The Heritage Bill, which includes provisions to relax the ban on hedgecutting in August and on vegetation burning in March, was reintroduced in the Seanad where it caused heated debates on Wednesday. The proposed legislation was first introduced in January but its progress was blocked by the general election. It now faces several amendments on vegetation control dates.
Green Party senator, Grace O’Sullivan led the charge against the “regressive” bill, with many senators supporting her argument that studies should first be conducted under existing rules before the “pilot” derogations are introduced.
“This small argument is skewed in favour of a small minority of farmers who are probably putting pressure on you minister,” she said.
Internal hedgerows should be excluded from this extension
There were also calls for the relaxed rules to apply only to those hedgerows that affect road safety. “The majority of hedgerows are in the fields, not on the roads at all. I think internal hedgerows should be excluded from this extension,” said independent senator David Norris, a view shared by many other members.
Even within Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys’ own Fine Gael party, support was sometimes conditional. Fine Gael senator Michelle Mulherin asked for the views of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to be heard before the rules are amended, called for a licensing system to burn vegetation and said that “there is merit in distinguishing between hedgerows that adjoin public roads and others”.
Minister Humphreys defended the bill, saying that “hedgerows and scrubs are important habitats for our wildlife but they also need to be managed”.
Supporting the bill, Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard said summer vegetation control was needed to enable works such as reseeding. “It is a practical element of farming,” he said.
Fianna Fáil senator Paul Daly added: “There’s a big expense in this hedgecutting we’re talking about – an expense the farmers would happily do without.”
He said that cutting hedges in the summer was of particular importance to the visibility of farm machinery getting in and out of fields for other road users.