From todays Irish Times (Wednesday 31st. May 2017), letters to the Editor.  GERRY RYAN, President, Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations is a GSRMA member and member of Thurles Branch. There are many GSRMA members who are members of Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations.

Sir, – In the last two months thousands of hectares of our natural heritage has gone up in smoke as heather and gorse were burnt illegally on our mountains, hills and bogs. These fires undoubtedly destroyed the nests and food stores of birds and other wildlife but they also destroyed the home of one family, destroyed millions of euro worth of forestry, impacted on air quality and undermined the green image on which Ireland’s tourism and food industry relies.

Yet the Government wants to extend the existing period for burning to include the month of March, as presented in the Heritage Bill which will be debated in Dáil Éireann for the first time today since its passage through the Seanad.

Introduced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, the amended Heritage Bill would also roll back 17 years of protection for our roadside hedgerows, threatening these unique landscape features and wildlife corridors. Nor will the burning extension stop the out-of-control fires witnessed daily in April and May.

The myriad and complex issues relating to why these fires are set require long-term solutions. Hill farming may soon be as rare as many of our upland birds. We need a comprehensive and resourced strategy to protect both, and not poor piecemeal legislation. Years of chronic underinvestment in our natural heritage, and in the State agencies charged with its protection, and policy conflicts, have all resulted in declining populations of many of our species of birds, pollinators and mammals alike, key indicators of the health of our environment, with some teetering on the brink of extinction.

The Heritage Bill is a manifestation of the Government’s poor record of protecting our natural heritage and its failure to listen to a large cohort of people who value this heritage. But it wasn’t always so. The 1999 Oireachtas debates on the Wildlife Amendment Act, which set the current dates for hedge cutting and burning, are extraordinary. Many speakers from different parties, including the then opposition TD Enda Kenny, welcomed the Wildlife Act amendments and railed against the “environmental savagery” of some hedge-cutting, insisting that strong regulation needed to be in place to ensure road safety was addressed, along with wildlife protection. Although imperfect and often under-enforced, these Wildlife Act amendments ensured a good framework to protect breeding birds.

But now the current Government is rowing back on this protection, signifying how much it has lost its way in terms of valuing our natural heritage.

Perplexingly, it is also ignoring the tens of thousands of people calling for more nature protection and not less. Over 29,000 people and growing have signed a petition objecting to the Heritage Bill. These people and the members, branches and associations of the signatories to this letter spanning rural and urban Ireland will be listening intently to today’s Dáil debate and looking forward to hearing expressions of passion, care and concern for nature from the current generation of public representatives, and more importantly seeing action in reversing this anti-heritage legislation. We call on all TDs to oppose this flawed Bill and to safeguard and invest in Ireland’s precious heritage for current and future generations. – Yours, etc.

GERRY RYAN, President, Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations;

DECLAN MURPHY, Natural Environment Chairman, An Taisce;

DAVID McCORMICK, Chairman, Irish Wildlife Trust;

NEIL FOULKES, Chairman, Hedgelaying Association of Ireland;

DECLAN O’SULLIVAN, Interim Chief Executive, BirdWatch Ireland,Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The Government’s Heritage Bill returns to the Oireachtas, this time to Dáil Éireann.

This Bill was one of the most controversial the 25th Seanad has discussed to date, with over 36 hours of debate and almost 100 amendments; a reflection of its serious flaws.

This Bill would increase the amount of time in which hedgecutting and hillside burning can occur, without any understanding or baseline data on the damage this will cause to already overburdened Irish wildlife.

Senators from across the political spectrum spoke out against it, and it was amended by Fianna Fáil Senators and others. A last-minute amendment from Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys will fatally undermine existing protections and degrade road safety.

As we have seen from the wildfires scouring the Irish countryside over the past few months, Ireland is in need of a real heritage management strategy. This Bill represents the exact opposite – an unscientific and damaging approach that will fatally weaken some species, and endanger tourism, agriculture and the intrinsic beauty of the Irish countryside in the long run. Over 29,000 people have shown their opposition to this Bill, in petitions, demonstrations and by email and letter.

Fianna Fáil joined others in the Seanad and made some effort to improve some of the worst aspects of this Bill. They should now end this uncomfortable episode by voting against it in the Dáil. – Yours, etc.