Animal Welfare, Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dáil Issues

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his plans to increase the numbers of National Parks and Wildlife Service officers to protect wildlife.
– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 11th June, 2014.

Ref No: 24282/14 Lottery: 17 Proof: 17

R E P L Y

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Jimmy Deenihan, T.D.)

My Department directly employs 565 staff who are allocated to a broad range of functional areas across the Arts, Culture, Film, Music, Built and Natural Heritage, Irish Language, Gaeltacht, Islands and North/South Co-operation sectors. These staff are allocated to the various functional areas on the basis of need, having regard to overall resource availability. Of the total Departmental staff, 283 work in the area of natural heritage through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of my Department. In addition, my Department will take on up to 50 seasonal staff during the year to assist the NPWS.
As the Deputy will be aware, the moratorium on public service recruitment remains in place and, as a result of this, my Department is not in a position to recruit new staff to deal with wildlife protection. However, it is hoped to bring in some staff from other Departments on secondment to assist in priority areas.
Despite the constraints, I am satisfied that NPWS is playing a comprehensive and valuable role in the conservation and protection of our natural heritage. For example, in the last year or so:
• Ireland’s 6 National Parks of Wicklow, Killarney, The Burren, Connemara, Ballycroy and Glenveagh have been well managed, remained open for visitors and provided a wide range of education and visitor services to the public.
• Significant progress has been achieved on a major capital project of developing Killarney House and Gardens as a new interpretive and information service for Killarney National Park.
• Considerable progress was made on the development of a suite of initiatives to address peatlands policy issues. This work, which was carried out in conjunction with the Peatlands Council, led to the publication early in 2014 of a draft National Peatlands Strategy, a draft National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan and the results of the Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area (NHA) Review. These documents raise issues of considerable importance for current stakeholders and future generations. A public consultation process in relation to them began in early 2014.
• A total of 2,959 applications for compensation under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme, applicable to raised bog special areas of conservation, have been received and are being dealt with by my Department.
• The Burren Farming for Conservation Programme is in 4th year of operation, with some 160 farmers involved. In September 2013, I accepted Ireland’s first ‘European Diploma of Protected Areas Award’ from the Council of Europe for the sustainable management of the Burren.
• In the period 2009 to end-2013, there were almost 160 prosecution cases taken by NPWS officials for breaches of national wildlife legislation.
• My Department’s NPWS staff processed and granted some 7,000 licences in 2013 under various provisions of the Wildlife Acts and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. In addition, over 360 certificates and permits were granted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
• My Department’s NPWS contributed to a successful Irish Presidency of the European Council in relation to Cultural and Heritage issues, including guiding European legislation, leading at international meetings and hosting relevant events and meetings here at home.
In the circumstances, I consider that my Department’s staff are continuing to deliver an excellent service to the public, notwithstanding the demands placed on them, including resource constraints.