Dáil Éireann - Volume 463 - 14 March, 1996

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Destruction of Wildlife.

11. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht whether details of the meeting between [411] the Committee on European Affairs and the National Association of Regional Game Councils has been brought to his attention; if so, the action, if any, he intends taking on certain issues raised such as the destruction of wildlife by continental tourists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3218/96]

Mr. M. Higgins: While the official report of the proceedings of the meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on 8 December 1995 is not yet available, I have received a copy of the presentation made by the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) to the joint committee. I subsequently met the joint committee on 20 February 1996 to discuss the matters raised by the NARGC and related issues and have arranged for a copy of my presentation to the committee to be forwarded to the Deputy.

My primary responsibility under the Wildlife Act, 1976, is for the conservation of wildlife, including migratory species of wild birds which are also of interest to the NARGC. Both the NARGC and I agree that controlled or sustainable hunting does not pose a threat to such species of wild birds. This is the concept of “wise use” or “sustainable yield” whereby the yield taken from the population through hunting on an annual basis does not compromise the survival of the population. The conservation requirements of the species are met through the provision of a limited hunting season under section 24 of the 1976 Act. This restricts the hunting of the species by resident and foreign hunter alike.

The draft heads of a Bill to amend the Wildlife Act, 1976, are currently in preparation in my Department. Provision is being made for additional measures for the control of tourist shooting by introducing regulations for the licensing of game shoot promoters. The role of gillies will be addressed in this context.

The NARGC's submission to the [412] joint committee makes a number of references to tourists shooting non-huntable species and to trespassing. I have no doubt that some tourists breach our laws and, indeed, so do a small minority of resident hunters. However, the extent of abuse by tourists is, I feel, exaggerated and is not supported by good evidence. When there is sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution, rest assured that my Department will pursue the matter. The NARGC, through its regional game councils as recognised bodies under the wildlife code, has a role to play here in that they can prosecute proceedings for certain breaches of the 1976 Act. It is essential that evidence be supplied in good time so that a summons can be served before the offender leaves the jurisdiction.

There is no evidence that migratory species are under threat due to the activities of continental tourist shooters. So long as such shooting is sustainable, I see no reason why it should not continue. I am conscious that the system of control needs further regulation and, as I mentioned earlier, I intend to address that matter in the proposed amendments to the Wildlife Act, 1976. I propose to introduce the amending Bill later this year.

Mr. Deasy: I will not rest assured with that reply. Does the Minister believe that wildlife destruction is not serious? Is he telling us that tourists are not shooting song birds or endangered species such as snipe and woodcock, which the National Association of Regional Game Councils mentioned at the joint committee? Tourists are shooting song birds and all types of endangered species and no action is being taken against them. I have yet to see such a tourist appearing in court on a charge. Has the Minister any intention of employing additional staff to ensure that a major part of our heritage is not wiped out?

Mr. M. Higgins: As regards the Deputy's final point, there is a need for more staff but that must be agreed in the context of the overall level of public service [413] staff. I emphasise that the absence of evidence and of people willing to come forward has blocked prosecution in a number of cases. However, if evidence is provided, I will not be reluctant to prosecute any case which is brought to the attention of my staff. I intend to improve the procedures on the licensing of game shoot operators and of gillies, but I also want to improve the method of compiling and monitoring reports on what is in the bags of hunters. There is room for improvement and I am anxious to do something in this regard.

We will be on much stronger ground when the Bill to amend the Wildlife Act is passed. Part of the NARGC's submission dealt with section 22 of the Firearms Act, which is within the remit of the Minister for Justice. I intend to incorporate section 22 into the amended Wildlife Act.

Mr. Deasy: There has been a series of cases where prosecutions should have been taken but were not. Tourists have been caught trying to smuggle wounded endangered species out of the country, but no action has been taken against them. People are bewildered as to why no action was taken. Perhaps the Minister could explain why that was the case.

Will the embargo on employing people in the public service stop the Minister from employing additional wild life rangers? There are two mountain ranges in my county but there is only one ranger. That is inadequate.

Mr. M. Higgins: The restrictions on recruitment into the public service will affect this situation. I appreciate the Deputy's support as I make the case to members of the Cabinet. Many necessary appointments will not go ahead because of the attempt to curtail the total number in the public service. We are trying to find a way around that by seeking a new focus for essential recruitment. I would like to appoint people to essential posts, but we are affected by the embargo. We must look at ways around that.

The Deputy also raised another point [414] about tourists smuggling birds through Dublin Airport. Members of NARGC were present in the gallery when I made a submission at a meeting of the joint committee on the case of a tourist whose bag, which contained a dead swan, was opened before he boarded an ALITALIA flight at Dublin Airport. The individual boarded the plane and the dead swan was left behind. As the Garda authorities were not contacted by a member of the airport staff, local police or an individual, Department officials investigating the matter later found there was a serious deficiency in evidence that could be used to prosecute the individual, even outside the country. I am glad attention was drawn to this case. Under existing law it is possible in such circumstances to seize an individual's guns and equipment. I wish we had been able to do so on that occasion. If the individual concerned had been detained, I would not have been reluctant to ensure he was prosecuted.

Miss de Valera: I am pleased that since I raised this matter during Question Time a month ago there appears to be some improvement in addressing such matters. Having listened to members of the NARGC, the Minister recognises the difficulties it faces in dealing with tourism shooting.

Will the Minister indicate when he intends to introduce the wildlife amendment Bill? He said it would be introduced later this year, but at a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs he said it would be introduced before the summer recess. Can I take it that the legislation will be introduced sometime between April and July?

Mr. M. Higgins: I have already told the Deputy why I cannot give her that undertaking. I encountered a four week delay in dealing with the matters in the Bill that could give rise to legal and constitutional difficulties. It would be more realistic to introduce the Bill in the early autumn, but it is my aspiration to introduce it before the summer recess. I [415] would be misleading the Deputy if I did not say the delay in dealing with technical, legal and constitutional aspects of the Bill will mean its introduction four weeks behind schedule.