Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that lands under the control of every county council and many town councils are infested with ragwort; and if he will direct these bodies to remedy the situation in order to avoid an offence under the Noxious Weeds Act 1936. [30249/11]
8. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to amend the Noxious Weeds Act 1936 to provide an up-to-date and realistic penalty for breaches of the Act; when there was last a prosecution pursuant to the Noxious Weeds Act 1936; and if he will draw the attention of the Garda Commissioner to the need for the enforcement of this legislation. [31633/11]
The Noxious Weeds Act 1936 provides for the control of the spread of six noxious weeds, namely, thistle, ragwort, dock, common barberry, male wild hop plant and the wild oat. Under the Act, it is an offence not to prevent the spread of these noxious weeds. The owner, occupier, user or managers of lands on which these weeds are present are subject to the provisions of the Act, including a fine of up to €1,000 on conviction.
The last prosecution under the Act was taken in 1988. However, the Department actively seeks to enforce the provisions of the Act by issuing notices to destroy in all instances where it becomes aware of the presence of noxious weeds. A total of 26 such notices were issued in 2010 with a further 35 having been issued to date in 2011. These notices are issued as a result of inspections carried out by Department field officers or on receipt of complaints made by the public. Follow-up action may be undertaken by my officials with the landowner to ensure the notifications are acted upon and that the particular weeds have been dealt with as stipulated in the notice to destroy.
Additionally, under the EU single farm payment scheme, farmers are obliged to keep their lands free from noxious weeds under the cross-compliance measures of the scheme. Failure to do so may result in a reduction of their payment entitlements. In the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 penalties under the single payment were applied to 27, 31 and 46 farmers, respectively, for failure to take appropriate measures to prevent the proliferation of noxious weeds.
My Department continues to engage with all local authorities and the National Roads Authority to ensure a consistent programme of treatment and disposal of noxious weeds on roadsides on an ongoing basis. The Department has conducted a number of public awareness campaigns in recent years seeking to raise awareness of the impact of such weeds and the necessity for the control of noxious weeds and to promote best practice with regard to the control and elimination of noxious weeds. These campaigns were directed at landowners and users of land — mainly farmers, developers and local authorities. The campaigns utilised various tools such as the publication of advertising in local, national and trade publications and the production of posters for display in all departmental, Teagasc and local authority offices. In addition, my officials will be in contact with all local authorities during the coming months to emphasise the importance of treatment and disposal measures to eliminate and prevent the spread of noxious weeds.
Deputy Nicky McFadden: I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. There are noxious weeds everywhere, including in the Phoenix Park, which is infuriating. Does the Minister propose to amend the Noxious Weeds Act 1936 to provide for an updated and realistic penalty for breaches of the Act? Noxious weeds are toxic to cattle, horses, deer, pigs, goats and chickens, as they cause copper to accumulate in the liver resulting in ill-health and death. There are noxious weeds all along the motorways and, as I said, in the Phoenix Park. I regret to say the Minister’s attempt to eliminate the problem through the advertising campaign is not working.
Deputy Simon Coveney: The Deputy’s point is, to a certain extent, fair. While I will look at this issue again, I am keen on implementing the existing legislation rather than introducing a whole new set of regulations or primary legislation. A fine of €1,000, if enforced, will change habits. Dealing with the local authorities will, however, be more difficult because they are an arm of the State. Cutbacks in local authority budgets might have resulted in a lower level of maintenance of green areas and roadsides and consequently more weeds, particularly in public areas. I will ask my officials to look at this matter in more detail and come back to the Deputy on it.
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