Extension of public consultation on controversial upland burning welcomed by environmental coalition

Immediate Release –  9 January 2019
The Environmental Pillar has welcomed the Government’s decision to extend a public consultation on controversial upland burning regulations after it raised concerns over the decision to hold the consultation during the Christmas holidays.
The consultation process was launched on 21 December 2018 with the original deadline set for 18 January 2019, a period that includes both the Christmas and New Year break when most people across the country are on leave.
Yesterday, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht extended the closing date for submissions to 5pm on Thursday 31 January 2019. [1]
This follows a letter sent by the Pillar on Monday to the Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan TD, outlining concern with the original deadline and asking for it to be extended until the end of January.
According to the Pillar’s letter, the original deadline would have effectively reduced the consultation period to just two weeks over a busy festive season.
This would run in contravention of the Government’s requirements under the Aarhus Convention, European Directives and the State’s own consultation guidelines, the letter said. [2] [3] [4]
The draft regulations under the Heritage Act seek to extend the open period for the burning of vegetation by one month to include the month of March.
The move comes despite deep concerns from biodiversity experts that it could have a devastating impact on breeding birds such as the near extinct curlew that begins its nesting activities in March, but also other bird species that nest in scrub.
Details on the consultation can be found here: https://goo.gl/YcgPcS
Environmental Pillar spokesperson, Charles Stanley Smith said:
“Over the past few years, thousands of hectares of mountain, hill, bog and forest habitat have been destroyed partially as a result of out of control burning, incinerating wildlife that cannot escape fast enough, including helpless chicks in their nests.
“Under the controversial Heritage Act, the Government now wants to extend the period during which burning is allowed to March every year, a dangerous move in our opinion.
“The original deadline for this important consultation would have effectively given the public and concerned conservationists a two-week window to get their valid views across.
“This would not be acceptable from a moral standpoint, but also a legal one as it runs in contravention of the requirements of international and European law and also the State’s own consultation guidelines to allow effective public participation in environmental decision making. ”
[1] Implementation of Section 7(1) of the Heritage Act 2018. https://goo.gl/YcgPcS
[2] “Depending on the significance of the proposal, a consultation process would ordinarily be expected to vary from 2 to 12 weeks… A longer period is appropriate where those with limited resources, such as individuals and small businesses, are being consulted. In addition, longer consultation periods may be necessary when the consultation process falls around holiday periods.” Consultation Principles & Guidance: https://goo.gl/xQy3k9
[3] Directive 2003/35/EC: “The public concerned shall be entitled to express comments and opinions to the competent authority before a decision is taken… Reasonable time-frames for the different phases shall be provided, allowing sufficient time for informing the public and for the public concerned to prepare and participate effectively in environmental decision-making…” https://goo.gl/7CeQHB
[4] In a Spanish case from 2009, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found that “a period of 20 days for the public to prepare and participate effectively cannot be considered reasonable, in particular, if such period includes days of general celebration in the country”. https://goo.gl/gQtFYW