My Speech on the Heritage Bill 2016

The principal purpose of this Bill is to amend the Heritage Act 1995, on foot of the Report of the Critical Review of the Heritage Council, and to make provision for the regulation of cutting or burning of vegetation.

This Bill also provides for clarification of the powers of authorised officers under the Wildlife Acts. On foot of legal advice from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, provision is also being made in the Bill to amend the Canals Act 1986 to provide enabling provisions in primary legislation so as to allow for the subsequent making of bye-laws for the regulation of boating on the canals.

The Heritage Bill was originally intended as a means to amend certain sections of the Heritage Act 1995 arising from the Report of the Critical Review of the Heritage Council concluded in June 2012. As a result of legal advice received, the Bill also provides for clarification of the powers of authorised officers under the Wildlife Acts and for enabling provisions in primary legislation to regulate boating on the canals.

The amendments to the Canals Act 1986 are primarily enabling provisions as to allow for the making of bye laws to regulate boating on the canals and to manage the use of the Royal Canal, the Grand Canal and the Barrow Navigation.

The proposed amendments will include provisions for:
• the regulation of the canals;
• the issue of permits or licences to regulate the use of boats on the canals and on canal property;
• the regulation of the type or class of boat, including its dimensions, which may be used on the canals;
• the regulation of berths and moorings and the placing of buoys on the canals or other canal property;
• the regulation and care of animals on the canals and other canal property;
• appointment and powers of authorised officers;
• powers of entry;
• the issue of search warrants; and
• the service of directions.

A point I would like to raise at this stage are the concerns regarding these amendments which were highlighted to me by a number of Councillors. They pertain to the potential impact on the local community through the loss of revenue of the visiting boaters and canal users.
As such, I am calling for the proper pre- consultation and engagement with the canal communities, users, their customers and elected Local Authority Representatives on this proposed amendment.
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Moving on to Amendments to Wildlife Acts: The current provisions in the Wildlife Acts under Section 40 prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from 1 March to 31 August during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.

A public consultation was carried out on the operation of Section 40 by the Department in 2014. Some 188 submissions were received, ranging from detailed submissions to individual, brief points of view. Stakeholder groups such as Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, the IFA, ICMSA as well as Government Departments and local authorities were among those to respond.

Section 10 of the Bill mainly amends Section 74 of the Wildlife Acts which deals with the powers of authorised officers of the Department and An Garda Síochána. While the overall text of Section 74 does remain relatively unchanged, there are some additional subsections and additional text to some subsections in order to clarify the powers of authorised officers and An Garda Síochána to question individuals suspected of breaches of the Wildlife Acts.
Part 4 of this Bill relates to the Amendments to Heritage Council Acts .The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht undertook a critical review of the Heritage Council in 2012 in accordance with the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan of 17th November 2011.
The report and recommendations of the Critical Review of the Heritage Council (2012) were accepted by Government in October 2012. The review recommended refocusing a streamlined Council whose principal function would be in the areas of facilitating the grant-aiding of heritage from various sources, and engaging with and supporting local government and communities in capacity building and support.
The review recommended a more streamlined Heritage Council based on the implementation of the following key recommendations:

• Revising some elements of the Heritage Act 1995 by amendment and other connected legislative instruments where appropriate;
• Reducing the size of the Board to between 8 and 10 members excluding the Chair;
• Eliminating the standing committees on wildlife, archaeology, architectural heritage and inland waterways;
• Refocusing a streamlined Council whose principal function would be in the areas of facilitating the grant-aiding of heritage from various sources, and engaging with and supporting local government and communities in capacity building and support.

The changes in Section 6 seek, to a degree, to refocus the activities and functions of the Heritage Council, with a particular emphasis on engagement with communities and local authorities;
Section 14 introduces the non-remuneration of Members of the Board while continuing their entitlement to expenses incurred in discharge of their duties as Board members;
Changes to the schedule of the Act deal with
• A reduction in the size of the board of the Heritage Council to between 8-10 members, excluding the Chairperson;
• Insuring Gender balance by having a minimum requirement of four female and four male members. This is consistent with the underlying logic of the existing gender composition of the Board;
• A reduction in the quorum necessary to 5 (including the Chairperson) to reflect the smaller Board size;
• The removal of the requirement for the Heritage Council to establish statutory Standing Committees on wildlife, archaeology, architectural heritage and inland waterways. The Heritage Council retains the right to set up Committees as it sees fit.

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