People who set illegal fires “are a scourge on society and their activities cost all of us,” Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan has said in response to recent illegal upland fires in the Wicklow Mountains National Park and in other parts of the country.
He visited the national park on Thursday, where he said that well over 300ha of natural habitats have been damaged and destroyed.
“The same scenes have played out in other locations across the country during the latest Met Éireann orange high-fire risk alert. These scenes are by no means unfamiliar.
“We see them every year, including in the State’s most valuable natural assets – our national parks and nature reserves – which provide such enormous benefit to nature, society and the economy. We all remember the devastation that was caused by the vast illegal fire in Killarney National Park last April,” he said.
The minister said that these fires do not occur naturally.
“They’re set deliberately, with no concern for the wide-ranging impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing, private property, tourism, emergency services, the defence forces and indeed the public purse.
“That’s without mentioning the priceless wildlife and habitats that are brutally scorched and the consequent impact of soil mobilisation and siltation on streams, rivers and lakes,” he said.
He added that he is mindful that the risk of manmade fire is now a permanent feature of the year.
“As night follows day, at the first extended period of dry weather, these fires are set. They are all illegal after 1 March and invariably they get - or are allowed to get - out of control.
“The people who set them, and I believe they are known in their communities, are a scourge on society and their activities cost all of us. This mentality must change,” he said.
He said that while it is challenging to prevent sure fires, he warned that people considering breaking the law in this way “should be aware that aerial surveillance operations using drones and helicopters have been increased to support early detection and deterrence”.
He also added that the NPWS has increased on-the-ground patrols at all parks and reserves at times of high fire risk.
Minister Noonan also said that he will soon be progressing a review of the Wildlife Act, as provided for in the programme for government.
“This will be a vital opportunity to re-examine our legislation around wildlife protection and make it fit for the future,” he said.
It is illegal to cut, grub, burn or destroy vegetation, except in certain strict exemptions, from 1 March to 31 August.