Successful passage of Heritage Bill sparks strong reactions

The controversial Heritage Bill was successfully passed through Seanad Eireann last night (Wednesday, July 11), sparking a mix of reactions.

The bill will now be sent to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to be signed so it can be passed into law.

Speaking following the Seanad’s decision, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, said: “I welcome the passage of this bill through its final stage in the Oireachtas.

‘Careful balance’

“The provisions of the bill have been the subject of comprehensive debate in both houses of the Oireachtas and I am pleased that we can now move forward with the changes to the board of the Heritage Council, which have been long awaited and will be welcomed by the council.

The provisions allowing the introduction of regulations for trimming one year’s growth on the road-facing side of a hedge – on a pilot basis for two years during the month of August – strike a careful balance between the need for a robust conservation approach to our natural heritage, and the need to protect road safety.

“The bill will also ensure that landowners dealing with fallen trees or other hazards, which they are obliged to do under the Roads Act, are not in breach of the Wildlife Act by doing so,” the minister said.

Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard also welcomed the passing of the Heritage Bill through the Seanad, also noting the new law will enable road-side hedges to be cut during August.

Senator Lombard said: “I welcome the passing of this bill this evening and I am hoping that the president will sign it into law shortly, so the measures of cutting hedges on roadsides can be implemented for the month of August.

This has been an issue for many years and this new proposal will increase safety for road users, but also for pedestrians who want to enjoy our rural environment.

“This is a valuable and practical piece of legislation for rural communities across Ireland.”

‘Death knell for endangered species’

Meanwhile, An Taisce – the national trust for Ireland – has issued a scathing rebuke following the vote, calling on Minister Madigan to back up the bill, and her welcoming comments, with “scientific evidence“.

The organisation says that the minister “failed to meet with environmental NGOs to discuss the detrimental impact of this bill on wildlife and the potential solutions, instead bowing to pressure from the large farming lobby and other vested interests”.

According to An Taisce, the bill’s pilot period “has no scientific basis, and no baseline research has been done to determine bird nesting times prior to the implementation of the legislation”.

“The minister has also failed to provide the scientific data which underpins the assertion that the changes to the Wildlife Act will not impact on birds or other wildlife, despite scientific evidence to the contrary,” a spokesperson for the group said.

This bill may be the death knell for some of our most endangered species, and will do untold damage to our vulnerable wildlife – at a time when they need ever more protection.

An Taisce natural environment officer, Dr. Elaine McGoff, said: “This bill will be disastrous for the wildlife of our uplands and hedgerows, and comes at a time when wildlife is in trouble across the globe.

“The Irish Government should be leading the way in protecting our wildlife, but instead has chosen to take a huge leap in the wrong direction.

The basic research data to support this bill is conspicuously absent. The passing of this bill is very obviously based on the views of the large farming lobby, and nothing to do with fundamental science.

“People depend on wildlife for a number of reasons, more than most people realise – including the production of the food we eat – and the negative impact of this bill will be felt by us all,” Dr. McGoff concluded.