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Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore has called on the Government to draw up an urgent plan to tackle the problem of illegal gorse fires around the country.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Whitmore, who is the party’s spokesperson for Climate Action and Biodiversity, outlined the destructive impact that these fires have on the environment and wildlife.

She said:

“Gorse fires are illegal from March 1 but already we’ve seen a huge fire on Scarr Mountain in Wicklow National Park, which has marked the start of illegal fire season. This is a cyclical experience that causes untold environmental, human and economic damage all over Ireland, not to mention putting firefighters, air corps crew and other emergency workers at risk each time.

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service and fire service have done considerable work on fire prevention, but these services are stretched to capacity and need more resources. People want to see tangible plans put in place by the Government to stop repeated incidences of illegal fires.

“When I raised this issue in the Dáil, I asked the Minister for Heritage to implement a comprehensive management plan to address illegal fires once and for all by working with all stakeholders, including farmers, who I believe are really good at delivering when properly engaged with. Farmers are burning because Government policies are incentivising them to get rid of productive land instead of paying them to protect our land, soil, trees and biodiversity. The Government must work with the farming community to achieve this.

“The Minister for Heritage referenced the need for more penalties and further investigations. However, looking at this from a criminal justice point of view will not address the problem of illegal burning as this approach has not worked before. Fundamentally, the problem comes down to the fact that there are no management plans in place for our national parks or Special Areas of Conservation that put biodiversity protection as a central goal.

“We need more land designated for protection purposes as this will lead to better conservation of environmentally vulnerable areas.”

March 12, 2021

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