, within 12 months of the passing of the Bill, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing guidelines and recommendation thresholds for the exercise of turbary rights, including a definition or definitions of "household use".
The intention behind this amendment, as I understand it, was to draw a distinction between commercial turf harvesting and turf extracted for household use. The then Minister indicated that he would accept the amendment subject to further consideration. I accepted the general thrust of this amendment but made some changes in the Dáil. The Government's counter amendment in the Dáil, amendment No. 13c, replaces this amendment to provide, within 12 months of the coming into operation of section 5, that the Minister will prepare a report on the average amount of turf required by an individual on an annual basis for the purpose of household use. This change is based on legal advice to reflect household use rather than the exercise of turbary rights, which can be wider than household use, for example, if exercising turbary rights over someone else's land.
The report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas would be based on the average amount of turf required by an individual on an annual basis for the purpose of household use, rather than containing guidelines and recommended thresholds for the exercise of turbary rights. This report will help inform policy approach to the cutting of turf for household use.
I ask the Minister of State to excuse my ignorance, but as regards the report we are going to produce on availability or access for households, will we have consultation with the households? Will the report just be on the basis of what people have harvested for the past number of years? How will we compile the report and what will it be based on?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit and his team. I have been asked to put forward amendments to amendment No. 13c on behalf of Senators Ruane and Higgins. When this legislation passed through the House in 2019, my colleague, Senator Higgins, raised the intergenerational issue of turbary rights. I acknowledged that the then Minister of State, Senator Kyne, accepted an amendment from her, which required that the Minister would lay a report before both Houses containing guidelines and recommended thresholds for the exercise of turbary rights, including a definition or definitions of "household use". We have tabled amendments to the amendment as two key points have been lost in the Government amendment to Senator Higgins's amendment.
First, Senator Higgins's amendment would require the report within 12 months of the passing of this Act, whereas the Government version states within 12 months of the commencement of this section. The Bill provides that the Minister has the discretion to commence sections of the Bill whenever he or she may choose and, as this amendment inserts a whole new section, it is then left open to the Minister not to commence it. I urge the Minister to accept amendment No. 2, which would ensure we get this essential report within a year or, at least, have a commitment that once this Bill becomes law he will commence the section immediately so that we will have the report a year from now.
The second issue is around the language used in paragraph (a), which is not ambitious enough. The Government has removed the requirement for the report to include guidelines and recommended thresholds for the exercise of turbary rights, including a definition or definitions of "household use". Let us be clear that we need to draw a distinction between turbary rights, which is the extraction of peat for personal and household use, and commercial peat harvesting, which has a far greater environmental impact. We want to ensure and promote responsible bog management. It has been clear that this is not at odds with turbary rights or traditional practices. It is an intergenerational justice issue. It 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 engage in that tradition for household use in the future.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 to 5, inclusive, would bring back some of the language Senator Higgins used and would make sure we have a working definition and guidelines around household use that is evidence and circumstance based. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendments.
Again, I appreciate the concerns raised by Senators. I give assurance that this section will be commenced, along with other sections of the Bill, as soon as possible this year. The volume of turf will be determined in the report. We are trying to achieve an average amount that a household would use. Notwithstanding turf use, a retrofitting programme is under way throughout the country. It is hoped, and it is the Government's objective, to reduce the use over time. We are trying to ensure we have an average amount of what a household might use and that is what we will achieve. We do not see a need to put that into the legislation. In taking on board the points raised by Senator Clonan, I consider there could be a way in which some of the suggestions he put forward, for instance, around guidelines, could be incorporated into the scope of a report. This may or may not be possible but we will look at it and follow up with officials in that regard. It is not something we see a need to put into legislation but we will certainly follow up on it, noting the concerns the Senator brought forward.
I move amendment No. 1 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 13c:
To delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following: "(a) The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage 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".".
I move amendment No. 5 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 13c:
In paragraph (a), after "household use", to insert ", including details of associated BER ratings and proposals to retrofit houses to improve their BER rating"
We move to Seanad amendment No. 14 on the list of amendments made by the Seanad dated 11 November 2019. Seanad amendment No. 14, consequential Dáil amendments Nos. 14c1 to 14c15, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 1 and 2 to consequential Dáil amendment No. 14c8 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
This amendment, as proposed by the Seanad, provided that before an order can be made to de-designate a natural heritage area, a report shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on current condition, restoration potential, rewetting potential, the special scientific interest of the sites and other such factors as the Minister may deem necessary of all blanket bog natural heritage areas. This amendment was accepted in the Seanad subject to further consideration. The amendment was considered and the wording as presented was found to be problematic for a number of reasons, including preventing the de-designation of any natural heritage area before a review of all blanket bog natural heritage areas was completed. Therefore, the proposed reconfiguration of the raised bog natural heritage area network under the 2014 review of the raised bog natural heritage area network could not be completed for a further number of years. That provision would therefore undermine the original central purpose of the Bill and is unacceptable. For these reasons, it was necessary to reject Seanad amendment No. 14 in the Dáil. However, I agree with the central intention of the Seanad amendment. Indeed, it was a most important intervention by Senators into the debate and the proposal has significantly strengthened the Bill. On that basis, an alternative amendment was proposed for the Dáil Stage, which captures the overall intention of the amendment passed in the Seanad but does not hold up the completion of the 2014 review.
The replacement amendment will ensure that no de-designation of a blanket bog natural heritage area could occur before a wide review of blanket bogs across the country is completed. As a consequence of this amendment, several further amendments were required. These mostly deal with renumbering. However, one consequential amendment was significant. This required the deletion of section 18A(2) in the version of the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann in December 2018. If the subsection were to remain, a wide review of blanket bog natural heritage areas in accordance with section 18A(1) could not be undertaken. It would prevent a wider review of blanket bog habitats necessary to fulfil the conservation objective for blanket bog habitats, as section 18A(2) currently restricts a review under section 18A(1) to only those natural heritage areas that have a natural heritage area order in force on the date of the commencement of this section.
In the same manner, if section 18A(2) remains, it may not be possible to continue with the 2014 review, as this review includes many non-designated natural heritage areas. Removing section 18A(2) thus removes several contradictions in the Bill, and this will be critical to the implementation of the legislation when passed.
Cuirim fáilte roimh na daoine as Westmeath Comhairle na nÓg. It is fair to say the staff and Senators here always like to see the younger generation coming in to visit us. They are very welcome. I hope they are enjoying the proceedings in the Seanad and Dáil. May they have a nice day. A big céad míle fáilte from us all here.
On behalf of Senators Ruane and Higgins, I have been asked to move amendments to the consequential amendment No. 14c8. We have some concerns about the wording used in amendment No. 14c8 and are a little unclear as to what is intended. Amendment No. 1 seeks to delete the phrase "as the Minister considers necessary from subsection (5)(b) as it caveats the provision that a review conducted under paragraph (a) shall include designated blanket bog natural heritage areas and other blanket bog natural heritage areas with requiring the Minister's belief that it is necessary. As we have discussed already, the science is really clear and we need to be led by it. It should not be up to the Minister to subjectively decide. It should be based on objective scientific evidence.
Amendment No. 2 was tabled because the language is really unclear in subsection (6). In fact, the sentence itself does not really make sense. What is the actual legal effect and policy intention behind this? It seems to have the effect that it could exclude many heritage areas. I ask for clarity.
The first amendment put forward by the Senators seeks to delete the words "as the Minister considers necessary" from the following passage:
The review conducted under paragraph (a) shall include designated blanket bog natural heritage areas and other blanket bog natural heritage areas as the Minister considers necessary.
The reason for the words "as the Minister considers necessary" is to ensure that the process of reviewing blanket bogs can be carried out without unnecessary obstacles. For instance, there are some blanket bog habitats that in a tiny area would not warrant inclusion in a wide national study. Therefore, this provision simply offers some flexibility and legal clarity so the review can be properly conducted. The clear intention would be to have a wide national review very much along the lines of what happened in respect of the raised bogs.
The second new counter-amendment proposes to delete subsection (6). I will not be accepting it for the following reason: the intention behind subsection (6) is to ensure that the 2014 raised bog review can proceed before there is a wide review of blanket bogs. Subsection (6) ensures that the 2014 review and the review of blanket bogs are treated separately.Essentially, it means that if an NHA is reviewed under the 2014 review, it cannot be reviewed under the blanket bog review. This is necessary in a limited number of cases in that there may be NHAs with both raised bogs and blanket bogs. This provision provides much better clarity as to which review applies to which NHAs. To remove subsection (6) would run the risk of further holding up the completion of the 2014 review.
For those reasons I am not accepting either amendment.
Amendments Nos. 15c1 and 15c2 are minor redrafts to better reflect the intention behind an Opposition amendment accepted and passed in the Seanad. Under the draft Bill one of the factors to assess whether to de-designate an NHA is environmental criteria. "Environmental criteria" is defined in the Bill as meaning the conservation value of a bog, taking into account the area, range, habitat, structure, function and ecological features of the bog when compared to those of one or more other bogs.
Amendment No. 15 from the Seanad cream list provided that where a comparison is made between raised bogs or blanket bogs in regard to environmental criteria, comparison shall not be made with a special area of conservation. The concern was that those criteria could give rise to many unnecessary de-designations if bogs were compared with some of the best examples of bogs around the country. In particular, the Senators wanted to ensure that a Minister could not de-designate a bog on the basis of comparison with a special area of conservation. That has never been our intention. Within the 2014 natural heritage area review, the special areas of conservation were included in the assessment of Ireland's raised bog resource. The special area of conservation sites were not used as comparators to justify the proposed de-designation of natural heritage areas, and it is envisaged they would not be used in the future for that purpose. To allay concerns expressed by Senators, the Government counter-amendments in the Seanad proposed to amend the definition of environmental criteria as set out in the Bill to explicitly provide that comparisons cannot be made with bogs situated in special areas of conservation.
I say to everyone here, including Senators, the Minister of State, his staff and the staff of the House, that it is unbelievable, when I look at the documents relating to this Bill and see all that has to be done. It makes me think of the amount of work that goes into it. Everybody has been very co-operative and we are grateful for the amendments.
If anybody, including the Minister of State, would like to make a quick comment, we will allow it.
I again thank all Senators for a constructive debate. This legislation has taken a long journey. I again thank Senator Kyne, who was in my seat during the previous consideration of the Bill. I thank Senators for the constructive amendments that were put forward in the Seanad. That highlights the importance of robust debate on these matters and has strengthened the Bill. I am particularly delighted to see the national biodiversity action plan to be put on a statutory basis. In light of yesterday's vote in the European Parliament, that is critically important. We know that nature is under significant threat and we have a collective job to protect and restore it. There has been a unified approach across this House and in the Dáil Chamber in that regard. We will work collectively and collaboratively to do that.
The biodiversity duty across our public services is critical. We will see the benefits of that as this legislation unfolds. It is already happening across Government. We are aware of the enormous task ahead of us to restore nature. I thank my officials and team.
I wish all Members an enjoyable break. I encourage them to take a good rest because we have all worked hard during this term. I hope they enjoy the summer break ahead and I will see them in September.
A few Members wish to make a quick comment or two. Before that, I give a special welcome to the people from Cheeverstown House, Templeogue. They are guests of Senator Clonan, who is a busy man today. They are welcome and I send céad míle fáilte from all of us. I hope they enjoy their trip and they will probably meet some of us later. Senator Clonan will be finished shortly.
I thank the Aire Stáit and the officials from his Department who are here today, everybody who has worked on this legislation and those who have contributed to it. The Acting Chairperson did a formidable job today and I say, "Well done".
The legislation is important. Putting our biodiversity plan on a statutory footing and putting an obligation on our public bodies to protect our biodiversity could not be more relevant when we hear the news and weather forecasts from all around Europe, and what we are experiencing ourselves. I congratulate everybody who has got the legislation this far. More importantly, I support and encourage all those who will be charged with making this legislation real and protecting our biodiversity in the work they will do into the future.
I wish the staff of the Seanad a good break from us for a bit. I know they will be here and working away. We really appreciate the support they have provided all of us throughout the year. We look forward to coming back in September.
I thank the Minister of State for his work on this legislation. I put on record my thanks to my Fine Gael Seanad colleague, Senator Kyne, the former Minister of State, who put a significant amount of work into this legislation at the front end of the process. As evidenced by what has happened in the past hour, a significant amount of work has been done by the Minister of State's officials, previous officials, the Dáil and Seanad staff members and drafters. A huge amount of work has been done and I want to put on the record of the House our thanks for that work. I join my colleagues in wishing everybody an enjoyable break over the summer. I hope they enjoy the well-deserved rest.
I acknowledge the work of Senator Kyne on the original 2016 legislation. I also acknowledge the work of Senator Fitzpatrick. Deputy Noonan will go down in history as the first Minister of State to get this legislation across the line. We must have hope and there is no hope without action. We know that from the campaigners, climate warriors and environmental NGOs. The Minister of State brings hope because he is taking action. We all know the story now about biodiversity loss. We are sick of hearing about it. What we need to know is what we are doing about it. Through the Minister of State and his team, with the support of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, this Government is putting into action what is needed because we are in a biodiversity emergency. We are now three years into the term of this Government and we are always getting stick about everything. Here we are now with a legally binding biodiversity Bill. We have the nature restoration law, which has received the full support of the European Union, in no small part thanks to the support of MEPs from the Government parties, including the Green Party, who were always supporting it, and the support of MEPs from Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and others. The Irish MEPs made the difference for that restoration law. We also have the Bill before the House today. For the first time in history, we have a large amount of land being put aside for the birds of our country. When people are celebrating seeing a sparrow when they used to be common as muck, we have issues. Someone told me they saw two ladybirds in one week when as kids we were covered in them. This is a serious thing. We can laugh all we want but we are not separate. We are part of nature. We need the ladybirds and birds. I thank the Minister of State, who has been committed for over 20 years. It is good to have a Minister of State who gets it and drives people, including civil servants and members of the other Government parties, with him to take action. That is all we have to focus on. There is no hope without action. Today is a very hopeful day because we, as a Government, are taking action.
Gabhaim míle buíochas to gach éinnne, particularly to the Seanad officials on my right-hand side. The Clerk will send a message to the Clerk of the Dáil certifying the determination of the Seanad. We have done a great day's work. Many thanks to all Senators for their co-operation and I mean that sincerely.