The Government has been urged by the Social Democrats to properly resource the National Parks and Wildlife Service and to establish a specialised Garda unit to deal with wildlife crime.

Commenting, party agriculture spokesperson Holly Cairns and environment spokesperson Jennifer Whitmore highlighted the fact that the number of successful prosecutions for wildlife crimes in recent years range from five in 2014 to 21 last year.

Deputy Cairns said: “I get reports of wildlife crimes and habitat destruction on a regular basis from across west Cork and beyond.

When I contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the response is that an investigation will be carried out – but the reality is that very few investigations result in prosecutions.

“The low rates of prosecutions for these crimes are not a deterrent to people who illegally hunt, poison raptors and damage habitats.

“The government only intends to review funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service but it desperately needs to go further. The service needs to be properly resourced,” deputy Cairns stressed.

Deputy Whitmore added to this, noting: “In the past few months, I have been working on many issues in this area, from illegal fires to the killing of buzzards.

I strongly believe we need greater transparency and accountability where wildlife crime is concerned. Until the true extent of the issue is laid bare for all to see, it will be easy for it to go unreported, unacknowledged and unmanaged.

“There is already a good relationship between national parks and the gardaí at local level but it needs to be formalised and resourced fully through a specialised central Garda unit, as was done in the United Kingdom.

“This would assist in ensuring that those who perpetrate the crimes are held to account,” deputy Whitmore concluded.