‘Major progress’ on Heritage Bill welcomed

The fact that the Heritage Bill has advanced onto the next stage in the legislative process has been welcomed as “major progress”.

Independent TD Sean Canney was glad to see the bill get past the committee stage yesterday (Tuesday, May 8) and move onto the report stage in the Seanad.

“I welcome the fact that major progress has been made on this bill, which has been languishing in the Oireachtas since 2016.

“This is an important bill for farmers and rural dwellers, as it extends the time for hedgerow and verge maintenance and burning scrub to include the months of March and August – when this bill is fully passed.

“This was an important milestone to get it through the committee stage and into the Seanad, and then it will be forwarded to the Dail,” he said.

Once the bill completes the report stage it moves into the final stage – which it must pass in both houses – before it can be passed onto the President of Ireland to be signed.

Deputy Canney added that he has been contacted by many of the farm organisations about the bill, with representatives outlining that the bill relates to an “important farm management issue”.

But, it is also an important safety issue on rural roads, the Galway East TD added.

Until the bill is fully passed, the existing provisions relating to burning and hedge-cutting in Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts remain in force.

What changes are included in the bill?

The changes that are included in the Heritage Bill – which are to be introduced on a pilot two-year basis – will allow for a more managed approach to the vegetation management issues which regularly arise, a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht explained.

The pilot measures include the managed hedge-cutting in respect of roadside hedges only; this will be allowed, under strict criteria, during August to help ensure issues such as overgrown hedges impacting on roads can be tackled.

This provision can only relate to the side of a hedge that faces onto a road.

As it stands, hedge-cutting and gorse burning are prohibited between March 1 and August 31.

The provision also allows for controlled burning in certain areas around the country – to be specified by regulation – during the month of March, should it be necessary (for example) due to adverse weather conditions.

These two measures are designed to introduce a limited amount of flexibility to help with land management, which is of particular concern to rural dwellers, the department spokesperson added.

Regulations

Continuing, the spokesperson said: “Any burning and cutting will be subject to strict conditions and restrictions which will be specified in statutory regulations to protect fauna and flora.

It is intended, for example, that the regulations for hedge-cutting will require that any cutting in the month of August on roadsides may only be of the current season’s growth and should not involve the use of heavy flails.

“This will mean that any birds’ nests that might still be active by August will not be at risk.

“In addition, the department will monitor activity under these provisions, and an assessment of the impacts will be carried out before any decision is taken on continuing these measures beyond the pilot phase,” the spokesperson concluded.