Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Wildlife Protection

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1412. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the terms of reference or rules of procedure of the wildlife crime committee in her Department; the members of the committee; and if all minutes of meetings of the committee will be provided. [6352/20]

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1415. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the procedures in place within her Department for evidence gathering and investigating illegal poisonings and other wildlife crimes; and the persons or bodies tasked with leading investigations. [6355/20]

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1418. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on whether greater resources need to be allocated to tackling wildlife crimes in view of the ongoing illegal poisonings of birds of prey and the lack of successful prosecutions for these crimes. [6358/20]

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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1427. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the process by which wildlife crimes are investigated; if public reporting of the outcome of investigations of wildlife crimes are carried out; the number of criminal investigations carried out under the Wildlife Act 1976 in each of the past ten years; the number of investigations which have been successfully upheld in court in each of the past ten years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6956/20]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1412, 1415, 1418 and 1427 together.

The Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018 are the primary statutes designed to afford protection to the various species in the State and which set out the framework for dealing with wildlife crime.  In addition, the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 include provisions affording strict protection to a number of species and habitats.  

Wildlife crime takes many forms ranging from persecution of badgers, illegal hunting of deer species, illegal hunting of hares with packs of dogs generally known as lurchers, trapping of wild birds such as native finches for illegal trade, wilfully disturbing or destroying the eggs or nests of wild birds, poisoning of raptor species and the illegal cutting of hedges during the nesting season for birds.   

Within my Department, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has responsibility for the protection and conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage, including species protection and biodiversity at national level.   

As well as more senior regionally based officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of my Department, NPWS Conservation Rangers are stationed around the country and deal with enforcement matters under the Wildlife Acts.   Conservation Rangers are deployed through a regional structure and assignments are determined in light of Departmental business needs and priorities.  

Some of their work entails scientific research and survey work and the monitoring of compliance with national and European law in relation to nature conservation and wildlife crime across the country. The team also conducts patrols and site visits to enforce the various provisions of national and EU legislation and investigate reports of breaches of legislation including the various types of wildlife crime I have already described. My Department works closely with An Garda Síochána who are also specifically empowered under the Acts to investigate alleged wildlife crime offences and to prosecute as they see fit.  

In the period 2013 to date in 2020 some 90 prosecutions were taken by my Department for breaches of the Wildlife Acts ranging from illegal deer and hare hunting, the cutting of hedges and vegetation and the poisoning of bird species.  I will arrange for Deputy Whitmore to receive a yearly breakdown of prosecutions since 2010.   These cases are heard in District Courts and my Department has issued press statements on individual cases over the years.   For example, in 2019 my Department issued some 10 press statements on successful wildlife crime prosecutions.   While bringing perpetrators of crime to justice is important, the success of dealing with wildlife crime cannot be judged on this alone, as ensuring compliance in the first instance is clearly of critical importance.

Given concerns about wildlife crime, an internal Wildlife Crime Group made up of senior Departmental officials and regional field staff has been established and meets regularly.   The primary purpose of the Group is to ensure that the NPWS can realise its enforcement functions under the Wildlife Acts and European legislation as effectively as possible including consideration of how working with other agencies and organisations can enable the Department to fulfil its functions in tackling wildlife crime.   

The Wildlife Crime Group has pursued many important initiatives including the organisation of a major Wildlife Crime Conference in 2018 which was attended by An Garda Síochána and representatives from organisations in Britain and Northern Ireland dealing with wildlife crime.

I am committed to ensuring that we continue with vigour our actions to tackle wildlife crime including incidents such as the recent killing of buzzards in Co Cork and to working with other agencies, including An Garda Síochána and the I.S.P.C.A to counteract these illegal activities.

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1413. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason the deaths of 22 buzzards poisoned in late 2019 in County Cork did not appear in the Raptor Protocol 2019 report published in April 2020. [6353/20]

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1414. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason her Department has made no statement on the poisoning of 22 buzzards in County Cork in 2019 despite it being the largest single incident recorded; and the protocol for releasing statements on illegal poisoning incidents. [6354/20]

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1416. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the persons or bodies that led the investigation into the poisoning of 22 buzzards in late 2019 in County Cork; the actions and lines of inquiry taken; and the outcomes of same. [6356/20]

Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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1420. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on the reports of the largest poisoning of birds of prey for a number of years which happened recently in County Cork; if there is an investigation underway into this case; if there is funding in place and strategies to combat the systemic harm and poisoning of the under threat birds of prey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6494/20]

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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1424. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her attention has been drawn to a large number of birds of prey in County Cork being poisoned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6569/20]

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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1428. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the details of the most recent mass poisoning of buzzards in County Cork which occurred in late 2019 including specifics of the poisoning; the process by which it was investigated; the outcome of the investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6957/20]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1413, 1414, 1416, 1420, 1424 and 1428 together.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of my Department is aware of this incident of poisoning.  As the matter is presently under ongoing and active investigation by the NPWS, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on this case beyond the following facts:

Following a report from a concerned landowner in West Cork, in early January this year, NPWS field staff collected 12 dead buzzards which the landowner had come across in one of his fields. Subsequent searches of the general area by NPWS located 11 further dead buzzards.

Testing of the carcasses was carried out by the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Cork which confirmed that the cause of death was the banned insecticide Carbofuran. The use of Carbofuran products in agriculture has been banned in Ireland since June 2009.   The chemical had been shown worldwide to be toxic to much wildlife, but particularly toxic to birds. While it is no longer legally available in the European Union, it is known to be illegally procured and used by that minority of people who persecute wildlife, particularly birds of prey.

On learning of the incident, NPWS Regional staff immediately launched an intensive investigation and the Gardai at Bandon Garda Station were also alerted to the incident. More recent searches of the general area did not result in any further findings of buzzard mortalities leaving the total recorded mortalities from this incident at 23.

While the investigation is still ongoing, it is the view of NPWS that this incident was not related to any agricultural practices in the area, nor with the landowner but rather that it is a case of deliberate poisoning of wildlife.

Buzzards are a species that became extinct in Ireland the late 19th century. Having re-established themselves in Northern Ireland in the 1930’s, they have steadily colonised many counties in Ireland and have now become a welcome addition to Ireland’s avian biodiversity. Incidents such as this impede this recolonisation and are to be condemned not least at a time when the awareness and appreciation of the value of our biodiversity is on the increase.     

I am very grateful to the landowner for alerting us to this very serious incident, and local field staff are continuing with the intensive investigation into this case, including continued monitoring of the area, with a view to determining the source.  

My Department has provided funding for satellite tags for research on the movements of some of the introduced birds of prey and hen harrier and these have provided important information on poisoning. In relation to the Raptor Protocol, this is a collaborative approach between my Department, the Regional Veterinary Laboratories, and the State Laboratory to systematically determine the extent to which human actions (for example poisoning, persecution, disturbance, collisions, etc.) are threats to Ireland's native birds of prey.   My Department issues an on-line report annually providing records, information and analysis of mortality and persecution of birds of prey.   Details relating to the poisoning of the buzzards in West Cork, which I have already stated came to my Department’s attention in January this year, will be included in the Raptor Protocol Report for 2020.

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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1417. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the details of the investigation into the illegal poisoning of a hen harrier in November 2019 in County Meath (details supplied); the person or body tasked with leading the investigation within her Department; the actions taken; and the outcomes of same. [6357/20]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Local field staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department are aware of this incident to which the Deputy refers and the matter is currently under active investigation.Accordingly, I am not in a position to comment on the issue any further at this time.

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