George Hook labels Heather Humphreys as the 'Flat Earth' Minister in An Taisce interview

7th March 2017
News Item

An Taisce's Natural Environment Officer Fintan Kelly was interviewed by George Hook on his Newstalk radio show 'High Noon' today. Minister Heather Humphreys' disastrous Heritage Bill was the topic for discussion. George Hook is not known for mincing his words and berated Minister Humphreys for failing to fulfill her mandate as the Minister charged with protecting Irish wildlife. He correctly identified that what organisations like An Taisce are up against in this campaign are two of the biggest lobbies in the country - the farming lobby and the Road Safety Authority.

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George called the Heritage Bill a "crass bill" and labeled the Minister a "flat earth Minister" and "science denier" based on her failure to engage with the broad body of scientific evidence which clearly demonstrated that this bill will be catastrophic for Ireland's upland and farmland biodiversity. The Minister has strong connections to the Irish Farmers Association and has openly engaged with farming representative groups on this issue whilst refusing to engage with An Taisce and Ireland's other environmental NGOs. It appears that the Minister has chosen the farming vote over her own legacy as the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. George Hook went as far as to suggest that "Minister Heather Humphreys may well be remembered for the rest of her life as the person who destroyed Ireland's biodiversity under pressure from lobby groups."

Fintan highlighted the disingenuous arguments being used by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that allowing hedge cutting in August will improve road safety. Many of our members have emailed their local TDs asking why road safety was being used as an excuse to allow all hedgerows to be cut in August. Many received stock responses stating that this was a step that had been taken to address the 187 deaths on Irish roads in 2016. This argument is blatantly misleading, as under the existing Roads Act (Section 70) any hedge can be cut at any time of the year by the local authority if there is a heath and safety issue. Fintan read out a powerful tweet An Taisce had received from Rob O' Sullivan that summed up the scandalous way in which RTE have run headlines which represented the debate as birds and bees vs. human lives "I've lost loved one on the road and find it utterly contemptible to see her death weaponized to attack our heritage."

Fintan touched upon the negative impact that drivers of biodiversity loss like this bill will have on Ireland's economy. In the case of tourism he cited the 2015 Failte Ireland survey of ferry users which established that 86% of tourists rated Ireland's 'natural un-spoilt environment' as being an important reason for their having visited Ireland. The site of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains on fire over St Patrick's bank holiday weekend is unlikely to be a welcome site for those arriving into Dublin Port. He cited Origin Green which markets the Irish food and drink sector as a world leader in sustainable produce. One of the pillars of this brand image is Irish farmland biodiversity. As agricultural intensification is the greatest threat to Ireland's terrestrial biodiversity it is obvious that allowing farmers to burn our uplands when species like Curlew and Hen Harrier are establishing territories in March allowing hedge cutting when species like yellowhammer, greenfinch and linnet still have young birds in the nest is not going to address biodiversity loss or improve the shaky foundations of Ireland Inc.'s brand image.

The simple facts are that one in eight Irish bird species are under threat and one in three wild bee species are threatened with extinction. Species like Curlew and Yellowhammer which will be worst hit by this bill have undergone declines of over 90% and 61% in their respective breeding populations and ranges. The Heritage Bill is a recipe for mass extinction and must be opposed at every step of its transition from the Seanad to the Dail. We would urge everyone to sign and share our joint petition which is now has over 26,710 signatures https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/no-to-more-slash-and-burn We would also urge you to contact as many Senators, TDs and Councillors as you can and let them know that the relevant section of the Heritage Bill (Section 8) should be removed.