Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs
Special Areas of Conservation
Question 292: To ask the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he was monitoring bogs in designated areas, the reason the authorities were not alerted to the wide-spread mechanical extraction taking place on some of the 31 special areas of conservation closed to cutting by the Cabinet decision of May 2010. [17130/11]
After taking office in March of this year, the Government moved quickly to put in place the necessary measures to give effect to the decision of May 2010 that turf cutting on all raised bog Special Areas of Conservation should cease in 2011. In April, the Government established a compensation scheme for affected turf-cutters which would provide them with an annual financial payment for a period of fifteen years or with the opportunity to relocate to alternative non-designated bog, where feasible. 3,500 people with an interest in the 31 sites were written to and ads were published in local newspapers and on radio to remind people that further cutting on these sites was not lawful. In addition, the Peatlands Council was established to allow representative groups of those affected by the cessation, conservation interests and relevant State bodies to work through the measures necessary to meet Ireland's commitments in regard to these sites.
Officials from my Department have been engaged in regular monitoring of these sites which has been carried out with both ground patrols and aerial surveillance.
From this ongoing monitoring I was made aware that turf-cutting had taken place on a small number of these 31 sites and my officials responded by undertaking intensive enforcement action in those bogs, where people found engaged in turf-cutting or harvesting activity were spoken to and cautioned, where necessary. I brought this fact to the attention of my Government colleagues and on 24 May I issued a press statement that day reminding people of the legal situation regarding unlawful turf-extraction in these sites.
The following week, on 1 June, the Peatlands Council held a meeting where the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association and the Irish Farmers Association gave firm undertakings that their members would not undertake any further turf-cutting in these sites.
Question 293: To ask the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht the measures he proposes in the forthcoming revision of the Habitats Regulations to ensure that ex-situ impacts on protected areas will be assessed for their impact before being permitted to begin or to continue; the progress being made on the revision to the Habitats Regulations of the EIA Regulations and the element of public consultation that will be incorporated in this legislative process. [17131/11]
The draft European Communities (Birds and Habitats) Regulations, which will replace the existing European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997-2005, contain full provision for the screening of plans and projects that require the consent of a public authority to establish if they require appropriate assessment in accordance with Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Separately, provision has been made in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 to apply these requirements to plans and projects covered by the planning code. These provisions will apply equally to plans and projects within and outside European sites. The provision of the 1997-2005 Regulations that equates Environmental Impact Assessment and appropriate assessment will be replaced by provisions that make a clear distinction between these separate assessment processes.
In addition, the regulations will provide me, as Minister, with the power to regulate, inside and outside European sites, activities that I consider likely to harm European sites or to damage the wider habitats of flora and fauna, including birds.
In late 2010, the draft regulations were the subject of extensive public consultation, and the draft has been refined on foot of those consultations.
Question 294: To ask the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he is monitoring the status and if his attention has been drawn to any commercial peat extraction on the 75 raised bog and 74 blanket bogs designated for protection 2003-2005; and if he has sufficient resources to ensure protection of these important nature conservation sites. [17132/11]
A total of 75 raised bog sites and 73 blanket bog sites have been designated as Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) under the Wildlife Acts. Commercial turf cutting is not permitted on these designated sites. These sites are subject to monitoring by my officials and enforcement action is undertaken where unlawful cutting is detected. Enforcement of the legal protection given to these and other designated sites is a high priority for my Department and available resources are allocated in accordance with that priority.