Dear members and friends,

Recent debate in the Seanad has further cast serious doubt over the credibility of the Heritage Bill 2016. During last Wednesday’s debate on the Bill, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys professed to be taking a balanced approach to issues contained in the Bill. She stated, “I am well aware of the value of the hedgerow system. What I am trying to do in the Bill is find a balance in that regard.” However, aspects of the Bill would call this greatly into question. To date there has been a serious lack of proper consultation on the Bill, particularly with regard to Environmental NGOs. On the issue, Minister Humphreys has stated, ‘I have been available to meet with all stakeholders. I have met with the environmental pillar.’ According to the Environmental Pillar, it has, on multiple occasions, been denied the opportunity to meet with the Minister, despite repeated requests. In contrast, the Minister has met with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) at least four times and the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association (ICMSA) and Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) at least once. During the debate, it was put to the Minister twice (by Senator Mulherin) as to whether the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) supported the Bill, a point to which the Minister responded, “I have worked closely with my officials and the staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, in preparing this legislation.”

However, according to information obtained based on an Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) request, communications between the Minister and the NPWS indicate that there are serious flaws with the Bill. It was expressed by the Scientific Unit that “there is little in the way of useful, specific data that will underpin any decision” made on changing the current legislation for hedge-cutting. Additionally, it was concluded, that the current legislation was also deemed fit for purpose, indicating that the closed period is a “strong, effective protection measure and any changes proposed will need to be underpinned by a robust, credible case”.

A further serious concern has emerged in recent days, one on which there was no consultation with NPWS staff. The Heritage Bill 2016 proposes to repeal a paragraph of the Wildlife Act which provides protection from assault, to an authorised person or a member of the Garda Síochána exercising any power or function conferred on the authorised person or member by or under the Wildlife Acts, 1976 and 2000. The section provides protection and a deterrent against assault to NPWS rangers who are often working on their own in isolated areas of the country and confronting criminals. The proposed removal of the section has been expressed by members of the rangers’ union as an issue of grave concern. It suggests a serious lack of support of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, for NPWS rangers in their capacity to exercise their powers when necessary.

It has become abundantly clear that the Heritage Bill is a weak, poorly-written bill which will have extremely damaging consequences for the Irish environment and the credibility of Ireland’s agricultural sector. Many aspects of this bill lack any credible scientific justification and are being pushed through despite the objections of Ireland's environmental NGOs and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

What Can You Do? The bill will come again come before the Seanad this coming Thursday (17/11/2016) and we need your support now more than ever. Given that section 8 of the bill, which covers hedge cutting and burning, will be debated we need anyone who can to email or write to your Senators. In particular it is important that Fianna Fáil Senators are contacted given the pressure they are under from the IFA and Fine Gael to support the bill. We ask that you urge your Fianna Fáil TDs to encourage Fianna Fáil Senators to remove Section 8 of the Heritage Bill and to support the amendments of Senator Grace O'Sullivan.

Here is a list of Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators:

We will be live tweeting the Seanad Debate via @AnTaisce and the tagline is #NoToMoreSlashAndBurn

Notes: [1]Heritage Bill 2016 is Part 3, Section 11 (2) in the Heritage Bill 2016 - [] (2) The following provisions are repealed: (a) paragraph (a) of section 63 and section 68 of the Act of 2000; (b) paragraph (c) of subsection (3) of section 69 of the Act of 1976; (c) Section 7 of the Act of 2010.

[2] This refers to an amended section introduced to the Wildlife Act 1976 by the Wildlife Amendment Act 2000 (Section 63, (c); which amends Section 69 of the 1976 Act).

“(c) Any person who assaults or obstructs an authorised person or a member of the Garda Síochána exercising any power or function conferred on the authorised person or member by or under the Wildlife Acts, 1976 and 2000, shall be guilty of an offence.”,