Thursday, 9 December 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
177. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention and the attention of appropriate officials responsible within her Department have been brought to the non-compliance on the part of the Government with European directives on the conservation of protected species in the Owenriff river; the action her Department proposes to take as to the source of this problem and its implications for Lough Corrib; if the forestry division of her Department has examined such recent research as is relevant regarding the contribution of forestry to the ecological crisis facing some species in the river; if she proposes to meet those concerned from the communities and interests affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32831/04]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): The primary responsibility for EU environmental directives lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I am not aware of any non-compliance on the part of the Government with EU directives in respect of the Owenriff river. The freshwater pearl mussel population in the Owenriff catchment suffered losses in the early part of the summer of this year. The precise cause of these losses has not been established. The losses were associated with algal growth at a time when water levels in the river were particularly low, following a prolonged dry spell, and preceded forestry felling operations by Coillte in the area.
To determine best practice in forest management in the Owenriff catchment and to gather views and expert opinion to support a practical decision making process, a working group comprising representatives of the forest service, national parks and wildlife service, the Western Regional Fisheries Board and Coillte was established and met for the first time in August. The group has examined relevant research on the ecological status of the Owenriff and similar river catchments, and the interaction with forest cover and forest operations. The group was assisted in this work by experts from a number of Government agencies and third level bodies, including the EPA, the Central Fisheries Board, the national parks and wildlife service, UCD and COFORD. Officials from Galway County Council and the Scottish Argyll Fisheries Trust also participated. The working group is using this scientifically based approach to help formulate an appropriate forestry management response for the Owenriff.
On the wider question of the Corrib, a delegation from the Carra, Mask and Corrib Water Protection Group met on 24 November the Ministers responsible, including myself and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The group expressed its views as to the algal problem in Lough Corrib. In my opinion, it is not possible at this stage to link the Owenriff incident with the wider problems on Lough Corrib. However, following our meeting, arrangements were put in place for officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, my Department and Coillte to meet the local group to discuss its concerns and proposals in more detail. I understand that a date of 17 January has now been agreed for this meeting.
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