Dear Minister Deenihan,
I am sure that you are as appalled, as the members of the Environmental Pillar are, by the call for an “open season on the Hen Harrier” by one of your party’s county Councillors.
As Chair of Limerick County Council Councillor, John Sheahan is reportedly calling for “open season on Hen Harriers”, and in so doing is encouraging the public to commit criminal acts.
The Environmental Pillar urges you to act quickly in this matter to prevent a repeat of the previous appalling events that took place in Kerry, by taking the following actions:
- Publicly denouncing the statement
- Informing Councillor Sheahan that his calls for an open season on the Hen Harrier are incitement to commit crimes – Pointing out to Councillor Sheahan that he is a public representative, and that he spoke as such, and that his personal interest in forestry in protected areas are noted in this context
- Addressing Limerick County Council at the earliest possible date to educate them on the importance of biodiversity and our natural heritage, together with the importance of public officials upholding the rule of law.
- To similarly educate and inform your party colleagues at all government levels.
We look forward to your speedy action in dealing with this disgraceful behaviour, and offer our support in this matter.
Coordinator, Environmental Pillar
**end of letter**
The Minister replied on 31 July:
Dear Mr Ewing
Thank you for your recent email. I very much share your concern with regard to the protection of the Hen Harrier.
As you may know, the Hen Harrier is protected by law and is one of Ireland and Europe’s rarest birds of prey. It is listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive, which provides the legislative framework for assessing and ensuring its conservation.
Ireland has identified a number of sites as being particularly important for the conservation of the Hen Harrier, and six sites across the country are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
The Hen Harrier remains a species of high conservation concern and has undergone significant declines in parts of its breeding range in Ireland, including within the SPA network. The decline has been attributed to a number of causes. Unfortunately, the bird has also suffered persecution by humans.
This persecution is unacceptable. Hen Harriers are afforded protection under national and European legislation. Anyone who harms these birds or deliberately destroys their breeding or nesting habitats will be liable to prosecution and will be pursued. Officials of my Department cooperate with An Garda Siochána in the investigation of any incidences of harm, and also work with members of the public and with NGOs in the protection of these magnificent birds of prey.
I am, of course, also well aware of the issues affecting landowners in the SPAs and my officials also work closely with agriculture and forestry officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in an effort to address these concerns.
My officials have commenced drawing up a Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan. This plan will be subject to full public consultation in due course, and – along with the next Rural Development Plan – will be key in ensuring that land-owners and farmers are given the supports they need to manage their holdings in a way that secures their livelihoods in keeping with our obligations under European law.
Recent comments in the media were worrying as they could have been construed as an incitement for people to break the law and harm these rare birds. This is, regrettably, a very real problem that we face. However, the Hen Harrier is afforded protection under Irish and European law, and any people found to cause harm to these birds of prey or to their breeding or nesting habitats will be liable to prosecution under this legislation. This is something that I and my officials take very seriously.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this important issue.
Jimmy Deenihan TD
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht