Wildfires do not occur naturally in Ireland, with the main cause thought to be the deliberate starting of fires, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien has said.

Minister O’Brien, along with Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, condemned what they deem illegal wildfires which occurred over the weekend in Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co Laois.

The Ministers highlighted that the fires have damaged protected habitats, put communities and private property at risk and placed an unnecessary additional burden on the emergency services.

Disregard for nature

The legal season for burning vegetation ended on 28 February.

It is an offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976, as amended, to burn from 1 March to 31 August.

Minister Noonan said the Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Slieve Blooms in Co Laois are among the most precious places in Ireland for nature.

“The Slieve Blooms is home to a thriving population of hen harriers and other rare bird species, all nesting this time of year. Setting these fires is absolutely criminal and an all-too-frequent tragedy.

“The setting of these fires is irresponsible and shows a disregard not only for nature, but also for people. In the midst of a pandemic it is incredible that our emergency services are put in a position whereby their resources are pulled in this direction.”

Fire patrols

Gardaí and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are currently investigating the source of the recent fires.

Minister Noonan continued: “In the last week, NPWS has deployed increased fire patrols at our sites and remains in close liaison with both the Gardaí and the Fire Services. These patrols have targeted known fire high risk areas.

“Where appropriate, cross compliance is pursued with the Department of Agriculture.”

Minister Noonan visited the site of one of the fires in the Wicklow Mountains National Park on Tuesday morning.

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