Pippa Hacket, Green party's spokesperson on Agriculture spoke recently about the wild fire pandemic sweeping the nation.
"Thankfully, the recent rain has extinguished the wild fires that have been ravaging our countryside this past few weeks. In the clear air, the utter devastation is now in sharp focus. It is disappointing that there has been little condemnation of these catastrophic events from farmer representative groups, many of which seem to have washed their members’ hands of any accountability in relation to these fires."
She says that laws are obviously not being respected by farmers carrying out these acts up to two months after the set deadline. She added "Nevertheless, our Minister of Agriculture, Michael Creed, has admitted that many of these blazes have been caused by farmers illegally starting fires on their land. No one is discounting controlled burning as a part of a land management tool, however there is a 6 month window available for such, and it somewhat hard to reconcile that two and a half months after the deadline of March 1st, some farmers see no issue whatsoever with setting these fires. What does that say about respecting the laws of our land?"
She also added her lack of belief that farmers will face prosecution, with a low number of 11 prosecutions taking place since the acts introduction, she said "It has been stated that those found starting such fires will be subject to prosecution, but with just eleven prosecutions taken under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act (which prohibits illegal fires in the closed season) in the past decade, and nine of these resulting in an average fine of €200, the chances of any of this year’s criminals being brought to justice are slim to say the least - and these lawbreakers know this. Enforcement of the legislation is a must, and until that happens, destructive fires like this will continue. The Department has threatened that if a farmer’s land is burnt, they will face a reduction in BPS payments, however like all empty threats from this office, it is unlikely that any penalties will be imposed."
She also theorized that the introduction of the proposed heritage bill will only add to the problems is an extension to burning deadlines is imposed, she added "The much-maligned Heritage Bill from Heather Humphreys’ Department (which is up for discussion this week in The Dail) will only make matters worse if an extension is granted to the burning season."
She condemned the farmers guilty of igniting these fires, mentioning that they not only damage our wonderful environment but also our economy with extra expenditures by the government in trying to control the fires. "These individuals should be ashamed to call themselves farmers when they witness the utter devastation their reckless behaviour has caused. These massive fires have obliterated some incredibly beautiful landscapes. They not only destroy thousands of hectares of valuable forestry, flora and fauna, but they are devastating to people’s homes and livelihoods, and even the air that they breathe. Our country’s green image is tarnished, both physically and philosophically, and tourism is likely to be affected in many of these remote rural areas, some of which rely heavily on holidaymakers for revenue. The risks to the emergency service personnel deployed to deal with these fires cannot be underestimated, in addition to the fact that they are removed from their normal duties to protect us. The cost of putting out these fires has run into the millions of euro, and we all know it will be the taxpayer who will be responsible for that particular bill."
She awkowledged that it is only a small minority who are guilty of committing these offences and that they are giving other farmers in the country a bad name, "Regrettably, as is the case in many situations, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, and the actions of a few, give the rest of us a bad name. Positive public perception of Irish agriculture and farmers is crucial, especially in these uncertain times with CAP reforms and Brexit just around the corner. Unfortunately, the one thing that is for certain is that we will all end up paying, one way or the other, for the criminal acts of an inconsiderate few."
Pippa Hackett is an organic farmer based near Geashill in Co Offaly, and the Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture.