Dáil Éireann - Volume 490 - 07 May, 1998
Written Answers. - Habitats Directive.
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
 85. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the Government's defence in relation to stringent criticism of failing to properly implement the habitats directive; and the way in which her Department intends that full implementation of the directive will be imminent. [10936/98]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera) Síle de Valera
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I assure the Deputy that I believe that my Department is applying effective conservation measures, in accordance with the terms of the habitats directive, on a daily basis.
On numerous occasions I have made it clear that I am fully supportive of the fundamental objectives of the directive. I am well aware that to lose substantial areas of our remaining natural areas would be a tragedy. However, in applying the directive, we are not operating in a laboratory situation, or in a vacuum where what we do has no effect on real people. We need to be extremely sensitive
I make no apology that those who are affected by special area of conservation, SAC, designation are a major concern for me and for this Government. This approach requires that those who find their lands included in protected areas be given every chance to object, should they wish to do so, and to have their objections independently assessed.
I was, therefore, not prepared to send a list of proposed SACs to the European Commission until all appeals had been fully considered by the independent board that will advise me in such cases. For various reasons, among them the need to identify and appoint a suitable chairman who would command universal credibility, this board has not yet commenced work. However, Mr. Michael Mills, who has already given sterling service to the State as its first Ombudsman, has agreed to chair this board, and its deliberations should begin soon. I expect the consideration of appeals to take some months.
Another factor which influenced my decision not to send a list of proposed SACs to Brussels was the fact that all elements of the SAC compensation scheme were not yet in place. However, my colleague, Deputy Walsh, Minister for Agriculture and Food, has recently announced an amended REP scheme which will provide generous payments to those with land in SACs, SPAs and NHAs, including commonages. This now makes the implications of designation much clearer and allows people affected to objectively assess what is proposed.
However, while my Department has not yet furnished a list of proposed SACs to Brussels, in accordance with the terms of the directive in practice we are already applying a very effective measure of protection to our proposed SAC sites. Over 200 proposed SAC sites, covering over 500,000 hectares, were published in March 1997 and since then they have enjoyed legal protection  in full accordance with the terms of the habitats directive. Indeed, my sending a list of proposed sites to the European Commission will make no immediate practical difference to the protection afforded to these sites.
Nonetheless, I have every intention of completing our technical compliance with the habitats directive when the necessary elements are in place. I expect this to happen within a relatively short period.
Dáil Éireann 490 Written Answers. Habitats Directive.