Heritage Bill will make more serious gorse fires ‘inevitable’, says Green Party

Published by Niall Sargent on

May 9th, 2017

Passage of the Heritage Bill into law would lead to more serious gorse fires like those that wreaked havoc across the county this month, the Green Party said today.

Speaking in the wake of a series of large fires over the weekend, Senator Grace O’Sullivan said that the Heritage Minister, Heather Humphreys, should reconsider a proposal under the Bill to extend the burning season to March.

It is currently illegal to burn any living vegetation between 1st March and 31st August under the Wildlife Act 1976.

If passed, Section eight of the Bill would allow for the burning of gorse during March – during which time birds are nesting and raising chicks – under a two-year pilot project.

According to Ms O’Sullivan, one of many vocal critics of the Bill within the Seanad, the planned extension would only increase the number of fires and do “untold damage to nesting birds”.

“On the back of these fires, Minister Humphreys must reconsider her obsession with extending the burning season through the Heritage Bill,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

The Bill passed through the Seanad last month and will now go before the Dáil for further debate, where Ms Sullivan’s expects her party colleagues to seek amendments to the Bill.

“My colleagues in the Dáil will be fighting to amend the Heritage Bill to scale back the destructive measures proposed in it, and we hope that the same co-operation among opposition groups as we saw in the Seanad can overcome this,” she added.

Ms O’Sullivan also called on the government to provide more support to the National Parks and Wildlife Service to deal with “illegal fires”, adding that there is “little chance” that the various fires started over the weekend were all accidental.

“Extension of the burning season with no increased resources for enforcement will inevitably lead to more serious fires like the ones we have seen in recent weeks,” she added.

Since 2007, only eleven prosecution cases have been brought by the Minister’s department under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts for illegal burning of vegetation. Fines were imposed in most cases.

Coillte Forest’s Managing Director Gerard Murphy confirmed yesterday that many fires on Coillte property over the past week were started deliberately. He added that the damage caused this month is the worst the company has seen since 2011 and will result in a “multimillion euro bill”.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service also said that over 90 per cent of the 221 gorse fires it has dealt with so far in May were started deliberately.

Various fire brigades, together with the Air Corps and Defence Forces, were called upon to deal with major fires in counties Sligo, Kildare and Mayo in recent days. Gorse fires continued to burn in counties Cork, Wicklow and Cavan yesterday. An out of control fire in Cloosh Valley, Co. Galway continued to blaze this morning,  putting thousands of acres of forestry at risk.

To date, over 27,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the Heritage Bill.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London