President brands fire culprits ‘shameful’

President Michael D. Higgins, on Thursday last, May 25, hit out at those causing economic and environmental damage in rural Ireland through the deliberate starting of fires.

Speaking off-script as he launched the Irish Wetlands Strategic Plan 2017-2020 at Abbeyleix bog, President Higgins said: “I don’t think we can continue to tolerate people who cause gratuitous environmental damage.

Is it not heart-breaking – the recent setting of fires that caused widespread economic and ecological carnage?

“And equally is it not dispiriting to note year-after-year these fires are a regular feature of some parts of the agricultural calendar without adequate dissuasive consequences for those who are flagrantly breaking the law?

“I have been in parts of the world where this type of burning takes place in a very controlled way as part of food production,” the president told the large sun-drenched gathering in Laois.

“That is not the case in what we have recently been through,” he said.

“I really feel that everyone should make their views known about what is repeated year-after-year.

“This tragedy affects not only what is growing, but also what is living.

“It is very important for people to say there is nothing romantic; there is nothing wonderful about breaking the law in relation to this.

“But maybe the law needs the support of the people and the biggest sanction, if we know people involved in this, is to say: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself’.”

The president was in Abbeyleix as special guest at the Community Wetlands Forum, hosted by Irish Rural Link.

President Higgins walked the bog to see at first-hand the huge amount of work that has been carried out at the open-access amenity developed over the years by volunteers.

He praised the dedicated volunteer and community contribution to the project. “No-one is doing this because they are forced to.

“It reflects a patience with the world,” said President Higgins who spoke at length about the importance of wetlands and bogs.

He described Ireland’s bogs as a “very precious” resource.